Monday 19 July 2021

Planning my summer holidays

 We haven’t seen much of the sun this summer; it shyly poked out sporadically from thick grey clouds and a fresh breeze often blew feeling more like easterly wind from time to time. Intermittent showers occurred on a daily basis, sometimes just spring rain other times downpours. Today is Freedom Day, but the media keep recommending not to rush back to normality, maybe keep wearing face masks in crowded spaces and keep distancing too. Face masks will still be compulsory on public transports in London and other cities. They say it’s our responsibility to keep the risk low and that the pandemic is not over and hospital

admissions might rise too. We need to be aware that we must ‘learn to live’ with this virus for a few years at least, considering the variants that keep appearing. Fortunately, there was the European Championship and the Italian victory that cheered me up. I didn’t expect Italy and England to face one another in the final. Honestly, Italy didn’t play so well against Spain. The game was slow and after the extra time both teams were exhausted. When Italy won at the penalties, I could hardly believe it. England vs Denmark was more predictable. I think England played better since the beginning and deserved the victory. It looked strange that the English and Danish flags have the same colours, one with a red cross, the other with a white cross, though slightly to the left. Comments after the match said that Sterling had minimal contact into the area and that it was not sufficient for the penalty. But this was the referee’s decision and, in the end, I think England deserved to be in the final.

Italy and England are two very different teams and the media coverage in the two counties as well as the audience’s attitude were very different too. Italians were excited and happy to be in the final, but the country was focused on other issues too. In England the final was a sort of obsession and became political ultimately. In the UK the media talked only about the English team, Southgate and all possible predictions about the final match. There was a lot of pride and commitment, but football is unpredictable especially when two teams are almost equal, as it often happens in final matches. I wonder why football is so popular especially in Europe and South America and how it is capable of pulling a country together in such an emotional and absolute way. Other popular sports such as rugby, basketball, volleyball and cricket don’t have the same power. Italians always become a nation around the Azzurri football team and display Italian flags everywhere when Italy plays, which does not happen on Liberation Day or other patriotic occasions.

My daughter Valentina
supporting Italy

Italy vs England was a tough match, ‘agony and ecstasy’, as it was often stated afterwards. Unfortunately, it ended with penalties, which is exciting but also a bit unfair, though they cannot carry on playing forever. In the end, Italy did better. Italian players looked more experienced and determined and the goalkeeper, Donnarumma, made the difference. I am not a football expert, but I wonder if Southgate had alternative players for the penalties. Saka is certainly an excellent player, but he is also very young and choosing him for the last penalty was a risk. I found the way Rashford, Sancho and Saka were targeted after the match very unfair. Everybody can miss a penalty, even Southgate did it in a similar occasion in 1996. In the end I was sorry for England and overjoyed for Italy. 😀

I am planning to visit my mum and my sister in Rome in August. I haven’t seen them in person since December 2019. I am not so happy to face the Italian summer especially in Rome where the temperatures are very high and it is so humid. I am also worried about the Covid rules that keep changing and all the expensive tests we need to do before and after departure. If Italy stays amber, I don’t need to isolate when I come back as I have the double jab, but I have to isolate for five days when I arrive in Rome. This is not a problem as my mother stays at home most of the time anyways. Visiting Italy again after such a long time will be emotional and strange. I will be immersed in a slumbering heat without internet connection except sporadically on my phone. I’m sure I will enjoy the time with my mum, doing our crochet work while watching the evening news or old films, visiting her elderly friends and gossiping about neighbours and relatives. I will meet my friends too, three girlfriends I’ve known since my twenties and maybe visit one or two exhibitions in Rome if the weather is bearable and my mum feels fit enough to go out. 

I expect to see more of my family who live in the UK during the summer. My sons who live in the north have planned to come and see us and my daughter Irene and I will visit some exhibitions and attend two or three shows in London too. It will be a quiet summer filled with intense readings, occasional paintings and some writing. In the meantime, I also became a member of the National Gallery and attended some of their online zoom sessions, Talk and Draw. They start from famous paintings such as The Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello or The Bridge of Sighs by J.M.W. Turner. They suggested concentrating on

details and sketching them in loose marks at first then produce a more total approach. This technique helped me be loose, which is a characteristic I am trying to develop in my artwork. I am also attending weekly art sessions on zoom with Maria, a Portuguese lady who also helps with the Italian club at the Maybury Community Centre. The art class is composed of an interesting group of elderly ladies living in far away places in Surrey or Hampshire. All of them contribute telling their family stories, which are intriguing and moving, while they paint. At the end we take photos of our works and post them on WhatsApp. It is a good way of meeting people, keep connected and experience
communication despite these weird times. I made some embroideries too inspired by Margaret Atwood’s words for my supervisors and examiners at the University of Reading as a thank you gift for their availability and support in my three-year PhD course. They appreciated my artwork very much and sent me thank you messages. I also embroidered another piece for my friend Huan and her beautiful family. It is inspired by Chinese art and the inscription reads: ‘May you have smooth sailing’.

My trugveg garden is doing very well. It must be the frequent rains and sunny spells as well as occasional hot days that made the miracle. Flowers exploded overflowing the pots, tomato plants became trees and pumpkin plants grew all over the back garden creeping spookily under the table. I harvested plenty of lettuce, courgettes and French beans so far without even using any food for plants. The front garden looks less exciting though my blue and pink hydrangeas are blooming.

During the summer I am dressing for a staycation with loose light maxi dresses, shorts or baggy linen trousers and over-sized t-shirts. I take care of my earrings and lipstick every day. I alternate bright colours to neutral ones, it depends on the day, on my mood and where I am going to go. I don’t mind if my waistline disappeared and my ankles are swelling. I just wear what is most suitable and comfortable for me and I believe it looks pretty all the same. I keep buying things I like and enjoy changing my look, mixing and matching, looking sparkly. For zoom meetings and events the upper part is important and I also wear visible earrings plus a necklace. At home I wear shorts but also colourful loose dresses if it is hot. I keep cycling whatever the weather, wearing waterproof jacket and trousers if it is raining. And I carry on with my yoga relentlessly.

I was sorry to know that Raffaella Carrà died two weeks ago. They broadcast her interviews, shows and most popular songs on the Italian TV for days. She was very popular both in Italy and internationally, especially in South America, from the 1970s to 1990s. Her most famous songs were Ma che musica maestro, Tuca Tuca, A far l’amore comincia tu (Do it, do it again, which was popular in the UK too), Fiesta, Chissà se va, and many other songs that became hits in Italy. I remember watching her singing and dancing on the black and white TV when I was a child. She wore tight dresses showing her belly, which was a bit outrageous at the time. She had a confident and easy approach and was a great dancer too looking both ordinary, sassy and sexy, a typical Italian mixture. Here are some links that might give an idea of her personality and work: 

And here are three ricotta recipes and a recent photo of my lovely granddaughter Violetta.

Almond and ricotta mini cakes

For the dough you need: 80 g of melted butter, 2 eggs, 80 ml of milk, 50 g of sugar, grated zest of one lemon, 175 g of self-rising flour, 100 g of ground almonds, half a tsp of baking powder.

For the filling you need: 250 g of ricotta, 50 g of sugar, half a tsp of vanilla essence; some sugar and food colouring to decorate.

Prepare the dough and make balls, then press your thumb to make a hole in the centre. Bake on baking parchment till pale. Dunk the mini cakes in a mixture of milk and food colouring or alchermes then roll them in sugar. Fill the mini cakes with the ricotta mixture and chill for an hour before serving.

Sardinian lemon and ricotta mini cakes

For the pastry you need: 200 g of semolina, 30 g of melted lard, 100 g of self-raising floor, 100 ml of warm water, one tbsp of sugar.

For the filling you need: one yolk of an egg, grated zest of an orange and a lemon, 50 g of sugar, 250 g of ricotta, some drops of vanilla essence.

Mix all the ingredients for the pastry and knead it. Let it rest for one hour covered by a tea towel. Roll it out and cut it in circles and then set them in moulds. Mix the ingredient for the filling and spoon the mixture into the centre of each mini cake. Bake for 15-20 minutes then decorate with icing sugar and/or chocolate chips and cake sprinkles.

Ricotta and lemon and lime cake

You need: two eggs, 250 g of flour, 1 and ½ tsp of baking powder, 1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda, 100 g of melted butter, 150 g of golden caster sugar, 250 g of ricotta, the grated zest and juice of a lemon, the grated zest and juice of two limes.

To decorate you need: the peel of one lemon and one lime. Cut the peel in stripes and cook it in water with two tbsp of demerara sugar.

Beat the yolks of the eggs with the sugar, add all the other ingredients then whip the egg whites until stiff and add them too. Bake the cake for 45 minutes at 180 C. Pour the lime and lemon stripes on the cake and let it cool before serving.

And now let’s look forward to the Olympic Games! 

Have a lovely summer, I will be back with my blog posts in September. 👍🌞💦

Saturday 3 July 2021

Out on the web and the European Championship

 In all my working and creative spur, the European Championship is taking up most of my evenings. I mainly follow the Italian team, but I also like watching other teams playing. It is so interesting to see how the different sides reflect the culture of the nation they represent, and the competition is so harsh that the game becomes incredibly gripping. I loved how Italy played in the group stage, the team was focused and the players were determined to win. I was a bit anxious during the match with Austria but eventually we were rewarded. The match with Belgium was tough and tremendously entertaining. The battle was intense and non-stop. In the first half Italy scored three goals but one was offside. Belgium’s penalty reduced the Italian lead during the five minutes of extra time of the first half, but this didn’t seem to affect the Italian side. During the second half the footballers were tired and the play was more jumbled with several fouls on both sides. Italy had a one-point lead over Belgium, but it was hard until the end. Seven minutes were added at the end; it was distressful. But we made it eventually and Italy will play in the semi-final against Spain at Wembley on the 6th of July. It was a fabulous game. I must say, we deserved it. Viva l’Italia! Forza Azzurri! 

I follow England too. They did very well both in the group stage and in the match with Germany: they deserved to win. The goals scored by Sterling and Kane are the symbol of the nation’s social and ethnic background and confirm the idea that diversity is the key to win. I think they deserve to reach the semi-final and eventually the final and who knows, they might face Italy there. I was sorry that Portugal lost and Mbappe’s penalty mistake was a shame for France. The match between the Ukraine and Sweden looked like a commercial for IKEA with the players of the two teams wearing yellow and blue uniforms as the flags of the two nations have the same colours. I love Italy’s Azzurro kit and I wonder why the Italian players are not wearing it all the time instead of the white one which looks quite faded. Lorenzo Insigne is so small that he looks like a toy but he manages to dribble well from his position. Spain vs Switzerland was not so involving except for the penalties, with unexpected mistakes and missed goals. Scotland, Wales and Finland didn’t seem to match the high performances of the other European teams and so they had to quit. It is a shame, but it is also the reason why we are so gripped by this game: tough competition. The passion and commitment the players and their coaches put in is remarkable and tremendously engaging. I don’t normally follow the Italian or English league, but I am enjoying this Championship very much while I carry on with my needle and crochet works and cheer on with my family. 

Since my teaching job at ISL London ended I have had much more time to write and create. I usually write at home. My space is a rough wooden IKEA table in the kitchen surrounded by Ivar shelves packed with books and family photos. Under the table there are storage boxes with magazines and books I should read soon as well as painting materials. My knitting, crocheting and embroidery stuff is in the living room, stored in bags and wooden boxes as I like to do this kind of work in the evening while I watch TV. When the lockdown ended, I started to attend the gym again at the Woking Leisure Centre. I find exercising relaxing and inspiring in some way. I usually bring with me a magazine or a book and some writings I need to edit and alternate exercising to writing or reading. This works very well for me; I feel comfortable and can concentrate better. The café at the Leisure Centre is a nice space too with cosy soft chairs and good coffee. It is all right to work at home but sometimes changing places, meeting people or a different environment can boost creativity and help concentration.

I find the space to publish my writing in webzines and online magazines. It is a brilliant way to publish as people can click on the link and read my piece in an instant. As most people do, I spend a good amount of time on the internet, browsing social media, online newspapers, blogs and magazines. I don’t buy newspapers anymore, I read them online first thing in the morning, but I still buy books and receive a few magazines in hard copies, such as Ambit, Acumen, The British Journal of Canadian Studies and Tears in the Fence. Academic journals have online articles as well which are free to download most of the time. I have a long list of books I have recently purchased and would like to read during the summer, and maybe review some of them too. The pleasure of writing reviews is not only in the process of reading, researching and in the interpretation of the piece, but also in the practice of gathering my ideas in a logical way producing something that should be interesting as well as original. It is a challenging task that I like and enjoy. I am also working on some academic articles drawn from my thesis that I intend to submit to journals, and I have recently become a reader for Litro magazine UK. I read short stories that have been submitted to the magazine and give my feedback. The editors then decide whether to publish the piece. It is a very interesting job that gives me the opportunity to read a lot of prose and practice critical thinking from the other side of the fence.

Here is my list of books for the summer:

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Magnetic Field by Simon Armitage

Break it down by Lydia Davis

The collected stories of Lydia Davis

Fierce Bad Rabbits by Clare Pollard

Citadel by Martha Sprackland

Talking Heads by Allan Bennet

How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

Like Fado by Graham Mort

Melt by Sarah Hymas

Pepper Seed by Malika Booker

The Tangle Box by Dave Kavanagh

The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton

Anthology of Illness (Emma Press)

An American Sunrise by Joy Harjo

Men Who Feed Pigeons by Selima Hill

Tigress by Jessica Mookherjee

Margaret Atwood’s Juvenilia writings

The excellent David Cooke published some of Eugenio Montale’s poems Keith Lander and I translated some years ago in The High Window. Here is the link:

And Poetry in Surrey libraries published my poem ‘Umbrella’ here: 


In this country of rain and sunny spells

with arches of trees along narrow roads,

ochre and burnt sienna in autumn,

lusciously green in spring and summer,

valleys and hills surface the landscape.

Dreams are daffodil-shaped,

wisteria-buzzing, hydrangea-blooming,

the fountain splashes in Lakeside drive, 

the shape of an umbrella.

But gusts of wind rattle behind the lanes,

echoes of machine guns from faraway lands

washing shadows of corpses on our tranquil shores.

Shaken for a moment we think we can fix it,

mend the wrongs that dig holes in our stomach,

make their world similar to our world.

We say, whatever it takes we will give, 

they will live,

though seasons pass unrelenting.

One more poem is here:

Spilling Cocoa: To my first boyfriend 

My flash fiction piece ‘The Porcelain Doll’ was published by Toasted Cheese: 

And ‘Bianca’ and ‘Balloon’ are on Backlash Journal 5, June 2021 

Here are the links to reviews and articles published in magazines and webzines:

Dearly by Margaret Atwood (Tears in the Fence, issue 74, summer 2021)

Magpie Almanack by Simon Williams

Postcolonial love poems by Natalie Diaz 

Swim with me in deep water by Penny Sharman 

Digigram by Barbara Henning 

How to wash a heart by Bhanu Kapil 

When Peter Sellers came to tea by Trisha Broomfield 

When listening isn’t enough by Rodney Wood 

When women fly by Sarah Pritchard 

The years by Jamie McKendrick 

This kilt of many colours by David Bleiman 

Yield by Claire Dyer 

How to wear a skin by Louisa Adjoa Parker 

Breakfast at the Origami Café by Tess Jolly 

Later in July my sons are coming to visit us, and we will see more of Valentina, my autistic daughter. In August I hope to go to Italy to see my mum, but I haven’t booked the flight yet as the anti-Covid rules change from week to week sometimes both in Italy and in the UK and I want to be sure I will come back without any problem. In Rome the weather is horribly hot and humid (35-40 C) in July and August. This worries me a bit as I am used to a much cooler weather now, but I haven’t been with my mum since December 2019 and I know she longs to see me as well as I long to see her. In the meantime, I enjoy my pot garden, cycling in my area and the comforting sunny spells and gentle breeze of Surrey.