Saturday 29 January 2022

Visiting my Italian family again


It was exciting to see all my Italian family again at Christmas. My sons and my daughter travelled to Italy as well and we were all together in Rome for about two weeks. Seeing my mum after two years was almost moving. I found her fit considering she is 91, independent in her daily routines and still sharp in her comments. As soon as she saw me, she told me straight away that I was aging, and she added that she didn’t like my hair and a pair of yellow suede shoes that I wore most of the time as they are very comfortable. Apart from these funny remarks, she was very caring and sweet. We were together all the time, did our shopping, watched TV in the evening and did our crochet, visited neighbours and friends and I also helped her with some bureaucratic things she had to do. Coping with Italian bureaucracy is not easy, not only the council offices are far away and difficult to reach with public transport, but you also need to provide stamps to add to the documents and these stamps are not sold on site. You are supposed to know this though the information is not provided. When I lived in Italy, I was used to these procedures but now they seem so weird and annoying. We took a taxi to reach the local council office and to go back home and had interesting conversations with the taxi drivers. On the way to the office the taxi driver was pro-vax and told us the story of one of his nieces who tested positive for Covid and had to self-isolate. He blamed the anti-vaxxers who, according to him, spread the virus. On the way back the taxi driver had the opposite view. He didn’t wear a mask and when my mother started to blame the Italian bureaucracy, he seized the opportunity and ripped into the government. He had such a defiant and aggressive tone that at a certain point I said that my mum and I had triple vaccination and then he finally stopped talking.

We celebrated Christmas at my parents in law’s house with the best Italian food and good wine. On Boxing day, we went to a restaurant to celebrate my father in law’s 81st birthday as we could not celebrate his 80th last year because of the Covid restrictions. The restaurant had a traditional menu typical of the cuisine of Rome such as fagioli con le cotiche (Roman style pork and borlotti beans), porchetta (roast pork), home-made fettuccine with porcini mushrooms, pasta amatriciana and a fruit tart that reminded me of cheesecake. All the relatives were there sitting at separate tables and we all wore masks when we were not eating. My granddaughter Violetta received a lot of presents but she seemed more interested in the wrapping paper than in the toys and clothes. She was smiling and calm all the time though the whole event lasted about five hours. We took a lot of family photos which look a bit formal, but we really enjoyed the gathering after such a long lockdown.

I was surprised and pleased that in Italy they were so well organised and consistent in the Covid regulations. This is mainly due to the stability of the Italian government led by Mario Draghi (Mario ‘the dragon’); he is managing to keep the coalition together and is guiding Italy towards recovery. I think the tragic effects of the pandemic in 2019 and 2020, especially in the north of Italy, was so frightening that Italian people don’t wish to fuss around in politics at the moment and the parties are prioritising economic and social renewal. Mario Draghi is considered a hero of sorts, and now that the president of the republic, Sergio Mattarella, has concluded his presidency, they suggested his name as a possible new president. The members of parliament are voting every day, but they haven’t reached an agreement yet. Even Silvio Berlusconi was proposed as president by the right-wing parties, who don’t seem to remember the bunga-bunga scandals and the allegations of corruption against him. The Italian president has not much power but is a symbolic figure who represents the country, similar to the Queen in the UK. What dreadful image of Italy would Berlusconi convey! Sergio Mattarella is 81 and said clearly that he is not willing to be elected for a second term, which would last seven more years. Maybe he feels tired and he is right, he did his bit brilliantly and the job is a big responsibility and commitment. What about a woman? The name of Marta Cartabia, the Minister of Justice, has been proposed as well. 

Compared to the UK, Italy seemed more under control and stable, which surprised me again as it is usually the contrary, Italy is a mess and the UK government is consistent and reliable. The partygate and other scandals linked to Boris Johnson and his team are putting a lot of strain in the Conservative government. The PM seems to have lost authority in his own party. But who can they put in his place? In an article on The Times, they were asking ‘Where is the Churchill for our time?’ but I don’t think there is an answer. Shall we have early general elections as it often happens in Italy in similar circumstances? I cannot see short term solutions.

My mum had a lot of Christmas lights inside and outside her home; she even kept the French window ajar to let the cable pass through it and plug it inside. I had a nightmare one night imagining a tall figure coming in from the balcony and wandering around the house with Christmas lights on its head, spooky! Adding to the ghost-like atmosphere, there was also a disturbing noise in the living room every 5-7 minutes. I inquired about it and my mum said that it was a fragrance shaker that puffed some scent out. In the evening we watched television till late following all the debates about Covid restrictions which were pretty much the same as in the UK. They updated about the Covid cases every day, wondered if the super green pass is a fair measure. The anti-vaxxers were identified as people from the far right and far left. I have some friends who have refused to be vaccinated but who do not belong to these categories. They are just afraid that the Covid vaccination might provoke irreparable side effects. We also watched old films such as Flawless and The Age of Innocence and a program on Alberto Sordi, a famous Italian actor who had roles in more than a hundred films. 

I followed Justine Welby’s speech, pope Francis’ speech, the queen’s and Mattarella’s speeches as well. I found that all of them reflected on our main concerns though from different points of view. They talked about the different bereavements, the sufferings of refugees and the struggles for a fairer society. Mattarella emphasised the capacity to recover not only from the economic crisis due to the pandemic but also from personal failures. They were all messages of hope that should help us in this time of recovery.

There were also interesting exhibitions in Rome but my mum gets tired easily now, so we decided to take it easy. However, we managed to visit Villa Torlonia in via Nomentana, not far from my mum’s place. The elegant buildings of the Villa host museums and exhibitions in the beautiful environment of the park. Here is my latest review of the park and its


It was a gorgeous sunny day when we visited Villa Torlonia and we had a wonderful time despite the delays due to the Covid regulations. We spent more time queuing and distancing because of the Covid rules than visiting the different places. But this is our time. I feel lucky that I had the opportunity to visit my family and that they are all well. We had a great time together and I finally came back to the UK safe and in good health.

Saturday 15 January 2022

Between England and Italy

 Yes, it was a bit hectic both before and after Christmas. I had some deadlines for my writing and for my paintings that I wished to complete before going on holiday. I managed to write a few commissioned reviews of poetry collections and paint some watercolours of theBasingstoke canal for a charity auction to raise money to replace the Kitty. I also produced some Christmas cards and watercolours of roses I gave as a present to friends and family. On top of that, I applied for jobs as a teaching assistant in secondary schools in my area and had three interviews in two weeks just before the break. The whole thing was engaging and interesting but a big commitment too. Eventually I got a job, full time at The Park School in Woking, just 15 minutes’ drive from my home. I am very happy about the role. I worked as an academic
mentor in universities during my PhD course and found the job rewarding. Supporting students with learning difficulties and/or disabilities and seeing them achieve their targets is a great satisfaction. The experience is invaluable and enriching not only on a human level but also in terms of understanding different ways of looking at the world. I have just completed two weeks and am very happy about the ethos and theorganisation of the school. The students I am supporting are sweet, funny and vulnerable in their own way but also unique. I believe they have a great opportunity to learn and grow at The Park. The lessons are interesting and fun at the same time and they can follow a curriculum, learn life skills and socialise in a safe environment. My colleagues are helpful and welcoming, which is an extra bonus. I feel at ease and still have time to carry on with my reading, writing, crochet and my paintings as I do not have extra work to do at home, such as preparing lessons or marking papers.

Before leaving for Italy, I was very worried about the omicron variant and all the rules and restrictions that were added at the last minute. The situation was a bit confusing in England as the cases increased but the celebrations were not cancelled though they said we all needed to be careful about social gatherings. After two years of postponing our visit to Italy, we eventually decided not to cancel our trip this time and take the risk. My daughter did all the research for the Covid checks and sorted out the tests and the papers to print. We needed three doses to have the ‘super green pass’ that allowed us to take public transports, access restaurants, museums, cinemas, gyms, pools etc., plus a certified test to board the flight. The checks were very strict both at airport and in Italy. The bar code was regularly scanned and there was no way to enter a place without the third dose. Face masks were compulsory as well even in the open air, preferably the FPP2 type. On the airplane only the FPP2 type was accepted and on the flight we had to wear our coats or tuck them under the seats.

Now the rules are getting even stricter than when I was in Italy at Christmas. Vaccination is compulsory for over 50s or you get fined and you can’t go to work but have to stay at home unpaid if you don’t have at least two doses. These rules are now laws that will be fully implemented by the middle of February. Children are going to be vaccinated too. I heard about an Anglo-Italian family who travelled from Kent to Lombardy to have their child vaccinated against Covid. Other European countries had lockdown or partial lockdown such as Austria, The Netherlands and Germany. The mantra seems to be ‘get the jab’ or you will be cut out from work and social life. The news both in Italy and in the UK emphasised the fact that the antivaxxers often end up in hospital and put at risk the life of other people spreading the virus and delaying health procedures because of the burden on the intensive care system in particular. On TV I saw some no-vax rallies in Italy where people were quite aggressive and claimed not to trust the government. They believe it is all a lie and that behind the ‘Covid scam’ there are drug companies whose only purpose is to make money. Antivaxxers also believe that doctors inject a micro chip in your body with the vaccine to control your movements and thoughts. They think that behind the pandemic there is a conspiracy to make people injected with a vaccine that will eventually kill them to achieve a global depopulation. Some people are also afraid of the side effects, as they say that the reasons why a number of people who had problems or even died after the vaccination are not clear. A doctor from Padova, an immunologist who is pro-vaccine, received a threatening letter with a bullet inside that said to stop campaigning for children’s vaccinations or they would shoot her. Even getting tested was hard during Christmas time. There were long queues at hospitals and pharmacies and at a certain point they ran out of the molecular tests, only rapid tests were available.

Before leaving I followed Strictly Come Dancing and enjoyed it until the last minute.

Though my favourite couple was Rose and Giovanni, who eventually won, I must confess this year it was hard to choose. The final seemed less competitive without AJ Odudu, though the last two couples were both fantastic. I think the prize should have been split this time just to be fair. I also had a bad experience in late November selling kimono, haori (short kimono) and obi (sashes) at a vintage auction. I brought them from Japan when I visited my daughter before the pandemic. I sold some of them on Facebook marketplace and then decided to try selling them at auction. They sold well but the percentage (commissions plus VAT) the auctioneers took at the end was so high that we received in our pockets less than half the price that the whole lot was sold for. I promised myself to never repeat this experience again.

We visited my autistic daughter Valentina before leaving. We spent a whole day with her and had great fun helping her decorate her place. She loved the food I cooked for her and was overjoyed with the presents. Now her apartment is refurbished; the walls are lined in hard white plastic so she cannot scratch them. She also has a new floor and a new sofa. Videos and TV programs are projected on the wall through a camera from a computer, so she has no chance to hit and break the TV screen. When we came back we could not see her for two weeks as she got Covid, though she had no symptoms because she was vaccinated. Now her place is in lockdown to protect the staff. We skype with her every week and she seems happy. This pandemic seems never-ending, but what can we do against it? Take precautions and get jabbed seem the only alternatives we have. And hope it will weaken and be over soon.