Sunday 17 July 2022

Planning the summer holidays


I know we are having a heat wave emergency and temperatures may rise up to 40 degrees in some parts of England, but I am feeling so good with a bit of hot weather after so many grey days, and it will not last long I suspect. I can finally wear my flowery light long dresses and loose t-shirts. I decorated some of them with crochet flowers and asked my daughter to paint roses, daisies and tulips on others. They look very pretty and fresh. My mum says that in Italy it is unbearably hot. Temperatures are reaching 40-45 degrees with high levels of humidity especially in cities like Rome. My mum told me that she struggles to carry on, she is often dizzy and has headaches.

This kind of weather started at the end of May with only a week of cooler weather when they had some thunderstorms during the night. She stays inside most of the day with windows shut surviving with some air conditioning and fans. I will go to visit her at the end of July but I don’t think it will be better. Some parks in Rome, such as Pineta Sacchetti, had destructive fires that the fire brigades struggled to extinguish. I am planning to see a few exhibitions in Rome and visiting some friends but I am not sure the weather condition will allow me to go out too much. I think it will be a challenging period for me and I need to think how to organise my life when I am in Rome. The other problem are mosquitos which I’m not used to anymore. In Italy they are everywhere, day and night. We use some products to prevent bites but it is impossible to avoid them completely. They buzz around you even at night. Honestly, I am not really looking forward to spending my holidays in Italy, though I’m happy to see my mum.

Besides visiting my mum, I will see my sons in the north of England, my daughter Valentina in Redhill and some elderly friends of mine who live in Woking and in Guildford. I will spend a day or two in London visiting exhibitions, attending the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall and maybe going to see gardens in Surrey. Flowers are inspiring me both in my crochet work and in painting. I collected a great number of pictures of flowers I took myself and downloaded from social media. Observing the flowers in gardens is a bit different though. You can see the texture, keep memories of what you observed and rework it at home. I rarely paint en plein air, that is, outside. For me what you produce is a memory of what you experience, which always changes in some way even if you have the subject or the picture in front of you. 

At the moment I am completing a new post-box crochet installation with a sunflower and am working on sunflowers in my paintings too. Sunflowers represent the essence of summer with their burnt sienna centre and bright yellow petals. I am mainly using watercolours wet on wet but also mixed media, pens, oil pastels and ink. I love making small pieces on khadi handmade paper I can stick on small and big cards to give to friends and family.

At the Park School where I work as a teaching assistant my students are making original projects for clock designs. In science they are watching videos on the universe and studying the conditions needed for biological life and the possibility of other lives somewhere, that we call aliens, a word that implies utter otherness and maybe hostility rather than possible proximity.

The last week was great fun; we had two trips, at The Big Apple and at Pirate Golf in Woking. The students had outdoors games, art sessions, drama and craft activities and they even fired a rocket made with a plastic bottle filled with water and air. We also attended a show, Losing it!, on sexual education performed by Peer Production ( ), a group of students who train to access drama school. The story covered the high school years from year seven to sixth form describing all possible scenarios from first dates to questioning your sexuality, straight, homosexual, queer, then sexism, rape and consensual sex in marriage. It was very entertaining and well performed though it had dramatic moments that some of my students found hard to cope with.

I am also working on my new collection, Workwear, which will be published soon by The High Window. My daughter will compose the cover and I am putting together all the sections, blurbs, acknowledgements and dedications. The launching will probably be in the autumn, in September or October, on zoom and the book will be publicised on The High Window website and on my website too. In this new collection there are poems about my mother and my grandmothers, on food and family ties as in my previous book, Negotiating Caponata. However, Workwear has a wider perspective and has more poems. Besides a section on the pandemic, some of the poems respond to other poets’ work, such as Sylvia Plath’s, and to social and political issues, such as Trump’s wall, immigration, otherness, abuse and ageing. There is a sequence on my autistic daughter Valentina that retraces her story and the story of our family from her adoption to the diagnosis of autism in 2008 and her move to a residential school. Every time I read the sequence I feel as if it is happening again and when I visit her at weekends and see how lively and how happy she is, I feel we did the right thing. The collection is dedicated to my granddaughter Violetta who is a joy and a blessing.

I was flabbergasted by the splendid catwalk of Valentino at Trinità de’ Monti in the centre of Rome and Dolce & Gabbana’s Alta Moda display in Sicily. The outfits are so elegant, precious, varied and the settings are ravishing. Here are the links to know more:

The problem of abortion in the US still shocks me. It is a terrible backlash which means that acquired rights are never guaranteed; we need to fight for them again and again. America is divided on abortion laws. Apparently half of the states will restrict the regulations to the limit of 14 weeks with no exception for rape or incest, or ban it completely though the majority of American people are in favour of abortion with some restrictions. Women will be forced to travel to the states that allow abortion or to other countries such as the UK. It seems absurd that in the US people can easily buy firearms and kill people in the street and in schools but the life of unborn children is strictly protected. Here is a link to an interesting and thorough essay on the history of abortion in the US by Jia Tolentino in the New Yorker: 

Both in Italy and in the UK, we are having an unstable political interval. In Italy the Five Stars refused to vote for a package in the Senate, provoking a crisis in the government coalition. Mario Draghi, the PM, resigned but his resignation was not accepted by the president Mattarella. So they need to see next week if they can form a new government with enough votes and if Draghi accepts it, otherwise they will go to the ballot and have a general election in the Autumn. The next general elections should be in about a year and I suspect that the right-wing coalition will win. In the UK we finally had the resignation of Boris Johnson and then the race for the succession as leader of the Tories and as PM. It will take until the beginning of September for the changing of the roles while Boris will linger, maybe suggesting the winning candidate. Taxes, inflation, the rise of prices and lack of affordable houses seem to be the main issues. Three names are the most probable: Rishi Sunak, Penny Mordaunt and Liz Truss. This situation adds more uncertainty to the times we are experiencing and have experienced in the past few years: Brexit, Covid, stagnation, inflation, rise of fuel and food prices, strikes, flight disruptions, a possible new Covid wave in autumn and monkeypox. Will we have a break at some point? I hope so.

I didn’t follow Wimbledon but I am enjoying the Women’s Football European Championship. Unfortunately, I cannot attend the matches at the stadiums but when I do watch them on the TV with my crochet and a Moretti in the evening to relax. Italy seems to be out as it is at the bottom of the group, so I am supporting England. The lioness squad is doing very well. They are swift, professional, brave and pretty. They deserve to win the trophy though there is still a long way to go and some of the other teams are very strong too, such as France and Germany. Here is a link to the updates: 


Some of my poems have been recently published in the summer issue of BeZine, here is the link:

And more poems have been accepted by Pulsar Poetry, Ink, Sweat & Tears and Obsessed With Piperwork.

I made fruit and nut loaves using Mary Berry’s basic recipe, here is the link:

They were delicious and can be made adding whatever you fancy, fresh and/or dried fruit, nuts, chocolate chips, cream, yogurt, cinnamon, etc. 

And here are some recipes with sour cream I particularly enjoyed during this summertime:

Lemon sour cream cake

For the cake you need: 250 g of self-raising flour, 150 g of sugar, 200 g of sour cream, two eggs, a pinch of salt, one tsp of baking powder, ½ tsp of bicarbonate of soda, 100 g of soft butter, the grated zest of a lemon, the juice of half a lemon. 

For the glaze you need: the juice of half a lemon, 100 g of sour cream, 50 g of sugar, 50 g of melted butter.

Mix the butter and the sugar, add the egg yolks and then the rest of the ingredients except for the whites of the eggs. Whisk the egg whites until stiff and add to the mixture. Bake the cake in a greased donut tin cake for 30-45 minutes at 180 C. Prepare the glaze warming all the ingredients in a pan and chill it for half an hour. Cut the cake in slices and place them in a rectangular glass dish. Finally pour the sour cream mixture on the slices and chill for half an hour before serving.

Chocolate sour cream cake

For the cake you need: 250 g of self-raising flour, 100 g of cornflour, 100 g of cocoa powder, a pinch of salt, one tsp of baking powder, ½ tsp of bicarbonate of soda, 200 g of sugar, four eggs, 200 g of sour cream, three tbsp of olive oil, half a glass of milk.

For the chocolate icing you need: 200 g of dark chocolate, 200 g of sour cream, two tbsp of golden syrup.

For the filling you need 250 g of whipping cream, one tbsp of sugar, two tbsp of the chocolate icing (see above).

Whisk the eggs with the sugar for 5-10 minutes. Add the olive oil, the baking powder and bicarbonate of soda mixed in the milk. Fold in the rest of the ingredients. Bake the cake in a greased tin cake for 30-45 minutes at 180 C. Let it cool and prepare the icing warming all the ingredients in a pan. Prepare the filling whipping the cream with the sugar and finally add two tbsp of the chocolate icing. Cut the cake in half and wet each half with milk mixed with water. Spread the cream filling on the base and cover it with the other half of the cake. Finally spread the icing evenly on the top of the cake. Chill for one hour before serving.

Ice cream with strawberries, sour cream and buttermilk

You need: 500 g of strawberries, 150 g of sugar, the juice of a lemon, a pinch of salt, 300 g of buttermilk, 150 g of sour cream.

Cut the edge of the strawberries and chop them. Blend the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice in a food processor to a purée. In a bowl mix the strawberries with the buttermilk, the sour cream and the salt. Pour the mixture in a container and freeze overnight or for about 24 hours. Take the ice cream out of the freezer and break the ice from time to time.

No-bake strawberry tart with sour cream and lemon curd

You need: 400 of shortbread, 200 g of melted white chocolate, 300 g of lemon curd, 200 g of sour cream, 300 g of chopped strawberries, four leaves of gelatine.

Crush the biscuits into crumbs and stir in the melted chocolate. Press the mixture into a round tin cake lined with parchment paper and chill for half an hour. Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for five minutes then squeeze them and add some warm water, then stir until the gelatine melts. Mix the lemon curd with the cream and add the gelatine. Spread the cream mixture on the base of the cake and finally scatter the strawberries on top. Chill for 3-4 hours before serving.

Have a lovely summer 🌻🌞

I will be back with my blog in September.

Sunday 3 July 2022

My Graduation Ceremony

 Last Thursday I finally had my PhD graduation ceremony, which was postponed because of Covid. The weather was unstable; it drizzled and then rained but finally sunny spells prevailed. My day started early as I had to be at the London Campus in Reading about two hours before the ceremony started. Everything was perfectly organised and the instructions were very clear and sent in advance. Smart clothing was required, no jeans or trainers, so I decided for navy blue trousers and a blouse with a colourful purple scarf and glass beads necklace with matching earrings. For shoes I opted for comfortable black and grey sandals with a medium heel but I forgot to apply nail polish to my toes. I felt a bit tense but also very proud of wearing the purple gown and black beret of the degree of Doctor in Philosophy. We were supposed to be five PhD students but three chose to graduate in absence.

The ceremony was simple and solemn at the same time. The vice-Chancellor introduced the celebration, we lined up and stepped to the stage when our names were called, doffed our cap to the vice-chancellor and went to take our places on stage. The other PhD student and I sat on stage while the BA students went back to their places behind the audience. We all graduated in English literature, mostly girls or women, a few were Asian or Black and there was also a Scottish guy wearing a kilt. Dresses were covered by the gown, so the most noticeable part of the outfit was the shoes, all high heels or chunky heel sandals that looked quite unstable. No wonder that some of the girls wobbled up and down the stairs to the stage. We all looked excited and happy to see our achievements celebrated. Being at the University of Reading again reminded me of all the work I carried out for my PhD and how much I learned during the course. My supervisors, Madeleine Davies and Peter Stoneley, were super as well as the examiners, Mary Morrissey and Fiona Tolan. Mary was present at the ceremony and congratulated with me at the end. I must confess I feel it is an important goal, something I did at the right time in my life when family commitments were less pressing, and I therefore had more time to pursue my passions. I know that my PhD studies improved my research skills, my understanding of literary criticism and literature and my writing as well. The whole process was so engrossing that now that it is over, I am doing my best to carry on with my studies and my writing.

My plan for the next few months is to write some more reviews and articles on topics and authors I like. I will visit my sons in the north and have a day in London to see some exhibitions and maybe attend a concert at the Royal Albert Hall. I am planning more crochet works, perhaps a new post-box installation with sunflowers inspired my Maria Primachenko’s flowers and some crocheted mandala, charms and hairpins I am making for friends and family I am going to visit during the summer. I would also like to visit Wisley Gardens to take inspiration from the display of flowers and plants for my paintings.

Last week I also attended two open mics, one at The Lightbox in Woking and another one at the Adelaide pub in Twickenham. Most of the fellow poets of the area were present and some of my friends from the Woking Writers Circle too. We had a good time together, chatting, catching up on our health and family life, and above all listening and cheering each other’s poetry. At the Adelaide they read poems from the Poetry Performance’s new anthology, Poems for Ukraine, which will be launched in September. The poems are poignant and moving and the edition looks superb.

Last Wednesday I met some of my fellow poets at The Keep in Guildford for the Guildford Fringe. The event was Robert Garnham’s performance Yay! The search for Happiness, a brilliant gig. I reviewed his book about a year ago, here is the link:

And I am looking forward to reading his new collection, Woodview (Beatnpress). His poems have an interesting sad undertone but are great fun too and convey great vitality. I joined the Shackalakaboomboom chanting and especially enjoyed ‘Seaside Serenade’, so typically and tenderly English with the lukewarm tea and chocolate digestives. The search for happiness seems simple and unattainable at the same time; maybe it is a compromise with our inner self and Yay! here we are to face life and enjoy it after all. 

The final poem, ‘Be Yourself’, is a celebration of life in its subtle ordinariness expressing a sense of belonging and also the awareness of being part of a community. Here is the link to the trailer of the show: 

and to the poem:

Robert will be at the Edinburgh Free Fringe from the 14th August to the 21st at 8.15, here is the link to book the tickets: 

It was a busy wonderful week full of excitement, rewarding moments and great fun. I am looking forward to my holidays to catch up on my writing, painting and crochet. I long to meet my family and friends and recharge my energies after a year of hard work but also interesting opportunities and new discoveries.