Thursday, 28 December 2006

Well now, here's a task - about a week's worth of blog.

N.B. Parents please note that while this blog is sort of chronological, more or less, you'll want to read the paragraph starting "I've been avoiding mentioning this" first. Thank you.

Well now, here's a task - about a week's worth of blog. Little indication of when the things listed below occurred will be given. And I daresay it'll need more time weeding for typos than I have to spare. This is what happens when you go to an Italian village with only dial-up facilities.

We went to a pub (pronounced "pab" in these parts) irlandese which wasn't half bad actually. We went with Vane e Lorenzo e Alessandro. Monica and I have translated Alessandro's web-site for his medieval drumming group, but I don't think it's made it to the web yet. Some of it is very silly anyway - stuff about the lords of darkness being driven out by the life-giving power of the drum. Weird. The pub was pretty traditional looking, but the random wall-filling crap was rather too organised, and the classy old "Guinness is good for you"-era posters were somewhat on the forceful-side. Too much space in front of the bar, as if dancing might spontaneously break out, but it was admirably cosy in some places. If you go to an Italian pub you can expect to be served as if it were a café, which is odd, but hardly a shock to the system if you've been listening to people speaking a funny made-up language for several days. I was hoping they might pipe in some chirpy stereotypical fiddle-music, but unfortunately it was by-the-numbers bass-heavy nothingness. I had a draught Newcastle Brown, with which I was impressed, never having had it from a tap before and a Birra di Natale (Christmas Beer), quite unaccountably German with an Italian name. I wasn't sure about it to begin with, but by the end of my pint, we were reconciled, each to the other.

We paid a flying visit to Marieangela (which I've almost certainly misspelt), who is a cousin's daughter, whatever one of those is called, as she was off to Spain for Christmas, I think with her school, and had yet to have the pleasure of meeting me. She's apparently a peculiar girl, which I can believe. She got her boyfriend some pants for Christmas and was trying to decide what to write on them. Also sausages. And she scalded one of her legs trying to wax it. She had a question about the definite article for me, as she is learning English, but it was "When do you use the definite article?" which is a question of a scope more than I can handle. I like grammar, but that's quite a thinker, and is bound to be shot-through with a dictionary's worth of exceptions for every rule-of-thumb. They had a little dog that drank deeply of the choice Dobson aroma, as Wodehouse might have put it.

Christmas Eve is a rummy old affair round these parts. It's a fast day, which only means that what you eat a lot of, instead of being a lot of whatever you fancy, is fish, and very well-cooked fish too. We had our feast fast over the way with aunties, uncles, nieces, cousins, parents and in-laws. Midnight Mass is very popular - apparently it's like our Christmas day, in that it's when people who don't usually come to church put in an appearance, only I am reliably informed that they make a point of showing off their new clothes as well, which I can't say I noticed. And it started at midnight too, not like in England, where I gather we tend to time communion for midnight and don't worry too much if it's early. I'm looking forward to mass in English, though I do make out more and more these days, especially if it's scripture. We had a quick look at the Offagnese nativity scene (presepio) before going to bed really quite tired. It was good. We've seen a fair number of these nativity scenes. Some of them comprise several rooms, and a lot of effort clearly goes in to them, lighting effects, modelling and distributing sand reminiscent of Bethlehem. I told Nicholas this over the phone, but think it worth mentioning here - the first nativity scene, in memory of the real one, was brought about by St. Francis of Assisi, who wanted people too see what his birth was like, so he got some animals and people together, dressed 'em up and stuck them in a cave in the Italian hill-side for people to come an visit. Cool eh? And they still have living nativity scenes in Italy every year - I may see one this time round.

Christmas day we opened presents of course. I got lots of good things, some of which I have been able to thank people for over the phone and some not. I gather it's easier to phone some parts of England somehow. From Monica I got some gloves (handy (snigger) as I'd just lost one of a pair), a bedside light which is at home and a pocket bible. From Mum and Dad, I got this really cool barometer in what I, as an amateur, deem the classic style. I got music of various stripes from Ade and Emma, Neil, Vane e Lorenzo. I hope I got which is which right. Monica's Mum and Dad got me an undershirt - they worry about the sartorial habits of Englishmen I think. I rem-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-in an Eng-lish-man. Alessandra, one of Monica's cousins who was for an extended period referred to as "my cousin with a swimming pool", got everyone a tea-light holder from Ikea as well - I'm not sure if I have ever had anything from Ikea before. For Monica I got this porcelino:

He's called Wilhelm. I made a not-particularly-Christmassy compilation as well; however, some of the tracks were of me doing some songs with my 8-track which seemed to be quite well-received. And I also got some poetry, which is less romantic than it sounds.

Naturally, we ate a lot on Christmas Day too, various meats and things, with Monica's immediate family and Lorenzo's who I'd never met before. He's got two brothers, both of whom are smaller than him and smoke - goes to show. One is really quiet, especially when you consider that he's Italian, and the other one is full of joie-de-vivre. The latter accidentally got a bit of tomato sauce on my jeans, but only in eagerness to be hospitable, so all's well. I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but a proper Italian meal comes out a bit at a time. A roast dinner, for example, would I suppose be broken down into it's constituent parts and served separately. Say, vegetables first, then when everybody's had enough, the beef comes out. The etiquette of it all mystifies me (I think because there isn't any), but there're plenty of friendly Italians ready to give a shoe-gazing Englishman a break in this area. I drank too broadly (a red which I didn't know was so strong, and spumante, which is white) and was rewarded with a headache lasting into the next day.

Can you guess what we did on Boxing Day? We looked out, on the feast of Stephen, because out is the direction in which you have to head if you want to get to mass. This is apparently as traditional as going to mass for Christmas, but I was not in on the jape, so was a little surprised to find that we were going in five minutes. Never mind. If your first guess of what we did on Boxing Day was that we ate, you would also be correct. We went to eat with the same crew as on Christmas Eve, and stuffed ourselves to the gills as previously. Uncles are the same everywhere - Fabrizio (if I have the spelling right) ate copiously, drank with enthusiasm, and spent a lot of the time dozing on the sofa, as did Alessandro. Another tradition apparently is that you play bingo on Boxing Day. I didn't feel up to going it alone, so I "helped" Monica by flipping our numbers as called, which was a bit of a flipping challenge at times, but I done good. It was rather like being back at school for the last language lesson before Christmas.

In Italy, you don't avoid arguments, or perhaps I should say that what seems like an argument to um... me/the English/you and me is really more of a discussion. Anyway, instead of not talking about religion and politics, they're always talking about religion and politics. And local politics comes under close scrutiny as well. Did you know that the word paese means both country and village, which is some indication of how personally they take local politics. I've gotten used to these discussions more now, but Monica is, I think, rather wary of my acquiring a nervous disorder because of it. Everyone swears a lot round here as well. Norris is, I think, a natural Italian; the place seems to think the same way he does regarding the propriety of it's use. There's also a lot of blasphemy about. I guess it's bound to happen, culturally speaking, when Jesus and the saints are so ubiquitous, but I certainly don't approve. I got told off the other day, for saying thank you too much - another cultural thing. It's got a lot to do with an attitude to the family, an attitude that takes it rather for granted. Now this may sound like a bad thing, but I think few will say that the concept of family is more central in England so it seems that it works. So for friends and family you save your thanks up, and you don't speak as if relationships are held together by mutually supportive transactions. If it happens, it happens, but it's unseemly to draw attention to it. It reminds me of a theory I've heard about why we thank bus drivers - we don't want to imply that it's a business transaction where you pay for a ride, rather, we prefer to picture a bus driver as a nice man who gives lifts, and incidentally gets paid somehow. Money is so crass. Perhaps there's a little of the same thing in perfect strangers calling you "mate", "love", "chuck", this sort of thing. That weirds Monica out.

TV. Now TV is sort of interesting too. You might think that having, for a prolonged period, as prime minister, a media mogul like Berlusconi, conditions would be favourable for good television. You'd be dead wrong - it's largely utter balls. Next time you're tempted to complain about British TV, say to yourself, at last I don't live in Italy - really. I don't mind that a lot of it is dubbed, it's bound to be, but it's pretty relentlessly dire. It's like they stretch out daytime TV for longer. Something worth watching might possibly come on at 9, but it's not an overwhelming probability. Walker, Texas Ranger seems to be on all the time for example. Take a look at this:

This is from a popular satirical programme. Now if you're English, you will charitably assume that these ladies are integral to the process of visceral political criticism. But they're just not - they are purely eye-candy. At the moment, as it's Christmas, they sport angels' wings and white furry boots, but they just sit on the side of the stage smiling agreeably. The mascot of the same programme is a tapir, which is to say a guy in a tapir suit lolloping about the set. At the moment it's a golden tapir, but maybe that's because it's Christmas as well. This guy occasionally gets kicked in the arse by the presenters. There're a lot of bimbos on Italian TV - sometimes you'll be watching what seems to be the news, and the "and finally" story will be an insightful glance into the career of some model or other with helpful soft-focus shots of them in swimwear. It's surreal, and I can't understand how for the life of me it continues to the present day, as there're plenty of professional women about who apparently don't deign to be offended. Among the more classy offerings are Takeshi's Castle and WWE the principal joys of which are the pained looks you get from Monica while they're on the TV. Interestingly, they showed Jack Frost over Christmas, which you may know as A Touch of Frost with that guy from that show about cockneys and horses.

I've been avoiding mentioning this, and being (in a strict sense) a bit economical with the truth over the phone, in the interests of not alarming anyone, but I've been a little on the diseased side. I noticed this lump on the front of my throat, which did perturb me, but after mentioning it to Monica, calmed myself with WebMD, whose professional opinion it was that it was nothing to worry about unless it hadn't gone away after two weeks. It also came to my attention that two sore bits by the side of my mouth didn't seem to be healing at all quickly and were also starting to look decidedly mank. It being Christmas, I couldn't get to the doctors' until Wednesday, when I got it checked. In the absence of the correct specialist, we asked Allesandra, who is a vet, and she proposed that it was herpes (it wasn't, as it turns out). I thought that perhaps it might be impetigo, as Ben had that a few months earlier in our house (it wasn't really that either). Monica had some blood test results to show to her dottoressa as well as an overly long-standing problem with one of her eyes, so we went together and I felt all important because I had a personal translator. Doctors' waiting rooms are essentially the same everywhere. This one was a slightly nicer colour than most English ones, but it needed a bit of touching up. One thing that is different is that they don't do appointments, you just turn up and you ask who the last person to arrive for your doctor is. Monica's dottoressa tends, by all accounts, to an explanatory style of doctoring, which I feel is a good thing, but it did mean we had rather a wait. There was a small girl running round and round and round. And round. And round. Here's what it was - I had a bacterial-infection, probably stress-induced, though I'm being very well looked-after, and to do with a deficiency of vitamins A and E, which after some time had become "impetigised", hence the unattractive bits by my mouth. This had irritated my lymph nodes, who decided to give me what-for by producing a lump. Nothing to worry about, but now I've a cream to apply, anti-biotics and vitamin supplements to take up until about when I get back. Italy is rather casual, I got my drugs under Monica's name. Also, interestingly, I learn that here dottore prescribe brand-name drugs (and the pharmacists usually propose a cheaper alternative with the same active component), but there's a motion in the chamber of deputies to make them prescribe the stuff itself rather than the brand. I noted with amusement that I've been to Offgana's pharmacist with Monica about twice as many times as I've been to Italy.

I've had a stab at reading Cuore (Heart), which is apparently an Italian childrens' classic, with constant reference to a dictionary. I finished the first page.

We went for a nice walk the other day, Monica's family. Really pretty, and Monica kept telling me to look (guarda!), and to breathe (respira!), and was cordially made fun of. And we settled down to watch The Bourne Identity in Vane's house, with Lady Grey tea, which I've never had before, and is alright for a holiday. Matt Damon stabs and shoots and knocks out a lot of people, but apparently his heart's in the right place because he won't orphan children if they're right in front of him. Pfft, I say. At some point we had a walk in Osimo, and I got to experience the social event that is walking up and down an Italian street, just chatting. Except we didn't stay out too long.

We're going to visit Marghe today, at the convent. They were incommunicado for advent, and we go to deliver presents of a sheep hot-water bottle, and an Italian copy of Mere Christianity that we picked up in Ancona. Lewis (predictably?) isn't such a big name in these parts, being primarily known for a mediocre Christmas film of recent years which compares very unfavourably to Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings and, for all I know, the execrable-looking Eragon, with Joss frigging, "do my ears deceive me, or is this clearly musical filth?" Stone. You can get all of the Narnia books in one volume these days, but it's 20 euros, so I'm not sure he'll win many friends. And Monica's just walked in with some booze for the nuns, spumante, which Marghe's Dad's just dropped off.