Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Bilingual Christmas Eve

Teaching Eve to speak a language which is different from the one that most people around her use is an exciting challenge. Everyone told me that bilingual children usually start speaking a lot later than those with only one language so I was quite surprised when Eve started jabbering away at a very early age. Even when she was tiny she used to love making our friends laugh by speaking Italian with an English accent or inventing strange verb forms that she knew were wrong just to see the reaction.
We don’t know many other English children so most of what she knows comes from me or DVDs or books that we read. She has phases of speaking like various characters and at the moment (Narnia phase) she says some really funny things:

‘Mummy, you brute! You’ll never get away with a mean trick like that!’
‘Ooooh, I’m really longing for the day when…when… I can have some Dora the Explorer biscuits!’

I was really proud the other day when she said, ‘Hey, I might’ve fallen over if you hadn’t been holding my hand.’
This probably won’t mean much to most of you but if you’re an English teacher you’ll know that it’s a very complex sentence. But a few minutes later when I told her to hurry up and brush her teeth as we were going to be late for school she said, ‘Yesterday I washed far too much with toothpaste my teeth.’


Yesterday I washed far too much with toothpaste my teeth!!!

Never mind. I’m sure no one else would have noticed… It’s what comes of having an English teaching mummy.

Singing Christmas carols the other evening in church I remembered how amazed I was when, as a child, I finally discovered that Holly Bears didn’t exist and that they weren’t berries either (Who can work that one out?) and that Ory and Tar weren’t mystical biblical lands. Made me think about how much stuff we say when we’re little that we don’t understand even if it is our own language.
Glad tidings we bring, to you and Jo King (as Eve used to sing)
We wish you a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Monday, 12 December 2011


This is a post about cold weather and what to do about it.

When I was young, I remember my mother always saying to me and my brother ‘Aren’t you two cold? Put a jumper on.’ Of course we weren’t and we didn’t. We were young and full of energy and adventures and we never felt cold and our mum was just being a mum. And we never caught a cold…

Then, back in the last millennium sometime, I was at university in Liverpool when THE COLD WINTER came. I was sharing a house with friends (some of them might be reading and will remember!!), it was the beginning of January when the day time temperatures suddenly plummeted to seriously minus zero and Britain froze from North to South. Our landlord (known for various reasons as Pervy Pete… but that’s another story) told us not to light the very dodgy gas fires as the frozen pipes would probably burst. So, no heating. I remember sleeping in a balaclava and gloves in a sleeping bag with a hot water bottle under two duvets but waking up every morning to find ice cms thick on the inside of the window. The only subject of conversation was the cold, lessons were cancelled, trains were cancelled. Life just froze.

And from that dramatic experience onwards I have always had a fear of the cold. It may be one of the reasons why I decided to stay in Italy so long.

Luckily Genova is one of those places that rarely gets too cold. There might be a biting wind one or two days in the beginning of January but usually we don’t complain. Yet, for some reason, as soon as it gets to November, come rain or shine (or 20° like it was last week) all the children in Eve’s school suddenly start to arrive with wooly hats pulled snuggly down over their ears, hoods pulled up over their hats and then scarves wrapped around the whole lot as though they were on an arctic expedition. Eve occasionally has her jacket done up. As we file into school the mothers and grandmothers glare at me in disbelief. Their fingers twitch towards their mobile phones ready to call the child abuse line. They cuddle their own little balls of protected wooliness towards them as if to distance them from the strange English mummy who doesn’t know how to look after her child.

The hatted, hooded children are always ill. The slightest breeze and they start coughing and sneezing and…. horror of horrors… get a temperature. (The next post will explain this very bizarre Italian phenomena) Eve has never had a temperature, never been off from school for a cold and only wears a hat in the snow. I wonder if normal sensible exposure to the weather might not be a good thing?!

Anyway, just so that my friends in colder (and windier) climes don’t hate me too much… I thought you might all be pleased to see that this morning my hill looks like this!

Much more Christmassy. And today there’s another strike so no school for Eve. Dread to think how the children would be dressed.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

'Tis the season to be jolly

Being 8th December it’s the day of the Immaculate Conception and a public holiday in Italy. It is also the day people usually set aside for decorating their Christmas tree and decking their halls with boughs of holly.

I got my boughs of holly yesterday from a neighbor who kindly cut them for me from his beautiful ancient tree. I haven’t got a hall in my house but wondered how I would have decked it with boughs of the wretched stuff if I had. Beautiful but very prickly. I cut lots of ivy too as it’s a bit more twisty and cooperative, and bay leaves which smell nice.

This morning Marco got the tree and the balls and all the other decorations out of the cantina, a sort of cellar under the house. We hadn’t been down there since the flood and were pleasantly surprised to find most things still usable.
Eve was beside herself with excitement and gleefully kept reminding me of how last year I had broken one of the glass balls!!
‘You dropped it off the table, do you remember Mummy! It was the best ball and you broke it into hundreds of tiny pieces.’
‘Yes, and you broke about 10,’ I smiled. I should have known better. My daughter is a bit sensitive and hates being told she has done something wrong.
‘It’s always my fault. You always blame me for everything!!’ she screamed rushing into her room and slamming the door.

In the meantime Marco was precariously balanced on the ladder outside her room trying to fix the Merry Christmas flags that I’d made over the window. He was angry because I asked him to use Blue Tac which, as an Italian, he doesn’t recognise as a major invention.
‘There’ll be little blue blobs when we take the flags down!’
‘Yes but they’ll be 2 ½ metres up. The blobs will be tiny. No one will notice.’
‘Yes but the best way to put up….’ etc. etc.

The day had started in the traditional family way.

Yet, we finally found plugs for all the lights, agreed on where to put the boughs of holly, compromised on what to hang on the tree and Eve decorated her own bedroom too! (see photo!) 

Perfect. It was the sort of afternoon when you want to put the fairy lights on and enjoy the cozy atmosphere with a glass of wine and a happy family…

The ‘problem’ was that outside it was about 20° with the low autumn sun blazing into the house from all directions. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. 20° is obviously better than 10° which is still better than 0°. It just didn’t feel particularly Christmassy and I thought wistfully of all my friends in colder climes who were roasting their chestnuts by open fires.

I decided to have a glass of wine and switch on the fairy lights and meditate on the situation in any case. It worked. Tis the season to be jolly after all.   

Monday, 28 November 2011

Some old men I know!

One sunny afternoon last week, Eve and I went down to our garden ready for work. It was the perfect day for planting broad beans. Luckily we hadn’t done it earlier as they would have been washed away by the rains. As it was, the ground was still nice and soft (easy for digging, not too muddy for the wellies…) and we arrived ready for action.

As you know I live in the countryside, on a hill and the actual road (if you can call it a road is really just a little windy path you need to walk along to get where you’re going and if you keep going it finishes in the wood. Some people drive their vespas along it and a few old men have three wheeled vanlikethings which sometimes bump up and down loaded with wood or manure. Our garden is not, as you might think, outside our house but a bit down the road… nearer the wood end. And that’s the end where all the old men and their vanlikethings are.

On to the old men.
First there’s Gino. Gino is the undisputed King of the wood-end of my road. His veggie garden is the biggest, the best and the most envied of the whole area. He was born in the house he lives in now and his wife was born in the house next door… You might call it destiny that they met and fell in love!

When Eve and I got to our garden gate Gino was feeding his chickens. He’s so great, he knows everything and understood immediately what we were up to. ‘Don’t worry I’ve got some beans for you.’ And he thrust an old basket full into my hand. Real Jack and the Beanstalk stuff.  
‘Grazie Gino’
As we were chatting in the middle of the windy path that separates his chickens from my garden an old scooter chuffed up the bumpy road. Lino! Lino was born in the road too but now he comes back only to visit his grandchildren and do the gardening occasionally.
‘Ciao Lino!’
Not long after Lino had passed by… Me, Gino and Eve still chatting in the middle of the road… one of the vanlikethings chuffed by. Dino!!! Dino was the first old man in Fontanegli I ever met. Marco and I very sensibly  moved to our house 3 days before Eve was born! I had to have a caesarian and when they threw me out of hospital 2 days later it was Dino who kindly brought me home along our bumpy road. 200 metres up-hill is not really difficult but with a recently operated bump it was impossible. Dino’s vanlikething kindly waited for me at the end of our path and brought me to the door of my house whilst Marco walked behind carrying the new baby Eve.
Ciao Dino!!
By which time I thought I’d better get digging, thanked Gino for the beans and climbed up the rocky steps to the garden. On the terraces above our garden is a house and lands owned by the two old people who nobody really gets on with. The old lady is a bit barmy and the old man jealous of everyone else’s vegetables! We used to say ‘Buongiorno,’ and things like that until one day I discovered my prize peach tree had been cut down!!! I discovered it was the old man… apparently he thought it was getting too tall and was worried it would block his view of the valley. He is a well-known tree poisoner and fruit stealer. I won’t say any more about him incase he’s reading my blog and digs up my broad beans in revenge. And with a name like Tino he’ll be sure to get away with it!!

(And here's some beans... and peas... in the garden last year)

Saturday, 19 November 2011

"I'll be back...!!!"

Everyone’s been asking… “How does it feel? No More Harem. What are you going to do now? ”

I don’t need a blog anymore.

Last week, in a really odd anticlimax (!), Berlusconi resigned and we got a new Prime Minister.

Very iffy from a democratic point of view as he was not chosen or elected by the people, Super Mario Monti just turned up, very serious, (no joke telling) very honest and nice looking (no make-up or false hair). He answered questions seriously at the press conferences instead of calling the journalists communists when they got a bit too deep. He spoke respectfully and sincerely to the two houses in parliament and received an enormous vote of trust when they had to give their ‘Sì’ or ‘No’... Lots of nice serious ministers who have nothing at all to do with politics and everything to do with what their new job is….

Which is one way of looking at it.

Lots of people are angry that there has been no vote. Others angry that Monti is a banker and that the country will be put back into the hands of those who caused the crisis in the first place. The left think there are too many right wing ministers. The right think there are too many left wing ministers. The Catholics are worried that they’re not represented, the non-religious element is worried that there are too many Catholics.

In all of this our ex-hero is being worryingly polite and smiling (real smiles too…without showing all his teeth at the same time!!!) He’s obviously up to something, but what?  Obviously planning his next move...
I’ll be back!!’, he said.

Watch this space.
In the meantime the harem, we hope, will fade gradually into the distant memory. I'm going to have to invent a new blog methinks :-)

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Flood

It seems impossible today, 20° outsied and beautiful sunshine, to think that 3 days ago it looked like this in Genoa…

We were warned that severe weather conditions on their way and advised to stay at home. Of course nobody did. The schools were open, buses running, people going to work as normal. Marco went down to work and phoned back to say that yes it was raining but nothing worse than a normal horrible rainy day so I decided to take Eve to school as usual. I’d been home for about an hour and as the rain got worse and worse I got more and more worried and after about two hours I braved the car and drove back to school to get her.

As you know I live on a hillside above the city and usually when it rains the problem is not so much the water but the landslides! I thought it would be better to go down the hill and along the valley to school instead of the normal mountain/ forest route. Don’t know whether it was a wise decision or not but when I saw the water level of the normally inexistent river I realised that things were much worse than I’d thought.

Water was already creeping in under the doors at school when I got there and Eve, excited by the adventure couldn’t wait to get out and play in it all. The river was dangerous so we made our way back along the top of the mountain road. Lots of rocks and branches and things on the ground but no landslides!! The car in front of us slowed down to avoid splashing down into a big muddy puddle which filled the whole road. I obviously slowed down too but to my horror he just disappeared further and further into the muddy water until it was almost up to his windows. Eve was ecstatic, the nearest she’s ever been to being in a James Bond film. ‘Go, Mummy, go! Faster faster!!!’

Can’t tell you how glad I was finally to make it home unharmed but even then I had no idea of what was going on down in the valley where the river had burst its banks and was raging around like a Hollywood disaster movie.

Genova is built on a hillside and has lots of little torrents which come down the mountainside, feed into the two main rivers (one of which in my valley) and then run down to the sea. The rivers are almost always dry and even when it rains they usually only just get a bit soggy. People take their dogs for walks in them, trees grow in the middle of them, rubbish gets dumped in them. Nobody ever cleans them… Then, every so often, they flood. Constant building nearer and nearer the banks means that when they do flood this sort of thing happens.

Since Friday we’ve heard so many stories of people who risked their lives to save people from drowning, who’ve completely lost their homes and their places of work. 6 people died, including 2 children. Truly incredible that three hours of rain can have destroyed so many people’s lives.

The positive side, if that’s the right word for it, is that people are shining with lovely warm feelings of solidarity, team spirit and general niceness. The Genoese are generally quite grumpy folk but in the past few days they smile thoughtfully, stop their car to let you pass and slap you on the back and offer to help you clean up the mud in your shop or house. And they mean it. Perhaps it’s like the stories our parents and grandparents tell us about the war when everyone looked out for each other and everyone joined in. It feels nice until you remember those not here anymore to share it.

Everyone thought my next blog would be about Berlusconi! It would be nice to celebrate his imminent resignation but
a) we want to see him resign, not just promise to do so (nobody believes he’ll really do it. He’s bound to have a trick up his sleeve)
b) Genova really doesn’t feel like celebrating at the moment.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Italia 0- Germania 10 –Last laugh (or The Culona’s Revenge!!)

After being called an Unfuckable Fat-Arse by Berlusconi a few weeks ago, Angela Merkel finally got her revenge.

At a Brussels press conference yesterday, a journalist asked Sarkozy and Merkel if the Italian prime minister had given them the reassurance they were looking for. Were they confident that B would come up with the necessary reforms?

It doesn’t really matter what they answered, or if you understand the French or not… just watch what happened.

This morning lots of Italians woke up feeling very patriotic and offended by what they see as an offence against Italy. But, iff you go around electing (and re-electing) a man like Berluska  though, you’re going to have to face the music sooner or later. For years they’ve refused to acknowledge that the rest of the world is laughing at them. “We’ve got beautiful women, Ferraris and fashion, pizza and the pope!”  they say, as if this guarantees them an eternal place in some sort of political First Division without ever needing to earn their place.

Yesterday B got a good telling off by the EU bigwigs and a list of things to put right by Wednesday… or else!!! Or else what? Detention? A smack on the wrists? Exile to Bermuda (via the triangle would be nice)?

Not really sure ‘or else what’ but for me, who’s not an Italian and not in the inciest-winciest bit patriotic (had you guessed already?) the Culona’s revenge was priceless!!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Italia 0 - Germania 1

Last month Berluska was in the ‘merda’ again when one of his telephone conversations was leaked:

                      “La Merkel è una culona inchiavabile”.

Your Google translator might blush at this so I’ll try to translate it for you. Culo is like saying arse so a culona is a fat arse or a big arse. Chiave is a key but the Italians use it as a verb a bit like the English would use ‘screw’…. You’re starting to get the drift…
OK, so our Prime Minister was discovered announcing (in a private conversation it has to be said) that Angela Merkel was an unfuckable fat arse…Which of course he has every right to think but…. should he really be surprised that Germany are reluctant to include him in any of their important meetings concerning real politics?
This morning our newspapers were full of indignation that Germany and France had dared to meet to discuss the economic future of Europe without inviting Italy… and it’ not the first time!! Have they got something against us? Do they not take us seriously? Aren't they being a bit chidish?? Is it really a time for paranoia??? …. Or should we start by getting rid of B????
Don't think I would have invited him either. Brava culona!! :-)

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Sorry Steve...

On a day when we mourn the death of an inventor who dedicated his working, life, energy and genius to help the spread of information, Italian politicians are doing their best to pass a law which will censor it.

Italians are currently being faced with a blackout on news that doesn’t please the regime whilst thanks to Steve  the rest of the world is enjoying the benefit of his genius. Wikipedia has been on strike here for the past three days in protest, news programmes are going on strike too, blogs will be monitored and heavy fines and prison sentences for those who try to divulge forbidden information.

Can you imagine a country which would put a journalist in prison for reporting that the Prime Minister is a pervert and do nothing about the Prime Minister himself? Reminds me of something I studied at school about Saxon Kings killing the messenger when he brought bad news.

What is going on?!?! Someone come and help us please. So sorry Steve that this whole country can do no better than this when you did so much.  :-((

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

When I grow up....

Having read my post ‘September and back to school’ you’ve probably decided you don’t want to be a teacher in Italy. So, what do you want to be when you grow up??

I asked two of my students. Both female, both thirteen, both very good at English, both from privileged backgrounds and happy families.

The first said that she’d really like to use her language skills, travel abroad and maybe live in America for a time.
‘Unfortunately I won’t be able to do that, though,’ she added.
‘And why ever not?’
‘Because I want to have a family too. So I’ll have to stay at home and look after my children.’

The second said, ‘I’ve been thinking about this a lot myself.’
‘And what conclusion have you come to?’
‘Well the best thing really…. (and there was, I promise, not a hint of irony in her answer)… is to be a footballer’s girlfriend. You know, you get to go to all the good parties, meet famous people and don’t have to do anything.’

Not a lot I could say to that really!

A few years ago, when the ‘bung bunga’ scandal first came out, Noemi, the very first of B’s bambine to become famous, was interviewed by most of the press. (She was only just 18, meaning of course that B had ‘met’ her when she was underage … he’s still not been done for pedophilia but it’ll come sooner or later) The journalists asked her what she was going to do after finishing her final school exams. ‘I haven’t decided between being a TV presenter or a politician,’ was her answer.

As though the two things were interchangeable. And maybe in Italy they are.

But there are other ways of getting on…

I read an article last week about a survey involving Italian university students, of both sexes.
Apparently the number of students prepared to offer sexual favours in return for passing exams with good grades is on the rise. It was only 12% in 2009, 25% in 2010 and is now at 48%. So not all is lost.

I also almost forgot to mention that September is the month of ‘Miss Italia’. Usually for four or five consecutive evenings hopeful beauties parade up and down on prime time TV hoping to catch the right person’s eye.

This year I confess it was narrowed down to two evenings… But, you know, it was probably really interesting… the future education minister, the new tourism, agriculture or equal opportunities minister might just have been amongst them. It really is all a career opportunity here in Italy.

All that I need to do now is decide what I’m going to be when I grow up J

Monday, 19 September 2011

September- and back to court

Today Berlusconi missed an important international meeting to appear in court… 
Hey, but who's interested in that when a new and much jucier scandal is gripping (!) Italy at the moment and ironically B is the injured party not the accused.

It seems that he has been blackmailed, and has already handed over more than 800,000 euros to a man named Tarantini in return for his silence. You might have read about it but if you don’t know, Tarantini is a pimp whose job appears to be recruiting escorts for Berlusconi.

By the way, the word ‘escort’, which used to be a car, is now the official word used in Italy to describe a prostitute. It’s a much more sophisticated term, almost glamorous… It represents a career move…. only a stone’s throw away from your own television show or a cabinet post…an absolute must if you want to get on!

Whilst Berluska is desperately trying to push through a bill to limit the use of wiretaps in an attempt to save himself, Tarantini has already been arrested. As a witness Berlusconi is obliged to give evidence. And he has to do this without the presence of his lawyer and without the faculty of not answering (have no idea what that is in English- if you’re accused you can choose not to answer but if, like B, you’re a witness, you can’t… so he’s got to)
But of course he is refusing to go. He says it’s a trap.
The option open to magistrates now is to ‘escort’ him forcibly. A large number of Italians are anxiously awaiting this scene.

But the wiretaps have been used and we know what he said and what he did.
Sorry Silvio but you have no defence.

If you haven’t heard yet what our PM has been up to these are just a few of the things he said.

- “Last night I had a queue outside the bedroom door … There were 11 of them…. But I could only manage 8.” (He is almost 75 so I suppose it’s justifiable)

- I’ve got a terrible week coming up: meeting the Pope and Gordon Brown… I’m going to have to cut down the number (of prostitutes) this week.”

- “In my spare time I’m the Prime Minister. What I’d really like to do is stay at home with my bambine (little girls!)”

And here are a few of the things he did according to the wiretaps

- cancelled an official appointment at the UN, so that he could spend the evening with one of the prostitutes supplied by Tarantini.

- used government aircraft to ferry prostitutes to his parties.

- issued a diplomatic visa to his pimp to join him on an official visit to China he could organise a night's entertainment for the prime minister during the visit.

-took time out from official duties to ensure that one of his regular escorts was not voted off a reality show on one of his TV channels.

-invited senior managers from his cinema production company and from state TV to his soirées,so that he could slip his bambine into the best tv and film jobs.

We wonder whether the ageing, billionaire, sex maniac, media mogul premier can do something about rescuing Italy as it slowly disappears down the economic plughole.
And we doubt it.

The only thing to be grateful for is the fact that he is so rich and he can pay. If he didn’t have so much money he would be a seriously dangerous man!!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

September- and back to school

Well, it’s been a long time. All of August has gone by with no blogging and half of September too.
Unfortunately the holiday is over now but that also means that the usual 3 months of forced summer unemployment are also nearing an end …
Anyway September is always a great month in Liguria: everywhere else is starting to get a bit chilly and misty with yellow leaves and grapes… Here on the Riviera it is still summer … 32 ° yesterday and we went to the beach. (One of the advantages of not having any work yet and Eve still not at compulsory school age)

I used to be an English and Drama teacher in a comp in London before I came here and remember the summer holidays as being a time for planning, organizing, getting psychologically prepared for the year ahead. For me September still always feels like the start of a new year.

I don’t work in a state school now but have lots of friends who do and for them it’s a completely different story. Many of them finished work in June without knowing if they’d be called back or not. One, who is a primary school teacher, was told by her head, ‘Come into school on the first day of term in September and we’ll let you know if there’s a place for you or not.’  !!!

It’s not unusual for teachers, cleaners and secretaries too, to be without a fixed contract and not know until the beginning of term whether it has been renewed or not. Needless to say many are not.

Another classic situation is that teachers and cleaners are informed (again maybe a week before term is about to begin) that they have been moved to a different school. Yes, it obviously goes against every management ethic you can think of but… remember, a divided people is easy to control. Let them start building real relationships, doing team work and having ideas and they get dangerous. Keep them on the move and they’re putty in your hands.

To work in a state school your name needs to be on a list called a ‘graduatoria’. Your position on the list depends on the number of points you have and the first job to come along gets assigned to person at the top of the list independently of where the job is, what kind of school it is, with no interview, no compatibility match up.

Maybe things have changed back in the UK but I remember reading the Times Ed, seeing a job I fancied, sending off my cv and hoping for an interview. Here the people don’t matter. The points do!

In Italy you get onto the graduatoria by getting a degree (usually) and taking a test called a concorso (not always the guarantee it should be… remember where we are!!) More points can be added by following specialization courses, Masters degrees, working for free just to show your goodwill…

When finally you do get near the top of the list you might get sent to the other end of Italy to work (not such a tragedy for us but the Italians really hate moving away from home) and if you go humbly then you get even more points. Finally, at near retirement age, you will have enough points to be able to ask for a transfer to the school nearest your house (getting rid of the teacher who is currently holding the place and will have to be moved)

It’s like collecting petrol stamps at the garage. The more you are prepared to spend the better your prize at the end…

Me and Eve have got one thing to say about it…

Friday, 22 July 2011

Genova 22nd luglio 2001

Whilst the morning newspapers were obviously full of stories of violence, news was filtering through of something which had happened during the night.

Many consider the police attack on the Diaz School the darkest moment of recent Italian history.

The Diaz, right opposite the GSF media centre where I had been working, was being used as a dormitory and meeting point for foreign protestors and journalists who didn’t know the city. Almost 100 of them were sleeping there that night. Later, with the excuse that they believed Black Block were inside, the police raided the school and savagely beat the sleeping people. In the meantime those watching in horror from the media centre opposite phoned ambulances.

Many of those inside were carried out on stretchers, 63 people were hospitalised with serious injuries, traumas to the head, broken ribs … one lost sixteen teeth in the attack, an English journalist- Mark Covell- was beaten to within an inch of his life, and another was in a coma for two days.

Those not taken to hospital were taken away by the police where they were beaten, tortured and humiliated for five days in prison.

This amateur video was taken from the media centre opposite the school. Luckily it doesn’t show the full brutality of the situation. The photos do, however.

The police justified their actions by saying they had proof that those inside the Diaz were members of the Black Block. They showed Molotov cocktails as proof. These were later proven to be false, planted by the police themselves. Unlike the British police, the Italians have no identification number on their uniform and, dressed as they were, it was more or less impossible to identify them. Nobody accepted responsibility; some officials were charged, then let off… then moved to cities where they weren’t quite so infamous and promoted.
I don’t know where this clip comes from but it’s an English commentary on the Diaz attack.

An English journalist said, ‘that the police could carry out such a brutal act openly means that they did not expect to be held accountable for their actions. Which means that they had support from higher up, more powerful politicians. That those politicians also did not expect to be condemned . . . means that they too have support from higher up, ultimately, from Berlusconi"

I started my 3 day account remembering the dramatic fact that Berlusconi is still our Prime Minister.

Tomorrow in Genoa there will be another demonstration to remember the G8 that our city suffered 10 years ago. This time the police have promised that they will warn us if they plan to attack, just to let the goodies run away first and they can have it out with the baddies! Tactics are obviously a lot more sophisticated after 10 years. If anything interesting happens I shall let you know.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Genova 21 luglio 2001

Despite the violence and the death of the day before it was decided that the third demonstration would go ahead. The strategy, agreed by representatives of the various movements involved, was to isolate Black Block infiltrators by linking hands around groups of peaceful demonstrators. In doing so it would be clear to the police who was who and, if destruction of the city continued by the BB, in theory there would be no confusion.

200,000 people took part. Terrified by what had happened the day before but somehow still able to believe that there had been a ‘misunderstanding.’ Young families with children, old people with walking sticks, farmers, monks, people dressed in colourful carnival costumes, music, singing and dancing. 200,000 people convinced that they coul prove that their protest was peaceful! The day was hot and sunny, the route led down the wide palm lined Corso Italia right next to the sea… What could go wrong?

The story is long and painful. Here are some of my most vivid memories.

- The sudden deafening sound of police helicopters descending on the dense crowd and launching tear gas (later discovered to be an illegal toxic gas) right into the middle . The smell of it hung in the air for months afterwards.
- Screams as the police attack advanced against the people at the head of the procession and the ensuing panic as they turned back and tried to escape into the advancing crowd.
- Blood covered people lying at the side of the road and police massacring them with their truncheons (later, the photos showed that they used their truncheons the wrong way up so that the metal part would cause more damage)
- Doctors (easily identifiable by the official ‘red cross’ T-shirt they were wearing) with battered faces, covered in blood after having been attacked by the police. I later read about an ambulance stationed in a side road in case it was needed (!) People being treated by the surviving doctors were being dragged out of the ambulances by the police and beaten again.
- In an attempt to escape people were jumping over a pretty high wall which led down onto the beach… only to find that police dinghies came at them from the sea, again shooting toxic gas. There really was no escape.

One of my strongest sensations was that of a sort of primitive survival instinct. I’d never before been in a situation where I literally did need to ‘run for my life’.

One journalist said, “The Black Block was not the source of the problem in Genoa. The problem was state, police and Fascist violence. In Genoa we encountered a carefully orchestrated political campaign of state terrorism. The police planned to attack the march and by blaming the Black Block has effectively let the state off the hook.”

The third and last demonstration had been a complete massacre. Corso Italia was littered with wounded bodies and terrified people…

It ought to have been the end. The programmed ‘events’ of the G8 were over. But the police brutality wasn’t. Two of the biggest episodes of state violence were still to come.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Genova 20 luglio 2001

Since I’ve lived here, Italy has hosted 3 G8 summits; 1993 in Naples, 2001 in my city of Genoa and 2009 in L’Aquila. Britain was represented by John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the USA by Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barak Obama, Italy all three times by Silvio Berlusconi !!!

If you have the patience, read through to the end and watch the video links. What happened at Genoa 10 years ago this week was condemned in a report by Amnesty International as

The most serious suspension of fundamental rights in a Western country since the end of the second World War’

The week preceding the summit, I had been working as a volunteer translator and interpreter at the Genoa Social Forum media centre. The GSF was an umbrella group encompassing most of the anti G8 ecological, political, social and religious associations taking part in the demonstrations. The media centre was the base for the hundreds of independent journalists who had come from all around the world to follow the events.

The city itself was a ghost town. Berlusconi had encouraged people to leave Genoa for the weekend. At the time it seemed the logical thing to do for many. The centre itself was off limits, ‘protected’ by an immense iron grid, the streets were literally swarming with extra police and tanks which had been drafted in and the climate of tension and fear increased every time a politician opened his mouth. Almost as though they wanted something to happen you could say.

Yet in the surreal atmosphere people continued to arrive from all over Italy and way beyond to take part in the demonstrations. To coincide with the three days of summit, three days of civil ‘protests’ had been organized.

After a sunny, successful demonstration the first day with officially 50,000 people taking part, euphoria was high. I remember that Berlusconi had warned people not to hang their washing out of their windows during the days of the summit as it gave a bad impression to the international press. But protestors shouted up at the windows as the procession passed through the streets ‘Fuori le mutande’ (get your knickers out!) and old Genovese women who were still stay in town gleefully waved their Bridget Joneses down at the singing crowd happy with their own protest. Everyone was tired but happy at the end of that first day… no one able to imagine what was to come the next.

The first sign that something was amiss were reports the next morning that small groups, dressed in black, were destroying the city. At the time I lived in an area of the city which bordered the ‘zona rossa’, the no go zone. They were talking about my street on TV! Me and the friend who was with me ran down the 5 flights to the street below and were horrified to see the first acts of violence of the day. Amidst the burning cars and general debris I saw two dark, hooded figures (later I discovered they were known as Black Block)  smashing the window of a bank. Other nonplussed observers gaped at them in disbelief. These scenes soon became ordinary compared to what we saw happening further along the road. Trying not to breathe in the smoke and the tear gas we approached the mass of people ahead of us. The helicopters which had been circling the skies for days began firing the stinking gas at us and we saw people run screaming and bleeding from the masses. A massive police attack was taking place on unarmed peaceful protestors. We ran too.. and that time managed to escape unharmed. http://youtu.be/5k-KaQp4cNk 

What had actually happened was that the peaceful, authorised demonstration had been blocked and brutally attacked by the police whilst the Black Block, who were the ones actually destroying the city, were left undisturbed to carry on, (almost giving an excuse to the police to carry out the attacks. Vary rarely people take the time to distinguish the violent from the protestors, especially, as in this case, when their city was being burned.)

The police brutality continued. 
The day ended tragically with the assassination of a 23 year old protestor, Carlo Giuliani.

The day after the urban warfare became a war.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

560 million Up date

Last Saturday Berluska’s company Finnivest received a court order to pay out 560 million euro in compensation to his arch enemy, Carlo de Benedetti. In the court of Appeals he was found ‘jointly responsible’ for having corrupted judges, back in 1991, to rule in his favour during a struggle to gain control of Mondadori, Italy’s biggest publishing house. Silvio usually has lots of sneaky moves ready to avoid trial but this time they got him good and propper… and 560 million euro is a lot of money even for Berlusconi!!!
Although is daughter, Marina Berlusconi who is the president of Finnivest, has been making lots of high-heeled song and dance about the whole thing,  the man himself remains silent. He’s the Prime Minister, he’s been charged with very big corruption and he’s just skulking in the shadows. As well as this the Italian economy appears to be crumbling round everyone’s ankles and the country on the verge of bankruptcy. Various MPs and MPs' consultants are being very blasé over accusations of involvement in mafia scandals and Naples is sinking into the pits of the world under thousands of tons of rubbish. Berlusconi? Skulk… skulk… skulk… (bunga bunga) … skulk.
Many people think that this trial, which started just before he decided to go into politics and was just doing money, is the reason that he did (go into politics). And it does have to be said that many a law since then has been peculiarly effective in getting him off the hook. Makes you wonder.
Anyway that was just a little update. I shall keep you posted. By the way the lady in the photo is Marina B (exactly 2 months older than me I discovered!)

Friday, 8 July 2011

Italians and the art of queueing

There’s no direct flight from Genoa to Rhodes and so we left for our holiday from Milan, Malpensa. Apart from being very convenient for us ‘genovesi’ the airport in my city is really horrible. Must be the only place where you pay a euro for your trolley but don’t get it back when you return the trolley, where the taxi drivers invent the fee, don’t use the meter and the price goes up the more passengers there are, where the bar staff seem not to have realized that there might be foreigners around and scowl and swear if anyone asks them anything in any other language than Italian. Makes a great impression when you first arrive.
Our tourist minister Victoria Michela Brambilla is apparently working on it (she was another Miss Italia finalist in a past life but unfortunately I couldn’t find any photos… you’ll have to put up with this one.
She’s famous for showing her stocking tops during live televised debates. She loves dogs and her current ‘tourist crusade’ is to get dog friendly beaches in Italy. With a gal like her on our side you really can’t go wrong!!)
When we arrived at Malpensa the first obstacle we had to confront was the check in queue. Queue is a pretty big word to describe something which is not a natural state for an Italian to be in. A plane full of tense tourists anxiously studied the flight board to see which desk to go to and when it was finally announced… OMG, as they say… it was like a rush to get on the last train out of Hell. Old women battered children, respectable family men crushed anyone who stood in their way, anything to get to the front of the queue first. Queue: in Italian ‘coda’. It means either animal tail, traffic jam or queue. You can’t go wrong with an animal tail: either you’ve got one or you haven’t. The second two are more complicated, especially if you’re Italian.
Let’s take a simpler example: the supermarket queue. Imagine you’ve finished your shopping and move to the checkout area. You swiftly weigh up your options and aim for the check out of your choice. Within seconds an old lady, clutching one or two items, arrives at your side. That’s right, at your side. She doesn’t stand behind you but next to you, and smiles. At this point you glare, trying your best to convey that, ‘I know what you’re up to. I was here first so don’t try it on with me!’ look. She smiles sweetly back as though she’s known you since you were two and butter wouldn’t melt in her crafty old mouth. Luckily you know better than to drop your guard because as soon as the queue moves forward a little so does she. A little more than you… and before you know it she’s in front of you and not only that. Someone else has appeared at your other side. Nobody it seems feels the need to extend the queue backwards.
Not so long ago the situation was helped in the supermarket where I usually shop when they introduced self-service check outs. No pushing in there, and it means that I can do the shopping without having to argue every time. I’m sure they could think of something to help the airport check in situation too. Just put those snaky little barriers in… seems simple doesn’t it! Try telling it to the Italian airport authorities though! Maybe we can get Minister Brambilla on the case :)  

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Holiday is Over

I usually spend my summer holidays between Italy England and France: the first two for obvious reasons and the last because it’s our favourite route to get from one to the other. France is also really well organised for camping which is how we like to holiday. It’s always quite a sad moment when we gradually drive back along the Riviera towards the Italian border… a sign that the holiday is well and truly finished.
And the first sign that things are really changing is the quality of the motorway service stations and the attention to detail in the dress sense of their customers. Happy go lucky T shirts and floppy sandals are suddenly replaced by immaculate coordinating (ironed) clothes. A cashmere jumper slung in an apparently casual manner over the shoulder usually in various shades of cream, chunky gold bracelets jangle subtly at the wrist. And that’s just the men!  You would think that couples planned their wardrobe together in the morning for they always match each other. The only difference is that the woman’s tan is often slightly more orange and she wears more gold than the man. Gold belt, gold bag…even the shoes are usually gold! Be they little ballerinas or strappy sandals or more comfortable sporty shoes they are always gold. After weeks in a tent in Provence in no shoes at all the gold shoes are quite hard to take. A sign that the ball is over. The holiday is over.
I shall be returning to France (without shoes) in August but this year have been able to have an extra holiday. It’s a long story but I spent all of last week with Marco and eve in Rhodes. We’ve just come back and when I’ve finished washing and ironing the colour coordinating clothes I shall tell you all about it.

Friday, 24 June 2011

A nice day with friends

An old school friend of mine, N, who moved to France with her family some years ago, has started a blog which makes all sorts of comparisons between her new life in France and that in the UK. She came to the conclusion that for the children lots of things were much better in France. I wanted to do the same and thought I’d start by listing all of the things that I liked about living in Italy.
The list started like this
a)      The weather is nice.
b)      The food is OK.
c)      The scenery is incredible
d)     And then I got a bit stuck….

I decided to ask my husband who, being Italian was sure would have a much longer list. ‘It’s very beautiful,’ he said. ‘The food is great. The weather’s nice too…’ Yeah OK, I’m sure given a few beers he would have got a bit deeper. So, today during a very nice lunch with of some of my best friends, I decided to interview them for my blog. …I ought to explain that thanks to Saint John the Baptist who, due to a series of coincidences too long to go into right here and now, is celebrated on 24th June and who is also the patron Saint of Genoa, we were all on holiday today. (Most towns adopt a patron saint whose feast day falls in the middle of the summer which I’m sure is so they can have an extra day at the beach).

So, the interview:
M, is originally from Genoa but for the past 10 years has lived between Holland and Germany. She says, “In Italy the food’s nice, it’s very sunny and beautiful…” OK so what does she like about living in Germany compared to Italy? Here the answer was a bit more original. “If you have a problem and you complain about it you know that it will be taken seriously and someone will do their best to resolve that problem. Things work and if they don’t people will make sure they soon do. In Italy you always feel that someone’s trying to rip you off.”
It’s true. People don’t trust each other here and it sometimes makes you doubt the authenticity of their Italian Charm School diploma. They often scowl if you say good morning, are suspicious if you open the door for them and look the other way if you smiled so as to avoid having to smile back. It’s almost as if it costs money to be civil and in these times of economic crisis it’s not hard to understand why…

Then I asked F, who is M’s brother. “What do you like about living in Italy?” He shuffled around on his sun filled garden bench and replied with “Anyone want a coffee?”
“Come on, Vicky asked you a question. It’s for her blog.”
“Coffee no? Grappa then?” We had the distinct impression that F didn’t want to answer the question. If he reads this he can write it in the comments section :)

J (M’s husband) comes from Mexico, is a frequent visitor to Italy but also currently lives in Germany. “J cosa ti piace della vita italiana?” He told us that he finds life in Germany very ‘individualista’. You have to be independent and solve your problems by yourself. You need to understand how things work and get them done. I wonder what Germans would do if they had problems here?!

After this, it was very hot and so me and M had a water fight with the children in the garden. I was winning as I had an enormous glass bottle which I kept filling from the tap. They only had silly little plastic cups and weren’t very good at throwing anyway. It wasn’t until my best shot with the glass bottle passed a little too close to poor little Eve’s forehead and cracked it open that I realised it was probably time to stop drinking grappa, start acting like a responsible parent and just go to the beach. It was after all San Giovanni Battista and if you can’t go to the beach then when on earth can you??