Strange days indeed.

These are peculiar days and not only because of PaC.

There’s an email I’ve received, the tone of which I find incredibly odd. I won’t go into details and I could be very, very wrong, but it’s freaked me out a bit.

Then there’s “the other thing”. I won’t go into details – at least not yet, but it’s a thing that has been growing slowly over the last couple of months and, in particular, the last couple of weeks. It makes me feel alternatively frightened/sad/angry/despairing. Today, I feel angry. Yesterday, I felt a little lost. Sometimes, I just need F to be around. He doesn’t need to do anything but the very fact that he’s there gives my confidence a boost. And, of course, he’s not at the moment. And i can’t bother him with this, right now. A result of yesterday was that I had about 2 hours sleep last night and, maybe, that’s partly why I’m angry today – but it’s only a part. I’m also angry because I cleared things in my mind and I thought about things long ago and I WILL NOT LET IT HAPPEN AGAIN!

PaC, on the other hand, is not at all good. Maybe I was right after all. Sadly.

Snatches

We get just snatches of time.

No time at all, really.

I had gone to bed late, not really wanting to be in bed at all. But, I thought, a doze might be useful.

He arrived sometime after midnight. I didn’t check the clock. He’d brought some hot cross buns and some Cadbury’s creme eggs and a Shaun the Sheep for me. Bless him.

The dogs went crazy, of course. We didn’t really talk. How can I bring up this subject within seconds of him walking through the door? I give him a hug but he doesn’t seem to respond. He’s a bit stiff. He lets me do it but I get the feeling that, right now, he doesn’t want to “let go” for fear that he would follow through with a breakdown. And, as usual, he’s being “strong”. It’s OK. I understand.

I found it more difficult to get to sleep. Not really wanting to sleep when I knew that it would only be a few hours until he left again. For how long? I don’t know and neither does he.

Eventually he turned the TV off and we both tried to settle. It was at least 1.30 a.m. He was going to take the dogs out this morning. He had a pilates lesson at 8. I knew he hadn’t slept much the night before, whilst he was in London. I offered to take the dogs out this morning – several times. But I didn’t insist as he only had this short time with them and I know how much he misses them.

He got up just after I did. As I was finishing my coffee, he was back and while I washed up, he fed them. My eyes are red and sore. I probably had about 4 hours sleep. Probably he had less.

Then we talked briefly but without saying much. We talk round the subject not of the subject. I asked him if he knew when he would be back, just in case he had some appointment arranged and so I wouldn’t be surprised by an unexpected return. He said he might be back on Saturday or Sunday.

Of course, it’s all “maybe” now. In one way, of course, it would be so much better if it all happened sooner rather than later. PaC is in hospital. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s to control the pain or maybe something else but I’m fairly sure we’re talking a matter of days rather than weeks or months now.

I don’t want to ask too much in case he doesn’t know. I know that can be very annoying. At the same time, he doesn’t really go into detail, even if he knows. I try to gently prise the information out. It’s the best I can do. I try to support. I try to do things so that he knows I’m supporting him. I think he does.

And, meanwhile, we get moments of time. Snatches. Like stolen moments, as if we shouldn’t even have them. It is better than nothing but not enough. But it will have to do. And I won’t press for more. It’s not the time for that and I’m sensitive to that.

I send everyone my love. We’ll speak by telephone later. But that isn’t one of those snatches. That won’t be “real” time. The next snatch of time might not be until Sunday evening.

A long weekend with an old, old friend

What I really need now is a weekend off.

I am, in fact, completely fucking exhausted. the last four days have been just constant activity. And, for almost all of it, F has not been here. PaC is not good so he was down there for a couple of days and then he had to go to London for work. So, it was just me and I feel like I just want to relax now.

But, back to the long weekend, (since Lola is so insistent). It was exhausting because D wanted to walk everywhere. I do understand but, obviously, for me, living here means that I don’t need to see everything so the metro is fine.

But we walked. And walked. And bloody walked. Then, whilst they were relaxing in their hotel I would be out walking the dogs, of course. And then walking them in the morning and in the evening. I actually feel like I don’t want to walk for a week.

Or eat for a week when it comes to it. From my usual one meal a day to breakfast, lunch AND dinner. I am stuffed.

So, there it is. After around 30 years of not seeing each other, D was just the same. A little older, true, but really just the same. And I’d forgotten how much he talks. We would be in a restaurant and we (J, his partner and I) would have finished eating whilst he had been talking, so his food was cold (I imagine). And still he would talk. And talk.

And, what did we do besides walk and talk (or listen) and eat?

Well, not much as it happens. They didn’t want to go inside anywhere. I did take them to Villa Necchi – but I think I only got away with that because it poured with rain on the Saturday. And, so, being inside was a good thing. They said they wanted to soak up being in Italy, so I did my best to give them that.

On the first day, we walked to the centre of the city (via the flamingos off Corso Venezia), past the Duomo, into the Galleria to the front of La Scala then up to Brera where we had lunch. Then around Brera and on to the the Castle and then back down to the Duomo and back to their hotel via Via Della Spiga and the park. That evening we went to Ristoranti Al Grigliaro where we ate fish (this is because J really likes fish and so does F and F was only going to be with us for that night for certain.)

The next day, F was at work. I met them at their hotel which was close to our flat and we strolled through Porta Nuova (the brand new area of Milan), stopping for ice-cream (it was J’s first time in Italy), walking down Corso Como (we stopped in to take a look round Corso Como 10 a famous designer shop/cafe/restaurant which also has a bookshop and an exhibition space) and then on to Eataly where we had lunch. From there, down Corso Garibaldi and back to the centre and straight back to Corso Buenos Aires. That evening we went to eat at the Cantinetta Belle Donne so that F could get home easily if it got late.

The next morning, early, F left for London. I had some errands to do so I ended up at their hotel about mid-day. We went to La Belle Aurore for a simple lunch and then to Villa Necchi Campiglio (the villa that featured in the film I Am Love). The nice thing was that, this time, we had the tour with a guide who spoke English (rather than a recorded tape) and, as there were only 6 of us, we saw a couple of rooms that I hadn’t seen before (the bigger groups don’t get to see them). In addition, they had finished the work on the basement so we got to see the Butler’s pantry and what had originally been the changing rooms for the swimming pool and the snooker room. That evening, in spite of the persistent rain, we went down to Navigli (we took a tram) and had an aperitivo (with mountains of “free” food) and then a pizza at Fabbrica – they loved the pizzas.

By the next morning, it had almost stopped raining. By 10.30 we were on our way to via Paolo Sarpi, the “Chinatown” of Milan for the New Year’s celebrations. We got there early and walked about. We couldn’t get in to any of the Chinese restaurants but went to a Sardinian place of piazza Gramsci (Ristorante Giulia) and came out just before the parade started.

As J comes from Taiwan, he was able to explain the procession – the Emperor, the concubines, the courtiers, the common people, the wedding party with the bride and groom, etc. So it made it much more interesting.

Then, even before the thing was over, we were back on the bus to their hotel as they had a plane to catch and I had a lesson.

It was really nice to see D again, after all these years. And J, his partner was lovely. There weren’t any “difficult” moments and it was all very easy (if exhausting) and I think they enjoyed it very much. It was unfortunate that F didn’t get to spend more time with them. But I think they did get a flavour of Italy, which was important.

And in a few weeks, my friend, J, is coming for a few days and a trip to La Scala, so that will be nice.

A change in feeling

So, I mentioned before that a friend is coming to Milan who I haven’t seen for more than 35 years. And, i mentioned that I was a little bit apprehensive. After all, we’ve kept in touch by Christmas and birthday cards only. Not even letters or stuff. So I don’t really know much about him over all these years.

At one point, the cards started to come with J’s signature. I guess that was about 10 years ago or more. I’ve seen some Facebook stuff and J appears to be Chinese or of Chinese origin (in fact, I learn, Taiwanese.)

They’re coming tomorrow.

We’ve exchanged phone numbers. And last night, we talked. It was so strange. It was him and it seemed like, apart from knowing almost nothing about each others’ lives over the intervening years, we’d always been in touch. Which, of course, is very good.

In his words, they want to “soak up the atmosphere.” They mean, of being in Italy, of course.

And that made me think. I’ve been here so long now that I don’t see things as different or strange. Or, at least, not so much. So I’m having to rethink. To try to remember what makes Italy different from being in the UK. What makes you go “ooh!”

Aperitivo is one thing. I’ll have to pick some places to go. Eating outside isn’t really on right now, unfortunately. Ice-cream, of course. Pizza. Coffee at the bar. Coffee near the Duomo, sitting and watching the people, even it’s it’s outrageously expensive. The places we should go.

I’m gong to take a couple of days off work. F doesn’t really understand this. He thinks it strange. But, then, even if he’s lived in the UK, he doesn’t quite understand us that well.

Anyway, he’s hardly going to be here. Sadly, PaC is not good and he’s going down for a couple of days. Then, on Saturday, he has to go to London for meetings. I’m not sure when he will be back. Possibly Tuesday. So, in the end, he’ll just have dinner with us a couple of times. But that will probably be enough for him.

So, now I’m quite looking forward to seeing D and meeting J. It should be nice.

I don’t think I will like it (even if I have no idea what it is)

He pulls a face.

“Ugh!”, he says.

I think: Oh fuck, he doesn’t like it. Oh well, I’ve done it now. Perhaps it’s the hazelnuts? Or the meringue? Or the combination?

I’d just thanked him. He’d been to the supermarket and brought back some raspberries. He knows they’re my favourite fruit. I’d said, enthusiastically, “Oh, great! They’ll be perfect to go with the sweet.” Which they would be. After all, fruit and nuts go together well. And raspberries and hazelnuts would be a perfect combination.

However, of course, I wasn’t thinking. He didn’t know I had picked this dessert. He had assumed it would be something along the lines of what I had mentioned before. And I had forgotten that I had mentioned something else.

So the response of “Ugh!” came from him asking me what I was doing and me replying, Hazelnut Meringue.

Now, I’ve absolutely no idea what he thought Hazelnut Meringue actually was. But, he didn’t like the “sound” of it. Apparently.

We were doing dinner for a couple. In fact, she was my first landlady in Milan, when V and I came for 3 months to check it out, to see if we really wanted to come and live here and to find a flat to live in. Since then, we’ve kept in touch because she’s really lovely. Well, she really isn’t Italian, in many ways. She had several different types of job and keeps trying new things – radical changes to her life. The latest is that she’s set up a business in Australia. And she’s back for a couple of weeks so, as Saturday was almost the only day we could do it, we opted for dinner chez nous.

I had asked her if there was anything they didn’t eat and she said she was intolerant to gluten (Coeliac) but that one night wouldn’t matter. However, if someone tells you they have problems with a particular thing, you have to do your best to accommodate, don’t you? And so, we had to really think about what we were going to do. Out went all pies/cakes and things like that.

We decided the main would be the salmon and courgette fish cakes that I had in the freezer. So the first course was going to be F’s chickpea soup with fried prawns, I would do the fishcakes with some buttered carrots and fennel and then we needed a sweet. I had said, that morning, that I would probably do something with chocolate. But, then, F had to pop to the shop to change his password and, whilst he was away, I suddenly remembered the hazelnut meringue that I hadn’t made for over 30 years. I had the recipe from the time when I went to night school and took a Cordon Bleu cookery course. I had no idea if it would work OK or not but I had, for some time now, wanted to re-try it.

So that’s what I told him when he came back with the raspberries and that’s when I got the disappointment of him not liking it.

Except, I should (and, for that matter, he should too) know better. He didn’t like the sound of it but, really, he had absolutely no idea what it was.

I made the two layers of the hazelnut meringue which were to be sandwiched together with whipped cream with a little coffee flavour and then to be decorated with whipped cream, hazelnuts and, now, a few raspberries.

I cooked the meringue. Unfortunately, I didn’t have two good size baking trays and so, for one of the layers, I used a roasting tin. I was worried about it turning out OK given that it had deep sides but I needn’t have worried. The cooking of it wasn’t the problem. the problem was the “getting it out of the tin in one piece” on which I failed comprehensively. So, there, cooling, was a perfect layer and a layer that was more representative of a jigsaw puzzle. However, I knew I could put that as the base and “put it together” so that it wouldn’t really be noticed.

F suggested that, instead of trying to put the base together, I should just crumble it on top of the other one. It was, in fact, either something like a meringata or a brutti ma buoni. Apparently. So he said.

But I was curious as to his sudden interest in it.

“Have you tried it?” I asked, slightly accusingly. And, yes, he had. And, yes he liked it. In fact, he loved it. And this is not the first time, of course. I stopped him “picking” at the broken one, which is what he was doing.

So, I have to remember, next time he pulls a face or says he doesn’t like something, to say that he should trust me and remind him of fruit crumble (another occasion where he had said he “hated” it …… until he tried it) and hazelenut meringue.

In the meantime, here are some photos:

Hazelnut Meringue (sadly, NOT how mine looked although it still looked quite good):

hazelnut meringue

NOT my hazelnut meringue, sadly

Meringata:

Meringata

Meringata – a bit like hazelnut meringue – without the hazelnuts

Brutti ma buoni:

Brutti ma buoni

Brutti ma buoni – a smaller version of hazelnut meringue

Things to brighten up a Monday morning.

To be honest, this first one made me laugh out loud and I had to tell my colleagues.

It’s from South Korea and is the story of how a woman had a “fight” with her robotic vacuum cleaner in that, she set it going and then decided she wanted a nap so lay down on the floor. The vacuum cleaner thought her hair was dirt and started vacuuming it up. She called the fire brigade to get her free.

The second one is dear to my heart. If you’re a regular reader you’ll know about my “wine diet”. Now this isn’t any old wine. No, it’s any old RED wine. Now, the DailyHateMail regularly has articles telling you how red wine is good for you/bad for you (in fact, it regularly has articles on virtually everything, one time extolling the virtues of whatever it is and the next telling you how it will kill you) and, obviously, one should take no notice. However, recently, a number of friends have been asking if I’ve lost weight (which I haven’t, unfortunately – although I don’t weigh myself, I can tell by whether my jeans and shirts fit) and I wondered if it was because, apparently, red wine helps to keep you slim!

And, I guess, with my intake, I really should have lost weight! LOL

In which I learn another new thing about where I live.

This is a good picture of it:

Statue of Madonnna on Milan Cathedral

I remember visiting V’s new flat about 4 or 5 years ago.

It was in a modern building, on the 7th floor or so. He had had a new kitchen (not that I have any idea how he had afforded it, nor did I ask) but most of the furniture had been “ours”, of course. What wasn’t “ours” such as the sofa, were brand new.

The TV was a huge, flat-screen thing on the wall, connected to music. The whole thing was nice but definitely NOT my taste. However, the thing he was most excited to show me was that, if you went out on the balcony and peered round the corner, almost hanging over the railing, you could see the statue of the Madonna on top of the Duomo. “THIS,” he said, “is what makes this flat so wonderful.”

I was less than impressed but said all the right things, of course.

I’ve never been that bothered about it. After all, I live in an area of the city where most of the buildings are Art Nouveau or Art Deco and, so, to me, they are really beautiful.

However, the other Saturday night (the “party” thing, you may remember), one of our guests went out onto our balcony and urged me to come outside.

Looking left, he pointed out that we, too, have a view of the Madonna statue!

We’ve been there almost 7 months and I had never noticed! OK, so, even if we’re quite close to the centre, the statue doesn’t look like the one above (from where we are), but rather like this:

Can you see it?

Can you see it?

It looks a little insignificant, to be honest. Still, it does look rather nice (now that I know it’s there) in the night, all lit up. It’s more or less in the centre of the picture, between the tree branches. In this picture, I’ve circled it.

Can you see it now?

Can you see it now?

So, not spectacular at all, really. But there. I might try a night-time photo so you can see it gleaming. If I get one, I’ll add it to the post :-)

Twitter focus change

As time goes on, I’m finding Twitter much more enjoyable than Facebook.

But I’ve noticed a change – or, maybe, it’s something to do with how I’m interacting on Twitter – I’m not sure.

People have followed me in the past and I’ve looked at their profiles and not bothered to follow back. After all, I’m not really what you could call a “serious” Twitter user. I’m not really interested in numbers of followers or, that much, in who follows me. I don’t normally tweet very much, just doing the occasional retweets.

But then I started promoting Altern-i-life, the musical film that I helped to fund through Kickstarter. An I was tweeting and retweeting several times per day. And I saw that I was getting more notice and that more people were following me. And I decided to change the way I interacted by automatically following back. then, after a little while I would see some had unfollowed me (so I would unfollow them since they weren’t that interesting) or my feed would be filled with rubbish or things that I didn’t like, so I would unfollow them first.

But, what I have noticed is some people are using Twitter as a way to promote something they’ve done. I first noticed it with Matt Haig who wrote The Humans. He, unselfconsciously, promoted himself by retweeting short (Twitter) reviews from people who had read the book. It seemed an interesting book, so I bought it. As you may know, I prefer a “real” book, made with paper and this was one of them. It became my favourite book of 2014. I absolutely loved it. So much so that I bought 2 copies (one in Italian) for Best Mate and F as presents and encouraged someone else to buy it.

As a result of that, maybe, I’ve been followed by other authors, each one promoting their book. Some are self-published and others not. And I’ve also been followed by musicians (singer-songwriters), some of whom have “given” me downloads of their stuff. So far, no one has had the impact of Matt Haig (so much so that I will definitely be buying his new book, out very soon) but I’m sure that, somewhere along the way,I’m going to find some more interesting stuff and something like “The Humans” (either song or book) that I will go “Wow!”

But, this was not what I thought Twitter was about, so, for me, it’s an interesting change of focus.

I still follow the people that I know IRL, those that are funny or give me information that I want to know about and, a very few, with whom I disagree with their politics or thoughts but who are interesting enough to keep me hooked. But now I have a load of people on my timeline that also have something to “sell”. If they are engaging enough, I keep following them anyway, even if I’m not that impressed with their product. After all, you never know!

Spring cleaning every day.

“Look!” he says, showing me the cloth in his hand. It has dirt on it.

“Bravo,” I respond.

He’s not really happy with my response. But no response I could make would be good enough.

“When I did the kitchen, it only took me a few minutes to do the top of the kitchen cupboards because we did them before Christmas.” “WE” didn’t do them, of course, but that’s a moot point. He continues, “This is from the cupboard in the hall. That’s why if you do it often it’s not as bad as this.”

He’s right, but ……

Nobody will look on top of the cupboard. To do so, they would need to get a pair of stepladders and climb to the top.

But, that’s not the point.

The flat was cleaned yesterday. But, this morning, it seems like we’re doing a whole spring clean thing. That’s because, tonight we’re having a party. Well, kind of. He invited a few of his colleagues, one of whom told everyone so now we have invited everyone. I say “we” when actually I mean “he”.

Of course, I don’t mind at all but he is forever apologising about it. More than that/worse than that is that he won’t let me do anything. I can’t buy anything, I can’t make anything, and, of course, I can’t clean anything. Except the dogs. I’m permitted to do them. And, after much insistence, I make my little ricotta and courgette tartlets. Better than nothing.

But, he spends all day doing this cleaning. The day before, even if the cleaner was round, he did the kitchen – including the top of the kitchen units. Everything must be perfectly clean.

It has to be some sort of obsessive compulsive disorder. I mean to say, it’s nice to have everywhere clean, but the pressure and stress that goes with it (he gets quite grumpy because he always runs out of time) is a bit over the top.

Everything must be perfect for guests – especially his guests who, of course, expect everything to be perfect because it always is.

It feels like we have spring cleaning every day!

[From Saturday]

I guess it was a bit of a shock!

“It will be quite hot,” I suggested.

“I come from Calabria,” was the reply. And, it is true that Southern Italy cuisine tends to use chillies in their food, making it a little hot.

But, this was Indian food and Indian food uses a variety of spices that can numb your mouth in ways that chillies really can’t. But, we’re in Italy and, after all, Indian food here is certainly not like Indian food in the UK. No, no, not nearly as hot as it can be in the UK.

I was having my usual Lamb Balti. On the menu it has two chillies against it meaning it is one of the two hottest/spiciest things on the menu. I love it.

A had chosen Chicken Madras. If we had been in the UK I would have said he shouldn’t have it. Here, I couldn’t really say that even though it was the only other item on the menu with the two-chilli sign. However, I was a bit concerned. After all, in spite of everything they may say, Italians simply aren’t used to spicy-hot food.

However, in his usual arrogant manner, he effectively told me that people in Calabria do everything better, especially when it comes to hot food.

Let’s be clear on this, I had not chosen the Indian restaurant. He had chosen it. It’s not because I didn’t want to go just that Italians trust “foreign” food in the way they trust immigrants – in that, they don’t. We still have stories here about the Chinese restaurants using cats in their dishes, etc. Plus, Indian food can be very spicy-hot and really not at all what Italians are used to. So, even if he’s a “real man” and comes from “God’s gift to the world”, Calabria, I had my doubts about the choice. I was, in fact, quite nervous about this. But, hell, I love it and he had chosen it.

Whilst we’re waiting for our antipasto (I had the usual mix and he had chosen some chicken and lentil soup – which, apparently, was quite nice), he said that I was an OK person for never having insisted on this place as one of our options.

But, that’s partly, for me, because it would only give him another reason to diss English people and their choice of foods. He can be quite crap at times.

Still, we were here. As part of my mixed starters I have a poppadom and I like to mix the incredibly hot onion mix with the cooling yoghurt to have with it. After he had finished his soup, he looked at the onion mix.

“That’s really hot,” I warned him. He decided to try a very small amount. It was as I had said. Too hot for him. He was grateful I had warned him and said so. But, that really should have been a warning in general. Anyway, it was too late now – we had ordered. The main dish arrived.

The waiter had persuaded him to take rice with his madras. I was, as usual (as always), having two naan breads. There’s a thing about spicy-hot food that’s done well. It takes a few moments to really hit home and then it stays with you and builds up over time. It’s one of the things I really like about Indian food. But, for me, you really need the naans to take away the heat. Bread works wonders.

So he started with his madras. The first mouthful was OK but by the second, you could tell by the look on his face, it became a little too much.

After all his “this will be nothing – I’m from Calabria” stuff, it made me laugh (inside, of course – I couldn’t actually show that). As it happened, the waiter came over to check if everything was OK. He knew me so knew that I was fine but was really checking about A. A spoke to him telling him it was too hot. The waiter suggested that he mix it with the rice (although I’ve always found naan breads better) to take away some of the heat. Still the waiter took it away to be “softened” a bit.

Except something went a bit wrong with the instructions and it came back hotter than it had been. It was like something from one of those comedies.

Needless to say it went back again to be “softened”. By that time, I’d finished mine. I tried the “new” version. Obviously, mine had been quite hot too so my taste buds were a bit fucked. Anyway, I found it too tomatoey.

But, fair play to the people in the restaurant. They were sympathetic and tried to be very helpful. I guess they’ve seen all this before!

However, maybe next time we go somewhere he isn’t used to, A will actually listen to me and not assume that, just because he’s from Calabria, he knows and can do everything?

Although I very much doubt that, bless him :-D

We were at the Rajput – see link on the right