The Puglia Diaries

The thrills and spills of a British Council Language Assistant in Molfetta, Italy

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Monday the 6th of January, the day of the Epiphany, is a national holiday in Italy and also when the good witch La Befana brings chocolate to well behaved children. It was also the date I chose to come back down to Puglia, as I started work again on Tuesday.

To bring you up to speed, my first days of 2014 were a bit….damp, really. January the 1st saw me rain sodden at East Grinstead train station, waiting for a replacement bus service to Gatwick Airport and trying to pull my hood all the way over my face to escape fat, freezing raindrops. That journey was probably the lowest point of my holiday, as it also included being taken for a “private search” at airport security (not as invasive as it sounds, thank goodness) and spilling my coffee down my sweatshirt. I consoled myself by thinking that 2014 could only get better from then on and by making my Mum laugh at my dramatic misfortunes when I touched down in Toulouse.

The following days were also a bit soggy because I cried quite a bit, as is my wont. Packing up all my stuff and knowing that I won’t have a permanent home in Toulouse anymore put considerable strain on my emotions, so I’ll apologise now to anyone who was around me at the time because my temper was like quick fire and you probably temporarily hated me. With some perspective, I know that I’ll still go back to Toulouse because it’s my home city (or one of them, anyway) and I shouldn’t have been so weepy. Here’s a picture of me enjoying its pretty red bricks at Christmas:

CIMG0204           Image

Sorry for the ‘meh’ photography again.

It feels like much longer than a week since I returned to Puglia, on that half empty flight, which nevertheless contained a shouting toddler and a barking dog in a carry on bag. Life here has resumed just as I left it before Christmas. On the evening of my arrival, I walked out in the centre and saw that the festive lights were still up and people were flocking the streets because the sales had started and it was a holiday. There was also a concert in the park, rescheduled from rainy old New Year’s Eve, in perfect time for my arrival. I am quite glad I was there to see it because the band playing was fantastic, a manic mixture of accordion, trumpets, saxophones, guitars and drums. I say manic because I’ve never heard music played at such an impressive speed. Bellissimo! I watched transfixed, with people dancing in front of me like possessed witch doctors. The evening was lots of fun and I had late night focaccia, which was a lovely bonus.

The first week at school has been quite busy, as I made sure to fit my 12 hours into four days. The students taught me a magic trick in English and we talked about New Year’s resolutions, bullying and how to get from Stansted Airport to Willesden Junction (I know, specific). I also narrowly avoided a fit of hysterical laughter when a student mispronounced the word ‘pupil’: I know it’s childish, and not something to laugh at, but this time I had to think of really sad things to stay professional. Oops. In some of the lessons, we showed the students a video called ‘Speak Now’, a lot more interesting than it sounds. Designed by an Englishman with wicked Italian skills, John Peter Sloan, it is a series of DVDs with grammar lessons alternated with comedy sketches. It’s funny from my point of view but also kept the students interested, with cultural stereotypes and novel ways to explain the odd pronunciation we sometimes have in English. To give you an idea, the vowel sound in ‘Thursday’ was described as ‘dying man’. If you are intrigued, click here.

In terms of ‘extra curricular’ stuff, this week I have been to the gym twice already and subjected to a rigorous tour of the scary looking machines they have there. I’ve been shouted at (not in a mean way, just in an Italian way) several times for using the wrong machine at the wrong time, or sitting on one the wrong way round, but I don’t know, they all look identical to me. Anyway, now I finally have some semblance of muscle tone so I’m determined to keep it up even if it involves mild humiliation. After one of my gym sessions, I had the reward of meeting up with my fellow language assistants for a much-appreciated pizza and some wine. We swapped first week narratives and thoughts about the summer before heading back to the station. Also on the programme this weekend were essays to correct about the Victorian Age and trying to get lessons ideas from this magazine I found (look at me getting resources). I’ve also been attempting to apply myself to Petrarch but my brain is currently refusing the path of academia so after reading a few sonnets I have to watch TV or walk to the supermarket before remembering, oh yeah, nothing opens until half past four here. I had to walk round the block like a lost girl until they finally pulled the shutters up, gosh darn it.


Unfortunately I don’t have Jake on my copy BUT I do have Jennifer Lawrence.


Man, Petrarch, just ask her out already! 


Author: Elly Cooke

Recent graduate of English Literature and Italian from the University of Leeds. Book lover and part-time Italian speaker.

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