The Puglia Diaries

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

A Blues-Busting January

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January can be such a bummer sometimes. After the excitement and indulgence of Christmas, our daily routine resumes, bringing with it dullness, dieting and doomed resolutions. Not to mention for Leeds University students, a horrendous exam session that takes up half the month with New Year revision. And it’s still as cold as it was in December. 

I’m feeling rather smug this January. I gather from various social networks that exams are well underway in my university city and that they are even more tasking than usual due to most of my friends being third years. I came to the joyous realisation that in the whole entire year of 2014, I will have absolutely NO EXAMS. My next season of painful academic testing is scheduled to take place in January 2015. This thought made me feel light as air, even while holding a tome of Italian poetry. Boasting over. 

 Another element that usually makes my January a bit miserable is the weather. This time last year, the heating wasn’t working and my house was like a roomy and carpeted igloo. Me and my housemates would each spend approximately 15 minutes per day holding down the ignition for the pilot light and we had to come up with a rota of when to wash our hair to avoid icy showers. This year, I have strolled around in the day brazenly wearing my ‘light’ coat, although I will concede it does get chilly in the evening. On Wednesday, I sat on a bench to write letters and Snapchatted pictures of the port left right and centre. Today though, I only went and discovered that there are chemical bombs in the port of Molfetta (!). Due to language barriers, I am not certain of all the technicalities but basically they are there, thousands of them, chilling under the sea. An interesting development to be sure. 

Want more info? Here you go: http://ilmanifesto.it/a-molfetta-un-mare-di-bombe-chimiche/

I’m now in the third week back at school and activities have resumed as before with added things besides. I’ve chatted to the students about their hobbies and interests, about Romeo and Juliet and about false friends that it’s best to avoid. I was in school on Saturday, helping out with a translation project, AND on Sunday for the institution’s open day. It was a good turn out: the room was full and the deputy head delivered a convincing speech. I was there as an asset, essentially: all I had to do was look pleasantly English when she introduced me and carry a thermos of tea around (how apt). I spent most of the morning chatting to the students that were there to serve orange juice. 

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‘Next stop, your future’ brochure

Today at school, there was another exciting event. I had just got back from having coffee with one of the teachers, expecting to conduct a lesson in the language lab, when I was informed that the police were coming to speak to my class and that I could go along to listen too. Going with the flow, as per usual, I found out that the officials present were in fact members of the Guarda di Finanza, a law enforcement agency whose job is to chase down tax avoiders to try and remedy the terrible mess that Italy currently finds itself in. Financial crime of massive proportions is an extremely hot subject at the moment, and the informative videos we were shown ignited the teachers’ fury in the front row and caused general uproar in the sea of teenage boys behind us. One countess in Rome apparently owned around 1,800 apartments without paying tax on any, and one woman was arrested for claiming benefits for being blind – when she could see! These stories are almost impossible to believe but certainly the Guarda are trying to chase down the offenders and at the same time, raising awareness in schools of tax avoidance and drug smuggling. They also went through a slideshow in an aim to convince the young’uns to enlist in the academy for the Guarda di Finanza. I was surprised to find out that they only started allowing women to enrol in 2000 (I mean…come on). I smiled over my shoulder at my students when the timetable came up: with three hours of language lessons a week, they wouldn’t be escaping English just yet (hehe).

And how could I feel the January blues when there’s still so much delicious food around ? When I got back to Molfetta, I was happy to try new and tasty recipes for stuffed peppers and to help finish the Christmas desserts that were left over from the holidays. One of these sweet specialities is the cartellate, which are these kind of weird crinkled fried pastries cooked in sticky wine and other stuff. They taste strange but good. There was also dried fruit, some of it covered in chocolate and sprinkles, and little almond pastries that are also typical of yuletide in Molfetta. On Sunday, I was told to make the final remainders disappear once and for all, a task which I obviously accepted. 

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Cartellate

 

Another sweet discovery were chiacchiere, brought to school by a secretary and then brought home for me to try with my coffee. They are typical of the carnival period and apparently take their name (which means ‘chatter’) because they are crunchy in your mouth. I took the empty plate back with a happy smile and found out afterwards that the secretarial staff had discussed the opinion that I had gained weight since starting at the school, and that I look better for it. I’ll choose to put it down to my new habit of exercising regularly and muscle weight rather than the fact that I eat pasta every day and probably have too much cake for my own good. The people around me took a ‘We did it!’ view of this, happy to be feeding me up it seems. Ah well, as long as my clothes still fit me, I’ll enjoy the Italian cuisine as much as I can and try everything that is offered to me because it’s very rare for me to dislike something. After all, I’m only here for a year.

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So that’s that, January contains no more blues than any other month and I’ve got into the swing of 2014. The deputy head told me that the English teachers often ask how I am doing here in Molfetta, worried about my general wellbeing. She told me that she answers ‘Elly is always happy’. That made me glad because 1) it is more or less true and it’s nice that other people know that, and 2) there are worse things to be known for than smiling all the time. 

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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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