The Puglia Diaries

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


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Elly, from Yorkshire to Molfetta for her Erasmus experience

A blog post I wrote on the ‘Wanderlust’ Travel Blog to remember my time in Molfetta. Nostalgia!! (also a chance to try my hand at blogging in Italian…)

WANDERLUST my travel blog

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Ho conosciuto Elly due anni fa a casa di amici, era l’8 Dicembre e lei era appena arrivata a Molfetta. Come da tradizione si preparavano le frittelle, lei era perfettamente a suo agio e sembrava apprezzare questa specialità tipicamente pugliese. Molfetta è una città di porto, la gente va e viene, ma non capita tutti i giorni di sedersi a tavola con una ragazza dello Yorkshire. La cosa mi ha entusiasmata immediatamente, soprattutto perché ho un debole per l’Inghilterra e per la gente dello Yorkshire in particolare, così spontanea e friendly. Loro avevano fatto sentire me in famiglia, qualche anno prima, e mi piaceva che anche Elly, si sentisse a casa. Era la mia occasione per rendere ciò che avevo ricevuto. Ancora una volta, questo blog mi dà l’opportunità di far conoscere anche voi l’esperienza di Elly che ha deciso di trascorrere il suo anno di Erasmus in una cittadina…

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La Festa della Madonna

My last week in Molfetta coincided with the Festa della Madonna, the annual festival to celebrate the Virgin Mary. I’ve already written about how the Molfettesi go all out for their saints at Easter time but the 8th of September is the biggest day of the year.

The Madonna dei Martiri is apparently the protector of fishermen and therefore everything is done to give her the party she deserves. The festivities go on for three days, huge light structures are mounted and market stalls selling every imaginable product extend along the port. A Ferris wheel and other fairground rides are set up near the sea and flocks of people flood into the city. Celebratory cannon fire also sounds from approximately 9 in the morning, tough for you if you want a lie in.

From the 7th to the 15th of September, a statue of the Virgin Mary travelled around the town a fair bit. Unless I’m mistaken, on the 7th she was taken from the Madonna dei Martiri Basilica over to another church on the other side of the port. Then on the 8th, some mariners go and knock on the door to collect her. The church members inside do not open the door straight away, supposedly reluctant to let her go, but then they finally relinquish her to be carried away to the sea.

There, she is loaded onto a wooden board laid across three fishing boats that must sail together to carry her around the harbour on the sea. There are flags, more cannon fire and crowds. I didn’t go to see this part of the festival: instead, we chose to go out in the evening, around 8pm, to witness her being disembarked and taken to the Cathedral. We wove between pushchairs and crowds, stalls selling t shirts and cleaning products, nougat and coconut pieces. Above our heads, the illuminations glittered in different patterns and colours. A bit of gossip for you: the people of Molfetta were very unimpressed with the lights this year, especially the switching-on ceremony that was accompanied by a Pitbull track. Perfectly tasteful for a religious festival…

We moved down towards the port and lined up along a path where the procession would be passing, carrying the Madonna. Soon enough, we saw people approaching. All the different religious confraternities of Molfetta wandered past in different coloured robes, swinging candles and golden decorations. Every now and then there would be a halt and the Ave Maria prayer would be bawled out through a megaphone to the chanting devout crowd. By the end of it, even I knew it by heart. Then the procession went ahead, only impeded by people blundering across its path or accidentally joining the parade in an ignorant attempt to get somewhere else. There were a fair few disgruntled priests that evening, as well as my personal favourite, a little boy in religious dress walking along playing on a Gameboy.

Then the Virgin Mary arrived. She was mounted on a golden structure surrounded by glittering jewels, money and even silver fish to represent her maritime protection. She extended her hand in a benevolent gesture and had an altogether happier demeanor than her Easter time counterpart. A team of men hoisted her along and then the Bishop of the city came along dressed in purple and gave everyone his blessing. Then the town politicians and the mayor came along followed by flags and a brass band.

We went for a walk along the sea, dodging small children and imitation shoes. We arrived at the disembarking point, where we found an apartment block strung with flags of the world and the connected boats that carried the Madonna on her travels. Apparently these fishermen pay around ten thousand euros each to have the honour of bearing the statue and have to steer very carefully to bring her home. Imagine if they dropped her.

At midnight that evening, there was a firework display to round off the celebrations. Watching from the sixth floor of an apartment block, we saw every red, green and blue without having to crane our necks.

I left Molfetta early on Saturday morning so I missed the final journey of the Madonna. That evening, she was taken back to her home in the Basilica until next year, accompanied by another firework show at nighttime.


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Carnival Weekend in Venice and Verona

As early as January, I made plans with language assistant friends to visit Venice for the February festival that is Carnevale. Venice is well known to the best place to celebrate carnival: the masquerade tradition involves pretending to be someone else amidst music, dance and hedonistic processions. We knew that we would encounter crowds of tourists going nuts over masks and costumes as well as the usual gondolas but with a four-day weekend off work, it was the perfect opportunity to take a trip up North and experience the party atmosphere.

Day 1

Saturday the 1st of March saw me tiptoeing through the sleeping streets of Molfetta, trying not to roll my suitcase too loudly. I got the train with Katie to Bari airport and boarded a flight to Venice-Treviso airport, Treviso being the actual city of arrival (sneaky old Ryanair). To be fair to my least favourite airline, they have started allowing you to take an extra little bag on board, jazzed up their website and even (good gosh) allocated seats! Unfortunately, I didn’t realise this last fact until I had tried to get on the plane at the wrong end, and had to burrow back down the stairs through a crowd of sighing passengers.

We boarded a bus that would take us from the Airport to Piazzale Roma in the centre of Venice, and ate a whole bag of Apulian taralli between us, as a consolation for the awful weather lashing against the windows. We couldn’t see anything as we drove onwards, and when we arrived, we had to grab our suitcases and run through a downpour to try and catch the right water taxi to our hostel. We bought a three day ticket, got on the right Vaporetto, thought we had got on the wrong boat, got off and then got back on the right one again. It was cold and people were taking pointless pictures of water, but we kept our spirits up because Venice was still impressive as we pulled up to the Zitelle stop to check into the Generator Hostel.

The Hostel is pretty swish inside, all black and white floors and carefully chosen mismatched furniture. The rooms were also modern and very clean. I would recommend it as a place to stay for a few nights, the only drawback being the slightly unfriendly staff (Izzy would have things to say about our reception). We met up with Charlie and Sophie, dumped our stuff, said an awkward hello to the girls sharing our room, and then trotted back onto the Vaporetto to have a look around the main island.

Even if I had received some odd looks in sunny Bari for wearing wellies, it was entirely justified that day: people were gliding around like fluorescent ghosts in waterproofs and umbrella wars were breaking out in the streets. We wandered in the rain, looking around until we found a weird little lunch place in a backstreet, that sold gnocchi and tigelle, tiny sandwich specialities from Modena. We then tracked down some masks for the Masquerade ball that was being held at the hostel that evening. Bombarded with the choice of colours, glitter and feathers, I eventually chose a black and cream one with gold trim.

Then the weather got worse. So much worse. Suddenly, the vicious weather gods decided we were in for some misery: torrential rain started, whipping us horizontally with freezing water. We hid in a doorway but to no avail. It started hailing so much that it physically hurt your thighs when you walked. We were desperate to get back to the hostel, but it was what Italians would call a ‘casino’, a total and utter confusion of soggy people and water taxis ploughing through rough waves. We struggled to find the right station to get on the boat, split into two groups and finally got onto the crowded Vaporetto bound for the hostel. I looked like a drowned spaniel and wanted the ground to swallow me up and take me to the Bahamas. The weather can really have an impact on your appreciation of a city, and the four of us were not impressed with the situation, at all. However, our mood improved once we had temporarily changed into pyjamas, dried our hair and filled the radiators with sodden coats and socks (wellies only do their job up to a certain point, then it becomes a squelch fest inside them).

We made friends with an American room-mate, and prepared for the ball. Not knowing what to expect from the dress code, Katie and I had had a stressful dash round Bari’s shops the evening before. Luckily we both found some black dresses, which matched the other girls’. In fact, Katie and Charlie had even bought the same one: this can easily be explained by the ubiquity of Zara here in Italy.

Masks on, we took a few photos and went down to experience the revelry of Carnival. The evening was a dark blur of loud classical music, American accents, the freakiest masks I’ve ever seen (including a dragon), prosecco, half-naked dancers, creepy finger puppets and fruit lying around for show. There was next to no actual food, which was very disappointing: the table that was supposed to be “groaning with sweetmeats and delicacies” according to the party’s advert, was actually quite able to support the measly array of cheese chunks, bread and gherkins that we were offered. Seriously. It was soon cleared off because the aforementioned dancers had to do a dance and take even more of their clothes off to reveal gold body paint. One of the weirdest things I’ve seen in a while.

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Day 2

Day 2 started late, and gingerly, as prosecco on an empty stomach does not make for a fun morning after. The weather was improved however: we watched some music and magic acts in Saint Mark’s square under grey skies, went for lunch and then strolled on to the Rialto to look at the bridge. We got to appreciate the views of Venice from the water taxi, as the sun came out to shine on the water. All the walking and crowd jostling can get quite exhausting however, so we headed back to the hostel for a rest before going out for the evening. We all felt like eating a big pizza and then ice cream, so that’s what we did before going back to Piazza San Marco, taking bad pictures and trying to avoid being hit on the head by those glow-in-the-dark things that street sellers push on you. What would possess anyone to buy one, I don’t know. We were glad to get back, because the next day we’d decided to visit Verona: a relatively early start for a Monday morning.

Day 3

Over a muesli breakfast that we probably should have paid for, we had more conversations with American travellers. The Generator seems to attract a lot of people from the US, who take advantage of time in Europe to see loads of cities: we met some au pairs, some free spirits and a snowboarder. We didn’t hang around long, because we had to board a train to get to Verona: a journey that takes an hour and twenty minutes, more or less. It was such a beautiful day of sunshine that I felt rather silly in my wellies, which, apart from heels, were the only shoes I had packed. I almost broke my neck in them about five times, tripping over the pavements in Verona. With this natural clumsiness, all the bodies of water and with Charlie nearly pushing me in a canal, I’m surprised I came back to Molfetta unharmed.

Verona was really lovely, the façades bright and colourful as we went through the arch into the old centre of the city. We had a picture next to our fellow countryman Shakespeare, then wandered towards the Arena, before heading to Juliet’s house. We were feeling very happy with the pretty surroundings and the sun on our faces, and even more so after our stop at the famous balcony by the door covered with coloured padlocks professing people’s love for each other. The walls were also lined with spots of chewing gum, which made quite an interesting effect, but was also pretty disgusting in my opinion. We went to find somewhere to have lunch, singing Taylor Swift’s ‘Love Story’ on the way.

We ate pasta in this dark little restaurant in a side street, very rich but interesting combinations. I had leek, cheese and speck pasta, while Charlie had some pumpkin ravioli with chocolate shavings on it (crazy, a very weird flavour). After eating all this food, what we did next was a terrible idea. We decided to go up the Torre dei Lamberti, the clock tower in the main square of Verona. The choice to face the 386 iron steps instead of taking the lift was something I regretted about a quarter of the way up. At the top though, once we had caught our breath from the climb, it was taken away again by the lovely view over the city and the hills in the distance. Luckily we decided to go down again just before the clock struck four, or else I think our eardrums would have had a shock from the massive bell tolling the hour.

We rounded off the trip with a bit of shopping and, as per usual, got lost next to a main road on the way back to the station. At least the way back was quiet, except for a Venetian man who wanted to practice his English by asking invasive questions, and we spent the evening walking on the island of Giudecca, marveling at how weird Venice is to be floating amidst all that water and watching distant Carnival fireworks from a bridge.

Day 4

On the Tuesday, Charlie and Sophie had an early morning flight, so we said our goodbyes bleary eyed and, for me, still in stripy pyjamas. After breakfast, Katie and I headed out again to fit in some cultural fun before our impending return to the South. I went into the Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale) alone (Katie had already been the year before) and wandered around taking in the regal atmosphere of the courtyard. I almost injured myself yet again on the Golden Staircase, craning my neck so far back that I almost fell over, and looked through all the rooms of stern looking Doges and artefacts. The residence of the Doge was impressive, but the main institutional chambers were even better, the ceilings so ornate, the floor space so wide and in the huge Senate Chamber, the enormous painting by Tintoretto was really wonderful to see. I then went into the Armouries, which impressed me less because I imagine that the weapons killed people, and then down to the Prisons, an experience which was slightly marred by loud French people making annoying comments up front.

When I got out of the Doge’s Palace, I saw that Piazza San Marco was full of water. For a second, this confused me because it hadn’t rained, but then it dawned on me: ahhh, the famous high tide was upon us. I felt smug again in my wellies: other people had to fork out 10 euros for flimsy unattractive plastic moonboots to continue their Carnival excursion. Katie had been trapped near the Rialto, and couldn’t make it back to where I was without being ankle deep in water. Another problem was, that the water taxis were being altered because of the high tide, so I had one hour to return to the hostel, get the suitcases and meet Katie at the bus stop to go to the airport. I asked three or four different people which line to take, grabbed the cases and finally made it to my destination, with 15 minutes to spare. We returned to Bari without problems, just slight exhaustion, which I tried to keep at bay with espresso and the thought of meeting my family at the airport. That’s right: the very evening of my return from Venice, Mum, Dad, Izzy and my two little dogs were coming to visit, ready for a fun-filled, jam-packed week of seeing where I live. It was raining when we landed in Bari, provoking comments from my family, which I fully expected (“I thought you said it was always sunny”). From there it was back to Molfetta and out for dinner to celebrate my parent’s 25th wedding anniversary.

Katie and I discussed whether we preferred the North or South of Italy when we were waiting for the plane. She said that she liked the North better. For me, Italy is so varied in all its regions and cities and people that I couldn’t say that I prefer one half of the country or another. What I do know is that I was very happy to get back to Puglia, to the coast, to the people I have met here: this part of Southern Italy has made a strong and positive impression on me.


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New Students, New Topics

Meeting a new class is an interesting experience. You are placed in front of twenty-five brand new people, with different names and faces. In the transition from my older classes to the younger ones, I’m going to have to create some more brain space to remember them all. I would try and forget useless information like how many children the Beckham family has, but that won me a quiz last night.

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Quiz Duello: the latest app craze that has got Italians shouting at each other :)

In these first lessons, my students and I spent most of the time talking about ourselves. This eased any nervousness and allowed me to discover new things about them (mostly, what football team they support and how many times a week they go to the gym). The average age of my new pupils is 16: they seem much more eager than their fifth year counterparts and with their final exam a whole two years away, they’re not feeling the pressure yet. Some of them actually had quite a good level of English so let’s hope that I can teach them something interesting. 

I’ve actually been preparing a lesson about football: all the vocabulary and phrases needed to read a match report. I have a feeling that there will be an exchange of knowledge; I don’t know what the offside rule is or the dictates of extra time. Judging by the enthusiasm that swells the room when I so much as mention Juventus or any football team for that matter, I will have an interested audience. Thank goodness for premierskills.britishcouncil.org/ 

As much as I try to spread the love for British cuisine, I can’t help conceding that Italian food is just…well, better. It seems healthier, fresher and more diverse, and I was never a fan of shepherd’s pie. My duty as an ambassador for the UK compels me however to mention the multiculturalism of food in Britain: you can have tapas, Chinese, Indian or Thai food wherever you are. Also, there are some little luxuries that I miss from the UK, like scones. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll remember the horrendous kitchen disaster circa October 2013 and understand my reluctance to try baking them again. But the craving for a good scone, with jam and clotted cream and a cup of tea with milk in it…it’s still here and is only partly satisfied by a good piece of tiramisu. I also explain the phenomenon of fish and chips, and do a survey of the radically differing opinions of the English breakfast.

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Outside of school, this week has been fun and full of more shopping errands. I’ve been to a fashion warehouse called ‘Business’ to browse through discounted brands of some nice and some frankly hideous clothes, I’ve helped select a new set of crockery, a cake tin and a hob. I’ve successfully fought off a cold with pig-headedness, a couple of paracetamol, getting some fresh air helping in the garden and of course, with some hot chocolate. On a side note, Cameo is the best Italian brand: it brings you instant panna cotta, psuedo-healthy chocolate cereal and this sweet deliciousness.

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The Italian Rom-Com

So this post is a little different from my usual ramblings about pizza and the sea. I do occasionally remember that I’ve been sent here to enrich my knowledge of Italian popular culture: this makes me spontaneously buy a magazine or plan a trip to the cinema. I love a good film, so what better way to improve my listening skills than to go and test my understanding by settling down in front of a real Italian movie? That way, I can also avoid the ‘out of sync’ dubbed effect that invariably makes American or British actors look like goldfish.

My genre of choice is something light and easy, essentially the romantic comedy. You can’t get lost in elaborate plot twists, the ending is basically programmed from the start and there’s usually no specialised spy/superhero/bank robber lingo to contend with. Instead of being just vacuous entertainment, watching an Italian ‘romcom’ gives me an insight into tropes of family life and relationships here. And even though sometimes I miss out on the cultural references, the comedy I’ve seen has relied more on visual humour and misunderstandings than sarcasm or wit. Let’s leave that to the British.

So far, I have seen two different romantic comedies, which were both set in Rome, involved men with beards and pretty women with wealthy lifestyles. Here are my reviews:

Stai Lontana da Me (Stay away from Me)

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I went to see this film in November with another girl, while the boys went to see Thor (such a stereotype, but I wasn’t really interested in axe throwing superheroes). Even though my friend wasn’t impressed with the film, I had a great time.

The story: Jacopo (cool name for a start) is a counsellor for sparring couples. He starts going out with an architect called Sara but soon things start to go wrong. Sara starts becoming incredibly unfortunate, falling over, embarrassing herself, setting houses on fire etc. and that’s when we find out that Jacopo was cursed by his primary school girlfriend. This ‘curse’ has made all his past girlfriends unlucky and sooner or later they have all left him. He really loves Sara so he tells her to stay away from him, for her own good (aw). The end of the story is as far-fetched as the premise: Jacopo seeks retreat from the female population on a remote Greek island, only to meet the girl who cursed him all grown up. She removes the ‘curse’, Jacopo runs back to Sara as fast as he can, they get married, have a baby, the end. The plot is ridiculous but Sara’s misfortunes were certainly entertaining to watch, especially when she accidentally showed a porn video to members of the clergy instead of a design project for a new church. Swapped discs were involved, obviously.

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Tutta Colpa di Freud (It’s all Freud’s fault)

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I went to see this film only last week in Bari. As it has only just come out, the room was full and people had taken our allocated seats: to cut a long and awkward story short, we ended up not comfortably in the second to last row, but craning our necks in the second row.

The story: Francesco is a psychologist who was left by his wife to raise three daughters alone. These three daughters are going through various hurdles in their love lives: Marta is chasing a deaf-mute guy who has stolen things from her bookshop, Sara is a lesbian who was left by her girlfriend just after she proposed to her, and 18 year old Emma is seeing a fifty year old architect called Alessandro, who is already married.

Drama ensues when Francesco tries to counsel Alessandro to concentrate on his marriage and not Emma, before finding out that Alessandro’s wife is the lady with a spaniel who he has been crushing on for ages. What a coincidence! Marta struggles to communicate with her new beau and keeps offending him, while Sara determinedly tries to go after men instead of women to see if she has more luck.

Each story has it’s own quirks and differ from the usual boy-meets-girl framework of the romcom: this film is as much about family as it is about romance. The three sisters and the father support each other, and the final scene is not a couple kissing, but a father and daughter walking off to get Mexican food together. There were some cute moments, some times when you wanted to shake the characters to their senses, especially Sara who at times acted like she didn’t have two brain cells to rub together. I must admit I fail to see why everything is being blamed on Freud. There is very little psychoanalysis involved but plenty of loving feels to fit the romantic comedy bill. 

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All in all, as well as a bit of uplifting fun and a look inside designer apartments in Rome, watching these two films made me feel good about my ability to understand Italian. By the end of each film, I had forgotten that I was hearing Italian and, instead of making language comparisons in my head, experienced the story almost as if the dialogue was in English. That is a nice feeling to have and I think I could handle more complex plots. The next challenge is understanding the political segments of the TV news: the commentary is delivered so fast and involves at least five different cabinets. I have to ask for a summarised digest to find out what the ‘thieving’ government has done now. 


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A Blues-Busting January

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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The Italian Job (I HAD TO)

Up until now, my posts on this blog have mainly been concerned with how much fun I am having gallivanting around in a region where November is like the British summer. When I’m not meeting new people, seeing new places and eating Italian food, I do have to go to work. Even if it’s only for twelve hours a week.

I can’t really tell you what a typical week at the school is like, because there is no typical week. Because of class tests, assemblies, strikes and timetable changes, I adapt my schedule weekly. So far, I have worked with five teachers and perhaps twenty classes, meaning that I’ve encountered a fair few new faces and tasked with learning over two hundred names. I have a pretty decent memory but it has quickly become saturated, especially since some teachers call the students by their last names and others by their first. The names I remember are usually those belonging to the students that talk to me most, or alternately the ones that sound cool. Because let’s be honest, Italian names just sound nicer than English ones.

With each class, I help with a different topic. The Mechanics and the Electronics section are covering economy, globalisation and the job market. I also did a lesson yesterday about Electromagnetism, which reminded me why I hated physics so much at school. I have read texts aloud about the invention of paper, ‘supervolcanoes’, Google and more. In some of the classes, I get to help with English literature. One group is studying Shakespeare and another the Romantic period. It is slightly disconcerting that they are learning about the same things I studied in a second year university module at Leeds, but at least I know enough about the Ancient Mariner to be a credible teacher.

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My Romantic pals Shelley, Wordsworth and Coleridge will follow me forever.

Public speaking was never my forte but I now feel comfortable walking into the class and facing twenty-five expectant teenagers. I have mastered the art of looking grave and disappointed when they are noisy, and can deliver a reading in a decidedly frosty tone to silence them for a few minutes. Let’s just say that English isn’t their favourite subject, so especially near the end of the school day, a lot of shouting and running goes on inside the classroom. I nearly lost it one time, but generally my patience goes quite a long way.

The language lab is an especially exciting event for them. I have taken a few classes there to play songs by The Lumineers and Bob Marley. Often, the listening exercise degenerates when they figure out there is a microphone attached to their headphones, and that if they say rude words, all the others can hear them. Sigh. Today, three students explained the meaning of No Woman, No Cry to me, while the others wailed the chorus in the background.

 Every morning, I wake up a whole hour before leaving so I can slowly enjoy the best part of the morning: breakfast. I have a leisurely half hour walk to school. On Thursdays, I can weave my way through the weekly market, packed with shoes, bags, household things, clothes…Sometimes I go out for a coffee with the other teachers, other times I stay in the staff room and prepare lessons. This week, I have had actual tests to correct: having the students’ marks in my hands makes me feel like a proper teacher. I now empathise with my language teachers at school. There is that feeling of satisfaction in ticking a right answer and the desire to shake their little shoulders at the truly awful mistakes. I can feel my facial expressions altering with each different test I mark.

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This is me looking happy because BREAKFAST

All in all, this language assistantship job suits me fine. I work for two or three hours a day and never finish later than 1pm. I know where to make photocopies and how to work the coffee machine. I even got a round of applause from the students once, yay me.