The Puglia Diaries

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


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Elly at Teatro Petruzzelli

The sun has finally arrived. This means more time outside in sunglasses, less time inside, especially since I’ve been on holiday for 2 weeks. This is why Apulian updates have been few and far between, but I still have some memories of Bari and Molfetta I’d like to get down in writing before they disappear into the abyss of unrecorded time. Not that that would happen, I’ve got a pretty good memory.

April was a pretty cultural month for me: I went to the theatre three times within the space of four weeks. By ‘theatre’, I don’t mean just any poky little building, but the grand hall of the Teatro Petruzzelli, in the city centre of Bari. I watched a varied bunch of shows: a film festival screening, a ballet and best of all a work of absurd theatre.

1) Bari Film Festival: The Grand Budapest Hotel

The main square of Bari came alive in the first week of May when a film festival took place. The space was filled with posters, booths and exhibitions, advertising all sorts of different films: me and Katie were intrigued. We decided to go and watch Wes Anderson’s new production, The Grand Budapest Hotel. I’d seen several stills and images offering the same attention to detail and colour palette that defines Anderson’s films, so I was interested to see what the story would be. We made our way into the grand hall and were told to head right to the top of the theatre. Spiralling up the many staircases, we saw the inside of the theatre for the first time. The grand coral coloured exterior conceals a scallop shaped theatre, adorned with gold on the ceiling and furnished throughout in red plush and gold banisters. It’s a truly grand place, but we headed right up to the least grand bit, with plain seats, the last level before the ceiling. In fact, it was a bit frustrating because the screen was sectioned by an annoyingly placed gold bar which meant you had to slouch or sit upright like a poker to see properly. In the end we found a happy medium and managed to watch the film, in English wow! Ralph Fiennes and the supporting cast gave a great performance but I must say that the plot was a bit too fanciful for me and I ended up just looking at the camera angles and the pervading pastel colours.

2) Giselle

I had an impromptu trip to the ballet in mid April, to see the final performance of the ballet Giselle. I vaguely remember watching Sleeping Beauty or Swan Lake on a primary school trip, but this was the first ballet I really could appreciate. We were sat about mid way up the theatre and arrived perfectly on time for the first act. It’s a good thing that we searched for the story beforehand, because as ballet is a great deal of leaping around and not so much plot explanation, a bit of forward planning is necessary to catch the narrative intricacies. Basically, Giselle falls in love with a nobleman who she thinks is a peasant boy. On discovering that Albrecht is actually betrothed to a noble lady, she goes mad and dies, something quite spectacular to see. The dancers were really excellent, the set quite simple, nothing over the top. The second act was particularly striking: Giselle rose from her grave to protect the grieving Albrecht from the ghosts of dead brides. The lighting was done beautifully in this part, and the orchestra was fantastic throughout, playing music composed by Adolphe Adam. I’d love to see other ballets in the future: the Petruzzelli was a great place to watch it, but I’ll keep a look out at the Grand Theatre in Leeds too.

3) Histoire du Soldat: absurdity in Italian

My third and final time at the Teaatro Petruzzelli was a surprise. Antonio invited me to Bari with little hint at something special, so I wore my best dress and turned up at the station around 7pm. He soon revealed that we’d be going to see a play at 9, an absurd piece of theatre called Histoire du Soldat, conceived by the composer Igor Stravinsky. We walked around Bari Vecchia for half an hour, while he explained the story to me. The play would relate the story of a soldier who gave his beloved fiddle to the Devil for a book providing him with unlimited economic gain. As we can imagine, this doesn’t exactly end well for the soldier and the play shows the results of his choice and his bargaining with the Devil. The interesting thing about the play was that it was performed by one actor, who used a green coat with a red lining, to play the role of both the soldier and the devil, and even an old lady at one point. The performance also involved a doll, which he danced with to the discordant and anxiety inducing sound of Stravinsky’s music.
Antonio led me inside the theatre up to the 3rd floor, where we had a place in a booth right above the stage on the left hand side. We could see everything perfectly and even had a little view of the actor when he had to change his clothes for each different part. It was perfect to lean on the gold bar and look over all the stage, to hear the musical instruments right underneath our seats. Although the language was very hard to understand (due to the theatricality of tone and the fact that the Devil shouted pretty much everything he said), I was captivated by it: the music and the story. Antonio explained the parts I had missed in whispers and I managed to follow quite nicely until the play ended. It also felt nice to be dressed up, whereas the other times I had not made a real effort, this time we were both dressed properly and it added to the occasion. It’s a good thing my heels were comfortable because we went for a long walk around the illuminated centre of Bari, including Piazza Garibaldi, a lovely park with a fountain, and then Piazza Ferrarese where we had some really good pizza. Katie was having me to stay over, so Antonio walked me home along the seafront (I have to admit I put my trainers on for that!). All in all it was a perfect evening, and the next day we travelled back to Molfetta together leaving Bari behind in the pouring rain.

Which picture is scariest, the Devil or me in the kitchen? :P

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Making It to Matera

A couple of weeks ago, I ticked another region off my list by visiting Matera, a famous town in Basilicata. I would have gone there with my family, but there’s only so much you can cram into a three-day holiday especially when you get lost all the time without a Sat Nav.

It was a bit of an impromptu day trip in a way: I met up with Katie and Anna in Bari on Friday night, and we only decided where we were going the next day at midnight over some fairly strong sangria. Katie had invited us to stay over at her flat in the city centre, so I didn’t have to take the last train back to Molfetta at the buzz kill time of quarter past ten, and Anna didn’t have to travel even further North towards Foggia where she works. We had a pizza and a wander along the seafront, which is very pretty at night with rows of lights along the water. You have to be careful in Bari Vecchia: it is well renowned to be a bit of a rough area, not to be ventured into alone. So we skirted around the dark alleyways and followed groups of people towards a bar called the Flying Circus. An old man who likes to walk around the square in glittery glasses and a hat scared the living daylights out of me, and we were asked if we were Russian. When we said we were English, we were asked if we were sure we weren’t Russian. Erm…

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We woke up at a reasonable time the next day to decide how we were actually going to get to Matera. Public transport is a great thing, however Italian websites for buses are sometimes not up to standard. It takes some kind of instinctive knowledge to guess where you have to catch the train/bus you need and especially where you need to buy the tickets. We left the house after a bit of breakfast, which involved a long discussion about tea and the perfect mug to drink it from. Sadly, as a dissenter from the mainstay of British lifestyle, I could have no part in this and sipped my espresso instead.

With a little help from Katie’s flatmate, we sort of figured out where to go next. After asking in a bar and two newsagents, we were sent to the other side of the station to ask for train tickets. We went into a tiny little station that looks a bit like an art gallery: this housed the Ferrovie Appulo Lucane train line, with trains directed towards places like Corato, Altamura, Gravina and (yay) Matera. Tickets bought, we chilled in the sunshine by the fountain drinking orange juice that was pure E numbers, until we were attacked by a pigeon and decided to move. It’s a good thing we enjoyed the sun while we could, because we were stuck inside that little train for a long, long time. It reminded me of that seemingly interminable journey to Alberobello with Mum and Izzy back in October. The trains stopped in towns that I’d never heard of, or sounded confusingly like ones I had been to before (there is a Bitetto, Binetto and a Bitritto within a short distance of each other…). We shared a whole pack of Mediterranean flavour taralli as a sort of ‘lunch’ before arriving in this weird underground station. At the last minute, we found out it was Matera Centrale and had to bolt off the train, almost leaving our crackers behind.

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It was only a short walk from the station to the central part of Matera, the so-called ‘Subterranean city’. We came across a square with a cute little market, with books, antiques, records and jewellery. We also met a Labrador puppy to top it all off. After a browse and even a bit of accidental haggling, we walked into the most impressive streets of the old town. Matera is built of “sassi”, houses carved out of stone, rippling into the distance, stacked on top and beside each other in a way that you can’t quite comprehend. The views are really stunning and a walk around it only served to show that it well deserves its forthcoming title of ‘City of Culture’, due in 2019.

We walked quite a bit, up winding stairs and through stone archways, without a map and only following our sense of direction. Fortunately we didn’t get lost, and even ended up near the Duomo where we could look out at the whole historical centre and even some of the countryside in the distance. We all stared for a bit, quite speechless in a way. The town has been used for several films, as a setting for Ancient Jerusalem. Ever seen ‘The Passion of the Christ’ with Mel Gibson? Me neither, but it was filmed in Matera.

After fulfilling our touristic curiosity, we did what we do best: went for another trip round the market and then a hot chocolate in a bar at the top of a building, looking out over the Sassi. We also met a course mate from Leeds University, who had travelled down that weekend from Tuscany. It’s very eerie how that happens.

The trip back to Bari was as slow as the arrival really, but it was a rewarding day out to see another hidden wonder of Italy. Some of the places tucked away down here in the South of Italy are so mesmerising: I’m glad that this year I’ve had the opportunity to see all these peculiar towns and traditions that I’d never even heard of before my year abroad. I’ll save this enthusiasm for the report I have to hand in at the end of April; but I feel like I’ve ticked a good few places off my list of places ‘to see’ and cannot wait to do more as summer approaches. Roll on the Easter holidays!


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The Liebster Award

Who doesn’t love awards?

Yesterday, I found out that my little year abroad blog has been nominated for the Liebster award! From what I remember at school and a quick double check on the trusty online dictionary, Liebster means ‘favourite’ or ‘beloved’ in German. I’d like to thank Lorena for nominating me, it definitely put a smile on my face.

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This award is designed to boost new blogs, the ones with fewer than 200 followers. I think for ‘travelling abroad’ bloggers like myself, it’s an especially good idea because you can find out about other people in your area and get ideas for making the most of your time wherever you have ended up. It makes me happy reading about the experiences of other language assistants, students, tourists or expats who have taken time to put their lives into words.

So here are the rules of the award, if you’d like to pass it on:

1. Thank the person who nominated you and link to their blog.

2. Answer the 10 questions given to you by the nominee before you.  

3. Nominate 10 of your favorite blogs with fewer than 200 followers and notify them of their nomination.

4. Come up with 10 questions for your nominees to answer (below my nominations!)

These are the questions that Lorena asked her nominees, and my answers:

  1. Why did you decide to create a blog?

I got into blogging a couple of years ago because I love writing. I always have three notebooks on the go, I keep a journal, a film and literature blog and now my year abroad blog. It seemed a natural medium to document my time in Puglia: my friends and family can access it (my Grandma says it’s like getting a weekly letter) and when my time here comes to end, I will be able to look back on all that I have seen and done.

2. If you could eat only one meal a day for the rest of your life what would it be? 

This is a sacrifice because I love breakfast. Espresso and something chocolatey is what gets me out of bed in the morning. However, I have been won over by the Italian lunch, ie. a pasta or rice dish, then vegetables/meat/cheese/frittata, then fruit, then dessert, then coffee. It would keep me more than happy for the rest of my life.

3. What’s you favourite book ?

Another head scratcher. I would say The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, because it’s brilliant and it’s remained with me a long time after reading it.

4. Do you have a pet peeve? If so what is it? 

My pet peeve is people picking their fingernails and making that horrid clicking noise. It makes me skin crawl for some reason.

5. What is your favourite quote from a film and why? 

This quote is from As Good As It Gets, when Jack Nicholson’s character finally manages to give Helen Hunt a decent compliment :

I might be the only person on the face of the earth that knows you’re the greatest woman on earth. I think most people miss that about you, and I watch them, wondering how they can watch you bring their food, and clear their tables and never get that they just met the greatest woman alive’.

That’s a pretty good compliment.

6. What is your favourite ice cream flavour? 

I used to think it was cinammon but I recently tried lemon nougat and it is my new favourite. I did  try Panettone flavour in Rome though, and that was delicious. 

7.When visiting a new city, do you prefer to wander around and get lost or have a set itinerary of things to do? 

I usually plan a loose itinerary but it undergoes lots of changes as the day goes on. Wandering around is the best way to visit a new city: you need the right balance between good sense and spontaneity.

8. Do you prefer living in your home country or abroad? 

I consider both the UK and France my home countries for different reasons, and have enjoyed living in both. Having said that, at the moment, I love the adventure of living in Italy, so I would say abroad :)

9. What’s your favourite blog? 

Ahhh my indecision has got the better of me. I’d say there are some equally stellar posts on all my favourite blogs.  

10.Share one item on your bucket list and explain why it is on your list. 

An item on my bucket list is to go Island hopping in Greece. I’ve never been and I love experiencing new and beautiful places in the hot summer.

So now, my nominations in no particular order :

Do Your Thing Travel: a blog where you will find perspectives on food and travel to inspire others, including top notch posts about Bari and Lecce

Mixing Oil and Water: Frankie and Giuseppe are an Anglo-Italian couple exploring the regions of Abruzzo, Molise and Puglia.

Culture Cocktail: Annie is studying abroad in Oviedo, Spain, and making everyone jealous with her photos of sun and snow

I Tre Amigos: Three Italian friends blogging about food and reviewing pubs in the area of Naples and beyond.

Nuovastoria: a blog about moving from the US and starting a brand new life in Puglia

She Dreams of Travel: a blog by Jessica, who has ‘a serious case of wanderlust’

A Carr Journey to Florence:  Henry is a British Council Assistant too, blogging about his time in the beautiful city of Florence.

Italy: EXPLORED: Beth is a teacher living in Bari,  getting started blogging about  Southern Italy and beyond.

Foodie in Italy, about Italian food and culture

Delightfully Italy, discover how to travel Italy off the beaten track

You don’t have to take part in the award if you don’t want to: this is just my way of saying, nice work, I like your blog :)

Here are my questions, if you’d like to participate:

  1. What is your main goal for 2014?
  2. Which city do you dream of living in?
  3. If you had an unlimited travel fund, where would you visit first?
  4. What’s your favourite song?
  5. What’s your favourite sandwich filling?
  6. Which book are you reading at the moment?
  7. Favourite place you’ve ever visited?
  8. Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
  9. Which historical event do you wish you had witnessed?
  10.   Do you send postcards?

 

That’s it! I had some delicious mushroom and salsiccia di Norcia pasta today, followed by cake so I’m off to the Palestra. Ciao ragazzi  :)


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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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Rounding off the First Semester

The end of January disappeared in a gust of wind this week: I am now exactly half way through my contract at Ferraris school. This means that I get to meet the other 300 pupils that I haven’t seen yet, leaving the older classes to work hard towards their exams. I’ll be chatting to younger students this term; fresh faced 16 year olds who might be more pliable than their elders. Perhaps I can inspire a love for the English language in a few of them, ever the optimist! Next week will bring a series of introduction lessons: the photos of family, friends and Leeds will come off the dark and jumbled shelf that I call my filing system.

Despite the weather getting a bit colder this week, I’ve been out and about in my free time running errands and seeing friends. It has been a busy and fulfilling week: exactly what you need in winter to avoid those evenings indoors, watching the rain against the windows and hearing the wind knock things over on the terrace above. My mood has always been influenced by the weather: in Leeds, my tendencies for homesickness would hit hardest when temperatures were sub zero or when I got soaked to the skin walking home from university. This week has been one of personal development and experience:

On Monday, I first experienced a cardio session at the gym. In my twenty years on this Earth, I had never set foot on a treadmill. It wasn’t until I had to get on one that I realised what a scary and potentially harmful experience it could be. I spent the eight minutes time on a walking setting, gripping the bar with terrified fingers and watching my feet, willing them not to stop. I imagined myself falling off in front of all the seasoned gym goers, including some of my students from school. I decided a while ago to stop being ashamed of my gym incompetence: I stick out like a scrawny sore thumb and own it.

Tuesday is a rubbish day really. It doesn’t have the fresh new week factor of Monday but neither is it remotely close to the weekend. It drifts in the beginning of the week, dull and unsatisfying; so I decided to do something about that and went to see a film in Bari with Katie. Before the show, we went to have our usual espressino (such a delightful little milky coffee) and a pasticiotto, a cute oval pastry with cream and cherry inside. We chose an Italian romantic comedy, which we both enjoyed and understood. Oh, and I have never seen such cheap popcorn: 2 euros will get you a decent sized pot. If only for that reason, I can see cinema trips becoming a more regular occurrence for combating tiresome Tuesdays.

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Wednesday was also a super fun day: I made guacamole, then me and my ‘host mum’ decided to skip the gym that evening and go to Trani to buy a present for her friend. We wandered about arm in arm, window-shopping, before reaching our destination: a handbag boutique. At the moment, some designer shops are offering a 50% sale on fancy scarves, clothes, shoes, so if you want to spend a semi-reasonable amount on an Italian made luxury item, the time is now. We browsed for a luxuriously long time. Fashionable Italian ladies do not impulse buy. They do not rush when choosing handbags. They tour the shop, ask the shop assistant’s opinion, ask the other customers’ opinion and study each one in the mirror. They assess each merit of each bag, its size, its colour, its decorative quality, the effect it would add to an outfit, if it looks youthful or distinguished and all the other qualities a handbag could have. Through this process of collaboration, we settled on a bright blue handbag with a gold chain, as well as a turquoise clutch, two scarves and a raspberry handbag for a future wedding. We chatted to the shop assistant about where to get custom shoes made, exchanged contact details to make further enquiries and left the shop with two big white bags. This was followed by more window-shopping in the wintery weather, and then on arrival back in Molfetta, another delicious ice cream. On the threshold of this favourite gelateria, I felt another sudden impulse to live in Italy in the future. These emotions occur whenever my happiness reaches a certain peak: funnily enough, it seems like going back to Leeds will be a ‘year out’ from my life here in Italy. With my parents living in Piedmont, my friends in Puglia and so much more to explore, I feel that it makes sense to return.

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Guacamole – how un-Italian of me

On Thursday, I saw turtles and fresh vegetables at the market in the morning, then tagged along on some more errands. Even though I might not have contributed much to proceedings in the bank and the travel agent, it was a pleasant outing in Molfetta once again. In the jewellers shop, picking up a repaired watch, I was approached for conversation lessons that would help with a practical aim to make airports/restaurants/hotels a bit easier to navigate. We’ll see how that pans out. Before going home, we popped into the supermarket to buy artichokes for Sunday lunch. That’s the day when families usually cook something a little different for the first course: for example pasta al forno, lasagne or cannelloni.

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Surreptitious shot of the Thursday market. I know my finger is in the way

On Friday, I attended a meeting in the afternoon between all the English teachers about language courses that needed funding. After quickly establishing common opinions, the meeting was over. All I did was read the brochure. Then it was off to the gym for more cardio but the carrot on the stick this time was a meal out in Bisceglie with two other language assistants. I took it as an opportunity to try something special: the waitress recommended the seafood antipasti, so I ordered some insalata di polpo. I was expecting a small plate to taste, but two dishes turned up with little fried squids in one and purple tentacles in the other, dressed with parsley and oil. A tasting session went down and it transpired that I was the only one who could deal with the texture. Fair enough, let’s say that the appearance of the things can easily put people off, and the different parts of the squid can be chewy or gelatinous. I’m not selling the idea too well, but with a drizzle of lemon and eaten whole, the little squids were really delicious. They didn’t leave much room for the pizza I had also ordered, I had to leave half of that after eating all the toppings. After the food, accompanied by a very reasonably priced and slightly ‘vivacious’ white wine I felt happy and sated. We also had a tasty chocolate liqueur on the house, which was like alcoholic Nesquik. With the others heading back to the station, I went to meet my friends who were in a pub just down the road. We stayed for a while listening to Oasis covers before heading back to Molfetta. One of my favourite songs was on the radio, which rounded off the evening nicely. On Saturday, we went off to Trani despite the icky February rain. It was a lovely evening, with truly good pizza in a restaurant tucked inside an arch with the region’s typical white stone and warm lighting. I was indulgent this weekend, eating out twice, but there are so many good restaurants around here to try and you only get one year abroad!

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L’Antico Granaio, Bisceglie

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Il Covo delle Chiacchiere, Trani

And that is this week’s round up. I wanted to record it because I feel that it was a perfect end to January: keeping fit, getting closer to the people around me and making the most of Italy. Roll on Part 2.


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Turning Twenty in Molfetta

On Wednesday, I waved goodbye to my teenage years and entered a new decade. I turned twenty in a new country, surrounded by new friends and I have to say that this year’s birthday was very happy indeed.

I kicked off the day at work with three hours of lessons. We discussed Renaissance poetry (my fave) in one class and then I had to engage one of my unruly classes in conversation. Twenty minutes in, they were bored of the photos of Leeds and I had no other material. My birthday became my saviour: I announced it and the boys instantly erupted into a roaring rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’, probably to the displeasure of teachers in neighbouring classrooms. I was wished ‘Auguri!’ by some teachers and half the secretarial staff and was offered fennel biscuits. I walked out of school in the sunshine, looking forward to the birthday lunch that had been planned days in advance.

We sat down to seafood pasta, packed with mussels, prawns, calamari and clams. There was also a calzone filled with fish, olives and tomatoes and an octopus tentacle salad. I wolfed those suckers down (ha): everything was so fresh and I was in my element. I turned my head and suddenly, a massive cake was placed in front of me with a flourish. There was chocolate, there was cream and there was custard so naturally I was very appreciative of the surprise. I was initiated to the family tradition of birthday photographs: the tripod came out and after a few questionable candid shots, we set the timer and all smiled for the camera. The cake was beautiful. I was sent back downstairs with a good third of it, which I ate for the following two days for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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The afternoon was whiled away in the sleepy Italian manner I have become accustomed to. Lunchtime usually finishes around three and afterwards, everyone takes a break in the day to rest. The shops close until six in the evening and the town is quiet. On the day of my birthday, we set off into town at dusk, supposedly to look into a Bed and Breakfast for Mum and Izzy’s arrival. We did not in fact go to the B&B: we met up with a group of friends that I had met the Sunday before and settled in a café ‘pasticceria’ for drinks and chocolate biscuits. They bought me a chocolate muffin, which arrived with a lit candle and another chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’. My cake quota well and truly filled, we took photos and I was invited to the cinema to see the new film about Princess Diana.

ImageI went along to the cinema, where the girls bought me a ticket as a present. The film was…OK. Naomi Watts’ valiant attempts at mimicry did not make up for the rather slow plot and the obvious sensationalist exaggeration of Diana’s private life. She may have been dead for fifteen years but her love life is still her own. I enjoyed myself anyway, swapping opinions with the others in the weird little interval and realising that I can watch dubbed films without subtitles and without getting tangled up in the language. I returned home at 1am: the 10th of October had arrived and I was officially twenty years old.

I have always thought that my birthday falls on an awkward date. At the beginning of October, autumn is setting in and if you go to a new place or a new school, you may not know people well enough for them to care about your birthday. I envisioned myself in homesick self-pity, mooning around and eating a whole shop-bought cake to myself. Instead, the day was taken note of and celebrated by the people around me. I received messages and phone calls and cards, giving me the chance to share my news and catch up with friends. I realised that although my friends may be scattered across Europe and abroad, they were thinking about me all the same. I’ll stop before the mushiness gets overpowering but everyone rest assured that my 20th birthday in Molfetta was a heart-warming and wonderful success.

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