The Puglia Diaries

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


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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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Return to Molfetta

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:

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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.

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

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Man, Petrarch, just ask her out already!