The Puglia Diaries

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


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School’s Out – Ciao Ragazzi

I’ve been on holiday for more than a month now, soaking up the sun and occasional thunderstorms, since my contract as a British Council Language Assistant ended on the 30th of May. Eight months of correcting the same mistakes, of delivering lessons and racking my brains for interesting activities came abruptly to a close. It felt like no time had passed at all since I first stepped in front of the first class, the 5°AS, to introduce myself and give a lesson about Red Nose Day.

After I got back from my weekend in Turin, the days rolled by alarmingly fast until I was into my last week as an assistant. The stage of saying goodbye to the classes was dragged out for a whole week as I announced that it would be my last lesson and that I’d be going back to the UK next year, not teaching there again. The classes all reacted differently, some totally unconcerned, some with applause (ok) and some wanting group pictures. Here are some of the results:

I did my rounds and did recaps on the material studied over the year and surprisingly enough, some things did stick with the students. Not a huge amount, but at least something went into their memory and stayed there for a few months. I corrected the last bunch of tests, thanked the teachers and closed the school door for the last time as a member of staff on Friday morning at 11, leaving the situation to degenerate into inevitable pre-summer holiday chaos.

About a week later, I went back to the school to say goodbye again, this time to the headmaster and the administration office. The custom in Italy is that if it is your birthday, saint day, leaving day, whatever, you bring the cake. So I prepared a bunch of tea biscuits. I iced them and transported them as well as I good, but even if they were a bit smudged, they were still good enough to pass around.

This was not even the final goodbye. On the 14th of June, I attended the final Saturday morning staff meeting, which was to be followed by a little buffet of croissants and panzerottini. I arrived after the boring bits, took a seat for about five minutes and was then called to the front to say my farewell into the microphone. I was told to do it in English, so with a flashback to my first hello right back in September, I spoke to the vast roomful of staff and said how fast the year had gone and how great it had been. Then, as usual, the emotion got too much for me. The retiring teachers beside me were tearful, the head teacher was looking moved and when I relinquished the microphone, it happened. I cried in front of everyone – how humiliating but in their opinion, endearing.

I made my way back to my seat, was given a squeeze by a couple of English teachers, a tissue by another and a liquorice sweet by the Italian teacher (for old time’s sake). People came to me left, right and centre to offer me somewhere to stay if I wanted to come back, to ask when I was leaving, to give me encouragement. It would have been quite heart warming if I could have stopped blubbering. I took some photos with the English teachers, which I am quite happy not to see because no doubt my face is a pink, watery blotch-fest in them. I chatted to lots of teachers and secretaries before really leaving the school for the final time, trotting off into the sunshine knowing that I’ll be back there to visit some day, no doubt. After all, my time at I.T.I.S. Galileo Ferraris has been important in shaping my career prospects and my language skills, as well as giving me much more confidence in all areas of public speaking. Presentations next year, no problem. I won’t have twenty-five pairs of probing eyes watching me explain the present perfect.

After working with 7 of 8 different teachers and encountering 700 pupils, it’s been a chance to meet lots of new people and to really see how a school works from a teacher’s point of view. Let me tell you, it’s not all fun and games and you get fewer holidays that you imagine. I’ve decided that teaching in a secondary school probably isn’t the job for me, but teaching English as a foreign language really has its interesting elements, so taking a qualification might be an option for the future. Aside from that, it’s time to use this experience for thinking about what I really want to do as a career: a bit of a daunting prospect. Perhaps if the Internet hasn’t been taken over and modified by robots yet, I will look back at this blog post in five years time and think ‘oh how things have changed, I have all my questions answered and a path planned out’. I doubt it though – different things happen and new questions always appear. Closing a chapter of working at the I.T.I.S. will lead to a new part of life, third year at university and then who knows… Wish me luck!


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Public English Educator N°1

So you may think from all my recent blog posts that I spend all my time travelling around Puglia and not doing a single day’s work. Not so. I’m still at school every morning, (admittedly not always at 8am) in front of a class, getting chalk all over myself and trying to instil phrasal verbs into 16 year olds. 16 year olds who are getting more excited for the summer holidays by the minute. Now it’s the Easter break: Italian students are generously concede 5 days of full relaxation, before going back to complete the final month. Meanwhile, I’m drawing closer and closer to the end of my placement: “finito”, 31st of May…I’ve already been promised a party and group photographs. Lately, I’ve been covering a variety of topics with the 3rd and 4th classes. My favourite thing to teach is the same old literature, including Restoration history that keeps cropping up at university every time I turn around. I’m quite happy reading poems aloud and making approximate quotes of Shakespeare’s sonnets. I can easily have a chat with them about the symbolism in Geoffrey Chaucer and listen to oral presentations about the Canterbury Tales. I’ve also prepared lessons about Australia, health, school life and Easter in the UK that stimulated some sort of discussion about kangaroos, penguins and school uniforms. These lessons run quite smoothly in general and may or may not include laughter. My jokes are still being under-appreciated. Image I’ve also had to face more challenging topics due to the fact I’m in a Technical and Industrial school. My technical and industrial knowledge being close to zero, it’s not surprising that sometimes I run into trouble. Recently, I was asked to prepare a lesson about maths terms in English. My guidelines were short ‘oh, addition, multiplication, stuff like that’. Right. I dutifully wrote out some sums, fractions and then taught them how to read mathematical operations. I encouraged them to do some listening by reading out English sums and asking for the answer. It transpired that some of them were really rubbish at Maths. Also, I had to stress the difference between ‘sixteen’ and ‘sixty’ after several moments of extreme confusion. The third class seemed to appreciate this game, although I gave up scoring after things got heated. The fourth class was another matter. “How do you say | x – 1 | = – (x – 1) ? » « What about ‘x tendente a… » I stood there, stunned. I had no idea what they were talking about. When they asked me about geometry, I forgot how to say ‘radius’ and also accidentally taught them how to say ‘cosine’ etc. in French. But this maths…I had absolutely no idea. A boy came to the board and wrote all this calculus, limits, functions…In the end, I said ‘sorry mate, can’t help you. Do you want to talk about Shakespeare now?’. The look of disgust I got shows that we belong to two different fields entirely. Another aspect I’ve had to learn about is technical English: electromagnetism and more recently, machine tools. I don’t know what an upright drill is, or a lathe, but I’m there to help with pronunciation and to explain what chips and shavings are. A side project I’ve got going on at school is a film screening in Bari, due to take place on the 9th of May. I’ve had to go round the classes finding out who is interested. The main question is ‘is it in the morning or the afternoon?’ ie. ‘can we miss school?’, and with the answer that it will happen in the morning, I receive cheers and applause and a resounding yes.

All in all, I like teaching English. Having learned languages for a long time, since the age of 7 in fact, I find it interesting comparing words and structures, and explaining them to other people. I must admit that at times it is a challenge to make rules stick: sometimes correcting tests makes me want to bang my head repeatedly against a hard surface, or better yet, the head of the boy committing the horrendous grammar mistakes. But that would never do. It does take patience and commitment and a tolerance of high decibel levels. I’ve gained a lot of experience this year, no longer will I be shy doing presentations, no longer will I be fazed by people not understanding me: it’s given me confidence. Even if I don’t end up in education, at least I’ve got some skills to bulk up my weak little CV now. And I’ve had a very good time, the kids aren’t half bad.


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Introducing Castel del Monte, Trani and the Boyfriend

The third day that my family spent with me in Puglia was also action-packed. I worked for two hours in the morning and left the school with a headache brought on by chalk dust and twenty students shouting ‘beach’ in unison. Never mind – my parents picked me up, we chased a half-ready Izzy out of the house and headed towards Castel del Monte.

Castel del Monte is one of Puglia’s top attractions. It’s even on the back of the Italian one cent coin. Translated literally to ‘Castle on the Mountain’, it wasn’t a surprise that we had to head inland towards Andria, through the sunny olive trees, deep into the countryside to get there. We saw it in the distance as we were driving through the greenery: Dad said that it looked like a power station or something (romantic…). When we arrived, we did the compulsory ‘are-dogs-allowed’ check and with an affirmative answer, walked up towards the castle.

It was fairly windy up there but apart from almost losing my scarf and keeping my dress in check, it felt amazing to look out across the Apulian countryside. The Castle rose up in its precise hexagonal structure, overshadowing us with a certain stately quietness. We were the only people on the hill, walking around the castle. The air felt fresh and the atmosphere tranquil. Of course, I wanted to visit inside.

Me and Mum paid a small fee to enter the castle while Izzy and Dad stayed outside, lounging around on the rocks and shirking cultural improvement. We read (I translated) panels explaining the history of Federico II, the great King who came and took over Apulia, filling the territory with such great relics. Castel del Monte was built in the 1240s and it’s a World Heritage site. It’s fairly small, but its geometrical structure inside was just as impressive as the external view. All the rooms were connected: built in the same light stone with vaulted ceilings. We went to the upper floors and imagined what it must have been like furnished in its time of use. Apparently it was a refuge from the Plague and a prison before it fell into disuse – cheery. We ended up going round and round in circles looking for the exit, a tiny spiral staircase. Mum threatened to fall down but luckily she didn’t and we came out into the sun alive.

More driving took us from Castel del Monte, through Andria and towards Trani. By the coast, the sun had appeared in all its glory: I stole Mum’s sunglasses again while we walked by the port. We sat down and ate pasta with mussels and some focaccia, followed by an ice cream for Izzy and the usual argument when I wanted to try a bit. It’s my vice and she hates sharing yoghurt ice cream (“You can’t buy it in France! She can have it all the time! I never get it!”). I did have a coffee and a zeppola, a little doughnut filled with custard, with a cherry on top.

We went to the beautiful Cathedral of Trani and looked out at the sea, while Lily made friends (sort of) with a red English setter. It’s one of my favourite places that I’ve seen so far in Puglia: by day and by night, the Cathedral is stunning. The port curves round in a sweeping semi-circle, with lined up boats, giving off the smell of fish, opposite cafés and bed and breakfast. Trani is more popular with tourists than Molfetta, and also with young Italians for its lively evening atmosphere.

Taking advantage of family time, we all went shopping together at the Città della Moda, an outlet village just outside of Molfetta. I’ve been there several times, mainly to go to the cinema but also to buy my entire gym outfit last time Mum and Izzy came to see me. This time, my purchases were better: I bought a jacket and shirt, while Izzy bought a shirt and Dad got some long needed jeans. It’s incredibly rare to get him anywhere near a shopping centre so thank goodness he bought something. Of course then we headed to Decathlon, the sports shop where he buys all his multi coloured T-shirts. He loaded up his basket good and proper while me and Izzy messed around taking selfies by canoes and horse vitamins. The hilarious thing was that when he got back to the hotel, Dad discovered he had in fact accidentally bought…tank tops.

Friday evening was a pretty important event for me because it was to be the official meeting between my family and Antonio. I was excited to see my boyfriend because having been up and down and around to Venice and Lecce and back, it had been quite a while since I’d seen him. We were going for a meal all together and my English family would be conversing with my Italian Antonio. I felt a bit squirmy and nervous worrying about the language barrier and first impressions.

I really didn’t need to. Antonio arrived wearing his best shirt and I made introductions and Dad spoke Italian and Antonio spoke English (which he speaks really very well), and everything went swimmingly. The restaurant we chose was a bit quiet, ie. we were the only ones there, but we ate reasonably well, with antipasti and a primo and then even a dessert. The waiter was quite eccentric, balancing two forks on a bottle to impress my sister (he failed on his first attempt, embarrassing…) and putting roses on the table, one of which Antonio gave to me (aw). Then we walked along the port for a bit, I had to go quite slowly as I’d put on my heels. When will I learn that the old stones of Molfetta and high heels don’t match? There are a lot of circular holes in them. Mum and Dad drove Izzy back and we arranged a departure time for the next morning: then I had Antonio all to myself, sitting on our favourite bench by the port and talking until it got cold. It was a sweet evening, a lovely mash up of English and Italian.


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Rome Again: ‘Viaggio della Memoria’

I’m back. This is the first afternoon that I have spent at home in three weeks. Between the trip to Rome, a weekend in Venice and a visit from the family, I’ve seen a good deal of Italy recently and very little of my sofa. On top of this, there’s been the usual work that comes with being a language assistant (ie. trying to avoid the sinking feeling of being totally unprepared in front of thirty blank faces) and last but definitely not least, getting to know a special new Italian named Antonio. More on this to follow.

On the penultimate week of February, an exciting opportunity was presented to me at the last minute. As deputy head of the school, Antonella was accompanying four of our students on a trip to Rome to commemorate the Holocaust, “un Viaggio della Memoria’. On the 27th of January, the victims are remembered in Italian schools with classroom activities like readings of Primo Levi. This trip was an opportunity for select students from all the schools in Molfetta to find out more about this period of history by visiting the Jewish quarter in Rome and listening to real stories from survivors of the concentration camps. On the Wednesday, I was offered a place on the bus, on Thursday I paid for my hotel room, and on Friday the 21st of February at 5am, I was on the coach with students, teachers and the mayor of Molfetta ready to set off for the capital.

The journey takes around 5 hours if you count the compulsory break for coffee and cornetti. We rolled out of the bus onto the pavement surrounding the main Synagogue of Rome, where the Jewish museum is also located. After waiting around in the sunshine for a while, we were ushered in and given a whistle stop tour of tapestries, ornaments, traditions and customs. Then, after a quick sit down in the Synagogue, we left our breathless guide and listened to some stories from the daughter of a Jewish woman who managed to escape from soldiers who wanted to take her away. Or at least, I think that’s what she said: my Italian skills are such that if people speak very quietly, if there are too many people around, or if I’m getting hungry, I tend to miss some things.

We took a walk around the Jewish quarter and looked at the ‘stolperstein’, golden paving stones to commemorate individual victims who used to live in those tall and ungainly houses. The buildings in the Jewish ghetto are stacked up high, as floors were added whenever they were needed. In the afternoon, a historian named Anna Foa accompanied us around a building where she used to live and from which a Jewish family was taken captive, children and all. Her research has consisted of finding out the stories of all the inhabitants of the building: the events that she told us about made the rooms feel very cold, even as the climbing plants around us glowed in the sunshine.

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In our lunch break, I ate with Antonella and two other teachers: we decided to try some falafel, hummus, battered fish and deep fried artichoke, as well as the extortionately priced bread. It was all very good and garlicky, taking me right back to Izzy’s cooking: she is the sort of chef who will stick a whole bulb of garlic to bake on a pièce of Brie. But one time she made falafel and it was tasty. At around 4pm, we were back on the bus and heading across town towards the Trastevere area of Rome, on the way to listen to a famous survivor of Auschwitz, Piero Terracina. He has been active in speaking about his experience of the camp, speaking in schools, writing and visiting Molfetta some time ago. He had invited us all to his apartment: bearing in mind that there were over thirty of us, this was no small matter.

After a short but hostile encounter with an appallingly parked car, the bus turned the corner and dropped us off at the apartment building. We climbed all the way to the top and filed into the apartment, each of us shaking Piero’s hand as we went in. We were offered drinks and little cakes, as we all sat on the floor or available chairs and listened attentively in the hot, close air of the flat. There was silence as he spoke. Even if I did not catch every word, the atmosphere was solemn and intense as he spoke about the day that he and his family went into hiding, and then about when he was taken. He spoke about the appalling conditions he lived in, about knowing cold, knowing hunger. The true meaning of suffering that no human should be subjected to. We left after an hour, all of us once again shaking his hand and smiling with respect and gratitude. The mayor of Molfetta expressed her emotion at seeing us all, each with a different expression on our face upon saying goodbye to this man. As she said, we are fortunate to hear the stories from the last remaining witnesses and it’s our duty to internalise this memory and hand it down to future generations.

A bit weary, we headed to the hotel where I found a big double bed all for little old me. The dinner at the hotel was standard school trip catering: decent enough pasta, but meat like an old dog’s ear and shudder-inducing potato purée. A bit giddy with tiredness, we headed out around half past ten for a walk around the city. It was very nice to chat in Italian with the four students from Galileo Ferraris and with teenagers from the other schools nearby. We walked up the Spanish steps and looked at the stars, Antonella sighed at the poorly kept gardens flanking them and then we stopped at the Trevi Fountain before getting on the metropolitana back at Piazza del Popolo. My legs were freezing their tights off by that point so I was happy to climb into bed and sleep in a quarter of the space I’d been given.

On Saturday we had to be up early because we had an appointment with the mayor of Rome. That’s right, on a spontaneous trip to the capital, a British girl infiltrates the Campidoglio and gets a handshake from Ignazio Marino. I had breakfast with the teenagers, who were decidedly unimpressed with the coffee from the machine and the transparent apple juice. For the duration of the trip, I fluctuated between getting down with the kids and spending time with the teachers, but I’m pretty sure my youthful complexion and general wide-eyed disposition allowed me to blend in more with my students than with their supervisors.

We went for a walk around the Altare delle Patria, the monument dedicated to Vittorio Emanuele II, before being graciously ushered inside the Campidoglio, the Capitol where all of the important decisions go down. We were shown into the Sala Delle Bandiere, which had a long wooden table running down the centre and walls bedecked with flags. And then the mayor strolled in with his sash on and delivered a succinct but seemingly heartfelt speech to us about the importance of memory, then accepted our gift of olive oil all the way from Puglia. Then of course he had to meet people more important than us, so he shook all of our hands and went out again. We completed our morning with a tour of the official meeting rooms and some sort of antechamber, before getting back on the trusty old bus to head to the Fosse Ardeatine.

The Fosse Ardeatine is the site of a terrible massacre, which took place on the 24th March 1944 as revenge for an Italian ambush against the Nazis. This was another solemn event for us. It started to pour with rain as soon as we arrived, so we were ushered into the caves and told the story of the killings that took place there and then how the terrain was bombed to hide the evidence. The Nazi authorities decided that for every German killed, 10 Italians had to die and so they selected prisoners condemned to death, or Jews, 335 in number. It was chilling to see the tombs of the fallen men: memory hung in the air as it had all weekend. We touched the little silver wreaths, each encasing a photograph, and felt a sense of duty and responsibility towards all of these names. I paid special attention to the tomb of ‘Ignoto’, unknown and unidentified.

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This visit concluded our journey through the traumatic past and so we headed up the mountain to a restaurant overlooking a lake. We ate plenty of food again, stocking up on bucatini and meat before beginning our trip back to Molfetta. At the table, I was taken to be Antonella’s daughter for the twentieth time and then called ‘bellissima’, which is fine by me. After a busy weekend, I was glad to get back to familiar Molfetta at around quarter past nine, where my boyfriend was waiting for me at the Calvario, the little church by the park. He carried my suitcase and gave me dinner, the cherry on top of an emotional, interesting and unforgettable weekend. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to take part in it, and devote some time to remembering an atrocity that is almost too horrific to imagine. The point of all of us travelling across the country was not just for show, but to increase our awareness of the role we have to play in posterity. Being on a year abroad, I learn something every day, not only the Italian language but also about the country’s history and culture.


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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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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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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.