The legendary Giulia (Noi e la Giulia)

Palace presents the Lavazza Italian Film Festival 2015

How can a movie that highlights the brokeness of Italy and its people, be so uplifting?  By acknowledging everything that is present, and focussing on what is good.  So Italian.

Every aspect and characteristic of Italian society is presented in this film.  How they work together or not is cleverly woven into the interactions between these characters.

  • Winner
    • Best Actor in a Supporting Role – David di Donatello Awards 2015
    • Best Comedy – Italian Golden Globes 2015
    • People’s Choice Award – ICFF Italian Contemporary Film Festival Canada 2015

THE MAFIA

Represented in three generations, in clothes and language that appear clichéd, they still have enough believable (and actual) power to terrify a group of educated and grown men who know that in spite of their legal rights, the law, and natural justice; that being assassinated for daring to not pay a fee to the local mafia, is a sure thing in many parts of Italy.  But this is the first time I have seen an Italian film about the mafia where ‘the people’ win.

Films depicting the mafia have slowly changed over the decades.  From semi-glorifying the mafia, then depicting it as evil but always winning (One hundred steps, 2000, Gomorrah, 2008), to challenging that this should be the case (The mafia only kills in the summer, 2015).  The legendary Giulia goes even further in a way that I am hoping represents a  change in the power dynamic.

The Mafia Kills Only In Summer            

In this movie the characters not only dismiss the Mafia’s age-old reasoning (the state provides no help for this region and only the ‘families’ provide support and economic infrastructure so you should pay them fees like you pay taxes to the state), but they actively fight back and then ‘remove’ them.   Doing to them what has been inflicted by them, for centuries.  In doing so they also ‘rescue’ one of them from the role he has been forced to play.

The mafia rises again though, showing how hard it is to cut off the head of this Hydra, and at the end of the movie you are not sure who is the victor.

The individuals that make up the Mafia show that, like other roles in Italy, the one you get is often determined by the geographical location of where you are born and what kind of family you are born into.  Although there appears little room for choice and this has led individuals down the paths we are shown, the central characters show that choice is possible, although painful and requiring great courage, and that happiness can be the end result.

SOCIALISTS

Many people don’t know about the deep connection many Italians have with Communism and that it is still a significant force in Italian society and approaches to living.  It explains many things about how Italy works.  There is a deeply held reverence and respect for work, whatever that work is.  There is more importance on having work than what type of work it is, as all work is considered valuable and all workers deserving of respect.  There is a strong sense of everyone having their say and acting only when there is consensus, and when there is, throwing your lot in behind the majority for the sake of getting things done, rather than standing apart and sabotaging (many nonItalian politicians could learn from this).

The strong ‘people power’ sentiment is represented by a character who lives his communist values by keeping everyone together and ensuring that everyone is treated equally in the face of extreme fear and lack of resources.  He is the one that fights for their rights against the parasitical mafia who want to send them broke as a new business, and whose practical experience and ‘hands on’ approach to life ensures that the right foundations are laid for all to enjoy .e.g. he is the only one who knows how to fix a toilet using only his bare hands, some rubber gloves and a tea towel……….

REFUGEES

Italy is heaving with refugees from Africa and elsewhere.  Literally millions land on its shores every year and many of them eek out existences where no one else would bother, and in the dry, deserted lands of the interior and south of Italy.  In this film, a tribal Prince from Ghana who led his nation into warfare is treated with fear and derision by a broke celebrity who wears an ‘Italy for Italians‘ T-shirt and thinks that Ghana is in Nigeria.  The refugee helps them out in a crisis, rescues them from themselves, and protects them when they are in danger.  Essentially performing the role that Italy has performed for them.

  

 

 

 

 

CELEBRITY SEEKERS

The cult of the celebrity, superficial relationships and fake connections are all exemplified in one of the characters who depicts Italy‘s fascination and long-held reverence for television and all who appear on it.  The fantasy world of television where looks and money mean substance has long been seen as a major foundation of Berlusconi’s success in political campaigning.  It comes unravelled as we see the truth of the exploitation  of others that is required for this image to be maintained, how it can’t actually produce or contribute to anything, and how it has to be ‘saved’ by the older generation of practical socialists who have the know how and the courage to back up their goals.  The story of Italian politics over the past two decades.

QUIET, DESPERATE CONFORMER

“When you hate your job, you begin to hate everything about the world and your life is about escaping. In your 20’s it is to run a bar by the sea, in your 40’s it is almost always a country B & B”.  Such is the powerful line from one of the central characters as he is lamenting the fact he has never chosen to do anything he really wants to do in his life.  The failure of the state, the stranglehold of the mafia, and staleness of the socialist approach to life have all amounted to work being difficult to get in Italy with unemployment rates around 50% in many regions of Italy and nationally never under 10%.

Many people just quietly buckle under, are grateful for anything, and accept demeaning treatment to keep their jobs while slowly feeling like their souls are dying.  They accept a high level of dissonance between their own personal values and what must be accepted in order to keep their livelihoods going.  There is  a generation in Italy that got so used to never being able to achieve anything, and seeing that merit was not a reason to receive, that they gave up or left.  This character represents them.

The Mafia Kills Only In Summer

POLICE/THE STATE

The Mafia characters continually refer to the Police as not being relevant.  To those of us who come from nation states that function, it is hard to understand how this can be possible.  Is Italy so advanced that everyone polices themselves?  Does everyone just obey the law naturally as exemplary good citizens?

Partly the answer is ‘yes’ because it becomes apparent when the Police behave little better than the Mafia that it is not due to them there is law and order.  The ‘fees’ for protection that they request are just as high as those asked by the Mafia, and their behaviour just as demeaning and inappropriate.  The difference is that there are more of them and they are sanctioned by the state in a much more obvious way than the Mafia are.

For many the actions of the Police in this movie will be hard to take seriously and have little impact.  Surely this is an exaggeration?  It is a movie after all.  For real life examples of Italian Police behaviour, see the movie ‘Diaz – Don’t clean up this blood’, 2012.

LOOSERS/FAILURES

I love the fact that they celebrate failures in this movie.  A sign of a healthy culture is one that celebrates failures and successes as being part of the same cycle.  Many cultures (particularly those that focus on the celebrity and superficial aspects of life), ignore or denigrate failure.  It takes an exceptionally strong one to celebrate it.

I find it a common characteristic in the Italian culture – to accept all that is there about life – mental illness, financial ruin, poverty, childlessness, vulnerability, weakness, old age, death, illness, loss, loneliness, and not shun it or hide away from it, but to integrate it into daily life, as well as not using it to define who a person is, or always will be.

The admissions of the four characters of their failures was poignant and confronting given that it had mostly resulted from their own choices rather than circumstances.  Instead of making them want to crawl under a rock and admit defeat they used it to go for their heart’s desires, feeling like they had nothing to lose.

HOPE AND NEW APPROACHES

The Madonna is still a powerful icon in Italian society  and the pregnant, single woman in this movie exhibits enormous power in bringing the gang of characters together, nurturing them, and inspiring them to achieve their dream of opening a country B & B.  She is beautiful, feminine, bedecked in flowers and colorful robes and has her protruding (new life, new start) belly constantly on show.

And there are others too.  Amidst the tired but still proliferating Mafia there are other groups represented in this movie that bring international influences, connections with the wider world, and a post industrialised version of Italy – Tibetan monks, Brazilian capoeira dancers, Yoga practitioners, bikies, and young (ish) social media savvy travellers.

Even though most of the worst and most unpalatable aspects of Italy are plainly in view for all to see in this movie it still presents as incredibly inspirational and optimistic.  It is  because of the steady approach to adversity the characters display, the fact that they allow different and more positive influences into their lives, the fact that they never lose heart or fall into despair, and the fact they focus on what they can do rather than what they can’t.  It is the recipe of modern-day Italy.

http://www.italianfilmfestival.com.au/films/the-legendary-giulia

Don’t forget to check out my book Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all seasons on http://www.amazon.com/Roman-Daze-Bronte-Dee-Jackson/dp/192212933X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1389659611&sr=8-1&keywords=roman+daze

or at your local bookstore.  Check out and ‘like’ and ‘share’ my NEW FaceBook page too!

Top 10 reasons to be Italian (and live in Italy)

Hi everyone and apologies for the lack of posting over the past few months.  I injured my neck and shoulder (too much stting at my computer!) and needed to have a complete break from it.  Finally here it is, the last four reasons it is great to be Italian (and live in Italy).  Enjoy!

7.  There is a time for everything and everything has its time.

Italy has the same amount of time as everywhere else obviously, but somehow life seems to linger there and fit, in a more balanced way, to the 24 hours alloted to each day.  I never get the sense of being rushed in Italy, or expected to do too many things at once, or that I will miss out on something if I don’t.  In fact rushing (di fretta) is often used as a slight rebuke.  If someone says to you ‘Hai fretta’? (are you in a hurry?), it is usually not because they want to help you out, but because they want you to chill out and stop upsetting everyone around you.

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There is a timetable in Italy for doing things, from eating and shopping to working, holidaying and resting, dictated by the seasons, connected to nature, and supported by ritual.  Many of the things I have already referred to – expectations that you will eat a long and proper lunch, resting,  only participating in activities that are right for the current season, celebrating as much as possible.  These all create the ability to live in the present, as well as expectation and hope for the seasons to come, which bring with them their own new activities, celebrations, food and rituals.  Somehow by spacing things out, taking time in between them, living in the present yet being secure in the knowledge of what is to come, and by repeating activities that are connected to the natural world around us, Italians have created more room in their lives than I ever feel I have anywhere else.

8. No one talks about work outside of work.

I could be cheeky and add that often no one talks about work while actually at work, but I do not want to perpetuate the perception (mostly because of the above points), that Italians are somehow lazy.  As I have said before, being one of the 8th most productive countries in the world, is not the achievement of the lazy.  But I find that in Italy you are not what you do.  There is always a question about work, between friends and at social gatherings, but the question is usually ‘Do you have work?’, not ‘What do you do for work?’.  If the answer to the first question is ‘yes’, the conversation usually stops there, as the most important part of work here is whether you have a job or not (and it always has been).

Italians talk about politics, food, love, holidays, art, love, food, music, philosophy, love, literature, food and sport much more than they talk about work.  I have known some of my Italian friends for years before I actually knew what they did for work.  In Italy it tends to be more relevant how else you spend your life.  Also because for the most of the decades since WW2, work has often been scarce.  People tend to take what they can get.  A person with a PHd in Chemistry might be working as an administrative clerk in an aid organisation, someone with a Masters degree in languages might be managing a video rental store, and a brilliant musician might be teaching Primary school.  It is generally accepted that any work is good work, and that who you are and your interests, may not be reflective of that work.  And that you are one of the extremely fortunate ones if it does.

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Even at work, having a conversation that creates a relationship is far more important and effective in getting things done than merely discussing the tasks.  I once worked with a team of people that began each morning talking in detail about what they eaten the night before for dinner, where they had bought the ingredients and how they had prepared them.  Not only did I earn a wage and create an effective outcome with this team, but I learnt why my Melanzane alla Parmagiana was never as tasty as everyone elses, how to prepare Mozzarella in Carrozza (fried cheese sandwhiches), and where to find pumpkins.

9. You only eat what is in season.

Speaking of pumpkins, the first time I felt like making some pumpkin soup in Spring I couldn’t understand why the green grocer just laughed at me, or why he treated me as though I was slightly mad when I asked for strawberries in Autumn.  Where I grew up, everything was available all year round and nothing tasted like the season fruit and vegetables I began to eat in Rome.  The first time I ate a peach it tasted like it had flavouring added to it.  I had never eaten vine ripened fruit.  It is much easier to sit down to a meal of mostly vegetables, or to eat a dessert of only fruit if they taste the way they taste in Italy.

Eating what is only seasonally available means also that you look forward to eating certain things at certain times of the year, make the most of them, and enjoy saying goodbye to them as you anticipate the next season’s bounty.  It provides a structure for life when certain tastes, flavours and dishes only come around once a year and contributes to that sense of space and time that seems to occur in Italy.

10. Everyone in the world wants to be you.

If I had a dollar for every person I have heard say ‘I am Italian on the inside’ or ‘my soul is Italian‘, I would be rich.  Why is it that I can travel to over 45 countries and ALL of them have Spaghetti or Pizzza on offer?  Why is it that everyone who can afford one buys a Prada or an Armani something? Why do 48 million people visit Italy every year making it the 5th most visited country in the world? Why is owning a Ferrari on every male’s (and quite a lot of females) secret wish list?  Because the world wants to be you! 🙂 If we could bottle Italy and take it out on a grey, cold work day, when we are sitting at our desks eating heated up left overs out of a plastic container over our computer, or while we are congregating in a shopping mall full of machine-made things from millions of miles away rubbing shoulders with strangers who won’t make eye contact, or when we are walking at night across a vast and people less, council built, strip of community park or concrete play ground hurrying to get to our next appointment/activity, then life would be just that little bit better.  Don’t you think? 🙂

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Don’t forget to check out my book Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all seasons on http://www.amazon.com/Roman-Daze-Bronte-Dee-Jackson/dp/192212933X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1389659611&sr=8-1&keywords=roman+daze

or at your local bookstore.  Check out and ‘like’ and ‘share’ my NEW FaceBook page too!

 

Top ten reasons to be Italian (and live in Italy) cont.

Today’s continuation of Top ten reasons to be Italian (and live it Italy).

4.  You get to eat the BEST and BIGGEST Easter Eggs ever!

 

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Easter is taken seriously in Italy, and nowhere more so than with the giving and receiving of Easter Eggs.  They are the most colorful, ornate and decorated eggs I have ever seen!

 

 

5.  You get to lay down in the middle of the day.

Yes the siesta is alive and well.  And before you scoff just remember that Italy is one of the G8 countries which means it is one of the 8 most productive countries in the world.  (Confirming research that shows sleep and work/life balance actually contributes to sustainable effort) .  At 1.00pm until 4.00pm each day all shops and professional services (lawyers, dentists, doctors, accountants) shut their doors to partake in an appropriate lunch (Top 10 reason no.1) and then snooze, rest, sleep it off before starting the second half of the working day from 4.00pm til 8.00 (this doesn’t apply to office workers who have to power on with only a lunch and a walk followed by a stiff coffee to keep them going).  I particularly love this quiet part of the day where my suburb shuts down and a peaceful silence descends.

 

 

 

 

 

6.  You get to have two birthdays.

I love birthdays and was determined to make a big fuss over my husband’s birthday when we were first going out.  Imagine my surprise when four months earlier than his birthday, his parents, siblings, niece and nephew, God-mother, friends and colleagues all began calling early in the morning to wish him a ‘Happy Onomastico‘ (Happy Name-Day), delivering gifts and asking him ‘what was he was doing for his onomastico?’

It is a tradition in Italy to be named after a Saint or after a family member (who was originally named after a Saint) and each Saint has a special day of the year named after them.  San Vincenzo is April 5th and all those guys who are named Vincenzo celebrate their Onomastico on that day.  Same with San Francesco(a), San Guiseppe, Sant’ Alfredo, San Valentino etc.

There are cards, cake, presents, celebrations.  How is that not like a birthday?

Image result for onomastico san giovanni

Next time, the last four top reasons to be Italian.

Don’t forget to check out my book Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all seasons on http://www.amazon.com/Roman-Daze-Bronte-Dee-Jackson/dp/192212933X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1389659611&sr=8-1&keywords=roman+daze

or at your local bookstore.  Check out and ‘like’ and ‘share’ my NEW FaceBook page too!

Top ten reasons to be Italian! (and live in Italy)

1.  You get to savour lunch!

I have noticed the lunch hour, and even the concept of lunch, is dying out in many post industrial countries.  Not so in Italy, the inventor of the Slow Food movement.   In Italy lunch begins at 1.00pm.  Not 12.30 or 1.10 but 1.00pm.  No one questions you or where you are going at that hour.  Everyone knows.  It’s lunch time.  Lunch occurs mostly sitting down, mostly with company but not looked on strangely if it is taken alone.  It involves at least two courses, is followed by a coffee (cafe/short black) and a gentle walk.  It never occurs while walking or working.  If a good, nuturing and sustaining lunch is what you desire then pretend to be Italian for a day and take it!

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2.  You can eat pasta every day.

Not just for special occasions or only after you have laboured by making it fresh yourself, pasta is a staple and comes in a myriad of forms.  Pasta is eaten ‘al dente‘ (chewy) so that the flavour and texture can be truly appreciated, and is paired with seasonal produce and is therefore constantly changing.  It is part of every Italians’ diet and now even gluten free pasta is offered at most restaurants (by asking for it as it won’t appear on the menu).  Pasta is not only matched with seasonal ingredients (herbs, vegetables, fish and meat), the shapes, sizes and texture (ribbed or non ribbed) of the pasta are matched with particular sauces and ingredients to bring out the taste and texture of ingredients e.g. ribbed pasta with tomato based sauces  The thickness of spaghetti is also chosen depending on what it is served with.  Tip: never serve size no. 3 with seafood!

20130917_202754Rigatoni cacio e pepe –  one of my favourite typical Roman pasta dishes.  Sheeps cheese and pepper.  Sounds simple, is delicious.  Note it is served with ribbed pasta so that the cheese coats the pasta as you eat it – yum!

25122004(001)My mother-in-law Francesca’s Timbalo (baked pasta dish – every mother does one).  Francesca’s has fried pork meatballs in it and is sealed with fried eggplant.  The pasta inside this dish is usually penne, unribbed because the mixture is already dense and doesn’t need to stick to it.

 

3.  You get to experience four complete seasons, consecutively and well spaced (but don’t forget to follow the seasonal ‘rules’).

Each season is quite distinct in its weather, food, activities and lifestyle.  As everyone is impacted by the seasons at the same time it creates a sense of community – everyone is eating, doing and talking about the same things at the same time.  Where you will be going for your summer holidays, when the seasons last vegetables are available, how you will be celebrating this seasons’ saints days, what you will be eating for lunch that day are all acceptable conversations with complete strangers at the bus stop or with neighbours in your apartment block.  The first sunny day is not a reason to go to the beach unless it is after June 21st (the official beginning of summer) and if the heat continues into September it is still not a reason to wear your summer clothes as I recently experienced.  While walking in my local neighbourhood wearing my summer clothes (as it was 27 degrees), I overheard a person commenting to her companion how ridiculous I looked wearing them when it was now September and therefore clearly Autumn!

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If you’re not sure what to do in each season or how to behave, head to the Trevi fountain and look up.  The four statues at the top represent each of the four seasons in Italy and how they are personalised!

Trevi fountain-building

Next week: more reasons to be Italian.

If you love this blog don’t forget to check out my book Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all seasons on http://www.amazon.com/Roman-Daze-Bronte-Dee-Jackson/dp/192212933X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1389659611&sr=8-1&keywords=roman+daze

or at your local bookstore.  A synthesis and first chapter is available on this blog by clicking on the ‘My book’ page.  If you have already read it please ‘like’ my FaceBook page, subscribe to this blog, write a review on Amazon, and tell your friends!

‘La Crisi’ or why I love Italians

No one can miss the fact that there is a financial crisis in Italy.  “La Crisi” is spoken about on a daily basis and overheard in most street conversations.  Long after the rest of the world has stopped talking about it, Italy battles on, slowly sinking under the weight of ‘austerity measures’.

Friends of mine with young children, hunker down and hope to wait it out so that by the time their kids need jobs and to leave home, Italy will be prospering once again.

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Those with school or university leavers, say goodbye to theirs.  Young Italians, never big on a ‘gap year’ are fleeing the country in droves.  They go to Australia, UK, Germany and the US.  Many of them miss home, miss their country, are not looking for adventure, but their responses are all similar ‘What is there to do back home?  Sit at home and wait?  Do nothing with my life?’.  Many of them will never return and the loss of their skills, knowledge, university education and endeavour is signficant for Italy now and in the future.

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Daily life is affected by more than just the constant topic of conversation being about how hopeless everything seems and the absence of youth.  Shops and businesses are closing regularly, some of my favourite have already gone.  Jobs, always scarce in Italy, are even more so.  The last week of every month is very quiet as people stay at home due to the fact their household pay packet no longer stretches until the end of it.  Houses remain on the market, empty for years on end without selling, prices for everything have dropped, holidays are simpler and closer to home.

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But watching the morning news encourages and inspires me as I watch every day Italians innovate, struggle, embrace and respond in ever more creative ways to the constricts of their circumstances.  Three news stories have stood out for me over the past month that have made me so proud to call Italy one of my homes and have reminded me of the Italian spirit and tenaciousness in times of difficulty.

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1. A public school in the North of Italy was suffering so badly from government cuts, lack of funding to cover the amount of students requiring an education, and the inability of parents to contribute to buying school books or paying fees so the school could buy supplies, that they decided to produce their own.  The school produced their own text books by writing their own, downloading copy from the internet, printing and producing all the texts required to run the primary and secondary lessons.  Teachers and staff were gleely demonstrating their innovative approach and their self published texts.  Not a scrap of self pity, just shy pride at how they had managed to win against the odds.

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2.  There is one shop or chain of shops that are booming and opening up all over Italy.  Pawn shops and cash converters.  Where Italians used to queue outside shoe stores or designer clothing shops they now queue outside pawn shops.  Most Italians have a prodigous supply of precious jewellery – gold, silver and precious stones are collected from one’s baptism onwards and are seen as a sign of prestige and value on men and women.  But now items worth a couple of thousand euro are being sold for a couple of hundred.  These days three hundred euro can equal a weeks grocercies, petrol and bills for a family and is judged much more valuable than another peice of gold to be worn.  Jewellery can always be bought back once times get good again.

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3.  Yesterday a job was advertised in a hospital for a nurse.  More than three thousand people applied.   Young men and women turned up from all over Italy, travelling for up to a day to sit the entrance exam which constituted the application.  Special buses and excursions were arranged from the south of Italy to take applicants to the North of the country where the job was advertised.  The news report showed a jovial atmosphere of people greeting each other, laughing, and talking together while congregating outside the examination hall.

20130926_111910Viva Italia!

Remembering Franchy

A few months ago I wrote about my father in law, Antonio, in a blog entitled Antonio and Francesca – A love story, which mostly focussed on Antonio (Pa).  I promised to write the other half of story.  For those of you who can’t be bothered looking at that blog, a quick synopsis.  Franchy (Francesca) met Pa (Antonio) when she was 13 and he was 17.  They both lived in Taranto, a small town at the very bottom of Italy.  In the 1930’s both families struggled to meet both food and rent expenses on a monthly basis, and sometimes sacrificed one for the other.  Shortly after Franchy and Pa met and started ‘seeing each other’ clandestinely, war broke out and Pa, who was doing his national service, was sent off to fight.   He returned to Franchy several years later by walking home from Trieste to Taranto, a distance of tens of thousands of kilometres, and literally from one end of Italy to the other.  It took him a month, and happened as aresult of the Italian army surrendering to the Allies.   Pa was 19 when he returned to Taranto.

Antonio

Francy and Pa were married for 67 years.  They died within two months of each other.  Franchy had a stroke and was taken to hospital.  Pa thought she was never returning and died before she returned home.  His severe dementia meant he couldn’t understand where she was or the concept of time.  He just thought she was gone and wanted to go to.  Francy returned to an empty house and lived on for another two months before a second stroke killed her.  They brought up two children, one of whom is my husband, surrogate parented another two when their best friend lost his life early, and were grandparents to three others (besides their own) who lived across the hall from them.

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Today I wanted to remember Francy.  In acknowledgement of Mother’s Day I thought i would remember her from that perspective.

My first glimpse of what kind of mother Franchy was, and therefore how she had mothered my husband, came one Saturday morning when we had driven to Taranto for the weekend as we did regularly.  We were sleeping in the lounge room (family room) on a sofa bed.  The lounge room had a large balcony from which a basket on a rope would be lowered to the street to pull up groceries or deliveries.  Their apartment was on the fifth floor and there was no lift.  It was a ten flight set of stairs to walk up.  Francy and Pa were in their 70’s when I met them and did the stairs twice a day every day.  I could barely make it up once on a Friday night when I arrived and I often avoided doing it again until Sunday afternoon when we left.  The height of humiliation was that Franchy would often come and meet me half way and carry my suitcase for me up the rest of the flights as i struggled huffing and puffing behind her.

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Most of Franchy and Pa’s friends and relatives were in their age bracket if not older, so in order to avoid the stairs, if they were dropping something off, they usually just used the basket on a rope lowered over the balcony.  It was Saturday morning early and as usual the doorbell and telephone had been going since around 7.00am.   It always seemed to me that the elderly population of Taranto had nothing bettter to do than get up early and start visiting and calling each other.  The telephone extension was in our room, the doorbell very loud, and both parents a little deaf, so I had been woken up time and time again with “yes they are here and sleeping right now’, if only.

A timid knock on the double glass doors leading into our room and a stage whispered “Alfredo”. “Si, Ma”, my husbands response.  There followed a whispered conversation in dialect, in apologetic tones from Franchy.  Her uncle, in his nineties was at the entrance of the apartment block below.  He had made her some tomato pasta sauce and was dropping it off.  Would we mind if she came into our room and out onto the balcony and lowered the basket down so he could put in this precious sauce that he had lovingly hand made for her?  Alfredo said he would go out onto the balcony and lower the basket down and bring up the bottle of pasta sauce.  Franchy stayed timidly at the bedroom door.  I was still half heartedly pretending to be resting.

The basket was lowered, the bottle brought up inch by inch in the basket, over the balcony and the basket placed on the floor.  Alfredo picked up the bottle from the basket.  As he did so, his huge hands did not grip the bottle as closely as it required.  He fumbled, he stumbled, he reached out and up in a desperate attempt to keep the glass in his hands and like a juggler pretending to drop something, it slow motioned out of his hands and crashed onto the marble tiled floor, spreading tomatoe sauce and glass like an egg blown out of its shell.

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I was horrified.  He had ruined the gift so lovingly made and presented, by his clumsiness.  I was caught short by the sound of Franchy’s strangled laughter.  I looked over to see her bent double trying to contain herself.  And across at Alfredo with tomatoe sauce all over his hands and a distraught look in his eye.  At that moment I understood Franchy’s mothering and how Alfredo had turned out so marvellously as a human being and a husband.  Instead of punishment there was love, instead of retribution there was laughter, instead of anger there was lightness and mirth.  At that moment  I understood that Franchy’s playfulness, her ability to look on the bright side of life, her patience, her fortitude, her choice to live life through her heart and not her head was not a recent thing but were her hallmarks and how she had raised Alfredo.  And why he in turn was patient, playful, never took things too seriously, had an inate belief in himself, and lived life with through his heart as well as his head.

I was so jealous that my husband had had a mother like that and I glimpsed what made them a happy, healthy, and functional family.  And I wanted my share.  From that moment on I made sure I had as much of Franchy as she would give.  And she met my need head on and never once wavered.  After my miscarriages I put myself on a train all day to reach Taranto and spent a week with her without my husband present.  Silently sitting with her in the kitchen, watching TV, eating and resting for a week.  It helped heal my soul.

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Once when I tried to take a plate to the sink after lunch she almost arm wrestled me to the ground to get me to let go of it.  She told me that her name wasn’t ‘thank you’ so I should stop saying it every time she did something for me.   One day I let rip about how much i loved her vegetable soup, brodo, she made it for me every single time I visited even though my husband hated it.  He occasionally joked that his parents asked after me more than they asked after him.  It didn’t seem right to share that I had partly married him so I could get them as well.

Franchy didn’t ever read books, she barely spoke Italian preferring to stay in her dialect.  She had not attended high school and thought that going to the Post Office was the height of complicated, post industrial living.  She had never been into a bank.  Her sister came every week to set her still black hair.  When she was hot in the middle of searing Taranto summers she would strip down to a black negligee which she always wore underneath her dresses and apologise to everyone for her appearance but she was too hot to wear anything else.

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She spent most of her days at the local market buying the food for the two meals of the day and then cooking it.  She always asked us what we would like to eat on the weekends we were coming down and she would spend days preparing it.  The food was always very simple pasta and meat dishes but were unlike anything i have every tasted anywhere else.  So flavoursome and I always ate double what i normally would.  At first I would try and explain that i really could only eat one or maybe two courses and to please not cook anything more.  To which she would solemnly agree.  Then after the first two courses she would shyly explain that she had just made a really small something else and would i mind eating it?  She would usually do this at least twice per meal until I just gave up directing her and accepted my fate to eat lovingly home cooked food until i could eat no more.

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I realised that this was the real way i could say thank you to Franchy.  She had almost no way of relating to me in the world i lived in of university degrees and world travel, of global organisations and several languages, of independant living and international friends but she could make sure that i was extremely well fed and that i didn’t have to spend any of my time on providing for myself in that way.  And she did a marvellous job.

And because of her example of and sharing with me of her patience, her fortitude, her playfulness, her living through her heart and not her head I often feel stronger, patient, positive, playful and have the courage to listen to my heart more than I would have had without her.  It is hard to live without her at times but it would have been harder if I had never had the opportunity.  Vale Francesca, Vale.  xxxx

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Top 10 things to eat in Rome!

I thought i would make this post a little lighter than the last one and focus on the one thing that brings joy to every heart, and travellor, in Italy – the food!!!

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Residents of Italy, as opposed to travellors, will understand the importance of the title not being “Top 10 things to eat in Italy”.  This is because, as I have mentioned before, Italy is a country of REGIONS, and towns, and none more so obviously than when it comes to food.

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When I first arrived in Rome, after several months of eating what I called Italian food, I was longing for a change and enquired of my Italian friends if we could go to a different type of restaurant and eat another type of food. “Oh sure”, they answered, “we will arrange it.  Plenty of variety here in Rome.  We could go to a great Abruzzi restaurant we know, or the Sardinian restaurant on the corner is good, and there is an amazing Tuscan place in town and a new Sicilian place opening up.”  Not quite what i had in mind but a good demonstration of how different the food is between regions.  And  not just regions.  If you are wanting variety it is often enough just to drive an hour up the freeway to the next little town, and the food will be different with unique dishes and ways of preparing salads, pastas, desserts etc.

Often dishes that you can get in one part of Italy are unavailable in others.  So it would be a shame to focus on general “Italian” dishes at the expense of the local cuisine and that way you can taste your way around Italy knowing that the variety will be significant.

For example it took me about seven years to work out why I couldn’t find Spaghetti Bolognaise on the menu in Rome.  I attributed this fact to it possibly being an Anglo-Saxon made-up Italian dish, like garlic bread that is not available ANYWHWERE in Italy.  Until I took a holiday to Bologna.  Then I found it on every menu.  Rome of course has its own version, but it is made with pork meat not beef and is called Spaghetti con Ragu.  If you want Spaghetti  Bolognaise when you are in Italy you need to go to Bologna.

Therefore this post will focus on the top 10 dishes to eat in Rome primarily because they are mostly only available in Rome and represent some of its best cuisine.  They are not the type of dishes that the average Italian home cook would make as they are quite tricky or have special ingredients.  They are the type of dishes that Italians go out to eat.  All the restaurants featured in my post ‘Top 10 Restaurants’ will have these dishes available.  I have written the dishes in the order of how they will appear in the menu and in the order you are supposed to eat them.

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There were so many yummy savoury dishes that I ran out of numbers before I got to dessert so I have cheated and included a number 11.  Also you may have heard me comment previously that Roman desserts are not prolific or spectacular.  Especially when you compare them to the ice-cream desserts of Calabria, Sicily and Puglia or the creamy custards of Tuscany and Umbria.  Also Romans have available at all times spectacular ice-cream which is not only a dessert but a daily medicinal requirement, and recommended to all travellors at all times, and they have adopted the Tiramisu (probably the most like a ‘national’ dessert that Italy has) with avengence, so no need to suffer a dessert desert when you are in Rome, but not alot of desserts that you can only have in Rome.  The one I have included is the only one unique to Rome unless you count Chestnut honey which the Ancient Romans used prolifically as a dessert and which I also recommend you try.

Just one other thing then.  Roman cooking is characterised by two things – its simplicity and its focus on offal (which i have reccomended only in one dish but should be tried in its various forms if you have the stomach for stomach…..).  This is because of its history of being a Papal city, one of the most signficant.  Traditionally most of the best cuts of meat and produce went to the Vatican, and the local food producers of Rome had a prolific amount of Priests and nobles connected with the Vatican who they could provide food for.  It meant that the local citizens were left with the lesser cuts of meat.  The general poverty of the food producers and other city dwellers meant that simple, local, ingredients, along with offal was what made up their cuisine.  Like many culinary traditions, the food of the poor became adopted by the rich and now its quality and custom is entrenched in the average modern Roman diet.

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Here are the first five, next five, next week.

1.  Fiori di ZuccaStuffed zucchini flowers.  These are spectacular and not to be missed and to be eaten at every opportunity possible.  Many of my ‘regret’ moments are about the fact that I did not eat enough Fiori di Zucca when I had the chance.  They are also not to attempted at home.  I tried it once and have had much empathy with my gynachologist ever since.  It is almost impossible to open up the delicate petals enough without splitting them to get in the ingredients you need to get in there to qualify them as stuffed, and it takes ages.  These beauties usually come two or three to a dish and are small and light.  They consist of the end of the zucchini, the flower, stuffed with golden, melting mozarella and a sharp tasting anchovy (just enough to flavour it), dipped in a light batter and quickly deep fried.  Have I mentioned they are divine?

2.  Olive ascolane.  Stuffed olives.  Much more robust than the Fiori di Zucca they are green olives stuffed with pork mince, covered in breadcrumbs and deep fried.  They are like little mouthfuls of intensely flavoursome and chewy peices of heaven if you like olives and pork.  They usually come 8 -10 to a plate.

3. Spaghetti Carbonara.  No translation available.  This dish is not to be missed and comes after the antipasti dishes mentioned above.  It is usally served as a spaghetti but can also be served using penne or rigatoni as the pasta.  If you have ever eaten what you think is a Spaghetti Carbonara outside of Italy, you will be quite surprised, and then very angry with the previous person who cooked you Spaghetti Carbonara.  This is a thick, rich and highly filling dish.  It is the Italian version of bacon and eggs and therefore can be eaten as early in the day as you want and is recommended as a great hangover cure.  It is simply eggs cooked together with so much parmesan cheese (Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano) it is scary, until a cream develops.  It is then thrown together with some small pieces of  pigs cheek or pigs stomach (guanciale or pancetta) lightly fried in their own fat and then mixed with the pasta.  More parmesan and a splash of pepper usally accompany it.  Under no circumstances is cream used.   Talking and fast movement may need to cease for some time after this dish has been eaten.

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4. Amatriciana.  Same.  This is a pasta dish which can be served using Spaghetti, Penne, Rigatoni or Bucatini.  The pasta sauces is made from tomatoes, pigs cheek (guanciale), a pinch of chilli and Pecorino (sheep’s) cheese.  It is salty, flavoursome, and makes you feel like you could run a marathon afterwards.  It is my hands down favourite food in all of Rome.

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5. Spaghetti Caccio Peppe.  Spaghetti with Sheep’s cheese and Pepper.  And lastly for today we come to another Roman favourite.  It is so simple and sounds so foreign that many people shy away from it but it is also not to be missed and one day long into the future you will remember how good this dish tasted.  It is served only with Spaghetti and it comes with a mountain of fresh sheep’s cheese (Pecorino) finely grated on top of it and dusted with a thick layer of black, cracked pepper.  Your job is to mix it all in until the cheese melts and then just eat it.  Talking will not be possible during the eating of this dish and it is fun to watch the face of the person eating this dish as the unlikely yumminess hits them again and again.

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If you enjoyed this post and want to read more about Roman and Italian food and food stories, my book ‘Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all Seasons‘, will have you longing for pasta and searching for an Italian/Roman food fix!  Available at your local bookstore (in Australia) or from

http://www.amazon.com/Roman-Daze-Bronte-Dee-Jackson/dp/192212933X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1389659611&sr=8-1&keywords=roman+daze

Stay tuned for the final top 5 things to eat in Rome!