Monday, 30 June 2014

Step into Summer with sunshine on your face

Tomorrow is the first of July and Summer is here to stay. July takes its name from Julius Caesar who was born in this month. The Anglo-Saxons called July 'Mead- month' from the meadows being in bloom .Edmund Spenser (1552 - 1599) wrote a verse dedicated to July which shows how English spelling has changed,


Then comes hot July, boyling like to fire,
That all his garments he had cast away,
Upon a Lyon raging yet with ire
He boldly rode, and made him to obaye,
Behinde his back a sithe, and by his side
Under his belt he wore a sickle circling wide.'

From this motto about bees it would seem that their activity is less in July, but there are swarms of them round the lavender plants and we are told that they are in danger and that we would be in great trouble without them. We need to protect bees.

'A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay,
A swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon
A swarm of bees in July is not worth a fly.'

John Keats (1796 - 1821) didn't think we should go rushing about like bees. He loved walking around Hampstead Heath and Highgate and got a lot of inspiration for his poetry there. this is what he had to say.
Let us not therefore go hurrying about and collecting honey, bee-like, buzzing here and there impatiently from a knowledge of what is to be arrived at. But let us open out  leaves like a flower, and be passive and receptive: budding patiently under the eye of Apollo and taking hints from every noble insect that favours us with a visit.

I hope you find some inspiration here to start this great Summer month off with a spring in your step and sunshine in your heart.

Ducks like swimming pools in the Summer too

When to have a cappuccino in Italy

Italians are trying to teach foreigners not to order a cappuccino after a meal. Years ago I asked for a cappuccino in Milan after dinner and they looked at me in horror and asked if I wanted a brioche to go with it. Italians love coffee, their espresso is their national pride. they like to tell you that cappuccino should never be drunk after eleven' o' clock in the morning. It is not quite true, you will often see a group of women with cappuccino in the afternoon. Espresso is strong and quickly drunk at the bar. In England we like to linger over our coffee and I've written all about that in a previous post. .Whatever you like to drink though, whether it is a cappuccino, espresso, macchiato, macchiatone or Americano, a cup of coffee with a friend is a chance to have a break and catch up on each others news. Ti offro un caffè?Prendi un caffe?, Ti faccio un caffè?, Dai pigliamo un caffè' these are surely some of the nicest words in the Italian language. When someone asks if you want to have a coffee it means they want to spend some time with you. Italian friends will set out their best cups on a tray with a sugar bowl and milk jug, English friends are more likely to give you their favourite mugs. Either way it is a wonderful feeling to pull up a chair with a friend and have a cup of coffee.
When my friends first came to visit me in Italy they were amazed at the little cups of espresso but after a while they preferred them. It is probably  better for your digestion after a meal.So maybe you shouldn't ask for a cappuccino after a meal in a restaurant but there is a time of day when it is perfect, on Monday morning at eleven o clock, with a brioche. For lots of Italians this is sacro santo, that means they can't do without it.I can understand that.

a poem for the end of June

As this beautiful month is drawing to a close here is a verse by Robert Browning (1812 - 1889) which seems to pay homage to the events of this particular June. The passion displayed by the fans and the teams in the World Cup, the beauty of the countryside, the anniversary of D-Day, Glastonbury, whatever you have achieved or  celebrated or been disappointed or hurt  by this month , I think you'll recognise here. Robert Browning loved Italy too and lived with his wife Elizabeth and son in Florence.

All we have willed or hoped or dreamed of good shall
Not in semblance, but itself, no beauty, nor good, nor
Whose voice has gone forth, but each survives for the
When eternity affirms the conception of an hour.
The high that proved too high, the heroic for earth too
The passion that left the ground to lose itself in the
Are music sent up to God by the lover and the bard;
Enough that He heard it once. we shall hear it by and

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Golden wheat fields,

Many times over the years my students would ask me to translate their favourite songs with them. At the top of the list for the girls was Sting singing 'Fields of Golds'. It never disappointed them It is romantic and conjures up images of intimate walks in the beautiful golden summer countryside. 

You'll remember me when the west wind moves
Upon the fields of barley
You'll forget the sun in his jealous sky
As we wk in fields of gold

From another age here is another verse from Jean Ingelow (1820 - 1897) which shows us the timeless pleasure to be had from the summer countryside.

 The cushat's cry for me.
the lovely laughter of the wind-swayed wheat,
The easy slope of yonder pastoral hill.
The sedgy brook whereby the Red Kine meet
And wade, and drink their fill.

Jean Ingelow

Travelling over the world

This morning I was standing behind a man wearing a t-shirt which had a huge map of the world on it and underneath a quotation by Saint Augustin, S.Agostino

Il mondo è come un libro e quelli che non viaggiono ne leggono solo una pagina.
The world is like a book and those who never travel only read one page of it.
The t- shirt looked like it had been washed many times and the man wearing it could easily have been round the world many times.
I thought again about the gap year generation. How that must have opened their minds to new cultures. I though about the Italian young people who are living all over the world. This time they haven't gone to work in London and Berlin, Paris and  Barcelona as desperate immigrants glad to have the chance to do anything from working in mines to chamber maids. This generation of Italian young people are often very highly qualified, they have top degrees and speak fluent English as well as other languages. Many have gone to lecture in universities and work in banks and important companies.In the Guardian there was an article saying how the Brazilians are being effected by all the different nationalities coming to their country to follow the World Cup. It seems they are surprised to discover that other nationalities are not so different after all. When I first came to Italy I heard young people say things like there was no point in them learning other languages, they had all they wanted here in Italy, there was no point in going anywhere else. Italians often like to say they travel just to come back and say Quanto si sta bene in Italia!'. After a rainy holiday in Wales my brother -in-law was rather subdued, he broke into a rendering of'O Sole mio' the moment he got off the plane.
I have a friend in England who suffers from anxiety and never wants to be far from her house. She is happy like that. thanks to television she says she can travel the world from her armchair, she watches documentaries and travel programmes and she feels she has been everywhere.
Often we read of charts saying where people are most happy and content in the world. At the moment the Germans are listed as the most content, a few years ago it was the Danes. These studies consider health, work opportunities, education and standard of living and services. Where we are born is just luck, starting with the family and then the nation. Everybody wants to be loved and respected, have a chance to get an education and a job. children and old people need to be protected and cared for and men have to have something to do.
Looking at the map of the world on the man's t-shirt I thought maybe we don't need to physically travel round the world to try and understand it and feel as one, we just have to open our hearts and minds to everyone in it, be respectful of other nations and their traditions and history and learn from one another. Like the Brazilians are discovering now we are all very similar reallly.

Being a foreigner or expat I often have said to myself that we're all the same underneath, tutto il mondo è un paese' - just to reassure myself . We all know it isn't always true .  When you live in a country that isn't where you were born you are always a sort of guest. hopefully a welcome one, like being with your favourite aunt,, .who wants you to stay and make yourself at home

Saturday, 28 June 2014

By the river on a hot summer day

One Summer, when I first came to live in Italy my husband suggested a bike ride. We were soon out of the town and going along country lanes. at first the breeze in my hair was refreshing but very soon the Summer heat became too much. I wasn't used to this heat and the memories of being stuck on top of the cliff in Swanage made me wary of being far from water on a hot day. The empty road stretched ahead and I asked if we could turn back to get a drink. My husband told me it wasn't much farther. I pedalled on puffing and panting. It was worse than Swanage, much, much hotter and I had no idea where we were going. We started pedalling up a hill and Just as it had become unbearable we reached the top and free wheeled down straight into the courtyard of a wooden hut. It looked really hot and dusty but as we got off the backs and walked round the side it was like going into an oasis. There were tables set out under huge mulberry trees (gelsi)by the side of a river. Oh the relief, the bliss, the ecstasy. It seemed the most wonderful trattoria I had ever seen. There was a choice of Bigoli con ragu, braciole di maiale and their speciality pescetti fritti-fried whiting.
We have been back there many times over the years and now a new generation is running it. The menu is more varied and they have live music and aperitifs and happy hours, but there is still the same peaceful scene of the meander in the river and the same wonderful feeling as you sit down to study your menu. We went there today, another very hot Summer day, the young man who brought us our drinks told us the names of all the geese and ducks. He pointed out a heron and a cormorant. He had  Thin white Duke tattooed on his arm, in honour of David Bowie. There was couscous on the menu and lots of other new items, but there was still the little fried fish from the river,

Sitting in the shade of Mulberry trees by the river on a hot Summer day

Abramo, Gedeone and Ginevra

On the Road

My parents' generation had their youth taken away from them by the Second World War. When we were teenagers we felt that we couldn't complain about anything, so lucky were we not to have that terrible cloud over our heads. We had free milk and the National Health Service and no-one had to go off to war. The generation of the fifties in a way invented youth and in the sixties and the seventies it was  a great time to be young . We had such wonderful music. It was our music. Our parents thought it was  just a noise. We were really influenced by the USA, we called it America then. We were fascinated by Woodstock, hippies, free love and making love not war.. I wasn't all that adventurous. I just liked being at home, having tea in the garden after school with my Mum, sitting with my dad watching a film. I loved finding my Uncle Les there when I came home, my Auntie Olive and cousin Debbie coming round in the evening. I loved walking in the woods after school with my friend and our dogs. I loved my family, my friends and going down the local pub. The most daring thing I did was go on holiday, fall in love with an Italian and bring up my family in Italy. It was most unexpected. My brother was the one who did things like go away on holiday and then arrive home at midnight wearing flip-flops and looking like a Greek fisherman . Now a whole generation have had gap years and they talk about travelling to Thailand, Vietnam or Brazil as we spoke of going up to London for the day. They might send emails that say things like' Just saw Pippa in Alaska who told me that she and Bianca are meeting up in Timbuctoo for a beer , would you like to join us for a spot of surfing in Australia before we go on to Fiji'. It's great to be able to do that easy going sort of  travelling when you're young because as you get older you are more likely to do it on a coach with a guide.
I can't imagine I would have been brave enough to go on a Gap year when I was young. I did have an alter ego though for a time. I got caught up in the romance of the hippy era and sort of imagined myself wandering all over the world getting to know people from other countries and just a pair of jeans and a bikini in my rucksack and a boyfriend. This dream was summed up for me in a song that wound its' way into my record collection among all the more serious stuff. It was by Lobo and came out in 1971, I would listen to it safely tucked up in my bedroom while the less shy and more laid back part of me roamed across the world.
Here are the words,


Me and you and a dog named Boo

I remember to this day
The bright red Georgia clay
And how it stuck to the tyres
After the summer rain
Willpower made that old car go
A woman's mind told me that so
Oh how I wish
we were back on the road again

Me and you and a dog named Boo
Travelling and a living off the land
Me and you and a dog named Boo
How I love being a free man.

I can still recall
The Wheat fields of  St..Paul
And the morning we got caught
Robbing from an old hen
Old Macdonald he made us work
But then he paid us for what it was worth
Another tank of gas
And back on the road again

I'll never forget the day
We motored safely into big L.A
The lights of the city put settling
Down in my brain

Though it's only been a month or so
That old car's buggin' us to go
We've gotta get away and get back
On the road again.

A few years ago I did at last go on an 'On the road' hippie holiday. My husband and I explored Catalonia , crossed over the Pyrenees and explored the Camargue , but I'll safe that for another post.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Love in the Valley

Sometimes you get a tune stuck in your head and it stays there all day. This morning I woke up with Coldplay singing 'Yellow' and it was very pleasant and it got me thinking about the colour yellow .It's a funny colour. It is the colour of sunshine and happiness and it is bright and cheerful, but hardly anyone ranks it as their favourite colour. It is one of the colours of the rainbow and is a primary colour so you become familiar with it at nursery school. Mixed with red it turns orange, with blue it goes green . It is quite disappointing to see it go from such a bright optimistic colour to a sludgy brown in my grandchildrens' paintbox and never the same again.It is lovely teamed with bright blue in summer like in Provence.
Here is a rhyme from my children's book about yellow food.

There once was a funny young fellow
Who'd only eat food that was yellow,
After cheese, chips and custard,
He ate bananas and mustard
And then said, 'I don't feel very well oh'.

There is a poem by George Meredith (1828 -1909) that has a lovely title but is extremely long, far too long for my coffee break post. It is somehow tied up with the myth of Persephone. She was the one who was so beautiful that Hades came out of the underground and kidnapped her. After a while he let her come up above ground from March to June and that is how the Ancient Greeks explained the changing of the seasons. When Persephone came up to see her family it was Springtime.
So I'm just going to give you one verse from this poem and it's all about how yellow is the colour nature has chosen to  paint the world in early summer.

Love in the Valley,

'Yellow with birdfoot- trefoil are the grass glades,
Yellow with cinquefoil of the dew-grey leaf,
Yellow with stone crop, the moss mounds are yellow,
Blue-necked the wheat sways, yellowing to the sheaf,
Green-yellow, bursts from the copse the laughing yaffle,
Sharp as a sickle is the edge of shade and shine,
Earth in her heart laughs, looking at the heavens,
Thinking of the harvest, I look and think of mine.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

There was a sage in days of yore

One of our set books at school was Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray.(1811 - 1863). It was always a pleasure when our homework was to read a couple of chapters of this lovely book. I read it twice before the term was over. It has since been made into a film with Reese Witherspoon in the role of Becky Sharp, the main character.  Thackeray had to write the book in instalments for a newspaper which must have made it more difficult to produce such a masterpiece. It seems that Thackeray thought he was going to inherit a vast fortune and carelessly gambled his money away.He didn't inherit anything after all and so had to write to make a living. In spite of this, along with 'Middlemarch' by George Eliot (1819 - 1880),it is considered to be one of the finest novels in the English language. Thackeray is mainly known for 'Vanity Fair' and 'Barry Lyndon',  made into a film by Kubrick starring Ryan O'Neal. He did however write many other novels, essays, articles and poems and comes across as a warm.hearted, witty and affectionate man who had quite a difficult private life. I was thinking of one of his best known poems today while I was playing with my grand-daughter and her Disney princesses. Much to her amazement one of the princes has a long pony tail and so I told her that a long time ago this was the rule for men. Even in the seventies long hair was popular for men but it wasn't widely approved of. Now of course anything goes and no-one would dream of  noticing long or short hair. Anyway here is Thackeray's poem. I hope you like it.

A Tragic Story

There lived a sage in days of yore,
And he a handsome pigtail wore,
But wondered much and sorrowed more
Because it hung behind him.

He mused upon this curious case
And swore he'd change the pigtail's place
And have it hanging at his face,
Not dangling there behind him.

Says he, 'The mystery I've found
says he, 'The mystery I've found
I'll turn me round, he turned him round
But still it hung behind him.

Then round and round and out and in,
All day the puzzled sage did spin,
In vain - it mattered not a pin,
The pigtail hung behind him,

And right and left and round about
And up and down and in and out,
He turned, but still the pigtail stout
Hung steadily behind him

And though his efforts never slack
And though he twist and twirl and tack
Alas! Still faithful to his back
the pigtail hangs behind him.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Poets like Rock stars

Some Brazilians are blaming Italy's defeat in the World Cup on poor Mick Jagger. It seems that every time he supports a team they lose, so the Brazilians are really hoping that he won't support them. Well I don't believe in what the Italians call Iella,bringing bad luck, but I do think Mick Jagger is amazing and can spellbind and audience. There he is up on the stage entertaining people of all ages at the age of 70. I started listening to the Rolling Stones when I was about 9. I can clearly remember sitting in the evening light holding my breath at  the enchanting melody of 'As Tears go by'.How  thrilling twas he exciting and  daring 'Let's spend the night together'.? The music of the Rolling Stones and the Beatles were the sound track to the youth of my generation. They captured our emotions and  interpreted our every mood, giving us so much pleasure  and  animating all our parties . They must have enriched the lives of so many people all around the world and are still doing so. Their music crosses all barriers. the Rolling Stones always seemed so sensual and exciting  they still seem to like all their songs and really enjoy performing them, even the old ones like 'Jumping Jack Flash' and Brown Sugar'.
. My poem for today is by Lord Byron (1788 - 1824), who was probably thought of then just like Mick Jagger is now. Full of passion and a love of life and women who inspired a lot of their work. Byron spent a lot of time in Venice and this poem was inspired by a young girl that he met there.

She Walks in Beauty

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and  starry skies
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
When heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress
Or softly lightens o'er her face
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling place.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft so calm yet eloquent
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below
A heart whose love is innocent.
Lord Byron

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Understanding accents

Whenever I try and show off something goes wrong. I'm just not very good at it. However I am brilliant at making a fool of myself when I do try. It happened today. An Italian friend sent me a link and a comment saying how difficult he found it to understand Scottish accents. I was in a rush so just watched the first part of the link and then wrote back to him saying the accent was actually American. Smart Alec me got a quick reply from him saying that the Scottish accent was at the end of the sketch. So an American pretending to have a Scottish accent. No wonder he didn't understand it. I had a lovely Scottish uncle. A handsome man that came down south during the war, met my aunt and never went back. His accent stayed with him all his life. My dad could never understand him, I don't think they ever said more than 'What's yours mate?' or 'Have one on me., to each other. My children loved his Scottish accent. they would say 'Pure orange juice', rolling their rs the way he did with gusto.. Sometimes I can't understand accents either, not having a very elastic brain, but I love the poetry of  Robert Burns 81759-1796)  even if I don't always understand it. His passion and his wit, his humour and his love of life leaps out of the page every time I read one of his poems, even if I don't understand all the words. Here is an easy one to start with.

Ye flowery bank of bonnie Doon,
How can ye blume sae fair!
How can ye chant ye little birds
And I sae fu' o' care.

Thou'll break my heart, thou bonnie bird,
That sings upon the bough,
Thou minds me of the happy days
When my fause luve was true

Something sfizioso

After the disappointing result for Italy this evening, which means the players will all be on their way home along with the English ones, drastic measures were needed to cheer my husband up. He had to go and lie down and I heard him muttering Povera Italia so many times that I thought I would make something sfizioso for supper.  My Italian dictionary translates sfizioso as nifty. What it really means is something appetising and appealing but not essential.It can be used to refer to clothes and behaviour as well. My husband when I asked him how he would translate it ,suggested yummy. This was after he had eaten everything up with relish and looked much happier. Now he is ready to watch the rest of the World Cup with a detached attitude, just for the entertainment value.

My sfizioso supper for two.

1 ripe melon, cut in half with the seeds removed and filled with port found lurking at the back of the cupboard, left over from Christmas.

10 Zucchine flowers, washed carefully and patted dry with kitchen paper and with the pistil removed gently

200 g white flour
1 small bottle of beer, enough to make a batter, the rest you can gracefully swig..

Prepare the melon first and set aside so the port seeps into the melon flesh.

Mix the flour and beer together vigorously in a large bowl until smooth.

Heat some olive oil or oil for frying in a non-stick pan. Dip the zucchini flowers in the mixture and gently lay them in one layer in the pan. Turn them over gently when golden on one side and continue cooking until they are nicely golden all over. Drain them carefully on more Kitchen paper and sprinkle with salt.

Melon with port, zucchini flowers and cherries, qualcosa di sfiziosa

Gasping for a drink

On hot Summer days sooner or later everyone knows what it feels like to be really thirsty. In English when we are desperate for a drink, we say we are gasping. Like a fish with its mouth hanging open. When at last we get a glass of water it gives the most blissful feeling of relief and pleasure. This feeling is so intense that people have written whole books and stories about it. Philippe Delerm's book La prima Sorsata di Birra, e altri piccoli piacere della vita has two pages to describe  the pleasure of the first sip of beer .He says the first sip is the only one that matters, that the pleasure starts in the anticipation even before that first sip. After that the other sips pale into insignificance apart from maybe in a smaller measure the last one. Laurie Lee (1914 - 1997) whose book Cider with Rosie,  I enjoyed reading so much at school that I then went on to read all his other books also wrote about being really thirsty. In Laurie Lee's book of short essays, I can't stay long, he describes the exquisite pleasure of being thirsty and at last having a drink. He says it is worth being really thirsty just to experience that sensation.

My own personal memory of an overwhelming thirst happened on a cliff top walk in Swanage  in Dorset on the south coast of England.

I was about nine or ten. The beauty of the cliffs, Old Harry and the blue twinkling sea were the scenery of this walk. My mum and I planned to walk up to the top of the hill opposite our campsite and then walk along the top and down onto the beach and along the sea front of Swanage. We woke up to a cold grey day and so packed a thermos of hot chocolate and some cheese sandwiches. My mum could have conquered the world with a thermos flask. That was all she needed and the world was her oyster. This day however it was a challenge. No sooner had we got to the top of the cliff than the sun came out. We walked along admiring the view, enjoying the sunshine. It wasn't long before we started to feel very hot and thirsty. There was no point in turning back it was just as far as going on. My mum had a wicked sense of humour and soon she was giggling away at us up there with our tongues hanging out. Hot chocolate does not quench your thirst at all. Cheese sandwiches make you even more thirsty. We struggled on, panting and tired until at last we started on our downward descent. What a glorious sight before us, the beautiful  bay and the beach and tucked in the corner a little bungalow with an ice cream sign swaying gently in the Summer breeze.I have never felt less like eating an ice cream. When you are really thirsty only water will do, We were so thirsty and dehydrated that we had to ask for a glass of water from the tap. There was no bottled water in England then. That first sip really was incredibly wonderful. Laurie Lee was right, it is worth being thirsty just to experience that feeling of pleasure and relief. Once is enough though. I haven't forgotten the pleasure of that glass of water but I haven't forgotten the feeling of being desperately thirsty either.

The open road , camping and caravanning

The Pedlar's Caravan

I wish I lived in a caravan
With a horse to drive, like the pedlar-man,
Where he comes from nobody knows,
Or where he goes to ,but on he goes!

His caravan has windows two,
And a chimney of tin, that the smoke comes through;
He has a wife with a baby brown,
And they go riding from town to town.

Chairs to mend and delf to sell!
he clashes the basins like a bell;
Tea-trays, baskets ranged in order,
Plates with the alphabet round the border!

The roads are brown, and the sea is green,
But his house is just like a bathing-machine;
The world is round, and he can ride,
Rumble and splash, to the other side!

With the pedlar-man I should like to roam,
And write a book when I come home;
All the people would read my book,
Just like the travels of Captain Cook.

William Brighty Rands (1823 - 1882).

At this time of year thousands of people are planning to go on holiday in tents and caravans. For a couple of weeks they will share washing facilities with complete strangers, sleep squashed in a room with the children limiting all intimacy, wash clothes and dishes by hand and go on regular trips to get drinking water. The thing is, this way of life takes us all to a place where there is a feeling of freedom that can be easily lost in modern life.In a camp site everyone is on the same level. Bankers rub shoulders with builders all sharing the same facilities, getting together for all sorts of fun and games.There is freedom in the way we dress and an ease in striking up new relationships with people from all walks of life on a camping holiday, all social barriers created by city life and the work place disappear.My dad was brilliant on camping holidays. he was the sort of man that made everything alright, easily. We all joined in trying to help, but it was him that set the tone. Calm and easy-going and fun, our dad was the perfect holiday dad. His work suits were replaced with two pairs of shorts and two shirts. He would lie on the camp bed and we would feed him grapes, like a sultan. On holiday he was approachable, cuddly and fun. he had such success with camping holidays with a tent that he decided to buy a caravan. Our first trip was to a local woodland. we made a cup of tea and went home again. We went on holiday towing the caravan. He didn't like having to rely on my mum to tell him if the coast was clear. he didn't like not being able to see behind him. He didn't like having this thing on the back that made reversing difficult, he didn't really like towing it at all. So our caravan was put on a caravan site two miles from our home. It was by the river Thames. It was wonderful. We could enjoy all the delights of waking up by the river and seeing the early morning activity of the little creatures that lived there. We could enjoy the long Summer evenings watching the river mist, hearing the birds call to each other. We explored the banks in canoes and fell in love with the river bank.  We went fishing and learnt the names of the fish.We slept in the caravan with my mum. Our dad went home to sleep.From then on our caravan was to give us lots of lovely holidays, by the sea and on farms, but it was never towed around again.
Toad of Toad Hall's yellow horse-drawn caravan soon to be replaced by a motor car

Sunday, 22 June 2014

The Lake Isle of Innisfree, a poem for today

Whenever I listen to my Irish friends talking I feel as though they are singing. Their turn of phrase, their lilting voices make me feel as though my accent is stiff and wooden in comparison. My poem for today is by William Butler Yeats (1865 - 1939). His use of language was exotic and passionate, his poems often go straight to the heart. His biography is absorbing reading. His personal life was rich and varied, he must have been a man of passion. His lifetime saw mainly painful and terrible events, many with tragic and far-reaching consequences. T.S.Eliot (1888 - 1965) said of him 'he is one of those few poets whose history is the history of their own time, who are part of the consciousness of an age that cannot be understood without them'. W.B.Yeats described his poetry as 'a mouthful of air'. He was born in Ireland and then moved to England as a boy. He knew what it felt like to be homesick and people the world over can relate to this feeling. The poem for today is well known and greatly loved. He wrote it sitting in a shop window in London and thinking about the places he loved as a boy .Innisfree is a wooded island in Lough Gill, Sligo.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine-bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes
  dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the
  cricket sings,
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
  And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore,
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Midsummers day, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

On this most magical of days, when the dawn seems to tell us how wonderful the world is, how nature just carries on showing us the beauty around us my thoughts turn to 'The Wind in the Willows' by Kenneth Graham(1859 - 1932). This greatly loved story  describes in poetical detail the beauty and charm of the River Thames through the eyes of the little creatures that inhabit its banks and the countryside that it travels through. Ratty, Mole, Otter, Badger and of course the amazing Mr .Toad. In Chapter seven there is a break in the adventures of Mr .Toad and there is a delightful interlude called 'The Piper at the gates of Dawn'. It is a midsummer evening and one of the baby otters, Portly, is missing. His father is beside himself with worry and has decided to keep watch for him near the weir. Ratty and Mole want to find the little otter and set off in their boat to look for him. the description on the moonlit night, the river and the countryside is delightful. Listening to my mum read it to me has to be near the top of the list of my favourite childhood memories .How glad I was to be safe inside with her though, I was never one for being out on a dark night. Ratty and Mole find the little otter in the most magical way, they hear the Piper at the gates of dawn who leads them to him and they find Portly  curled safely up in his lap, fast asleep. The Piper at the gates of Dawn then gives the little animals the gift of  forgetfulness., 'Lest...the great haunting memory should spoil all the after-lives of little animals helped out of difficulties, in order that they should be happy and light-hearted as before.' Once portly is joyfully and thankfully reunited with his father, Ratty and Mole go back down the river on their boat. They feel different , they know something has happened but they aren't sure what, Midsummer evenings have that effect.
Every year on the 21st June I vow I will go and watch the sun rising over the Adriatic sea and then have a cappuccino and a brioches on the beach. The nearest I have got to this was one year when my husband and I took my son to the airport to catch a very early morning flight. This is my chance, I thought. I amazed everyone by shooting  out of bed while it was still dark so determined was I to see the Midsummer sunrise,and we drove to the airport and saw my son off. Then we went to the nearest beach to wait for the sun to rise. The only problem was that Italy is not just hanging down in a straight line like a boot, which is what it looks like on a map,the angles were all wrong, the sun was not straight in front over the sea, it was round the corner. The cappuccino and brioches part was absolutely perfect though, a dream come true.

Friday, 20 June 2014

A short story - fiction

Susan looked at her left hand as her tears began to fall. A pale line showed clearly where her wedding ring had been.  She thought back to her wedding day. How romantic it had been with the first snow fall and her beautiful bouquet of white and pink roses. Her mother had been alive then and had made her a cape out of an old fur coat from before the war. What great expectations she had had from her handsome husband. He had seemed like a knight in shining armour, her hero. She realised now that she had made him feel too responsible for her happiness, had expected too much from him. she had told him that he was meant to be the strong one who protected her.

With slow heavy steps she walked back down to the beach and carefully settled  herself on the sand. A shadow fell over her and she looked up. The same man that had been looking at her all morning and giving her admiring glances was standing over her and smiling.
He held out his hand and asked her if she would join him for an ice cream at the Beach cafè. She smiled back warmly and let him pull her to her feet.
 She took his hand gratefully as they walked  along the beach, enjoying the warmth and the comfort of his firm grip.
They walked slowly  to the cafe and he pulled out a chair for her. For awhile she would try to forget, to pretend she was just a young woman flirting with an attractive man.
 Soon they were engrossed in lively conversation.They both liked the same music, Handel and Grieg, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. He had read all the classics, the same books that she liked. He wanted to see an art exhibition in the town that afternoon. Perhaps they could go together. It was a new experience to share the same tastes with someone. Her husband was so different. He never had time for reading and sitting around listening to music. She often liked to tell people that once she had thought that opposites attract but now she felt that it was different enough to be man and woman. Now she thought maybe it was better to have common interests and enjoy doing the same things. He told her that his name was Geoff and his mother was with him for a short holiday but he was thinking of sending her home early. She should have felt alarm bells then, that maybe she was leading him on,  but  the sun was warming her face and all her anxieties were fading into the background. She felt feminine and flirty, it was a wonderful feeling. This kind male attention was making  her feel alive again. They carried on laughing and chatting until she felt, rather than saw, her husband's presence. A lone figure leaning on the rail of the promenade above the beach. He was looking at her.She felt her heart leap. There was a silence as her companion took in the scene.

That evening over dinner at the small hotel where she had been staying, her husband  presented her with a small box. It was a wedding ring to replace the old metal one that he had bought during the war when everyone had given their gold wedding rings to help the war effort.

 'For better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health', they both repeated together in unison. Susan's eyes filled with tears. How could she have doubted that her husband would have left her.

 When the doctor told them that she had Multiple Sclerosis they were both too shocked to speak to each other. As the doctor gently explained what they could expect they could hardly take it in. Her husband had left the next day saying he was going to see a friend. On an impulse she had taken the train and come here to the place where they had spent their honeymoon. She wanted to relive those wonderful moments- She wanted to remember what it had felt like to be full of hope and love and make plans for their future together. She had never dared hope that he would come to find her. Now, looking at him across the table of the small dining-room she carefully raised her glass and looked at him. He held her gaze steadily and she saw his love for her shining there. Whatever the future may hold  she knew that with him by her side she would be strong . He was her rock, her strength. She would love him with all her heart forever.

England did win the World cup once !

After the match this evening between Italy - Costa Rica, if I've understood it correctly England has no chance of going on to the next round of the World Cup. This is nothing new. It makes me think though of the excitement and happiness when England did win the World cup. It was a long time ago, in 1966. I was twelve years old and my brother fourteen. We had got really involved in the tournament in the best possible way. It was him really, that got engrossed in it, I got carried away on his enthusiasm. It was a geography lesson too for me. we learnt all the names of the countries participating, we learnt the names of the players, we learnt the names of the wives of the players. there were no Wags then, they were called World cup widows .For us it was a lot of fun, we were like that, we thought everything was funny. Well  England just happened to get through to the final. We were about to go on holiday that very day. We had our ferry booked to cross the channel to the continent that day. We were getting ready to go on one of my Dad's camping holidays that very day. So while the match was playing we were also putting things in the boot of the car and my dad was taking them out. He wanted to travel light. No wellington boots or macs. If it rained he would just turn the car round and follow the sun. My dad said we couldn't leave until the match was over. In and out of the house we went. We watched the end of the 90 minutes. It looked like we were going to win. Two minutes before the end the commentator called Kenneth Wostenholme excitedly shouted ?England has won the World cup!!!?. Then 'Oh dear Germany has scored a goal'. Then we went into extra time, all the while with our front door open and our car ready. England did eventually win the World cup that year ,in 1966. It was held at Wembley stadium, which made it even better. It is so nice to win on home soil. We set off for our holiday in high spirits. we had had a great month following all the teams. On our cross channel ferry we met lots of German fans going home disheartened. We felt sorry for them, we knew what a close victory it had been. It is a pity someone has to lose .It seemed such a wonderful tournament to us, I think it still is. I like to think of  all the children following the tournament that must be feeling like my brother and I did then. what a wonderful world, what great entertainment, may men's battles all be like that. Fun, fair, no-one getting hurt, and may the best team win.
Just for fun two links to England world cup songs.

A little white cot by the sea

At this time of year my thoughts turn to days and holidays by the sea in England. My Mum loved  Devon, the countryside, lush and green sloping down to the twinkling blue sea in the distance, the red cliffs, the welcoming farms and tea shops, all that was needed was a sunny Summer's day. we also went to Swanage, in Dorset and one year to Highcliff.. Lots of lovely memories come flooding back. Lots of people would love to have a cottage by the sea in England. Lots of Italians faces light up at the mere mention of the word cottage. My mum used to sing us the Vera Lynn song 'Smiling through'. It is very nostalgic and would have you in floods of tears, but here is the first verse which was a great way to get me off to sleep, dreaming of cottages by the sea.

There's a little brown road winding over the hill
To a little white cot by the sea
There's a little green gate at whose trellis I wait
While two eyes of blue come smiling through at me.

My poem for the day is by Samuel Rogers, 81763 - 1855). He is not as well known as his contemporaries, like Byron, but in his day he was quite popular. One interesting thing about him was his tour of Italy which he asked Turner to illustrate for him. When he was older he went round the villages of his childhood and wrote about his memories of them. This poem makes me think of the villages I know and of a cottage by the sea.

A Wish

Mine be a cot beside the hill
A bee-hive's hum shall soothe my ear,
A willowy brook that turns a mill,
With many a fall shall linger near.

The swallow oft beneath my thatch
Shall twitter from her clay - built nest,
Oft shall the pilgrim lift the latch
And share my meal, a welcome guest.

Around my ivied porch shall spring
Each fragrant flower that drinks the dew
And Lucy at her wheel shall sing
In russet gown and apron blue.

The village church among the trees,
Where first our marriage vows were given
With merry peals shall swell the breeze
And point with taper spire to heaven.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Conchiglioni ripieni , pasta shells with spinach filling

A great prepare in advance dish
Here is a wonderful year round recipe. It can be served as a Piatto unico , or a starter. What I like about it is that I can prepare it quickly in the morning , keep it in the fridge and then put it in the oven for half an hour while you lay the table, have a shower, watch your favourite quiz programme, make a dessert or whatever.. It 's great if you 've got a busy day  to have waiting for you in the evening . It' a sort of cheats cannelloni !

Conchiglione Ripieni

300g pasta shells, conchiglione
4 cubes of frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed to get rid of excess moisture
2 eggs, beaten
100g grated Parmesan cheese
200g cream cheese
One cup of passata di pomodoro
Salt and pepper

Cook the pasta shells according to the packet and drain in a colander.
In a large bowl mix together thoroughly the drained spinach, beaten eggs, Parmesan, cream cheese and season to taste with nutmeg, salt and pepper.
When the pasta shells are cool enough to handle arrange them with the hollow side up in a well buttered oven- proof dish. Fill them with the spinach mixture , spreading it over in a layer. Spoon over the tomato passata and cover with grated cheese and dot with butter. Bake in the oven at 180 until golden , about 25 minutes.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Dragonflies, libellule

Here is a verse by Jean Ingelow that mentions dragonflies , mosche di drago , libellule , they have a special meaning for me.

Then the green rushes- O so glassy green
The rushes they would whisper, rustle, shake
And forth on floating gauze, no jewelled queen
So rich, the green- eyed. Dragonflies would break
And hover on the flowers - aerial things
With little rainbows flickering on their wings.


Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Sicilian flowers that need the sun


Some years ago I stayed at a friend's house on a small Sicilian island called Panarea. It is one of a group of islands called Eolie , after the Roman god of the winds, Eolo .They are all stunningly beautiful. When we arrived after a long journey that involved trains and boats it felt like we were on another plant. I almost expectrd Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk to join us. The sea was like a mill pond, there was a heat haze so dense that we could see no other land at all. That night a thunderstorm rolled above us  and cleared the air. In the morning we could see the coast of Calabria, the Sicilian mainland and some of the other islands. Opposite Panarea is Stromboli, an active volcano. Sparks could be seen shooting up into the night sky. Lipari was a short boat ride away and was big enough to have roads and cars. On Panarea only little ape were allowed. They buzzed about all day carrying luggage to and fro from the boats, delivering goods and picking up passengers. Beautiful lush vibrant Mediterranean flowers grew abundantly and profusely everywhere . There were o Plumbago, Bougainvillea, Hibiscus thick, luxurious blossoms, trailing lazily along the terraces and lanes, proudly thriving in the searing heat.
Back in Northern Italy I try to grow those three plants to remind me of that magical island holiday . In the vivaio , the garden centre, the staff tell you they must be placed in direct sunlight, they need lots of sunshine to survive , to flourish. In the winter they need to be protected from the frost if they are to bloom the following summer. 


Torta di ricotta salata ad 'occhio

Torta di ricotta salata

A summer meal that is  great for watching the World cup matches
Until I came to live in Italy I would always cook scrupulously following the instructions of a recipe. The ingredients would always be weighed on the kitchen scales, the oven temperature and timer exactly as stated in the cookery book. Whenever I ask my Italian friends for a recipe they will often tell you the ingredients and when you ask about the quantities they shrug their shoulders and say ad'occhio. This can be translated as by the eye  and it means just by looking at it. So you don't ever know how much of anything you need. You do it by trial and error. Many years ago at a friend's house I had this delicious Ricotta cheese pie and when I asked for the recipe she gave me the list of ingredients and said to do it all ad'occhio.

Ricotta cheese pie

Butter a pie dish and sprinkle with breadcrumbs.
In a large bowl beat together 3 - 4 eggs, 250g Ricotta, grated Parmesan cheese and enough breadcrumbs to form a spreading consistency. Add a handful of sliced olives, if liked. Season to taste and spread over the buttered pie dish. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and decorate with anchovy fillets if liked. Dot with flecks of butter and bake in the oven at 180 for about 25 - 30 minutes until golden .
This is nice warm or cold so ideal for summer.
Ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, olives, anchovies, breadcrumbs and eggs,

Monday, 16 June 2014

Food to put you in a good mood

Nothing nicer than a dish of golden brown potatoes
Golden roast or fried potatoes can be guaranteed to brighten up any meal and bring some cheer to the table . Whenever I make boiled potatoes In the summer I always make enough to have some left over for the next day. Cold boiled potatoes are an uninspiring sight but can be quickly transformed into a dish of inviting golden crunchy potatoes.
Slice the cold potatoes into rounds. Melt some butter and olive oil in a non stick pan and arrange the potatoes in one lauer. When the underneath is golden gently turn them over and brown the other side. When cooked slide them into a dish lined with kitchen paper to absorb any excess oil and sprinkle with salt and rosemary. All you need is some slices of ham or fried eggs and a mixed salad for a happy sunset supper .
Boiled potatoes can be magically transformed

Sunset suppers are lovely in June