Monday, March 28, 2011

Sicily for Sicilians

Today it rained – typical scirocco weather. Interesting to watch the Sicilians in the unusual weather. I took bambino out for a walk anyway as he was oblivious to the light rain in his sturdy rainproof stroller. My husband’s cugina pulled up in her car – ‘It could only be you, out walking the baby in this weather!’ she says. A light drizzle, nothing to worry about. Warm enough to sit outside under the canopy while I have my cappuccino and bambino sleeps. Four middle-aged men, one shorter than the other, join me but chat among themselves. Some people are well-prepared for the weather – an elderly gentleman in a tweed coat and dapper cap steps carefully. Others hold a magazine over their head and scuttle from A to B (never far as they park as close to their destination as the flexible parking laws allow). Nothing like the bowed-down hunched-shoulders marching against the elements you see on the streets of London or Dublin. There are good things here too.

Though an English girl married to a Milazzo-man told me he was talking seriously of coming back. They both have good jobs and live in a nice place in England, and can come here to their apartment to visit the nonni whenever they want. ‘Don’t be seduced by the sun!’ I warned. You both will be too used to life in the UK. The state here gives you nothing. No child benefit, rubbish pension (you only get about a quarter of the taxes you pay for pension when you reach 65), no rubbish collection, poor health system –(never get sick here!), poor education for your kids, and serious lack of opportunities for them. Is the sun and the sea enough in compensation? And what would you do? Your husband might not get a job here (he’s a doctor) and you would have to give up your career and teach English- Is that enticing? You’ll have no friends, because all the interesting people our age have moved away long ago. Think long and hard and if you agree to come, make sure you have a goal for yourself so the move is not just for your husband’s sake. That is the only way to survive life in Sicily. Sicily is for Sicilians, I’ve said it before and I will say it again. Yes, you are ‘accepted’ once you have kids with your Sicilian man, but you are still 'straniera'.

tre signorine

Yesterday was like summer’s day. Three signorine had granita on the terrace of my local bar and admired bambino while I had my cappuccino. ‘He’s big for his age,’ they nodded wisely, not more than 13 years old. They wanted to know where I was from and what language I spoke to my bambino in and where I had lived. They said their English teacher at school was no good and that they planned to go to stay with their friend’s grandmother in England in the summer to improve their English. I gave them some tips on learning English, feeling the teacher in me respond to this obvious need. Teaching is so old-fashioned here, even these teenagers knew it – we just copy off the blackboard and repeat our teacher’s bad pronunciation, they said! ‘Sei giovanissima, quanti anni hai?’ they asked – ‘You’re so young, how old are you?’ Bold as brass, two of them. The third didn’t say a word, just dipped her brioche into the lemon slush. Like three young ladies out for a chat. The two interviewers remembered seeing me and bambino in the photo shop last week.

Poor bambino had no chance of sleeping with those two clucking over him so I had to wheel him round in the sunny piazza afterwards; midday is a great time to be out on a Sunday in Sicily since everyone else is at home stuffing their faces. A gecko slithered over the bench into the shrubs – sprawling mother-in-law’s tongue and stiff cacti.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Slow yoga

I tried a yoga lesson this week, time to get a bit of flexibility back with all the hauling around of big bambino. A nice morning lesson, I had high hopes. But it was very slow, with lots of talking (of course) about the third eye and chakras and the point of strength 5cm below the belly button and 5cm inwards. Some rotation of wrists and ankles and one downward dog. Perhaps your evening class is more dynamic, I suggest. Depends what you mean by dynamic. Oops, she has taken offence, despite the fact that I complimented her on the lovely lesson first. Well, more toning. ‘Ahh, toning,’ she sniffs, ‘if it’s toning you want, go to a gym. The effetto tonificante of yoga is just a result of holding the positions.’ I know, I say patiently, the asanas … do you do any of these in your evning lesson? The triangle, the warrier, fish, bridge etc? ‘I was thinking of introducing them next month,’ she says, reciting their Sanskrit terms piously. Ahhhh, pazienza. The problem here is, when people get a ‘titolo’, they think they are way above everyone else and that the rest of us are ignorant. Two of my best friends are yoga teachers so i do know something ... It’s just that I had a baby four months ago, I say, and I wanted to regain some flexibility, I feel like an old woman, I joke. But motherhood is the most beautiful, energy-giving moment of one’s life, she says. SIGH. I sense a lecture coming. As if I didn’t know that. As if I am not loving every moment of bambino’s four months and three weeks. But he was 10pounds and stretched my whole pelvic area, not to mention his now 20pounds hanging off my shoulders etc. He’s almost double the expected weight for his age. I do yoga every day at home, and am convinced the yoga I did throughout my pregnancy enabled me to birth my big baby so beautifully and without any problems in water – and I managed to turn him, with his occiput posterior (head into back instead of stomach during labour) presentation by sitting on a pilates ball for 6 hours. But I though I might be able to learn something new at this course – plus it would be a little hour of me time, because it is not easy to get the downward dogs flowing when bambino is hollering because his little gums hurt, or he’s hungry or he wants me to play. But no. I try a last shot – well, what time is your evening class and how long does it last? Hoping for some final elucidation. ‘I don’t wear a watch,’ she smiles, superior. Oh God, a patronizing yogie master. Actually neither do I, but I don’t tell her that. I need to know to make arrangements for my baby I manage to smile, thinking, there is no way I want to see her again. And all this (an hour of stretching fingers and toes, thanks)for 10€ when the shop had assured me the trial was free. As if we were in Dublin.

Silent neighbours

Someone has broken the wing mirror on our car. It happened yesterday between 4.30 and 5.30, because I went out at 4.30 with bambino and it was fine and my in-laws were out on the street at that time too as they were heading to the restaurant. Bambino and I came back from our stroll at 5.30 and the mirror was broken. I looked up and down the street: the builders who are working on a dilapidated building just down the street were gone – and wouldn’t admit to seeing anything anyway. I scan the neighbours’ windows, because you can bet your life that someone will have seen what happened, but not a stir behind the craftily angled shutters. I look down the street – the cars parked in front of ours all have their mirrors pointed out, except one car which has turned it inwards for safety. There is plenty of space to get past where we are parked though, and even if another car had been parked opposite ours there would have been space. My sister in law is convinced it was the Pazzo, the madman on the street, who hates their family. A repressed gay, she says, and also not right in the head. He came back after a few years in Rome and was never the same. Dangerous, she says darkly. If her father ever leaves the car parked near his house she moves it, she says and always turns the outside wing mirror inwards. They believe it is he who is scratching all our cars. Every few days a new scratch – the kind of deliberate scoring you do with a key – appears on our car, but overnight, not in the broad daylight. My next-door neighbour, a large housebound woman due to hip problems, is permanently sitting at the window, but no sign of her today. Another doting old man who walks the street wrapped up as if for snow in the warm spring days, has every day the same question – is it a bambino or bambina ? He then smiles at my buggy, and then forgets that it is a bambino. And wishes me buongiorno, adding that good manners are important. He’s nowhere to be seen. The suspect and his two side kicks, Walrus (beer gut and long whiskers) and Hunger (the thinnest palest creature in Sicily) are of course absent from their usual meeting spot opposite the dilapidated building. Who am I kidding? Even if anyone had seen what happened, they wouldn’t say.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Staring fishermen

I ran into difficulty yesterday while out for a stroll with a friend along the marina. Bambino needed fed but each time we stopped at a bench a few fishermen would gather to stare at us, the fair haired foreign girls. They should know me by now! I complained to another foreign friend. Her partner is a fisherman and she knows them all, so she promised to come with me some time and introduce me. Can’t wait.

busy nights, quiet nights

It’s hard to predict what way a ‘serata’ will go; Friday, the restaurant did very little, but the bar was packed with lots of people dancing to the tunes of DJ Giuppy … Saturday, the restaurant was packed and the bar too, so that the road outside was full of people like a summer weekend. And yet on Sunday night, the popular aperitivo attracted few punters this weekend – perhaps because we didn’t have a DJ last night. The SAIE – the PRS, or music rights people, to whom we have to pay €50 every time we have live music or DJ (As IF that money ever reaches the authors) warned us that they knew we were having DJs on Sundays (we pay up for Friday and Saturday, but it simply didn’t seem fair to have to do it on Sundays too … SAIE friends are exempt of course. We are not their friends, but at least they warn us, rather than coming to fine us directly). We didn’t have th barman either, so his mates didn’t come. We’ll have to decide if it’s worth the expense of barman, DJ and SAIE …

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, we now have to keep tighter tabs on the cook who has been making enormous quantities of everything. We need to check the shopping list (we were left with SEVEN bags of rocket left over last Sunday, plus various bags of mozzarella going out of date and desserts which were well past their sell-by date …), and also at the beginning of the evening discuss what preparation needs to be done.

noisy lunch

During the week we went out for lunch for my mother-in-law’s birthday. We had the small agriturismo to ourselves. There were ten of us in total, including two children, but the noise levels would have woken the dead. When Sicilians get together over a meal they tend to shout at each other across the table. Plus, there was music on too, which I discreetly turned down once I had spotted the remote. But bambino didn’t like it! His nonno said, ‘It’s because you don’t take him out!’ what? I said, he’s out every day of the week. ‘Yes, in the outdoors, but not in noisy restaurants.’ Well, we’re in a different caffè every day of the week, where bambino is greeted by all (shouting ‘che bello’ into his little face) but apparently they are not noisy enough. Noise training is what my bambino needs. I see. … This is the third day in a row we have had lunch all together and the noise levels are getting to me too. At one point I ask the 5 year old does he not have a book to read. He and the three year old are running riot around the restaurant. There’s a difference: at home I think parents would usually have some game for the children – colouring books etc to keep the kids quiet. But here no such effort is made, so the kids end up whining in their parents’ laps when they are exhausted.

Monday, March 14, 2011

poetic postman

One of my favourite institutions in this town, which is backward in so many ways, is the poetry-writing postman. Always in good humour, a tall handsome man, tanned from his mornings on the scooter bringing the mail – apologising when it is obviously a bill – he whistles and sings as he goes about his work. He passed me this morning as I was having coffee with bambino, and raised a finger as he remembered something, after flashing his winning smile and wishing me a buongiorno. ‘Signora, I have a parcel for you! But I will deliver it to your house!’ It seems I am the only person who gets parcels so regularly in Milazzo. He never leaves it at my house, as it is slightly off the road, preferring to ring my in-laws’ bells, since their house is right on the street, so he doesn’t have to get off his moto. And he once brought the nonna a book of his poetry. Fantastic. Where else would you get such a personalised postal service? It almost makes up for the stinking, overflowing skips.

On my way home, as I struggled up hill, the ery steep hill up to the borgo, two men ahead of me turned round to offer their help. They lifted the front of the stroller despite my assurances that I would make it on my own, and whizzed me and bambino up the long steps to the borgo. It worked out sorer on my arms, though, since I had to keep the back end of the stroller held high to avoid banging it off the steps. I ended up more breathless than ever at the top of the steps, with the rest of the steep incline to negotiate alone! But it was very kind of them. You appreciate these gestures especially when what you usually find it a huge jeep sprawled over the zebra crossing and massive kerbs on either side.

Sunday aperitivo

Lovely aperitivo at Pachamama last night. Cosy lighting with candles everywhere and good chilled out music. Thankfully no DJ in fact many of the regulars commented there is no need. After the live music on Friday and DJ on Saturday, it is nice to be able to come and chat over a few drinks. Plus the music on the iPod is way better than either ;) Our regular DJ tells us that the bar across the road from has started an aperitivo exactly based on ours. They sent their DJ over to spy one night and he started it off last night. Will they have the same food? Same sequence of snacks? The couscous and the faro, the Greek salada and the tortilla, the chicken nuggets and the fried savoury our Neapolitan chef cooks up? Our aperitivo has been such a success – apart from the great deal – because it offered something new hear in Sicily. A common social event in northern Italy, the aperitivo doesn’t really exist in Sicily with real food, just nuts and olives.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

why do we get all the freeloaders?

Mid-week we get a request for a booking for a party of twenty, for a girl's birthday. She wants to spend a maximum of €60 - four bottles of prosecco. A bottle costs €16, so she wants a little discount, plus she will bring a cake which our waiter will slice and serve ... and of course, service is included - the plates and flute glasses and the dishwashing, and the laying out of tables for the twenty or so people. Although they will occupy most of the upstairs room, she there is no rental fee for the space. Never mind that a table for two would generate €60 with much less effort. On the night itself, she saunters downstairs every so often, 25 years old with the ways of an 18 year old. She apologises that many of her friends haven't turned up and so she would like one less bottle ... this happens several times throughout the night, despite the fact that the waiter notes all twenty places are occupied at the table, with more standing. When she tries to renegue on bottle number two, he mentions this. In the end, the young lady pays a grand total of €35 for entertaining her large group of friends.

The following night we have a booking for another party of 15 this time. They want prosecco and antipasti and fruit - plus the service and space, naturally, all included in €100. So €60 for the 4 botles of prosecco, leaves €40 for the fruit and antipasti - just over €2 per person. Errr, profit? And the man who made the booking asked for a discount on this ... As if he were doing us a favour. We decide that we need to ask for half of the amount upfront. And because there is so little work mid-week we are obliged to accept these customers. Hmmmm

To top it all off, the band on Friday night get ratty. Like all the groups who play, they have their meal and two drinks on us; but this was not enough for this Depeche Mode cover band. They wanted their 7 Santa Teresa rums (that's practically the whole bottle given the big italian measures) and 6 beers on top of that for free too. They have tried this on the previous two occasions they played with us, so they know the limits. Instead of thanking us for their meal and the fact that we also let their girlfriends eat for free - the singer and his sidekick made a huge scene, calling mio marito stingy, of all things. Outside the bar, of course, so others could hear. Luckily, there were only a few people left. My husband stayed calm and told him he was probably being so obnoxious because he was drunk. That was no doubt true. This brings on a Sunday depression about the kind of people we have to deal with. Rude, arrogant, figli di papa (spoilt little rich kids), provincial, narrow-minded freeloaders. Most of whom have rarely if ever left this town, never mind Sicily or Italy, to get some manners and culture. Hmmm I begin to suspect there is limit to the time we can keep doing this...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Local personality

Mia suocera launches into a tale about a woman who used to work with her in the creche down the road. Her daughter works in a bar I go to often with the bambino, and finally after two years she greeted us with a smile. Since we are always given a great welcome in this bar her stony-faced service always seemed strange to me. So this is how my mother-in-law got stuck into her story. Every now and again she likes to regale me with some local lore. Her eyes light up, the voice lowers and she takes up her story-telling position. This time it is about Domenica, her ex-colleague. Domenica was very strict with the daughter when she was little, giving her hardly any freedom. The creche was opposite the child's school, so she was themost punctual of mothers and the daughter never got to roam around town with her friends. So she rebelled and ran off with a married man and had a baby with him bringing shame on the family at the time, 50 odd years ago. The married man divorced his then-wife and has lived with this daughter ever since. Domenica had three children in total, and managed to buy houses for all three of them, all on her own, as her husband left her.She had no formal education and was illiterate - otherwise, mia suocera says, she would have been an excellent businesswoman. Apart from the creche, she did all sorts of odd jobs, most frequently cleaning houses and shops and even the long marble staircase in the creche itself. She also managed to get the best house of all for herself, right in the cnetre of town on the main street, in one of the beautiful old palazzi dating from the 19th century. When the owner of the house came to tell her he was selling the whole palazzo she refused to leave, telling him she would buy the apartment she was living in. He woudln't agree and sent in the builders with their buldozers. But Domenica refused to budge and such was her conviction that the builders took fright and told the owner they couldn't work there. So the owner gave in and named his price. Domenica had no money to buy it but that didn't stop her. She went out one day determined to get the money - she stepped out in front of a car and let herself get knocked down. She made a huge scene at the hospital even though she wasn't hurt that badly ... but the insurance claim covered the cost of the house! The word for this in Italian is 'grinta', of 'faccia tosta'. She made the system work for her in other ways too: she couldn't afford to take holidays because they were unpaid. SO when she needed to stay home for whatever reason, she got herself into such a statethat her blood pressure would go up, so that the doctor could easily give her a sickness certificate.

My husband asks who we are talking about. Domenica. He raiseshis eyes to heaven. Mad woman. Wild red hair out to here. We all know Domenica.