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L'Antico Caffè Greco, to give it its proper name, is found on the famous via Condotti, number 86, in Rome. Within sight of the Spanish Steps and surrounded on all side by the finest and most luxurious Italian designer shops. Perhaps a Gucci handbag or immaculate Valentino dress is far beyond your budget but the experience of sipping coffee in one of the world's oldest and most beautiful bars is well worth splashing out on. At the very least you should poke your nose in and grab something quick at the bar.
I have lived in Rome for nearly 4 years and I will admit that I cannot actually walk past Caffè Greco without walking in to grab myself an espresso and soak up the atmosphere for a few minutes. I have also passed many a pleasant half hour with my husband on a Sunday afternoon doing the whole thing properly: sat in an elegant red velvet upholstered chair at a marble table surrounded by the romantically lit mirrors, memories, images and donated artwork, which reflect 250 years of history. The constant buzz of people and energy is fascinating to watch calmly from behind a cup the most deliciously creamy hot chocolate you will ever have.
The Caffè was founded in 1760 by Nicola della Maddalena, a Greek gentleman hence the name of the establishment. It is the oldest surviving coffee house in Rome and the second oldest in Italy, located in what was the city's former English quarter. The epic list of former clientele include numerous world famous literati, poets, artists, intellectuals and musicians, evidence of which radiates from every wall. Those who have regularly enjoyed a drink here include Berlioz, Dickens, Goethe, Keats, Liszt, Lord Byron, Mendelssohn, Twain, Wagner, Hans Christian Andersen and Rossini to name but a very few. These days it is an interesting mix of locals and tourist but very much still a place where they rich and famous regularly pop in.
As you enter you are confronted by a bustling wooden bar crammed with displays of confectionary and drinks and served by impeccably dressed barmen. Beyond is the series of small beautiful salons where you can be seated. If you feel yourself confident in the art of Italian coffee and know what you want join the locals gathered at the bar waiting to order, drink, chat briefly and run in the traditional Roman fashion. In this instance I usually order the classic espresso served with a glass of water and try and give an air of sophistication as I casually pour in my sugar, stir and send it down. If you wish to have more time to deliberate take a table, get a menu and prepare your wallet. As a guide a cappucino will cost you c. Euro6, a hot chocolate c. Euro7 and the same for a freshly squeezed juice. In general everything costs about four times what I would spend in my local caffè bar.
If you should wish to eat the Caffè serves the usual Italian light breakfasts, snackes, lunches and "aperitivo" (pre dinner drinks and snacks). Therefore: pastries, cakes, sandwiches etc. Of course owing to the location all the staff speak perfect English too.
I love this bra, in fact I'm amazed by it. How can it possibly work so well and yet be so sleek, slimline and good looking? Why oh why did it not exist 10 years ago when I was at University and had the kind of social life that I can only look back at wistfully now? Still, at least it gives me the chance to look like a yummy, age defying 30 something mummy now.
Since I realised a few years ago that 30f/32e assets did not mean I had to entirely deny myself the world of halterneck and strapless I have been on the search for a reliable piece of strapless scaffolding. Previous purchases have been acceptable, if uncomfortable and needing constant adjustment but the shape they have given me has always left a little to be desired. However the Wonderbra ultimate strapless has been a total revelation that has seen me actively seeking out strapless options in clothing shops and considering clothes that I would never have looked at in the past.
The bra is not actually underwired but constructed with a lightweight moulded, "hand shape" structure to lift you up. The effect is one of great security and at no point have I felt like my cleavage is about to tumble out all over the place or slip down. The plain black version that I have usually retails at £30-£35, which for a larger busted lady seems entirely reasonable. It looks elegant and actually quite sexy on, despite it's simplicity. To give an idea of the sizing I usually take a 30f or 32e (if a 30 backsize is not an option) but this time I opted for a 32f, knowing that strapless bras are usually tight by necessity. However I obviously decided to go up a cupsize, which was a wise decision as it fits perfectly.
The bra is sleek and looks clean under clothing. It creates a great shape under clothing, giving the illusion of me having natural, pert gravity defying cleavage. It also has the advantage of plunging low at the front and not being cut too high under the arm which further increases the options of what sort of garments you can wear it under.
I certainly wouldn't claim it is the most comfortable bra I have ever worn. The required snug fit and rubbery strip around the band is slightly annoying for the first few minutes. However considering what a fabulous job it does I quickly forget about this and concentrate instead on looking glamorous.
For most of my adult life, the 2nd half of a bottle of foundation heralded the search for a better alternative: One that looked more natural, felt lighter, covered better and most importantly didn't irritate my sensitive and oily skin. Since moving to Italy all of these requirements became even more important.
However since finding bare escentuals i.d. bareminerals foundation, I have rushed out to find another pot the moment I start to run low. For an indecisive and hard to please person like me, this must mean something surely. Quite simply, it does the job and well. The one obvious downside is the price, 8g usually retailing at around £22. I will admit that as a result, I have actually tried some other mineral foundations just out of interest and found that they just don't give the same luminosity, level of easy to acchieve coverage and lightness. Much to my endless surprise people sometimes now describe my skin as "perfect" and "clear" and I am sure it is simply because the mineral make up renders it matt and even toned.
Bareminerals was one of the first mineral foundations out there. It is made from very finely ground natural minerals and claims to be free from all the chemical ingredients that usually irritate the skin. For those interested the ingredients are listed as: Zinc Oxide 15%, Mica, Bismuth Oxychloride, Iron Oxides. The product tagline (and indeed the above image) suggests it is so pure you can sleep in it, I am not sure that I would, however I certainly don't get the itchy, slimy uncomfortable feeling that I used to get with liquid foundations. I can also say that I could almost forget I am wearing it because it is that comfortable and light.
So, let me fill you in on the nature of my skin: Its very sensitive, tends to be oily and blotchy and has occasional breakouts. It is not the kind of skin one would be happy to skip out of the house with "nude" and free from at least a light veil of makeup. I have had reactions to foundations before and also found that the oil in my skin melts them within a few hours. As I hinted before the hot Italian sun has only compounded this problem. I am sure you can imagine what 40 degree heat and heavy foundation combine to create. I had heard some cases of bare escentuals not agreeing with people's skin, however my skin is as delicate as they come and I have had NO problems.
To my joy, I have found that bare minerals gives remarkably good and natural looking coverage and takes me a quarter of the time to apply with no blending etc. Obviously you need a brush (I recommend a good quality kabuki brush) which you give a quick swirl in a small amount of the powder and then buff repeatedly over the face. It has actually made my skin feel much more comfortable and I am certain has actually lessened breakouts and improved not perhaps simply because I am not overloading it with rubbish. Another bonus for me is that it contains an SPF of 15, which again is a great help for me in the fierce sunshine.
I have very pale skin naturally and use the lightest of the 12 shades (Fair) however by the end of the summer I go up 2 shades to "light". A quick glance at a bareminerals colour chart will demonstrate that they cater very well for a range of skin colours. YOu can also blend 2 shades together to get a pefect match.
One tip I would offer is that a good light primer or matt moisturiser as a base coat can help the makeup adhear better and appear even more even. However on a desperate "got to get my son to nursery in 2 seconds time" day, it can be as simple as a quick waft all over with the brush and it looks perfectly fine.
I am looking at the perilously low amount in the pot right now and planning a trip to the shops tomorrow to buy a fresh one. As long as there is this in the house all else is well!
Once you become a mother, especially if your child has super sensitive skin like my son, the search for the "perfect moisturiser" extends into the search for the perfect botty cream. Is it easy to use? does it spread well? How long does it last? does it smell nice? Is it expensive? and most importantly does it actually work?
I think I have finally found the bottom cream of my dreams and much to my joy it costs very little and has a gentle yet irresistable aroma, which reminds me of white chocolate.
I live in Italy where your average chemical scented nappy cream with the consistency of lard costs at least 10 euro. I had already heard good things about waitrose baby bottom butter, so on a recent trip to the UK I invested in 3 pots of the stuff. At £2.49 per pot, why not eh?
The product comes in a reasonable sized 125ml tub, which is easy to use. The only downside is that it is easy for my little hooligan to open, but he is at that age when he can pretty much break into anything and wont take no for an answer.
One of the best things about this cream is the ingredients: Olea Europeae (Olive Oil), Hydrogenated Olive Oil, Vanillin, Anthemis Nobilis (Chamomile Oil) and thats it!! YOu cannot get more simple and gentle than that and it smells divine.
It has a smooth luxurious texture akin to a quality lipbalm and is much easier to spread than sudocrem or vaseline, leaving a nice protective layer on the skin. Also if you apply to much its actually very pleasant to rub it into your hands and nails rather than washing it off as with other nappy creams.
In terms of performance, this cream quickly clears up my son's spotty bot when he has nappy rash. It has also worked wonders on his eczema (more than the expensive oils and creams I was buying) and any other rashes gets such as heat rash and even dry lips. I have applied it after sun exposure and also use it as a massage balm after his bath as the odour is so calming. I particularly like to smooth some on his face so that he can breathe in the aroma and his skin is soothed if he has been out in the sun/wind.
A friend recently laughed at me during a nappy change as she saw me sneak a slather of bottom butter on my lips before getting down to work. However this cream also works wonderfully as a balm for all areas of dry skin on adults too. Though it is too rich for me personally to be the "miracle face cream" that some mum's forums proclaimed it to be, I have used it to cleanse my face very successfully. I also frequently force other mums to "sniff my bottom cream" in order to witness the look of pleasant surprise and envy on their faces and I am certainly thinking of importing it to Italy in large quanties after my next trip home. Perhaps I can set myself up as Italy's first bottom butter saleswoman?
In short this cream is cheap yet high quality with good simple ingredients. It is versatile and easy to use and smells divine with excellent results. seeing as it can also replace the need for lip balm and hand moisturiser too its a must have!!!
I am in love with this makeup brush!! The moment I saw it in the shop, I just knew that it had to be mine.
I have always thought that body shop brushes were good quality but this one really performs perfectly.
I have been using mineral makeup for about 2 years now and have long been on the quest for a "kabuki" brush (a small brush with a very dense head of dome shaped bristles) which feels high quality but does not cost the earth. Every time I spy one in a shop I have a play with the tester and in the meantime I had been using one that cost about the same as the body shop brush but was scratchy and shed bristles constantly.
The body shop website lists the cost as £13.65 but I recall paying £14 for mine. It is officially described as:
A high-density foundation brush, designed to ensure just the right amount of The Body Shop® Nature's MineralsTM Foundation SPF 25 is captured between the bristles, providing a smooth, even application.
I of course use it with my previous mineral makeup (bare escentuals) and find that the density and flexibility of the brush is fantastic and achieves a much better application than I had previously. It also holds the powder really well ensuring that you can give your whole face a good sweep over before needing to give it another dust. Best of all this brush feels wonderful soft and luxurious against my skin. It is a pleasure to use.
In addition the brush also looks attractive, functional but cute. It sits proudly on my dressing table. Should I want to take it out in my makeup bag it also comes with a little plastic cover, which is sadly a bit pointless. It does not close properly but I suppose does at least give the brush some protection from the rest of the contents of my bag.
For anyone looking for the perfect mineral makeup brush at a good price, your search is over!
After many years of experimentation here are the ten beauty products that I cannot live without. Alas I have still to find the moisturiser of my dreams so this changes on a quarterly basis (I have oily, yet sensitive skin prone to dry patches if anyone has any wonder products).
1) Liz Earle cleanse and polish hot cloth cleanser.
This rich and creamy herbal cleanser is wonderful and leaves my skin feeling soft, smooth and super clean. For a set including 2 muslin cloths it will set you back £12
2) Clinique clarifying lotion (I use no.2):
A powerful exfoliating toner, which manages to remove all the traces of dirt that your cleanser has missed (leaving a satisfying grimy mark on the cotton wool. I find it also tightens the skin, leaving it looking calmer and smoother. It also dries up and soothes blemishes. Costs circa £15 per 200ml depending on where you shop.
3) Clinique Pore Minimizer Refining Serum:
A light velvety cream, which I use as a primer. Makes pore seem smaller, keeps skin matt all day and perfect under mineral make up. Costs around £15.
4) Bare escentuals mineral foundation:
Good coverage with a light feeling which feels liberating on my oily skin and does not block pores. Leaves my skin looking healthy and me feeling confident. It also has an SPF of 15. It costs from 17.50 for 2grams.
5) Body shop natures minerals foundation brush:
A high quality kabuki style foundation brush for use with body shop mineral make up. It is super soft, never sheds bristles and is a joy to use. £15
6) Body shop born lippy lip balm:
A reliable, good value, long lasting gooey lip balm which comes in a wide range of gorgeous sweet lavours. Cost £4
7) Mac eyeshadow:
Long lasting and good quality eye shadow in a rainbow of different colours and various finishes. circa £10 each
8) Rimmel professional liquid eye liner:
Easy to use, classic product. I have been using this for years and no other product compares for the price of £5. Cannot go out for the evening without wearing this.
9)Crabtree and Evelyn La Source60-Second Fix for Hands:
An indulgent, quick and easy to use remedy for dry hands. Includes and exfoliator/polisher (hand recovery) and a moisturiser. Leaves hands super soft and feeling pampered. THe travel set costs about £7 for the 2 products.
10) Amerige by Givenchy eau de toilette.
I have used this perfume for over 15 years and would never use any other. I love it! It has a warm, sexy and feminine scent and always gets lots of compliments. Cost circa £20 for 30ml
1)What did you do in 2008 that you have not done before?
2) Did anyone close to you give birth?
Nearly me (end 2007!) my best friend from school and many other close friends.
3) Did anyone close to you die?
4) What countries did you visit?
The UK (hee hee, I live in Italy)
5) What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked in 2008?
my self confidence back.
6) What dates will you remember from 2008?
My wedding day, my baby's first birthday
7) Did you suffer illness or injury?
I was diagnosed with Post Natal Depression
8) What was the best thing you bought?
A bracelet with my son's name on
9) Whose behaviour has merited celebration?
My wonderful supportive husband.
10) Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
I'd rather not say, but they know who they are.
11) Where did most of your money go?
rent, bills, food and nappies!
12) What did you get really excited about?
Getting married, bringing our son to the UK.
13) What song will you remember from 2008?
Funky Bahia by Sergio Mendes
14) Compared to this time last year are you ..happier, fitter, more productive.
Sadder, much fitter and equally as productive
15) What do you wish you had done more of?
Getting out in the sunshine.
16) What do you wish you had done less of?
17) What was your favourite tv programme?
18) Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate last year?
I don't "hate" anyone but there are some people that I newly dislike
19) What's been the best book of 2008?
I honestly have no idea, I have only read 3 books and none of them dated to 2008
20) What was your greatest musical discovery?
21) What did you want to get in 2008?
my figure back
22) What did you want and didn't get?
23) What is your favourite film of the year?
I only saw 3: the mummy, indiana jones and Mamma mia, they were all ok.
24) What did you do on your birthday and how old were you?
Had dinner with my husband and went dancing with friends. I was 29.. Eeek!
25) What political issue stirred you the most?
Actually the election of Obama has me quite excited.
26) Who was the best person you met?
I met some wonderful new friends. I cannot choose one.
27) Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2008?
There is nothing more important than family and friends.
Summary: A year of massive highs and serious lows. Bring on 2009!
I remember the last time my grandmother really spoke to me. I was 8 years old and about to board the train home to London from Manchester. " I love you and I really miss you, you know?" she said with tears in her eyes, holding my face in her hands. I was too young to understand what provoked this sudden sentimentality. However, when I travelled with my mother to visit her again 4 months later, it was plain that she did not recognise me at all. I now realise that moment at the train station was my grandmother saying goodbye to me. The poor lady knew that she was deteriorating fast and that by the time I was there, her mind would be gone.
My Nan (as I shall refer to her henceforth) had suffered a slow decline into full Alzheimer's, for years we had almost treated her forgetfulness and mistakes in a light hearted manner. However, soon after she lost the ability to express herself, My grandfather (who was ill himself) had to be persuaded to let her be put into a hospice. From this point in time my grandfather visited his wife everyday , from morning until evening, even when she was physically unrecognisable and had completely lost all human dignity and needed to be cleaned and fed much like a baby. She existed in this difficult state for 5 years until she finally and mercifully passed away. As the youngest of 6 grandchildren, I did not visit my Nan often. However, at least three or four times a year I would venture into the hospice even if only for half an hour. With the hindsight of an adult, I am very glad that I was afforded the opportunity to be there for her in some small way, especially considering the devotion of my grandfather. I also think it is important that such issues as death and illness are not totally hidden from children but explained in a gentle way.
At times it could be a painful and sometimes a slightly scary experience going into the hospice. Seeing my Nan was not so terrible as I knew the situation and was kept updated on her condition. However potential interaction with the other residents could be daunting. On a few occasions we arrived to find out that my Nan had thrown a bowl of bananas at somebody, or destroyed the christmas tree or something equally daft, but it was always presented to me in a very black and white manner by my mother.
Perhaps it would have been harder if I were not a child, seeing my Nan in this dormant state. I was encouraged not to become upset as she was in essence not the same person any more. However, on a couple of memorable occasions there was a flicker of recognition in her eyes when she saw me. One time she even asked my mother "Well, how is she?", it was the first thing she had said all week and meant something to me even if it was perhaps accidental.
This once wonderful, warm lady was now a seemingly lost spirit trapped in a living corpse. I certainly do not understand the current theories on what occurs in the mind of an advanced Alzheimer's sufferer. Nevertheless, perhaps some part of her knew that I was present. I always secretly wondered if there was still some awareness hidden behind the vacant facade, in a way I also hoped for her sake that there was not. If her Catholic beliefs are correct, maybe she is up there now glad that I am even writing this. My older brother was sitting next to my Nan when she died and I know that he found this comforting as we finally were allowed to come to terms with our loss.
There are theories that Alzheimer's is hereditary. I know that my great grandmother and aunt both died from it. Should my mother suffer the same end it, I would certainly be encouraging my son to visit the woman who loves him so much, even if only once in a while.
It had never been my intention to leave my baby to "cry it out" but after 10 months where I could count my nights of more than 5 consecutive hours of sleep on one hand, I was literally at the end of my tether. We had tried co-sleeping, we had tried homoeopathic remedies, we had tried prescribed sedatives, basically everything except the method I was dreading most. It was time for some tough love and I knew that I had a serious battle on my hands. Let me entice you to read onwards by telling you that this technique really worked much to my total amazement.
My son had terrible colic for the first 3-4 months of his life, and then had 2 long bouts of bronchiolitis. He also did not have his own room until we moved house when he was 9 months old. Therefore he had become very accustomed to being cuddled, rocked and gently persuaded to sleep by any means possible. He was completely incapable of sleeping without myself or my husband aiding him. In this way, when he woke in the night as part of a normal sleep pattern, he was unable to calm himself and after a minute or so cried out loudly for help and would not cease until I appeared and did something. To offer an analogy, it would be like you or I falling asleep in our bed and then waking up somewhere totally different and cold, without our favourite pillow and any of the other things that help us drift off calmly.
An average night would see me getting out of bed at least 3 times but at worst it could be as often as every hour. I was plunging into depression and finding myself transforming into a bad tempered and exhausted mother in the daytime. I often felt anger towards my son, even though it was not actually his fault, for this was the sleep habit we had trained him into. To make things worse he is not a relaxed or easy baby who takes to things quickly.
The thought of leaving him to cry made me feel terrible, I had tried before and he just screamed for an eternity and eventually finished vomiting, hyperventilating and glaring at me in hysterical anger. By 10 months he was also capable of standing up in his cot and refusing to lie down. I do not think he had ever gone to sleep on his own before, or slept in his own room. I knew that once we started controlled crying, every minute of him howling like a cat on fire would seem like a year to me. My husband and I agreed that however hard it would be we must present a united front and give this our best efforts for the sake our our sanity.
The new routine involved preparing him for bed slowly; giving him a nice bath ; dressing him in his room with the lights low; singing to him; giving him his milk and then finally popping him into bed with gentle reassuring words and leaving him to it. A similarly soothing routine is applied for nap time in the day. The first night we were to go back and check him after 5 minutes, reassure him, stroke him and then leave. If he was still crying 10 minutes later we could repeat the process and after that 15 minutes and so it continues. Needless to say, that first night it took well over an hour of painful screaming for him to fall asleep alone. He woke twice in that night, but I never went to him, only checked him after he finally went quiet again. The following night we were advised to leave it even longer before the first check, thus baby gets the idea that his crying does not achieves cuddles and that they must sleep alone. The checking is really only to help them realise that the parents are still nearby and they have not been abandoned.
On average it by the third night of controlled crying most babies sleep through and fall asleep with minimal protest. However probably owing to my son being 10 months he was still screaming for on average15 minutes before every nap and night time sleep. He was at least going to sleep alone in his own bed and even if he woke in the night I did not have to go to him and resettle him. There were some mammoth 2 hour screaming sessions and regressions along the way and I can tell you that it is not easy to hear your child cry out for you desperately and to ignore their angry little tear stained face. Sometimes I was full of resolve and blocked out his crying somehow and at times I sat outside the door of his room for long periods also crying myself.
On the 11th day he managed to fall asleep for his morning nap without crying at all and even with an air of calm. I would say that 2 weeks further on he now does this 75% of the time. There are still moments when he grumbles for 5 minutes and there are still moments when he cries for 10. He still often wakes and whimpers and cries in the night, however he knows that he can drift off without me and he knows that I do not come running. I am sure that there will be future nights in which he really gives us a hard time, but if there is a reason such as illness we will break the rules for that night. I am also expecting relapses at various points.
On average a baby of my sons age sleeps 10-12 hours a night straight. This will never be the case for my son, he goes about 9 hours maximum. Once I have pottered around the house and got myself to bed I am getting maybe 7 hours in total and often broken by his whimpers on the monitor, but it is paradise compared to the nightmare I was living before. I am no longer dreading bedtime and wondering what the point of me even trying to sleep is. I actually enjoy the ritual of putting my son to bed now.
In conclusion, if your baby is refusing to sleep, this will eventually work even though it can be painful and emotionally draining. Your baby will not remember this time and certainly my son is still affectionate and happy during the day despite the struggle we have been through. I wish we had done this a few months earlier when he was less mobile and less aware.
A baby sleeping bag is basically a wearable blanket. It allows baby to stay warm and snuggly without the worry that they will kick their covers off or more importantly suffocate on them when they are very little. I always thought that they seemed a good idea, but was a little confused about when and how to put the bag on my baby, without for example causing him to overheat or to wake him once he had dropped off.
My son has always been a baby that thrashes around, even when very little he would frequently fling off his covers. He is also a baby that likes to feel warm and secure. It was a recipe for disaster as he would often wake crying because he was cold.
They don't seem to sell baby sleeping bags in most baby shops here in Italy, and in summer it is too hot to need any covers at all. However 3 months ago my mother sent me one, which is John Lewis own brand and I believe it cost about £18. It has been a total godsend and even if they seem quite expensive the price really can vary and can be often found discounted online at certain sites. When being worn it appears like a big, warm dress and is actually very cute. I must admit I am almost envious.
Our particular sleeping bag fastens up the front by use of a zip and is therefore very easy to put on, some others I know fasten at the shoulders. It is lined with a towelling material which is useful if he sweats, and is a size 6-18 months which means it has a good life.
Most baby sleeping bags come in 3 tog ratings ( European warmth measurement for bedding). The higher the tog, the warmer the product.
0.5 tog For hot weather and very warm nursery environments of 24-27 degrees C
1.0 tog Use during warmer weather and in nurseries of 20-24 degrees C
2.5 tog Ideal for standard nursery temperatures of 16-20 degrees C
I am planning to buy a 0.5 tog for the spring and late summer here, when it is impossible to get his room down to the recommended temperature and also a 2.5 tog for the winter months in case. In the UK at this time (November) I would say that 2.5 tog is essential. You can also modify baby's temperature slightly by what they wear underneath but in general in a normal bedroom of 18 degrees, baby should be wearing a vest and long sleeve sleepsuit.
Since receiving the sleeping bag, I am not worrying that my son has flung his blankets across the room, or that he has crawled under them. He also seems to stand up and complain less, firstly because he cannot move as well and secondly because he associates the bag with bedtime. The only drawback I can envisage is if your baby is one prone to vomitting often, then you would need several bags to keep pace with the washing.
As part of a bedtime routing it works really well (this was of course my original fear, how and when to put baby inside the thing). Once he has finished his bath, I put his sleepsuit on and then slip the sleeping bag on, read to him and give him his milk. Therefore the sleeping bag is part of the ritual of bedtime and also naptime in the day.
I think these bags are perfect for babies over 6 months, especially those used to being swaddled (wrapped up tightly) and those who are very active and try to escape and throw their bedclothes as far as possible. I cannot recommend them enough.
Every other Sunday my husband and I climb onto the Vespa and weave our way through the streets of Rome to the stadium with 30 to 40,000 other riders. We are an army of yellow and red wasps, many with flags and banners, some of impressive proportions. I sit proudly on the back, watching everyone else swarm around us, my AS Roma team scarf tied lazily around the waist in the Italian style, even my bike helmet has a strip of yellow and red emblazoned across the middle.
However, on the Sundays in between we change helmets and take a different route through town if we are going out. Roma share the "Stadio Olimpico" with our bitter rivals Lazio and it is no joke to say that we would risk being seriously attacked if we crossed paths with the opposing white and blue army as they travel to watch their home matches.
In my home city of London, football is also a game of the people and it is common to see people wearing their chosen team shirt, but these sentiments are empty compared to the Italian attitude to the game. It is rare to find a person here who does not profess a team affiliation ,even if they do not attend or watch the matches. Admittedly, in England the stadiums are more full and the tickets vastly more costly but your team does not define who you are in the same manner. In Italy, football is a quasi military, nigh religious experience especially for the "Ultras" (hardcore fans) or hooligans as other observing countries would brand them.
In Rome almost every street echoes its allegiance through graffiti ranging from obscene to poetic. Roma fans vastly outnumber the enemy and shops, street furniture and any available surface are decorated yellow and red with almost heraldic symbolism. In Italy in general "Romanisti" are stereotyped as rude, coarse, working class and from the city itself and "Laziali" as inbred, bumpkins from the surrounding countryside. However. in the centre of the city the Roma fans consider ourselves the inheritors of ancient Rome and even the team crest displays the mythical Roman she-wolf suckling the twins Romulus and Remus.
The atmosphere inside the stadium is more intense than I have ever experienced in the UK, even for a poorly attended home match against a small team near the foot of the Serie A. English football chants are usually fairly concise and to the point. In Italy the fans sing epic hymn-like exaltations with references to love, beauty, soul, heart, fighting and even sex. The singing does not cease if we play badly but just grows louder and more passionate. My husband and I sit in the militant ultra dominated "curva sud", the southern end of the stadium. In this sector, the flags number in the 1000s and are a formidable sight. It is a violent, almost unnerving symphony of colour and sound. Apparently it is nowhere near as impressive as the good old days of throwing fireworks onto the pitch either!
I am sure my husband would respond with an icy expression if I said to him that Italian football fans have echoes of Catholicism and even Fascism in their enthusiasm. Perhaps that is a unfair observation on my part. However, attending a match is certainly a blend of intense religious ritual and a military rally. Perhaps the passionate, fiery Latin spirit also has an influence on the way football is viewed. I cannot help feeling that there must be some even deeper reason for the potent rivalry in Italian club football.
As an Arsenal fan by birth, I would say that I "hate" Liverpool and Manchester United as clubs, but that does not entail that I despise the city as a whole or the people that herald from there. However, when my husband says that he hates Napoli, or Catania, or AC Milan that is because he actually has some underlying abhorrence for those areas and considers them different from Roma in a negative way. Likely enough these cities also have a dislike for Roma for the same reasons, even if in general there is a united Italian national pride.
Italy as a country is a comparatively recent concept, having been unified in 1861. In 1870 Rome left the total authority of the Pope and joined with the rest of Italy. Therefore, there is still intense and long standing rivalry between the old established cities which is now mainly expressed through the medium of football. There is also a related and entrenched gang culture in the country. I believe that this may be the inspiration for some of the fervent flag waving may herald from and perhaps also the problems here with Football violence. FORZA ROMA!!!
If I found tomorrow's newspaper I would set myself up as a mystical prophet of doom for the day.
I would scour the paper thouroughly and then memorize some of the more striking news events. That afternoon I would set myself up in a very public location ready to wail and chant. If possible I should be standing upon high, waving my arms is if possessed by some dark spirit of foresight. Success would be assured by managing to get myself on camera by seeking out and chasing any passing television news crew and reciting my message of woe and warning.
The following day perhaps some of my words will have averted disaster. However in light of those cases where I am proven correct I will obviously be sought out as a new "Cassandra", cursed prophetess and daughter of Priam last king of Troy. Initially I shall refute the claims and maintain that I was inspired by a strange dream and that I truly have no otherworldly powers.
In time however I shall start to dress myself as a Grecian/Trojan princess and become increasingly enigmatic and deranged. I shall transfer myself to Hisarlik Hill in Anatolia (Turkey the original site of Troy) and sell my fake skills of fortune telling to passing tourists from a large tent draped in exotic textiles. I shall also own a pet tiger called Aeneas. In the end I shall be assasinated by extremists on grounds of witchcraft. My name shall remain mildly famous for eternity.
Sorry... I have not slept (please blame my son)
Herewith my sleep deprived musings on parenthood:
Sometimes, usually at 4am while aching to be allowed to sleep, I wonder...
"Why do we decide to have children?".
For many people there is a powerful and instinctive desire to make a baby and to be a parent. However I cannot deny that there have been numerous occasions since my son was born, 9 months ago, when I have muttered.....
"What on earth have I done"
......and then of course regretted it 5 minutes later. Admittedly, I have been adapting to being a mother while also being newly settled in Italy and struggling with the language. Nevertheless, I will repeat the cliché: it is the hardest, most challenging thing that I have ever done. Considering that we were all once babies it seems pathetic to even write that, but it is true.
You carry this precious creature inside you for 9 months, you wonder, you imagine, you form a bond with them. Then, after all the expectation this innocent little person arrives and they are so unpredictable and difficult to interpret.
---- Argh! The colic, the frustration, the exhaustion. ----
My son has not been an easy baby, he never sleeps well, and is very demanding. I can never plan to go anywhere that my son cannot join me, I cannot rely upon a sacred moment of time for myself. Even those occasional stolen hours are spent knowing that soon I will return to him and of course phoning to check if he is ok; missing him desperately; wondering if he is thinking about where I might be. Being a mother requires serious effort and unconditional love to grow and nurture a person that was your decision to create. When they throw down a challenge, you have to accept it.
True, when my son screams uncontrollably he appears a demon, but now he is asleep snuggled next to me and he is the sweetest angel. Simply the most beautiful, innocent thing I have ever been blessed to behold. He is warm and soft and has the sweet perfume of a recent bath mixed with the natural scent of his skin. He is clinging gently onto my shirt just to sense that I am close.
Every moment that I pass cleaning up after my baby, feeding him, calming his tears, comforting him when he is ill, is rewarded by his expressions of joy and surprise when he discovers something new. I am the centre of his universe and I am the one thing that provokes the broadest grins and the loudest giggles. It is inevitable and strangely heartbreaking to accept that it will not be this way for long.
As I help my son take his first hesitant steps holding onto my hands; as I gently pick up his rigid, tearful little form when he has had a tumble while crawling, as I receive a look of pure unrestrained joy when I appear unexpectedly, I know that one day he will have little time for me. One day he will be annoyed by me and tell me to go to hell, and maybe I will be the last person he wants to phone him. It could be that he will only truly comprehend how I feel for him if he fathers his own children. Indeed I realise the secret suffering of my own mother whose smiling face kissed me goodbye as I left England forever to live far away from her. I wonder, have I ever really told her how grateful I am for all that she has done for me?
To care for and support this little human and then to somehow gracefully accept that they must grow up and leave you, is to be a parent. I have many hopes for the future of my son, but one simple one is that, as an adult, he will still deem to spend time with me and that he will even come to be my friend. In the meantime I must remember to treasure every moment of his childhood ,even the painful ones, because it will not last for eternity.
Ok, so this has got me sorting out all the receipts and bits of old crud from my bag. I have been meaning to do this, well, since I bought the bag....
Contents (in order of exit from bag):
- a spare nappy....for my son (in case I leave in a hurry or his bag is mysteriously empty.
- wallet full of a mixture of English and Italian small change..gotta sort that out.
- perfume (Amarige Givency)
- little pink hairbrush
- 3 or 4 assorted flavoured lipbalms in various pockets
- camera (always be ready for photo opportunity
- my UK passport (carrying ID is compulsory here and I am waiting my Italian ID card)
- tiny notepad for Italian words or witticisms that I have not heard before
-pen for above
- small bag of makeup essentials
- mp3 player (ipod shuffle from half a century ago)
- a half eaten rice cake (!)
- some sparkly powder by lancomè in case I need to glam up suddenly
- Some teething powders
- My AS Roma season ticket (yay)
- A set of rosary beads (that I always carry since the birth of my son, was a gift from a nun here in Roma)
- some earrings I thought I had lost (curse those hidden compartments)
- some extra strong painkillers
- a sanitary towel
- a big pile of gritty dust (why is that always there in such a quantity?)
And there you go, that's everything. I feel much better now... time to cram it all back in again in a slightly better order.
Herewith the first parmigiano (parmezan) offering that I promised:
To my mind this dish is like an aubergine (melanzane in Italian) version of lasagne, easier to make in some ways, just as tasty and just like lasagne (and sheps pie etc) tastes EVEN better the next day. Not to be confused by name with the starter of parma ham and melon (prosciutto e melone) as I overheard one Irate English tourist do in a restaurant a few weeks ago :P This is however normally eaten as a starter, but it is a very heavy one and would need a lighter second course. My English brain would also see it happily make a main course with perhaps some other veg on the side (cardinal sin in Italy). For those not keen on aubergines, try this and see if it does not change your mind! Basil leaves can also be added in the layers but I avoid because my husband does not like them.
For those that know Arabic or Greek cooking this dish has echoes of things like mousaka. However the origins of Melanzane alla Parmigiana in Italy are much debated. Those in the north argue that the area of Emiglia Romagna and Parma invented the recipe owing to the name and the use of Parmigiano cheese. However in Sicilia the word "Parmiciana" refers to the wooden shutters that we have over windows in Italy and echoes the arrangment of the aubergine in the dish. My husband is sure that the origin is Sicilian, more because he likes to say something decisive than any other reason. Strangely enough in some areas of Sicily they also make a version of with chocolate as the main ingredient, needless to say I have not attempted this yet.
Prep time: 45 mins, cooking time 40 mins (worth it, esp if you make enough to freeze).
Ingredients (serves 4, or 2 greedy people!)
Garlic, 2 cloves
Onion, small chopped
250g passata (sieved tomato)
2 large aubergine
150g parmigiano reggiano cheese
salt, black pepper, red pepper
1.Wash the aubergine and then cut into slices lengthwise. Each slice should be circa 1cm wide.
2.Layer the aubergine slices in a large bowl scattering ample salt upon each layer. Leave it to rest for about half an hour so that it can expel some of the bitter liquid (Aubergines are naturally quite watery and doing this really helps improve the flavour).
3.At this point prepare a sugo (tomato sauce, always good to a have a simple version of this up your sleeve. Fry the onion and garlic in olive oil; add the passata and some black and red pepper (to taste) and leave to cook on a VERY low heat for circa 20-30 mins, this is the trick to getting a good rich taste.
4.Remove the aubergine and squeeze each slice a little by hand to remove the rest of the liquid.
5.Prepare a frying pan with a little olive oil and fry each slice of aubergine until golden, laying each piece after cooking on greaseproof paper.
6.Oil an ovenproof dish and place the first layer of aubergine across the bottom, they should overlap slightly.
7.Pour and then spread a little of the sugo across the aubergine. Then layer some of the parmigiano in very small slices across the top.
8.Cut into slices the mozzarella and place some across the sauce leaving some distance between each one.
9.Carry on in this way until all the ingredients are finished and the dish full. The final layer should be tomato sugo without any cheese on top.
10.Put it in the oven at 200° for 40 mins until the top of the tomato sauce is slightly burnt.
11.Leave to cool slightly before serving.
Aubergine advice: Choose large, oval and bright purple that are neither too hard or too soft. If you are diet concious the aubergine can be grilled instead of fried, the effect will not be as rich though.