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All the things you didn’t know you didn’t know…

Well there’s a title that will do absolutely nothing for SEO! But you know what, I don’t care, because this is my blog and I’ll write what I want to! And this time I’d like to write about some of the things I didn’t know I didn’t know, and I didn’t even necessarily want to know, but you know what? – now i know them, I’m enriched, emboldened, enlightened…maybe! Living in Italy has blessed me (I use that word loosely) with so many unexpected ‘unknowns’ that I sometimes feel I’m a different person having been here for nearly 2 years.

So, here are a few things I didn’t know I didn’t know (there may be several fruit and veg references here, bear with, bear with…):-

  1. All about pomegranates. Now there’s a fruit. Cricket-ball like, pink/yellow in colour, absolutely massive (think large grapefruit-size), excrutiatingly hard to extract juice from (I have seen my mother-in-law in action), gazillions of seeds, you may well ask yourself what’s the point? until you taste it. Ahhhhh.
  2. You can pick lunch out of the grass. Alas I do not have a photo to show (off) here, but a couple of weeks ago I picked a salad out of the garden, just mooching about picking a handful of leaves here, a handful there. Very normal in Italy. Most leaves seems to generally fall under ‘cicoria’ (chicory) but there are many different kinds. Which leads me to another thing I don’t know, could we do this in England? or – why don’t we do this in England? a lack of chicory?
  3. One Italian fig tree produces enough figs to satisfy 15 families for a whole month or more (I reckon). It’s incredible – in August they JUST. KEEP. COMING. That £4.99 pre-pack of 5 figs from M&S is, therefore, an unholy rip-off (I reckon).
  4. That we Brits and Irish are fairly enlightened when it comes to pets, and animals generally. I know, I know, the news can seem full of horrible cases of mistreatment etc, but one can be confident that you may walk your pooch down the street without making passersby recoil in fear. There are times when Fifi and I take an innocent stroll only to be met with gasps and wide-eyed stares, as if Fifi is a lioness, not a scruffy terrier.

    Fifi the Lioness, of great evil intent...

    Fifi the Lioness, of great evil intent…

  5. That winter sunshine can be HOT. That combination of freezing cold air and hot sun takes some getting used to, and is a nightmare for the wardrobe department.  I suspect an Italian stylist would advise that ‘layering is key,’ meaning one can strip off with gay abandon (bikini optional) when one finds oneself sweltering in the unexpected heat (as one did last week at the local playground, whilst listening to one’s child saying “I don’t like the sun….it makes me all sweaty and it gets in my eyes.” The poor unfortunate).
  6. That having a formal way to address a stranger adds a lot to a language. In Italian this is the use of the third person ‘lei’ – she. Through it you can show respect, and you get respect back. Thumbs up! It’s not, then, just a means to flummox and baffle the student of Italian, though flummox and baffle it certainly does. And there are of course confusing moments. Like when you’re in the toy-shop with your daughter, and you’re asked Cosa vuole, lei?  – What does she want?  And you have to guess whether you’re being asked or the small person is being referred to. It being  a toy shop, that was a particularly tricky one.
  7. That in English we’re missing an equivalent of Signora/Signore. So when the butcher hands over your juicy steaks, in Italy he might say “Ecco per lei, Signora” which means Here you are…er, Madam? my lady? Ma’am?! I enjoy being referred to as ‘Signora’ enormously, because it feels (again) respectful, and woman/lady/ma’am or oi, you! in English just don’t do  quite the same job.
  8. That Here we go round the Mulberry Bush is altogether misleading. The mulberry bush is, in fact, an enormous tree, yes – with great, long branches and everything! – laden with so many mulberries around June time you’re just thankful the figs aren’t there yet. Once you’ve made 20 pots of jam, tasted the mother-in-law’s liqueur, bunged 5 bagfuls in the freezer, and passed on punnet-fulls to friends and neighbours, you’ll find yourself, come October, improvising some kind of ‘coulis’ to drizzle over dessert as a final, desperate stab at using up the crop.
  9. The meaning of carpet. Oh yes, it took a move to Italy, the land of highly practical cold, tiled floors, to fully understand the meaning of the soft stuff.  I went home for Christmas last year, and it all became clear. Warmth. When that damp, Cornish mizzle threatens to chill your very bones, you come home to warm, preferably thick-pile comfort under foot, and you immediately feel soothed, nay, whole again. Winter in Italy is a very different story (though not a very damp one, I’ll admit) requiring strategic placement of rugs and mats to provide some comfort on chilly mornings. You see what this country has done to me?… turned me into a carpet advocate! Astonishing.
  10. That learning a language is much the same as learning to stand on your head (à la yoga). You repeatedly fall over as a beginner; you remain seriously wobbly as an intermediate; and no matter how proficient you eventually become, there will always be times when you don’t have the energy or inclination to turn yourself upside down in order to engage with the alien world around you.

Fabulous pomegranate-seeds image borrowed with thanks from this great foodie blog: http://ashevillefoodie.blogspot.com/2011/12/making-pomegranate-liqueur.html. That might just be a liqueur even my mother-in-law hasn’t thought of!

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13 Comments

  1. williamsfamily4italy

    I really like how you describe learning a language (standing on your head). Our family is moving to Italy in a year or so. I don’t think we fully understand the huge change we will be making in adopting a new language. Thank you for adding humor to the experience!!

    • Make sure you pack lots of humour when you make your big move. Qualcosa essentiale…. thanks for reading and best of luck!

  2. Chris

    The floor coverings thing goes for Spain too. I can understand it down south but even up here in the north where it gets decidedly damp & mizzly in winter wall-to-wall carpet is almost unheard of. Also, for those of us from countries where people don’t eat industrial quantities of fish being asked at the fishmonger’s which of 3 (to you at least) identical types of mackerel you want is a bit of a poser, especially when you know you’ll be in trouble with your better half if you bring the wrong one home.

    • I seem to recall some rather splendid parquet in your apartment, though? Or maybe I’m imagining that, it’s been a few years…!

      • Anonymous

        Yep, parquet in lounge & bedrooms but kitchen & barhroom tiled. People here think the idea of a bathroom carpet is just outlandish & unhygienic.

  3. The floor thing is so true and controsenso in the same time. Wood, moquets or carpets would be way more suitable. Thumbs up for the English houses! Btw in Thailand every appartment that I saw had parquet 😱

  4. A childhood scar I have on my back reminds me to warn people not to climb mulberry trees – their limbs have bent and snapped under the weight of many purple-stained children over the years.

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