Monday, 25 October 2010

I can see my breath

It's a bit nippy. The cold autumn weather has arrived. It's 8c and raining. I'll be wondering what to wear today, but probably most other people in Milan will be wearing exactly the same as they usually do. The internal Italian thermostat seems to work differently to the UK thermostat. Black puffer jackets have never been so chic.

"Duh!" you say. Maybe it's obvious that in a country with hotter summers people would feel colder quicker but I think it's too simplistic an explanation. Milan is cold in the winter. The Alps are all along the northern edge of the city with their white spires in view  at all times of the year on a clear day. It snows sometimes, but mainly it doesn't. Instead the Po valley seems to act like a fridge where the cold air comes down onto the plains and sits. And sits. And sits.

In January and February there is an ever permanent freezing fog. It doesn't lift all day and it's thick enough to obscure the building in front of mine. The lack of wind means that some Sundays in Winter traffic is stopped in  Northern Italy to help everyone breath a little better. (I took my white coat to the dry cleaners this week and asked the lady to make it a little less grey. She told me not to worry and just to imagine what we breathe in everyday. Lovely.)

Unfairly Milan is just as bad in the summer as the Po valley, whilst being an excellent rice growing region that gives you the Milanese risotto with saffron, is very hot and humid. Anybody who can flee the city flees. So Spring and Autumn are much the best times of year to visit Milan. Last week in the middle of the day it was a warm 20c. A fine summer's day on the UK internal thermostat. Warranting a T-shirt and if you are a young male student most definitely flip flops and shorts. Here though everyone was wearing jackets and scarves, (including myself, I've got soft). But other people on the trams are already in full winter wear with kitted hats and polo necks and quilted coats.

I've come to an alarming conclusion. Italians don't have an internal thermostat. They just dress according to the date. It's late October so therefore I must be wearing winter gear. Likewise in May I got funny looks for wearing a strappy top on the metro when it was a sunny 25c. In England people would have been dressed as if going to the beach.

Indoors the story is no different. My boss has been complaining about the cold in the office. To me something that requires only a couple of layers in order to remain pleasantly cool. Since the heating has been turned on you would feel toasty in a T-shirt. I think this is because the Italian dream is to remain at a constant level of cosy warmth whatever the weather whereas in the UK people seem to believe they should always be slightly cool and that warm bedrooms are in some way unhealthy (especially people with large houses).

Or maybe I'm just over analysing the Italian love of black jackets. It's not sunny outside, but that doesn't stop people from wearing sunglasses when underground.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Makes a Change

You might have guessed from the last post that I am teaching teens now. No more primary schools. Just lovely teens. I like teens, they can sit at tables and hold pencils and find page numbers without help (mostly).

NB. I like teens in groups smaller than 4. Teens in herd mentality send shivers down my spine. A classroom full of 13 year olds takes me back to being thirteen myself and I seem to recall that it was a cruel age - remember I have to pretend that I can't understand what they are saying about me! Last week I fairly quickly sussed out that they had placed me in the category of "authority figure." I went home fervently hoping that I hadn't been placed in either of the subsections of "supply teacher" or "new teacher."

I came back the next week with the toughest attitude I could muster and spent the lesson being very assertive and mostly calm. The effort of remaining calm did give me bright red cheeks though so I was worried they weren't really falling for it.

When I came out my new colleague saw my flushed face and she burst out laughing and gave me the sympathy speech that new teachers get; the kids-are-just-worse-and-worse-these-days, the I-blame-the-parents-for not-teaching-them-how-to-behave one. This is perceived wisdom. But are they? From stories of my parents time at school I'm pretty sure that's not the whole picture.

Let's face it it's just a horrible age and none of us were delightful, cooperative, cheerful and stable. It's a case of collective amnesia. In three/four years time they'll be fairly pleasant again.

So anyway, I was starting to think that it would be OK and I could get them to respect me. We all put on some kind of professional persona at work and that's fine. (As long as it stays at work. A. keeps unnerving me lately by dropping phrases at the dinner table like, "Would you care to share your thoughts on the issue of the pear chutney?" and "Let's not allow ourselves to get sidetracked").

But then my boss spoke to one mother and the mother wasn't happy. The new teacher is too strict. Yes of course said my boss, it is the first lesson. "No, no," complained the mother, my son is used to strict teachers. She is way too harsh."

What's the expression? There isn't one. I was just a bit speechless.

Three things.
1) I am scarier than I thought.
2) Mothers and their sons. We are in Italy after all.
3) ?!

As a result of all of this effort I have been inundated with teaching dreams. They are so boring and generally revolve around nightmarish students making me wake up feeling stressed. Last night though I had the dream that was probably a combination of all the dreams I should have been having last week rolled into one. It had everything: bears, lightening, making desserts with witches, hoards of cats and tower blocks. Even Freud wouldn't want to psychoanalyse a dream that complex. Made a nice change. I'd choose being chased by bears over being chased by teens any day.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

The Fantastic Food Quiz

Before we start this traditional beginning of the year lesson there are some very important things I need to say to you.

The first is that you must come prepared to these lessons. That means come on time, turn your phones off* (at this point scrabbling in pockets occurs) with a positive attitude and your homework.

The second is that you respect the classroom. That means you put rubbish in the bin, and are careful of the paintwork. The owner is very proud of her office and I'd like to keep it that way.

Thirdly I expect you all to respect each other. That means listen. Not just to me but to each other.

Ok, good. Now you are silent and can see I can spout as many teaching cliches as the best of 'em we may begin the ENGLISH (THOUGH SLIGHTLY SCOTTISH) FOOD QUIZ EXTRAVAGANZA!

1. What two things may you add to your tea?
"Lemon" and "sugar" ? - half a point only sorry

2. At what time of day can you drink tea?
The good thing about this question is that you can not get it wrong.

3.'Tea' is another name for which meal?
Confused WTF faces. I need to reword this question. Actually I've already tried. It might just be the concept.

4. What is a traditional Sunday Lunch made of?
Favourite answer so far "porage" closely followed by "Potatoes. They eat potatoes with everything."

5. What time of day do people eat dinner usually in the UK.
Allow anything between 5-7.30. Strangely they all get this right, no doubt from having heard the horror stories.

6. What percentage of the population is vegetarian?
Hah! You don't know either. You'll just have to guestimate.

7. What is shortbread?
What now?! Pane corto?!

* I know you will put it on silent. I only said "switch it off" so that you think you win by putting it on silent.  Mwahahahahaha....

Friday, 1 October 2010

Mangia Prega Ama

I went to see Eat, Pray, Love last week, the film with Julia Roberts that is an adaptation of the book of the same name, but of course I saw it in Italian. I really loved the book so it's no surprise that I think the book is so much better, but I did enjoy myself. Partly this is because the film was torn to pieces by the critics and word of mouth here in Milan ("the worst film ever" according to the people sat next to us and my colleague's friends) so I had really low expectations.

Ok, the film lacks all the spirituality of the book, and the beginning of the film fails to explain a) why you should like the main character and b) why she and her husband are getting divorced. It also forgot to put the main plot line in where she heals herself psychologically leaving you at the end with Julia Roberts crying again and throwing a wobbly about a new relationship, so you wonder what all the eating and praying was for. But really? The worst film ever?!

I'd like to hazard a guess as to what got the Italians' goat here though. I think it would be the depiction of themselves in the film. It shows a very American vision of Rome and Italy. The beautiful old house that is falling down (I don't know about you but the Villa Borghese area to me where she stayed looked about as flash as it gets when I went to Rome), the vintage car instead of a Fiat Punto, the lovers kissing in every scene and perhaps more importantly the rather OTT Italian friends she makes. The part where the film explains some not-THAT-common hand gestures was enough to make even me cringe for them.

It's a shame really because people were really excited when Julia Roberts came to eat in the infamous pizzeria in Naples where they make the best pizza in Italy dirt cheap. Imagine their dismay when the Swedish friend actually contemplates NOT EATING her pizza. No, some things just push the boundaries of credulity too far.

Still, other eating parts were spot on. Never has a film made me so hungry and inspired by endless tasty dishes. I came out of the cinema craving a nice plate of pasta and having totally forgotten that I live in Milan now after being absorbed in the film for an hour and a bit. It was a bit of a shock to find myself in front of the Duomo. I was in Italy. But I don't think my Italy is anything like Julia Robert's Italy.

No, in my Italy, to my horror and recent discovery, there is NO SUCH THING as the minimum wage.

Random Film Fact for Men Who Like Random Film Facts: The man who plays Julia Robert's language exchange partner was on Italian Big Brother.