Saturday, 19 October 2013


Yogurting, so they say, is what the French call singing along to a song that you don't know the lyrics for, and that's what my blog is all about today.

As a young child I remember singing along to Pocahontas in Spanish, not real Spanish of course, but well enough to convince my cousin that I could speak Spanish. So as an experienced yogurter myself I'm always very impressed by my students ability to pick up songs in the classroom or otherwise. Thursday class in particular were very good at turning up singing Abba songs in almost English. Others are less able and successfully muddle heads, shoulders, knees and toes, but I let them off as it wasn't so long ago that I used to sing Frere Jacques with no notion of individual words. My mother also confesses that she spent a very long time reciting the Lord's Prayer without ever realising it had any particular meaning.

However I was particularly astounded yesterday when I found myself surrounded by three eight year old boys singing Rihanna's Rude Boy. Of course they don't know what it means, but it was a bit surreal to hear them singing "Come on rude boy, boy, can you get it up?"

Or do they? They certainly understand some English, as I discovered when we moved on from Rihanna to discuss Beyonce and Lady Gaga in their latest video together.
"Beyonce is a better singer than Lady Gaga isn't she?" they asked.
"Definitely," I said, clear to establish a little bit of discerning musical taste in my pupils.
"Beyonce tells Lady Gaga she's a very naughty girl!" they agreed triumphantly.

So evidently me disciplining them in English is not as problematic as I had previously thought it might be. I'm not their only source of authentic material, (which also makes me wonder if it's particularly responsible of Lady Gaga to wear sunglasses encrusted with smoking cigarettes on prime time TV - but that's another story).

"But who's a better singer, Lady Gaga or Madonna?" was the boys' next question.

Lady Gaga?! Beyonce?! Rihanna?! Madonna?! They are going to be so embarrassed when they are older. At that age, the only bands I knew were the Beatles, the Hollies and Queen! Mind you, it's not like they have any Italian artists to copy either. Italy seems a bit devoid of musical talent suitable for eight year old boys. I can't really imagine them singing Figaro.

Fortunately it's not a complete talentless void. I decided to spice up a 1:1 grammar lesson with a bit of Haiku. I wasn't really expecting such an enthusiastic reponse from a 13 year old for poetry, but incredibly she'd just read a book on Samurai.

I leave you with what she wrote.

It's just stopped raining.
I don't know why it has stopped.
Maybe there's no water.

I quite like it. Perhaps I'll have my students composing songs next lesson.

Stuff Just Works Differently

Do you remember before school trips abroad your mummy and daddy would receive a long list of insurance figures detailing how much you would get if abroad you lost an eye, or an arm, or a leg? It turns out that there is a reason that you have to buy insurance before applying for a Russian Visa too. It costs an arm and a leg if you don't.

And yet, I somehow still naively thought that when in the EU my EHIC card would be a magic pass if I ever needed it, and I wasn't exactly planning on using it. Then when I fell from the mezzanine in my flat in Belgium my friend couldn't find my EHIC card at the hospital (although it was in my bag all along) and so ended up paying a hefty bill. I even had insurance, but the excess was too high. I thought I had learnt my lesson. The EHIC card is ALWAYS in my purse these days.

But even in emergencies your EHIC card wont cover you for everything. There's a catch. It only covers you for what that government in that country covers its citizens for. In Belgium it wouldn't have paid for the ambulance for example. In Italy I'm still not really sure what it does pay for...

My tooth flared up again a few days ago. Just like when it happened in Belgium I already have an appointment with an NHS dentist in two weeks. Just like in Belgium the infection got really bad and I was forced to seek an emergency appointment before, but eek, it's all private here too. "Still," I thought, "I just need antibiotics, how much can it cost?!" "116 euros" was the answer. Ouch. That's nearly five times what I paid for in Belgium.

Then there's the doctors. In Feltre I was lucky enough to see a nice doctor for free, but you still have to pay for your prescriptions. Partly my problem is my residency-less status. Other friends who have residency can access Italian benefits and health care, but even they come in for unpleasant surprises. Blood tests aren't free for Italians and man are they expensive. You get a fattura but does anyone know what to do with it? (A. does but he has an accountant).

The only part of Italian bureaucracy that I have managed to fathom is how to pay my taxes. (They make that very easy for you!) I tried to get residency but my contract I'm on means that I have to provide all kinds of documentation of self employment and stuff that I just don't have. Hell I'm even paid in cash! It's perfectly legit, but it's hard to give much official evidence of it, when all I have is a receipt and an envelope.

Next year, if I come back to Italy, which I hope I do, I am buying travel insurance before I come, ladies and gentlemen! It doesn't really fit in with my dossing-around-Europe-ideal that I had post uni, but should allow me to eat more ice cream without worrying whether it will exacerbate my gums!

It's not just the bureaucracy that baffles me at times either. Today I had the long dreaded but ultimately quite fun "English Quiz Show" for students and parents. At the end of the quiz I asked the teams to tot up their marks and asked "How many out of nine?"

Team One said, "one," Team Two said, "two," so I started again in Italian.

"Quanti?" They must have got more right! I had heard them say the right answers. I had primed them with animal vocabulary and the ingredients to make an English Breakfast.

They gave me the same answers: "one," "two," "two," "two". I was confused and embarrassed in front of all the parents and starting to sweat a bit.

Then I saw their sheets. They had added up all the ones they had got wrong!

That made me laugh. I really took it for granted that they would add up their correct answers.

Stuff just works differently here.

Another photo walk

Click on me

After work Lu and I met near Cadorna and did a proper photo walk. We were out for over an hour photographing, we got quite carried away. We tried all different white balances and shutter speeds and it was a lot of fun. Now I can't wait to see her pictures.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Not a Museum

City of the Future

The Space Ship


I've kept these three photos separate from the last lot. They didn't really feel like the same city, but that's Milan all over, different area, different face. It would be unfair to seek beauty only in the parts tourists want to see.

It's easy to forget that the north of Italy is primarily concerned with industry and finance, and with these comes kilometres of warehouses. When I first came I found it depressingly industrial, but now I think it was perhaps my attitude which was wrong. The country is not a museum, no matter how much we visitors would like it to be one.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Street Light City

I took these photos after work. It had been the greyest day ever. Really flat, soft boring light that white outs your photos. Then as I was coming home, the sky got really interesting and the street light came on and the whole atmosphere changed. I got off the tram a few stops early and got out my compact.

These are some of the things that caught my eye.

Evening Ice Cream

What's She Taking a Picture of?

The Only Clients
Hidden Courtyard

Only in Milan!

Stand Still.

The Storm is Coming