Gli Stranieri

A Foreigner in Rome

Month: March, 2012

The Isle of Wight [L’Isola di Wight]

Coming from an island that is not always known in the UK results in many cases of: ‘do you need a passport to get there?’, ‘do I need to change currency?’ or even, ‘do you have roads/schools/houses?’. Then there’s the ‘I’ve heard of the Isle of Wight’ brigade, who proceed to state facts ad infinitum about the Isle of Man instead, ‘it’s the place with its own government, and the cats… the cats without tails’. For clarity’s sake, the Isle of Wight is part of England (and its government) and therefore does not need a passport – or a trip to the bureau de change – to visit. Our cats also have tails.

Regularly hearing such oversights, much to an Islander’s chagrin, I was therefore surprised to find that  a lot of Italians have actually heard of it, ‘There’s a song!, There’s a song!’. I was wondering for quite a while how Derek Sandy’s iconic song about the Island reached Italy, but I was (pleasantly) surprised when I started to have this song sung to me; accompanied by enthusiastic swaying.


Thanks to this Italian hit from the early 70s, the Isle of Wight is still celebrating a subdued sense of fame on the continent, forty years on.

As translating the lyrics word-for-word is beyond my current level of Italian, I’ll do my best to give an overview:

  • Man comes to the Isle of Wight, because it’s for young people, with blue eyes, who sing ‘hippie hippie’.
  • Man goes to the market to buy a long coat and gold lamé.
  • He spots a woman, surely a mirage, in white.
  • They go somewhere (to the Isle of Wight festival?) on a Thursday, without a suitcase.
  • They are surrounded by a shower of butterflies, share their youth and become unstoppable.

It should be no surprise it’s such a hit, with a story-line like that. Gone are the days when a chance encounter at a gold lamé market stall would lead to an unstoppable romance, powered by a shower of butterflies. That is except for during the Bestival, of course. The most Isle of Wight time of the year, where gold lamé and butterfly showers are not the exception, but the rule.


Italian Gestures [I Gesti Italiani]

Do as the Kurdish do?

Proactive investigator of other cultures that I am (read: encouraged to do things by housemate), I went to the Città dell’Utopia (Utopian City) last weekend to see some Kurdish dancing.

Looking pretty much like a dilapidated village hall, I am not quite sure they are at Utopia-level yet in appearance. There was a 3D model of how it would look after being refurbished, which looked great but was also surrounded by tall (currently non-existent) trees. Perhaps they are just being realistic about the time it will take them to finish it.

Talking of trees: are trees adorned with hanging kitchenware the pinnacle of far-left aesthetics? There was one decorating the entrance, and this was certainly not the first sad-looking saucepan tree I have seen in similar surroundings. Maybe it is meant to be edenic in a modern way – mother nature providing not only the vegetables, but the pot to cook them with too. Regardless, rushing to untie a colander from a tree in the middle of cooking does not seem that paradisal to me.

Digression over, when I arrived there was a solemn-sounding Q&A going on (in Italian) so I milled about for a while until some singing started. All was well, until I saw a growing line of dancers in front of me; grabbing embarrassed arrhythmic observers as they danced in increasingly-fast circles around the room. Obviously, I speedily slunk away to a safe corner, so I could watch them free from the horror of having to join in. Party-pooper and all that, but dancing a dance I didn’t know with people I didn’t know was way too much for me on a Sunday afternoon (i.e. post-Saturday night).

It was amazing to watch a serpentine trail of dancers in perfect, complex synchronisation. I liked the scarf-waving too. Still, here is what my cumbersome rigidity was up against:

Watching them did make me wish that there was a dance that everyone knew in the UK that would pop up at social occasions. I suppose the drunken uniform movements of the past-middle-aged guests at weddings could fill that gap. Unless anyone else is up for a Morris dance revival?

Word of the Day: Pigro

I have got a bit lazy with keeping up-to-date with this, which leads me to making this interim post.

It is surely crucial to know how to describe oneself in another language. Alas, this is where I picked up pigro: lazy. I am also particularly taken with it because it reminds me of a pig rolling around, and never quite making it onto their feet. Not because I regularly find myself in that state of lethargy or anything.

The Cemetery of Strangers [Cimiteri Acatollico]

Word of the Day: Scarpetta

The literal meaning of una scarpetta is nothing special – a little shoe.

All well and good, but what is better is fare la scarpetta (do the little shoe). In this sense it means to clean your plate with a bit of bread: sinking it into leftover sauce – presumably like a little shoe disappearing in the mud.

Not the most saliva-inducing imagery, nor is bread what I immediately think of having after a massive pasta dinner. But the sauce is always worth bloating a bit more for and it feels criminal to waste even a dribble.

It is fun, too, to traipse around one’s plate with child-like abandon. Like jumping in puddles, but at the comfort of the dining table.

When in Rome… Do as the Senegalese Do.

Though not Roman in the ancient sense, there is a thriving Senegalese community in Rome. And they know how to spend their Fridays.

It started with some ceebu jën (cheb-o-djin) a one-pot stew of rice and fish, which we ate in the typical fashion – from one big platter, with just a spoon. I am not sure I am a convert to the spoon method (there was one anonymous vegetable that defied my best efforts to spoon-slice it) but there is something weirdly nice about sharing the same plate. The meal itself seemed to be entirely comprised of ingredients that I recognised, but could not quite identify; so it proved both delicious and stubbornly enigmatic.

Eventually, after a long period of post-dinner relaxation (a requirement the Italians and the Senegalese seem to have in common) we went into San Lorenzo. It is cheap, cheerful and somewhere between a down-trodden Paris and a cobbled Berlin. On entry to a club there, I was greeted by a victim of Rome’s pressures: he had his own headphones in, drank sherry from a schooner clumsily due to his thick leather gloves, and had no sense of spacial awareness. He informed me that the club was his house, and that we had met the night before. Neither were true, of course. Why is that the insane abroad can always speak English? He was politely (then non-politely) asked to leave not long after, and I was free from his awkward goggle-eyed conversation.

A semi-traditional band was playing who mixed their Senegalese vocals and instruments with a not-so traditional bass guitar and drum kit. The music and the atmosphere were great, but it proved too funky for one woman, who proceeded to flail non-stop for three hours; fanning herself questioningly, as if it was the temperature of the club and not the heat from her bizarre dislocated movements that was making her sweat.

Fair play to her though, I definitely had not had enough to drink for the amount of audience participation going on, and she was dancing hard enough for everybody.

I didn’t take a camera out with me, so here’s a video of some guy going for it on the kora (traditional Senegalese lute):

Television [La Televisione/Il TiVo]

I am (was) quite the expert on British television, devoting many hours to the pursuit of academic enlightenment that it offers. Partly true. With regards to the hours devoted anyway. But, Italian TV makes my poor TV taste look positively erudite.

Unfortunately for me, out of the two no-go programmes in my viewing repertoire, one of them, Deal or no Deal, is in Italy. And it has been Italianised. Affari Tuoi [Your Business] is complete with animations, sound effects, music and a bigger – 500,000 euro – prize. It puts our deranged, symbol-drawing cultist Noel to shame. If you are interested, my other no-go programme is Coronation Street; I can feel the insidious theme tune depleting my serotonin levels. Woe betide me if I get a view of the Rovers. (Yes I know what it’s called. No, I don’t know how).

Topping the leaderboard of craziest programme I have come across so far is Le Iene [The Hyenas]. Half hard-hitting investigative journalism and half comedy, with intermittent dancing throughout. It seems to be on quite regularly and the first show I watched had an actress pretending to be a destitute mother who – with the pretence of having a young daughter she wished to profit from – lured a paedophile from a chatroom. There then followed some truly repugnant conversation, during which the actress (testament to her) sat feigning nonchalance as the man informed her of the various ‘methods’ he used. I know there is a similar American programme, but this one was so, so dark – until at the end the TV presenter just struts in casually (whilst the paedophile is waiting for the ‘daughter’ to appear). Game Over. There wasn’t even a dramatic arrest, the guy, after defeatedly saying “no, no, we’re just friends”, just handed himself in.

Weirder, though, was the fact that without even a fleeting outro the viewers were greeted with this on return to the studio:

For better or worse, it does make compelling viewing, and Le Iene do have some serious balls. One of their shows, for example, was cancelled because they had someone masquerade as a TV make-up artist who, whilst pampering, took DNA samples from 50 Italian deputies and secretly tested them for drugs. A third of them, incidentally, had taken drugs in the previous 36 hours.

Watching this will really make your eyes go square.

P.S. I forgot to mention that post-rebelling against paying for the Italian version of a TV license, because of all the adverts (there are a lot), the government decided to tax everyone per television. I will not ever complain about paying my UK TV license bill again.