Mamma Mia – Here we go again…

Too many times we see and hear about non-acceptance of diversity and difference. And whether it’s about race, culture, sex or sexuality, people can shun, disregard and hate what they don’t understand. They really don’t know what they are missing out on.

As a displaced Boulevardier I always try to embrace diverse and different behaviours and people, and learn to laugh and love our differences. I wanted to share a few experiences with Catia, also known as the Roman Drama Queen. She says that in her native land, Italy, she is viewed as laid back and chilled. I’ll let you decide.

In 2006, and amid an exchange of words, I met my good friend Catia in San Antonio, Texas. We had vehemently disagreed about a situation which had occurred on the forum on which we were both members. However, disagreements in new friendships help us to better understand each other and it’s not the disagreement that matters but the way we deal with it.

She is still a good friend today and we have not disagreed since our initial period. She can’t live without a displaced Boulevardier in her midst and I couldn’t live without a true Italian drama queen in mine. Regular readers of my blog will have seen her appear in the previous entry ‘Breakfast at Prada’.

Let me expand.

A small contingent from various parts of Europe decided to descend on Rome to visit Catia in 2007. We came from Austria, The Netherlands and England. Marc and I stayed at a local hotel on the outskirts of Rome while Martina and Florian resided at Catia’s well-appointed apartment.

On our first evening together we met at our hotel and were all catching up over a glass or six of Prosecco while waiting for taxis to transport us to the centre of Rome for dinner. Catia disappeared and I suddenly saw her in the reception area taking deep breaths with her hand poised dramatically on her brow. I wondered what had happened and mused whether poor Catia had received some dreadful news. I left our party and moved to the reception area.

‘Catia, is everything OK? What’s happened darling?’ I asked in a concerned manner.

Catia took several deep breaths and looked it pain. She threw her arms in the air and declared ‘It’s the taxis. They are going to be twenty minutes late!’ She paused dramatically between the last three words as if announcing a death.

I hugged Catia and asked her to calm down and reassured her we were in no rush and would simply enjoy another cold bubbly Prosecco. Every cloud eh. And there Prosecco comes in the most commodious large glass sized mini bottles. Genius.

She subsequently informed me that this was not really a dramatic reaction and I had yet to see a proper Italian dramatic reaction.

Catia and I have often visited each other. She is passionate about the misappropriation of Italian food. On one of her visits we met some friends in Pizza Hut, Colchester. One of the party declared

‘Oh ‘ow funny. Ca-ia (t dropped in an Essex style) has visited us from Rome and we took ‘er to an Italian restaurant.’ This was followed by cackles aplenty.

Catia did not cackle. She took several of her now infamous deep breaths and announced

‘There is NOTHING Italian about this place. It’s American. That is why I order salad!’

It doesn’t stop there. Italians, or rather serious foodie Italians, don’t allow any consumption of milk after midday. It’s apparently something to do with the digestion of dairy products. I would like to ask how they manage to consume cheese on their evening pizza but would not dare.

I may not partake anymore but I used to enjoy a café latte at most times of the day, but particularly after a meal. Not only is warm milk something of an acceptable evening habit in the UK but I like to dilute the taste of coffee. Yes, I like coffee but not when it’s really strong and lashings of milk make it significantly more palatable.

When in Rome eh.

Catia was quite determined that I would not have a latte after my dinner. I implored and pleaded and basically begged. After many deep breaths and sighs Catia attracted the waitress’s attention and I heard the following.

Catia “Guardi, lo so che e’ terribile, ma potrebbe portargli un caffellatte? Abbia pazienza, sa, e’ Inglese…”

Waitress: “Ma come si fa, dopo i ravioli?!”

Catia: “lo so lo so, non ci faccia caso”

Waitress: “Vabbe'”…

I didn’t need an explanation to know that my request was not appreciated. The word Inglese with the accompanying rolling eyes told me all I needed to know, but the translation is as follows:

Catia: “Look, I know it’s terrible, but could you get him a latte? Bear with him, he’s British, you know”

Waiter: “For god’s sake, after the ravioli?!”

Catia: “I know I know, just don’t mind him”

Waiter: “Whatever'”…rolling her eyes…

This was of course delivered in the best Italian dramatic but good humoured way.

We learn to accept each other’s cultural idiosyncrasies and enjoy what had drawn us together and made us such close friends.

A few weeks ago I had a wonderful weekend when Catia visited me in London.

My coffee taste had moved on and I was proud to tell Catia that I now enjoyed Americano. She huffed and called it soup!

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Apparently it’s espresso or nothing.

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We went to a café opening on Friday evening where we were treated to an innovative blue grass band (you don’t see much country in London), and headed on Saturday to Turville, where not only Vicar of Dibly was filmed, but also the windmill from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I can tell you that the windmill is on quite the hill. There is no way that Truly Scrumptious’ car would have made it up there. I guess that’s the magic of film.

We sat in a picturesque pub in Turville along with another great friend, Sarah. I was feeling a little chilly due to the November temperatures and blood thinning medication, whereas the two ladies (of a certain age) were feeling rather warm. They are of a certain age but apparently not of that certain age. They were however experiencing hot flushes usually experienced by ladies of a certain age. I was told in no uncertain terms that both were having earlier than expected symptoms.

It would seem that our differences are not only cultural.

We spoke and laughed and ridiculed ourselves about our differences and differences in culture. Catia said that ‘Brits talk about the weather and Italians talk about food!’

I did manage to persuade her to embrace one cultural difference…

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Isn’t that what we should focus on? Let’s celebrate our differences and find a way to truly love each other. There is too much hatred and negativity in the world.

My shared experiences with my gorgeous Italian friend are superficial and slight, but surely if we learn to love and laugh in whatever situation we find ourselves true karma with find and bless us.

TNW

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Breakfast at Prada

Why was having breakfast at Tiffany’s so important to Holly Golightly?

She needed somewhere to escape where the pressures of life evaporated and she could dream. Looking at all the beautiful, shiny jewellery gave her a tinted view. Think Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and the feeling of rose-coloured spectacles.

Whenever Holly experienced fears and anxieties, or ‘the mean reds’ as she called them, she would jump in a taxi and head for Tiffany’s. She told us that ‘Nothing bad could happen amid that lovely smell of silver and alligator wallets.’ Her dream was to have breakfast in this safe and soothing setting.

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Can retail establishments do that for us? Do they need to have a glossy and exclusive appeal?

It is well documented, clinically, that we experience a rush of endorphins and dopamine giving us a natural high which we want to repeat and repeat and then repeat. But Holly was often not making a purchase. It was just being in that environment that washed her drama away, temporarily in any event.

This flashes me back to a beautifully warm morning in central Rome in late September 2007. Opportunities to enjoy al fresco dining were fast disappearing along with the temperatures in London. After a long morning on the tourist trail we stopped for lunch at a wonderful Roman café. It would have been foolhardy to sit inside, and from memory I don’t think inside seating was available. However, there came, with the collection of outside dining tables, chairs and place-settings,the threat of the dirty scavenging pigeons. My fear of birds kicked in at that time and thoughts of them pecking around my toes, or in fact anywhere in my vicinity always sends me into a virtual panic attack.

Where does my fear come from? Two of my cousins are equally afflicted. However, I suspect my mum helped, in making sure that we ‘ran from the chickens quickly’ when visiting my grandfather’s farm. This coupled with an early memory of sitting on my dad’s shoulders as he chewed the cud with my granddad outside one of the barns. I watched a brightly-coloured cockerel pull back on what would be its heels, as if tensing a catapult ready to fire to maximise the power of its forward momentum, and lunged at my dad’s leg. Dad wasn’t bothered. He had grown up on a farm, and was used to vicious birds and other animals overstepping their mark, and kicked it away. It didn’t come back but that made no difference to me. The vivid picture of brightly-coloured fast feathers, sharp-attacking beak and aggression was etched in my mind.

So we sat down in Rome and ordered a beautiful pasta lunch washed down with cold and refreshing Italian beer. I kept my eyes on the pigeon situation and we were code green and safe. I relaxed and then all of a sudden I spotted a couple of filthy pigeons below a neighbouring table. I made a loud gesture in the hopes of scaring the pigeons away. They did move but this also resulted in some odd looks from the people on the pigeon-infested table. My lunch company Catia (our host) and friends Marc, Martina and Florian were bemused at my activity. However, my senses were heightened, green replaced by amber, and within the next couple of minutes I had shoooooed a number of nearby pigeons away. Amber gave way to red and I was on full alert with an attack imminent. When I spotted the next heading towards our table, and my legs, I leapt up and declared in a panicked voice ‘This is ridiculous. The place is crawling with filth.’ This drew a lot of attention from my companions and neighbouring gormandisers. Catia, no stranger herself to dramatic outbreaks, jumped up too and emphatically told me to take a walk around the square while they finished their drinks and settled the bill. I needed no convincing and was out of there like a lightning bolt.

I walked around the beautiful ancient square and tried to settle on the inspiring architecture and warm sun, but it wasn’t entirely successful in removing my anxiety. I met my friends back at the café entrance and informed them that there was only one cure. We had to head to Prada.

It was only a short walk to Via Condotti. A beautiful old cobbled street leading to the Spanish Steps or as Catia likes to call them Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti. She disapproves of the term Spanish Steps as it’s not Italian (fair point), and was not impressed when I showed her a sign next to the steps calling them ‘Spanish Steps’. She threw her arms in the air and declared that she would write to the municipality. It was odd that on my next visit the sign had disappeared. Catia innocently contested it was not of her doing. I am not convinced.

Prada

Prada spans several shop fronts and we entered the men’s department. My breathing settled a little as I was able to feast my eyes on the chic and tasteful man bags, sunglasses and organisers before me. Accessories were at the front. We worked our way through the store. I paused at the clothing and was really attracted to a black woollen holey sweater. Unfortunately they only stocked children’s sizes masquerading as adult. Beyond the clothing was the footwear section where a pair of gold-coloured trainers sparkled at me. They were beautiful. I had to have them. Sizing was perfect and within an hour I exited the store with wonderful new trainers and another pair of oversized sunglasses. The Prada experience had washed away the dramatic episode with those darn birds.

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Holly, I am completely there with you and understand the need to have an inspiring, shiny, new and healing sanctuary to head to when needed. Prada, like Tiffany’s, comes with a hefty price tag and I am therefore reluctantly grateful that Crouch End does not yet host a Prada emporium.

TNW