Archive for September, 2009

Have been absent from here for a week or more, just after I’d decided (realised yet again) that an hour’s writing and an hour’s jogging every day are what I need to keep me sane and happy (and so it follows that I took a week off running too). My inner saboteur strikes again. 

But there have been reasons enough. After school clubs and homework to organise, endless trips to government offices for the crucial documenti, a weekend visit from Stef’s parents, a dramatic finger-slicing accident in the woods, subsequent trips to pronto soccorso, and tetanus jabs…a needed break from the rigours of running after my heart felt like it was going to burst…a crisis of confidence (oh, when will those stop?) about blogging and time-wasting and splurging to all and sundry the dreadful intricacies of this turgid life…(esagerato, but I’m on a roll…).

The usual persistent, inconclusive decision-making crossroads about how much energy to put into starting up Wordplay again, looking for a space to run workshops (actually, update people, the wonderful Caffe Tommaseo has agreed…more of which later) or should I just kick back, and let the dust settle – oh, and how the dust settles round here….where is my duster???

You see how easily I am distracted?

And also, beneath the surface of all this activity, is the slow getting-used-to of this new home. Home is a big word. And a good word. It has nothing to do with wooden floors and a big back garden, or with cycle paths and sea views, or with the friendly greetings from neighbours and passers-by. It has everything to do with time. And we have a long way to go before we have had enough time here to make this place home.

So I am trying to balance, on the one hand, this objective sense that this place is beautiful – perfect in many ways – and the other truth that I have no roots here; I am displaced. It is a familiar existential feeling – one I first recognised when we were flying over Mexico City many years ago (1990) and all I could think was, why here? why now? why all these houses here?

It’s hard to translate that feeling.


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Having just moved wordplay from London to Trieste, I thought it was time to give the site a new look and make it as clear as possible what wordplay is all about. 

So take a look around..if you look to the sidebar on the right ‘What’s on this site’, you’ll see all the static ‘pages’ that give details of courses – the same pages can be found as kind of index card headers at the top of this page. The ‘Home’ page will pop up with my latest blog entry. I’m going to be flagging up wordplay writing events specifically – and enthusing more generally about writing events I think will be of interest to you. I’m also going to write pieces about the ‘elements of fiction’, the nature of writing, my thoughts on the teaching process, etc. I’m hoping you’ll want to contribute to the site – write comments, get discussions going. I’ll be describing my courses and workshops as I go along, so if you’re signed up for any, you might very well want to check out what’s been said…

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Have decided to start recording in a new category “Learning Italian” – the words and phrases that I overhear or read that I especially like, or didn’t know before. This should be a very good way for me to improve my spoken and written Italian. It also gives me a very valid reason for buying “La Repubblica” every day and sitting outside Caffe Vatta highlighting interesting phrases when I should be at home cleaning toilets. 

Today, cycling home from my successful trip to the fishmonger’s, I met an elderly neighbour and his grandchild out in the woods, passing the time. He has been very disappointed with us since his two grand children often come to visit and he was hoping they could play with our kids – but, “your kids are at school until 4” (outraged – most Italian children go to school till 1.30). “Yes”, I agree, “and then we’re not usually home until 5” (after swinging on the monkey bars, or buying a gelato…).

“Ah”, he says, discouraged, “Non si combaccino i tempi”. (I guess that’s how it’s spelt, and I guess it means, “the times just don’t match up”, or as I like to think of it literally – possibly – “the times just don’t kiss each other”.

Even if that’s not the right translation, I like it.

I’ll do some surfing now to see if I can get the lowdown. Might get back to you on this…

[2 mins later] Okay, just googled combacciono to discover the word is  combaccino – which I’ve now changed in this post, obviously (but I want you to know I’m not perfect), anyway, here’s a good example of it in use:

Due persone dello stesso sesso non hanno gli attributi che combaccino con cio’ ke e’ la loro natura?

which translates (very) roughly as – “Is it true that two people of the same sex don’t physically complement each other ?” 

Pretty lame discussion that one, but – you get the idea.

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As per twitter, this morning did not start off too well. Alarm not set, got up half an hour late, then Fran screaming at me about the cakes we must bake and bring to school, Stef stressed, checking the time. But I cook 15 pancakes in 10 minutes, Fran slurs on the Nutella, we get out of the door and onto our bikes after screams from various members of the family have confirmed to the neighbourhod that we are the most trashy family in town…

But then all well…Decide today is definitely a day to go for a coffee in my by now local bar, Caffe Vatta, and meet Davide (neighbour who thankfully was out of  his house early enough this morning not to hear the screams). He treats me to a caffe latte and I pick his brains for possible venues for my Wordplay workshops (he’s an estate agent – handy). No glimmers of hope until he remembers a S. Bosco (he of the Italian supermarket chain) who has a room above one of his supermarkets downtown that is only occasionally used. Could be perfect. And in true Italian style, this would be a ‘racommandata’ – ie. an introduction through a friend – and so therefore much more likely to materialise into something…  Let’s see.

Then I trundle off to Aldo’s the fishmonger, tell him that although the wild sea bass I bought last time was wonderful I can’t be doing spending that much on a family meal. But I’d still  prefer to buy fish that weren’t endangered, or farmed, or fed antibiotics (but can’t be bothered to do the research myself, I could have added). He went through all his gorgeous looking fish:

“Signora, ci sono tre tipi di pesci.”  

Madam, there are three kinds of fish.

This one is farmed and fed antibiotics – “non la consiglio”; this one is farmed, but naturally, in the sea and not fed anything, they just can’t swim very deeply, and they’re a bit limited in their enclosures; these, on the other hand, are fished in the open sea. The sea bass is expensive, but this, for example ‘Dorato’ – it’s also called ‘salpa’, remember that Signora – is not so expensive and it’s very good.”

So I took some – and fresh anchovies for the cat. We all eat well here!  

This is really what I was hoping for – my very own personal fishmonger, who can help me choose the fish, and tell me how to cook it. How great is that? 

That’s generally what I love about living in Italy – often there is the time and space for these kind of encounters – the very thorough, personal touch, with people who really know (and need!) their business. Yesterday, for example, Fran and I went to the dentist’s (she’s getting braces in 2 weeks) and he gave me the most thorough (if painful) clean of my teeth I have ever had. Last week we went to a furniture store and had a personal assistant who guided us around the shop, looked through catalogues with us, introduced us to the boss who gave us a “personalised discount” – and then presented us with a ceramic jug as a take away gift.

Obviously, it’s all for sales – but certainly helps to soften the chores.

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Went for a long jog to the ‘glade’ on the Carso this morning. Maybe 5k. Took 32 minutes. Am tracing the same route we took by bike on Sunday – that way I know how far I still have to go (+4k) before I can sit down and order lunch at the trattoria in Grapado. That’s motivation.

not a bad running track

not a bad running track


Next time I’m going to aim for the car park (where those cyclists stopped us and asked if Stef had his wheel on back to front.

Made it!

Made it!










When I get home after jogging, I have to sit down and sweat. Never seen anything like it. Is this healthy???

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So yesterday I took my first trip to the butcher’s in Opicina (this little town I’ve just moved to near Trieste). Butcher’s are always a daunting propsect: and Italian ones are a double whammy. But he was very friendly, didn’t look aghast when I pointed to a delectable joint of meat (all rolled up and criss-crossed with string, a sprig of rosemary stuck on for good measure) and asked ‘What’s that?’ (vitello) and then, ‘How much is it?’ Expensive (19 Euros) but irresistible.

He told me in fast Triestine dialect how to cook it, and I understood something about white wine, stock and eating it cold, and that the kids would love it. When I got home, the only near enough recipe was in my very trusty ‘Great Italian Cookbook’. But although when the butcher described it, it sounded delectable, in practice it was just boiled meat. And tasted like it. Never again.
But, also did a fab caponata (that’s aubergines, onions, tomatoes, plus possibly peppers – then it’s called peronata – , celery, fennel, pine nuts, raisins – and even dark chocolate apparently in Sicilia – and then lots of balsamic vinegar). It’s a kind of sophisticated ratatouille, but in true Italian style, there’s a special knack to getting all the flavours to combine and unify.

I first came across it at Carluccio’s in Chiswick – and asked the waiter for a recipe – which he gave me – verbally – very enthusiastically. And I’ve been modifying/ perfecting it ever since. Yesterday I used Georgio Locatelli’s version from his book ‘Made in Italy’ – but he deep fries everything. I’m sure it tastes wonderful but I can’t be doing with that. I’m more from the Nigel Slater school of ‘as little hassle as possible while cooking thank you very much’. But did pick up a taste-changing trick: leave the caponata to settle for two hours after cooking, covered in cling film (I didn’t have any so just put a lid on the pot – seemed to work.

Anyway, think I’m hoping to aim for at least one new dish a week, and take a visit to the local fish shop next. I guess I’ll have completed this goal (I’m writing this first as one of my goals on 43things.com) if I can sustain this till Christmas…

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So this life I lead always puts me in a dilemma:

  • the freedom of being able to up sticks, move country, be here to help the kids settle in, see that they’re fed, done their homework, can tell me about their days, shout at me;
  • the freedom to be able to hang out the laundry…sweep the floor, clean the toilet,
  • the freedom to fit in around everyone else when necessary;
  • the freedom to not have a live-in au pair,
  • not (right now at least) have a cleaner,
  • not have to commute an hour to work or come home just at weekends…
  • not have to make continuous complicated arrangements for pick-ups and drop-offs and holidays and..aaah, the stress…
  • the freedom to – if I feel like it – sit down and write…

BUT there is a lot of frustration too in having to always recreate a schedule, find my place, have no fixed work abode. And right now, no real money that I can call my own, earned money. [God, this is such ancient politics – not being officially paid for housework or childcare – or blogging for that matter!]

Sooner or later I will start up Wordplay again. I’ll teach creative writing in the evenings to adults, I might teach life writing in the mornings to mums, I might teach creative writing after school to kids. I’ll run a monthly book club, I’ll find a wonderful retreat centre and run creative writing residential weekends and holidays. I’ll go back to London every now and then, reunited with my lovely students and continue my programme of day workshops.

All these things I have been doing – and loving it – and it took a long time to set up and get the numbers. Most important of all, I finally found a home for Wordplay in Acton – at The Rocket, a pub with an upstairs function room full of character where I ran the book club, the courses, the short story slam, my farewell party…Now I have to find somewhere like that in Trieste. A place that has a good vibe, feels cultural, artistic, cosy. A place that would welcome creative writers and book readers. Where our relationship would be mutually beneficial (and therefore the room would be free!)

I have to reinvent Wordplay here in Italy (which means sell myself all over again, actually, which I am NO good at).

And the other always ongoing dilemma is whether to just leave it all to settle for a while and use this space to do some writing of my own. I could. I have lot to do. But somehow the yawning undisciplined space leaves me unproductive – and even more frustrated. It’s always better to have too much to do. 

Or maybe once I have stopped shelving and re-shelving my books, once the pictures are hung in their rightful places, the bed is bought, the lawn is re-laid, the flowers planted,  the dishes done…Once all that is done, maybe I will turn my mind to higher things.

Or maybe I’ll just keep writing this blog, in between moments, when my arms are aching from too much furniture removal and I feel the need to communicate with friends and strangers in the world out there and just share the small trials, tribulations and joys of this extraordinarily ordinary life.

What a luxury!

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