Book Fair

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On Thursday, my husband and I went to the book fair, Tempo di Libri, in Milan. After a lot of controversy between Milan and Turin (the original site of the book fair), it finally opened last week. So obviously, there was a lot of expectation about this important event! Did it live up to all the hype?

Yes and no. The fair itself was enormous, and pretty impressive from the outside.

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Inside there were all the big names in publishing, as you’d expect. Giunti, Mondadori, Rizzoli, Newton Compton, and many more.

IMG_20170420_113921 There were also some smaller publishers, and even a stand of independent authors who’d got together and were selling their books. There were also author presentations, cooking demonstrations and activities for kids. We must have walked around the whole thing about four times and still probably didn’t see everything! There were books for every type of reader – so many in fact, that it was all slightly overwhelming.

For me, the highlight was finding a small publisher, SEM, that had only just opened a few months previously, and finally I found some books I’d never heard of before or seen in bookshops. Whilst the big publishers didn’t offer discounts or any other promotion, this smaller publisher gave us a substantial discount on two of the books we bought, a free mug, a couple of pencils and a cloth bag to carry it all in. I really can’t understand why the big companies couldn’t have done something similar!

This is the book haul we came away with:

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Two from the big publishers, three from the small publisher, and one from the independent authors’ stand. Now I just have to find some time to read them all, my tbr list is getting out of control!

Bells!

I haven’t written an article in a while, as I’ve been pretty busy with translating work and writing my second book. Well, trying to work and write. My auto-immune disease decided to flare up over the last week or so, making day-to-day living particularly difficult. It would seem I’m over the worst now, fingers crossed!

Today, because I’m feeling tired and drained, I’m going to have a moan about something that I never experienced before living in the Lodigiano area. Church bell towers. Yes, they’re pretty to look at, yes, they’re a very characteristic part of the landscape…

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…but why do they need to chime every hour and half hour (and sometimes every quarter hour) day and night, 24/7? Why does this not bother the Italians? And why does this bother me so much, you might ask? Because I have a bell tower about 100m from my house. It’s the only part of the old church that remains, the new one having been built a couple of kilometres away in the town centre… without a bell tower. So while the priest is enjoying his lie-in on a Sunday morning, the bell tower near me starts ringing out its bright, chirpy songs at 6.30am. Every day. For a light sleeper like me, it’s not much fun. Just for the record, I think bell towers are beautiful to look at. This is the one near my house:

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But I wish the darn thing would let me sleep once in a while!

Say cheese!

I have a confession to make: I’m addicted to cheese. Or more precisely, cheddar cheese! I dread to think how many kilos I must have eaten in my life. It’s the one thing I miss more than anything else living in Italy. I can’t find it anywhere here. The closest cheese I can find is fontal, but while it has the consistency of cheddar (more or less), it lacks the flavour.

Italy has an abundance of cheeses, from the world-famous parmesan cheese to casu marzu in Sardinia (literally, rotten/putrid cheese in English) which contains live maggots. Needless to say, I haven’t tried this one!

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The Lodigiano area has its fair share of locally-produced cheeses, including tipico lodigiano ( a type of parmesan cheese that can only be made in the Lodigiano area), mascarpone, pannerone, and raspadura.

Mascarpone is that calorie-laden soft white cheese used in desserts such as tiramisu and is known in most of the world by now. I have tasted pannerone in risotto and other pasta dishes, but I must admit that I find it has quite a bitter, unpleasant taste. This is just my personal opinion, many other people love it!

My favourite local cheese has to be raspadura. A particular knife is used to scrape long slivers of parmesan from a whole wheel of cheese. It originally came about as a way of using imperfect wheels of cheese (Italians hate to waste any food!) but nowadays perfect wheels are used, seasoned to the right moment. Too long and it crumbles, too little and it doesn’t have enough flavour.

Usually served as an appetiser, together with cured meats, nuts or mushrooms, it is also used to garnish risotto or polenta. Personally, I love to eat it as it is, perhaps with a glass of cool white wine to wash it down!

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So while I forlornly wait for cheddar to arrive here in Italy, every now and then I try another cheese I find at the supermarket, just to ease the cravings, you understand. And if anyone from the UK comes to visit, the first thing I ask them is to bring me over a few blocks of cheddar. Which go straight in the freezer, to be eaten at leisure and every mouthful savoured over as if it was manna from heaven!

The Wild Life

 

Following on from my article last week, I would like to say hello and thank you to Sig. Ettore Bonfanti, the silver-haired gentleman in the last photo of the ‘Bar Talk’ article. As if to prove my observation that the patrons of Italian bars are wonderfully friendly people, Sig. Bonfante (who I have never met) asked for the link to the blog so that he could have a look. When I pointed out that the blog is in English, he told me not to worry, he’d enjoy having a look at the photos!

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So, on with this week’s article. Before writing about the local food and wine (which, let’s face it, is what most people are interested in!), I thought I’d write about the flora and fauna of the Lodigiano area. Spring is on its way, the trees are already in full blossom – the magnolias in particular are spectacular – and farmers are preparing the fields for planting crops. This is probably the prettiest time of year here, before the hot summer sun has turned everything brown and dry, and a shimmering haze of heat settles on the horizon.

Over the last 10-15 years, herons have made a come-back to the area and the fields are full of them. Multitudes of small, white herons stand among the larger, more graceful grey herons, which may be fewer in number but are truly magnificent birds, especially in flight.

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Another animal that is taking over the Lodigiano countryside is the nutria, or water rat. This non-native rodent has slowly infested the territory, arriving as far as the suburbs of Milan! These cute-looking animals are destroying centuries-old riverbanks and floodbanks, and their carcasses litter the edges of the roads.

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My husband enjoys working as a postman at Caselle Landi and Cornovecchio, right out in the countryside. It’s a far cry from the apartment blocks and concrete of Milan and the suburbs where he used to work, even if most people have a dog or two, which can be a problem for a postman!

But some people have other types of pets, such as deer:

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a few horses:

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and some rabbits:

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Friendly people, characteristic bars, and varied wildlife – despite its flat, monotonous landscape, the Lodigiano area is a fascinating place to explore, if you take the time to look.

(Photos of magnolia tree, heron and water rat courtesy of pixabay.com)

 

Bar Talk

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If you’ve ever been to Italy, you’ll probably have noticed that there is an abundance of bars. There seems to be a high bar to person ratio; in 2012, there were 172,000 bars in Italy (data from Ufficio Studi Fipe). You’ll find bars in every angle of towns, cities and villages – including, obviously, the Lodigiano area.

Just like the English pub, bars in Italy are a focal point for socialising, as well as eating and drinking. However, going into a bar in the countryside can be quite daunting at times. While you can freely enter a bar in the city without anyone taking any notice of you, country bars are mainly frequented by elderly gentlemen who stare fixedly at you as you walk through the door. Quite often you get the urge to turn around and go somewhere else. Don’t. Once you get to know them, these gentlemen are charming people who love to regale you with anecdotes of their youth. If you’re really lucky, you may even be invited to join them in their afternoon snack of a large bottle of red wine, cured meats and bread!

Some of these men are widowers who go for the company, to avoid passing entire days all alone. Others are sent there by their long-suffering wives, desperate for some peace and quiet. Some are devoted customers who start with a glass of white wine at 9 o’clock in the morning and carry on drinking all day long.

Go to any of these bars in the afternoon and you’ll see everyone sat around tables, divided into groups, partaking in their favourite pastime, Briscola, an Italian card game I’ve never quite understood. This quiet card game can go on for hours, the tranquility broken only by occasional outbursts of temper as one player jumps up, red-faced, accusing another of having played their card wrongly. Everyone in the bar stares, smiling, as his fellow card-players try to calm him down, holding him physically back in some cases. The moment passes, the player sits back down, and everyone else goes back to what they were doing.

Italian bars come in all shapes and sizes, each one differing in appearance and style but, as the saying goes, don’t judge a book by its cover. Below is the Antica Trattoria della Costa, a bar and trattoria in Cornovecchio. It doesn’t look like much from the outside; indeed, before opening time it looks like an abandoned building!

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But this is what it looks like inside:

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And here are some of its friendly patrons!

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So remember, if you’re ever in some remote village in Italy, don’t be afraid to try out the local bar. You may be pleasantly surprised. Cheers!

Lost in Italy

OK, so I’m not lost… but I am in Italy, and it feels like I’ve been wandering in the wilderness up to this point in my life.

Let’s get the boring part over with. I arrived in Italy almost 27 years ago (that means I’ve been living here more than half my life!). I lived in Milan for about a year and a half, then I moved to a small town about 30km south of the city, then to an even smaller town a little bit further south.

So now I live in an area called “Il Lodigiano”. Not the beautiful hills of Tuscany for me, no; rather, the Po Valley, a highly agricultural area that is as flat as a pancake, for as far as you can see. Though on a clear day, you can see the Alps in the distance, which is very picturesque! But usually the fog in the winter and the haze of humidity in the summer obscures the horizon.

The Lodigiano area may be lacking in mountain scenery but it is rich in many other things: food, wine, historical cities and fascinating people. I’ve created this blog to talk about all of these things and much more, seen and experienced from my point of view.

Bit by bit, I’ll also tell you about my journey in the wilderness, but my aim is to entertain you with tales from this little-known area of Italy. And maybe take a detour every now and then to cities in other nearby regions.

Under Writing Projects, you can see what I’m currently working on – whether it’s one of my own books or editing someone else’s book.

And every now and then I’ll write a review on a book by an independent author who I think deserves a mention!

Join me on Twitter or my Facebook page for more info and updates on my blog!

 

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