Photo essay – the mysterious towers of Forio and its streets

Photo essay – the mysterious towers of Forio and its streets

Sometimes when I get a bit of homesickness for life in the city, I’ll go for a walk to the center of Forio and throw myself into one of the side streets and wander until I get lost and can’t tell where I am anymore. I love the buildings squashed one next to the other, the smells and sounds coming from the windows, the cats darting into garden doors, and the strange and meandering streets that seem like they lead to a dead end, but will then have a passage way that will take you to another curving street. I love the architecture, the windows that are shaped like portholes or flowers, the secret churches that are built into a corner, the little archways that will take you out onto a path that has a spectacular view of the sea, and the sudden opening up onto a cliff with terraces of lemon and orange trees. The most surprising thing are these mysterious watch towers. The streets curl and stretch around these towers at the base and if you look at Forio up from the hills above the town you can see that the town is studded with these phallic beings.

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Want to know more about Italy? Start with these books

Want to know more about Italy? Start with these books

When I lived in Rome, it was my first time living in Italy full-time and it was really challenging. There was so much to learn about Italy, not just how to live there, but what the hell people were actually talking about. I hardly got any of the cultural and historical references that came up in conversations and films and I was always asking questions like ‘why’ and ‘how’. Like who was Aldo Moro and why was he assassinated?·

(This is a long and interesting story, but the very short version is that Aldo Moro, Italian prime minister during the 70s, was kidnapped by the Italian anarchist group Le Brigate Rosse for ransom and then killed and left in the trunk of car in the centre of Rome.)

After a while (and it really should have been much sooner), it occurred to me that I could read about this stuff and find out for myself. There are so many books out there in English about contemporary Italian history written by historians and journalists. I really don’t know why it took me so long to start reading them, but I have been reading these books ever since.

Continue reading “Want to know more about Italy? Start with these books”

Here are two books to start with:

 A History of Contemporary Italy: Society and Politics 1943-1980 by Paul Ginsborg:

This is a dry and dense read written by British historian Paul Ginsborg who has been Professor of contemporary European history at the University of Florence since 1992. It’s a historical analysis of post-war Italy and includes charts, data and statistics. This book will give you all the information you need about the post-war economic boom, the movement of southern workers to the north, left wing politics and the working class movement, the 50 year run of the Christian Democrat party, the ‘anni di piombo’ and the Red Brigades, and more.

It’s a bit of slog to get through, but well worth the read and gives a complete overview of what happened in the country after the war. This was the first book I read about Italy and it blew my end. I understood so many more cultural and historical references and suddenly the names of the streets in Rome had meaning. For example, viale Palmiro Togliatti, a main thoroughfare that cuts through Rome north and south is named after the leader of the Communist Party who helped put together a new Italian government at the end of WWII. This is a significant thing to know about because it helps explain Italy’s relationship with communism and how it helped shape the fabric of the Italian left. Italian communist leaders were respected enough to have streets named after them.

You can follow up this book with his sequel Italy and its discontents: family, civil society, state, 1980-2001. This book will continue its exploration of history during these two decades through the lens of the Italian family and the role it played in the further development of the country. It covers major events such as Tangentopoli that caused the downfall of the Christian Democrat Party, the rise of Silvio Berlusconi, and mafia and corruption.

The Italians by John Hooper:

For something with more of a narrative structure and less heady, try The Italians by John Hooper. Hooper is the Italian correspondent for The Economist and a former foreign correspondent at The Guardian covering Italy and Spain. Taking the title of Luigi Barzini’s book, The Italians digs deep into Italian culture, history and religion to try to dismantle stereotypes and explain why Italy is the way it is today. It’s a fun and very perceptive read written by someone who has lived in Italy for decades. There is still an historical perspective, but Hooper uses facts to explain things like why there’s no word in Italian for hangover (but 12 words for coat hanger), the connections between football and the freemasons, changing attitudes to sex, the north and south divide, and why Italians are reluctant to use a dishwasher.

You can read about some other Italy history and culture books in a previous post I’ve written.

And I also recommend some other books that I’ve read since that last post including:

read about Italy

read about Italy
  • The Sack of Rome by Alexandre Stille – about the rise of Berlusconi from his beginnings as a property developer to his multiple runs as Italy’s prime minister. This book explains the role television played in shaping Italy during the 1980s from the government to family life. Read this and then watch the TV series 1992 and 1993. fd
read about Italy
  • Two Kitchens by Rachel Roddy – another cookbook by my favourite food writer who lives in Rome. This book consists of recipes that are cooked in her home kitchens in Rome and in Gela, Sicily where Roddy’s partner Vincenzo is from. Its sections are organised by ingredients (such as chickpeas, grapes, ricotta, and fish) instead of types of dishes so you get a more literary and deeper sense of ingredients and the role they play in Roman and Sicilian meals.

This post is written as part of the dolcevitabloggers linkup, hosted by Jasmine of Questa Dolce Vita, Kelly of Italian at Heart and Kristie of Mamma Prada the 3rd Sunday of every month.  Click #dolcevitabloggers to read blog posts by other participants

My four favourite podcasts about Italian culture and living in Italy

My four favourite podcasts about Italian culture and living in Italy

It’s wonderful and incredible fulfilling my dream to live in Italy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not challenging at times and sometimes a little lonely. These four podcasts are particularly helpful to me when I’m feeling a bit down or homesick for good conversations with my friends. These podcasts in English and Italian discuss the difficulties of living life abroad, unpack the history and cultural significance behind the food eaten in Italy, address Italian feminist issues while showcasing bad-ass women, and delve into contemporary Italian history with a bit of music thrown in.

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Four top podcasts

1. The Bittersweet Life (in English)

This is my absolute favourite podcast that I have been listening to for the past five years and I never get tired of. I could say that The Bittersweet Life gives an in-depth focus on issues that ex-pats aka immigrants face living life abroad, which is definitely does, but it does a lot more than that. Through interviews and discussions, co-host Katy Sewall and Tiffany Parks, show the rich creative fabric of being alive, the challenges and success, the self-doubt and fruition of trying to live a less off the beaten path. Katy is a radio producer based in San Francisco and Tiffany is a writer and author of Midnight in the Piazza. They’ve been friends since the 6th grade and it’s wonderful to listen to this podcast and listen to two friends have an interesting conversation. The Bittersweet Life has kept me company and given me comfort during these years living in London and in IschiaThe Bittersweet Life (in English)

Start with:

Episode 219 – Abdicate – Interview with Jackie Jalley, a former lawyer who, in her 40s, decided to give up her career and move to Europe. She discusses she learned how to deal with things when they didn’t go as planned.

Four top podcasts

2. Gola (in English)

This is a new podcast that I’ve really gotten into. Rome-based food journalist Katie Parla and culinary historian Dr. Dannielle get together in each episode to discuss the role of food in Italian culture. While there a lots of food podcasts out there (which I really enjoy) this one has a really deep discussion about the cultural and historical background of topics such as coffee, garlic, anchovies, panettone and cocktails. The topics quickly meander into discussions about history, sociology and culinary culture and after each episode you come away with a deeper understanding of Italian culture.

Start with :

Properly Caffeinated: Listen about the role fascism played in the rise of coffee culture in Italy during the 20th century.

Four top podcasts

3. Morgana (in Italian)

This is a new podcast presented by Italian writer Michela Murgia and Chiara Tagliaferri. According to the podcast, a Morgana is a woman who is strong, difficult, strange, dangerous, witchlike, and not afraid to break some balls. Women that live for themselves and don’t give a shit about making you happy. Where a woman is killed every two days by her partner or ex and sexism plays a large part of everyday life for women, this is an exciting podcast aimed to empower women and show them examples of potential heroes. Each episode focuses on a cultural figure, both contemporary and historical, and discusses how she is an extraordinary Morgana.

You can listen to all the websites and watch a trailer for the podcast on the Morgana website.

Start with:

Madonna and Saint Catherine of Sienna

Four top podcasts

4. Mix 24 – La Storia (in Italian)

This podcast stopped airing on 30 June 2017, but you can still listen to the last 28 episodes on ITunes as well as find all of the episodes on their website. If you live in Italy or love Italian culture, these are a perfect way to get a more understanding of recent history and you’ll come away with recognising more cultural references that come up in conversations (as well as strengthening your Italian). Particular fun episodes focus on a year, what was going on back then and the hit songs on Italian radio (both Italian and international songs. If you visited Italy in 2008, you could listen to the episode of that year and recognize the songs that were on the radio and learn a little bit more about what was actually going on Italy, politically and culturally, that you may not have picked up back then.

Start with:

Musica and storia – 1998: Monika Lewinsky and Bill Clinton scandal, Fidel Castro and Pope John Paul II meet for the first time, the Italian government under Romano Prodi falls and the new government under Giovanni D’Alema is installed. Selected songs featured: Ray of Light – Madonna; My heart will go on – Celine Dion; Blu – Zucchero; Senza te o con te – Annalisa Minetti; Getting jiggy with it – Will Smith.

Luigi Tenco, mistero a San Remo:  Mystery still surrounds Luigi Tenco, singer and songwriter of hits like Gloria and Ti Amo, and his suicide on 27 January 1967 at the Hotel Savoy di San Remo after his song was dropped out of the race at the San Remo Music Festival. This episode talks about the story and success of the Italian icon who died at only 29 years old.

Four Neapolitan Pastas for My Brilliant Friend

Four Neapolitan Pastas for My Brilliant Friend

Tonight the first two episodes of My Brilliant Friend will air on Rai1. I’ve been counting the days and everyone in Ischia is super excited to watch tonight especially because they filmed some scenes here in the late spring this year.

A few weeks ago, I came across an article on Food52 ‘10 Perfect Pastas for My Brilliant Friend Premier’. The recipes look delicious, but I thought wouldn’t it be even better if the pasta dishes were Neapolitan. So in celebration, I am sharing 4 Neapolitan pasta dishes to celebrate the four nights that Rai will air the episodes of My Brilliant Friend.

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Pasta alla Genovese

click on the title for the recipe

(Recipe by the lovely Rachel Roddy from her column in The Guardian)

Pasta alla Genovese via The Guardian, Rachel Roddy’s A Kitchen in Rome column

Don’t confuse this with pesto al genevose, which is the rich basil pesto that most are familiar with that comes from the Genoa region. Despite the name, this is a Neapolitan dish whose name comes from a family named Genovese that created the dish. This is basically a meat sauce made with minced meat, onions, carrots and celery with just a spoonful of tomato puree to make it a bit red. Serve the sauce with a large tubular pasta such as paccheri or rigatoni with this hearty sauce.

Lina and Lenu would have eaten this for a Sunday lunch or some kind of holiday.

Pasta con cozze e pecorino – Pasta with mussels and pecorino

click on the title for the recipe

(Recipe by Tina Ciccio from her blog Our Edible Italy)

Pasta con Cozze e Pecorino From Our Edible Italy

There is the general known Italian rule that you never serve cheese with fish, but that rule is broken with this classic dish served on the island of Ischia. You mix with mussels with a bit of pecorino cheese, not too much or else it will overpower the mussels, and serve with paccherri or mezza paccheri. I would even add some lemon zest to the sauce to get a citrusy, salty seafood pasta dish.

Lila and Lenu could have eaten this when they were on holiday in Ischia.

Frittata di Spaghetti – aka Spaghetti Pizza

click on the title for the recipe

(Recipe by Jaime Oliver and Gennaro Contaldo)

Pasta Frittata from

If you’ve accidentally made too much pasta and have some leftovers, you can mix it with some eggs and cheese and fry it on the stove in a deep dish pan to make a spaghetti frittata. This is a classic Neapolitan dish that I grew up on. You can add all kinds of things to this like chopped dried sausage, mozzarella, a spicy provolone or whatever. You can serve it at room temperature or cold from the fridge (my favourite).

Perhaps Lila and Lenu would have eaten this as a picnic food for Easter Monday or would have brought it with them to the beach.

Spaghetti allo Scammaro

click on the title for the recipe

 (my own family recipe)

spaghetti allo scammaro and cooking
My family recipe of spaghetti allo scammaro

This is a Neapolitan dish that is typically made during Lent or any other fasting periods throughout the Catholic year. However, you can eat this year round since it’s a really light, cheap and easy dinner. This is one of my favourite pasta dishes and something we ate every Christmas Eve while growing up.

Lila and Lenu could have eaten this on Fridays as Fridays were generally fasting days and one didn’t eat meat.



Our First Year in Italy

Our First Year in Italy

Hello everyone! It’s a year ago today that me and Marituccio said goodbye to London and boarded a plane to Italy with 4 suitcases and a Christmas cactus.

Looking back on this time last year, I remember being so so so scared with this big decision to move to Italy. It was hard for me to figure out whether it was intuition that was trying to stop or just fear of jumping into the unknown. I didn’t have this same kind of terror when I had moved to Mexico City, London and Rome. Maybe because I was older? Maybe because there was nowhere else to go if this didn’t work out? It was so strong that I almost didn’t feel any excitement at all. I was numb. Continue reading “Our First Year in Italy”

Gatwick Airport, 25 November 2017, Moving back to Italy

Honestly, the first 6 months were difficult. Not for any of the usually bureaucratic difficulties of setting into life in Italy nor the  baggage that comes with trying to navigate a new country in a different language. It was more psychological than that.  I thought in the beginning that I was going to be punished for moving to Italy. I could hear all these voices from family members in the past who had always made me feel like I was too dumb or too young or too naive to realise how bad life in Italy really was. These voices of the past were always on my shoulder and I could feel them angry with me for trying to live here. Last Christmas I made Neapolitan rococo, using my Nonna’s recipe, and they came out bad with a terrible bitter taste. I thought I had messed up the recipe and overdid the spices. I felt like Nonna was trying to tell me that she was angry with me, for daring to make her cookies in Ischia, the place where life had been so difficult for her. (Later I found out that the flour I used for the cookies was rancid and had nothing to do with my grandmother being pissed off in the clouds.)

My batch of roccoco that came out disgusting (thanks to that bag of flour)

But once I realised that I was giving weight to voices that didn’t exist anymore and that it was futile to imagine how they would think and what they would say based on faded memories that were at least 20 years old, I felt better. Really, if they were still alive today and lived and had grown as people for another 20 years, they might have thought that I was really brave and awesome for doing this. In any case, I wasn’t living this new life here for them, continuing their own story, this was for me. My life. My story.

Things that I expected to happen that didn’t:

– Extreme culture shock moving from a major metropolis to a tiny island

I thought it would be a lot harder, I thought it would take a long time to get used to the slower pace of life and to not have so many things available to you 24 hours a day as is in a city, to not have so many events to go to, friends to see, places to walk to. I seemed to adjust to this part of life in Italy quite quickly. It’s amazing to be able to go for walks along the beach and into town, to see the sky full of stars, to breath clean air and not deal with the noise and traffic of city life. I also feel less anonymous here, people seem closer to life and more aware of life and death. There are processions and festivals to mark the holidays and saint days, announcements to mark births and funerals and people are always ready to talk to you in the shops and on the streets.

The garden waiting for the dinner party to start

Everything closed during the winter off season with no one in the streets

Hah! It’s true it gets quieter during the off season and quite a few restaurants and hotels close. But there are 70,000 full-time residents on the island and tourists still come here all year round. There are lots of events going on – concerts, book signings, talks, festivals and markets. And the neighbourhoods are lively.

Winter Lemons

– Feeling isolated and claustrophobic from living on an island

When I was preparing for the move, I would get scared thinking about how I was going to be on an island being surrounded by a very powerful sea. Even if you needed a break, you wouldn’t be able to just drive your car for an hour to go someplace new. But Ischia has 6 towns and isn’t as small as it seemed to me before I left. Each town has its own character and you can just go to another town for a walk or an icecream and it feels like a change in scene.

Spiaggia Cava dell’isola, Forio

– It would take a long time to make friends

It always takes a long time to develop friendships, especially when living in a community in a different country, and I was prepared to spend a lot of time alone. But I’ve found that it was pretty easy to become friends with my neighbours and landlords, to be invited to birthday parties and Sunday lunches, to go out after work with Martiuccio’s colleagues and generally be included in people’s lives here. I’ve lived in cities for most of my adult life and got used to being anonymous going about in my everyday life, so here it’s nice to go for a walk and say hello, stop for a coffee, and have a little chat. There’s a nice community of artists and writers on the island and I got to know other bloggers here in particular Isabella Marino of Qui Ischia and Laura Mattera Iacono of Al Tavolo di Amalia that have helped me learn about what life in Ischia is really like.

– It would be difficult for Marituccio to find a job

I kept my London job and work remotely from Italy, but Marituccio, a massage therapist, wanted to find work in a hotel spa. Some people were discouraging and said that finding work would be really hard as there wasn’t a large turnover in staff in the various hotels and that people kept their jobs season after season. But he didn’t let that put him down and he started visiting various hotels, stopping in saying hello and dropping off his CV. We weren’t sure if it was going to work out for this season, but he eventually was hired as a therapist in a hotel in Ischia Porto, it was first for the summer season but he’s now working into the holiday season. Which means we’ll spend our first Christmas in Ischia this year. Yay!

House on via soronzaro, Ischia Ponte

Things that I didn’t expect to happen:

  • Losing the pleasure to cook and eat as I adjusted to this new life
  • How damp things can be in the wintertime like the sheets on your bed
  • How weather can affect the ability to travel, especially if you need to get to the mainland so you can go to the airport.
  • Getting seasick even for a short ride on a small boat
  • How working in English during the day makes it difficult for me to speak with friends in Italian after work, my tongue takes a longer time to warm up and I’m more uncertain when speaking and mispronounce things
  • A whole new cat family showing up at my doorstop all wanting to live with me

My children

Overall, this first year in Italy has been a great surprise and I’m so happy to have moved here. Life is still uncertain and a bit precarious, but also really lovely. This feels like home.