Written by Italo Calvino and published in 1972, Invisible Cities is a collection of page-long descriptions of cities, as described by Marco Polo to Kublai Khan. The two men do not have a common language, so we realise that Polo is describing his travels using not only words, but hand gestures and props to make himself understood to his host. The novel, written originally in Italian, is incredibly vivid and explores our imagination. It’s complex, but there’s an enjoyment to be had from just reading it at face value without adding your own interpretation or thinking about it too deeply. Although the cities are described in a clearly exaggerated way, the images are too intense for them to be totally made up…. This is definitely worth reading – it’s totally captivating and although there’s no plot as such, it’s almost impossible to put down. Also, you look kind of intelligent reading it on public transport, which is always nice.
Admittedly, I’m slightly obsessed with this movie. The cinematography is completely amazing, so it’s worth watching just for that. Respiro is set in Sicily, and is centred around the portrayal of family values/ the role of different members of the family as is so traditionally important in Italy (particularly in the south). The shots of the beaches and cliffs are so vivid, it makes you feel like you’re there in a way no film has ever done for me… It’s especially interesting watching the movie after having recently visited Sicily, but obviously the side I saw was the touristic and cultivated one. The side portrayed in this movie, on the other hand, is a lot more honest, raw and wild, and ultimately real. Shots of young boys gutting fish lined up in a big room resonate particularly – you get such a sharp insight into their extremely different culture and way of life. Respiro won various awards at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, and it’s really not hard to see why. An added bonus is that the movie is kinda short (an hour and a half) so there’s not really time to get bored (as I do, easily)…
It’s true: Venice looks like a film set. That’s probably why so many movies have been filmed there – the film company doesn’t need to spend millions building a set because nothing could compare to the real thing. Every tiny ally way, every canal which to a local wouldn’t get a second glance is to a tourist just unbelievably beautiful.
Although it’s totally overrun by tourists at all times of the year, the atmosphere in the city is amazing, and its so unusual compared to so many other places in Europe. Unlike London, which can feel depressing on day during the endless winter, Venice is just as spectacular in drizzle as it is in bright sunshine.
One of the great things about the city is that the locals actually do use the canals – many people think the only boats on them are the gondolas. Although there are of course plenty of these floating around should you want to take a ride, the way to get around is by water-bus. There are stations all over Venice like there are with a regular bus on the street, and what is a total novelty to visitors is just how Venetians get to work, or get into the town centre. If you want to pay up, taking a water taxi is a really fun experience. You zoom through the city in a speedboat feeling like James Bond, then pull up literally outside the airport…
The main down side of Venice is the price of everything – in shops, restaurants and cafés, the prices can be insane. I went on a little hunt to find the most expensive cappuccino in Venice: in the Piazza San Marco, I found one for €8. €8!!! That’s just under £6.50, or $10 (you could buy a whole outfit in Primark for that). In restaurants in all the main squares and shopping streets, they charge different prices for locals and tourists, so do your best to look/sound/act/be Venetian…
The gondoliers are hilarious – ours sang some traditional Venetian tunes for us accompanied by some dancing which caused our gondola to come close to capsizing (more than once). They still wear their little outfits – the stripey black and white jumper with a red scarf, and try to teach the tourists Italian (totally unsuccessfully). Interestingly, the very first female gondolier only started gondolier-ing in the summer of 2010. Hopefully someone will introduce gondolas to the River Thames – they’re an awesome way to travel.
Breakfast is, as we all know, the most important meal of the day, so it’s no wonder that it’s taken very seriously in countries across Europe. The northern Europeans such as the Germans and scandis love their salami and ham on massive rolls (no stereotyping here), while the French like their own delicacy – the croissant.
Spaniards like to go crazy with the garlic on their pan con tomate – toasted bread rubbed in garlic with tomato paste and olive oil. Especially in southern Spain the Moroccan influence is obvious – after all, north Africa is just across the med. Arabic-style breakfast favorites include raisin bread and honey glazed pastries.
And although they’re not restricted to breakfast time, many spaniards like some churros con chocolate on the side: rectangular donut things dipped in melted chocolate.*
And of course, who doesn’t love a greasy, calorific English fry-up? The eggs, bacon, sausage and baked beans aren’t complete without some lovely black pudding (congealed pigs blood for those of you who don’t know – mmm)…
* it’s surprising Spain has a low obesity rate compared with the rest of Europe, to be honest
** it’s not surprising Britain has one of the highest obesity rates in Europe
Io non ho paura, or I’m not scared in English, is the 2003 film adaptation of a book by Niccolo Ammaniti. It tells the story of nine-year-old Michele, a young boy growing up in an isolated village in southern Italy. During the summer he goes exploring with his gang of friends in the cornfields surrounding his village. There, he discovers a terrifying secret which turns out to be much closer to home than he had previously thought… I’m not scared is definitely a film worth seeing, and despite the fact that non- Italian speakers have to watch it with subtitles, it still manages to be full of suspense and very touching. The book is also very good, and probably worth reading before you watch the film.
Here’s the trailer: