A little politics never hurt anybody…

Whenever I spend a period of time somewhere, something significant in the political world usually happens; the last time, I was in Bangkok for the the 2011 elections- battling my way through series of protests and demonstrations, watching Thai people desperate for Yingluck Shinawatra to get into power…look how that has turned out …

I thought I would focus my attention on the latest turn of events here in Italy, a monumental weekend which will go down in history; the appointment of Matteo Renzi as the youngest ever Prime Minister.

Sworn- in in a lavish ceremony in the Eternal City, life has changed forever for family man Renzi. I can’t help but feel that this is a highly progressive step forward for a nation who still allows the papacy and catholic church to occupy much of their front pages. Ashamedly, I have no idea of any of Renzi’s policies, a scary fact which I think is true of many Italians.

Mass hysteria and morbid curiosity has followed this man for weeks and despite the skepticism around his lack of parliamentary experience, his youth seems to be his salvation. The hopes of many Italians desperate for change rest on the shoulders of someone with a unique perspective; it is entirely new.

As a Brit, I must say, I think this is a very bold move for Italy.  Living in Bari has given me first hand experience of just how divided Italy is. One one hand, I have seen how conservatism and traditionalism rules in parts of the south- people are fiercely against immigration, homosexuality seems to still be a biblical abomination if graffiti in parts of the city are to be believed and multiculturalism is nothing more than a ‘foreign word’. Having said this, I know that this is not the mindset of everyone . A typical day for me is teaching groups of teenagers and progressively thinking adults who are proud of their country and want nothing more than opportunities. Most of my students are exactly like my friends back home and like me; they are trying to carve a career, climb the property ladder,  provide for themselves and their families whilst also trying to save their pennies for the future, not forgetting, trying to have and enjoy their life in addition to battling through a global financial crisis which has no end in sight.

I left university in 2010, amid the recession. I vividly remember reading about how in the UK, we would all have to ‘cut our cloth accordingly’ and make it through 3 years of cuts in order to cut the deficit and have a fully functioning and profitable economy again by 2013. Well, its now 2014 and we are no further forward.

In London, they are told the situation is improving and the economy is now starting to grown. In the UK there is the NHS, a fantastic benefit system, a good system for university where loans can be paid once the graduate has a job with a sufficient income. If you are disabled, you can speak with a social worker and arrange for the relevant care you need, potentially government subsidized. Here things are different. Imagine our discontent in the UK, double it. Add the frustration of laughable, Bond- villain style politicians like Silvio Berlusconi and you have an idea of what my students express to me daily. They tell me how lucky I am because I am English and I have the ability to go and work anywhere in the world because of my native Lingua-franca. They worry about the jobs market, they worry about their education. They worry about nothing changing. The first step towards change is to actually take the first step.

Matteo Renzi is a gamble, but what is life without a gamble?

It is a progressive move that needs to seep into global politics and democratic systems everywhere.

I would like to keep the faith that one day, in the UK we will not have to tolerate a coalition government (who technically, we didn’t elect) we will  take a political gamble and elect a new cabinet all from different socio-economic backgrounds, non of whom went to Eton or speaks with a plummy RP accent. I would like to see young people, pensioners, homosexuals, teachers, nurses and doctors, farmers, former inmates, maybe even teenagers; a cabinet made up of the real people who contribute in real terms to society.

Maybe Renzi will fail, maybe he will be the game changer for the EU, who knows?

All I know is that this bold move by Italy has shown EU politics that these changes can happen, they should, they must happen. What’s the worst that can happen, we are already at rock bottom.

Pretty Woman…Shopping for togs the Italian way

The hero of the hour, Pina, knows how to pull a few strings. Pina and her husband Brian own the school and have shown us nothing but kindness so far. Not only that, Pina can be hard as nails in the best possible way. Her tenacity would give the mafia a run for their money. She also knows EVERYONE here in Bari. It is a fact I would bet good money on. Not only does she know everyone, but they seem so unbelievably grateful to her as at some point in the past they have encountered the school and in turn, the kindness of our very own Don Corleone.

So…it was never going to be a trip to H&M when Dave told Pina he needed some new clobber after pay day. In true Pina fashion, she told us about a shop she visits when she needs to buy male clothes. This shop was owned, of course, by an acquaintance and she assured us we would receive ‘mates rates’ and excellent service. She was not wrong.

Despite being Dave’s tag along, I had one of the nicest shopping experiences of my life. Roberto, the owner of the shop, kindly took us for a coffee before opening the shop and letting Dave peruse his designer boutique. I sat and enjoyed the view from the comfort of a leather sofa while Roberto offered up an array of coats, jumpers, shirts and trousers and gave our very own Julia Roberts the personal shopper experience of a lifetime. Not only did he make sure every single thing Dave needed was catered for, he worked the floor and offered similar assistance to every other customer who came in. Roberto is a true dappa gentleman. He was rocking a nice blazer with colored handkerchief in the pocket, over a turtle necked top with tailored skinny leg checked trousers and boots. Rather quirky and individual for the usual conservative southern Italian males.

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Dave was lapping it up. Of course he was. Customer service of this level is basically non existent in the UK these days. A shop owner who knows his customers by name and is familiar with their families, who takes newbies for coffees is in dire need of resurrection if our high street is to succeed. Roberto was fantastic. Showing us the labels and washing instructions, describing fabrics and showing us the ranges he had in stock of everything. Being a salesman in the UK is a hard slog. As someone who has worked in shops before, I know this. I know it is hard to put in the effort and describe fabrics and thread counts to people who probably don’t care anyways. Which brings me to another reason Saturdays’ shopping trip was so refreshing…

MEN…shopping…alone
MEN…shopping…with their sons
MEN…Shopping
And not out of necessity like all the men in my life do. Shopping out of interest. Genuine interest in fashion and care in their appearance. It was fantastic to see! The image of men shopping in my world is an image I only see very late in December when gifts NEED to be bought and even then, its a reconnaissance job. We plot where each and every store is, then it’s in and out with SAS style precision. No browsing, no coffee stops…god forbid. But here, it’s all about the browsing. Men, carefully feeling materials, eyeballing colours caring about the fit. Not the way the English boys I know, particularly Dennis my brother, throws on a top and as long as it doesn’t feel skin tight, says ‘aye that’ll do’…nothing will just ‘do’ here.

We enjoyed the experience so much that we went back again the following Saturday to let ourselves be shopped and sold to despite having already decided we would buy christmas presents from the wonderful Roberto. Now isn’t that what is missing from our shops? The extra mile to make customers feel special.
Roberto has 2 new customers for life.

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To Bari vecchia and beyond

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So poggiofranco isn’t exactly the most aesthetically pleasing part of the world but it’s a great base to explore southern Italy. What better way to start your adventure than starting your adventure at home. On Sunday, me and Dave decided to brave the new Italian cold front which swept over Puglia on Saturday night and took the bus…our first time on public transport which, I think symbolises the fact we are now official locals here. Once you use public transport and get to know your way around the roads, that’s a sure sign you’re in it for the long haul. Anyways, we took the bus into Bari Centro and walked, walked and walked to explore our relatively new surroundings.

Our first stop was Bari vecchia. Translation, old Bari- Bari vecchia was lit up with a hazy street light glow against our glum, cold and dark back drop was absolutely beautiful to see. I think Bari vecchia may be nicer lit up at night than during the day. Mainly because the buzz of everyone Christmas lights was playing with my festive emotions, getting me even more excited for this coming Christmas.

We wandered aimlessly through the winding labyrinth of streets, passing the old city walls and working our way through the maze, unaware of which direction we were heading in. We passed shrines, nativity scenes and of course the Don of all buildings here in Bari, the basilica dedicated to the patron saint of Bari, Saint Nicholas…father Christmas to me and you…maybe another reason why I am so excited for Christmas!

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The architecture is beautiful. Think quintessentially Italian and you have a sense of what we trekked through. Quaint little coffee shops, takeaway pizza shops with the glow of the authentic wood burning ovens, balconies, peoples sheets hanging high up across narrow passages and the occasional Italian smoker on the corner. Not to forget the ounces of churches we passed and religious relics and statues casting shadows over us in the dark.  

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It seems amazing that cars can even pass through these streets, in my opinion it is almost ludicrous that cars and vehicles are allowed to drive through such charming antiquated streets. It really will be a pleasure to sit out here in these street in the sunshine with a beer in my hand.

Once we made it into the main square area, it was like a prettier scene from 28 days later. Not a soul was out. We continued walking hearing only our own voices and footsteps echoing through the streets. 

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Then we continued on in our quest and ended up in Bari Centro which was a lot busier than where we had just been. It is a crazy juxtapostion of what could be 2 different cities. One modern, busy and thriving city with western chains like H&m and Zara; designer brands like Gucci and Prada are a stark contrast to the stone buildings of yesteryear lain virtually untouched in Bari vecchia. It really is a wonderful contrast. Even the old town gets busy on less cold nights but there is nothing like the poignance of a cold dark and quiet night to really make you appreciate the beauty of somewhere. 

 

Bari may have its problems and has had its fair share of troubles in the past but there is nothing as a good as the rose tinted glasses of a foreigner which can easily see the positives in everything. 

A standard, well deserved rant

MOBILE PHONE CONGLOMERATES!

Why is it, that despite being part of multinational companies, you claim you are unable to offer loyal customers a package which will not incur ridiculous costs when we travel overseas?

My bright spark idea was to reduce my tariff to £10 a month and I expected to pay maybe £10 extra when friends and family use my English number… WRONG! 

I have been paying on average £80 a month!! And for what?! Family email and use my Italian number, my friends don’t text me! EE are so wonderfully technologically gifted that their website conveniently tells me that I am not able to track my data usage- despite the fact I only ever use wifi so there shouldn’t be anything to track?

My heart is broken, I am poor, paying an arm and a leg for a service I barely use and cannot resolve the issue with EE as they only have a telephone number  and no email address for me to explain my problems without a cheeky 30 minute wait on hold! 

Ahh the perks of modern life! Sometimes I wonder, would we all be happier without mobile phones? I know they offer us a life line and boredom boosters but the cost of our tariffs rack up some serious coin. Hard earned working beans that could be spent on a holiday, new clothes, glorious Italian food…

RANT OVER!!! Share if you agree!