Leftover risotto and the women’s refuge

Arancini di riso are literally small oranges of rice or leftover risotto, deep-fried and delicious. My kids love them, so whenever I make risotto I generally make extra for arancini the day after.

My recipe was given to me by a woman I met in a women’s refuge. I was there at the refuge with my eight year old son and he loved the arancini. We were invited to their party and he wanted to come with me. I wanted him to come with me. I want him to grow up and remember that party. I want him to grow up and remember the arancini and the woman who prepared them that evening and above all remember why she was there. You can generally explain most things to kids if you use the right language. Where you say you can’t, it’s often merely an excuse. Yet there is still a certain element of stigma that surrounds women’s refuges, as if the women were in some way at fault, that’s all part of the stigma still associated with domestic violence.

Next Wednesday 8th March women will strike in forty countries all over the world. They’ll strike as part of the Ni una menos movement. It was the slogan launched by a group of journalists when women took to the streets in Argentina in 2015 and has now become a movement. It comes from a text “Ni una di mujer menos, ni una muerta mas” (not one woman less, not one death more) by Susana Chevez, the Mexican poet and activist who was killed in 2011 for having denounced gender crimes and violence against Mexican women. The Women’s marches are joining the strike and planning their A Day without a Woman. It’s an international women’s movement and it’s happening now. The movement is growing every day. In Italy, strikes will take place in many cities and towns from north to south.

There are many forms of violence. It doesn’t have to be physical or even explicit. Violence against women in Italy was identified by the UN 2012 report as cultural and therefore structural. It’s rooted within society. Femmicide takes seed where women are treated as second class citizens, where women are objectified, where there is a belief that a man is superior to a woman.

We all hear stories of women in abusive relationships, both physical and psychological women in non-abusive relationships who stay in loveless marriages for want of any way out. If a woman is dependent economically, it makes it very difficult for her to leave. How many women stay in abusive marriages because they know that if they do at least they’re assuring food and clothes and a roof over their heads for their children? And where the state is not doing enough to provide the right working conditions in which women can work, it is locking the key in the door.

This week the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled that Italy failed to protect a mother and her son from domestic violence. The authorities failed to respond to complaints by the woman and the result was murder of the son and attempted murder of the mother. They were accused of underestimating the violence and thus effectively endorsing it. It’s a landmark case.

Children are still studying from textbooks where daddy goes off to work and mummy makes cakes and they all go off to grandma’s on Sundays. The stereotypes are alive and kicking in the elementary classrooms of 2017. In Lombardy the recent gender theory proposals to help change gender stereotypes in schools were not just refused, they set up a helpline for people to report any examples of gender theory within schools. Yet research proves that violence against women takes root in environments where women are not treated equally to men.

You speak to other women and the story is often the same. It begins with a personal awareness, and this then translates into action.

Nutella for grown-ups

My kids were little and we were by the lake. I was making Nutella sandwiches.

“And if we ever have kids, they’re not eating any of that crap,” this guy sitting near(ish) to us said to his girlfriend.

I too had been that mother of the my kids will never eat Nutella variety. Before I had kids. Then I had kids and if my older son loves chocolate then that’s my fault as I distinctly remember sharing chocolate when he was probably only just about old enough for it to be considered appropriate for him to eat it.

Needless to say, he loves Nutella. Ask any Italian child and they will tell they love Nutella. It’s an institution. School kids take Nutella sandwiches for their mid morning break. They eat it as a snack when they come home from school.

Both my own kids love Nutella, and every time I bring a jar of Nutella into the house, I am generally horrified by how little time it lasts and each time I vow that not another jar of Nutella is setting foot in this house.

Until the next time.

“Brioche with Nutella?” A friend asked me one day when we were having bar at the breakfast.

“Yes, why?”

It was more of a kids’ thing. Nutella wasn’t for adults.

Oh but Nutella is for adults too. There’s panettone spread with Nutella at Christmas. there’s being up in the mountains all crammed into a house and staying up late and dipping leftover bread into a jar of Nutella that was supposed to last the week, there’s sitting round the table with your kids after school eating Nutella sandwiches and knowing that it’s for your benefit as much as theirs.

It’s the comfort, like mashed potato and mashed up Weetabix, comfort where the world seems to have lost it, comfort where there are times you’re living that you’d really rather not be living at that moment in time.

It’s a part of the world that’s always there, that’s telling you that things are still as they should be.

And if all this is signified in a jar of soft, velvety Nutella and a piece of bread, then surely there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Focaccia genovese and Recco beach

Focaccia will always have a special place in my heart, or rather in my stomach. Food is emotional, and it’s what I remember eating when I first came here twenty years ago. There was a shop around the corner from the school where I worked. I’d go off and buy it for my lunch and then go down and sit by the lake. Now I buy focaccia for my kids, the little ones, the focaccine, and they take them to school for their mid-morning snack.

Which is why any trip to Liguria has to involve focaccia, and no less so than to Genoa. Genoa is great for street food. For a start, it’s the kind of place that encourages street food. (Why go off and sit in a restaurant when you can see all this?) And the food it offers is magnificent. Remember, Genoa is the home of focaccia genovese, and focaccia genovese is to be eaten to be believed.

The origins of focaccia are ancient. Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians all prepared focaccia with barley, millet and rye flour. It’s derived from the Latin focus, meaning hearth or fireplace which is where the bread was traditionally cooked. It’s the bread of travellers and sailors, and nowhere does this seem more adapt than in the heart of Genoa’s Medieval historical centre. Genoa, once a maritime republic, and now a multi-attraction city that is definitely worth the visit.

Focaccia genovese or fugàssa as it’s known in the local dialect is flatter than other focaccia you may find in Italy – generally no more than 2cm high. It’s renowned for the fact that it’s covered in an emulsion of olive oil and flavoured with rock salt. And then there’s the farinata, a kind of pancake made of chickpea flour.

We’d only been in Genoa about, ooh a good ten minutes, and there was the usual “mum, did you bring any snacks? Mum, I’m hungry. Mum, can we eat something?” It’s like that with boys. They need feeding. Often.

Spot a few could-be locals, and “Excuse me, where you can get the best focaccia?”

The directions were a bit vague and neither of them could remember the name of the place (par for course, as you learn), and off we trek into the alleyways or caruggi of Genoa. The place we went to was Focaccia e… on Via San Lorenzo by the cathedral, although to be honest you could go to any focacceria and not be disappointed.

And it was delicious.

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Focaccia di Recco (left) and Farinata (right) 

The other type of focaccia famous around here is the focaccia di Recco, a thin almost pancake-like bread filled with a soft cheese, stracchino, that is at its best when eaten warm.

On the beach at Recco, just like this was. And no better way to eat it.

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Down amidst the cheeses at the deli

People say that you rarely get chance to eat anything on your wedding day. Wrong. I ate everything, deliberately made a point of finishing every single morsel of the menu me and my husband had painstakingly discussed with the chef. It was a three-day lakeside wedding (Lake Como), where English ladies in hats met Italian men in sunglasses and dark suits. I knew it would be the only time in my life where almost everyone I cared about was together, and so it was. And as time charges on and some people are no longer here, it’s become all the more precious.

I got married in a Medieval Catholic church, because I loved the setting and I wanted the frescoes. If I think about any church aspect now (and I deliberately say church and not religion), I’d sacrifice the frescoes for coherence.

A good ten years later, and now I stand at the deli and take my place with all the other women, the wives and the mothers and the housewives, paper ticket from the machine in hand. An Italian wedding leads, like all marriages, to a certain level of domestic life.

And here we have it, the Italian deli, as featured at my local supermarket.

To one side we have the cheeses. Every area generally reflects its local produce, and remember here we’re in the north. So here in Lombardy you can expect latterie, semi-hard cheeses, to figure significantly. Go up to the mountains in summer and you will see them up there in the pastures using the old tried and tested methods.Then there’s bitto from the Valtellina, caprini (soft goats cheeses), Grana Padano made from milk in the Po river valley, and Parmigiano Reggiano, or parmesan as we call it in English. Not that it has anything to do with what we may call parmesan. Parmigiano Reggiano comes only from the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Bologna, Modena and Mantua, parmigiano meaning “of Parma” and reggiano meaning “of Reggio Emilia.” Cut off whole chunks and taste the real thing. And then there’s gorgonzola from the Milanese town of the same name. Go for the creamier version and leave it get to room temperature before eating. And these are just a few of the regulars at your local deli.

Behind are the cold meats, a few salamis (salame milano a great choice for salami sandwiches) and huge legs of Parma ham, or what we generally call Parma ham but actually includes two types of prosciutto crudo, literally raw ham in contrast with prosciutto cotto which is cooked. The first is prosciutto di Parma and comes from the province of Parma in the north of Emilia Romagna. Whereas the second is from San Daniele di Friuli in the province of Udine in Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Both are delicious, the second being slightly sweeter. In any case, eat wrapped around fresh autumn figs for maximum pleasure.

The picture shows robioline, soft cheeses deliberately wrapped in leaves to give added flavour. Robiolina  literally means little robiola, a type of cheese which takes its name from Robbio in the province of Pavia, but which can found all over, typically in the Brescia area and in the hilly UNESCO protected Langhe in Piedmont.

Any cheese that’s wrapped in a leaf deserves to take centre stage, and then eaten.

Cappuccino, brioche and the day is mine

I love Italian cafés, or bars as they’re called here.

Of course you can’t generalise. Not all of them are such shrines to all things sweet. Some are best avoided, generally the ones where you walk in and there are a load of old men. Not that I have anything against old men, but it’s often a sign. In Spain if I walk in and there are a lot of old men, chances are they serve good tapas. In Italy, it’s not quite the same.

In both cases, if you’re looking for a quick toilet, don’t. They probably won’t even have real toilets preferring the Turkish variety. And in any case they won’t be clean. Although this is no guarantee. You can go to the chicest bar in Milan and chances are you’ll still be clambering down some rather lethal staircase into somewhere you probably were better off giving a miss.

Choose your bar, and choose your toilet, with care.

On the other hand, the best of Italian bars are almost like living works of art. And it’s not just about the food. It’s the whole atmosphere. From the group of mums who have just done drop-off to the businessmen having their quick caffé before going off to the office, it’s clear that the Italian bar is central to Italian life.

Some of them are very traditional, family-run and have a regular clientele that’s been going there for years, and are often the best. My local bar is like this. It was one of the first bars I came across when I moved to the area and it’s still my favourite. I walk in and the world is as it should be.

Today there were some particularly appealing chocolate and raspberry affairs sitting in the cabinet where I walked in (see main picture). Not strictly cakes, they are actually semifreddos. Or semifreddi, more like a mousse disguised as a cake, as a result of its semi-frozen texture. And utterly beautiful. Too good to be eaten? Not quite. Trust me, they need to be eaten.

There’s something so very civilised about going out for breakfast in Italy. Or maybe that should be there’s something so very civilised about having cake for breakfast, even if a brioche doesn’t strictly count as cake. I remember when I came here years ago, I’d go around in raptures like some kind of crazed Marie Antoinette. “Oh, let us eat cake for breakfast! How wonderful it is to eat cake for breakfast!” And I’d sit and have pasticcini (little pastries) for breakfast, and think I’d arrived in some form of culinary paradise.

And what better way to start your day than looking across a glass cabinet that’s full of various brioches? Take your pick: various types of jam, chocolate, Nutella (who says Nutella isn’t for grown-ups?), pistacchio, Gianduia (like Nutella), apple and so on. This morning I had an extremely buttery and delicious affair with cooked cream (a bit like custard), raisins and almond flakes. And the whole thing was freshly dusted in icing sugar.

Then there’s the coffee. Italy is famous for its coffee, and Italian coffee can be seriously good. Cappuccinos are smooth and creamy and caffé lattes are the real thing and served in a glass and not a paper carton. Coffees don’t come in sizes, they come in cups. And that’s how it should be. And in spite of Starbucks’ recent invasion of Milan’s Piazza del Duomo complete with palm trees and protests, well, let’s just leave it at this. They might do a caramel frappuccino, but personally, I’d rather have this.

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Car

I needed a new car. My old one had reached the stage that if I drove it any longer it would die. Literally. And probably somewhere very inconvenient with the kids in the back.

So off I went. It’s amazing when you do something like buy a new car how all your fears that stereotypes are still alive and well are once again confirmed.

“I think I have just the thing for you, Signora,” the guy in the Toyata showroom said to me. “Here we are,” as he proudly opened the boot in a rather da-daaa kind of way. “Look at this for a boot. You can get all your shopping in here.”

I’d hit the moment where I could either stand there and just smile nonetheless, or open my mouth. I chose the latter.

“Excuse me, but I don’t think you understand,” I began. “I’m only here buying a car like this because I have two kids and all the crap that goes with carrying two kids around. If it were up to me and me alone, I wouldn’t even be here in the first place. I’d be off buying an Abarth.”

Needless to say, I didn’t buy the car.

After there was the brash young guy. “Ring your husband Signora,” he told me, as he laid back in his swivel chair, “and get him to buy you this one.”

Then there was the guy with the Fiat 500L. Never buy a car from a man who tries to sell you a 500L. A Panda 4×4 has a purpose. It will get you up any mountain where you want to go. A Fiat Abarth is the ultimate joy, providing you don’t fall for a second-hand one that’s been thrashed by some young kid. But a Fiat 500L? No. Not for me, thanks.

It all reminded me of the time I went to buy a TV with my husband and kids. There we were standing in the showroom with another brash young guy that was showing us all that was on offer.

“And then we have this, signora,” and he looked at me as if he were showing me the crown jewels. “This would be perfect. You could do the ironing in front of this.”

Another of those moments, of which my husband was also aware. He looked at me with his “oh here we go” expression.

“I think you’ve got the wrong woman,” I hissed. “I DON’T iron. Come on boys. We’re going.”

It’s all part of the world of subtle sexism, although in this case not very subtle at all. Buy a car, buy a TV, and you’ve got woman written all over you especially if you’re over 30, and people or rather men just presume they can assume. Only I don’t sit and take it any more. I have no intentions of sitting and taking it any more.

And every time it happens it makes me more even more resolved how to bring up my boys. So one day they will grow up into men that will break the mould. It’s the responsibility of being the mother of boys, especially in a country as patriarchal as the one in which I live. And the examples are everywhere. Boys do boys’ things and girls do girls’ things, and it starts from when they are young. You try to break through the stereotypes but you’re working against the majority.

I bought my car in the end. I went to this garage with a nice enough guy who let me test-drive it in our local hills. We went off one sunny morning. In fact he let me drive several of his cars which is always a bonus. I like driving other people’s cars, especially when they’re faster than mine.

“You can drive,” he told me. “You know how to use first gear while you’re driving.”

The implication could have easily been for a woman, and it probably was although he had the courtesy not to say it.

So I gave him the benefit of the doubt yet it still hung in the air.

It always hangs in the air.

Things I’ve learned from living abroad

  • Living abroad is very different to being on holiday. Sounds obvious, but needs saying. Of course you can stretch out that holiday feeling but sooner or later reality kicks in.
  • Upping sticks and moving abroad usually might mean leaving your job as well as your own country, family etc. It might seem very romantic to go off and live with your Italian boyfriend in his Italian village at the time. But what are you going to do when you get there? Get a job to go to. Or look as soon as you get there. Alternatively, any big project while keep you going for a while.
  • Get out, get out and get out. You’re here to meet people.
  • Don’t fall into the comfort zone of what’s immediately around you. Comfort zones can lose their appeal. Keep forcing yourself out of yours. This applies whether you’ve been in a place a year or twenty years.
  • Remember why you’re there. This may be work, family or simply because you love the place. It will give you something to hang onto during difficult times. Chances are the good times will come round again.
  • Learn the language. Do it. People are more like to accept you if they can speak your language. It’s your passport to the country. And if you stay there long enough, it will give you a whole new social and cultural identity.
  • Make yourself a family. And I don’t mean partner, kids and in-laws. Finding your tribe is the best support and therapy there is.
  • There’s a huge psychological difference between living abroad for a few years and living abroad when you know it’s permanent.
  • Be kind to yourself. Contrary to what we may be led to believe, not everyone is upping sticks and offing all the time. It’s a big change. Become an expert at your own hygge.
  • Remember to enjoy it. Always take time out for the best bits. You came for that amazing view from the café up on the cliffs? Make sure you make time to revisit it.

Live Italian, eat Italian

Living in Italy you soon become aware that food has god-like status, on a par with football, Ferrari and your mother. It’s the focus of animated conversations, the holy grail at the end of many a Sunday drive (sometimes for several hours) and everyone has an opinion. Food is revered and respected, which is maybe why my in-laws could never accept the fact that my toddlers ate with their hands and flung any undesirables around the kitchen. No, you just don’t do that. Food, mealtimes, the whole ritual of being a tavola is an integral part of Italian DNA and possibly one of the things I most love about living here.

Seasons are still marked by food: late-summer fresh figs, the arrival of wild mushrooms, and then the panettones appear in the supermarkets and what better breakfast than a slice of panettone and glass of milk before you go to school. Winter is also the season of cassoeula where I live, a pork dish made with sausage and savoy cabbage, and grown men discuss how their mothers make it and the subtle differences and various merits of including or leaving out various parts of pig. (Read skin, trotters and the rest.)

Polenta, wild boar stews, pizzoccheri (buckwheat pasta with potatoes, cabbage and cheese flavoured with garlic and obscene amounts of butter), brasato (braised joints of meat) and here we are in the mountains of Lombardy and it’s freezing outside but the log fire is lit and life is good.

Then Spring arrives, and after, the first hot days with people buying honeydew melons and Parma ham, and before we know it we’re back into summer again and an abundance of tomatoes which are then bottled into home-made tomato sauces at the end of the season.

Up Grigna, Lake Como way

It was supposed to be a family affair, the four of us. “Have we got enough petrol?” “Yes, of course we have.” Of course we have enough petrol.

“Excuse me, how much further is it to the start of the walk?” I ask. The man cycling upwards pulls a face. “Oh, about four kilometres.”

Not so long after we’re sitting in the back of a car of a couple from Milan, myself squashed between my two kids, and I’m telling them the story of how my husband dropped us off earlier and is now somewhere on the shores of Lake Como with a petrol can, and thanking them profusely for giving us a lift up to where the walk is really supposed to start.

It’s all worth it though. Granted, there’s the occasional sheer drop and excessive scree but that’s what it’s like up Grigna, that huge mountain massif in the province of Lecco above Lake Como. It’s calcareous and dolomitic for a start – just like the Dolomite mountains that stretch across Trentino and Alto Adige – and renowned for its huge rocky peaks and world-famous climbing opportunities. Today we’re walking the stretch from above Cainallo to Rifugio Bogani up at 1900m. This matters for my son. How high is it, mum? How high is it? There are several people already coming back down. They greet us with the friendly air of people who walk regularly in the mountains. No pretences, just a genuine appreciation and respect for all that is around them. Mountains can be a great leveller.

There is a famous saying by an Italian Alpinist Beato Contardo Ferrini, a Franciscan monk who also became a saint. “It is by overcoming the obstacles of nature in the mountains that you learn to overcome the obstacles of life.” It’s carved onto a slab of rock in a valley where the cows are taken to pasture in summer and fresh cheeses smell of meadows and the cycle of life; and it’s always there at the back of my mind.

Mum, I want to go to the top. Mum, can we go right to the top? Mum, when can we go right to the top?

Rifugio Bogani, Vò di Moncodeno, 23825 Esino Lario LC, 368 352 7021

It’s always advisable to ring and book if you’re wanting to eat at the refuge, and especially with the new COVID restrictions.

Pizzoccheri

I can trace my life in a dish of pizzoccheri.

I’d just met my husband and we were spending all our weekends driving backwards and forwards in the dead of night up mountain passes as snow fell onto the windscreen. We’d park the car in the early hours of the morning and traipse down sometimes through half a metre of snow to get to the house we’d rented. There were evenings of at least twenty of us crammed round tables, everyone shouting and vying for attention. It’s how I learnt Italian. Not understanding anything and then gradually starting to understand something. Rose-tinted windows? Naturally.

Pizzoccheri, oozing, dripping, smothered in butter, the ultimate form of comfort food. Or rather buckwheat tagliatelle with cabbage or kale depending on your preference, a hint of garlic and plenty of butter and local cheese.

It’s an old dish, first recorded in 1548 by Ortensio Landi, and speaks the history of the valleys and pastures of the north of Italy. You can eat it in Valtellina, a broad valley that goes from the top of Lake Como as far as the Swiss border, and you can eat it in Valsassina, the valley above Lecco at the bottom of the eastern fork of Lake Como. The cheese generally used is casera – da casera, meaning from the room where it’s left to mature – or latteria coming from latte (milk).

There are other versions, some of which add wild mushrooms, but below is the link to the Latteria Valtellina recipe, which I think is about as authentic as you can get:

http://www.latteriavaltellina.it/en/recipes/pizzoccheri-della-valtellina/

Buon appetito!

Up in the mountains with kids

Little did I imagine when I came to Italy that one day I’d be walking through the mountains with my kids.

But do your kids walk? I get asked. Well yes, they do. I don’t know whether this is because they have a mother who walks and makes them walk. I can’t bear the thought of my kids not walking. And for that reason it’s always been a priority.

The following also helps:

  1. Everything is an adventure. Whether you’re looking for heffalumps, Eeyore or poisionous grass snakes, it always helps to be looking for something. Be careful with how you play the latter though. I managed to scare my 8 year old once regarding the grass snakes. Result: huge tantrum up the side of a mountain and refusal to go any further.
  2. Food. Sounds obvious but essential. Kids need energy, kids need food. As soon as the car stops on the way up to the mountains, my two will inevitably start. Mum, I’m hungry. Mum, what have we got to eat? Pack for breakfast, lunch and tea. On Sunday we went to the mountains and didn’t take anything. We were going to a mountain refuge for lunch so I didn’t think we’d need anything. WRONG. 11 o’clock and we’re all in the bar eating brioche. And we had breakfast before we left.
  3. Don’t be a pack horse. Give them a rucksack each. Pack bottle of water, sandwiches, crips, fruit (skip bananas, they get squashed). Give to the appropriate child and get him or her to carry it. The same applies if your partner is there that day. Like anything to do with kids, consistency is the key.
  4. Take a friend, their friend. Kids will do it if they see others do it. And if your kids are still quite young and any of your friends have older kids, you’re onto a winner. And excuse you if you just lie back in the lounger in the sunshine and finish off your glass of wine…
  5.  Don’t give in. Kids will come up with every excuse they can think of to get out of going in the first place. And really, why would they want to leave the comfort of their sofas? If all else fails, pack their bags for them, grab the boots, kids out of the door and you’re off. They can always put their boots on in the car.
  6. Don’t worry too much about the weather. Obviously you don’t want to be stuck up a mountain in severe weather conditions as that would be downright dangerous for all. But if it doesn’t quite turn out as expected, don’t give yourself a hard time. You’re not a cruel mother, you’re making memories. Mum, do you remember when we went to that refuge and it snowed? Mum, do you remember when we got caught in that storm and I ran down the mountain with Filippo under his jacket? One exception is heat. Heat and midday sun is not pleasant, and can make you ill. In summer, start early.
  7. Relax and enjoy. Okay, so it’s off the cliché scale, but really, believe me, you are giving your child a gift for life. My brother and I spent virtually the whole of our childhoods traipsing up and down some hill or other in the Yorkshire Dales and across the North York Moors. He now traipses round the same hills with his son. I traipse up and down mountains with my kids. Nothing beats getting to the top and your son running round with joy, shouting “Mummy it’s beautiful! Thank you, mummy!”
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Mummy, it’s beautiful! Angeloga, Province of Sondrio, Lombardy 

Mountain refuge

Yesterday I was sitting in a mountain refuge with my oldest Italian friends. It’s the thing I like doing best. Walking up a mountain, taking in the views of the said mountain and then sitting in a mountain refuge and eating mountain food. It was an early birthday celebration, a day with friends and their teenage son who I remember being born and have known all his life. It happens when you live in a place for a while. You make history here.

“I’ve just realised I’ll be twenty years older than the age I was when I first came here,” I said as I finished off the polenta and wild mushroom stew.

And in twenty years nothing much has changed. I’m still sitting in mountain refuges, older, with two children and an Italian husband.

Conversation in the car with my elder son.

“But mum,” he began, “could you not speak ANY Italian when you came here?”

“No, I learned it when I got here.”

“But how long did it take you to learn it?”

“I can’t remember. A few years. I learned most of it in the mountains, when dad and I used to go skiing every weekend.”

Silence, which means he’s thinking.

“You know what I once did. I once needed a stamp and I didn’t know the word. So I made it up. I kept saying to the guy, timbra, timbra. I thought, well it’s timbre in French so it could be something similar.”

Elder son starts laughing.

“Anyway, so he said francobollo. So, I thought right, it must be a shop called Franco Bollo.”

“Francobollo?”

“Yeah, you know, Franco. Franco Bollo. So off I went to look for a shop called Franco Bollo.”

“Oh, muuuum…”

Once there was a young woman who went round a shopping centre for a good half hour looking for a shop called Franco Bollo.

She’d arrived in Italy only a month before liked some kind of 90s Lucy Honeychurch with a bright orange puffer jacket and a vague desire to travel. She stood out like an amber traffic light. Very few Northern Italian woman wore bright orange puffers jackets and certainly not in provincial lakeside towns. She got on and off trains and went up and down a lake and looked at the mountains and wanted to go. She loved all of it: the food, the scenery, the places, the people. Which is what Italy is all about, all that, and never judging a book by its cover.

That’s the bit you learn later, when the dream becomes reality.