English…Playing Games…Learning nothing…I blame the teacher…

Teacher writing on a Chalkboard
I have been trying to be good about eating and drinking since Christmas. I was so good before you see, no alcohol except on special occasions, no biscuits, crisps, cake etc., etc., and I did feel better for it. But alas, since returning from New York I have been very slack allowing myself far too many treats. I’ve tried no alcohol from Monday to Friday but Wednesday is my downfall. On a Wednesday afternoon I teach English and I use the word teach in its widest sense, as I have a group of children ages 7 – 12; a rather wide age span. Really I’m a babysitter for a couple of hours. The sessions are organised by the local Council (Comune). Some of the children have been coming for three years, some two and some only started last November. But, they don’t seem to learn ANY English and by the end of two hours I’m exhausted and just HAVE to open a bottle when I return home to calm my frazzled nerves and relax.

Bottle of Wine and glass

Every week I ask them, ‘What day is it today?’ Remember, I have been doing this every WEDNESDAY for ages and I ask them the same question each week. They look at each other, shrug their shoulders and say, ‘Boh,’ which translated is, ‘Don’t know, don’t care.’

Three Students with Books

They are lovely lively, enthusiastic noisy and energetic naughty kids. All they really want to do is have fun, run about and play games so I try to combine this with learning English. I have devised a number of activities during my time as local teacher. Depending on their mood I usually warm up with some drama activity, which involves miming, singing or jumping about. Their favourite game is SPLAT…It’s a drama circle game and involves shouting, ducking and diving and pretending to shoot each other. Enough said – not a single English word learnt, (unless you include SPLAT) but a jolly good time had by all.

splat2

After all this physical exercise we do a word search. Each week I use a different theme and they love them. They race to beat each other in finding all the words. When they’ve finished finding all the words I make sure they understand the meanings and write them down otherwise there’s little point to the exercise.

This week, for a change, I asked all twelve students to sit down around the table with a blank piece of paper. I also had a blank piece of paper in front of me.

‘Okay,’ I said with poised pencil, ‘you must write down all the words you can remember in English without looking back in your books and then make at least three sentences. I will write down all the Italian words I can remember and then make three sentences. You have ten minutes starting…now!’

hand holding a pencil

Heads went down and they really grafted. I was totally amazed and pleased with how many words they knew, of course the spelling was a bit iffy but even so…perhaps they have learnt something after all.

As for my Italian, well, the kids were pretty impressed with it, but they were quick to tell me that my sentences were grammatically incorrect. In Italy grammar is the most important part of teaching any language, the teachers maintain that you must know all the grammar before you can really speak a language. The problem is, that although the students here are very good on paper, they cannot take part in any conversation. So which side of the fence would you sit on? Grammar or limited grammar? I think there must be a middle ground.

Right, where’s that bottle, think I need a drop right now, just writing about the lessons has given me stress and anxiety!

FOOTNOTE: I wrote this little piece last Friday and as I post it today I have to tell you that I am in agony. I fell over on the wet decking outside last Saturday evening (I had NOT been drinking) and crack! A rib or two went…ouch, it’s painful. Sadly, I will not be able to teach tomorrow and I feel really bad about it. I really do love the kids I teach and will miss them tomorrow and hope they miss me…

Al Fresco…or is it?

First of all, the expression ‘Al Fresco’ although they are Italian words, are not used in the same way in Italy. ‘Al fresco’ to the the Italians means ‘in the cooler’ an expression which is the same as the slang, meaning ‘in prison’.  If they talk about eating outside they say, ‘all’aperto’ (in the open) or maybe ‘a fuori’ (outside). Strange that an Italian phrase used all over the world means something different in its country of origin. I blame the Americans…I’m joking!

We love eating outside. We can do it here in Italy for probably two thirds of the year. I know the weather has been good in the UK for a while and I’m pleased that all my friends and relations living there have been able to enjoy eating in the sunshine or under the stars, having picnics and barbecues.

Friends at Re Squarchio

Friends at Re Squarchio

Andrea Preparing the Tables

Andrea Preparing the Tables

Andrea from the Ristorante Re Squarchio put his tables outside about a month ago and we have been there twice already this season. It’s wonderful to sit close to the Tre Archi. This is the triple arched gateway, built of local brick, at the entrance to the old Medieval town centre. They have recently been restored for only the second time since they were built about 500 years ago.  At night they are lit up, in green, white and red, the colours of the Italian flag. I always feel a sense of history, imagining the many people entering our town throughout the ages, travellers, monks, nuns, aristocrats, peasants, tax collectors…ooh I think I’ll stop there.

My Sausage Rolls

My Sausage Rolls

Last weekend in Petritoli we enjoyed the International Supper. All the stranieri (foreigners) living here make a plate of food typical of their country and take it to be offered as part of the buffet. I had intended to make Toad in the Hole but decided the batter would be soggy before it could be eaten so I made Sausage Rolls. Not very adventurous I know but in previous years I have made, Shepherd’s Pie, and a Victoria Sponge, so had to think of something different. Of course I stupidly put on Facebook that I was doing Toad in the Hole, consequently there were some disappointed faces and questions but as they didn’t have a clue what Toad in the Hole was, Rospo nel Buco is the literal Google translation but goodness knows what the Italians would have made of that,. Anyone know the derivation of Toad in the Hole?

other food Romanian

Italian Salami

Italian Salami

This town is not very big, about 2000 people in Petritoli and the small towns of Valmir and Moregnano belonging to the same parish,  but 10% of those living here are foreigners and that 10% come from over twenty different countries. The food was brilliant, I always like the Mexican and the Albanian food. The Italians are not very gastronomically adventurous but those who attended the evening enjoyed it immensely and there were shouts of ‘complimenti’ all round. Having said that, the Italian friends we sat with ate the Italian food that they brought with them!

It was a successful evening with entertainment and of course a raffle with some great prizes, I won a jar of olives and a bottle of wine, not quite what I had my eye on but nevertheless a win is a win. Someone else won the dinner at Re Squarchio….(damn them).

My Raffle Prize

My Raffle Prize

Out on our deck in the town we can eat breakfast, lunch and dinner in the sun or shade. The view is stunning and I will never tire of the scene, beautiful Marche countryside rolling down to the sea, with Medieval hilltop towns dotted here and there. Lucky us.

viewAll three bars in Petritoli also have their tables out now. By the photos you would think they weren’t busy but that’s down to the time they were taken. At 6.30pm most evenings everyone is out taking a stroll (passeggiata), stopping for drinks and nibbles (aperitivi) or ice cream, (gelato) Chatting and passing the time of day with each other. It’s a wonderful way of life.

Tre Archi Bar

Tre Archi Bar

Fanny Bar

Fanny Bar

Crist'El Bar

Crist’El Bar

Festa De Le Cove… harvest festival Italian style…

oxen

Oxen – Photograph courtesy of Giancarlo Fabiani

There are an inordinate number of festas (street parties/festivals) and sagras (usually to do with eating) happening all over Italy for most of the summer months. Wherever you go there will be people eating, dancing and drinking in small towns and villages all of them offering something traditional and steeped in history. In Petritoli we have several of these and the biggest is the Festa De Le Cove. It’s a harvest festival celebration of sorts. A whole weekend of fun.

Posh Mum and Dad

Posh Mum and Dad

Posh Daughter

Posh Daughter

The basic idea is that the people from the surrounding countryside, the ‘contadini’ (peasant farmers) come into the centre of town with offerings of grain for the ‘aristocracy’ the corn is blessed by the priest, the rich people leave the town giving the farmers the run of the place for the weekend. They have a ball, dancing, eating and drinking. Until they have to leave on the Sunday evening. I may not have got this exactly right but I’m sure someone out there will correct me if I’m widely missing the point. Today it’s symbolic the people don’t actually leave town – everyone joins in the festivities.

Contadini Family

Contadini Family

The festival culminates with a procession of floats which have the most amazing sculptures made from straw and corn. This year the procession was led by a magnificent pair of oxen pulling a cart full of sheaves of straw. (Cove is the word for sheaves.) Other floats included a scythe, a ladybird (lucky symbol here), a 10 lira coin and a model of the wonderful Petritoli Tower. There was also an old threshing machine on show, many stands selling local crafts. Here you can see a video of the procession and dancing. I hope the quality is okay…it took me about 4 hours to put it together and it’s my first attempt so don’t expect too much!

Food stands sold, pizzette (deep fried pizza base I think), roast goose, pasta, polenta, bruschetta and much more. Oh and plenty of wine of course!

A side street in the town

A side street in the town

The town is beautifully decorated and each year there’s a different theme, this year it was poppies and sunflowers. At the roundabouts and road junctions they put life size dummies made of straw – I love them!

man with fork Mr and Mrs

These two look like they've had a row!

These two look like they’ve had a row!

Everyone can dance the traditional Saltarello, they dance behind the floats, they dance in the square, the children and teenagers perform on the stage it’s a lively dance and it’s great fun but they never, never change the music! it’s the same from around 10am in the morning until they finally close down after midnight. By the end you cannot get the song out of your head and it inhibits sleep and stays with you for days! The vocals are interesting, if you can understand them! They make the words up as they go along. Often the lyrics are risqué, sung in the local dialect and directed to passers by and people sitting at tables. A couple of years ago I was the victim of the song and my Italian ‘friends’ fell about laughing, raising their eyebrows and thoroughly enjoying the joke of which I was obviously the centre but sadly, or perhaps gladly, I couldn’t understand one word.

ladybird

Ladybird – Photograph courtesy of Giancarlo Fabiani

scythe

Scythe – Photograph courtesy of Giancarlo Fabiani

bell tower

Petritoli Bell Tower – Photograph courtesy of Giancarlo Fabiani

Thank you Giancarlo Fabiani for some of the photographs this week. Giancarlo has an old printing press in the centre of Petritoli, it’s been in his family for many generations. I may blog about it one day as it’s very interesting.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this week’s blog and looking at the photos and video. I’m going to take a well earned rest in the afternoon sun. 🙂