Stet by Ria Bacon

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

At the lake

"Is it summer today?"
"Can we go swimming today?"
"I want to go to the beach!"

Until last weekend, our kids had had to make do with hosing each other down on the balcony when they got too hot. But there was no denying it last week that summer was finally here.

And when Rome gets hot, Romans go to the beach. All three million of them. At the same time. On the same road. Need I say more?

When we first visited Italy three years ago, we stayed by chance at Lake Bracciano, an hour's drive north of Rome. Since then it has become our favourite summer destination. It's never busy. The water is clean (it supplies drinking water to Rome). There are no motor boats allowed on the water, so it's always very quiet. The surrounding countryside is stunningly beautiful. There is also one of my favourite restaurants just by the beach, La Vela, which serves fresh fish from the lake and seafood from the coast, 30 minutes away.

Our kids play in the water the whole day.

This will give you some idea of what I'm talking about - Lake Bracciano panorama

Monday, May 30, 2005

U Ria

Today's post is in Preston.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Soft bottom trawling

Editing technical documents occasionally (very occasionally) produces some chuckles, especially if you have a sense of humour in arrested development:

Instrumentation for bottom characterization
Grabs and cores provide quantitative samples, but are not suitable for patchy distributed fauna of low abundance. Cameras are the only sampling method used on rough bottoms.

Section 3 promises an exposure of
Otter trawling on hard bottom habitats with erect structures
Can't wait for the search engines to pick up on that one.

Coco de mer nut

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


When you first enter the shop, the smell of cheese and ham is overpowering.

Claudio Volpetti in his shop

Volpetti's: probably the best deli in Rome; definitely one of the main reasons we're still here, particularly since it's only a ten-minute walk from our house. We eat at their self-service restaurant, Volpetti più, at least once a week. So after almost three years we get great service to go with the great food - exchange of pleasantries, extra goodies for the kids, gluten-free meal for my son, lasagne hot from the oven and a complimentary glass of bardolino.

A final point in its favour is that it opens at 5:30, which suits our northern European routine of eating before 9:00. (Our kids are in bed when most Italian kids are eating dinner.)

For such extraordinary food, the restaurant is surprisingly unpretentious: self-service, plastic cloths on the tables and cheap metal chairs. The crowd is unpretentious too, mainly locals from the neighbourhood, Testaccio, a traditional working-class area built around the defunct city slaughterhouse, converted into a mediateque.

Testaccio is one of my favourite quarters of Rome. Its market is as colourful as the more famous one at Campo di Fiori, but the prices are lower. One of the stalls sells only tomatoes - 42 different varieties.

When the slaughterhouse was the main employer in the neighbourhood, the workers were given the cheap cuts as a perk of the job. This is why many of the restaurants boast of their ... tripe specialities.

After a dinner of sweetbread, you can go round Monte Testaccio to one of the many clubs built into the base of the hill, which is itself made entirely from pottery shards.

"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."

You better believe it, baby.

Monday, May 23, 2005


I'm co-blogsitting for Tim while he's on holiday, so today's post is here.

Coblogsitting - I'm going to add that to Neolang.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Zap mama

It probably started in the playground. My daughter picked up that there were "cartoons on the television at six o'clock". We have a TV but only use it to watch tapes and DVDs. When her brother joined in the chant, "cartoons at six o'clock! Cartoons at six o'clock!" and they both started hanging on my legs like limpets, I gave in and got the cable for the aerial connection.

We've done this before: got excited that we might see something new only to be frustrated after ten minutes of zapping without finding anything of the slightest interest. The picture quality is crap too - only about five of the 30-odd channels are clear enough to watch without squinting through the snow.

Now it's well known that Italian television is really bad, with Z-list Italian celebs singing karaoke while busty showgirls pout and twirl. You know that and you don't need to see it again.

No, you don't.
(And if you came here after googling "busty+showgirls", you should look elsewhere.)

What you need to see is the really really bad stuff. So sit back and relax ...

... with the carpet channel.

TV - carpets
I love the way the camera pans ever so slowly across the casually strewn carpets, before gently zooming in to show the tassle details or a delicate bounding goat motif. You have to turn the sound down, though, because Carpet Man never stops talking. Actually, there is a voice off screen that leads him on when he seems to be losing the thread: "So this one also has a super 50 plus 10 percent discount, is that right?" "Yes! Yes!" replies the Carpet Man with renewed vigour.

Of course, if you watch long enough, your critical faculties may become so numbed that you might want to buy a carpet.


No fear of a compulsive purchase here ...

TV - Fun Stepper
The new and exciting feature of the Fun Stepper is its unique oblique foot-and-ankle double workout! Which is good ... because ... my ankles are fat?

Note that your legs also have a better tan with the super Fun Stepper.


TV - art
Art! It's hideous but there's a 40 percent discount!!


TV - tarot (1)
Laura holds the future in her tarot cards. Calls cost € 1.86 per minute only. Maximum forty minutes (€74.40 ! [convert]).

One thing you can be sure about is that Laura will deal out those cards niiice and sloooww.

TV - tarot (2)
"I see you will have some significant expenses in the near future ... O Dio! Is that forty minutes already?"


TV - Gli Osbourne
Meanwhile, out on the balcony ...

Piramide at night

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

I feel like I win when I lose

If you want to get ahead, grrrls, get thee to Sweden.

Surprised? You shouldn't be. The World Economic Forum's Report on Women's Empowerment, published today, makes for predictable reading overall: Nordic countries in the top five places, Islamic countries at the bottom. There are some surprises in the details, however, such as the Netherlands at #42 (out of 58) position for educational attainment; the United States at #46 for economic opportunity; and Italy's overall #45 position - behind Zimbabwe and well behind Bangladesh. Mamma mia!

These web graphics of the top and bottom positions are good illustrations of the place of women in the respective countries.
WEF women's empowerment - Sweden
WEF women's empowerment - Egypt

So perhaps it's time to brush up your Swedish ...
Jo, jo, vid Waterloo Napoleon fick ge sej
men, Men, sitt öde kan man
möta p s mnga skilda sätt
själv känner jag, sen jag mött dej
historien upprepar sej.
Then again ...

They're a funny old bunch, the Swedes - no BS or mind games, which carries over to raising their kids. I recently told a Swedish friend, Greta, about my daughter's losing her first tooth and the 100 moneys (eurocents) left by the fairy. Greta had always told her daughters that there was no Santa Claus, no tooth fairy, that it was all mum and dad so don't have any illusions, kids. (I confess I felt a lump in my throat.) This had been fine with her first daughter, but the second, going to international school, insisted that the tooth fairy come for her first tooth. When the moment came, her parents forgot to do the deed and were woken the next morning with a wailing child: "the fairy forgot to take my tooth! And I didn't get any money!"

While the father distracted her, the mother quickly made the switch and said, "why don't you look again?" Hmmm. The girl was temporarily mollified but the fairy business was beginning to look a little unreliable. She frowned and said, "I want my tooth back. You kept Freya's (her sister) first tooth and I want mine. I want the fairy to bring it back!"

So while the girl was at school, the father was supposed to get her tooth from the memory box where they had kept both girls' first teeth. Of course, he took one of the older sister's teeth by mistake, a huge molar with a hole in it. When the younger one came home and found it under her pillow, she screamed, "The fairy's brought the wrong tooth back! Where's MY tooth?!"

Since then, the tooth fairy has been dismissed from the household because of gross incompetence and has never been mentioned again.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Bad Friday

I passed a woman in the street this evening. She was quite heavily built, in her 40s, wearing a shapeless skirt and flowery blouse with a crumpled collar. She had put down her bulging bags of shopping and was leaning wearily against a wall, with an air of complete dejection, her face hidden in the crook of her arm. I overhead her talking on the phone.
No, I can't.
I just can't!!
I'm covered in chocolate and stuff!

I turned back and stared.

She wasn't.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

One step forward

Women weeding in Zambia

Read the following extract from an impassioned speech by Stephen Lewis, UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa:
Just a few weeks ago, I was in Zambia, visiting a district well outside of Lusaka. We were taken to a rural village to see an "income generating project" run by a group of Women Living With AIDS. They were gathered under a large banner proclaiming their identity, some fifteen or twenty women, all living with the virus, all looking after orphans. They were standing proudly beside the income generating project … a bountiful cabbage patch. After they had spoken volubly and eloquently about their needs and the needs of their children (as always, hunger led the litany), I asked about the cabbages. I assumed it supplemented their diet? Yes, they chorused. And you sell the surplus at market? An energetic nodding of heads. And I take it you make a profit? Yes again. What do you do with the profit? And this time there was an almost quizzical response as if to say what kind of ridiculous question is that … surely you knew the answer before you asked: "We buy coffins of course; we never have enough coffins".

Click here for the full speech.
The Stephen Lewis Foundation is here.

It makes me wanna holler sometimes,
The way they do you wrong.
Makes me wanna holler sometimes,
And throw up both my hands ...
- Gil Scott Heron

It's not unusual in southern Africa
Photo source

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

4 mega bint - working group

Below is a summary of the main points raised at the abovementioned meeting.

P. Collina (Chair)
E. Corini
G. Buffon
C. Vieri
F. Totti
M. D'Agata (rapporteur)

1. Regarding reactions and results of the recent Telecom Italia campaign, Mr Collina reported that sales of cable had experienced a positive boost but that actual new subscriptions to Telecom's Internet service had been disappointing. The Chair stressed that future copy should be more on-message but with out-of-the-box thinking.

2. Mr Buffon noted that Libero had requested a new novel and innovative proposal for its 4 megabit flat-rate ADSL service.

3. Mr Corini suggested 10-foot-high blocks spelling out "4 mega". It was noted that one couldn't get much more bloody on-message than that.

4. Mr Vieri proposed that a tall, bleached-blond model in a skimpy silver-lamé dress and stilettos, her hand casually pulling up the skirt

5. The working group applauded and adjourned for lunch.

6. Mr Totti added a pear.

Pear-shaped (detail)


Monday, May 09, 2005


Having cleared out my wardrobe of winter clothes, there were gaping spaces just crying out to be filled, so we went shopping. Here's what I picked up.

In Benetton, I had to wait for 90 minutes to pay for a summer dress for my daughter. There was no queue, but there was no one to take my money either. All five staff were grouped round a table, refolding T-shirts angrily and giving smouldering scowls at anyone who came within range. I caught a glimpse of a woman waiting outside the changing rooms.Witch Hazel shops at Benetton She had a classic look, that of a homely witch, with a huge barrel-shaped body, hairy wart on her chin and electro-shocked black hair. She looked like Hazel Witch without the hat. Moments later, her daughter (about ten years old) came out wearing a cute white cotton blouse. She looked EXACTLY like her mother! She spun round in front of the full-length mirror admiring herself. Her mother laughed happily and shouted over to one of the sales women, "Are you sure that's an XL??"

In Coin department store, there was a queue for the swimsuit changing rooms. I'm absolutely not fattist but I sometimes think there should be a professional mother-type outside the changing rooms vetting what goes in with whom. She could just roll her eyes or purse her lips. In the absence of such a mute arbiter, I watched a well-built girl come out and give a twirl in a skin-tight top - it looked like a sausage liner round her waist and showed a suspension bridge bra strap across her back. Her boyfriend's eyes also bulged when she said, "You know what? I think I need the XS."

As more girlfriends squeezed into the changing rooms and the queue got no shorter, I snuck across to the children's section changing rooms. As part of our cunning plan, Mr B grabbed a couple of kid's dungarees and stood guard nonchalantly outside.

On leaving Coin, I noticed their department guide* on the wall:
  • Uomo
  • Donna
  • Accessori
  • Coinbambini
  • Futility
  • Futility Office

Futility Office. I LIKE it - honest and direct.

* I was going to call it a drop-down menu.
And sometimes when I'm scanning a text on paper, I mentally think of doing CTRL-F.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

All's well, now eat up

Happy ending

Little Maria Francesca (5 years old) can once again hug her dog Ribbon, whose disappearance yesterday had made her stop eating for days. "I'm so happy," said the girl, "now I will never leave my 'little brother' again. I thought I had lost him forever." The dog was found at Tiburtina Station thanks to the mobilization of the City Hall Office of Animal Rights and a joint police sting operation. It had been taken by a Rom tramp.

Your comments:
Stop eating for days?? Gimme a break! She missed one meal, and that was because she didn't like it. She never eats any vegetables. I try my best! I'm not a bad mother!!
- anonymous

That crazy lady gave me 20 Euros to take the dog but I didn't know how to make it sleep with the fishes. Can I go now?
- anonymous Rom

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

News in brief

From today's Metro paper
She hasn't eaten for 24 hours since her beloved dog, "Ribbon", disappeared in front of Manin school in Esquilino. Bereft of hope, the mother of the 5-year-old bimba has offered a 500 euro reward for finding the dog.
Mother locked up by grown son
After the umpteenth argument in months, a Spinaceto man locked his 75-year-old mother in her bedroom. She managed to escape out the window and got help. The Carabinieri arrested her 45-year-old son, who had destroyed walls and furniture in the apartment.

As the man was dragged away in cuffs, I heard him sob, "I know she sold my dog ... Ribbon, where are yoouu?"