Winter Cooking


I don’t usually post about my cooking, however today I decided to share two dishes I have cooked following the receipes on Giallo Zafferano which look delicious and were rather easy to cook. I will later update the post to include a translation of the receipes in English. You can see below a picture showing: 1) a savory pie with spinach, ricotta, pine kernels and raisins and 2) asparaguses wrapped in Parma ham with grated Parmesan cheese and puff pastry. It’s al been really easy to cook and it’s taken me about two hours to make both of them at the same time. Yummy!

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It seems like a perfect on this snowy London day…below are some pictures showing the snowy beautiful view from my flat in London!

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Back from Istanbul (and back to blogging)


After Istanbul, like after all of my travelling, I’ve come back with a better perpective on life and on London. As much as I love this city, it is even more obvious that, in London, there is a coldness and a distance between people.

I am writing this as I am sitting on the Bakerloo line to meet a friend in Little Venice. People do not look at each other, but not just on the tube…everywhere. On the street, at work, in the pub… The main question that comes to mind is ‘why’? …Do people feel that looking at someone else might be perceived as rude or invasive (the most common explanation my London friends have given to me when I expressed my thoughts on this issue)? That would be strange, though, considering it’s such a multi cultural city. Could it be that people feel scared of what they might see if they look up? Or do they simply not feel the need to do so?

If that is so, then how is it possible? Curiosity is intrinsec to human nature, just like interaction with fellow human beings. Some cultures, as it seemed to be the case in Turkey and in Italy (my home country), take it at times to the opposite extreme, and people are often showing their ‘curiosity’ so much to become invasive and irritating.

Surely a balanced compromise must be possible. Interest in other people is not only legitimate but necessary and healthy! It keeps us connected to the world around us and it makes us a part of it. A friend was recently commenting on how she’d never notice a good looking man whilst on her way to work, as her focus is entirely on the day and tasks ahead. She said that to explain why she thinks people in London appear ‘distant’ to me.

There are surely times when I’m oblivious to others if I’m lost in my own thoughts. But I don’t think I am generally capable of involuntarily blanking out people around me. In fact, when I’m thinking about something, I project my thoughts on the people around me and imagine what they would do, what they might think. It sort of helps me to get a perspective on things. I like feeling aware of my surroundings and this includes wondering where the lady sitting next to me, who’s wearing a thick black fur coat, might be going to ..or what the slim blond girl sitting opposite to me might be reading whilst tapping her new Converse shoes.

Yet when I look up at her purposefully, we never meet eyes. Wait! Something funny has just happened: just as I was writing this last comment, I looked up quickly and – yes! – the blond girl was looking at me and smiling! Maybe she thought I was weird, or maybe she thought that it was nice for another person on the tube to notice her existance and show interest in what she was doing.

My purpose was to challenge her sense of curiosity. Surely, when two strangers meet eyes, it means that some healthy curiosity for other people must still be there!

Below is a small selection of photos from Istanbul (a beautiful city). Enjoy & I promise my next blog post won’t be in six months!

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Sultanahmet Parki

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Sultanahmet Parki, view over the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii)

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Monkeys in a cage on a pavement in Gedikpasa Caddesi (Sultanahmet District)

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Topkapi Palace, inside the Hammam

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The Koran, Book Bazaar (Bazaar District)

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A wall in Yerebatan Kaddesi

The Shard 2012: the Opening


The opening of The Shard, Europe’s tallest building, in London: 6 July 2012. I took the pictures from the northern riverside near Monument Station and nearby.

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From the Guardian, 23 facts about the Shard:

 

• The Shard is 309.6 metres (1,016ft) high.

• The building reached its top height on 19 June.

• It has 11,000 glass panels.

• The area of the glass façade is 56,000 sq metres (602,779 sq ft), which equals eight football pitches.

• There are 44 lifts, including double-decker lifts.

• There are 306 flights of stairs.

• The total floor space is 11 hectares (27 acres).

• 95% of the construction materials are recycled.

• 20% of the steelwork is from recycled sources.

• The design was influenced by the irregular nature of the site.

• Each facet forms a shard, a plane of glass gently inclined inwards, rising towards the top.

• The corners of the development are open and the shards do not touch, allowing the building to “breathe”.

• There are 72 habitable floors.

• A further 15 levels will make up the “spire”. Six have the potential to be used, while another nine are exposed to the elements.

• The ground-floor Shard Plaza will be a public area with seating and planting.

• The second floor will be a 460 sq metre retail space with retail units opening out onto the concourse of London Bridge Station.

• The fourth to 28th floors will have 55,000 sq metres of offices and winter gardens.

• The 31st to 33rd floors will have 2,700 sq metres of international restaurants, centred on a triple-height atrium.

• The 34th to 52nd floors will house the Shangri-La Hotel and Spa, with 200 luxuriously appointed rooms across 18,000 sq metres.

• The 53rd to 65th floors will have 10 exclusive residences with 360-degree views across London over a total of 5,800 sq metres.

• The 68th to 72nd floors will be the public observation galleries. The 1,400-sq-metre View from the Shard will open in February 2013.

• The Shard is the tallest building in Europe.

• It is the 59th tallest building in the world, around 2.7 times shorter than the tallest, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which is 252.4 metres high.

Behind the Bars


Although it was not my first visit to a prison, it did not feel just like any other day. It was early, still pitch dark outside. Trying to figure out what clothes to wear was rather difficult. I knew it was sensible not to wear any low cut tops or short skirts (rather obvious), but I was also advised not to wear scarves or elegant clothes. I opted for a pair of jeans and a sweater. I also knew that I could not take anything possibly relating to computers, such as USB sticks or CDs, but also I couldn’t take in chewing gums which apparently are used by inmates to force the locks open (don’t ask me how!).

Waiting at the bus stop, there I was: standing in the freezing cold on my way to HMP Pentonville Prison in London.  Some notorious inmates of this prison have been George Michael and Pete Doherty (who also wrote a song called Pentonville). When I arrived, I was surprised to find that the building is very visible from the main road and houses are built very close-by. In fact, some of the cells’ windows can be easily seen from the road. I got in through the main entrance and had to get a Visitor’s pass after having had my fingerprints and a photograph taken by security. No mobile phones could go past security, so I left mine in a locker. Clearly, no cameras could be taken inside either so the photographs in this post were found online and were not taken by me.
When I walked in, accompanied by internal staff, it was the time of what is called ‘free flow’, that is, when cells are unlocked (I think different wings are unlocked in turns and not all cells are unlocked, e.g. those with high security regime) and prisoners are moving from one wing to another heading to whichever activity they’re meant to attend. These activities can be educational or simply taking a shower. ‘Free flow’ lasts for about half an hour and it takes place about twice every day. When it ends, everything is locked up again and inmates are either back in their cells or in another space where they’re undertaking an activity such as a workshop. I couldn’t help but notice that the great majority of inmates was either black or Asian, although there were a few whites too. From what I saw, most of them were also quite young.

Pentonville was the first prison in Great Britain to put into practice the enlightened ideas of the prison reformer, John Howard. Built in 1840-42 to the designs and under the direction of Major (later Sir) Joshua Jebb, Surveyor General of Prisons, it pioneered the separate housing of inmates in wings radiating out from a central hall. (Source: http://www.elton-engineeringbooks.co.uk/highlights/jebb.htm) The only time it stopped being used as a prison for English inmates was during the Second World War, when it was used to hold German prisoners. Other than that, it’s been actively in use since it was first opened.

Source: http://www.elton-engineeringbooks.co.uk/highlights/jebb.htm

Pentonville has 7 residential wings:

  • A wing – Induction and First Night Centre. This wing has recently been refurbished to cater for new arrivals into custody.
  • B wing – Resettlement wing
  • C and G Wings are for remand and convicted prisoners and provide services including education, workshops and offending behaviour courses
  • D Wing – Is the enhanced wing
  • E Wing – Substance Misuse Unit
  • F Wing – IDTS (Stabilisation Unit)

I walked through one of the wings (I am not actually sure which one it was, but I think it must have been either C or G) and I was surprised by the brightness of the spaces. Of course, the light is not as abundant in the cells. Some of the cells, those for vulnerable inmates, are actually in the basement and have no natural light. The prison was built for around 600 prisoners, however now the prisoners are more than 1200 and all cells (intended for one individual only) host two prisoners. Although I didn’t actually walk inside a cell, I could see they were tiny and there was barely room for a bunk bed and a table where prisoners eat. In fact, they collect food and eat in their own cells rather than in a shared canteen. Breakfast is collected together with the evening meal, but most of them apparently eat it in the evening or at night because they’re hungry and end up skipping breakfast the following morning. Some cells have a TV, which the inmates pay for. I was told that, although it seems like an excessive privilege, it is actually a very good weapon to use to make sure the prisoners behave well. In fact, I understood that the threat or the actual act of taking away the TV is sometimes more effective than any other threat. Clearly, spending so many hours locked up, the worst thing is making time go by without going crazy. It is also better to let them watch TV rather than get into fights with each other or using drugs (although they probably do it anyway, although Pentonville has gone down hard on the fight against drugs given the recent scandals).

I had the opportunity to see a classroom which was actually well equipped, with some computers, a board, large tables and chairs. The computers don’t have internet connection and even the staff’s own computers, which are located in separate sections of the wings, to which prisoners have no access, have limited access to internet. Although this might sound obvious, every single space is separated by locked gates which need to be unlocked to go through and locked immediately after. Even to simply access the staff’s toilet or a staircase, there will be one or two locked gates and doors to get through. On my way out, the food was being served for lunch and the smell was absolutely unpleasant and I surely did not feel hungry after that.

 Source: The Guardian

It was a very interesting experience, because, while one can imagine what a prison is like from all the films that depict life in prison, the reality is not as ‘cool’ as television and the cinema make it appear.

A report published in June 2011 by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons for England and Wales (HMI Prisons), sadly confirms my general perception of the building’s state:

 “Pentonville is an iconic prison, but not always for the right reasons: its four central wings are over a hundred and fifty years old, it has a large and transient population drawn from some of London’s poorest boroughs, and its prisoners have amongst the highest incidence of mental ill health and substance abuse of any local prison in the country. […]Pentonville is amongst the most challenging local prisons in the country to run. Its ageing and crowded fabric offers limited scope for change or development, its population is not only transient but also hugely needy – and sometimes challenging – and resources are declining. Despite all this, managers and staff were working hard to make the prison a safer and more decent place. There was now a little more purposeful activity and some exciting, if nascent, ideas to work with local authorities to improve resettlement outcomes. It goes without saying that there is much more to do. Indeed the scale of the issues facing Pentonville means that it is also essential that the prison is supported by an effective London-wide strategy – but there is now at least a positive sense of direction.”

Source: The Guardian

The most overwhelming feeling even for someone who, like myself, knew perfectly well I’d be inside for no more than a couple of hours, is that, as you walk in, you lose control of what’s happening around you. The doors and gates rapidly being locked behind you, you realise that if – for any reason – you actually wanted to leave, you would not be able to do so without having someone able to let you out. Despite that, I actually came out feeling quite positive about the overall experience: seeing the prisoners so close-by, walking right next to them, reminded me that, even if many – if not most of them – have committed some serious crimes, they are humans. Some of them are there because they probably were unlucky enough to be born in the wrong place, to the wrong family or ended up mixing with the wrong crowds.

That is not to say that I feel sorry for them or that I would forgive the crimes they have committed and for the pain they’ve caused to others. Rather, it is to say that seeing a prison from inside has made even stronger, in my eyes, the case in favour of Article 6 (European Convention of Human Rights) rights. When you see with your own eyes what life in prison means, you understand why the criminal justice system must strive to secure convictions of the guilty and ensure acquittal of the innocent. Unfortunately, even in a perfectly well-oiled criminal justice machine, there are bound to be mistakes. This is why the importance of the right to a fair trial in full respect of the presumption of innocence, the equality of arms and the impartiality of the tribunal, must never be underestimated or taken for granted. The natural continuation of the right to a fair trial is the full compliance with human rights inside the prison, that is not to say to give unlimited privileges to prisoners but simply to remember that they are humans despite the inhumanity of some of their actions and – if we are to call ourselves a modern society – we must strive to respect their human dimension and, if possible, help them to rediscover it through rehabilitative and educational programmes.

Source: The Guardian

For anyone interested in more information on HMP Pentonville or the prison system in general, I have found this website very informative and useful: http://www.insidetime.org/info-regimes2.asp?nameofprison=HMP_PENTONVILLE.

The pictures in this post (except for the image of Jebb’s drawings of the prison plan) were all published by The Guardian online.

Identikit of an Italian Tourist


[Thoughts of an Italian Londoner on Italian tourists.]

I came back to London a few days ago, after a short break in Italy.

On the Ryanair flight, which, as usual, welcomed passengers on board with Vivaldi’s Spring (a melody that Ryanair has almost succeeded in making me hate!), I found myself once again sitting amongst a group of Italian ‘teenagers’ certainly beyond their 30s, acting like kids on their first holiday adventure with friends.

I always find it’s great fun to stealthily listen to conversations, except when the volume is so high that I am able to distinctly understand each word from the opposite end of the plane. Usually the conversations of Italian tourists on their way to London relate to ongoing themes:

  • Where to go…obligatory stop offs (according to the Italian tourist) are Piccadilly, Westminster, Tower of London. Other locations which are at least as much, if not more interesting, seem to go unnoticed.
  • How will it be possible to communicate with a school-level English? “Oh it won’t be a problem, it’s full of Italians over there”, “At school I had 8/10 in English!”, “I can even say swearwords, what else do we need?”
  • The weather…”do you think it will be raining?”, “the weather forecast is not that bad”, “have you got an umbrella?”
  • I might decide to move to London! Any advice? Ideas?

I find the latter topic particularly fun, because that is where urban myths and legends are big hits. Colourful stories are filled with improbably anecdotes told by those ‘who have the experience’ and are teaching others, who experience something in between fascination and perplexity. For example, on the Terravision bus from Stansted, a guy was telling his amazing story of London-life to another guy he’d just met (who appeared enthusiastic, up to the point when a house shared with other 6 foreigners, several mice and located in an ill-famed neighbourhood made their appearance in the story).

When the Terravision bus (company itself managed by Italians!) reached Liverpool Street, I was almost sorry to get off and abandon this microcosm of Italians abroad. But I didn’t need to wait long to find it again: it was sufficient to pop into Waitrose for my pre-New Year’s Eve shopping to discover that the stationary group in the cheese section, could only be a group of Italians abroad!

[My article was first published in Italian at http://parolesemplici.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/identikit-di-un-turista-italiano/  and I subsequently translated it into English. Unfortunately, many Italian expressions could not be translated into English with the same efficacy, but hopefully the translation conveys overall the same effect as the original one.]

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Identikit di un turista italiano

[Pensieri di un’italiana londinese su turisti italiani / Thoughts of an Italian Londoner on Italian tourists.]

Sono tornata a Londra da pochi giorni, dopo una breve pausa in Italia.

Sul volo Ryanair, che come al solito incomincia con La Primavera di Vivaldi (melodia che Ryanair è riuscita a farmi quasi odiare!), mi sono ancora una volta trovata seduta tra gruppi di ‘ragazzoni’ italiani di età certamente superiore ai 30, con l’aria di chi è alla sua prima avventura vacanziera con gli amici.

Mi diverto sempre moltissimo ad ascoltare di soppiatto le conversazioni, eccetto quando il volume è tale che riesco a sentire cosa viene detto dalla parte opposta dell’aereo. Solitamente le conversazioni dei turisti italiani che vanno a Londra riguardano alcuni temi fissi:

  • Dove andare…tappe obbligate (secondo il turista italiano) sono Piccadilly, Westminster, Tower of London. Altre mete altrettanto, se non più interessanti, passano inosservate.
  • Come si riuscirà a comunicare con un inglese scolastico? ‘Ma si ma lì è pieno di italiani’, ‘avevo 8 di inglese alle superiori!’, ‘so anche dire le parolacce, siamo a posto!’
  • Il clima… ‘ma secondo te pioverà?’ ‘ma le previsioni non sono così brutte’ ‘ma l’ombrello ce l’hai?’
  • Quasi quasi mi trasferisco a Londra! Hai consigli ? Idee?

Quest’ultimo tema fisso mi diverte particolarmente, perchè qui nascono le leggende metropolitane e storie mai sentite sembrano colorire racconti da chi ‘ha l’esperienza’ e che istruisce altri, che rimangono affascinati e perplessi. Ad esempio, sull’autobus Terravision da Stansted, un ragazzo raccontava la sua storia fantastica di vita londinese ad un coetaneo appena conosciuto (che sembrava entusiasta, finchè nel racconto non è comparsa una casa condivisa con altri 6 ragazzi stranieri, con topi, e in un quartiere malfamato!).

Quando l’autobus Terravision (gestito pure da italiani!), è arrivato a Liverpool Street, quasi mi dispiaceva scendere e abbandonare questo microcosmo di “italiani in trasferta.” Ma non ho dovuto aspettare a lungo prima di ritrovarlo: mi è bastato andare a fare la spesa di Capodanno da Waitrose per scoprire che il gruppo fermo a discutere nella corsia dei formaggi, non poteva che essere un gruppo di “italiani in trasferta”!


My First Guest Post!


Today, my first guest post on another blog has been published!

Unfortunately, I only had the time to write the article in Italian but I will post a translation here as soon as possible, so keep your eyes on this space. The topic is how Italians behave when they’re travelling (“Identikit di un turista italiano”).

Here’s the link:

http://parolesemplici.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/identikit-di-un-turista-italiano/

Enjoy!

UPDATE: English Translation of the article now available at https://littleexplorer.wordpress.com/2012/01/14/identikit-of-an-italian-tourist/

I Found a Key


Autumn in London always carries a magical, theatrical atmosphere with it. The unusually warm months of September and October are now sliding away and Guy Fawkes’ fireworks and a mild fog are announcing the first days of cold.

The anti-capitalists’ tents are still outside of St Paul’s, although there are rumours that many are empty at night. The theatrical feel that I get of London is a constant theme from the smallest streets to Buckingham Palace. It goes from fascinating to creepy.

Covent Garden, with its street artists and spectacular displays of lights and themed art installations, is an open-air stage. Yet it is not rare to see homeless people grotesquely sleeping under a pile of dirty blankets right on the side of glittery high street shop displaying piles of fancy clothes and shoes. Their shivering bodies illuminated and defined by white neon lights from the shop windows; make the cold penetrate even more deeply inside me.

My favourite theatre seats in London are the front seats on the top floor of double-decker bus. Not the London Eye or the Oxo Tower. They only give you a limited perception of London’s grandeur. But from the bus seats, you see everything, including what you wish you could not see. The young businessmen are happily enjoying their pints at the pub while an old beggar is sipping his beer can just around the corner. You see a beautiful woman covered in pearls and diamonds walking besides a pale guy kneeling down, while looking for some food or drugs in the waste bags along the pavement.

And London is all that, breathtaking beauty and unbearable dismay. Modernity and decadence. Ostentation and poverty. The fireworks are crackling and illuminating the sky with various tones of pink, green and red as people are getting on their tip toes in Theobald’s Road to see Gray’s Inn spectacular display. They only last for a few minutes, but those minutes are the theatre play for the night.

Tonight, as I got home after the fireworks, I was tidying up my room. Suddenly, my eye caught a glimpse of something shining on my carpet. I moved my desk chair, and there it was: a key. A tiny key, just about the size of a bean. I have no idea of how it got there and why, but I know it looks like the magic of London has unexpectedly entered my room on this cold night of Guy Fawkes.