Sunday, 11 June 2017

DIARY OF A DIPLOMAT’S WIFE: DEMOCRACY AT IT’S MOST DEMOCRATIC


DIARY OF A DIPLOMAT’S WIFE: DEMOCRACY AT IT’S MOST DEMOCRATIC


There are ways and means of clouding the issues, of course. First and foremost you need to phrase the questions in such a manner that your average voter won’t understand what is being asked of him. Her. Other. The first time I voted in Italy was in a popular referendum in the summer of 2011. The difference between a popular and a constitutional referendum is that in the former you vote Yes to abolish the law under discussion, whereas in the latter you vote Yes to support it. So if you really wanted to say NO to Berlusconi and his favourite laws, you had to put YES on your ballot sheet. Also, ideally you should have been aware of the name, number, paragraph and subsection of whichever law was being referred to. The papers had been full of diagrams and explanations for weeks, but there was so much other more riveting news to absorb that one had tended to skip the legal stuff and head for the juicy bits.
Where Berlusconi was concerned, there was never a lack of juicy bits.
(...now read on.....  http://impakter.com/diplomat-wife-democracy-democratic/

(...and don't forget the book, "Sorting the Priorities - Ambassadress and Beagle Survive Diplomacy":
available on Amazon :

Just what you need to read on the beach this summer.

 

Monday, 29 May 2017

Less than Popular

Don't miss my latest offering:

Your weekly Impakter articles.

Excerpts:

Diary of a Diplomat’s Wife: Less than Popular

We are endeavouring to be on our best behaviour at this time of the year. We have disturbed memories, you see. Last Easter weekend saw Beagle and me qualifying for Guests From Hell status.
 

Monday, 15 May 2017

Ambassadors Do It After Dinner

Sorry for disappearing, but I was offered a slot on this great international on-line magazine.
Weekly super-food for the brain.    The perfect antidote to Trump Tweets.
Take a look : http://impakter.com/ambassadors-do-it-after-dinner/



.....and if you like it, try the book from Amazon:
"Sorting the Priorities - Ambassadress and Beagle Survive Diplomacy"





Wednesday, 19 April 2017

BIG BUSINESS



BIG  BUSINESS






Had house guests this weekend - old friends who had overtaken us in the earning stakes years ago and were still managing  to make a highly respectable living  despite the current economic climate.  They were hot back from London where they had booked a table for some business acquaintances in a certain  rather exclusive and dreadfully pricey Italian trattoria  nestling in the very heart of Mayfair.  Well you would, wouldn't you, if you were trying to hook a mega deal with an oil-rich country?
Mr. and Mrs. Oil-Rich were resplendent in traditional floor length robes and had omitted to mention they would be bringing their ten month old baby in a very large and cumbersome pushchair complete with all the frills and jingly bits. And a pre-prepared bottle with which to feed it upon arrival.   Okaaay.
Somehow they managed to get the buggy through the lines of Ferraris and Bentleys, Rollers and Maseratis double parked as usual outside. Fine so far.   9 pm on a Saturday night.  Not exactly empty.
In they wheel.
Baby sets up a wail. Well they do, don't they? Bottle is produced, heated and inserted in the correct end. Three minutes peace ensues whilst kind waiters endeavour to make cumbersome pushchair as invisible as possible. Not an easy task.  Starched napkins and over-large menus are flapped open all round the table. Niceties are exchanged in a variety of foreign languages, none of which are particularly relevant to the mother tongue of anyone present, but salve the combined conscience as being evidence that all those seated around said table were making an effort to be international.  Wide smiles make up for any deficiency in communication skills.
Atmosphere warming up nicely.
Baby chooses this moment to throw up.  All over nice white starched  Michelin starred table cloth and nice white starched and starred waiters. Mopped up with tail end of headscarf, prior to flustered exit to ladies loo bearing infant screaming for having been deprived of its dinner.
Out of respect for their guests' religion and their own personal budget, they had omitted to order anything from the restaurant's famous wine list and were sticking to mineral water, so I suspect they might not find it quite so easy to get a table on a Saturday night next time around. 
 I noticed, too, that they were making up for lost time at the expense of our rapidly dwindling wine cellar over the weekend, and can only surmise that the hoped-for big deal remained stuck in the pipeline.

More international anecdotes in :

 Sorting the Priorities - Ambassadress and Beagle Survive Diplomacy










  

Monday, 10 April 2017

THE GREAT ITALIAN BAKE OFF




T.V. CELEBRITY OF THE YEAR


You might possibly have noticed that basically, (ooooh, everyone’s favourite word. Don’t even THINK of giving a radio interview without inserting it at least once per sentence. Also begin each sentence with “So….”.    Not “Err…” or “Um…”    Times have changed.
So, as I was saying, basically this column is a poor excuse for flogging my book. See below. Please.
Now the book in question first appeared in a rather iffy Italian translation (pace Sperling and Kupfer, but the exact translation of “ midday”, amongst thirty odd other howlers, is actually “mezzogiorno.” Not “mezzanotte,” as your translator suggested, and the Ministers were “signing” important papers in the Ambassador’s private office. Not singing.) The idea of publishing in Italian was an attempt to avoid ruining my husband’s career. He was Italian Ambassador to the Court of St. James at the time, and I was endeavouring to be on my best behaviour. I did, however, obtain permission to publish and promote in Italy.

                                                   So this is what happened. 


I was standing in the middle of a muddy field just outside Rome with a Beagle straining at the leash in one hand (trying to resettle a passing cat in the upper branches of a nearby tree where she thought it would look more attractive….) and in the other, a very excited horse trying to leap a fence in order to rejoin its pals on the other side where the grass, as is the habit with grass the world over, was greener, when the mobile phone started ringing. Nothing new so far. Jodphur pockets are notoriously small and it all took some time and a fair amount of pretty colourful language before I managed to extricate the phone, by which time Ms Highly Pissed Orff My Time is Precious was chafing at the bit on the other end of the not very clear line.

Would I agree, she asked, to do a T.V.programme where I would show the viewers how to prepare a meal suitable to serve in an Embassy whilst we discussed My Book?

Beagle takes advantage to disappear over the skyline in hot pursuit of an imaginary lizard or wild boar, horse practices standing on various combinations of two legs and Ms Famous Writer (me) explains in no uncertain terms that, given the option, I would much prefer to be shot from outer space, head down, in a follow up attempt to break the sound barrier. Thank you.

Oh, says Ms H.P.O.M.T.I.P., somewhat snootily, then I'll call back tomorrow and we'll discuss it after you have given it some thought.

So the next day I am standing on the outskirts of the 5yr old's athletics class with 5 yr old in question clinging like a limpet to my trouser leg because he is having a bad attack of Mummyitis, except that unfortunately Mummy in question is in Amsterdam for a conference so he's having to make do with the substitute, me, instead, and the phone goes. Would I prefer to spend three minutes just talking about the book on TV, or do the half hour cookery programme as mentioned?

Does this remind you of that bit in Doctor Spock where it explains that you never ask a toddler whether he would like spinach for dinner? What you should ask, as everyone knows, is "would you like spinach or Brussel sprouts for dinner?” “Darling?”

For various reasons, most of which I consider to be blatantly obvious, I did not care to mention that the last time I had achieved anything resembling serious cooking was somewhere around March 3rd 1978, since when I had employed someone else to do it for me. That my well known culinary speciality was burnt everything. That for the past ten years of my diplomatic wanderings, we had employed professional cooks, most of whom were quite rightly reluctant to allow me within sniffing distance of the kitchen. That my idea of haute cuisine these days was a tuna fish sandwich and a banana consumed, mostly, whilst waiting for the traffic lights to change.

I cannot, I said with some conviction, pretend to teach the Italians how to cook Italian food. The most I could offer, I said, is my patriotic version of Coulibiac. Puff pastry, (ready- made), risotto, (Knorr), (left over) cooked salmon, (frozen) shrimps, (M&S ready- made) Hollandaise sauce (imported from London and microwaved to within an inch of its life.......) When you have piled it all into the pastry case and cooked and sliced it, you get layers of red white and green, if it doesn’t collapse on you first. The Italian flag. Eat your heart out, Berlusconi, famous for his Pasta Tricolore and strawberry, vanilla and pistachio ice-cream combinations.
Stupidly I left out the bits in brackets, and I could hear her salivating all down the phone.


The things one lets oneself in for just to flog a book.

Writing a weekly blog, for example.



Sorting the Priorities - Ambassadress and Beagle Survive Diplomacy


Sunday, 26 March 2017

KEEP CALM AND DISCUSS THE WEATHER


 WEATHER REPORT FROM ITALY 
Khalid Masood went to school in Tunbridge Wells. I went to a boarding school in Wadhurst, a small village just a few miles up the road. At my establishment* we had no contact with the outside world, no radios, no newspapers and our only access to television was during Wimbledon week. Whenever, and for whatever reason, we were at a loss for words,  we were encouraged to make uncontroversial conversation about the weather. So this is precisely what I propose to do this week. Forgive, please. My motives are sincere.

You will be pleased to know that Italians now have Weather just like the British. Despite having more weather forecast apps on their mobile phones than most, they never know what is going to hit them from one day to the next and as a result they talk about it all the time. No more "I'm on the train," or “Do you really put mascarpone in yours?” or “How come the Pope didn’t have anything to say about that?”
Now it's  "I know...when is it ever going to stop?"
Rome, in fact, is a living example of the unpredictability of meteorlogical conditions, a.k.a global warming.
First we had the tropical rainstorms. There was a moment last summer when I couldn't get out of the house for the rain and yet two days later I was at the beach making sandcastles with my grandson in a bikini. No - bad syntax.  I was in a bikini. He was actually wearing a long sleeved vest, a long sleeved shirt, a woollen sweater and an anorak. But only because his father and paternal grandparents are Sicilian.
It was an amazingly stupid summer - thunder, lightning, gales, torrential rain and then a blinding heat-wave. Every now and then it would let up for ten minutes so Beagle and I could make a dash for the woods in our Cath Kidson Wellies (Warning: Romans do not understand pink flowery Cath Kidson Wellies. Do I care? No, I do not) - only to dive back three minutes later with our respective tails between our legs like a couple of drowned rats. Then the sun would come out, the heat reached 48°C in the shade, and the city would return to stinking alternately of dog pee and rotting rubbish with a dash of putrid drain thrown in.
And let’s not forget the winter of 2011 – 2012.
First we had two uninterrupted months of weather as she should be. Crisp mornings with brilliant sunshine, not a cloud in the proverbial,  just cold enough to kill off next year’s mosquito eggs and have daily visits from the local robin. Horses snorting with excitement, Beagle’s nose to the ground pretending to hunt for boar and rabbits. That sort of weather. We settled back and enjoyed it. No question of all that “Weather Permitting” rubbish. We knew it would be cold but fine and sunny and so it was.
But then it snowed. Twenty-seven centimetres of snow on my window ledge. I measured it.
I personally was confined to barracks for 48 hours and to the best of my knowledge Beagle only peed twice in all that time and I can’t say I blame her. To open my front door I would have needed a shovel and let me tell you that Ladies that Live in Rome do not possess shovels. Nor would they be seen dead wielding one even if they knew what they were for. Also - Catch 22 – I could not drive to the nearest shops to buy a shovel to dig the car out of the snow until I had dug the car out of the snow.
Finally one morning I managed to free the car from its snow drift with the aid of a trowel and a wooden spoon and head, crab-like, for the nearest supermarket which was closed, together with the bank, the restaurants, all the schools and everything else requiring non-residential staff.
Welcome to Rome.
This was the moment that I, with indomitable British foresight,  flew in the face of much neighbourly ridicule and chose to engage a man to blast a hole through my bedroom wall in order to install an air conditioning unit. The snow drifted happily in as he worked and I had a vague fear that he considered the hole sufficient ventilation in its own right, for I could see no sign of afore-mentioned unit. Plenty of signs of beer consumption, wiping of sweaty brow and consulting with cronies on his mobile phone, however, all of which was most surely added to the bill. Not much evidence of installation of a large ugly cube which, for its doubtlessly limited lifetime, would drip rust stains down the side of my newly whitewashed wall once it was up and running, probably sometime the following December if Sod’s Law were still to be trusted, by which time I would have a raving alcoholic on my hands as he slowly but surely submitted to the temptation of the demon drink.  Unless, of course, his great aunt decided to snuff it or his daughter to have her First Communion or he suddenly remembered he had omitted to apply for all those silly bits of paper permitting him to work here in the first place thus obliging him to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor and leave me, oh so regretfully, with the job half done.
There  - another ethnic generalisation before breakfast. A stereotype a day keeps the publishers away. Well, that seems to be working, anyway. 









      * quote from a deadly diplomatic dinner as described in "Sorting the Priorities,"   
 https://www.amazon.com/Sorting-Priorities-Ambassadress-Survive-Diplomacy/dp/1542733405/ref

*The school had proclaimed itself to be an Anglican establishment for the educating of young ladies, and the laying on of guilt was one of its more successful achievements. One of the fastest routes to hell, I remembered as I reluctantly turned away from my English neighbour and back to the politician, had been to leave a gap in the conversation at table. Controversial subjects were taboo – not that we knew of any, given that newspapers, television and radio were forbidden, and contact with the outside world was minimal.  On Sundays we talked about the sermon – exclusively.

 On Saturdays, it was the school’s performance in the weekly lacrosse match. Tuesdays we were only permitted to speak French. Privately we thanked the Lord in our prayers for the ever-changing English weather.
“They say,” I confided to the politician on my right who aspired to be something important in the next government, and whose anxiety whilst he awaited The Call was rendering him virtually monosyllabic, “they say it’s going to be an unusually cold winter.”

Sunday, 19 March 2017

LICENCE TO DECEIVE


I realise that, clinically speaking, I am pig ignorant about all the things that rattle around my insides.

And don't even ask me about X-rays.

So off I go to the surgeon who had hammered my foot back together last month. Look, he says, look there. Umm yes, ok. See that fracture? Umm not really. I can see three nasty looking ten inch nails going every which way through my split ankle, and forming a perfect Capital "A".

How thoughtful of him to remember, since the minute you go through the doors of a hospital or any kind of official institution in Italy you immediately revert to your maiden name. Ohhh! Now I get it! He couldn't manage a "J" for Jackson, so he did an "A" for Aragona?
 
How kind.

Sod kind – I am ordered to complete another two weeks in the boot but with only one crutch for support. Woohoo! - sent one back to the hire shop straight away and bought the other one for the large amount of seven euros. Well I'm quite attached to it, after all this time. When I can remember where I've left it, that is.

Followed by another week without the crutch but still with the boot. Okaaaay.....

Followed by twelve sessions of physio (Ummm...could I cram them all into one day? If I promise not to attempt to get onto a horse until, say, Day Three?)

Apparently not.

Not even considered amusing. Yawn.

I was thinking about Chris Huhne this morning as I cruised up the motorway to Florence doing a gentle 140kph with a broken foot encased in a surgical boot in a car with automatic transmission. Yes, I am aware that my driving licence ran out at the end of January, but I made this printout from the DVLA especially for you and any of your colleagues who might be interested, Officer. See that bit highlighted in green where it says that I am entitled to drive until my new licence arrives? Yes I KNOW it’s in English, but I am prepared to translate it for you while we speak. Well nooo, actually, I would really prefer to remain seated in my car whilst we have this little conversation if it’s all the same to you….Officer. Ahhh! That thing on my foot? Well, with an automatic car, I don’t really need to use that foot, don’t you see? Sort of superfluous, like. Don’t you think?

I had been listening to a phone-in on the Italian radio as I drove. They were discussing cheating on points. Interestingly Italians seem to get special indulgences for minor sins like these, possibly because they are that much closer to Papal protection. Anyway, listeners were being encouraged to call in with their personal reminiscences. It was fascinating. It appears there is a whole market out there in Points Bartering. The going rate on eBay is fifty euros per point. One chap (Antonio from Pavia) rang in to say he had got done driving at 180kph on the Pisa – Livorno and had begged to be let off because he was a courier and it was his livelihood. They were threatening to take his licence away, he complained to the officer on duty in his local police station. How was he supposed to feed his wife and family if they took his licence away? The policeman just shrugged and asked wearily whether he didn’t have some friend or relative who could help him out. They’ve seen and heard it all, those cops, and anyway there was, as usual, a footie match on the tele he was trying to follow. So Antonio from Pavia went back home and borrowed his Dad’s driving licence for a minute, which would have been fine except that when he returned to the police station the match was over and there was a different officer on duty. A woman. And she was highly sceptical about the tale of a ninety year old man doing 180 up the Pisa - Livorno on a Harley Davidson. The programme went on in this vein for a further twenty minutes. One young bachelor gave his aunty five of his points in exchange for her preparing him a home cooked supper every Friday night for the next six months. Another, caught making a phone call whilst simultaneously being over the alcohol limit, solved the problem by investing in one of those kiddy cars that you are allowed to drive without a licence in Italy provided you have reached the age of fourteen. Apparently you can get a good 60kph out of a souped-up version going downhill with a following wind.

I love Italy. I love the flexibility. Halfway across a zebra crossing with a Ferrari coming straight at you with no intention of slowing down let alone stopping? Don’t worry. So long as you don’t dither, he will take avoiding action and you will both reach your respective destinations unscathed. Stuck at a red traffic light with nothing to be seen in either direction? Go for it. You are performing a public service by helping to keep the traffic flowing.

According to an Italian proverb, though, cats here are said to have seven lives, not nine like the British mog.

Unsurprising, really.



More partly fictitious stuff, (Officer….) in "Sorting the Priorities" :