Category Archives: Culture

My own Italian version of “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” by Michael Howe

At the end of our last lesson for the first term, the class was “canvassed” for articles on holiday experiences in Italy.

My first thought was to say no.

My second thought was to “practise” my written Italian but, on reflection, I have neither the necessary language skills to express myself fully nor do I have the time.

My third thought was of the usual travel blurbs, either gushing “testimonials” or a long list of, “I went here”, “I went there”. Europe or Italy in three and a half days!

view from Hotel terrace

view from Hotel terrace

Putting these thoughts aside I decided to just write, so here is something to ponder. A few weeks in one place? Let’s pick Florence.  How about avoiding  expensive hotels, airbnb [ yes I checked! No capitals at all!]  and other such websites. For a more Italian experience find a small family run  hotel, say two star, near the centre of town and less than ten minutes stroll to the Duomo.

I have yet to work out the exact make up of the family!!! The “Papa” was obvious as he was in charge during the day. But the 24 hour reception evidenced an extended family of sons, cousins and nephews, especially for the graveyard shifts, which they obviously shared on a rota basis for a couple of nights at a time.

The 24 hour reception desk was essential for me as I arrived about 1 am. As the hotel has the top floors  of a six or eight storey building the first task was to find the call button for reception to buzz me in! A torch would have been useful. The second was fitting myself [small] and a suitcase [ also small] into the coffin sized lift. I never used the lift again until I left. The exercise was useful. Like a lot of older buildings close to the city centre, the lift was a later upgrade and went into the only space available, the original stair well. The 24 hour reception was also very useful, in that tea, tissanes and various coffees could be had, yes, you guessed, 24 hours a day. No problem!  The bar was never closed either, -bonus!

Breakfast could be taken inside or on the roof top terrace, and yes, you could see the Duomo and the Tuscan Hills. Breakfast was a great improvement on the “ normal” continental fare. A machine allowed you to press a button and squeeze one orange at a time for fresh juice. Cereals, fruit, yoghurt, boiled eggs, varied cold cuts, various breads, croissants and local “sweet” breads and muffin like cakes provided a good start to the day. Coffees were to order, your choice.

Although the “family” seemed to speak about 4 or 5 languages between them, after the middle of the night check in, I declined to speak English and in this, the “family” humoured me. The everyday chatter was good practice. Repetition, repetition and even more repetition.

What do you do for a few weeks in Florence? Well, I avoided the Duomo, Uffizi and other such places as this was August and peak tourist season! How about walking , exploring and trying to blend in?

How about a local bus ride to some of the small towns around Florence such as Fiesole?

Listen for the sound of music…avoid the buskers but head into the churches which have varied recitals….no charge but a donation does not go amiss. The Italian equivalent of a pub crawl is to do the rounds of the Enotecas, which are fundamentally wine bars of greatly varied sizes, style and cost but which offer wine tastings and quite often local foods such as cheeses and pancetta in tapas style portions.

The Enotecas vary greatly, some offer only very high end wines, so ensure you know what you are drinking and paying! They do, however, offer easy access to good knowledge of all

Large enoteca in the suburbs

Large enoteca in the suburbs

Italian wines and  local produce and an easy way to sample a wide variety of regional wines without a lot of travelling.

If possible follow the golden rules, never eat or drink where the clientele are obviously tourists or speak English, or where there is an English menu  and ALWAYS, at least one street back from the main road, thoroughfare or square. Two or three back is better. This way you get to mix with the locals. Lunchtime in Florence can be fun. Pick a place with no tourists, these are fairly small and usually not on the main streets. The locals have a quick lunch here, there are free “snacks”, such as crisps and nuts on the counter or on the small  150mm to 200mm wide shelves around the perimeter, just wide enough for a small plate and a wine glass. Oh and except for two very small tables it is standing only.  The first problem to overcome is to convince the locals that you actually intend to have lunch  here and have not wandered in by accident. For this you need, lots of “scusis”, lots of “grazies”, a big smile, and a steady progression though a crowd initially reluctant to accept your passage.

With practice, shrugs of the shoulders and quizzical expressions serve both to convey a sense of purpose and belonging and to “ease” people out of the way. Remember to keep chanting the “scusis” and “grazies”. The best tactic is to buy the food first at the separate counter, as who wants to spill a Chianto Classico? . Then head for the bar.  It’s usually not possible to reach the bar, as the earlybirds have claimed it to eat and drink, but now that your purpose is known, it is easy to catch the barman’s eye and order your tipple. Sometimes the money and wine needs to be passed on via intermediaries. To be honest and with deference to Eleanora  and Verona, it is not all that hard to be immersed in the local scene. Why does Tim Parks make such a big fuss of it?  Maybe writers and academics like to make things appear difficult or maybe Mancunians find everything to be difficult for them?

A day trip to Portofino is a worthwhile experience. The seafood is good but the



boulder“beach” needs some Queensland sand!!

Early on a Sunday, walk up to the Forte di Belvedere when it is quiet and before it gets too hot [ August remember?] There are usually some forms of art exhibitions in the fort, the views of Florence are good but the coffee is even better! The nearby Giardino di Boboli is a good way to return back down to Florence.Fort Belvedere view on the way

Fort Belvedere entrance

For those of you who must absolutely see everything, Florence is a good base, in May preferably, to explore the Tuscan countryside  when it is a vibrant spring green and before the tourist hordes descend .  Pisa, Sienna, San Grimignano, Lucca and Monteriggioni are

Cinque Terra

Cinque Terra

all easily visited. Why not try the Cinque Terra? It is a 12 or 14 hour day from Florence but the coach, hiking, train and boat journey is well worth it. Lunch perched high above the Ligurian Sea is not too shabby either. Ravenna by train for an overnight stay to see the Roman and Byzantine mosaics is also an option. If you go to Ravenna do not forget to visit the tomb of Dante, after all he is the “father” of today’s Italian language.

Florence is a delightful city BUT for me the hotel and the “family” made my stay there. Can you find your own Italian version of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel? This comparison came to mind as I watched the film on the way back to Australia




Buon Ferragosto to every one!  Oggi,  the 15th of  August even in the middle of an Australian winter,  it seems like the sky and the sun are screaming Happy Ferragosto…

Ferragosto, or Assumption Day, is an Italian national holiday celebrated on August 15. Many businesses and shops in Italy are closed on August 15 although on the coast and near major tourist sites shops are more likely to be some open. Most museums and tourist sites are open on August 15.  Continue reading “BUON FERRAGOSTO FROM THE ISC” »

Movie Matinee at the ISC: Tuesday 6th of August: COLPI DI FULMINE

Join us for the showing of the new Comedy Film direct from Italy:  COLPI DI FULMINE, on Tuesday  August 6th. This one is one of the best comedy movies to come out of Italy in a long while. Love is the main theme of the film. As every one knows Love can lead to a lot of funny business and this movie showcases enough to keep you laughing throughout.  Come a little early to enjoy complimentary coffee and biscuits.



Un film che affronta in chiave di commedia il tema dell’amore a prima vista. Nella prima parte uno psichiatra finisce per errore nel mirino del fisco. Temendo di finire in galera prima di riuscire a chiarire la sua posizione, si traveste da prete e si rifugia in un paesino del Trentino, dove si spaccia per il nuovo parroco della piccola comunità. Benché digiuno di pratiche religiose, grazie alla sua esperienza professionale riesce a entrare in sintonia con i parrocchiani. La situazione si complica quando si innamora a prima vista di una bellissima donna. Per entrambi è un amore inconfessabile: per lei perché lo crede un vero prete, per lui perché sa di essere un finto prete. Da qui una serie di comiche situazioni che ci condurranno ad un finale a sorpresa. La seconda parte del film si svolge a roma ed ha per protagonista l’ambasciatore italiano presso la santa sede. Il diplomatico, come vuole il suo ruolo, è forbito nell’eloquio e impeccabile nei modi. Ma, per la legge del contrappasso, perde la testa per una pescivendola che parla solo in romanesco e ha i modi grossolani di una popolana verace. la donna detesta i formalismi e così, per poter scendere alla sua altezza, l’ambasciatore, con l’aiuto del proprio autista, decide di trasformarsi in un vero coatto. La messa in scena corre sempre sul filo del rasoio. L’ambasciatore e il suo autista dovranno fare i salti mortali per risolvere quella situazione impossibile…


Italian Minister Cecile Kyenge and the dark side of Italian politics.

When Cecile Kyenge agreed to become a minister in Italy’s latest government she was well aware that she would have to break new and difficult ground.

Not only was she taking on the controversial immigration brief, she was also about to become Italy’s first black minister.

Not that Italians as a people are overtly racist, however the last wave of immigration especially from African nations on to the shores of Italy in the last decade especially,  has created some controversy with regards to the legislature that is currently in place to regulate the immigration influx into a country on the verge of economic implosion. Continue reading “Italian Minister Cecile Kyenge and the dark side of Italian politics.” »

La Nostra Musica

It is well known that Italy plays a leading role in the global musical scene,  and not just in Italian movies or restaurants. Did you know that listening to Italian music can actually help you learn Italian?

It is interesting to note that in about 3 minutes, a good song could turn your day around and make a gloomy day seem ass sunny as a summer day in Capri.  Whether you are listening to the radio in the car, or perhaps even in the shower, a melodious song can deeply touch the heart of the listener. Then there are certain songs that are so memorable it’s impossible to get them out of your head and out of your heart. Those songs maybe your passage into the Italian Language.   It wasn’t easy to create such a list because every person has his own opinion, but after a slow process of elimination and selection, we have created for you a list of the Top Ten Italian Songs Of All Times. We hope you will like this list:

1) Lucio Dalla – Caruso
2) Adriano Celentano – Azzurro
3) Umberto Tozzi – Ti Amo
4) Emilio Pericoli – Al di la
5) Jula de Palma – Tua
6) Gigliola Cinquetti – Non ho L’Eta
7) Claudio Villa – O Sole Mio
8) Claudio Baglioni – Questo piccolo grande amore
9) Vasco Rossi – Albachiara
10) Giuseppe Verdi – La Forza del Destino


But like we said, it was hard to narrow it down to ten. So we’ve actually included another 35 pieces to the list (make that Top 45 Italian Songs).

11) Domenico Modugno – Nel blu dipinto di blu
12) Andrea Bocelli – Con te Partiro
13) Marcella Bella – Montagne Verdi
14) Vasco Rossi – Vita spericolata
15) Uomini Soli – Pooh
16) Lucio Dalla – 4 Marzo 1943
17) Lucio Battisti – Emozioni
18) Umberto Tozzi – Gloria
19) Claudio Baglioni – Strada facendo
20) Ennio Morricone – Gabriel’s Oboe
21) Casabella – Che cos’e l’amore
22) Andrea Bocelli – Canto della Terra
23) Carmen Consoli – L’eccezione
24) Giorgia Fumanti – Ave Maria
25) Domenico Modugno – Volare
26) Lara Fabian – Caruso
27) Elisa Ligabue – Gli ostacoli del cuore
28) Guido Renzi – Tanto Cara
29) Cláudio Baglioni – Fratello sole sorella luna
30) Claudio Villa – Ti Voglio Tanto Bene
31) Lucio Battisti – La canzone del sole
32) Pino Donaggio – Io Che Non Vivo Senza Te
33) Sergio Endrigo – Canzone Per Te
34) Nico Fidenco – Legata a un granello di sabbia
35) Peppino Di Capri – Champagne
36) I Santo Califórnia – Dolce Amore Mio
37) I Santo Califórnia – Tornero
38) Umberto Tozzi & Raf – Gente Di Mare
39) Mina – Se Telefonando
40) Raf – L’infinito
41) Laura Pausini – La Solitudine
42) Marcella Bella – Montagne Verdi
43) Eduardo De Crescenzo – Ancora
44) Eros Ramazzotti – Una Storia Importante
45) Ivana Spagna – E Che Mai Sarà


Of course there is a chance that you may not entirely agree with the above list, as the list has been categorized from popular choice and the time it stayed on the charts. But, no matter what, whether you’re interested in Italian music for pleasure, culture, or education, listen to them at least once, as they are definitely worth your while.

Choosing only 10 songs from such a huge musical heritage as the Italian song has, it is practically impossible. We hope you enjoyed the list, but if your favorite Italian song didn’t make the list, just let us know in the comments.