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The Armchair Travelogue

Interesting places to visit.

It is a fact that if one is able to travel to other countries outside one’s own, the experiences gained  and the memories made often shape one’s attitude to the world at large. Depending on where one lives permanently it may be a stone’s throw to visit neighbouring countries at a fairly reasonable cost.  For others it could be that travelling overseas is a once in a lifetime occurrence and much planning may be needed to get the most out of the trip.

My plan for this segment of the blog is to whet the appetite of those fortunate enough to plan their next holiday or sightseeing trip as well as to entertain those  who are too busy to travel or who through their circumstances are avid armchair travellers. I sincerely hope that over the next few months you will find something of interest in at least one or two of the articles I plan to post. It could even be that you are tempted  to visit some of the places which I will be writing about in the future.

Ivrea – Northern Italy

The industrial city of Ivrea, the headquarters of Olivetti, known world-wide for being innovators in the past of typewriters, and later computers, situated in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy, was declared a world heritage site in 2018. This came about due to the successful and unique design  of the area in order to develop the testing ground for the headquarters of Olivetti (incorporating the factory as well as accommodation) by leading urban planners between the 1930’s and 1960’s,to create a modern version of the relationship between industrial production and architecture.

Having once been fortunate enough to have lived in Ivrea, for several months, I remember how I faced the prospect of the move with a great deal of trepidation. I had a two year old child, and had visions of doing the daily washing down at a local stream with a load of unsophisticated local women. Oh boy, how wrong can one be – thankfully! All the mod cons were available and the furnished apartment we rented had a washing machine!! The local people were anything but unsophisticated and my husband and I both had Italian lessons with a lady from whom we learnt not only to speak the language, but also to appreciate some of the culinary delights.

Such an absolute privilege, looking back, to have had the many experiences we had during our sojourn in Ivrea, and later in Milano. Our time in Ivrea actually coincided with the traditional Carnevale d’Ivrea and the battle of the oranges, which takes place annually shortly before Lent. The only year it was cancelled was in 1960 due to the death of Adriano Olivetti. Watching the following video confirms that many traditions have stood the test of time and will no doubt continue to do so.

Firstly, a short description of the town of Ivrea. Steeped in history, there are still cobbled streets in some areas which are juxtaposed with modern shops and restaurants – old and new side by side.  Situated at the edge of the Aosta valley, Ivrea has the Alps on one side which, during winter months, are capped with snow. Close to ski resorts such as the town of Cervinia, which is located at the foot of Mt. Cervino (known world-wide as the Matterhorn) and a relatively short train journey to the Swiss border, it makes good sense for tourists to take the time to discover this mediaeval treasure.

If one is able to visit Ivrea at the time of the annual Carnival then it really is an amazing experience to be part of the festivities of the Battle of the Oranges. Dating back to around 1808 this battle commemorates the time when in medieval times  Violetta, the miller’s daughter, refused to be bedded by the local Duke who took it upon himself to sleep with all newly married women. She actually cut off his head, and the oranges which are thrown in their thousands during the battle are meant to depict his severed head. The teams of revellers are all dressed in ancient costumes and the ones on the horse drawn carts wear helmets whilst those on foot do not have this protection.

As visitors to this spectacle you are advised to purchase and wear a red hat which resembles an elf’s hat, as this is meant to protect you from being bombarded by oranges. It doesn’t always work though, and I remember being able to choose to view some of the battles being fought behind a wire fence erected for the purpose and still having to duck regularly to avoid being hit by a citric missile! The thousands of oranges used during the festival turn the entire town centre into something resembling a gigantic juice extraction plant. One can hardly bear to think about the huge amount of cleaning up which has to be undertaken once the festivities come to an end.  I think the consumption of oranges probably declines dramatically for quite a while after the Carnivale!

The carnival is not just about the orange fight though as there are stalls selling amazing sweet and savoury treats along the banks of the local canal. More information is freely available on Google and well worth the read.  All in all several days of merriment for both young and old to enjoy, despite the chilly weather.

 

 

AWOL – Where is she now ??

The hoover’s given up the ghost
The fridge is on the blink
The kids are going crazy
I’ve been told I shouldn’t drink
To drown my stress and worry
But what’s my other choice
I’d better get control again
Bang doors and raise my voice!

To just sit down and ponder
And remember bygone years
Is really not the answer and
Will just bring me to tears
Life is full of challenges
All my friends have problems too
But the only time I’m in control
Is when I’m in the loo!

Troubles come in bundles
We all know that for sure
To dance and sing and have a laugh
Is meant to be a cure
I’ll try to be more positive
And see the good in life
It’s no good being grumpy
As a mother or a wife.

The day is almost over
And it’s time to plan the dinner
Making macaroni cheese
Is bound to be a winner
Oh no, I can’t believe it
It really can’t be true
There seems to be no power
What on earth am I to do?

I grab the phone and make the call
We’ll have Chinese tonight
Heaven help the lot of them
If they dare to get uptight
I’ll down my tools and take a break
Once they have gone to bed
Amazing how some me time
Helps so much to clear one’s head!

Judy Binns Nemeth

Friendship Part 3

FRIENDS WITH A DIFFERENCE

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Can there be any friendship that is more rewarding than one between a human being and a beloved animal. The unconditional love that is shown by an animal to its owner has to be experienced to be fully understood and children who grow up in homes shared with animals have the advantage of knowing from their early years the pleasure that pets can bring. There are certain people who will keep a dog as a protector but, due to their religion, never even fondle the poor creature, which surely is a shocking form of emotional abuse. This was told to me by a vet who found it very difficult to cope with this kind of pet owner.  Unfortunately, culture plays a role in many communities and having an animal as a pet can be taboo. Children brought up with this unfortunate background often scream hysterically whenever a dog or a cat comes near them. I have been witness to a child screeching like a banshee when a little Jack Russell dog just wanted to say hello to the girl in question. The poor little dog was terrified by this unexpected and totally unnecessary outburst. Worse than that is when adults have gone hysterical just because a cat has come near to them.

If children are being prevented from having any form of animal in their home then it would be a very good idea for nursery schools or day care facilities to get such youngsters more comfortable around small creatures. I wouldn’t advocate a teacher bringing her Great Dane into a classroom, but to have a bunny as a classroom pet or even a hamster could teach children how to care for any pet they may own in the future. The child who grows up on a farm where there are not only domestic animals but also a variety of farm animals such as pigs, cows, goats, donkeys, ponies as well will probably never realise just how fortunate their childhood is compared to someone who has never even owned a puppy.

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We read accounts every day in various newsfeeds about the amazing deeds which animals have performed whereby human lives have been saved and warnings given regarding health issues as well as preventing dangerous occurrences. Dogs are being trained in some countries to be partners of children who have life threatening illnesses and to bark a warning when, for example, an epileptic fit is about to occur. This must be an absolutely fascinating form of animal training which must take hours of dedication and love for the job at hand. The same goes for people who are involved in puppy walking future guide dogs for the blind. We humans think we are so clever, but we know so little about the potential and intelligence of our four legged friends. The best we can do is to respect them, love them and care for them and appreciate the value they bring into our lives.

A sad part of growing old is that in many cases the elderly are prevented from taking their often equally elderly dog or cat with them into a retirement home. Having to leave a house they have often lived in for most of their adult lives is traumatic enough without the heartbreak of having to be parted from a beloved pet. The reason given by management of many of these retirement homes is that the pets can become a nuisance to other residents. The truth of the matter is that most of the time the dog or cat is content to sit at the feet or on the lap of the elderly person with a minimum of exercise required so that reasoning seems to be inconsequential to say the least.

“Animals are such agreeable friends; They ask no questions,
Pass no criticisms.” – George Eliot

A pig can be a wonderful pet and despite all the negative comments about pigs, they are actually very clean animals. So it really is an insult to the porkers to align them with grubby, messy humans!  The downside of having a pot-bellied pig as a pet is that they can grow extremely large and I believe can become rather aggressive. It is also much easier to take a puppy to puppy socialisation classes than a pot-bellied pig! Just thinking about the reaction of all the dogs at puppy school if a pig had to join the class is rather disturbing! I have heard though of a sheep going to dog training classes, so maybe taking your pig along isn’t so far fetched after all.

Just a last thought. Have you ever been ill or been forced to lie in bed to recuperate after an operation and your cat has slept on your bed the whole day, purring and keeping you company? You just never feel alone if you have that four legged family member to give you that unconditional love. Whether it’s a dog, a cat or even a pig on whom you lavish attention, the emotional rewards cannot be measured. That wonderful warm and fuzzy feeling you get when you return home after having been away for even a few hours and your pet bounds over to lick you or rub himself around your legs, has to be experienced to be understood. That is true friendship of the highest order.

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The Bourdain Burger

For years, I have been trying to cook and assemble the perfect burger. I’d experiment with different seasonings in the patty, adding finely diced onion, chilli, herbs and even blue cheese on occasion. The number and combinations of toppings, and sauces, are endless, and everyone has their own favourite. Often, my experiments resulted in interesting and great tasting burgers, sometimes the combinations were not so great. However, the more “creative” I got, the more I felt I was moving away from the basic simplicity and flavour of what a burger should be. I then came across a video of the late (and great) Anthony Bourdain where he shares his views on what makes a great burger (you can watch it here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZwyLVUAS5Y ). My burger recipe below includes a lot of his suggestions (and I include his name in my version, as a small tribute to the great man). I prefer to use cubed beef chuck for the patty, and grind it myself, as I find the meat to fat ratio perfect for a burger. Of course, you are entirely free to include whatever toppings and sauces you wish. Personally, I think the simplicity of the toppings and sauces I use in my version, allow for the full beefy flavour of the patty to really shine through. But ultimately, the choice is yours. Whilst many people label the burger as  “junk food”, I prefer the term “fun food”, as one really should enjoy the process of cooking, building and eating this iconic food.

Ingredients

  • 720g Beef Chuck, cubed
  • 4 large round burger buns. I use sesame seed covered ones but again, this is your choice
  • Pickled Gherkins – sliced lengthways or into rounds
  • 4 processed cheese slices
  • Tomato sauce
  • Mayonnaise
  • Lettuce
  • Olive oil

Method

  • Grind the meat using the course grinding wheel. If you don’t have your own meat grinder, simply ask your butcher to do this for you.
  • Divide the meat into four 180g portions
  • Shape each portion into a burger patty, taking care not to compress the meat too much. The patty should resemble an ice hockey puck.
  • Season the patty’s well with good sea salt and cracked black pepper
  • Heat a good splash of olive oil in a pan, over a high heat, until just starting to smoke
  • Add the burger patty’s making sure not to crowd the pan. You can cook them in two batches if necessary.
  • Fry the burger patty’s for approximately 3 minutes on one side, turn over and fry for a further 2 minutes on the other side. This timing will produce a burger which is med-rare to medium. However, you can cook longer if you prefer yours more well-done.
  • You are looking for the burger patty to have a nice crust on the outside but take care not to burn.
  • Remove burger patties from the pan, lay a slice of processed cheese on each, and set aside, resting whilst you prepare the buns. The cheese will melt from the residual heat
  • Cut each bun in half, and lightly toast.
  • Put a thin layer of mayonnaise on the base of a bun.
  • Add the sliced pickled gherkin
  • If you like extra cheese (as I do) you can add another slice on top of the gherkins
  • Add a burger patty, topped with some lettuce and tomato sauce.
  • Top with the other half of the bun and get stuck in!!!

Nice! and Tasty – Chris

The Human Touch

“At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet.” – Plato

Babies who area left unattended and unloved at birth do not thrive and that has been a fact which has been verified over and over again through research and long term studies. The modern way of thinking is that, even prior to birth, the unborn child can benefit by the mother talking to the baby, playing soothing music to it and generally trying to keep a calm and positive frame of mind during her pregnancy. This is proving to be a big challenge in a world where many mothers are leaving the reproduction process until their career is well established.

It would appear that in many instances, the higher the achiever, the more stress their career usually generates. We land up with a catch 22 situation with a highly motivated mother to be who is bombarded with masses of available data informing her of how to handle her pregnancy in order to have as healthy a new-born as possible. Sometimes one has to wonder whether the saying “while ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise” doesn’t actually have some merit. The more information which is available, the more the poor future mothers have to worry about.  It’s don’t do this, don’t eat that, avoid the following but, make sure you take the time to enjoy your 9 months gestation period!Print

The reality is that many new mothers have to work almost up to their due date, so the luxury of taking things easy is often only enjoyed by a privileged few. However, once the baby arrives it is the love and nurturing that is of utmost importance for the future well-being of the baby. This is not always easy to achieve when you find yourself with a niggley, colicky baby who doesn’t feed well, and cries a lot. Then the feelings of guilt may kick in whereby a new mother starts worrying that it is due to her having pushed herself so hard at work to meet all her deadlines before commencing her maternity leave.  This is when the support of a friend or a family member is so important as it is easy to become depressed and riddled with anxiety. The lack of sleep after having a baby is absolutely horrendous and has to be experienced to be fully appreciated. Being zombie like for weeks on end doesn’t make bonding with your baby any easier either. This is the time for a special kind of human touch.

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A partner who is understanding of the new mother’s need for emotional support can make all the difference.  Modern fathers in many cases are way more hands on when it comes to helping with a newborn than men were in years gone by. However, a female friend, sister or mother can be invaluable in helping in the early weeks after the baby’s arrival. Once a woman feels that she is coping with her new role it becomes far easier to give the baby the loving attention which it so badly needs to thrive.

The upside of the above is that, in most instances, a new mother has had the best part of 9 months to prepare for the baby’s birth. How much more difficult is it when, often quite out of the blue, a phone call comes in saying that you are now at the top of the adoption list and your longed for child has arrived, and can be fetched very soon! There have been none of those irritating trips to the toilet during the night for the past few months, to prepare you for broken sleep. It’s now a case of sink or swim and your nights are no longer your own.

When all is said and done, the human touch prevails in most cases and millions of children benefit from being nurtured and cared for despite the concerns and worries of their over-worked, over ambitious but extremely loving mothers.

“The only creatures that are evolved enough to convey pure
love, are dogs and infants.” – Johnny Depp

Friendship Part 2

TRANSIENT FRIENDSHIPS

Friends often tend to be transient – they come into our life at a particular stage and at the time can be an amazing support system. Then, years later when thinking back, you wonder why the friendship just petered out. There has to be a common bond in order for a friendship to start in the first place. You may find yourself connecting with a colleague at work, and the company and its politics, as well as your personal situations could be the common factor. When one of you moves on to another company, or starts working from home, it can be quite upsetting to find that there is very little that one has in common any longer and ultimately it becomes rather tedious to try to continue the relationship.

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Women often seem to find it easier than men to make new friends. This is more than likely due to women having, in many cases, better verbal skills than the majority of men.  A short hospital stay is often the place where women connect and continue to keep in touch long after they have both recovered from their illness and gone home. When a woman has a baby she may find herself bonding with another woman in the same ward. It can be a great support to be able to discuss common worries with someone who is in the same or a similar situation. Men, on the other hand, can be in the same ward as other men for several weeks after having an operation, but never find out the name of the person in the next bed.  I know this is a generalisation, but I have been witness to this kind of scenario. Men are from Mars?

“Wishing to be friends is quick work,
but friendship is a slow-ripening fruit.” – Aristotle 

It can be disappointing when one tries to get back into a comfortable relationship with friends from the past only to find that you have absolutely nothing in common any more. This is why I wonder just how beneficial it is to search for past friends via facebook, or google and then spend valuable time trying to make up for all the years when there was no contact at all. If these so-called friends were really interested in keeping in touch then surely you wouldn’t have lost contact in the first place. Looking at their profiles and comments on line and seeing just how successful their lives appear to have been and how blissfully happy they are as a family, can be very distressing if your own circumstances are less than ideal. Scratch the surface of all the bragging and “look at my wonderful life” comments and the truth is probably quite different. At least when one has a “real” friend your interactions are less likely to make you feel inadequate and if that isn’t the case, then you can just cool the friendship somewhat and don’t constantly see more on line bragging.

My point is that, throughout one’s life, there is often an opportunity to make a new friend and, even if that friendship lasts a relatively short space of time, while it does exist it may provide you with a much needed emotional lifeline. Human interaction is a necessary part of having a healthy, well-balanced life (unless you have joined a nunnery or a monastery and taken either a vow of silence, or become a hermit monk) so we shouldn’t be too obsessed with the length of a friendship and enjoy the fact that many are transient in nature and that’s okay too.

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