Newsletter 16, 2011 (1)
A happy New Year to all friends of Learn Italy. “If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”
Study holidays in 2011
The trips to Genoa and Milan below are at an advanced state of planning; the other two are not yet fully developed. If you are interested in any of these study holidays please indicate this on the accompanying postcard (no need for a stamp), and pop it in the post – don’t forget to add your name and address.
6–12 March: Genoa
Would anyone like to make up a small group to study Italian at a language school in this lively city on the Italian Riviera? In the mornings we attend the language classes (available at various levels, including beginners); in the afternoons we explore.
2–5 June: Ferrara
A walled town centre, with parks and palaces planned by the Este dynasty in the Renaissance, truly this is a delightful place to walk (or cycle) around. Many people think Ferrara is Italy’s most beautiful city; it’s certainly among the top ten.
17–23 October: The Stones of Rome
This study week will trace the history of Rome through its architecture, which, of course, includes some of the most illustrious and influential buildings in the world, echoes of which we can see to this day in every European town.
4–10 November: Milan
The beautiful Romanesque church of St Ambrogio, a huge Gothic cathedral, Leonardo’s Last Supper, and three great art galleries; Milan is now one of the world capitals of fashion and design, concealing an illustrious history behind the façade of a busy, bustling, modern city.
Do you have a European Health Insurance Card? If not, you should – it will ease treatment for injury or illness in all European Union countries, including Italy. An EHIC card is free; an application form can be obtained from the Post Office. If you have one already, check that it’s not expired; strangely, they run out every few years.
For further information about Learn Italy or any of the available study holidays, please e-mail Martin Gray at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 01865 860984 and leave a message including your phone number.
The Italian Beach
This is the time of year when we are exhorted to dream of summer holidays by the sea. Can anything offer a clearer view of the difference between the Italian and the British frame of mind than the Italian idea of a beautiful beach? Of course, one should not make generalisations about the tastes and habits of whole nations, but here goes.
In Pisa airport, passport control is approached via one of those zigzag tape corridors well known to airport users (for which there ought to be a special name), where you either shuffle forwards in a queue or walk needlessly and repetitively backwards and forwards to cover a very short distance. A huge advertisement for a hotel complex on the coast dominates the room. In pride of place in the middle of the ad is a picture of a typical Italian “beach”: rows and rows of blue parasols – dozens, almost certainly hundreds of them – in perfectly straight lines, in a tight grid. Each parasol is neatly flanked by a pair of deckchairs. In between the dense symmetry of beach furniture there are narrow strips of clean, pale sand. For Italians, this just shows a familiar and typical bagno, the semi-privatised part of the sea-shore where every family pays large sums to hire those parasols and deckchairs for weeks or months in the summer, allowing access to the sea in front, and the bar and changing rooms and car park behind. Nearly all the coastline of Italy is taken over by bagni like this; the one pictured is just bigger, smarter and probably more expensive than most of them.
For North Europeans, with romantic notions of mountains and wilderness, pictures of our ideal beach are everywhere in holiday advertisements, in newspapers and on hoardings. It is an empty stretch of pure sand, perhaps with one tanned and slim couple holding hands in the shallows; or just a palm tree and an exotic wooden boat. It’s a place that in your dreams you have to yourself (of course in practice this is not so). I would guess that for most British travellers the serried ranks of the bagno are worse than unattractive – in fact, utterly repugnant. We like access to our sea-shore to be free; and if we hire a deckchair on Brighton beach, we want to be able to plonk it higgledy-piggledy just where we like, and preferably not too close to anyone else.
Problems with stamps
Charges for postage are now so complicated (First or Second Class? Large Letter? Small Packet?) it’s not impossible that you may have been sent something by Learn Italy with the incorrect postage, and had to pay a surprisingly large excess to the postman for my mistake. Stamps fall off too: are they not as sticky as they used to be? Especially irksome is the trek to some inconveniently far off post office to pay your fine and take possession of the offending material. If this has happened, please do let me know, and I will try to make some kind of reparation (and if possible ensure that it doesn’t happen again).