When I was growing up, ‘This is Your Life’ presented by Eamonn Andrews, was a regular occurrence in our house. He always kept the most special guest until last. At 10 and 11 years old, I used to imagine myself on the show, when I would be a famous author, and at the end of the show, after introducing all the interesting people I had yet to meet and yet to share fabulous life experiences with, I knew exactly the person Eamonn would keep to last…. “You started writing to each other at nine years of age, she was your first writing buddy and here she is, 40 years later, your Greek penpal Nectaria!”
I’d actually well-up thinking about the moment and have to leave the room.
We wrote to each other religiously until we were about 18 or 19 . It started off about school and family and then over the years about dreams and love. She lived in an unpronounceable place that she wrote the name of in greek lettering and I could never find on a map. We lost touch and years went by.
And then social media was invented. Twelve years ago she found me through Facebook, “Are you the same Rosie who had a Greek Penpal?”
We had a lot of catching up to do, she had married too and had a son.
A month ago I got it into my head that Ronan and I should go on a beach holiday somewhere away from Italy to celebrate both our retirements from the wedding industry. I asked my friend Shelly where would she recommend and she supposedly said Corfu. It was late and there was wine taken. The following morning I booked flights to Crete. I was confused, after all they both begin with ‘C’ and are large greek islands.
I initially chose a hotel on the west coast but after a frustrating two hours of trying to choose the right place to stay I booked somewhere random. Near beaches and a town.
With work ending, three books with deadlines, and a house to prep for our dog sitter guests to arrive after more building work finishing the day before their arrival, I had not been on Facebook much. But when I did click on it, a post from Nectaria popped up… “Going away for a few days” with a picture of her dog and a backpack. It prompted me to respond… “We’re going away next week too! To Crete.”
“You are going to CRETE?”
“WHERE IN CRETE?”
“That is the town where I live! Tell me we are going to at last meet?!!”
So tomorrow I am going to have my ‘This Is Your Life’ moment with Eamonn Andrews voice in my ear… “You started to write to each other 40 years ago and now here today to meet you for the first time is your life long pen pal …”
I’ll post pics on Facebook and Instagram of us together for the first time and on my website.
Who would be your This Is Your Life final guest (still living)?
An extract from chapter 2 of A Rosie Life In Italy 1 about how Nectaria and I were matched as Pen Pals….
As kids, when we drew our dream houses… My houses always had shutters even though shutters didn’t exist in Ireland. Shutters were the hallmark of the perfect house in my mind. I also needed a courtyard with a long table for family dinners. This idea was inspired by watching TV with my family when I was nine. There was a movie with a huge family dinner under the sun, with profusions of food being passed around and wine being poured. It was a celebration, everyone was laughing, kids were playing around grape vines or olive trees. I can’t remember who said it, but I remember the words ‘Mama mia’ being said. Staring at the TV it was my idea of Heaven.
I went to Mass on Sunday and, as I knelt in my rain-soaked trousers, I prayed that someday I would live in Mama mia Land with my family; happy and in the sun. The following Monday my teacher handed us out pen-pal forms with all the countries in the world listed on them. We were to tick the box of the country that we wanted to have a pen-pal in.
“Which country do they say Mama mia in?” I asked my teacher.
After some thought my teacher answered “Greece”.
So I ticked Greece.
My Greek pen-pal Nectaria and I wrote to each other religiously every second week for 10 years without her ever mentioning her long candle-lit, olive-strewn family dinners, even though I often asked how was dinner with her family that week. One evening I happened to see the scene on TV again I had watched all those years ago and realised my teacher was wrong; Mama Mia Land was not in Greece but Italy.
Once our residency came through, we knew we had 30 days to get rid of our car and replaced with an Italian one or change the registration and make our car an Italian citizen.
So off we went with all the documents needed to the agency that looks after car stuff equipped with car registration, IDs, code fiscale, residency cert, driver’s licence.
Next to the photocopier sits a small thin woman in her 60s, with her hair pinned up on top of her head and silvery blue eye liner. She has a kind face. Her son, who is about 20, is a good-looking chap, with soft brown eyes and light brown hair and ready to be helpful.
He acts as a translator for us with his pidgin English and my wren-sized Italian.
She answers all our questions… the age of the car is not an issue, of course you can change the 13-year-old car… It will cost about 800-1000 euro to do the change over… And she would get working on it straight away… It will take a month to come through…
The woman creates a cardboard file for us with all our photocopied stuff in it, ID, Code fiscale, Car registration, Car insurance.
“Everything is in order, but…” her son says, translating to Ronan what his mother needs from him.
“Your cock is missing. She needs your cock.”
Ronan looks down at his trousers.
“What is a cock?” I tentatively ask trying to stop my wobbling mouth by not looking at Ronan.
“It is the document that has all the specifics of the make of the car. The certified copy would have been given when the car was sold to you.”
“We bought the car second hand five years ago, and it was already eight years old then, so I think his cock may have disintegrated by now or lost along the way.”
“We can get you a new cock in Italian for €230 or you can order one online for less.”
“Does it need to be in Italian?”
“Well then, we’ll do it online. We’ll be back.”
We returned home and Ronan googles car cocks and after some surprising results; he finds what he is looking for.
“We can order one online for 85 euro, just like they said. But I got a brainwave to contact Toyota. They knew exactly what we were looking for and within minutes had taken details of the car and the document is now in the post free of charge.”
The document arrives in the post within days and Ronan goes straight to the agency with it. The lady took two photocopies of Ronan’s cock, which he is very proud of as he got it for nothing, and adds them to our file.
Car insurance was the next thing I wanted to check before making a final decision. Even though I had been driving 30 years without an incident, they said my no claims bonus from Ireland would not be recognised in Italy, so it would be like starting off again as a first time driver. In Ireland, insurance for a first time driver can cost thousands.
“They have to recognise your no claims bonus, it’s EU law,” Ronan surprises me sometimes with his random knowledge of law and regulations.
“Tell that to the Italian government, I dare you.” Orientating our way around legal stuff and bureaucracy is something we both became quite skilled at in Ireland but in a country with an alien language we don’t have a hope in hell of knowing where to start to argue this point.
So I braced myself and sent an email off to the woman who organised our house insurance to give me a rough estimate for car insurance. Once we had this quote, we could weigh up the costs of every option again and make an informed decision.
“Ronan, you are not going to believe the car insurance estimate they just sent. Go on, guess?” Ronan is PC (pre coffee) and not in the mood for guessing games.
“I dunno, 50 thousand, two thousand?”
“No, €450! She would need the full details of the car, a road worthiness cert and it to be Italian registered before going ahead. I couldn’t believe it. All this time I thought it was going to be ridiculously expensive, but it is costing the same, actually a bit less than our insurance in Ireland.”
“Wow,” even PC Ronan was impressed. “So decision made, it’s full steam ahead with making our car an Italian citizen.”
The following day Ronan is closing the plastic boot of the car and a whole section cracks off in his hand. He superglues it back together and hopes for the best. It’s then I notice the small print on the insurance quote. It is for six months, not per year. So it is, in fact, double the cost of my Irish insurance.
It all goes downhill from there.
(Edited extract from A Rosie Life In Italy 3)
According to folklore we are currently in the most magical time of the year – the twelve days between Christmas and the Epiphany. It was believed witches were most present at this time especially on the twelfth night (remember your Shakespeare?) – The eve of the Epiphany – it, the 5th January, was considered the most magical night of the year, when wishes could be made and the future could be predicted through ‘signs’ and games.
In some parts of Italy an olive tree leaf, thrown into the fire could tell you if your wish would come through or not. If it took long to burn your wish would be fulfilled. However if instead it burned too quickly, it was hard luck try again next year and a sign to adjust your wishes.
It was the night girls would place three broad beans in various stages of being peeled, under their pillow and believed they would see their future husbands in their dreams.
In the morning they would reach under their pillow and pull out a bean. If it was the the fully peeled one then it meant the groom would be rich, if it was the unpeeled one he would be poor and the half-peeled one indicated he’d be something in the middle.
Christmas spirit starts later in Italy than other parts of the western world but lasts longer and it is much less commercialised.
They tend to wait until the 6th December to turn on the Christmas lights and the celebrations go on until the 6th January with the night of the 5th January, being the favourite for kids as it is the night the Befana comes.
I was first told about La Befana a few years ago by a baker.
“What the hell is that?” I said pointing at the pile of dark grey lumps piled in the basket on the counter of the bakery.
“It is Carbone, made from sugar,” the baker smiles as he packs up my cream cakes. “If you are bad, La Befana leaves them for you.”
“I think you call her a witch?”
He points to the smiling puppet witch sitting on her broomstick hanging from the shelf.
It turns out that La Befana is a happy smiling old lady, who rides around on her broomstick comes down the chimney and leaves candy and presents for good children and a lump of coal if they are bad. A glass of wine and some food is left out for the Befana. It all sounds familiar doesn’t it? As with so many pagan traditions and idols, when Christian gaslighting became all the rage, La Befana’s action were absorbed into Santa and the lady herself absorbed into a biblical story.
The legend now stands that the three wise men stopped at her home over night on their way to finding the infant Jesus. She was known to be the best housekeeper in the village so the choice of house was natural. They all got on so well that the lads invited her along on their adventure but naturally after having three men stay in her house she felt had too much housework to do.
But later in the day she said “feck it, life is too short to miss out on such an invitation”, so she jumped on her broomstick and tried to catch up with them and see the baby they were so excited about. To this day, La Befana is searching for the lads and the baby. While searching she leaves all the good children toys and sweets, while the bad children get coal (‘carbone’), onions or garlic.
Anyone who sees La Befana will receive a thump from her broomstick – a rumour created to keep children in their beds. This scare tactic was not absorbed by Santa Claus, which is unfortunate as it’s one of my favourites.
The ancient Italians seemed keen to scare their kids into sleeping, as this ‘lullaby’ translated to english would indicate:
Who will I give this child to?
If I give it to the Befana
she will keep him one whole week.
If I give it to the Bogey Man
he will keep him one whole year.
But if the child goes to slee
then his mother will him keep.”
Of course the Italian christians tried to get rid of the idea of a loved ‘witch’. On the morning of 6th January, sacristans would go from house to house leaving the ‘Bboffe water’, which was to be sprinkled around the house to keep witches away. Which was a bit late on their part since La Befana would have been and gone the night before.
So get your beans, coal and olive leaves ready for the last Christmas celebration Italian style, but forget the Bboffe water, the world could do with the help of a few good witches now.
Tomorrow, Monday the 1st November, I will be hosting the second 30 minute slot of our 10 hour launch party on Facebook for our Christmas 20 book anthology: Clues, Christmas Trees and Corpses.
It’s available on all ebook online outlets for only 99 cents for another few days only!
Click Here to JOIN THE PARTY!