Day 26 – Learning the Lingo

Day 26 – Learning the Lingo

I’m determined to be able to speak Italian before this Lockdown is over. I’m doing two Italian lessons per week via Skype (Verbling), I’d do three except my teacher has no spaces left in his schedule as everyone in Lockdown is using it as a time to improve their Italian. I know a lot of words in Italian I just don’t have confidence in using them as my pronunciation is rubbish. And it’s quite a dangerous language if your pronunciation is off.

In practically every conversation with my Italian friend, when I make an effort to speak Italian she bursts out laughing. “I think I know what you mean, but you just said a word for Penis”. Or “You can’t say it like that, you just said something about your Vagina.”

This is particularly the case when talking about a recipe, growing vegetables or doing grocery shopping as every fruit and vegetable seems to have a pun or innuendo attached to it.

The most common of these words is probably ‘patata’, which is commonly used as a nickname for a female’s private anatomy. Saying “dammi la patata“, “give me the potato” can be taken two different ways. If you are having peas with your potatoes you need to be aware that the word for pea, piesolla, is a childish word for penis. So if you are not careful, you could be asking ‘Give me your vagina” and “would you like penis with that?’.  Discussing fennel and figs are also mine fields.

Another problem is when pronouncing double consonants. A common one is, ‘Penne’, if not pronounced correctly it means penis. This is why you see penis shaped pasta in tacky gift shops in Italy, as most tourists in restaurants ask for penis pasta. Similarly ‘anni’, which means ‘years’, if said too quickly it means anus. My husband, who has decided to communicate with hand gestures rather than learn Italian, merrily wished everyone a ‘Happy Anus’ last New Year’s.  Maybe that’s why we are all having such a shit year?

But it works both ways, the same Italian friend who corrects me on perverted Italian, decided to create a hen house during lockdown, she’s delighted with her new hobby and last night sent me pics of her hugging her chucks with a message “I will be called Queen of Chickens!”

I text her back;  ‘That sounds like you are leading a nation of cowards, better to use the adult name.”

“Ah okay I see…” She replied, “Okay then, I will be Queen of Cocks.”

I was going to text back, “NOOOOOOO…. HENS!” but it was late, I was tired … and it’s a way of getting her back for laughing at all my perverted Italian pronunciation over the last year.

Day 24 – Photo Cluedo

Day 24 – Photo Cluedo

Yesterday I took out a large storage box full of print pre-digital age photos to sort out. I had great intentions. I cleared a space on the dinner table, grabbed a handful and started to go through them. Soon I realised a needed some sort of system. How do I categorise them?

So I started with a PU (Pre Us) pile and an AU (After Us) pile.

The PU was divided into His and Hers – This included photos of when we were kids, our families, old friends.

Then there was the WTFIT pile. The ‘Who The F**k Is That’ pile. These were people that we vaguely remember; someone we met on a holiday and never stayed in touch, or we just don’t know who the person is and why they have stayed amongst our treasured memories for so long, such as the Elvis impersonator.

There were one or two awkward moments of;  ‘Will I put the photo of this beautiful looking person on the WTFIT pile?’

And him or me saying ‘ah no.’

‘Why who is it?’

‘Ah just an old flame.’

‘So why do you want to keep the photo?’

‘It brings back nice memories?’

‘And the 876 other photos of me and our kids don’t have the same affect?’


The WTFIT pile were put on the fire in a ritual burning. The beautiful people were saved. Inevitably, at least one of the WTFIT people will contact us in the next week and remind us of a fabulous time we had together and ask if I still have the photo from when we met.

The ‘After Us’ Pile was much bigger and needed several sub sections.

I decided on PC (Pre children) … God we looked good. Thin, fit and so happy. 

And AC (After children) – the children look happy but we look quite stressed in a lot of them and not so thin and fit. We really are not a good ad for having children. If a contraception clinic used our pre and post photos to help people make a decision, they’d sell a lot of contraception.

The AC pile was then divided into:

House 1, House 2, etc.    As we’ve moved five times in 25 years, categorising by house was easier than by year. A new game called Photo Cluedo emerged.  By the photo’s background, we guess the house location, the room and the occasion. First to the buzzer wins… Kitchen, Dublin, Easter… If you could say the year you got a bonus point.

Then I had two sub piles called; Child No 1 (pre child no 2) and C2 Child No 2 (without child no 1).

Child No 1 (pre child no 2) – This was huge, so I further divided into the six years before  child number two arrived. So many great birthday cakes, holidays.

Child No 2 (without child no 1) – In my Child no 2 file, there were five photos. I was the last of five kids and there are two photos of me when I was a baby and tonnes of my sister who was the first child. For years I thought the photos of her were me because that’s what my parents told me, obviously they feeling some guilt for forgetting to record any of my childhood.

My parents had five kids so I completely understand, the novelty of ‘firsts’ can wear off, but I only had two! I felt like such a bad parent, why have I only five photos of my son? Then I remember, digital photography had kicked in by then. Sorting through digitals will be for another day, but I made a mental note that I need to print some photos of my son.

I also made a  ‘WTH’ pile. – ‘Why The Hell’ have I kept these photos?

These were random sunsets, empty fields, an out of focus squirrel, nondescript scenery and photos we look really crap in. There’s also one of a pigeon flying in front of my husband’s face. WHY have I kept these photos? So they all went for the ritual burning – except the pigeon one, it made me smile so I kept it.

By the time I was finished I had over 20 piles on the table. It was dinner time. So what now? I carefully picked up each pile and… put them back into the box, but separated by sheets of paper so that I felt the last two hours weren’t a complete waste of time. I was carrying the box back into the room to store it when the bottom part gave way and fell to the floor, leaving the lid just in my hands. Photos went everywhere.

On the news they announced lockdown was being extended another two weeks. At least we’ll have time for another round of Photo Cluedo.

Day 23 – Witches and Acne

Day 23 – Witches and Acne

I’ve been avoiding social media a bit. I can’t handle all the conspiracy theories going around and here’s why:

When the Black Plague came to Europe in the 14th century, healers and governments were at a loss to explain the disease. Jews and people with acne were just some of those blamed as possible reasons for outbreaks, and were massacred throughout Europe as a result.

Cats were also blamed and Europeans continued to kill cats for another 300 years after the inital outbreak.

Should Jews, people with skin disorders or cats have been killed and blamed for the Black Plague?

NO, we look on the idea as tragic and ridiculous, because we are more rational now, and thanks to scientists we know it was carried by fleas on rats.

Let’s skip to the 1900s, the Spanish Flu swept the globe, killing between 20 million and 40 million people. While the Spanish carry the stigma of being attached to the name, the first known case of the flu strain was reported in 1918 in Kansas. It spread to most cities in America and then followed the thousands of American soldiers who crossed the Atlantic for the closing offensives of the First World War.

So should Americans be blamed for the Spanish Flu?

NO because scientists know that global outbreaks of deadly influenza go back at least 400 years and because we are rational human beings we know a natural occurring illness is no nation’s fault.

I find the treatment of women branded as ‘witches’ in history including The Salem Witch Trials fascinating. The imagination of the citizens of Salem got completely out of hand and led the town to hang many of their own in the 1600s. One girl, was accused of flying over a barn. It had to be true because a friend of a friend said they saw it (their version of social media).

The Witch Trials were caused by mass hysteria and the desires of the power hungry, during a time of great uncertainty and fear. Even in current uncertain times, could we imagine burning women at the stake now?

NO because we are a more rational and kinder society.

Let’s just go back to the Plague for a moment, one of the most successful cities at stopping the spread of the Black Plague was Milan. If a person was found to have the Plague all the windows and doors were bricked shut, along with anyone inside – whether or not they were infected. While this extreme method of quarantine largely stopped the spread, would it be accepted today, even though we are living through something not too dissimilar?

NO because we are a more rational and kinder society.

Roll on 2020 and half the world is indoors hiding from a virus. However times are different now aren’t they? We don’t lend ourselves to hysteria like the Witch Trials in Salem, we are a rational society, we have well trained scientists with amazing technology to tell us the facts so we avoid superstition.

So why all these Conspiracy Theories that China, Russia or the USA created it in a lab and launched the disease on purpose?

We know Covid-19 started in China. On March 17 2020 the Scripps Research Institute released it’s research (funded by the US, Australia, Europe and UK) which found no evidence that the virus was made in a laboratory or otherwise engineered.

“By comparing the available genome sequence data for known coronavirus strains, we can firmly determine that SARS-CoV-2 originated through natural processes,” said Kristian Andersen, PhD, an associate professor of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research and corresponding author on the paper.

Josie Golding, PhD, epidemics lead at UK-based Wellcome Trust, said the findings by Andersen and his colleagues are “crucially important to bring an evidence-based view to the rumours that have been circulating about the origins of the virus (SARS-CoV-2) causing COVID-19.”

They conclude that the virus is the product of natural evolution, ending any speculation about deliberate genetic engineering.

So should we be creating hysteria like they did around the Salem Witch Trials by repeating these stupid conspiracy theories? Should we be pointing a finger at a nation to blame them for a disease that originated through natural evolution?

NO because the scientists have told us the facts, and we are a more rational and kinder society … aren’t we?

Day 22 – Speranza

Day 22 – Speranza

Something really strange, but wonderful, happened yesterday. I had been sorting photos the day before and I woke up thinking of a photo from the time I was working as a chamber maid in a hotel in Germany 30 years ago. It triggered a memory of an Irish guy I had met there – no one important, he just worked where I worked. I couldn’t remember his name.

I suddenly remembered that it was to him I had lent my favourite book an early reprint of a book from the 1800’s of first hand accounts of Irish spells and superstitions. I got a flash back to the exact moment I handed him the book, probably a bit drunk, saying “this is one of my most treasured items, I want it back”. I never got it back. I didn’t realise it was missing until I was months back home in Ireland and couldn’t remember where it went.

Over the last 30 years I have thought about that book many times, sometimes googled it frantically, spent hours searching on Amazon. I couldn’t remember the exact title, it was long, but I was sure it was compiled by Sinead De Valera, who was a previous Irish President’s wife. I was sure it was her, as I remembered thinking when I bought it in the Winding Stair Book Shop in Dublin, that the reason she could publish it as a woman back then in her own name, was because she was related to a significant male.

Until 5.30am yesterday morning, I had completely forgotten to whom I had lent it. Until 5.30am yesterday morning, for 30 years I had completely forgotten that guy. I fell back asleep. Woke up ate my Weetabix, brought the dog for a walk around the garden, answered some emails, had two cups of tea.

Roll on six hours. I’m doing some researching for a blog post and I google something about Irish superstition that I wanted to include as a one liner to the post. And low and behold the full text of my favourite book, which I haven’t been able to find in 30 years, appears on screen. It took me a moment to realise it was the book, as it wasn’t by the author I had thought, instead, it was compiled by Lady Jane Francesca Wilde. Oscar Wilde’s mother, Oscar Wilde was the significant male not De Valera.

I randomly click on one page and remember why I loved the book so much. It was not only the original spells but the first hand accounts from the 1800’s of Irish superstitions being lived out that I loved:

‘Fine young peasant women are often carried off by the fairies to nurse their little fairy progeny. But the woman is allowed to come back to her own infant after sunset. However on entering the house, the husband must at once throw holy water over her in the name of God, when she will be restored to her own shape. For sometimes she comes in with a hissing noise like a serpent; then she appears black, and shrouded like one from the dead; and, lastly, in her own shape, when she takes her old place by the fire and nurses her baby; and the husband must ask no questions, but give her food in silence. If she falls asleep the third night, all will be well, for the husband at once ties a red thread across the door to prevent the fairies from coming to carry her off, and if the third night passes over safely the fairies have lost their power over her for evermore.’

I LOVE THIS! You can just imagine a young one who was married off to an old farmer and had a baby nine months later (all a bit of a shock to the system) legging it out in the morning because she has to feed the fairy babies ALL day. And then coming home hissing and looking dower, not the girl he married. She only becomes normal again, not hissing like a serpent at him, once she is beside the fire, no questions asked, fed and with her baby. To break the spell the husband must let her get solid three nights sleep (which all women crave after having a baby) otherwise she’ll be off again all day feeding the fairy babies!

It makes you think how did the superstition come about … either a group of men experiencing the same reaction of their comely maidens changing into women they no longer recognised after having a baby and  after many drinks decided it’s the fairies fault, or women came up with it and spread the rumour so women got some free time and were looked after, after having a baby. Sisters looking out for each other!

After reading some more and ordering a paperback copy, I’m sitting on my sofa in Italy during a pandemic lock down, wondering why this legend of an Irish woman has an Italian middle name. I google her and discover her great-grand father moved from Italy to Wexford (where I lived for many years), and she wrote under the pen name of Speranza, the Italian word for Hope.

… Message from the other side perhaps?

If you would like to browse Irish superstitions and spells here’s the link to the text: