Friday, 28 November 2008

What to buy in Tuscany/Rimini

In Rimini my sister finds a pair of leather boots lined with sheepskin for 39 euros, marked down from 120 euros. She is pleased with her bargain and puts them on at once hoping to be more seasonably dressed – Italians don’t sell things out of season, which is why there are no sandals on display.
A saleswoman breaths down her neck in another shop where she tries on hats and leather jackets – the goods turn to tat the further we walk from our hotel. She reckons we must be at the posh end.

Buying food is an experience – there are shelves of pasta twists and twirls and packets of alluring biscotti. Jars of marinated things glisten in anti-pasti paradise although I don’t want to look too closely as one of the delicatessens reminds me of an eighteenth century medical laboratory – I’ve seen too many pictures of pickled specimens.

You have to weigh your own fruit and veg in the supermarket, while punching into the machine the details of what you’ve got in your basket. Fortunately there are pictures as well which help you select the appropriate sticker. It’s a great game – my nephew would love it!

Later, in Florence, we spend many hours strolling through the markets of San Lorenzo, eyeing up the leather goods, pashminas and silk ties. We buy a stylish leather jacket for Him Outdoors, a bright green handbag for me (‘But will it go with anything?’ Men!)

We buy presents for mums and brothers, but keep our hands firmly in our pockets after we’ve had a drink. Never buy anything unless you’re completely sober; that’s my motto. Actually, I’ve only just made it up, but I quite like it and I think I’ll keep it!

There are shops selling extremely expensive paper embossed with the Florentine lily. It looks a lot like the French fleur de lis but is different and they get very upset if you make the blundering mistake of calling it such. The Florentia paper is of the highest quality, and the highest price, and is I'm sure, well worth it, but beyond our budget so I make do with a leather bookmark.

I love the toy shops which, although full of an alarming array of rubbish, have some classic shiny wooden toys that gleam from the shelves. Like something Gepetto's workshop, they wait for you to turn your back so that they can come to life. I try to catch them at it, by just pretending I'm not looking, but they have me sussed and stay fimly put.

At the Mercato Centrale I am impressed by the fish counters with their bright red tuna, tentacled squid and octopus, and other creatures of the sea. There are bins of porcini and sun-dried tomatoes which are ridiculously cheap by non-Mediterranean standards.

We drift through aisles of fresh produce, buying cheese; ham; bread; wine; pesto and olives – staples of a meal negotiated in our stumbling and stunted Italian. We find a park bench to sit on and eat our simple meal, pushing in the cork (they seem reluctant to switch to screwcaps) and swigging from the bottle like cheerful vagabonds.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Wait Until Dark

Wait Until Dark
Circa Theatre, 11 Oct - 8 Nov

I remember seeing this as a film when I was a child and I was terrified. I wondered whether the fear and suspense would translate to the theatre, and it did. I knew the story but still felt the thrill. I went with some friends and they were all on the edge of their seat staring at the stage.

Despite Circa being an open-style performance area, a curtain is rigged up and footlights placed on stage to make it more 'theatrical' and as though you are a fourth wall. At the climactic moment when all the lights go out, the audience experiences exactly the same blind isolation as the characters in the play. There are a few nervous titters at this point, but it is a powerful moment of intense drama.

Ban Abdul is excellent as Susy - she is blind but not disabled, with a sharp mind and a quick temper. Her physicality is excellent and I love her fluttering hands. Her husband, Sam, is played by Robert Tripe, and he seems brusque and demanding - his 'encouragement' of Susy to make her extend herself appears mean and bullying rather than playful and challenging. Perhaps this is just my interpretation, but I don't feel that Kiwis do playful.

Toby Leach is Croker; a comedy villain - a little over-the-top with his skittish indecision - where Tom Gordon is cold, clinical and precise. He invests the character of Roat with the chilling mien I would expect from a suspense thriller. Mike is a kindly baddie who doesn't want anyone to get hurt, and Paul McLaughlin plays the role with smooth gentleness but firm persuasion that I thought might have been more suited to Sam.

Gloria, the little girl, is played by either Holly McDonald or Rebekah Smyth (I'm not sure which - they alternate nights). She was is as child actors usually are - unnatural, exaggerated gestures and gabbled speech; too loud on some lines, inaudible on others; unable to read the nuances of the particular perfomrance and unable to adapt. I find children on stage a chore which has to be endured for plot purposes, but I generally wish they'd hurry up and get off so we can concentrate on the real acting.

Lumiere review made me wonder if our differences are generational. I didn't feel that the first half dragged, nor did my three companions. It was all part of the set-up which you expect, and in return you get the pay-off later, which was very well done. She questions the modern relevance to which I would answer, it was entertaining and isn't that the purpose of theatre? Aren't home invasion and human vulnerability - needing to trust someone and rely upon them - still pertinent?

I also have no problem with nostalgia - not everything has to be new and ground-breaking. Sure, modern theatre eschews convoluted plots, but a lot of people still like them. There is a place for good old-fashioned drama, complete with red velvet curtain and footlights, just as there is for avant-garde, surrealist, Brechtian, improvisation and musical theatre.

Also, most people who pay to go the theatre are over 50, and they like dramatic suspense - they are the ones who have made The Mousetrap the longest-running show in the West End. It is not innovative or modish and it sticks to well-known conventions, but I would never dismiss its relevance simply because it didn't appeal to me. Is this a Gen X/Y thing?

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Triumph of good

When we were kids, our uncle and aunt used to take us to the pantomime every year. It was our Christmas treat, and boy, what a treat; I loved it all.

We all dressed up in our best frocks (apart from my brother, obviously) and caught the train to London. I loved the noise and the bustle of the tube. I loved Theatreland with the evocative names: Drury Lane; Haymarket; Covent Garden; Palace; Lyceum; Playhouse.

I loved the plush carpets, the sweeping staircases, the grand foyers and the mirrored bars where one day I would be old enough to order gin and tonic for the interval. I loved the exorbitantly expensive ice creams in little tubs with tiny wooden paddles and the glossy programmes. I loved the ladies in furs and clouds of perfume and the men in suits and wreathes of cigar smoke.

But most of all, I loved it when the lights went down and the stories began. I loved the sets and the costumes; the dances and the songs; the men dressed as women and the women dressed as men. I loved shouting encouragement to the heroes and booing the villains.

It was formulaic of course, but it was magic and I believed in magic. For those two hours on a stage in central London, good triumphed and I supported it. In fact, it couldn't have happened without me.

Last weekend I went to a local pantomime here in Wellington. So many things are still the same, and although so many of us have grown up, I think we all want to believe in magic; the triumph of good and the thought that maybe, just maybe, we helped to make it happen.

Here is my review on the Lumiere site -
Red Riding Hood

Monday, 24 November 2008


The area dismissively known as Chiantishire really is beautiful, with rolling hills covered in olive trees and vines – it could catch on! I can see why people with money would want to renovate tumbledown villas and turn them into holiday homes with ensuite vineyard. I’m just jealous.

The Lonely Planet sniffs, “The hype has been just a trifle overdone. There’s plenty of more spectacular country to be seen in other areas of Tuscany. Let’s not put you off, but the Tuscan countryside by no means begins and ends in Il Chianti.”

You haven’t put me off, and I think it’s just gorgeous. I love the Romanesque churches (known as pieve) dotted about the hills and the little villages – three of which comprise the ‘League of Chianti’.

We call in first to Gaiole, but it is siesta-time. Nearly everything is shut and Him Outdoors is upset by that (“I feel I’m not supposed to be here”).

We take a back road which, by happy accident, leads to San Donato in Perano – a sort of winery on top of a hill where we are able to get a glass of wine, which cheers him up no end.

At Vertine, a castle from the 10th century is enclosed in an oval walled perimeter. We enter through the elegant gate and walk around the extremely sleepy village – the only people in evidence are a reading group sitting in a circle outside the church.

We walk around the wee town of Radda – the founder of the league. It is a beautiful place and supposedly has discount shops – factory outlets – but when I look at the shoes they don’t seem that cheap to me – not that they have any in my monstrous-not-tiny-Italian size. There are a lot of chavs done good, shopping around with their Chanel handbags, ostentatious bling and sugar daddies.

Down a side street we find a cellar with tastings on offer – an enoteca. A very kindly lady initiates me into the fantastic flavours of Chianti Classico – a blend of red and white grapes which is sold under the Gallo Nero (black cockerel/rooster) symbol. It is very fine indeed and of course we buy a couple of bottles before heading to Castellina, the third of the league.

This is another beautiful castle town, which was a frontier town between warring Siena and Florence. You are met at the entrance by huge cylindrical silos. They may look industrial, but they are, in fact, full of Chianti Classico, which has to be a good thing. Him Outdoors says this is his favourite town of the day and he even goes so far as to look at house prices.

We stock up on provisions in Stradda to go with our vino. We get bread, cheese, ham, olives and mayonnaise from the supermacto and some tomatoes from a chap in a fruit and veg shop who refuses to accept any coins for our meagre purchase of 0.20 euros.

Returning to our hotel, we make ourselves a little feast and watch the television which features films dubbed into Italian and some sports results. Florentina played in the UEFA Cup a couple of days ago and the referee was Mike Riley, which explains why Him Outdoors spotted him strolling across the Ponte Vecchio – as you do.