The packers arrived at 8:00 and I had to tell them to wait. We still had no quote for the shipment and therefore had no idea of the cost. Imagine … we write them a blank cheque, they take all our stuff and hold it as ransom until we pay whatever they ask!

The quote arrived just before noon, but I had already let the packers start, after a tense moment with their boss on the phone. He said it was a done deal (“I promise, I promise!”), which was enough for the moment.

They’re now working extremely fast and I’m having a hard time keeping up with them … defrosting the freezer, washing last dishes and clothes, separating toys and other stuff going to the Netherlands, the rest to Kingston.

I still plan to drive north on Wednesday morning, 1688 km, according to my Michelin online route planner – a brilliant service, btw.

Wish me luck!

Bye-bye I’m back

In many languages, the same word can be used to say hello and goodbye (aloha, salut, shalom or dag, for example). In Italian, ciao has a similar double-ended function. Curiously, the word originates from Venetian and used to form part of the longer expression, “I am your slave”. These days, it is the easiest word that everyone knows, and every phone call seems to end the same way:

Ciao-ciao ciao
Si mamma ciao
Si ciao

After his recent drubbing at the polls, Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, resigned yesterday … and immediately began the horse-trading negotiations with his coalition partners to form a new government. Confused? Don’t worry, it’s normal. By national law, the government must fall before any reshuffle can take place. This is one of the reasons why there have been 59 governments since the Second World War and why this Mr B’s coalition is the longest in power since Mussolini.

Continuing the theme of repetition, I have a funny anecdote for you.

My parents lost 150 Euros to a pair of confidence tricksters two days ago in the park behind the Colosseum. One little old guy came up to them with a big map and mumbled a question about getting to Castel Sant’Angelo. Immediately after, a second, burlier man approached and flashed his “police badge”.

“Don’t listen to this man,” the policeman warned my parents, “He’s a crook”.

The “policeman” demanded the first man’s ID and checked his wallet before shooing him away. He then asked for my parents’ ID and wallet (?), checked them briefly and handed them back. It only took a second and my father swore he was watching him carefully, but after they went on their way, they double-checked their money and saw 150 Euros had gone.

So far, not funny at all.

The following day, my parents were waiting for me near our house when lo and behold the same little old man approached them with his big map. As the accomplice approached, my father shouted, “Oi!! I want my 150 Euros back!” The con men suddenly remembered (“Merda!!!“) and ran off.

We imagined other ways it could have ended, but this was perhaps the simplest and the funniest.

Lock down

While millions are heading towards Rome, many Romans are heading out before the city is locked down tomorrow with the closure of both airports and many major roads out of town. Judging by the ease with which I managed to find a parking space this morning, many have already left. In our office, tomorrow has been declared a “non-working day”, which seems like grudging euphemism for a day off. It’s our daughter’s sixth birthday, so we’re ecstatic to be able to spend the whole day with her. We moved her party from Friday to Saturday because of the anticipated chaos.

Other signs of impending social collapse include the convoy of Red Cross ambulances from Palermo that I got stuck in this morning. I felt like I’d cut into a funeral cortège – that’s a big no-no, isn’t it?

The night was filled with wailing sirens ripping through the darkness at high speed. The single sirens were ambulances; the multiple ones were convoys bringing the 200 “big”, as the local press calls them, to the Vatican, i.e. Bush and Co.

There is a constant stream of stories coming out about the faint rate in the queues, or how long people have been waiting with small children.

“These people are a living witness to the theology of sacrifice,” he said. “They are showing John Paul with their bodies that they understood.”

Rev. Jonathan Morris, an American priest working in Rome

The doors to the Basilica were closed at 22:00 last night.

I’ve also been receiving mysterious sms (text messages) from “Protezione civile” warning me about what clothing to wear during the day and at night. The latest message says the centre is closed to all traffic, that St Peter’s Piazza is full and that there are giant screens in other piazzas and in Tor Vergata. Somehow I don’t think the two million Poles will be content with watching a video screen at a university campus in a godforsaken suburb stuck outside the city limits.

Another mystery is the reported jump in Lotto ticket sales, up 20% in Naples. Whenever there is a significant event, people get twitchy about the twilight zone, or in this case, that great Italian tradition of getting money without having to work for it. The numbers they’re playing? 21-37-48

Can you guess what they represent?


She whimpered,
“Could call me
A fussy girl;
I only want
A little bit
Of muesli
And some milk!”*

*Apologies to A.A. Milne.

Tetrapak stamp from RussiaYes, just some milk from a carton. Without first having to shred the paper off layer by layer, saw through the seal with a serrated knife, tilt the carton sideways to avoid an uncontrollable splash and then dribble more drops over my hands when I try to close the now ripped and jagged spout.

Man on the moon, human genome, inter-super highway netweb … and I can’t just pour some milk on my muesli? Who’s responsible? Step forward Ruben Rausing, founder of Tetrapak, the most profitable Swedish company after ABBA. Tetrapak’s products are everywhere in Europe (and in North America?) and come with an impressive variety of openings. To find out more about how to open my morning milk carton, I visited the company website and compiled this list of their openings:

  • Straw hole
  • Perforation TB
  • FlexiCap TB
  • DIMC ScrewCap
  • PullTab
  • StreamCap
  • Easy Opening
  • FlexiCap
  • ReCap3
  • SlimCap
  • Neck24
  • FlipCap Barrier
  • TwistCap Barrier
  • DeltaCap
  • FlipClip

Go on. Guess which one I’m looking for.

Of course, it’s the Easy Opening.

Artist's impression“Need we say more about this classic? Just split the top side seal and it folds back without fuss. Its perfect functionality has been proven billions of times.”


Without fuss?

Perfect functionality?

Prove it, baby, one more time!

[Quick fade to Stephan Eicher]

Et elle prend son café en riant
Et me regarde à peine
Plus rien ne la surprend sur la nature humaine
C’est pourquoi elle voudrait enfin si je le permets
Déjeuner en paix, déjeuner en paix