Tag Archives: Italy

The Baule: an Italian loaf shape, apparently

Baule bread loaf

Much of the time I’ve been in Italy, I’ve been looking for the definitive book on Italian bread and baking. Every time I visit Eataly or larger book shops, I pick up and put back down sundry tomes. It’s baffling though: many are rudimentary and some of them are even written and published in English and translated into Italian. The book I’m looking for may exist, but I haven’t found it yet.

I’ve not seen the revised edition of (American) Carol Field’s ‘The Italian Baker’ yet, though from my memories of the original, that’s not the definitive book either*.

If I lived in Italy for 20 more years, and worked in Italian bakeries, maybe I could write it… but that ain’t looking likely at the moment.

So in the meantime, I pick up the occasional book to tide me over. The latest one I bought is the Slow Food Editore (the movement’s own imprint) ‘Pane, pizze e focacce’ – “Breads, pizzas and flatbreads” if you want a semi-bodged, largely gratuitous translation.

This isn’t a classic book by any means, but it does have some good stuff about types of lievito madre (“mother leaven”, ie natural leaven or sourdough starter), about grains and ingredients, and about various forms and shapes of breads. Some of the latter – with names like montasù and mafalda – struck my eye.

So that’s been my starting point with this book: trying some new shapes.

Baule

This is about something the book calls a baule. The word means “chest”, “trunk” or “boot” (as in storage area of a car) but I can’t find other evidence on t’interweb for this style of loaf, with this name. I’ve said before, though, much of Italy’s food tradition probably doesn’t exist in digital form yet.

Confusingly, a bauletto (“little chest”) is a term that does seem to be used for this shape of loaf, from Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna, but name is also more commonly used to refer to a white tin loaf, often sliced.

I’ll just have to give ‘Pane, pizze e foccacce’ authors Davide Longoni and Marcella Cigognetti the benefit of the dough…t (hm, that doesn’t quite work does it?) about baule.

This isn’t a recipe, it’s just a record of trying a new shape. For the dough I just used the classic 10g fresh yeast, 10g salt, 350g water, 500g flour, with a mix of strong white and wholegrain.

So basically, you make your dough, and give it a first prove.

Then you deflate it slightly, form a ball and give it a rest.

Shaping ball

Then you stretch out that ball to form a rectangle, which you roll up tightly to form a cylinder or sausage shape.

Rolling up

Roll and stretch this sausage to elongate it.

Elongating the sausage

Once you have a nice long sausage, flatten it with a rolling pin.

Flattening the sausage

Once you have a nice long flat rectangle, roll this up, keeping it as tight as possible.

Rolling up the flattened sausage

You’ll get a nice sort of baton shape.

Rolled up

I love the spiral ends.

Rolled, spiral end

You then get a knife. The book says use the blunt edge, so you could also use a pastry scraper. Make a deep cut into – but not all the way through – the baton.

Cutting the form

Move this to a baking sheet.

Pre-final prove

Cover with a cloth, then leave to prove again, until it’s doubled in size.

After final prove

Bake. I did my usual time and temp for a loaf this size – 20 minutes at 220C, 20 minutes at 200C.

When baked, remove and cool on a wire rack.

Fresh from oven

It looks rather nice, and you can tear it down the centre to share during a meal.

Tearing baule in half

But I’d still love to see one of these things in a real Italian bakery. If anyone has every encountered this shape of loaf in Italy, please do let me know! I’m intrigued.

 

* I did originally include links to Amazon here, but this excellent piece by Russell Brand reminded me they’re still corporate tax-dodgers with  questionably “cosy relationships with members of our government”.

 

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Filed under Breads

Italian flour: types and terminology

A selection of flours

Today’s bread is being made with farina di farro biologica from the Coop supermarket’s own brand, farina integrale di segale di agricoltura biologica from the Il Frantoio brand, and “Setaccio” farina semi-integrale di grano tenero from Mulino Marino. There really is no shortage of types of flour (farina) to experiment with here in Italy, if you’re into baking and bread-making. In fact, there so many flour varieties and variables it can be boggling.

Over the 20 months or so I’ve lived in Italy I’ve used many of them, but I still get confused. Previously, for example, I wrote about the various types of grain (and flour) known as farro to try and clarify what they were – as they’re often, erroneously, just translated into English as “spelt”. Here I hope to clarify a little more the other types of grain and flour you might encounter in Italy, or be able to buy as imports in other parts of the world.

Anyway.

Italian words for grains and more

A caveat – these are standard Italian words. There are doubtless a gazillion local dialect words as well, but let’s stay on target.

The wheat family:

The word grano (plural grani) means grain, though it’s frequently used as a synonym for wheat.
Frumento is the more specific word for wheat. In the modern world, wheat generally means bread wheat (Triticum aestivum), which accounts for 95% of global production.
Farro is name given to three, older members of the wheat family, “heritage grains”. Briefly it can refer to:
Farro piccolo (“small”) or farro monococco (Triticum monococcum) – that is, domesticated einkorn wheat, also known as enkir.
Farro medio (“medium”) or farro dicocco (Triticum dicoccum, aka Triticum turgidum var. dicoccon) – that is, emmer.
Farro grande (“large”) or farro spelta (Triticum spelta, aka Triticum aestivum var. spelta ) – that is, spelt. (Also known as dinkel.)

Grano turanicum – a name for Khorosan wheat (Triticum turanicum), another ancient grain type.
Kamut – the trade name for Khorasan wheat (Triticum turanicum).
Manitoba – the Italian name for bread flours with a higher percentage of protein, like what we’d call strong bread flour in the UK. It may or may not be from Manitoba province in Canada. Indeed, according to a blurb on a pack of Ecor brand flour, Manitoba flour is also known as farina americana.
Saragolla – another one I’ve encountered, which is proving tricky to identify with any real certainty. One Italian source says it’s similar Khorasan wheat (Triticum turanicum, but refers to it as Triticum polonicum, Polish wheat.

I’ve also seen things labelled with grano antico, which isn’t very helpful, as it could refer to any one of these ancient wheat species.

two old grains

Non-wheat cereals:
Avena is oats. Fiocchi di avena are oatflakes, or porridge oats.
Orzo is barley.
Miglio is millet.
Riso is rice.
Segale is rye.

Wholegrain rye flour

And not forgetting the that poster boy of industrialised, ecosystem-destroying, logical-economics-manipulating monocrop agriculture: maize (Zea mays), or corn: mais in Italian, also granone (“big grain”), granturco, granoturco and various other dialect names.

Polenta is, of course, made from maize, which arrived in Europe from the Americas in the 15th century, replacing earlier gruels made of orzo or emmer. Polenta (cornmeal) comes in various degrees of coarseness, some quite gritty, some more floury. You can also buy amido di mais, which what we’d call cornflour in the UK, or (more descriptively) corn starch in the US.

Other non-cereal flours you may encounter could be made from:
Amaranto – amaranth (Amaranthus caudatus).
Castagna – chestnut (used for Pane di San Martino).
Saraceno – buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum). Buckwheat isn’t a member of the grass family like the above grains. Instead, it’s a member of the Polygonaceae family and related to things like rhubarb.

There are see flours made from legumes such as:
Ceci – chickpea (Cicer arietinum).
Lenticchia – lentil (Lens culinaris).
Soia – soya, soybean (Glycine max).

Marino closer

Other useful terms:
amido – starch.
biga – type of low hydration, firm preferment, which can made with a sourdough starter or commercial yeast.
biologico – organic, organically farmed or produced.
chicco – grain (also bean, pellet, bead), eg chicco di grano, grain of wheat
crusca – bran.
germe – germ, eg germe di grano.
glutine – gluten.
integrale – wholegrain, eg farina di segale integrale.
lievito – yeast, raising agent.
lievito madre – “mother yeast”, meaning a natural leaven or sourdough culture.
lievitare – to rise, to raise, to grow (with a raising agent).
lievito naturale – natural leaven or sourdough.
macinata a pietra – stoneground. Always good, as it doesn’t damage the grain as much as modern milling with massive steel rollers, as such maintaining more nutrients and more flavour.
macinare – to mill (flour).
mulino – mill, eg uno mulino a vento is a windmill.
pagnotta – loaf.
pane – bread.
semi-integrale – semi-wholegrain. I’m not entirely sure what the preparation of such a flour involves – more sieving? Or blending?

Hard and soft

You’ll often see farina di grano duro and farina di grano tenero on packets of Italian flours. These translate as “hard wheat flour” and “soft wheat flour” (or, more literally, as “hard grain flour” and “tender grain flour”), but shouldn’t be confused with what we consider “hard” wheat in English, which is generally a higher protein bread flour.

Farina di grano duro is flour milled from the wheat species Triticum durum (aka Triticum turgidum var. durum), with durum and duro meaning “hard” in Latin and standard Italian respectively. Triticum durum is most commonly used for making pasta. It is the second most significant type of wheat grown globally, accounting for about 5% of production. It is ground into products of varying coarseness:
Farina di grano duro – the finest, most floury
Farina di semola – a slightly coarser flour
Semolina – the coarser middlings and yes, the stuff used for old-fashioned British puddings, (though the term is also used generically to refer to other wheat middlings).

Farina di grano tenero is flour milled from a subspecies of the wheat species Triticum aestivum, the most commonly cultivated strain of this useful grass. Also known as bread wheat. In Italy, it generally has a medium protein percentage, around 12%, though it can vary greatly. As with farina di grano duro, it is milled into products of varying degrees of coarseness, which is where the whole “00” thing comes into play. Read on…

Mulino Marino 00

Licensed to bake: the “00” system

When you see a flour graded as 00, it’s not a reference to a particular type of grain or species of wheat, it’s simply a reference to how finely the flour has been milled, and how much bran and germ has sieved out, and what sort of colour the flour is as a result.

The various types are: 00 (doppio zero, the finest grade), 0, 1, 2 (the coarsest grade, more akin to a meal). The coarsest grain is effectively integrale, that is, wholegrain.

Although 0 and 00 are commonly used for bread-baking, both are loosely interchangeable with British plain flour or US all-purpose flour. Indeed, if you look at the dark blue packet in the photo at the top of this page, the Barilla brand flour is labelled per tutte le preparazioni, which could be translated as “all-purpose”, and it’s a grano tenero 00.

The blurb on the side of a pack of ‘Ecor’ flour I mentioned above, also explains that il grado di raffinazione indica la quantità di farina ottenuta macinando 100kg di chicchi. Tanto più alto è questo indice tanto più grezza è la farina: the grade of refining indicates the quantity of flour obtained from grinding 100kg of grain. The higher the grade, the coarser the flour.”

Also, as the first table on this rather technical page indicates, the higher the grade, the higher the ash content and protein of the flour. Though these Italian flours are all still fairly low protein, between 9% and 12%, and different grains would give different results – that is, this table’s data has to be taken with a pinch of salt.

And the rest

I’ve probably missed all sorts of pertinent things, but can add them as and when I encounter them. For specific types of Italian bread and baked goods, I may mention them elsewhere on the site. In the meantime, if, like me, you’re into baking and an English-speaking learning Italian (there must be a few of us in that demographic out there), I hope this has been useful.

Pandi Sempre

Love this spiel “This flour recounts the (his)story of cereal crops. It’s composed of the most ancient grain, Enkir, of farro, and of a careful selection of soft wheats, all naturally stone-ground without the addition of additives or ‘improvers’. Thanks to its varied composition, it’s ideal for every use.”

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Filed under Discussion, Flour & grain

Baladin’s Nora at Le Café Vert, Monteverde, Rome

Thursday night, difficult week. Me and Mrs BC&A, aka Fran, decided we deserved a drink. Though we couldn’t be bothered to range beyond our Roman neighbourhood, Monteverde Vecchio. It’s not a best hood for a beer, but one café-bar-bistro has a reasonable selection of bottled craft beers (or whatever you want to call microbrewery fare. It’s called birra artigianale here in Italy – artisan beer). This is Le Café Vert, which opened not much more than a year ago, demonstrating how Italy’s urge to eat and drink continues to defy The Global Depression. As King Silvio said back in November 2011, “The life in Italy is the life of a wealthy country: consumptions haven’t diminished, it’s hard to find seats on planes, our restaurants are full of people.”

Quite why this bar has French name, and the lady serving us kept saying voila not the Italian equivalent ecco, I don’t know, but rest assured it’s in Rome, with great Italian beers and aperitivo snacks included in the price of the drink for a period every evening. According to their site, they stock beers from four Italian microbeweries: Baladin (which is Piedmont, NW Italy); Birra del Borgo (which is in Lazio, the central Italian region around Rome); ‘na Birretta (which is also in Lazio); and Birra di Fiemme (which is in Trentino, NE Italy).

We entered, glanced around, and I saw Baladin’s distinctive labels. I’ll be honest and say I don’t really like Baladin’s design style, which pervades Open Baladin bar in Rome and the labels on the bottle. It’s kinda scrappy, cartoony, vaguely Keith Haring, vaguley hippy, like someone’s mate did it, someone who’s not a professional designer. But remember kids, don’t judge a beer by its label. Baladin beers remain among my favourites, in part because Open Baladin was my entry point to birre artigianale. It’s not cosy like a nice British pub, its food is middling (especially if you’re not a fan of beef burgers on brioche buns), but its beer selection is stupendous, with dozens of craft beers, mostly Italian, on tap, and there are some very knowledgeable, helpful staff there too.

Anyway. We chose a Baladin “Nora” – we had to, as it was our friend Nora’s birthday, so we could drink it in her honour. This beer was named after another Nora – the wife of Teo Musso, the founder and master brewer of Baladin. Musso is a big name in the Italian beer scene, and for good reason. Baladin is apparently the biggest microbrewery by volume-produced in Italy (according to my chum, who is the brewmaster of the second-biggest, Mastri Birrai Umbri). Baladin brewery produces around a dozen varied, fascinating brews. Musso and his colleagues aren’t afraid of experimenting, of unusual ingredients, and Nora is no exception.

At first glance and sip, Nora’s a wheat beer, relatively pale, aromatic, slightly sickly-sweet (in a good way – if that’s possible. I’m not a big fan of wheat beers, so maybe that’s just me). But it’s not made with wheat, or at least it’s not made with a modern wheat strain. Instead, it contains both malted barley and “Kamut”, which is a branded version of Khorosan wheat (Triticum turanicum), an ancient strain. (I discuss wheat strains here.)

There are other ingredients too that make their presence felt in a certain spiciness and perfume: ginger and, get this, myrrh. Now we all know the latter was one of the gifts the Baby J got in Bethlehem, but did you know it’s a resin from the thorny shrub Commiphora myrrha. It’s an ingredient more commonly used in medicine and for incense (ah, memories of being the thurifer). As such Nora, is a beer that’s both sweet, citrussy and easily drinkable, and complex and slightly confounding. It’s also quite strong, if you’re British, but not that strong if you’re Italian: 7%ABV.

Final geek detail, it also alta rifermentata in bottiglie, which literally means “high-re-fermented in the bottle”, but I believe we’d say it’s top-fermented and bottle conditioned. Though I need to double-check that.

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The Euro-mankiss

Hugs are great. I love a good hug. They’re versatile. They can be reassuring at a teary emotional level. They can cement a reunion between friends of any sex, whether it’s after just a few days separation or several years. They can celebrate a shared experience. They can even celebrate a shared manly experience like scoring a goal or, I dunno, shooting a boar. In a perfectly masculine way. Heck, think of all the American movies where a bunch of “the guys” are watching “the game” and their team scores “a touchdown” or whatever, and they leap up, spilling their cans of pissy beer, high-fiving, bumping chests and, yes, hugging.

It’s all good.

I’m really not very British about hugging. Many Brits are still more stiff and formal, proferring a hand for gentlemanly shake. Not me. When I was younger, I lived in New Zealand on and off for about three years with people others would probably describe as hippies. I would have been described as a hippy too. We all enjoyed hugs. I like hugs with my family too. Even with my more conventional brother, who’s tall like me (1.89m) but burly, so does a good bear hug. I’m even perfectly happy for a good Italian chum to give be jovial hugs or take my arm when we’re joking in the street.

When I am very British, however, is when a Euro-mankiss is involved. That’s where I draw the line, which leads to some slightly awkward situations living in Rome. I’m not sure how widespread the mankiss is, but from an outsider’s perspective, it seems to be absolutely commonplace in Italy, France and other countries in the Romance language group. Perhaps it’s the ancient Romans’ fault. Somehow, however, the habit didn’t survive the crossing to the barbarous shores of Britain with Caesar and co. For a Brit, it’s just not done. Unless you’re in theatre. Or unless you live on the continent and have gone really native. And I haven’t. My wife is a Brit too, and we have plenty of friends here who are either British or have a slightly closer cultural heritage (like Canadians). There’s no mankissing with them. We have plenty of Italian friends too, though, and that’s where the trouble starts.

It’s not all good.

So, the other night we were going out to meet some friends. She’s Sicilian, his background is from various parts of Italy. We go to a restaurant. I’m already antsy as I don’t like eating at Italian dinner time. For me, I’m generally hungry around 6pm, and my family always ate dinner at 7pm. I can survive a little longer if I have snacks, but not too many as I don’t want to ruin my appetite (as my mum would say) for the proper meal. Eating at 9.30pm plus seems crazy to me, especially if you’re shovelling away all the courses, and dolce, and coffee and digestivo. How can the body cope with all that? Never mind the diners who I hear yacking away at midnight in the summer at the restaurant just down the road from our flat. How the heck do they digest and get up for work the next morning? I mean, strong coffee is the obvious answer, but surely there’s a cumulative effect of eating late, not getting much sleep and drinking loads of coffee? I don’t geddit. But then I’m northern European.

Anyway. The restaurant. So we arranged to meet at 8pm. They finally arrive about 8.30pm. By which time, my (self-diagnosed) hypoglycemia is making me go squiffy. I can’t really think straight. I manage a Euro-womankiss, one on each cheek. That’s fine. I used to be involved with the art scene enough to have practised that at gallery openings and whatnot. But then my hungry brain and body have to contend with the male greeting. He goes in for a mankiss, I go in for a quick hug. He ends up airkissing, the hug happens sideways. Feathers aren’t notably ruffled; it’s a tolerably minor cross-cultural semi-faux pas. But I’m relieved half an hour later when some food finally arrives and I can start to think straight again. First thing I think is that next time I’ll have to try and line up my approach for either a handshake or a hug or both a bit better. Though I’m not quite sure what body language is required to give the message “Nice to see you but I don’t do the Euro-mankiss.”

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Filed under Italy, Learning Italian, Rome

Food ethics and seafood caveats

In my previous post, I talked about my enthusiasm for seafood, did a recipe for a Sicilian fish stew and talked about how useful I’m finding Alan Davidson’s book Mediterranean Seafood as I not only try to improve my seafood cookery, but also learn at least a few of the innumerable Italian names for fish etc. The recipe was very nearly accompanied by a caveat and some discussion of the ethics of eating seafood, but the entry would have just become too unwieldy.

So I’m doing it here instead.

My personal dietary inclinations are more towards fish and some seafood (love prawns and cephapods; not so keen on bivalves) over red meat, for example. For a while I was a vegetarian, a conversion that came as a result of living for five months at Newton Livery, a decidedly idiosyncratic small farm in New Zealand, learning that hey, eating without meat really isn’t that hard, and then coming home to the UK and pretty much immediately seeing a documentary on TV about the vile barbarism of intensive pig farming.

The imagery of a sow and her litter, struggling on a metal grill floor, in a dirty, confined space, brought about a minor epiphany. Mankind does not need to mistreat beasts through such husbandry when there are alternatives. And especially not animals like pigs, which are intelligent as dogs – an animal that people in the UK and here in Italy sentimentalise and anthropomorphise like there’s no tomorrow. Sheep – considerably more stupid – at least get to live outside.

I saw that documentary, and went vegetarian, in 1989, when the worst of the post-war intensification of food production in the UK was in no way balanced for the consumer by the option of free range and organic (or biologico as it’s know here in Italy), then the purview of a limited population of hippies and industry outsiders. Of course, I was fairly ignorant – I still ate dairy, blithe about the fact that its production is part and parcel of meat production, but at least I’d made an ethical step. Our obsession with meat consumption remains questionable, even in an era of less unethical alternatives like free range and organic for the simple fact of the calorific equation. To feed up beef cattle, for example, for the most part involves giving them considerably more calories in maize and other crops than the resulting meat gives the consumer in calories. And the more calories we use to produce food, the more extreme the environmental downsides – for example, in the fossil fuels used to transport those feed crops.

It’s an equation that most people, even the nominally ethical consumers, are oblivious to. It’s a particular problem in the early 21st century when developing world nations – China, India, etc– are rapidly embracing the kind of untenable red meat-based diets favoured by many Europeans and North Americans, hence the advent of the kind monstrously factory-style meat production exemplified by feed lots and Concentrated Animal Feed Operations (CAFOs), something that they are currently trying to popularise in the UK. Ethical issues aside, mega-ranch style farming just does not suit a small nation like the UK, where we’ve already seen biodiversity reduced markedly through the tearing out of traditional field boundaries, notably in places like East Anglia where the flatter landscape enables ranch-style farming. (And unlike in places like Devon, where the hillier terrain is at least preserving some aspects of Britain’s traditional plagioclimax environments, shaped by centuries of human intervention.)

There’s also the issue of methane – a natural gas produced in decomposition and in flatulence that’s also a potent greenhouse gas. Hence it’s a no brainer that the bigger our herds of cattle, the more the farting, the bigger the problem.

If you can’t face reading about such issues, I would recommend watching the feature documentary Food, Inc., which, in unsensationalist terms, evaluates the problems of these types of meat production, in both health and environmental terms.

Now I’m still a culprit, as a decade plus with my red-meat obsessive wife has re-calibrated both our diets somewhat – she eats less meat, I eat some – but I’d like to think we pursue a diet that’s at least nominally less unsustainable in planetary terms, eating locally produced food as much as possible, relying on pulses and grains – directly, rather than feeding them to animals to fatten them for meat. And only eating meat or fish a few times a week. While we have now been able to source some less unethical meat (locally bred, smaller scale, some free range or organic) in Rome via the two big weekend farmers’ markets at the Circo Massimo and in the Testaccio Ex Mattatoio, it’s hard to get a sense of how sustainably sourced any of the fish on the market or in restaurants is. Not very, I suspect.

Although I agonise (clearly) over food ethics, the question of seafood is something that has long confused me to boot. In contrast to animal husbandry, where an animal is bread specifically and living a life controlled by man, there are very different ethical issues at play in our consumption of the majority of seafood still. Notably for the simple fact that we are pillaging the oceans for food, exploiting a natural resource. (I don’t want to go into fish farming here, but suffice to say it’s not an easy solution – it’s potentially polluting, and like meat production involves a ridiculous calorific equation, where to produce say 1kg of salmon, at least 2.5kg of so-called forage fish, anchovies, herring, sardines etc, are required. Personally, I’d rather eat the sardines direct.)

Such exploitation was fine, arguably, prior to the human population explosion that accompanied the industrial revolution in Western nations and the comparable transition being undergone now by developing world nations. But today, everything we do is on such an vast scale it becomes untenable. It’s would be untenable for everyone on the planet to have a large personal vehicle and large air-conditioned house; but if one nation can live like that, who’s to say another cannot? Likewise it would be untenable for everyone – all seven-plus billion of us – to have eggs or bacon for breakfast and a steak for dinner. And likewise, if one nation eats an endangered tuna and insists it’s a traditional diet, who is anyone else to suggest they don’t, you know, fish it to extinction. Us Brits, for example, really really cannot get our heads around the fact that cod is anything other than readily available, always and forever. But there are major concerns over Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua), but it’s long been on Greenpeace’s Red List.

So to get to the point I was thinking about when I started this, as much as I like Davidson’s book, it’s very out of date, and oblivious to questions of sustainability. He even suggests tracking down dried dolphin meat at one point, in the form of a Genoese delicacy called musciame, dried dolphin meat. Now, if a marine creature is killed as bycatch, I’d rather it was actually eaten than thrown back dead, something that’s admirably being forced into the spotlight by the Fish Fight campaign, but I still find it difficult to consider eating dolphins, having grown up in the era of Save the Wale, knowing that dolphins are considerably smarter than fish (though does that mean they have any more or less right to life?), and having enjoying watching them in the wild, in NZ’s Bay of Islands.

Anyway, again to try and get to the soddin’ point: if, like me, you like eating fish and seafood, and live somewhere where there’s information about fish stocks, please check first before you choose what to use. The beast on the slab might be dead already, but if you change your habits, that’s one way of getting the message across the fisheries industries, by way of your fishmonger. If you have such a thing; if you only shop in supermarkets, look for the labelling, or indeed re-consider which supermarket you shop from, after looking at Greenpeace’s league table (though this version is in need of updating I’d imagine).

Greenpeace also produces its Red List of threatened marine species. While in the UK, the Marine Stewardship Council produces a buyer’s guideto sustainable seafood. Also, if you live in the UK, Fish 2 Fork rates restaurants for the sustainability of the fish they use.

I’m finding it hard to find information about sustainable fish here in Italy though. I’ve only lived here seven months, so I don’t want to display too much ignorance on this matter, but the country as a whole, despite being the home of the Slow Food movement, sadly doesn’t seem to be at the forefront of sustainability in, for example, meat production and fisheries. My Italian isn’t great, but it doesn’t look like Greenpeace Italiahas a Red List or equivalent for Mediterranean fisheries. Broadly, the Med is notorious for the extreme exploitation it suffers.

As a general rule of thumb, I don’t eat any tuna or swordfish and haven’t for years, a principle solidified by watching the documentary The End of the Line. Here’s a review I believe I wrote for Film4.com when it came out. (Wish they’d not removed our bloody bylines from the reviews; it’s insulting and counterintuitive.) But I probably should go further than that. It’s a difficult challenge: balancing my enthusiasm for cooking and eating seafood with approaching food with at least a modicum of ethical consideration.

Quick edition 17 April

A friend posted this article on Facebook. It’s very pertinent, not just because Britain is experiencing a drought but also because of the wider value of water – and how it’s squandered in meat production. Eg “It takes, on average, 15,500 litres of water to produce one kilogram of beef. To put this in context, that is the equivalent of 50 baths of water to produce one steak – 15 times more water than is needed to produce one kilogram of wheat. To produce the diet of a typical meat-eater takes the equivalent of 5,000 litres of water per day…”

I would like such pieces to have links to sources, as the writer is the manager of the PETA Foundation so obviously have a very specific and very ardent agenda, but it’s still noteworthy. (Really, the argument that ‘everyone should turn vegan to save the world’ just isn’t going to wash. Instead, the message should be one of providing sufficient information and education to chivvy people in the direction of more ethical choices, and a more holistic understanding of the repecussions of everyday decisions.)

 

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Filed under Food misc, Main thread, Rome

Italy and the World War II combat film

I recently read Matthew Parker’s superb Monte Cassino. It provides an evocative account of the battle in the mountains south of Rome, after the Allies took Sicily, landed in Salerno, took Naples, then were fought to a standstill by the massive fortifications of the German forces’ Winter Line (in particular the Gustav Line). A protracted stalemate took place around town of Cassino.

So evocative is the book, it got me wondering – why aren’t there more, better, or better-known war films set during the Italian campaign? And why, in particular, has the monumental conflict set in and around Cassino not been fictionalised?

There are many films set in Italy during World War II, though perhaps the best are things like Roberto Rosselini’s Rome, Open City (Roma, Città Aperto, 1945), which maps the lives of ordinary civilians in Rome during the Nazi occupation in 1944. Rosselini shot the film mere months after the Nazis had left the city. I must admit here that I’ve not seen its companion piece, Paisà (Paisan, 1946), which might be something of a missing link for this essay, which is focussing more on the combat of the Italy campaign.

In terms of English language, international WWII Italian campaign films, which focus more on the experience of combatants, among the best from the early era – made during or just after the war – is Lewis Milestone’s A Walk in the Sun (1945). Milestone directed one of the best ever (anti-) war films, 1930’s WWI drama All Quiet on the Western Front, so in some ways his own bar is set too high. But A Walk in the Sun is still an interesting picture, presenting, philosophically, something of the uncertainty in ‘liberating’ a country that was not long before an Axis power. There’s a point in the film where Italian soldiers surrender to the protagonist US troops. For many of the Italian soldiery, the Allied landings in Salerno were a welcome end to their experiences, though the Italian situation is a complex one, and the soldiery will have of course represented the broad political spectrum of Italy itself.

Italy had been officially a Fascist state for longer than Germany. Benito Mussolini’s National Fascist Party (Partito Nazionale Fascista, PNF) was elected in 1922 – a full decade before the Nazi party achieved dominance in Germany, and 11 years before Hitler became Chancellor. So after the armistice of September 1943, Italian Fascists didn’t simply evaporate. And there was no possibility for a clear narrative of ‘liberation’. Many Italians were still Fascists, or at least sympathetic to the cause, which the Nazis were able to maintain via an Italian Fascist party power base in the north, with the PNF becoming the Republican Fascist Party (Partito Fascista Repubblicano, PFR).

Indeed, even after Mussolini’s killing in April 1945, and after the war, Fascism has remained a strong part of the Italian social and political landscape, albeit of a re-branded variety. It was not faced up to in the same way as it had to be in (occupied) Germany. Italy is a country without a vocal political centre, and through much of the 20th century extreme left-right tensions flared, notably in the years of terrorist attacks known as the Anni di Piombo, Years of Lead (1960s-1980s). Living in Rome today, I can tell you in no uncertain terms that extreme rightwing attitudes remain alive from the sheer amount of Fascist sloganeering and swastikas in graffiti and the tone of some posters, such as those with an anti-immigration message (“Immigrazione è invasione”).

Anyway, the point I’m making is that Italy was a mess in 1943-45, its war narrative is hugely complex. There was no simple case of the Allies arriving, and being welcomed, as they were in, say, Holland or Belgium. Within any village an abiding tension between left and right could potentially be found. Read, for example, Eric Newby’s Love and War in the Apennines (1971), an account of his time hiding in the mountains in northern Italy’s Po Valley, after he left his POW camp in 1943 – the Italian guards simply walking away after the armistice. Newby is frequently on the move, sheltered by various peasants, who live in fear of being shopped by neighbours. (See Addendum 3, below.)

This matter of the Italian soldiers leaving their posts as POW camp guards is seen on screen in Von Ryan’s Express (1968), a big, glossy film that combines elements of the escape and the combat film. It begins with Frank Sinatra’s Air Force colonel Ryan shot down and taken to a camp, which is mainly populated by British soldiers under a stuffy Major, played by Trevor Howard – an actor whose posh, stiff upper lip (and arguably slightly neurotic) version of masculinity hasn’t dated well in such roles. Especially since the story emerged that he wasn’t actually a war hero, as had been claimed: he was kicked out of the army for having a “psychopathic personality”. (Though I’d like to know the source of that info included at the bottom of this newspaper article.) Anyway, after the armistice, the camp’s commander, a Blackshirt, begs for his life, takes off his cap, spits on its Fascist badge. Later he’s saved by the Nazis, and realigns himself. He’s something of a caricature, but it’s easy to believe that in his period loyalties were indeed fluid.

American combatants are the focus of another of the bigger Italian campaign war films, released the same year as Von Ryan’s Express: Anzio. This was legendary Italian producer Dino Di Laurentiis’ attempt to produce something loosely comparable to things like the D-Day epic The Longest Day (1962). The Anzio landings, like the Battle of Monte Cassino, are a historically notable element of WWII, but again, even more so than was the case with Monte Cassino, aren’t easy to apply a heroic narrative to. Anzio, a port city in Lazio region, and nearby Nettuno, were the landing points for the Allied troops taking part in Operation Shingle, which was designed to break the deadlock of Monte Cassino, through the creation of a bridgehead further north along the shin of Italy. The American generals in charge, John P Lucas and Mark Clark, were, however, so concerned to fortify their bridgehead, they moved slowly, allowing German forces – who had in fact been caught on the hop – to dig in and create more formidable defences.

There’s the potential for a fascinating film there. Anzio, unfortunately, isn’t that film. The film’s starting point was apparently a 1961 book of the same name by respected war correspondent Wynford Vaughn-Jones, who took part in Shingle reporting for the BBC. It’s hard to believe it though, as the film descends into cliché, with the usually reliable Robert Mitchum plodding through much of the film looking bored as a cynical war correspondent ultimately forced to take up arms. Co-star Peter Falk, meanwhile, didn’t like the script and wanted to flee, but Di Laurentiis gave him the option to write his own dialogue (according to a Wikipedia reference to his autobiography). It doesn’t exactly shine through. I do like, however, how the film at least acknowledges Falk’s glass eye – after a brawl near the beginning he complains that whatever hit him in the eye felt like a “lead pipe”.

A film that manages to actually address something of the complexity of the Italian campaign, and the Italian situation, is a more recent affair, Miracle of St Anna (2008). Spike Lee undertook this project in an effort to redress an abiding issue in American WWII films: their lack of representation for African-American troops. This is an enormous and thorny issue, but the grievances are understandable when African-American troops died for a country that was still grotesquely segregated, two decades before the Civil Rights movement began to break down some the USA’s version of apartheid.

Lee was particularly riled by the absence of black faces in Clint Eastwood’s Iwo Jima diptych Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima (both 2006). I won’t go into their high-profile slagging match too much here either, but Eastwood accused Lee of not knowing his history, to which Lee replied “I know history. I’m a student of history. And I know the history of Hollywood and its omission of the one million African-American men and women who contributed to the second world war. Not everything was John Wayne, baby.”

His response was Miracle of St Anna, which tells the story of a group of soldiers from the 92nd Infantry Division, an African-American unit (though with white officers). The 92nd fought in the Italian campaign from 1944 to the end of the war, in the Apennines. I must admit when I first tried to watch the film, I struggled. I’m a fan of many of Lee’s films, but here I found the score too intrusive, and didn’t entirely buy the way the characters were written, they didn’t feel credibly of the 1940s. But on a second viewing, I got on with it much better – indeed, it’s safe to say it’s one of the best, most interesting Italian campaign films. Not only for how it puts black soldiers front and centre, but for how it engages with Italians, and the political complexities.

The heroes (played by Laz Alonso, Derek Luke, Omar Benson Miller and Michael Ealy) are stranded behind enemy lines in Tuscany, and hole up in a village. There, they meet partisans, whose leader (Pierfrancesco Favino) and best friend/right hand man (Matteo Sciabordi), have conflicting political backgrounds and agendas. The narrative is far from easy: the black heroes are fighting for white officers who (mostly) treat them with callous disregard, for a country that has cafés that will serve German POWs but not them, despite their nationality, their patriotism, their uniforms. The partisans they meet, meanwhile, should be allies, but one betrays their trust as he’s got insidious dealings with the Nazis.

There’s actually an interesting sub-sub-genre of WWII films that deal with the contributions to the conflict of non-white soldiers. You may know  Windtalkers (2002), which featured Navajo soldiers deployed by the US Army for radio communications in the Pacific theatre: as the Axis forces couldn’t “break” their language. There’s also another film about Native Americans fighting in WWII  called Thunderbirds (1952), though as far as I recall it never graced TV screens in my UK 1970s-80s childhood (where I first learned to love WWII movies), and it’s not surfaced on DVD, so I don’t know much about it, except that is does feature the soliders landing at Salerno for the Italian campaign.

Go For Broke! (1951) is from a similar era to Thunderbirds – perhaps in the early 1950s there was a crisis of conscience in America about certain ethnic groups who fought for the nation in WWII. This one was presumably to in some part try and compensate for the mistreatment of Japanese-Americans who were interned. Its protagonists, from the 442nd Regimental Combat Team – made up of Nisei, Americans born to Japanese parents – are natural heroes for a movie, as they were one of the war’s most highly decorated outfits. It’s a remarkable story. Some of the troops in the film are Hawaiian Japanese-Americans (there’s plenty of ukulele action) who have suffered from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour attack. Others, mainlanders, get letters from home with news of mistreatment such as beatings and threats of lynching. “We’re good enough for German rifles, but not for picking sugar beet,” remarks Sam (Lane Nakano).

They’re not sent to the Pacific theatre unless they speak perfect Japanese (for intelligence work), as there’s a concern about friendly sniper fire, so instead they’re shipped to Italy. The film was shot in California, but uses stock footage of Naples and beyond, as the men – whose fellow Nisei in the 100th fought at Cassino – hike most of the way up Italy, their very white Texan lieutenant Grayson (Van Johnson) slowly overcoming his prejudices as they go, even to the point of slugging a fellow Texan who calls them “Japs”, rather than Japanese-Americans, Nisei or even “Buddha Heads”, their acceptable slang name.

It’s a pretty conventional film for the most part, with its various characters in the platoon, and uncomplicated portrayals of heroism, but the ethnic angle is fascinating. Even if the star is Johnson.

At one point in Go For Broke!, Grayson is fleetingly innamorato with an Italian signorina, who has a two-sided photograph, of her previous US lover on one side, and a prior German lover on the other. It’s a scene that recalls one of the very few Italian films I’ve seen that actually features Italian soldiers, where there are reversible portraits of Allies and Axis dignitaries. Il Due Colonnelli (The Two Colonels, 1962). This one isn’t actually set in Italy, it’s in Greece, where Italians and Brits vie for control of the same village, and the affections of its populace. It’s a broad, and distinctively Italian, comedy, which isn’t afraid to present the Italian soldiery as, by and large, foolish wastrels, though none is as bad as their commanding officer, a picolo Mussolini played by legendary Italian actor Totò, who apparently improvised most of his films.

It’s not just the US that has produced films that highlight the sacrifices of non-white troops in WWII. Another fascinating film that features non-white soldiers and has sections set in Italy is Indigènes (aka Days of Glory, 2006). This Algerian-Belgian-French-Moroccan co-production directed and co-written by French-Algerian Rachid Bouchare, like Lee’s film, follows many of the hoary war-film conventions, notably by following a squad of bickering, bantering, diverse brothers-in-arms, living and dying together. Plus, again like Lee’s film, it’s one of the many WWII films that followed the revitalisation of the genre by Saving Private Ryan (1998). However, here the focus is on forces that may well have never been seen in a WWII previously: Algerian Tirailleurs and Tunisian or Moroccan Goumiers, the “indigenous people” of the title. It’s a fascinating film, but not necessarily a good war film, feeling flat in places, and I know it’s probably not politically correct to say it, but I struggled with the presence of Jamel Debbouze. He might be one of France’s biggest stars of North African origin (and is a good presence in things like Amélie and Asterix at the Olympic Games), but unlike the film itself, I found it hard to ignore his paralysed arm – something that in reality would have prevented someone from becoming a soldier, let alone actually firing a rifle.

Tirailleurs and Goumiers played a major role in, for example, the worst of the fighting at Monte Cassino, and the efforts of Bouchare and Debbouze (star and co-producers) to use the film to address the issues of their rights are commendable. The film ends with a note that says the servicemen had their pensions frozen in 1959, three years after Tunisian and Moroccan independence and thee years before Algerian independence. But there are stories about the Goumiers in Italy that didn’t find their way into the film. One very different portrait of the Goumiers can be found in Vittoria De Sica’s La ciociara (aka Two Women, 1960). This film dealt with the Marocchinate – an Italian word loosing meaning “the Moroccans’ acts” and used to refer to the mass rapes and even killings allegedly perpetrated by Goumiers on villagers in the Ciociaria region of central Italy, after the Allies broke through at Monte Cassino. Parker deals with this subject diplomatically in his book.

Suffice to say, there are open wounds for both the Goumiers mistreated bythe French military and government and the Italians who suffered at the hands of the Goumiers. There’s truth to be found, doubtless, in both Indigènes and La ciociara; between the two films, the complexities of the circumstances in Italy during WWII are hightlighted.

To get back on firmer ground, one of the greatest ever war films is Samuel Fuller’s The Big Red One (1980/reconstructed version 2004). It’s another film that utilises the classic squad format, and in other ways may be have been something of a template for Indigènes, notably in how it follows said squad through their experiences of various campaigns, a kind of bloody picaresque. Indeed, both films share the same trajectory: North Africa, Italy, France.

Although Fuller’s film looks and feels in some ways dated in an era when filmmakers like Spielberg can use CGI to fill the ocean off Normandy with ships, or give a gritty, graded realism to his footage of Omaha beach, replete with amputee actors ‘losing’ limbs to explosions, in other ways it’s a more authentic film than Saving Private Ryan will ever be. Why? Because Fuller himself was a highly decorated member of the Big Red One, the nickname for the US 1st Infantry Division, and did indeed see action in North Africa, Sicily, France and was at the liberation of Falkenau in Czechoslovakia in May 1945, setting for the film’s denouement. Furthermore, the film’s leading man, Lee Marvin, was also a veteran, who won a Purple Heart while fighting in the Battle of Saipan as a Marine.

The protagonists land in Sicily in July 1943, where one private loses a testicle to a mine. “You can live without it, that’s why they gave you two,” Marvin’s grizzled Sergeant tells him. It’s darkly humorous, at times farcical, such as when the squad captures a Hitler youth. When the Sergeant spanks him, his cries of “Heil Hitler! Heil Hitler!” turn into “Pappy! Pappy!”

The film is so episodic that much of it doesn’t take place in Italy at all, but its Sicily sequences capture something of the grimness and confusion of the Italian campaign. The squad in The Big Red One aren’t movie heroes per se, they just literally just solider on, from battle to battle. The only glory in war, according to Fuller’s stand-in character, Zab (Keith Carradine), is survival.

Survival, of course, being something that’s tantamount to impossible in Joseph Heller’s classic satire of war Catch-22, published in 1961 and adapted for the screen in 1970. The premise of the film is the ever-increasing number of missions its bomber crew protagonists must fly before they qualify to be sent home on leave. The number is so high that it exceeds the average life expectancy of missions. Which in itself is a catch, but the explicit catch of the book and film is that if a man applies for a psych evaluation to prove he’s insane, and can therefore be grounded, he’s clearly sane. The US airmen of the film are based on Pianosa, an island off the coast of Tuscany.

B-25s, the bombers featured in Catch-22, were among the aircraft involved with the bombing of Monte Cassino monastery and abbey on 15 February 1944. I can’t find out where the bombers that hit the monastery took off from, but it certainly wasn’t Pianosa, which,  in reality, is too small for such a substantial airbase. The bombing of the monastery, remains, however, perhaps the most dubious episode in the Italian campaign, which as a whole was by no means straightforward – and as such, while it has produced a highly varied section of films, none of them are themselves straightforward combat films.

The Italian campaign is too hard to shape into the kind of neat black and white narrative; it’s harder to reiterate notions of a the “just war” or “good war” when one reads about Monte Cassino, which could be considered the focal point of the Italian campaign. It was a battle – or series of battles – that was mired in shame, folly, and terrible losses. Not only was the destruction of the monastery infamous, but the combat itself was as wasteful of human life as the most notorious battles of the World War I.

It’s not just an issue of how problematic the battles of the Italian campaign were, but also the very nature of Italy. By comparison, de Gaulle and co did an impressive job of creating an official version of WWII history for France, where the nation was occupied, brave French fought in the Resistance, and were extremely glad to be liberated by, well, not exactly the Allies, but by de Gaulle. The question of the French right wing and the infrastructure of collaboration was largely suppressed, and only articulated successfully after decades had passed, with such things are Marcel Ophul’s epic documentary The Sorrow and the Pity (Le chagrin et la pitié, 1969), which dared question the Resistance mythology, and reminded the nation of its anti-Semitism. Italy not only lacks any true classic WWII combat films, it has nothing comparable with Ophuls’ film (as far as I know). Instead, more recently, Italy itself has produced things like La vita è bella (Life is Beautiful, 1997) and Malèna (2000), which feature the experiences of civilians, and how they’re affected by the war.

Anyway, this was meant to be just a short-ish blog post responding to reading Parker’s book and considering a few war films, but it seem to expand somewhat. I’ve probably missed several films, and missed several points too, but hopefully it’s food for thought.

 

Addendum:
Managed to watch The Secret of Santa Vittoria finally.

It’s a somewhat laboured film, and I struggle with ‘accent movies’ generally. Here they have a Mexican star and various Italian co-stars and extras all speaking English. But it has some merit as a (somewhat fanciful) portrait of a village during the war. It’s not strictly in the purview of a piece about movie portrayals of combat during WW2’s Italy campaign – I don’t believe a single shot is fired – but here are a few comments.

It starts just after Mussolini has been deposed: it’s “the end of the Fascists!” Said Mexican star, Anthony Quinn, plays Bombolini, a fool and drunkard in the wine-producing village of S Vittoria. By a quirk of fate, he becomes mayor.

The film chronicles his transformation to a wily leader (of sorts), who’s cunning enough to take on a German army captain (Hardy Krüger), whose forces occupy the town, in a battle of wits. This involves the matter of S Vittoria’s wine. Bombolini is inspired by reading Machiavelli’s The Prince and a suggestion from a recuperating Italian solider (Sergio Franchi) to hide the majority of their million bottles in tunnels, and brick them up.

Director Stanley Kramer enjoys giving us portraits of the local extras, contorte contadini and no mistake, but there’s a strong sense of disjunction between the international stars and the local extras. Though Anthony Quinn and Anna Magnani (who plays the long-suffering signora Bombolini) have an interesting rapport. The couple’s on-screen feuding was apparently backed up by off-screen loathing, with her demonstrating her renowned fieriness by breaking a toe kicking him, and drawing blood while biting him filming a fight scene.

 

Addendum 2:
Red Tails is a modern (2012) WW2 film from Lucasfilm, produced by Rick McCallum and executive produced by George Lucas. Lucas, as any Star Wars fan or general observer of the seismic shifts in popular culture of the past 40 ish years will know, is a huge fan of WW2 films, and the world of Star Wars was profoundly influenced by the iconography of the WW2 aerial dogfight, such as that found in such films as Angels One Five (1952) and Battle of Britain (1969). There is a very clear, tangible line between the dogfighting in such films and the iconography of the space battles between X-Wings and TIE fighters in the original Star Wars films, created with sophisticated use of traditional special techniques involving models and matting, as well as innovative computer-controlled (motion control) cameras.

The CGI technologies deployed to grotesquely recreate this universe in the over-adorned Star Wars prequels has now been used to create the aircraft action in Red Tails. It’s gone full circle. So oddly, although the special effects sequences in Red Tails are impressive, they also suffer from that innate sense of airlessness and artificiality that can accompany excessive deployment of CGI. But perhaps more troubling, the aircraft in the film seem to behave like X-Wings. Were WW2 prop-fighters really quite so manoeuvrable?

Just to backtrack a moment, Red Tails concerns the Tuskagee Airmen, African-American who fought in WW2 as part of the US Army Air Corps. As such, the film arguably fits into the sub-sub-genre mentioned above concerning the contributions of non-white ethnic groups to a war where many of their comrades and allies disdained them.

It’s a fascinating story, though this film doens’t exactly do it justice – it’s both troubled by the heavy CGI aesthetic and a profoundly hoary storytelling mode, predicated on thinly written characters that conform to the war movie requirement to have a squad made up of bitching, bonding stereotypes (the maverick lothario, the captain with a drinking problem, the kid, the religious kid etc).

Still, Red Tails provides one of the few American WW2 films where the combat (almost) all plays out in Italy. Here, it starts with the Tuskagee Airmen’s 332nd Fighter Group in Italy in 1944, harrying German supply lines, strafing trains and trucks. It’s an important job but they aspire to more, feeling they’re kept away from the real action because of their ethnicity. Their colonel (played by Terrence Howard) argues their case in Washington, and the group is brought in to Operation Shingle, providing support for the landings at Nettuno and Anzio. This helps cement their reputation as skilled airmen, and they’re subsequently assigned to bomber escort. They even get their old P-40s upgraded to P-51s (Mustangs). It’s not exactly the glorious dogfighting opportunity some of them craved but a way to prove their skills and abilities once and for all. Oh, and they do get to do some fancy dogfighting, even contending with the German’s remarkable new Messerschmitt Me 262. The film credits them as being the first to shoot down one of these fast jets, one of its historically questionable inclusions.

Anyway, Red Tails is not a great film, but it’s an interesting addition to the catalogue of WW2 Italian compaign films.

Addendum 3:
There is a TV movie based on the book, 2001’s In Love and War, and while it’s largely inoffensive, it’s very cursory compared to the Newby’s account. It’s a shiny, amiable, superficial romance, which skims over so much of Newby’s actual experiences. It doesn’t even mention the fact that the girl he met, who would become his wife, Wanda, was Slovenian not Italian. It’s a bit of a Euro-pudding like that, with the Italian, and Italian-speaking characters, slipping in and out of speaking Italian and speaking English with Italian accents.

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Dislike a Virgin

Real internet continues to elude us in the capital city of Italy, so we’re surviving on a diet of dongles – including one whose software insisted on BSOD’ing my computer – and the tantalising whiff our neighbours’ WiFi networks.

All of which makes access to decent radio – ie 6Music and Radio 4, with perhaps a little Radio 2 – impossible. We can’t even get World Service here on a conventional radio.

The station that we’ve tuned to on our little non-digital number in the kitchen is Virgin. Let me just make it clear that this is the least bad station we can find. Which means it’s the station that plays the smallest amount of stupefyingly bad Italian pop/rock. It does play some though, and that’s mostly in the form of sub- and cod-Bryan Adams soft rock. Yes, apparently all Italian “rock” singers have to be gravelly voiced. I assume it’s in the constitution.

Those tracks, perhaps surprisingly, aren’t the worst Virgin has to offer though. The station also has a deeply irritating range of “spoken jingles” (I don’t know the technical term), performed by a gormless-sounding woman with a south of England accent. She intones things like “Style rock”, “Contemporary rock”, “Rock forever”. Even sometimes treating us to rolled Rs in “rock”. Oddly. Oh and yes, there’s a lot of English used, which is understandable when much of their fare is in English.

Another “jingle” samples someone saying “Let’s crank this motherfucker up.” Something that’s not ideal when my three-year-old nephew is around.

Now firstly I’d like to point out that while vintage panto heavy metal like AC/DC may qualify as “rock”, the oft-played Coldplay does not, by any stretch of the imagination. And why Coldplay may qualify as “contemporary”, I’m not sure that argument stretches to the adolescent poetry of The Doors (hey, I still like the music, but oh boy, those lyrics don’t scan so well as you age way beyond Morrison’s age).

More worryingly though, the station seems happy to excavate a disgusting seam of misogyny exemplified by a couple of songs currently in their (limited) playlist. One culprit is by far and away also the worst song they’re playing: “We’re all gonna die” by Slash. And Iggy Pop. I’m having to restrain myself from using lots of exclamation marks here. Iggy Pop!! I’m ashamed to say I maligned the entire Italian nation when I initially thought this had to be an Italian song. It’s jaw-droppingly moronic, tuneless, and lyrically odious. Did Iggy really co-write that? Is he singing? Is he doing it for a joke?

The other current culprit – and I’m having to Google this to find out who it is – is “The bitch came back” by Canadian bank Theory of a Deadman. Who I’d never heard of before this moment. This band may have done some other good songs; I don’t dislike their audio style per se, but the lyrics of this song are way out of order, or at least are way out of order for being played outside the confines of a some dumb male teenager’s bedroom. Sure, maybe it’s a comedy record, but it’s just plain nasty. Mr Branson, I think you need some higher ethical standards in this regard.

Anyway, you wonder why we turn the radio on at all. Well, because I like to have music while I cook, and because it’s not all bad. They do play plenty of music that I can tolerate, and sometimes even music I actually like. In no particular order these include: Depeche Mode, The Beatles, Smashing Pumpkins, Queen, Led Zep, Foo Fighters, Neil Young, Kasabian, Pink Floyd, Noel Gallagher, Travis, Jane’s Addiction, Vaccines etc.

Oh, and you too can enjoy those gormless verbal jingles here.

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