Sunday, 15 February 2015


Per fortuna c'รจ Billa...

But not for much longer.

The Billa supermarket group is withdrawing from Italy. Their strategy was to become one of the Big 3 supermarkets and, having failed at that, they're throwing a hissy fit and withdrawing from the country completely.

We've never known Venice without the Billa on the Zattere. There are a number of others throughout the town, including one on Rio Marin which is our nearest local for 'emergency' shopping. 

And soon they'll be gone, to be replaced with branches of "Conad". I don't know much about them, apart from the fact that the name sounds like a  Robert E Howard-style barbarian hero, and slightly rude into the bargain. 

In the meantime, Billa are selling off their remaining stock at ever more ridiculous prices. Every week Caroline goes to the supermarket. Every week she comes back with her trolley groaning with things that were on offer. Teabags, pasta, risotto rice, breakfast cereals, tinned tomatoes. Campari. Lots of Campari. Our magazzino now looks as if we're storing up against the Apocalypse.

The loss of a supermarket isn't really something to get nostalgic about, but they were there and they were convenient. You don't really need more from a supermarket. And we will remember them, as long as the teabags endure.

And here's something we won't be hearing any more. It's described as a jingle, but that, frankly, is a disservice to fifty seconds of a little bit of Italian pop magic...

The Billa Jingle (Youtube)

Per fortuna, c'era Billa!

Thursday, 5 February 2015


Cafone (nm) : oaf, imbecile, ignoramus (Oxford Italian Dictionary)

Cafone : arrogant little !*$%   (Phil's boss)

Most of the kids I teach are a delight. Some of them are so nice I think I'd actually teach them for free (fortunate really as, given how much I earn, I practically do so already).

The Little Businessman, however, is not one of them.

Every Friday he arrives early, sits himself down in front of la direttrice, and explains his list of demands for the week. The beginning of the lesson then plays itself out as it has for every Friday night over the past twelve months. I will ask the class to get their books, pens and pencils out. He will tell me he hasn't brought them. I will then remind him that although this is an evening class, it is still the same as going to school and so he has to bring something to write with. He will then tell me why he has forgotten again. "My aunt was very busy yesterday" is this week's reason. I genuinely wonder if - having exhausted his supply of plausible excuses - he is now just putting random words together in order to confuse me.

All this, of course, has to be done in Italian as his refusal to speak English verges on the pathological.

Last week's end-of-module test went as expected. Challenged to write down as many English words as possible, the previous class - a class of 8 and 9 year olds - actually seemed to be attempting to compile a dictionary. They demanded more time and more paper until every last word had been dredged up from memory. One of them came up with over 250.

The Little Businessman managed 3. One of them was "Philip". The other two were "etc." and "etc."

My hopes, then, are not high as we turn to homework. And yet, when we turn to the two pages of exercises set, I see my signature at the bottom of the page. More than that, I've written "very good" as well. I've got no memory at all of marking it and yet it seems I must have...and then my eyes scan further up the page. All the spaces for answers have been left blank. I check my writing again. He's forged my signature. It's a pretty good job, to be fair. In fact, if he'd filled in the rest of the page with any old rubbish I might not have checked further.  An almost perfect attempt at cheating foiled only by a basic lack of attention to the finer details.

I have to say I quite admire his chutzpah. In fact, I feel quite well disposed to him for the next ten minutes. And then the refrain of non capisco niente starts up again. I sigh, and wonder how many ways of explaining "The book is on the desk" there can possibly be...

Elsewhere, Caroline has acquired a cafone of her own; an older teenager, suddenly finding himself in need of a certificate that states he can speak English at level B2. During the mock exam, she notices that he is perhaps paying just a little too much attention to the paper of the guy next to him. And indeed, upon marking, it turns out that by remarkable coincidence he has written an absolutely identical essay.

For the exam itself, then, he gets placed on his own, on the opposite side of the room from his pal. He has a go, but he knows he's been found out; although he does at least retain sufficient sang froid to give our boss an insouciant 'see you next term' as he hands over his paper.

A speaker of English at level B2, according to the Common European Framework of Reference, should be able to 'produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options'.

The entirety of his written paper, an example of an informal letter, reads as follows. Hi Jessica...!

It's now pinned up in the staffroom.