Tag Archives: life

Adventures in bureaucracy: health insurance edition

One of the… fun… things about living in Italy is the regular adventures in bureaucracy. This week, it was my health insurance. Or rather, my tessera sanitaria, the card you carry around to prove that you have health insurance.

Tessera sanitaria.png

This one’s not mine, obviously! (“Tessera sanitaria” by DomenicoOwn work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)

Now, I’m sure that technically you don’t need the card. Certainly you don’t in an emergency. I spent half a week in hospital under the wrong name because they didn’t check my ID until I’d been there 5 days and had done multiple xrays, an ultrasound and received most of a course of antibiotics. I’d have conversations with nurses where they’d look at the name on my notes and ask “Oh, are you Albanian?”
“Uh, no…?”
“Your surname, it looks Albanian.”
“Oh, no, it’s just mis-spelt.”
And apparently this wasn’t any sort of problem.

Continue reading

Paper flowers

Losing my sense of smell just ruined gorgonzola cheese.

So… The most blog-able thing I’ve done recently was to lose my sense of smell.

Not quite sure when it happened. Maybe last weekend. Do you know what’s really hard? Wracking your brains trying to think when you last remember smelling something. Seriously, try it — see, now you’re also wondering if you haven’t smelt anything for weeks.

But I like to think it was fairly recent, because surely I wouldn’t have gone very long in Italy of all places without noticing I couldn’t smell. Continue reading

Piazza Castello, Turin

Counting my blessings, in no particular order.

I had the most cliche moment on the bus the other day.

I was sitting there thinking about all the annoying things that had gone on that week, I’m tired and my bank’s being a pain about sending me a new atm card and my water heater’s carked it and I have to book a follow-up MRI in a medical beaurocracy I don’t understand at all and and and… And — I know this is on made-for-TV movie level — I looked out the window and it was the clearest sunniest afternoon I’ve ever seen in Torino, the sky was cloudless and the mountains looked like they were just down the street and I realized, I really do have it pretty good. Imagine me looking out the window, and suddenly breaking into a grin, maybe add some inspiring background music.

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Well that was an experience: my week in an Italian hospital

“Maybe if I fall asleep in this dream, I’ll wake up in my own bed,” I thought, as I tried to get comfortable on the stretcher I was lying on, somewhere in a corridor in the emergency department. Around me, nurses distributed drugs, chatting with patients in rapid Italian. “I can’t believe I’m dreaming in Italian!” I thought, as I drifted into a doze.

I woke up. I was still in hospital.

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Snow in Giardini Reali, Turin

Getting the hang of winter.

Way back in October I wrote about autumn here in Torino, so I think a winter post is surely due by now. And I’ve had my laptop open half the afternoon, thinking, come on, you can talk about winter! it’s not that hard! And I’ve made cups of tea, I’ve fetched my doona to wrap around me on the sofa, I’ve kicked the doona off and puttered around the living room, and I haven’t written a word about winter, because I can’t pin down what I think of it.

The light is very pretty but there’s not enough of it, is I think how I would summarize.

Magic light this afternoon.

Magic light this afternoon. The sun was soon behind a building and my living room went dark.

Actually, we’ve had a decent number of clear sunny days in the past few weeks, days that remind me of Perth winters where you can walk on the beach in the sunshine and even push your sleeves up if the wind isn’t strong.

Except that here, even the sunny days are short, and the overcast days are shorter. I love that in late December we get magic afternoon light by 2pm, I just wish we didn’t get nightfall by 5pm.

Because the problem I haven’t solved yet is how to get myself to go out and do things once it does get cold and dark, which means that 7pm has found me with my doona on the sofa more often than I’d like. Do I go straight from work so I can’t stop at the sofa? Make more effort to organize social events I can’t skip? I did get myself out the door and power-walking down Corso Regina the other night after I’d read something that made me too cross to stay sitting down, but I’m not sure the exercise gains are enough to counter the emotional cost of “read poorly-argued things you disagree with” as a strategy.

But then — thinking out loud here — do I want to go out more? Maybe it’s wise to have a season where I’m not active, where I can’t pretend that I’m a Busy Important Person who is busy Doing Important Things, where I recognize that no matter how much I do in my life my achievements aren’t going to last very long. On an overcast day, everything seems grey and same-y, until I start to look closely at what’s in front of me, to see shape and pattern and texture and muted colour differences. Maybe I need to take winter as a reminder to pay attention to the quieter parts of my life.

So I’m not sure yet what I think about winter, but I’m starting to think it has something to teach me.

Oh yeah, and snow. Still don't quite have the hang of living with that.

Oh yeah, and snow. Still don’t quite have the hang of living with that, even when it’s barely there.

Snow in Giardini Reali

More notes from my extremely glamorous life.

Spent a good chunk of the week moping around with a mild flu — I’m much better now — so  this week’s post won’t exactly be a tale of great adventure. Even my fever dreams are boring: I was convinced at one point that the way I lay in bed had to be somehow “like a bowl of pasta” and I still don’t know what that was supposed to mean. Answers on a postcard.

  • It snowed here on Thursday night:
    Ooh pretty.

    Ooh pretty.

    Actually, it barely snowed at all and Friday turned out to be quite a warm sunny day, but I only realized this a fair while after I’d looked out my window in the morning, said, “woah, snow!” and put on warm clothes. Which were far too warm for my office which gets strong afternoon sun. Oops.

  • Inspired by “Texts from the Dashwoods“, I re-read Sense and Sensibility. I think Sense and Sensibility is actually my favourite Jane Austen novel, partly because it’s the only one in which I really want the main couple to get together. Probably because in the others I get a strong vibe of “oh well I have to marry someone and this guy isn’t actively terrible unlike every other man in my social circle” from the heroines. As noted previously, I’m not very romantic.
  • Further evidence of unromanticism: Even though I wanted Edward and Elinor to get together, I’d also have been satisfied with them each marrying other people due to circumstances but still enjoying a lifelong friendship where “we used to fancy each other” was in the past. Or just, in general, a novel — any era and genre — that features a friendship between a man and a woman without romance being on the agenda. Any suggestions? (Besides Elinor & Colonel Brandon in S&S, obviously. But something along those lines.)
  • I also re-watched The Castle which is a delightful movie. Recap for UnAustralians: it’s a comedy about a family who nearly have their home seized under compulsory acquisition, which sounds like an odd topic for a comedy — ok, it is an odd topic for a comedy — but it works. Mostly because the dialogue is perfect: (images stolen from Buzzfeed)
    anigif_enhanced-25547-1390979979-1anigif_original-grid-image-13476-1390980030-3anigif_enhanced-32068-1390980063-9anigif_original-grid-image-20158-1390980105-9It’s nearly 20 years old, as you might guess from the images above… but I think it holds up.

So now I’m off to see if my bedsheets are dry yet — laundry in winter is no fun. Maybe next week I’ll do something less boring?

Sometimes humble pie looks a lot like a chocolate layer cake.

Since the most bloggable thing I’ve done in the past few weeks has been online shopping for Christmas presents while still in bed, here’s a story from a few weeks ago. It’s nerdy! But it involves cake!

I’d been having a slighty frustrating time at work, with a lot of back and forth that went like

Me: What are the results you’re getting for your simulations of [problem]?

Other person sends me a bunch of graphs.

Me: Ok, but are you sure that’s right? Those numbers just aren’t physically possible. (They were the equivalent of “I measured the size of my car and it was 16 km wide”)

Them: well I already I debugged my code.

Me: sure, but the numbers don’t make physical sense [blah blah physics talk]

Them: but there aren’t any bugs in my code, I’ve gone through it 3 times.

Me: I don’t care how many times you debugged, can’t you see the results you’re sending me are just not possible?

And so on. And, I have to admit, a fair number of side comments about “how do people get physics degrees if they can’t even tell when their calculations are giving them nonsense? Harrumph.”

So when I realized that a friend from church had a birthday coming up and I was going to see her the day before it, it seemed like a good idea to bake her a surprise cake. It would be a nice thing to do, and I find baking quite relaxing.

I had a friend staying with me at the time, so I didn’t want to fuss about with making something complicated. So I chose a simple recipe, one where you just melt the ingredients together. It called for a 19 cm square tin. I don’t have any square cake tins, but that was fine, because I did have a 22 cm round tin, which is almost exactly the same area, so the cake should bake the same way. I even calculated the percentage difference between the two, it’s about 5%.

So I greased and lined my big cake tin, and got to work melting butter and sugar together. I had a moment of doubt when it came to adding the flour. It just didn’t seem like a lot of flour for such a large cake tin. But I trusted the recipe and I knew that 22 cm round is very close to the 19 cm square it called for. So maybe it was just a recipe with a higher butter to flour ratio.

I had another doubt when I poured the batter into the tin and it didn’t really look like much. But the picture on the recipe was of quite a light cake, so it was probably going to rise a lot. It did have quite a bit of baking powder in it. And I’d gone to such trouble to make sure I was using a recipe that suited my big cake tin. So in the oven it went.

And 40 minutes later it came out, flat. Maybe 2 cm thick, at most.


E., the friend who was staying, and I stared at this comically thin cake on the cooling rack. It must have deflated. So much for a simple recipe! Could we put on a tonne of icing to bulk it up? No, it was just too flat. Roll it up? No, it wasn’t flexible enough and anyway, it was round. Well I can’t use this as D.’s birthday cake. There’s nothing for it, I’ll have to make a second layer. At this point, it was getting late, so I set my alarm for 6 am and went to bed.

Fortunately, making a second layer was straightforward even in my 6am mental state, and I sandwiched them together well with some plum jam:

Not the best food photography ever.

Not the best food photography ever.

Why are the candles unlit in that photo? Because after all the trouble of making the cake, we discovered at the last possible minute before bringing it out to D. that we didn’t have any matches. Fortunately, this tipped the whole thing from “I thought baking would be a stress relief and instead I had to get up at 6 this morning!!!” to hilarious. So all’s well as ends well.

And as I was falling asleep that night, I realized the embarassing truth. Yes, a 22 cm round tin is equivalent to a 19 cm square tin. But my big cake tin isn’t 22 cm. It’s more like 28 cm. And it’s not as if I don’t know roughly what 22 cm looks like, I work with measurements all the time. So I should add another line to my exchange:

Me: Self, I don’t care how many times you’ve calculated that 22 cm round is equivalent to 19 cm square. Can’t you see that your cake tin just isn’t 22 cm?

Balcony view

Living alone: pretty great or pretty great?

One thing I really love about Torino is that rents here are low enough that I can afford to live by myself, in an apartment with an adorable tiny balcony.

Zero practical benefit but it's nice to say "I have a balcony".

Zero practical benefit but it’s nice to say “I have a balcony”.

Until I got a place by myself, I was vocal about not wanting to live by myself and turn into a hermit. But now I love my 1-person apartment. What changed my mind?

  1. Things stay where I put them. If I put the dishes away, they stay in the cupboard. If I leave the recycling bag next to the door so I remember to take it with me when I go out, no one helpfully puts it back where it belongs. I HAVE THE POWER OVER THE THINGS. (ahem)
  2. I can live in finely-tuned squalor. No housemates means no-one dirtying up things that I want clean or being horrified at things I leave dirty. Dishes? Get washed straight after meals, nothing gets left in the sink overnight. The bathroom? I would say “I mopped yesterday for the first time in ages and picked up hair that came from a friend who stayed a month ago”, but actually: 1. I didn’t mop so much as vaguely wipe a damp cloth around on the floor, and 2. the shocking thing wasn’t the month-old hair, it was the hair that came from a friend who stayed in the summer.
  3. I used to hate the idea of being sick while living alone, but I’ve gained a wealth of medical knowledge through “oh I bet this is a symptom that I’m about to die and no-one’s going to notice I’m gone for weeks”-googling. Pro tip: the (UK) NHS website is wonderfully non-alarmist. Is my little toe very bruised or did I stub it so hard as to break it? Other sites say, “It could be broken! Or maybe cancer! See a doctor!” The NHS says “well, if you’re really worried you could see a doctor, but what are they going to do, make you a tiny toe plaster cast? Let it rest; you’ll be fine. Have a cup of tea.”
  4. No queues for showers, toilets, washing machines, kitchen appliances, use of the living room. Why yes, I think I will have a shower while a load of washing is running and I’m using the oven. Actually, I won’t. It’s Italy, the wiring is notoriously bad, and I’m pretty sure washing machine+oven=blown fuse.
  5. SO IT TURNS OUT that “you’ll turn into a hermit!” is only true if you let it be. Everything else, about how nice it is to have control over the space around you, I would have guessed before I got my own place. But — this is a surprise to me — living alone made me more sociable. I can’t hide behind “I said ‘hi’ to my housemate, that’s enough human interaction for today, right?” When I go out with people, I’m not carefully rationing a store of energy for making more conversation when I get home. I can invite friends around without having to negotiate with other people who also want use of the living room. Not that I’ve become a social butterfly. I’m sitting here on a Sunday night wearing tracky dacks, eating crisps from the bag and updating my blog. But for an introverted bod like me, that’s exactly what I need to be doing so that I can go back out on a Monday morning and talk to people.
  6. And yeah, the balcony:


    Morning views have since been replaced by constant grey drizzle. Bah.