Beautiful beautiful snow

I am completely in love with snow.  When it comes to snow (and probably quite a few other things) I am still a child.  When it snowed for weeks in the UK last year and everyone got sick of it, I was still excited every time I looked outside.

And now we’ve had some in Milan for the last week and a half!  I couldn’t resist getting the camera out, especially since I’ve just discovered Instagram so can play around with my phone shots.  So cue a photo-heavy post!

I caught the very first flakes from my room:

The Milan parks covered in a blanket.  I always think snow suits parks and the countryside so much more than the city streets where it just turns into grey slush.  And parks were made for playing in!

There has just been so much of it!  No icing sugar sprinkling here…

One of my friends took me to a beautiful cemetery the day after the snow came down.  It’s called Cimitero Monumentale (the English version of the website seems like a Google Translate production to me, but it does still have opening hours, directions and some nice pictures) and is right near Porta Garibaldi station, if you know Milan at all.

I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of it – it’s not one of Milan’s most touted tourist attractions and there was hardly anyone there when we went, but it’s completely gorgeous – I’d definitely recommend a visit to anyone visiting Milan.  I loved it in the snow, but am planning on heading back there when it melts so I can have a proper look round.  Each tomb is like a piece of art and it was so peaceful. But for now, a few snowy pics:

I have no shame in saying that I took great joy in making footprints in 5 inches of fresh, powdery snow, even if I did have numb toes by the time we left.

The next day I went to visit another friend and got to do it all over again!  The Italians in her town don’t really seem to “do” walking to places (unless they have a dog), so the pavements hadn’t turned to slush.

What a gorgeous week!

Book Love: An unexpected (but wonderful) distraction

I ended having a completely unexpected new read tonight as a result of one of my many internet meanderings.  I stumbled across a new blog (Emily’s Blog – here) and a book cover caught my eye in one of the posts.  I had a quick look on Amazon, suspecting a cheap Kindle download (I was right, 99p), and lo and behold 1.5 hours later I had finished The Lover’s Dictionary: A Love Story in 185 Definitions by David Levithan.

It’s written in the style of a dictionary, with the story being revealed through short “definitions”.

At first I didn’t think I’d like this book.  I’m obviously a very impatient person.  I was confused, I didn’t know who was narrating and I didn’t like the fact that the constant chopping and changing and lack of chronological order was making these problems worse.

But then I got a grip, made it through the As and started to quite enjoy myself.  I really liked the short definitions and the way they don’t dwell on things – they kept the story moving.  A lot of it is a man telling us what he loves about his partner, but each thing is described in only a sentence or two so it’s not remotely soppy or over-emotional.  It’s just a beautiful glimpse into his thoughts.

And then you get a complete contrast – the little irritations, or his feelings during the difficult parts of the relationship.  It makes it feel real right from the start, as the lack of chronology means the hard parts, the tests of the relationship, are mentioned all the way through.  This contrast makes the romantic entries even more beautiful and the tougher entries more poignant.

I was surprised by well the characters were built up.  They are described only in the sense of how the narrator feels about himself and her, but I found myself with a definite image of each in my mind.

It is very cleverly written.  Even though it’s out of order, the story still manages to unfold, revealing a tiny bit more information in every definition, building on what you already know.  Somehow you always know what he’s talking about, even when it’s just a flippant comment.  But it doesn’t really say anything new: it’s a story that many people have experienced and that has been told a thousand times before.  It’s the writing style that kept me interested, kept me reading to have a bit more information revealed.  Kudos to the author for managing to come up with a new way to tell a basic story.

This is a lovely short novel, a very real and honest love story.

PS  Here is the cover – isn’t it lovely?

Book Love: I get surprisingly attached to some easy reads

Next stop on my reading mission was a quick and easy read – Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida by Catherine Ryan Howard.  I actually read the sequel to this book (Backpacked: A Reluctant Trip Across Central America) about a month ago after discovering it on an aimless browse through the Kindle store, where I always lack the self control to resist buying anything with decent reviews and priced under £2.  I don’t actually have a Kindle, but the free PC software has come in useful for passing the time with free or cheap reads, especially since being in Italy.

Now, I do love the chance to be a bit nosey and get a look at other people’s lives, so I did enjoy a couple of fun memoirs.  If you don’t like either a) people talking about themselves or b) light reading, I’d advise you to skip these books.

Backpacked caught my eye because I’m planning a trip to Central America at the moment, backpacking from Mexico City to Costa Rica with one of my best friends for 2 and a half months.  I thought that reading someone else’s (very similar) experience would get me in the right frame of mind, and it did.  The actual experience of travelling is obviously different to the one you read about in guidebooks, and Catherine sounds about as different to your typical Lonely Planet writer as it is possible to get.  Right from the start, she makes clear that her only reason for backpacking in Central America is that it’s a good chance to spend time with her best friend instead of going home to Ireland after working at Disney World for a year and a half.  She loves chain stores, Starbucks coffee and expensive hotels, so is understandably not thrilled at the prospect of less-than-clean hostels and stomach bugs.

Now, while I wouldn’t say I’m quite as attached to the luxury lifestyle as Catherine paints herself to be, I’m not exactly a seasoned traveller.  As such, the vast majority of my worries for next summer involve dirty accommodation, food poisoning and having things nicked.  I also tend to worry, especially when doing things for the first time, that “I’m not doing this right” and that other people who are doing it right are judging me.  For me, it was a relief to read the travel experience of someone travelling with an 80 litre backpack instead of a 30 litre one, who isn’t always determined that everything should be done “like the locals” and that taking more than two t-shirts is a waste of space.  After reading too much advice from expert travellers on the internet, I was starting to think I was mad for wanting to take hair conditioner and more than 2 days worth of clothes!  There are a fair few moments in the book when things don’t go as planned (the most notable being when they try to do things exactly like the locals) and I found it reassuring to read that everyone was fine and unscathed coming out of the other side, and that you really do always cope somehow.

I read Mousetrapped because I quite liked the preview at the end of Backpacked, and it was also cheap in the Kindle store.  It is the prequel to her Central America trip, where she works at a Disney World hotel in Florida and builds a life in Orlando.  I really wasn’t expecting to relate to it in the same way.  I have no desire whatsoever to stay in the US for any extended period of time (although I did love my holiday in New York) and really dislike most of the things Catherine seems to love about Orlando.  Shopping malls and coffee, to name just two.

But Mousetrapped turned out to be completely different to what I was expecting.  Rather than filling a book with great stories and bragging about her Mickey Mouse life, Catherine deals with some real problems while living abroad.  She gets genuinely homesick and says that she’s looking forward to leaving the US for almost the whole book.  She also picks herself up and stays determined to make the best of it while she’s there.

Personally, I could completely relate to this.  Since living in Milan, I’ve been having a lot of very similar feelings and it’s great to hear that other people feel this way too – sometimes it seems like everyone that’s moved abroad is having the time of their lives.  It’s also good for me to see her dust herself up and get on with it.

However, I’m not convinced that I would have enjoyed this book so much if I wasn’t in the situation I am.  Catherine’s writing didn’t really make me understand how she was feeling; it just so happens that our feelings match up.  If you’ve never experienced living or travelling abroad, I don’t think you’d find the writing particularly emotional, or even necessarily interesting.  But if, like I am

Both Mousetrapped and Backpacked turned out to be exactly what I’ve been missing since my obsessive years of reading sugary-sweet teen fiction: well written, easy reads that I can lose myself in for a couple of hours when I fancy relaxing and not thinking too hard.  They’re both fun memoirs with enough problems to be interesting, with situations and feelings I can relate to without turning into a complete emotional wreck.

Overall verdict so far:  success!