shedding tears for Italy

Less than one year ago I went travelling around Italy. It should be known that Italy is my favorite country, Italian my favorite language, and its cuisine, coffee and design style my favorites too. In fact, I often wonder why I live in France when it is Italy I love.

The photo above, taken by me in the Puglian town of Lecce, says Chiuso, which means Closed. Italy right now is closed.

In June 2019, I spent three days in Rome before slow-travelling down to the Puglia region by train. Five days later, I travelled northwards, by train again, up to Bologna and then to Milan.

Had someone told me back then that in exactly seven months the country would be BROUGHT TO ITS KNEES by a horrendous viral epidemic killing thousands and thousands, for the most part senior citizens, I swear I would have choked on my cannoli.

As we now know, the main factor affecting the country’s death rate is the age of its population — Italy has the oldest population in Europe. Many of those who have died were in their 80s and 90s, a segment of the population that is more susceptible to the ravages of COVID-19.

But surely that in itself – that there are, or sadly, were so many elderly – is testament to the longevity of Italians and proof of something positive in their lifestyle. Genetics play a large role, of course, but there are other reasons:

Italians use extra-virgin olive oil – a lot.

Rich in antioxidants and fatty acids, Italians use the oil for salads, pasta, dressings, baking, and cooked vegetables. The high nutrient content found in olive oil has been linked to decreasing the risk for Alzheimer’s, depression, heart diseases, diabetes and even osteoporosis.

Italians drink a glass or two a day

In Italian cuisine, red wine is regularly used in recipes due to its ability to enhance flavor and taste. A glass or two of red wine accompanies most meals.

Italians have strong family and social bonds

A study revealed that strong family relationships can decrease the mortality rate and improve emotional and mental health. My brother-in-law is Canadian-Italian. He visits his parents almost daily who are in their mid to late nineties and live in their Toronto home nearby. Funnily enough though, when it came to his parents-in-law and sister-in-law, there was no evidence whatsoever of any family bond, only treachery and betrayal.

The Mediterranean diet

The common Italian diet is rich in whole, unrefined grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish and small amounts of red meat – all of which is usually prepared fresh, and very little is prepackaged or processed. When eating these foods, Italians get a healthy dose of vitamins, protein, antioxidants and omega fatty acids

As I sit in confinement in my flat in Paris, I re-read my blog posts from that wonderful June trip (and previous trips) and look fondly at my photographs. I’m so glad I went when I did, and I look forward to going again.

Here are my blog posts and photos:


And here’s a wonderful video to watch:

Saturday night, extended lockdown, red pepper dip

So the national lockdown has been prolonged to April 15, and will no doubt be extended again after that. We’re in this for the long haul, folks. Things are getting worse, not better. And know this: what you read about in Europe is coming your way in North America. We’re your future.

The good news is (a) I made a delicious Middle Eastern walnut and roasted red pepper dip this evening, and (b) we turn the clocks forward tonight which means we lose one hour in this never-ending hellscape.

dip use this

The recipe is below. I suggest adding lots of garlic because raw garlic boosts your immune system. I ate it with my own pita bread, because I make my own flatbread, naan and pizza now.

Since Wednesday, the lockdown rules have tightened in France. Now, we can only go outside once a day and for one hour only if it’s for physical exercise. So what the heck are Parisians doing while confined to their small apartments? Don’t forget, we don’t have houses, backyards and gardens here. Well, personally, I’m never bored. As long as I have my creature comforts at hand – books, DVDs, coffee, radio, telephone, the internet of course, booze, the right foods, cooking utensils and my mohair throw from Zara Home – I’m happy. The best part is the uninterrupted time I can now spend on my book project. My memoir will be done and dusted soon, folks.

I guess it’s all about scaling down now, and doing without certain things that maybe weren’t necessary in the first place.

For those of you who like reading, writers and books, here’s one of my favorite websites that I read daily. It’s truly excellent, and chock-a-block full of literary news:

Literary Hub Home

Muhammara (Roasted Red Pepper Dip)

new and stricter measures imposed by the government, Thurs March 26

The weather is still mocking us. Never have we had such a prolonged spell of gorgeousness: it’s still nippy (10°C/50°F), brilliantly sunny and an azure blue sky. Plus, the air is unpolluted and the birds are happily chirping. “Come out and play!” they are saying.


standing on my balcony this morning, look at that sky.

How I long to put on my walking shoes and go for a long strenuous trek across the city, or even around my neighborhood. But I cannot, or rather I can, but there are conditions. We are in strict confinement since last Wednesday March 18th. And I applaud the French government for imposing such measures. It’s the only way to slow and eventually halt this terrible virus in its tracks, the only way. When I read the international newspapers and see other countries who are not putting strict measures in place, I shudder with disbelief. By not doing so, they’re putting everyone in danger. How can government leaders be so désinvolte (casual, cavalier) in the face of this pandemic sweeping the globe? How can citizens be so dumb as to not care or understand the gravity of the situation? Do they not read the papers or watch the news?

Below is the document we need to have on our person when we go out, downloaded from the Ministry of the Interior website. For those who don’t have a printer at home, which is my case, it needs to be written out by hand on a sheet of paper, signed and dated (and now timed.) Every day a new document.

The idea is to discourage travel as much as possible by making it complicated, and to prevent people from improvising excuses when they are stopped by a police officer on the street. The reason for each trip must therefore be precise, and planned in advance.

The idea of confinement, the government says, is to limit movement to the strict minimum. Each journey increases the risk of contact and contamination, and therefore the potential duration of confinement for the whole of France. So, beyond the rules and the risk of fines, we have to ask the question before each trip: is it really necessary?


The only valid reasons for going outside are:

– commuting between home and work when telework is not possible;
– basic necessities like food and medication;
– health emergencies;
– imperative family reasons, such as assistance to vulnerable persons or childcare;
– short trips, near the home, to do sports individually (walking, running) and for the needs of pets.

As of Tuesday March 24th, however, the rules have been tightened:

Can I go out and do sports (jogging, cycling, gym, etc.)? (I have translated this from Le Monde newspaper):

Only brief trips, close to home, and linked to the individual physical activity of people, are allowed.
Only one outing is authorized per day, for a maximum duration of one hour.
You must bring your certificate by checking the box “individual physical exercise” and specifying the time of exit.
You must go out alone (unless you are with your children).
Keep a distance of one to two meters from any people you might cross in the street.
Stay within a kilometer around your home.
Contrary to what was initially announced, cycling sports outings are now prohibited, as is the practice of team sports. It is also not possible to go to a gym.

In case of violation of these travel rules, a fine ranging from 135 euros to 375 euros will be applied to offenders. In the event of recurrence within 15 days, a fine of 1,500 euros will be incurred. Verbalization more than 3 times within 30 days constitutes an offense punishable by a fine of 3,750 euros and six months’ imprisonment.

comfort food, we need comfort food

It’s as if the weather is mocking us. It’s gorgeous here. Cold, sunny and a luminous blue sky. And here we are, confined in our homes. Yesterday, I decided that I needed comfort food, so I whipped up a batch of peanut butter-oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies. Normally I would share with neighbors and colleagues, but considering the current situation I’ll have to eat the whole batch myself. This confinement thing is not helping anyone’s diet and fitness program.

I had not been to the grocery store since last Wednesday when everything was more or less normal. Today, however, was quite different. There were no more spirits (hard liquor.) Luckily, there was wine and beer, so I stocked up on that. Somehow I can’t imagine France ever running out of wine. Then I wheeled my cart to the bread section: nothing but empty shelves. No problem. I bought flour and yeast. I will make naan (recipe below.) Super easy to make, it’s similar to making pizza dough. Other than that, there were lots of fresh eggs and dairy products, fruit and veg, bacon and meat. How depressing, though, to see my fellow shoppers wearing facemasks and no one looking or speaking to one another! One man coughed at the fish counter and everyone sprang away.

When will this end?

I applaud all the grocery store employees working on the front lines: the cashiers, especially. We said “bon courage!” to the young woman cashier in whose line I stood; all shoppers were spaced obediently several meters apart. I hope their employer, MONOPRIX, gives them all a generous bonus for working throughout these difficult times.

Tonight I’m going to make a gratin dauphinois (scalloped potatoes.) Super easy to make, and so good with a glass of red wine and any kind of grilled meat or sausage (or on its own or with a simple green salad.) The recipe below doesn’t call for cheese, but it sure looks good. For decades I’ve been making gratin with grated gruyere or emmental cheese.

Following that is the naan recipe, and following that is a link to comfort food cookies I made yesterday. So good! We need this, folks.


Oatmeal raisin cookies and oatmeal, peanut butter and chocolate cookies (the trick is to not overcook them) –

listen to Naomi Klein. she’s Canadian.

An American former Labor Secretary (D) said: “use taxpayer dollars to bailout families and unemployed workers rather than airlines, hotels, and other corporations that are expected to receive billions from the proposed stimulus package.”

‘Socialism for the rich, and rugged individualism for the poor.’

‘Trump will make sure to hook up his buddies. They will get the goodies.’

‘Why are we bailing out millionaires (again)?? Are you kidding me?’

‘Corporations with tens of billions of dollars in the bank will get help before average Americans, including BANKS! Time for a revolution.’

To that last comment, Juliet in Paris says: You had your chance, and she slipped through your fingers. Her name was Elizabeth Warren!


Saturday evening, aperitif hour, and old movies

There comes a time in the day when you have to switch off the bad news, it’s too overwhelming, not to mention depressing beyond words. If you read it all day long on the internet or watch it on television (or both!), you’re going to develop a neurosis. Like yesterday, for example. Convinced that coronavirus can be spread through the air and float into my apartment from the street below, I shut all my windows.

I refuse to let this thing bring me down. It’s currently 6:30 pm on a cold Saturday evening and I’m chilling at home (where else would I be?) while enjoying an aperitif. During my grocery store run a few days ago, I bought essentials:


Last night I went through my DVD collection and watched two excellent movies: Revolutionary Road with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio (the book by Richard Yates is superbly written), and the 1950 noir classic, In a Lonely Place, with Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame. Netflix doesn’t entirely satisfy me. I need a larger stock to draw from. Thankfully, I have my DVD player and 50 or so good, old DVD movies.

YouTube has some good stuff. If you’re into old movies like I am, here’s a sweet one, perfect for a Saturday night (click on “Watch this video on YouTube”):