Regular readers of this shockingly irregular blog will be aware of my huge passion for Italy.
I love Italy and have done ever since my twenty-first birthday when my parents asked if I wanted a ring or a watch and I replied, "No, all I want in the whole wide world is to see Michelangelo's David!".
So off I went to a magical place called Firenze where I hunted out the David, ate rather a lot of cheese omelette (omelette alla formagio was one of the few things I could ask for with a passably good accent) and bought myself a gorgeous handbag, in the dark green colour of one of those paintbrush-tip-shaped conifers you see all over the country.
I've just been reading that provincial capitals in Italy are about to be merged for reasons of cost-cutting, including the Tuscan cities of Pisa and Livorno. They are only fifteen miles apart but they have been separated for centuries by a relationship of "cordial loathing" (don't you just love that expression?). Which goes some way to explaining the Livorno saying "Better a death in the house than a Pisan at the door." Am trying to imagine this being said about two places in England (say, Bath and Bristol) and somehow it just doesn't seem to work with the same degree of reasonable passion.
I'm off to Umbria very soon and Venice - and in 2013 I shall be taking my Tuscan writing course at the glorious Watermill . I think there are a few places left.
In the meantime, here's a picture of the very best soup additive in the world. Chuck a handful into a pot of vegetables and stock and you have yourself a feast.
So which country makes your heart beat a little faster?