Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Reality, 250 mt away

I'm looking for a new flat to move into. Good part of my family either laughs or wonders at the notion that, after spending almost an year refurbishing my current flat, I am looking forward starting the cycle from scratch.

I have a full list of requirements, first and foremost location. I don't want to move too far away from my neighbourhood. I like it a lot. It's close to green areas, city centre is barely 10 minutes away. Houses were build in a time where building regulations were not planned with Hobbits in mind, so none of my friends can reach the ceiling if they stretch their arms.
Above all, I love the feeling of belonging in this small "village".
Yeah, we got the Chinese hairdresser, the Egyptian kebab, the Romanian grocery store, but it still feels like a village.
There are two places in 300 meter span you can play boules, people will chat with you in the shops, in the supermarket, at the bus stop. I don't know that many people, yet I feel I know them all. I "know" the people I'll meet in my daily routine, the women at the supermarket cashier, the owner of the kids bookshop downstairs, the girl of the tattoo parlour across the street. I think it's a good life the one I'm building in this small area of my hometown: a life that moves on, alongside the lives on many other fellow humans. People get married, people split up, somebody has a baby, somebody else passes away. Life being life, essentially.

I'm on holiday right now. Trying, as much as possible, to unplug from reality, this morning I felt I was in a good spot, slowly buy surely reaching my goal. First time I checked the mobile in the whole day I'm way into the afternoon, that moment it's too late for coffee and too early for spritz.
There's a message from mum. Unconnected news from home, weather report and then a news.
"There was a femicide in the street you live."
And reality crashed back in.
I don't know anything about this woman. I know that she was beaten to death by her husband and that her husband enjoyed playing chess. I know her name and age, but I don't know what she looked like
Did I ever bumped into her on the queue at the pharmacy, at the supermarket or the post office? Did I cross her path on my way back from my morning run or my walk routine to my parents' place?

I know that she lived barely 250 mt away from me, but I don't know whether she felt safe as I do in my small village within a big city.

I know that she will become a number in our general statistics on women killings, I can foresee the comments and opinion about her and her murderer, but I don't know how the life of her family will be from now on.
I know it's such a common occurrence nowadays that the news will be reported blandly and people will move on.
Sometimes I wish I could forget what I know, because it'd be so much easier. It's hard to avoid uttter dismay and despair towards the current situation in Italy and towards mankind, it'd be simpler to give into resignation. But 250 mt away from me lived a woman that I didn't know: I just know she deserved much more than what she got in the end, and I know nobody should never ever forget it.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

One in, one out - Part II

Sometimes (most of the times, actually) movies shouldn't have a sequel: you start well, with a fairly decent movie, with normally a baddie that is more interesting than the main character and then you find yourself, 20-30 years down the line starring in a movie with some silly title like "It's too hard to die, so I'll settle for some Vodafone ads, thank you".

Without having to wait 20 years, I can report about the state of my minimalist approach to the book shelves.
The project is still ongoing, even though I wonder why, given I'm the best and worse sabotateur of my own plans.

Just like any sequel movies, the beginning of chapter 2 starts in a presumably unconsequential way: grey sky, rain drizzling down gently, our heroine is in Vienna. Life goes on as usual, and I've used a business trip as a valid excuse to try out Sacher Torte at the Sacher Hotel and visit a beautiful exhibition at Albertina on Pointillism.
The exhibition is so beautiful, that after thinking over it for a day, I’ve decided to head back to Albertina and buy the catalogue of the exhibition. Damn. It’s heavy.

Culture weighs tons. But the book is so nice, that I decide that yes, sod it, I want it, I’ll buy it.
Any sense of guilt of adding up to my collection is soothed by the notion that, before leaving home, I had already prepared a bag with 7 books to be sold. Seven books to be sold minus 1 book I was about to buy equals 6 books allowance.

I sold them yesterday: 7 books equals 16 euro.
I felt pleased with myself. "See Virgi? It's not so hard, is it?"
I felt relaxed: 7 books out, equals 16 euro and a +6 books in tolerance. I reasoned that with some well aimed lending from my sister's bookcase, 6 could be the right number to get until Christmas.

I was thinking all of this, walking in the city center, enjoying the sunshine when catastrophe hit. The main shopping street of Torino was full of book stands. I somehow forgot that Portici di Carta was planned for this weekend.

It’s an event where bookshops put stands under the colonnade of one of the main street of the city center. New books, used books, antique books. Basically a strip of temptations leading me to perdition and to the metro station.

“I can do it, I can do it. These are old new books, I can buy them in bookshops as well, no point in getting them here”. The first 200 meters were easy, but then the used books sections started and…

And I happened to see a 1937 edition of short stories by Stefan Zweig, hailed by the editor as the most interesting voice coming from the German speaking areas of Europe. It’s a bit surreal, thinking that in a couple of years things would take a turn for the worse in Austria and probably by then Zweig’s volume had already disappeared from Italian shelves, given the ’38 racial laws that were put in place by Italy.

It was just 5 euro, how could I leave it there? I didn’t obviously.
7 books minus 2 books equals 5 books and 11 euro. That’s ok, I reassured myself, just keep walking.
The end. 
nd credits roll. People leave the cinema commenting on the poorness of the sequel.
In doing so, however, they miss the bonus scene in the middle of the credits.

I knew it was going to happen. I knew that my will is as strong as a melting ice-cream, but did that stop me? No! 
7 books in the end equals to 1 book allowance and a -2 euro final balance. 

Saturday, 8 October 2016

The concerts planner

This year has been quite a shitty one.
If you trust old sayings, it's because 2016 was born with the misfortune of being a leap year.
Part of me thinks that I can’t discriminate an year over its divisibility by 4.
However I've already lived through a pretty good number of leap years to know that 2016 is the typical overachiever, overdoing it just to show off.

Even so, there's been some good things too.
This year I printed 2 blank calendar templates, one for the office and one for home and I started noting down gigs.
I started to write down the name of the artist on the day I was going to the concert: at the beginning of the year I already had a couple of gigs lined up, gigs that I still have to see (Francesco and I were quite keen at getting our hands on tickets for Wilco).

The gig-plan is the only agenda I’ve been keeping up to date in the past 9 months. I’ve missed appointments because I wrote them down at the wrong time, on the wrong day, at the wrong address.
Or a random combination of the 3 wrongs above. And guess what? When it comes to meeting, 2 wrongs don’t make a right, but more likely some awkward conversatio on the phone, apologising for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But the gig agenda is still keeping up. So far it suffered only one set back, in July. On the 13th I was supposed to go to Carroponte to watch Counting Crows playing. Adri & Fra had taken a day off well in advance, "parked" the kids at the grandparents, we were all set. Then a monsoon decided to fall over the area that hosts the Carroponte and the concert was cancelled only one hour to go. I think that in a couple of years the 3 of us will be able to talk about it without swearing. I think...

It's not just the concerts I enjoy. Sure the music is the main thing, but there are other parts of going to concerts. The first one is "going": in the last two years I've been to only one concert in Torino, all the other gigs have been somewhere else, scattered around Italy and Europe. Travelling is always mind-opening, even if only for a couple of days.
And then there's the people. Sure, at concerts I meet way too often people that spend their time on Facebook, taking pictures and videos (while I am singing murdering the song just one row behind them, I can't imagine the sound of those videos), leaving in the middle of a song to fetch a beer (yeah, when it comes to concert, I'm an orthodox and a snob). But then I've also met cool people. People that I might or not meet again, but that I formed a bond with thanks to the songs, or the mosquitos trying to eat us alive in Milan. People that weren't even at the concert but I happened upon in my wandering the day after and spent some good time talking about music.

Now October is starting and while the year starts accelerating towards the Christmas break, I'm getting ready for the next big round of concerts. Five, or maybe six of them, depending on whether the magic of the fairy ticket works out as I hope.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

My summer with Natalia

It started by chance, while looking for alternative and solutions for the shelves crisis.
I found the podcast of an Italian radio program, "Ad Alta Voce" ( Out aloud); it broadcasts 5 days a week and it's all in the title: novels are read out aloud. When I subscribed to the podcast, they were halfway through Carlo Cassola's "La ragazza di Bube" (Bube's girl), read by Alessandro Benvenuti.

"La ragazza di Bube" is one of those novels you read at school. No, let me rephrase that: "La ragazza di Bube" is one of those novel you're made to read and write a paper about it.
And that's what I did: I read it and dutifully wrote a paper highlighting the main topics, the style of the writer, the historical background, etc. etc. I also dutifully avoided voicing my own opinion, because that wasn't requested, so my teacher could only suspect (if she ever cared) that I found this novel a terrible bore and the 2 main characters, Mara and Bube, quite insufferable.

So, no big surprise that, when I subscribed to the podcast, I assumed I was going to drop out of it very soon. Oddly though I didn't. I believe it's all because of Benvenuti: he's an amazing actor and his voice brought the story alive. I quickly caught up with the previous episode and every day I'd scroll the episode list to see if any update on the podcast was coming up.

Oh no, time didn't change me that much: the novel is still a terrible bore and I still find Mara and Bube insufferable.
But the podcast stuck with me. I retrieved old episodes, I kept up with new novels being broadcasted.
And then on the evening of my birthday I had some catch up to do, having been away for a small concert marathon, between Ferrara and Milano.

The kitchen window was open, kids were screaming in the street, I had just started chopping aubergines for dinner when Sandra Toffolatti started reading of "Voices of the evening" by Natalia Ginzburg.

None of my teachers at school deemed Natalia Ginzburg worth more than reading some bits and pieces contained in the Italian literature manual. I didn't have to memorize date and place of birth and death and I wasn't even asked to write a report about her. I knew about her life and her writing of course, but she just skirted on the edges of my reading, never too close to take a honest look at. And I wonder why: from the first few sentences I was hooked to the novel.

It's so well written, minimalist, many things left unwritten, many other described to the smallest details. The name, the prose, everything reminded me of my grandparents village. I enjoyed it so so much, I was sad when it finished. But the bittersweetness lasted the time of the weekend, as on Monday "The Little Virtues" started. Too much of a coincidence, right? A small research and it turns out Natalia Ginzburg was born one century ago and there was going to be a special series of "Ad Alta Voce" in her honor. 
After "Valentino", it's now the turn of "Family sayings".
It's become a sort of habit for me. I listen to it in the late afternoon, early evening: I might be lazying on the armchair, knitting, sitting on the small balcony of my bedroom, or doing some chores around the flat. I just know, I just feel it's time to listen to my daily dose of Ginzburg's prose and I happily tune in.
At that point, whatever I was doing falls into the background, most of the time I end up sitting on the floor, hugging my knees and staring at a vague spot on the floor, next to the mobile.
When the music of the piano signals the end of the episode, I regret it's over already, wishing it could have lasted 10 more minutes. Why do they have to make episode so short anyway?
But then I also wish episode could be 10 minutes shorter too, so that the reading would span for a longer number of days.
But "Family sayings" will wrap up next week and I haven't checked if some other works of Natalia will be read. Yet I know the moment they stop and Natalia will be gone, so will be my summer and I'm not ready to let go any of them.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

One in, one out

When I moved back to Torino, one of the things I was most looking forward was the notion of my own library being finally reunited. No more books scattered around, no more digging through the shelves for a volume that is in the other city. No. Just one single and hopefully organized collection.

My dreams of shelves glory crashed almost immediately, due to a sudden and sad realization: space is not something one can ignore.
What happened is that I brought all my books back from Milano to Torino and added them to the one I already had in the flat.
Then I went down to the basement and got out the boxes of book I put there. Ok, shelves are starting to look a bit packed.
Then I went to my parents flat and brought back from there the ones I left there at different stages of my like. My mum also managed to sneak in some extra books for good measure. Ok, shelves do look way too packed, can I stack layers of book one on top of the other?
Then I discovered also my sister had books of mine in her flat and she was very keen to give them back to me, as she's running out of space too.
At that point there was only one thing to do: I went to Ikea and bought extra shelves to add on top of my book case.

Now got one shelf and half of free space, but I can't feel relaxed. It's obvious to me that, by my reading and shopping standard, it's a very tiny space. It can't last forever, but I need it to last as long as possible.
I decided to patch things up: I am trying to listen to audiobooks, reading more e-books (audiobooks are a bit more successful than e-books at the moment), going to the library.
I'm also trying to do something I've never been very good at: selling books.

As a Austen-esque Miyagi-san, I embraced a new mantra: "one in, one out". For every book I buy, one book has to be sold. For every new book I put on the shelves, an old one has to be taken off them. And possibly not be put on the bedside table or somewhere else in the flat.

So far it's going pretty well, I've got a certain number of books that, to be honest, I haven't reopened once since I finished reading them the first time. Also I've found out that I'm becoming slightly less attached to things. I'm less worried than in the past of the risk of becoming that kind of hoarder you see in TV shows, even though there are still some exceptions. For example, I still haven't decided whether the books I got for my birthday should count. And I decided that the volume of "Harry Potter and the cursed child" I somehow bought last week while waiting for the train is not really going to count. How come? Magic!

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Here, there and return

Almost 3 months have passed and well, apparently there is still some soul reading the lines I wrote  on the blog.
What happened in the meantime?
Well, first and foremost I'm still alive, which should never be taken for granted, especially considering how shitty 2016 is turning out to be.
I let May pass anonymously, doing pretty much the same things I did in April. Then I went on holiday.
Now that my blood pressure is 2 floors below, seeking solace in the basement, and the fan is helping but only just about, it seems weird to remember that just few weeks ago people were complaining about the crappy weather at the beginning of June, and how rainy and cold it was.
When this was happening, I was enjoying the nice and warm weather of Ireland.

Somewhere, in the Burren

I dropped in what was probably the longest spell of good weather of the past years. It rained only one morning and I didn't care much about it because I spent it lazing on the sofa and reading. But for the rest of the time the sun was shining on me as I walked up and down in the Burren and when I put my feet in the ocean... just to retreat quickly, because it doesn't matter how lovely the weather can be: the ocean is still the ocean, i.e. very cold.

The time flew quickly but gently: many cups of tea, lots of poetry, chatting, music, cloud-tree-rock-spotting. Around the Burren you can find shapes of about everything: dogs, rabbits, scary people, thinking people, noses and hands, ships and planes. 
I noted down lots of name, titles, quotes that are still waiting to be organized and will probably remain so for another 6 months.

I stocked up on books at Charley Byrne's and stumbled by pure chance on a knitting meet up. It feels like a lifetime ago. I guess this bad feeling has to do with the fact that, after 10 days of blissful, fruitful laziness, I went back to work.

From Ireland I went to California without stopping in Torino first: 2 weeks away from home, with nice weather, lots of music shopping I didn't really taken into account, so that when it was time to head back to Italy, in between books, CDs and vinyls I looked (again) as I was moving my whole house content on the red casket on wheel, otherwise known as my suitcase.

What else? Oh yeah, I turned blue. Well my hair did turn blue, more or less the shade of this Hawaiian punch: 

Sunday, 8 May 2016



Most of what makes life is routine. Utterly boring routine. As much as we all like to think and dream, routine is our life and we get used to it incredibly well, in spite of that little voice we can sometimes hear whispering from the back of our mind: "This is just like the Matrix, when it was one single movie and you think it was cool, only to find out it spiraled out into a trilogy and you were left wondering what the hell is Monica Bellucci doing there. You know that, as much as there is more and better stuff in world cinematography than the Matrix, there is more in life than this routine, so go out and get it!"
Pity most of the time the voice is muted by the need to start the washing machine, or ironing or paying bills or, even worse, going to work.

Today was meant to be yet another routine Sunday: bit of cleaning, bit of crosswords, reading, buying flowers, sitting on the armchair thinking of sorting out the wardrobe. Usual. But then I remembered there was a street fair not far from my flat and thought it was some good chance to find flowers for the kitchen there: only 2 hours after deciding to go, I was ready, which is by itself an amazing achievement for me, something that should have made me notice I was quite resolutely stepping out of routine.

I walked through the street fair, dodging political activists trying to flood me with their leaflets (mayoral election are approaching quickly) while accepting the kebab and pizza place menus, looked at the shops and the market stalls. There's a shop, right on the corner of the square. I walked by it twice last week, but at odd times so this was my first chance to have a look inside. I was curios because it's hard to label: from the outside it looked like a gift shop mashed together with a record shop. It's an odd mix, could it truly be so?
I opened the door, stepped in and... yeah, "L'emporia di Pinin" (Pinin's Emporium, what's not to like in a shop with such a cool name?) is a gift shop mashed together with a record shop.
I started browsing and before even reaching letter B in the stacks I already found out what I wanted.
I took the record out and had a look at the rest of the shop.

The guy sitting next to the records put some music on (to cover the atrocities played outside) and when I reached the counter he asked me why I picked that specific record.

"Oh, I like the Autumn Defense a lot"
And so it started a conversation with him, and the other 2 shopkeepers about music, Autumn Defense and Wilco, Wilco's gigs of the past and the future.

I left with best wishes of enjoying the record and I walked home almost as fast as a London commuter. I put the record on and listened to it twice. It's a neat album and the proof that I might not escape it wholly but I can still give routine a run for its money every now and then.

Most of the time I feel a bit of an alien when I talk about music: I try to stick to the usual suspects (my sis, Ciccio, Francesco...) because I know that they will not look at me as if I've grown a second head overnight when I talk about my favorite artists.
If I chat with a colleague or a stranger (sometimes the 2 categories overlaps, at least music-wise), it's a painful experience that can be sum up as follows: Virgi tries to explain the music she likes by naming some bands, person stares blankly at Virgi, Virgi explains the genre, "Is it something like Swedish House Mafia?", Virgi sobs in one corner.
Today nothing like this happened. Routine was broken and it might look a very tiny, unimpressive change in the routine: but it felt huge to me; it relieved me from some musical loneliness, so to speak, and gave me a new refuge from routine, at a walking distance from home.