giovedì 6 novembre 2014

When Mom took her first step

I think I should iron more often. Last week the pile of iron-in-waiting clothes and linen resembled the leaning tower of Pisa, both in height and in inclination.
So I finally had to deal with the task of casually and randomly pressing the iron on the fabrics below it, trying to wrinkle out lines that were weeks old by then.

That’s how by ironing, in between a skirt and a shirt I found “Please look after Mom” by Shin Kyung-sook.

Oh, here it is, I thought I lost it somewhere! What is it doing it here of all places? 
And then I remembered: the plan was to iron and then read, so I put the book on top of the pile of clothes, but then the plan changed, and I decided not to iron anymore: I ended up adding stuff to the pile, thus hiding the paperback from view.
It tells you something else about the way I iron: I do it monthly.

I bought the book online: I liked the cover and found the title compelling. Maybe that’s not enough to start reading a book and loosing it for a whole month didn’t help either: anyway, I was quite puzzled about it for it seemed to lack any sense to me in some points.

It tells the story of a hard-working over-70 mom who goes missing in a central Seoul train station: on a visit to her grown-up eldest son, her husband steps on the train, she doesn’t and she’s nowhere to be found.
The husband and their 4 children start searching for her without any luck and in the meanwhile they go over the story of this almost-saint woman they always assumed was going to be there for them, a monolithic rock of love, patience and selfless sacrifice, only to realize what she truly meant now that she’s gone. (Jony Mitchell never lies)

Each part of the book is told by a different character: the eldest daughter now a writer, the first born son that has become a business man, the undeserving husband and Mom.

By recalling the past while searching for her, Mom’s family also journeys through guilt, as they come to realize how indifferent they all have been towards her, how impatient they became once they grew and she aged and how granted her presence in their lives was (or so they thought.
They also realize that there are parts of her life they were never aware of and/or they’ve never been interested into. 

It’s not until this last section that Mom acquires a name, as if she is just “Mom”, a word, a label under which a whole human being, a whole life is hidden.

Most of the book is narrated using the 2nd person, “you”, shifting than to the third person, which adds to the feeling of oddity and alienation .
Did I like it?
At the end, yes, I did, even though there were parts of it I didn’t find that engaging or interesting.
I was left with around 50 pages to go few days ago, when I FaceTimed my parents. My mother asked me something and I snapped. It’s one of those question that she knows irritates the hell out of me, yet she seems unable to refrain herself.
She should know by now that any food-related question is off-limits with me, actually I believe she’s fully aware of it: yet she keeps hammering me there. So I snapped. And as soon as I said my goodbye and ended the conversation, guilt and remorse kicked it. And the words of the book came back to me; that’s how I knew that, no matter whether I liked it or not, the novel had hit some chords (way too) close home. Part of my brain keeps thinking about families in general and my own family in the specific.

How well we think we know the people that raised us and those we grew up together! But is it really so?

“To you, Mom was always Mom. It never occurred to you that she had once taken her first step, or had once been three or twelve or twenty years old.”

Mom is Mom, just as Granny has always been Granny to me.
But Granny was also Mom. For my mom at least.
There are whole parts of their lives I completely ignored, details of their personalities I never glimpsed and vice versa. I can watch the photo of my mum and dad as little kid, but I don't see them as babies, I still see them as my parents. I see them, knowing already what they would become to me in the future, so cutting out all the other parts of them that didn't directly impact me as their daughter.
It might look elementary and obvious, not such a deep meaning to attach to a novel, but sometimes simple truths are harder to address and live with.
Anybody will always be more of what the other people think of them, there’s no way somebody will be able to know completely another person. It hasn’t got nothing to do with how much we love that person, it’s just something we humans can’t achieve.

Because we all fail victims to the limitations time forces on ourselves (and the seeing your parents getting older, your nephew and nieces growing up while you’re aging as well makes you painfully aware of that) and to the constraints we impose on ourselves: cause our fears will prevent us from speaking the truth and asking question, leaving so many feelings unexposed, so many part of ourselves in the dark.

And in the end the only thing that remains is that request, simple yet scaring, “please look after mom”.

domenica 2 novembre 2014

Saccharine evil

I was returning home from a day out in central London.
The air was crispy in Surbiton, it had just finished raining. Not the warmest summer ever in London: It was July and I was wearing a jeans jacket and a scarf.
I started walking towards home. It felt like hiking: shoebox #4 was at the top of a small Surrey hill and the way up felt harder than usual. It probably had to do with the km I walked around London. Or those 2 pints at the pub before taking the train.
A car stopped at a crossroad and turn left. The light inside was on and on the backseat I could see 2 girls. The eldest could have been around 12, the little sister must have been 8.
They were both reading. And then it clicked: it was the night of the release of “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince”.
The kids were probably back from the special opening of the bookstores where their (obviously smart and peace loving) parents got a copy of the book.

I got my copy by mail the morning after and just like them I started reading and forgot about the world.
Even before that day I got a soft spot for J.K. Rowling. But after that night, I liked her even more: you need to be magical to do what she did and keeps doing, i.e. making kids interested in reading.

I kept up with all her writings after the end of the Harry Potter saga and there’s a piece she wrote about Dolores Umbridge for Pottermore, discussed on many other media as well, I’ve been thinking quite a lot recently.

“A love of all things saccharine often seems present where there is a lack of real warmth or charity […]”

The sentence has been swirling in between my thoughts and I think it’s not just because I always found Dolores repulsive: she's not like other villains, she's revolting. Because of what she is and how she acts and presents herself to the world, she's nothing short of disgusting to me.
I see it all around, this saccharine let’s-all-be-friends my-life-is-so-full-of-sweet-emotions way of presenting oneself to the world. And it irks me to no end.

Why? Well, first of all it’s a innate self-defense instinct I guess. I am more inclined to feel unhappy than happy and it's not something I can cure with paracetamol. There's a part of me that I need to keep under strict control to avoid it to gain power: when it happens, darkness sinks my heart, my brain, my vision. When it happens even getting up in the morning feels like an unachievable goal.
Keeping depression off sometimes is an harsh battle in an ongoing war. 
Keeping depression off is my second job. 
After having worked a whole day in the office, after getting back home to cook, wash, clean, etc. and having this ongoing second job always present during the waking hours, do you think I got the patience and strength to deal with this bullshit?

For some time I had the doubt I resented this attitude out of envy: I can't feel so wonderfully happy and happily smiling all the time, so I despise it just like the fox with the grapes. But then again no, it was not a matter of not reaching the grapes; on the contrary it was about finally managing to grab those grapes, only to realize they were made out of wax. They were fake: you can't alway be happy and you can't always be optimistic.
You can't always and only see the bright side of life. If you do, you're either dumb or a liar. I guess the latter options is what most of the Pollyannas are.

The sentence about Dolores Umbridge, however, introduced another option: distrust. If I look back, all this very happy, always too sugary, full of fluffy feelings people I met were the same people that acted the worse towards other people, that were not profitable to them.
These people would always look for a way to get knowledge out of me, only to later betray my trust or abuse my patience: they would do it with a smile on their face, ready to act as the victim of grumpy Virgi the moment I snapped.

They are the people that hug you only to make sure you can not move when they were busy stabbing you on the back.

Sometimes I wear my heart too much on my sleeves and you can easily tell from my face if I'm fine or truly pissed off (my jaw is set in stone and I got this sod-off-look on my face, as one of my colleague used to tell some years ago, even though I believe it is the pissed-off eyebrows that give me away): if I could learn to be more condescending, I'd probably gain more out of many situations. If I could manage to act so cheerful and smiling all the time, dealing with the Dolores of the world wouldn't be so difficult and tiring.
I guess I could do it if I truly wanted it: but, as I said before, I despise Dolores Umbridge and I don't want to turn into one. 

giovedì 23 ottobre 2014

Restless reading

When we were all still living under the same roof, I was impressed by the way my sister read books: by stack. What's the point of reading Proust, after all, if you don't carry more than one volume of the Recherché with you? At least, as a reference tool, to remember what good old Marcel was ranting about 400 pages before.
She seemed to apply the same methodology to pretty much any kind of literature: from fantasy to Kundera via King, the Adri in my memory has always more than one book with her. And she leaves books scattered around the flat, open at the page she arrived to.
I didn't know how she could do it, I found it extremely distracting. Plus I didn't want any crease to form on my books, so the notions of leaving books over the sofa, on the table, on the heaters, etc. was not that appealing to me.

Things have changed recently. I blame it on the lack of decent bookshelves: I already told myself I was going to get a decent book case hundreds of time, but I keep postponing the purchase. There's always something more interesting to do on the weekend: like reading a book, for example.
Situation has worsened in the past months and now the space in the flat assigned to the books is in utter chaos.
I blame Murakami too. After finishing reading his latest novel, I found myself unable to be linear in my readings: I seem unable to start and finish a novel in a straightforward line.
I start reading a book, then I put it aside.
Open another book, read few lines, leave it on the bed to get tangled with the sheets and be found again only when I change them.
Start re-reading a childhood book, forget it in the office drawer for a whole month, while wondering at the same time where I left it.
I jump from novel to short story, unable to focus on more than 2 chapters in a row.

Some months ago I'd find this whole situation deeply unsettling. I would have probably headed straight to Ikea to get a decent bookcase. However, not only I got better things to do in my spare time now, but I also don't want to change things. I don't want to get the shelves, because part of me doesn't want them in the flat: I don't want to invest money and time, I don't want to settle in.

For somebody that always wanted to settle, to be balanced and at peace with herself and the world, it's ironic how much I've come to appreciate my restlessness. I don't want to settle in. When the "in" is so shitty, fake and grey, I welcome the mess and lack of peace.
So no Ikea trip for this flat anytime soon (for the little home in Turin, however this is whole different story): I will enjoy the chaos for some more time, waiting for the books I started reading to eventually turn up somewhere in the flat.

sabato 18 ottobre 2014

Yarn in Munich

Something I do every time I travel is visiting yarn shops.
It's a joy and a pain at the same time: it's really cool to visit new shops, not necessarily buying things (even though, this time, I shopped in basically every single yarn shop I visited), but just browsing through their shelves, looking at local yarns and just enjoying the atmosphere.  
It's a pain because I know I got to return to Italy, where the situation is awful and depressing. 

Turin fares it slightly better than Milan. In Turin, you can never go wrong with shopping at the traditional Albozzi, where you can get the everyday, heavy-duty pullover yarn: colours don't really change over time, but yarn doesn't pill too much and it's got a pretty good price/quality ratio.
Then there's "La compagnia del cotone" with its amazing rainbow wall and haskets of different yarns. Sometimes I go there with my friends just as a beauty treatment for my eyes. 

As for Milan... Well suffices to say the best yarn can be found at the stall of Antonio at some of the markets around town. Then it's the desert. There are some other shops that offers not a lot of choice in terms of fibers and colours, not to mention the lack of proper manner of some of the shop assistants.
The yarn shops quality in Milan is so poor that I basically gave up on the idea of finding something nice and rely on travels and online shopping to stash up.

Munich has been a great trip for this: I didn't got enough time to visit all the shops, I was there for work after all. Yet, I managed to find enough time to visit 3 stores.
First shop on the list was Wolladiho. The entrance was already promising, with model of their creation outside:


And one colorful welcome at the door:


The shop is really tiny, but it's tightly pack with loads of different kind of yarns, in baskets, shelves up to the ceiling, basically everywhere.

Second stop was at Strickeria.
They have their own needles,  especially made for them by Knit Pro, do I really need to say more?



Other than I bought something else with them, obviously:


But the best shop, the one that I fall in love with was Die Mercerie. It is a yarn and fabric shop with a small cafe and book section: it offers courses and workshops as well.
When you look at it from the outside, you don't expect very much:


But then you step in and you start asking yourself some important questions such as: can I sleep in a yarn store? Can I ask my manager to move my office into the yarn store?
There is yarn everywhere you look: on the shelves, in baskets, hanging from the ceiling!


It hosts a wide variety of international yarns: from Filatura di Crosa to Madeline Tosh, from Holst Garn to Koigu. The variety is impressive, alongside the quantity and different colorways on display







The shop assistants were very helpful: I was looking for some yarn for Manuela and for once I didn't have to dive into the shelves and hope for the best, but just ask them and they checked on their shop database on the computer.
I hope to get a chance to visit Munich again soon, to visit them once more and continue my exploration of the other shops.

martedì 14 ottobre 2014

Barbottina e il tutto

La sveglia è suonata presto nella nobile ma non troppo magione degli aRissoGatti.
Avendo prenotato il taxi, avevo detto ai miei genitori di non preoccuparsi: davvero, non c'era bisogno che mi accompagnassero all'aeroporto.
Ma cuore di mamma e cuore di papà oblige, e quindi si sono alzati alla mia stessa ora e abbiamo fatto colazione insieme.

Mia mamma si è poi preoccupata che avessi "tutto".

"Hai tutto?"
"Sì."

Sono anni che mi chiede se ho "tutto".  Sono anni che le rispondo di sì.
Dov'è il problema? Il problema è che i nostri rispettivi concetti di tutto non coincidono del tutto. Mia madre l'ha ovviamente capito prima di me e infatti, subito dopo il mio sì, eccola partire con una serie di domande atte a scoprire falle e lacune del mio tutto.

A volte mento dicendo che non ho certe cose. Perché? Beh, perché io sono cuore di figlie, ed è un modo innocuo di far capire all'altra che le si vuole bene senza dover ricorrere alle parole.
Quindi quando mia mamma mi ha chiesto se avevo i fazzolettini di carta, ho risposto di no.

"Vuoi quelli di Peppa Pig?"
"Eh no! Peppa Pig no! Sto partendo per un viaggio di lavoro, cerchiamo di salvare quel minimo di serietà che mi è avanzata!"
"Angry Birds?"
"No, gli Angry Birds no..."
"Barbapapà?"
"Oh sì, vada per i Barbapapà! Però no, non mi dare quello rosa, dammi quello arancione, Barbottina è la più intelligente..."

A quel punto la mia serietà ha deciso di tornarsene a dormire perché era evidentemente di troppo nella conversazione.
E ovviamente nel mio "tutto" mi ero scordata di includere la giacca autunnale, quindi c'è qualche possibilità mi prenda il raffreddore, ma tanto ho i fazzoletti con me.


venerdì 3 ottobre 2014

The mad hat

"The truth is this: for alarmingly large chunks of an average day I am a moron"
(Nick Hornby, "Fever Pitch")

Back in Brighton last July, I bought this wonderful skein of Lush Worsted from The Uncommon Thread:


Beautiful, isn't it?
I knew the universe would be deeply unbalanced if I didn't buy it (so I bought it! You can thank me later, universe); and I knew I had to turn it into a hat (so I knitted it).

I bought the pattern for a hat by Robin Ulrich, called Greyhaven.
As I enjoy swatching and the pattern had info for gauge both in stockinette stitch and in lace pattern I swatched them both. I then proceeded to wash and block the swatch: it turned out that this yarn lets go a little after washing, and this was something I was happy as it meant my tension was at that point perfect without me needing to alter anything. 

I quickly started the project and knitted the hat in less than a day; I didn't try it on: I was just too caught up in how quickly the hat was growing before my eyes and how soft the yarn felt in my hands.
It truly was growing fast and it looked so nice and... and big, but hey, I got a big head, so that's fine!

Binded off the hat, washed it and updated the Ravelry page as the hat was drying. Everything was perfect when... ("Jaws" music cues in)... tragedy! Tragic tragedy!!!
This hat is huge even for my Charlie Brown, very round, XXXL head!
How on earth?!?! WTF!?! I called for help and moral support from some fellow knitters, some of whom had their fair share of gauge drama recently. 

I googled for possible explanations and solutions, while in my heart I knew what was going to happen to me and to the hat. I tried to put off the inevitable, but then I had to give up and admit I had to frog and reknit the whole hat.

So I started frogging the hat, while still trying to understand how my tension managed to change within 2 days. Because obviously the hat must have been bigger than it should have even prior to washing and blocking. Or my head shrunk to the size of an apple. But I checked and no, my head is still closer to the size of an Halloween pumpkin than the one of an apple.

It was puzzling and unnerving. I couldn't understand why: the swatch was ok, I followed the pattern, I didn't cast on more stitches than needed, I used the right needle.... and that was the moment. The moment when I started to doubt myself, the moment when I started connecting the dots, the moment when I went back to the knitting bag and checked the needles. 

The moment I realized I'm a moron, a moron that used the wrong knitting needles for the hat!!! 

Instead of the 4.0 mm I knitted the swatch with, I picked a 5.0 mm circular needle and happily knitted till the end of it as if nothing mattered. What's the difference between a 4 mm and a 5 mm needle after all?
Just a little tiny inconsequential single millimeter, right?
Wrong! It's the difference between knitting a hat for myself and knitting a hat for a Dalek!

I finished the hat yesterday evening, washed and blocked it again and now its dimension are back to normal levels. 
This story taught me that no matter the attention I can put to every single details of a knitting project there's something that will always prevail: my innate capacity of abso-fucking-lutely messing it everything up. Even though now I can do it while wearing a very cool hat!

The right size for my big head

martedì 9 settembre 2014

totally a feminist

This summer was a lucky string of good reads. I loved almost every single book I picked up and it's something that hasn't happened so often recently.

One of the best book I read was Lauren Bates’s “Everyday Sexism”.
The first time I came across the Everyday Sexism Project was on Twitter.
One of the many possible harassment I could be victim of just because I'm a woman had just happened and I got back home feeling angry and upset.
To quote my sister quoting a De André's song, "it's easier to vent your rage on Twitter rather than doing the same in a movie studio", so I took it to the internet and found the Everyday Sexism website and pour all my frustration in a post.
I start reading the other posts: the more I read the more I felt passionate, angry and tired about this whole fuc**d up situation.
It made me also more aware I'm not alone, it's not just me and it's not my fault. 
I mirrored myself in the words of other women from all over the world: I could see my old self in the tweets from teenagers and I fear my future can be read on that website too.
I took it as my personal daily homework to repeat it to myself. It didn't solve anything per se but it helped.

When the book was published I knew it was a matter of time before I eventually bought it. 
So far I haven't found a better way to explain it but bear with me: by reading this book I detached myself from the world around me in order to plunge deeper into reality. This book hits a lot of painful chords. 
Sometimes I caught myself laughing out loud while reading it on the metro.  Some other times I felt tears in my eyes, because nobody should ever be victim of abuses.
Way too often I felt angry because I recognized how many times I left the catcalls, the abuse and discrimination pass by because I was tired, because "I'm not going to change it by myself alone", because it's downright dangerous, because "that's the way it works".

Yeah, the way it works is that you just shut up. The way it works is that when you try to talk about it with a colleague or a male friend, he shuts you down saying that those are not abuses or violent acts, no, no,  it's just that men need to get laid (sic). It's oh-so-so-so tempting to give up already, thinking it's not worthy the headache and disappointments.

But then, something small and ordinary happened few days ago that changed my whole feeling towards this whole matter, making me thinking humans do stand some chances after all.
Yep, one more thing happened.
I don't really talk about work and colleagues that much, but this is something I just need to tell somebody; or anybody; well, everybody really.

Few days ago, I was chatting with my colleague Mo, telling him how my intention of posting a feedback ended up in a small paper on being a woman in IT and being a woman in IT in Italy.

This is the short chat that followed:
Mo: Totally a feminist
Me: I’ll take it as a compliment ;-)
Mo: It is!

5 words and one exclamation mark. That's it.

Can it get any better? Probably no, and you want to know why? Because it felt natural, normal.
It didn't feel like a struggle to claim a right, or yet another battle to win.

Of course it is a compliment, why should it be something else?!
Life and society have made me feel as if I had to justify my demand of equal rights (and pay, and treatment, etc.), Mo simply reminded me that I didn't have to justify myself but be proud.
And I am; I'm totally a feminist.
I'm proud of being so. And proud of having as colleague and friend some great men, just like Mo.