Monday, 5 October 2015

Friends. Gifts.

There are moments when I just hate being me.
Like early Monday morning, around 6:15 a.m. : I know the alarm clock is set for an early hour, earlier than usual, and I know I can't snooze it. I got a train to catch, so I can’t really turn around with the risk of missing my ride back to Milan.
That's why I try to go to bed early on Sunday evening. Try being the keyword as I miserably fail each single time and end up going to bed late, grumbling about being grumpy the morning after.

Then why, oh why, do I end up waking before the alarm clock?
Should I compliment my inner clock for being so proactive?!?
I check the time on the phone on the nightstand.
Still 15 minutes to go before I'm supposed to be up.

"Go back to sleep" I say to myself.
"No... It's late for falling back asleep. I'm up! I'm up rise and shine!!! I'm uuuuup!" Myself has I-take-no-order-from-anybody-not-even-myself attitude.
Go. Back. To. Sleep.” I order myself.
Lalalalalalala I’m not listening!” Myself is obviously quite an anarchic git.

This morning, as I was trying to force some extra minute of rest on my body (you'll thank me later, body), myself decided we had enough sleep and we should wake up: that’s the moment I started hearing something.
No, not voices: it was way too early even for schizophrenia to kick in, even though it’s never too early for some pluralis majestatis.
Was it a piano perhaps? Some chords... Yeah familiar chords, but I could not place them.

It was annoying: it woke me way before the alarm clock. I dig through the mess in my head, but couldn’t place it. The tune grew louder and clearer and by the time I locked the door behind me and started my walk to the station, the fog started rising.
I swiped my ticket at the metro entrance and I’m smiling because now the song is clear in my head: I can hear the melody, the words, the backup vocals.
I know the song, few taps on the phone and it’s not playing just in my head but on my headset too.
Like many Monday morning before, I’m sad and upset. I’m maybe a bit more down than usual, as the weekend has been so nice, lovely and serendipitous, the kind of weekend you wish it never ends. And yet it did end and what’s ahead of me is not so nice or lovely (I don’t think serendipity applies to Milan somehow).

And while the song kept playing on repeat, I stopped thinking about the train I had to take, the appointments ahead and just smiled at the memories of the last 48 hours.
It was a quiet weekend, family, friends and nap in between; I met new friends, new friends almost getting into a fight with an asthmatic dog; I met friends I planned to meet and friends I stumbled upon while crossing the road.

Sometimes I tell myself I should call or text a friend and 9 times out of 10 I don’t. I’m not sure why: surrounded and immersed into communication tools as I am on a daily basis, it shouldn’t be such a tough thing to do. Sometimes I got a desk with more iPad and iPhones than fingers on my hand, it shouldn't be such a task. Yet, most of times, I end up postponing calling people (so I don’t bother them), up to the point it’s too late in the night and I might as well do it tomorrow.

Some of my friendships languished and later died this way; on the other hand I believe it was their fate, they were not real enough, or maybe they were just one-sided, unrequited friendship. Just like love, being in a friendship means both parties have to work and care enough to keep it alive.

But for those 9 out of 10 dead ends, there’s still that remaining 1 and it compensates for all of them. That 1 doesn’t care how many months go by before we talk to or see one another: in the moment we meet again, it feels we just spoke one hour before and for all the thing that changed around us, our friendship didn’t. Or, if it did, it improved.

It’s quite awesome, isn’t it? For all the negative things that surround me, it’s an amazing feeling, to know I’m lucky to have such great friends. The trick is to remember about such luck: it’s so easy and dangerous to focus on all the bad stuff. Maybe because they’re more, but somehow the notion I got awesome friends fall too easily into the background.
I'm grateful for those friends, and I know it sounds cheesy, especially coming from somebody like me. A lifetime long education in stoic behaviours makes expressing gratitude and heartfelt emotions a tough, awkward experience. To say I feel happy, lucky, touched by having such great friends sounds weird, yet true to my ear.

And I should remind myself more often: breathing becomes easier after.
And in case you were wondering about the song… it was by Glen Hansard (who else?)

on Sunday

The best season to be in Torino is Autumn to me.
It's at its brightest and best.
Sure, bad weather is approaching, days are getting shorter and shorter, temperatures are dropping and it rains more often than not.
Yet after the rain has cleared, there are days like yesterday that are simply amazing.
Nothing special or awesome happens.
It's just another Sunday, nothing big. But the sky is blue after the rain, the air is crisp and it sparlkles with promises of better things to come. And it doesn’t matter that I know already thatn nothing better is truly coming, the promise of it is enough to be content.

Above all the light is amazing.
It shines down on the Mole and makes it look even bigger.
It envelopes the old buildings and makes them look lighter.
The Gran Madre church and the hill on the other side of the Po look so bright and beautiful.

You don’t need to do much to feel at peace, even if only temporarily: sit down for a coffee somewhere in the city center, slowly make your way back to the bus stop while perusing the used book stands.

Look up, breath deep and try to remember this feeling on Monday morning too.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Lovercraft on the beach - part II

No, I didn’t read another book by Lovercraft, but because the first part of this post was named after him and because I’m too tired to go back and correct it, this will be part 2 of “Lovercraft on the beach”. And to be honest, at a certain point, I wished I had brought a second Lovercraft book with me.

One hour into the reading of “Ficciones” by Jorge Luis Borges, I texted my parents commenting about it being hopelessly heavy.

Then I went back to reading it, not before reminding myself over and over about some of the things Daniel Pennac wrote in “Comme un roman".
It’s not that I disliked completely Ficciones, but most of the time I could not understand what Borges was about. As everybody around me seems to hail him as a genius and his works as masterpieces, I once again endulged myself in one of my (apparently) favorite hobby: doubting my own intellect, taste in book and ability of understanding. Cause clearly I’m not on the same level of all these people that (apparently) understaood this book. And I’d be okay not to understanding it, as long as I could say I enjoyed reading it. But it was such a frustrating experience!

I kept peeking at the number of pages left in the story I was reading, while promising myself “Next one will be better. Next one will be better."

The problem is that it never got that much better. That’s when “Comme un roman” came in handy: in it, Pennac states that the second right of the reader is the right ot skip and the third one is to not finish a book. It can be. It’s not that a matter of lacking understanding, more a question of personal taste and there’s nothing bad or shameful in it. The reassurance of my rights and some heavy skipping allowed me finish the book, even though I have no clue of what it was all about.

And it also allowed me to have some nice naps during my reading.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Metropolis and meatloaf

Sunday evening, while walking towards the theatre, Eliana and I confessed one another we never managed to finish watching “Metropolis”.
Well, it wasn’t a confession really, we were mainly stating a fact.

We both tried to watch it during high school and University, usually late in the evening or early morning hours, the best way to lull yourself into sleep. “Metropolis” might as well be a German expressionism masterpiece, but let’s face it: above all it’s a “polpettone”. Now, this is tricky… “Polpettone” means “meatloaf” in Italian and it defines those kind of films (or books) that are just way too long, too involved, often “intellectual” (or pretense of it) and, at the end, very boring. I never heard of “meatloaf movies” (aside the movies starring Meat Loaf) but I couldn’t find a single word in English that I could use to translate the concept of a “film polpettone”. In case you got the word for it, just let me know.

In spite of our past “failures” with this polpettone, when I asked my friend about going to watch the movie, she immediately agreed. The trick is that this was a special showing: it was the new restoration made from the 16 mm films found in Buenos Aires with a live orchestra playing the original soundtrack by Gottfried Huppertz.

I think the orchestra saved the day. The live music made the experience more “real” and interesting, so now both Eliana and I can proudly say that “yeah, we watched Metropolis”: it’s like wearing proudly a bagde of honour (not as cool as owning a “I beat the Sword Master” t-shirt, bust still cool).

After finally managing to finish it without falling asleep, I can confirm  that“Metropolis” is a 100% polpettone. It wasn’t bad, I actually enjoyed it and part of me now wonders whether my inability to watch it in the past was yet another reaction against things that are supposed to be “masterpieces” or of “higher cultural level”.

But, no matter how much I liked it, the movie lasted at least 30 minutes too much (45 minutes less would have made it so much more bearable): there is limit to the number of highbrows coreography I can stand before growing restless.
There’s also another fact that made me painfully aware of the movie being too long. I suspect the architect that designed Teatro degli Arcimboldi (where the movie was shown) is probably the same one that designed the Ryanair seating plan. Leg-room level: imaginary. Maybe that's why those 30 minutes more felt much much longer.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Lovercraft on the beach - part I

In spiaggia
Lovercraft and the power of sun cream to enhance photography

The first thing I put in the suitcase were the books. Then the knitting projects.

What can I say? No matter the defects I have as individual, when it comes to packing I got my priorities straight.

So, armed with 4 books and 2 1/2 knitting project I felt quite ready for the holidays and only later asked myself: “what else should I pack?"

Ah yeah, all the rest, like swimming costumes, clothes, sun creams and whatever else it’s needed for 2 weeks at the seaside! But, after all, that’s what last minute preparation is for, right?

To start my holiday on a light note, I put Lovercraft’s short stories collection in the carry-on bag. It wasn’t planned, more of a very last minute impulsive shopping. Saturday before leaving I saw this book being sold for 3,9 euro.

— Note: here’s a small detour-rant on the topic of price tagging —

The price tag has a gigantic bold 3, while the “,90” bit is printed at almost micron font size, giving you the impression that the cost of the book is only 3€ rather than 4. And you might say: well, it’s only 4€, what’s the problem with you?

The problem is not the price itself, but rother it is printed to trick your mind into believing it’s 3 rather than 4. I wouldn’t get upset if all the digits were the same size or if the decimal digits didn’t require a magnifying lens to be read. Just be fair and state the price without subterfuge. Also, becuase this is the kind of purchase I use as a way of getting rid of all my pocket change, and I don’t enjoy to realize when I’m about the front of the queue that I don’t have the exact change. Damn! It means I have to scavange hunt for the remaining 90 cents, while the queue of Milanese customers growing restless and upset. Have you ever seen a Milanese person forced to wait because the person in front in the line is obviously hopeless and clumsy? In case you haven’t, call yourself lucky: they do love to make you feel like the lowest form of life ever to walk the earth.

So genius of marketing make the genius move of advertising the right prize on the book front cover.

— End of rant, oh I feel so much better now —

Now, back to Lovercraft: I briefly debated whether or not to buy the book, as I’m already running low on shelf space and anyway I would have to wait to be back from holiday to start reading the book.

The shelf space issue was immediately resolved with the idea of visiting Ikea again over the autumn and as for waiting for starting reading the book, then notion laster around 150 mt, the distance from the book shop to the bus stop. As I ended up halfway through the second story, I had no other option but carrying it with me.

Lovercraft makes for a weird summer read, because of the sharp contrast between the stories themes and styles, mainly set in cold months and the sun beating down, the blue sky and the quiet Sardinian sea. Yet, it seemed to me that the contrast accelerated my reading because I was done in less than 2 days, which is even more astounding given that on the first few days of holiday i slept most of the time.

Second book to go for sand bath treatments (the sand was so thin it managed to get everywhere and I fear the books I brought with me will spit sand out for the next 12 months) was “Justinian’s Flea” by William Rosen. What better way to spend a day at the sea with a lot of minuscule forms of life than reading of the devastating effects of Yersinia pestis on the Roman Empire?

Because the author is neither a scientist nor a historian, he offers a different approach; yet, since he worked in publishing houses for many years, he knew he had to do his homework when it came to bibliography and researches for the book.

Reading about history is fascinating to me because it’s like watching a domino show: you can concentrate on a single tile if you want but you risk of missing the whole effect. On the other hand, if you just look at the show as a whole, you miss the fine details and the importance of how and where tiles are placed. It’s a tough job to write about history, because aside the big and small picture, the writers should also make it nice to read: it’s not an easy task altogether as most of my high school and Univeristy history text can prove.

When I bought the book I was more interest in the Roman history side but the part I “enjoyed" more was the 3rd section of the book where Morris goes over in great details about the (hi)story of the bacterium: I’m not really interested in microbiology, but the fact that in the boot it’s put into a narrative way, it makes for a brilliant read and I found I could easily visualize how the bacterium work. It’s an horror I found more scaring than Lovercraft.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

The high end shop

I don’t live in Milan city centre, but I don’t live in a remote suburb either.
I’m somewhere in the middle.

One thing I already suspected and confirmed in the past 3 years of life in “somewhere in the middle” is that this idea of Milan being the capital of style and fashion of Italy is exactly that: an idea. Fashion is limited to some specific areas, but once you step out of it everything is just a coated version of it and you just need to scratch a little to see the truth.

If you go to Brera or near the Duomo, you might spot the occasional fashion blogger, the rich people looking smart and, well, rich, and according to the season, a varying quota of models.

Step on the metro and 6 stops away there’s nothing of that glossy glamour left: there are pavements falling aparts, pavements plastered with dog shit, dirty buildings, streets that turned into lakes after a little bit of rain. Yet people still strike a pose and act as if they’re the coolest being on planet (they might as well be, but Milan people are not exactly the most sociable people ever, so I guess I’ll never know). They still feel the need to be judgemental at your outfit while you’re queueing at the discount market. These attempts at being cool and hype contrast with the mediocre reality of our surroundings. It somehow makes the area I live a bit sad, but it also has some funny sides too.

For example shops try to appear the best and smartest too. But rather than on the substance of the shop itself, owners are more interested in the shop signs.
There’s not a greengrocer in my street, god forbid something that peasant should ever appear around here; no, we have a “Fruit boutique” instead: pity that alongside the prices of a boutique, it doesn’t sport its appearances, but looks extremely run down.

The next addition to the area is a pizza take away place. But, hey, we already have to deal with shabby kebab places, you can’t really expect us to deal with one more similar shop. So in the next few days the “Atelier of the pizza” is going to open. I’ll need to double check whether they got a dress code at the entrance.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Ode to Mrs. Spears

Thanks to Gisella’s comments on my previous post, I’ve remembered one more reason I wanted to blog about “Death at Broadcasting House”: Inspector Spears’ wife.
She appears in only one chapter, not that many pages altogether.
Yet, like all the other major and minor characters of the novel, she seems to gain a life of her own out of the pages.

Now I can’t really tell how the authors wanted her to come across to readers, but that’s one of the most fascinating part of reading rights? Writers create the characters, yet it’s up to their readers to truly bring them to life.

To me, Mrs. Madge Spears is amazing. To my eyes and imagination, she’s the kind of woman smarter than what society around her and its convention allowed her to be and to show to other people.
She deeply knows her husband: she knows how to defuse his bad mood, while still allowing him his space for thinking about his investigation; she’s able to help him to untangle part of his idea about the murder while, at the same time, keeping up with her knitting.

Yep, with an explosive and popping “p” at the end. You read it well: knitting.

Mrs. Spears is a knitter!
Is it fair to say I might be biased towards her because she’s a knitter?
Hell yeah, I am! I’m very biased but who cares?

The thing I truly love about her description in the book is that it’s very vivid, honest, close to real knitter in real life.

Traditionally knitting in crime fiction is associated to Miss Marple, the clever, old spinster knitting while solving mysteries. I also tried to read some knitting-related novels "The Friday Night Knitting Club” but ended up hating it, as it’s not my genre at all (and it’s poorly written too).

But Madge Spears is different: she’s real, I can picture her in my mind.
She appears to me in a ’30s dress and haircut, her hands cured but not perfect because she still takes care of all the house chores. She wears a faint lipstick and in my head she has a sincere and witty smile. I bet she’s patient and wise but I also believe she’s a olympic champion at eyebrow arching.
I can see her sitting next to her husband, letting him talk about what’s bothering about the whole matter, while she picks up her knitting, an emerald green sweater, a color she picked because she knows it’s Simon’s favorite.

The deductions of Inspector Spears keep the rhythm set by the clicking of his wife’s knitting needles and she keeps knitting while asking questions and allowing Spears (and his writers) to discuss possible motives and suspects of the murder.
And she’s so engrossed by the whole matter that at one point she does something every knitter did once: she drops a stitch. And it’s hilarious and smart to read how the knitting and the analysis of the murder end up in one single line.

"Bother," said Madge. "I've dropped a stitch. Would the murderer know that?"

When I read this line I was on the metro back home and I missed my stop, as I was giggly and euphoric. You might think this is not a reason good enough to read the book or make a new movie out of it, but trust me on this: you’re wrong. :-)