Thursday, 24 July 2014

Not a country for college drop-outs

In the past few days, some Italians were busy in one of our national hobby: storm in a teapot. Italians love it especially at this time of the year, something to fill our days before we go on holiday and/or the Serie A begins again.

What was it about?
The digital agenda and its new director.
Two years ago I was wondering about the digital agenda and its advantages over a plain weekly Moleskine, just to realize it was something different, it was a set of policies and activities at EU level to help and strengthen digital technologies so that companies and individuals can benefit from them.
As usual, nothing has changed in the past few years, but a new director has been appointed recently and an article hinted that she didn't have the right profile because her UK degree was not valid. A whole lot of discussions on different topics was born as a side effect: whether she's got a degree or not for Italian standards, whether she was the best choice or the best political choice, whether it makes sense to require degrees with "legal validity" as a job requirement, etc.
It's not that I don't care about the matter itself, but I believe that we need more than a digital agenda to help Italy emerging from the digital ice age it's deeply stuck into; what interested me was something a bit closer to home.

If I were to apply for a job like the one I'm doing right now in an Italian company, I probably wouldn't succeed in it.
Why? First of all, I'm a woman and Italy is a country where sexism is at its best on the workplace.
Secondly, I have no engineering, informatics, scientific, whatsoever university degree.
I have 10 years of experience and I know I'm good at it, yet this wouldn't matter.
Because the "piece of paper" is more relevant than your abilities and experience.
Somebody with a uni degree but unable to write a mail even under dictation would be more considered than me for the same job, in spite of my resume. It's sad but true: when I talk about it with my non-Italian colleagues, I try to explain it and don't sound to bitter about it; but at the end I do sound upset about the whole system and most of the time my colleagues look at me with skepticism written all over the face. What can we derive from this, aside the fact I can't multitask?

I'm not saying that degrees are not important: laying on a surgery table, I bloody well hoped the doctor operating me had the right degree and knowledge to fix my health problems.
But when it comes to other jobs and other positions, I'm not so sure that the stamp of approval of one university should have the priorities on some other elements. Experience is one key element, your personal abilities come in to play as well. Choosing a manager is not just about finding the guy with the right technical profile, but more importantly finding the person that knows how to "manage" a team and the people it's made of (I guess that's where the word comes from).

Italy might or might not have a new director for its digital agenda, but it doesn't truly matter: as long as you don't change the basis you're operating upon and you start creating a system that truly rewards merit and abilities, you're basically building a skyscraper over quicksands, seeing it being swallowed and than just move a little bit over in the quicksands to start again.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

My daily dose of WTF moments

Twitter needs to cut the advertised tweets as long as the people paying for them don't prove they got a brain aside a wallet. And they can use both in equal measure.

This one tweet appeared on my feed this morning:

It translates: "This is not war, it's human extinction! Watch the video..."
Then you read the hashtag and realize they're talking about a fu****g movie.
How would you react to that? Aside a face palm and instinctively shutting down the tab on the browser while swearing profusely.

But at the end, you re-open the page, capture a screenshot of the tweet before removing it from the feed, and then you're left wondering: where on earth are the "Buddha Gaming" people (ah, the namesake!) living?
Have they got access to tv news, newspaper, internet, radio, whatever it is they can use to inform themselves a little about the state of international politics nowadays?
And why on earth did this "Be On" thought it would be a smart thing to sponsor it? Seriously?
Didn't they see the timestamp and stop for a moment, wondering whether it could have been perceived as not quite a sensible and respectful thing to tweet around right now?

If you have just finished reading the newspaper and then you bump into these two lines, you're left with a depressing feeling of the general state of humanity and some wondering: where did evolution go wrong?
The answer can be partially obtained by simply googling the name of the company and finding out whom it does belong to. And for the rest with a bit of evergreen wisdom: pecunia non olet, as the Latin used to say. Things haven't changed much since the times of Vespasian: truth is that "pecunia olet", but as long as you keep the stink of it in some other world regions and your money in nice (offshore) bank accounts you don't really mind about it.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Cast on!

Coming back from Brighton, I was ready to jump into a whirlwind of knitting projects.
My head was full of ideas, I found new inspirations thanks to the classes I attended and the people I met. I wanted to start new projects, finished those projects that have been going on for way too long... Basically, I just wanted to do things!!! 

And then tragedy (aka real life) struck: it was Thursday evening, it was way too warm; one moment before I was standing out of the metro station and one moment later I was sitting on the pavement, holding my left arm.
I had slipped on a piece of broken pavement and fell: I didn't need any medical degree to realize that I hit my wrist pretty badly so I immediately went to the nearby ER.

Obviously,  Murphy's law was working its way into my evening and there was no orthopedic doctor available; the only thing they could do for me was some x-rays, a provisional cast and then I was sent home and told to return the following day. I did as told and the day after I was the proud carrier of a cast, that will be in my custody for 30 days (27 days at the time of writing, but who's counting?): by then my radius should be completely healed.

Of all the time, this could have happened, it had to be now, when the temperature and humidity in Milan are awful.
Right now everything is complicated: I've never once stopped thinking about the importance of my left arm. Who cares about it? I'm right-handed after all.
Who would spend money for a bag of already grated carrots? I would, after spending around 20 minutes trying to peel and grate a single carrot!
Not to mention showering: after finding a way to protect the cats from the water, you are left with some other dilemma such as how to squeeze the shampoo bottle... I know, I know: tragedies of the modern times and of the privileged ones. 

I had to take a sick leave because I can't really do my job with a single hand.
And the worst thing of all is that knitting is not an option either.
I've tried it: yesterday I met with some friends and even knitted something rows, but I got tired pretty quickly and didn't make that much progress on the hat I was working on.

So, as painful as it may be for me (literally and non-literally speaking), I decided to take a mature decision and stop knitting for the time being.

Is going to be horrible and i will probably suffer of some withdrawal syndrome in the next few hours but I decided to be responsible about it; and I thought I could handle it better if I did something with this non-knitting time, so I'm going to do some knitting studies.
Yup, this next few weeks I'm going to be about studying: watching YouTube videos with new techniques, catching up with my reading list, and lessons on Craftsy.

I can turn this bad experience into an instructive one: so far it is working, as I even decided to give  the dictation system on my MacBook a try. It works pretty well, even more so after having double checked the spelling once finished talking! 

Friday, 18 July 2014

2 days of love, peace and knitting

Since the holiday in China, I discovered I quite like matcha latte.
No, let me rephrase that. I love matcha latte.

So, with 30 minutes to spare at Heathrow T5 before the arrival of my bus, matcha latte sounded like the perfect plan. 
I got one from the Costa at the exit and slowly made my way to the bench at the bus stop.
People coming and going, lots of buses, as for me, I was sitting with my matcha latte and a book, when my eyes spotted something. 
A scarf, A really nice scarf, knitted with some lovely yarn.

I was waiting for the bus for Brighton. I was going to Unwind Brighton, an all-round event about knitting, spinning and yarn, and here there are 2 girls, one with knitwear around her neck.

I stood from the bench and. before even contemplating the possibility of sounding like a psycho, I walked over:
"Excuse me, you're going to Brighton, aren't you?"

They might have thought I was a psycho, but it took less than a minute to prove them wrong. However how many chances were there to meet heading to the same town, for the same event?
Not many I reckon.
And how many chances to meet Cathrin, the owner of WalkCollection, a German company specialized in hand dyed yarns that was on top of my shopping list?
Even less, but that was just the first sign of that magic that run along the whole time back in the UK.

So, I spent a long weekend in in Brighton for a knitting event. As my colleague DC commented, "how very rock'n'roll!". I can imagine him saying in his heavy Northern English accent and just a tiny-little-bit of sarcasm.
And I can't help replying "indeed!".

The past weekend in Brighton has been pretty great for a series of reasons. First of all weather has been quite un-British, so the sun shined for pretty much the whole time. I even managed to return to Italy with a little, faint tan.
I love Brighton: it's a nice town with its own beat. After having been in Australia, it somehow reminds me of Melbourne: the pier, the street art all around, the good coffee (seriously, I had good coffee in Brighton and given how picky I can be with the heavenly beans it says a lot!).
Ok, there were a lot of kids there to "learn" English and the city is infested with seagulls, but overall the place is relaxed and welcoming

I also met with a couple of friends that made the wandering around town more fun and memorable. Francesco and May are two wonderful friends I met while in UK and in The Netherlands, so it was great to see them again.

Unwind was funny and it was a combination of very nice things, such as the meeting with Cathrin at the airport, or sitting next to Daniela, another Italian knitter from Milan (that's apparently the quickest way to meet people from Milan: change timezone!), during the Åsa Tricosa workshop.

The marketplace was just amazing, with so many producers that it's a miracle my credit card survived with not too much damage (and in a shameless ad plug: use google translate and you can read the post I wrote in Italian for the blog of a friend of mine about Unwind).
I came back with many memories, my favorite tea and some yarn. And with the idea full of ideas, project I want to start and things I want to learn: that's the best part Unwind, this massive injection of creativity in my brain that not even my own clumsy self and a arm blocked in a cast won't stop.
But that's another story...

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

years of wandering and wondering

I don't like hardcover books very much, they're not very practical to be carried around when commuting. The things I dislike hate the most however is the dusk jacket: I find it impractical and normally it tears inside my bag or wrinkles badly within few days I'm reading the book. The first thing I do when I buy an hardcover edition is to put the dusk jacket in the recycling bin.

And that's the first thing I did when I unwrapped Murakami's "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage". But why buying the hardcover instead of the paperback?
Well, I had a discount coupon that was about to expire and, some months after having finished "1Q84", I felt ready to play the Haruki Murakami Bingo once more.

The first Murakami book I read was "ノルウェイの森": in Italy, in the spirit of our long-standing tradition of reinterpreting the titles, it was published as "Tokyo blues".
I started reading it in high school but quickly set it aside: it's not that I didn't like it, but it felt so void of structure, sense, and the description of what people were wearing, eating, listening to unnerved me. I was very much into Tolstoj at the time, having just finished "Anna Karenina" and the difference between the two looked an ocean too wide to be crossed.
Yet, I couldn't really discard it completely, there was something in there, something I had no words for but that was calling me: few days later, I picked the book form the shelf again and finished it.
I don't remember much of those days, aside the feeling of being dazed and slightly confused each time I closed the books.

With the years and his other books, I learnt a lot about this "Murakami effect" on my everyday life.
It is a feeling of displacement in space and time, probably the closest experience to traveling in a Tardis this world will ever be able to offer me.

When I start reading one of his novel or short story, I step into a world that runs on a different pace than my own, based on laws that don't really apply to my world.
It's a place suspended in a different timeline, with people living in a way I can't completely comprehend. Before I can even start looking for some sense in his words, it happens quite often I snap close the book, mildly annoyed at its content and creator. What is the point of it? What's the purpose of me reading about these people? They all seemed to live in flats with turntable and huge stack of jazz records, and drink Cutty Sark as if it were cheaper than water. Yet for all the annoyance I feel for these people and their often unexplained actions, I can't help myself: I'm drawn back to the book, longing to be part of it, even if only as observer.
At a certain point I simply stop questioning the lack of explanation on the action of the characters and the loose ends that are not closed. In this at least Murakami is extremely close to real life: we are most of the time not given explanation on why people around us behave the way they do (I'm the first one never explaining why I do the things I do the way I do them) and most of the time we don't know the "after" of people that we met and that are not part of our lives any longer.
In real life, this is enough to spend plenty of time over-thinking even the smallest, meaningless of the events. On Murakami's pages it just happens, and you quickly move on, because Murakami deems more important for you to know what the characters had as dessert in that specific Tokyo cafe, rather why people simply stop showing up and disappear without a trace.
The complexity of life is something that I can embrace without tension or anxiety when I read Murakami.

He is one of the few authors that make me feel that longing to re-open the book I've just closed: it's not a matter of like vs. dislike, it's a matter of engagement. It has nothing to do with his literary merits (there're better qualified people that can explain this side of his work), it's about the ability he has of connect with my emotions, it's an empathy bridge he builds with his words and that allows me to step into this parallel world.

With colorless Tsukuru, it happened the same thing; I started reading it and immediately turned pessimistic: "I'm never going to finish it, damn what is the meaning of all this? I should be doing something more productive with my time."
By the time I turned page 20, I had already snapped the book close twice.
And reopened it shortly after.
I think one of the fascinating thing for me is that this time I have a small common ground with what happens in the book: I've finished reading it on the eve of me turning 36, the age of Tsukuru.
For the first time, I felt some deeper connection with the world on the pages. Like Tsukuru, I'm pretty much colorless and the pain that shaped my past and present is something I've started dealing only now.
Like Tsukuru, I struggled to find the right words, they always come to my mind when it's way too late for them. As one of the character says to Tsukuru, in the life of each one of us there are things way too complicated to be explained, in any language.
It's something I knew already, but that I never truly admitted to myself, until I read it on the page. The words are so simple, now that they've been printed on the page, so why did it take me so much time to find them?

This time around I'm really struggling to leave the Murakami effect behind. I went back to reading a book more connected to my everyday life, but part of me is still not back, lost in a world with glass of Cutty Sark, clear nights in Tokyo after the rain and the sound of Lizst's "Années de pèlegrinage"; I'm pretty sure this Virginia is not so keen of coming back very soon and, for once, I'll indulge myself and let her/me be more guiltless vacant.

Friday, 4 July 2014

the blog turned 7 and I didn't realize it

I still remember the first time I consciously and slightly panicked told my first white lie.

Nothing too big, just like all the other small white lies of my life, I told them to not disappoint the people in front of me.
More than lies, there are sarcastic statements chopped in the middle.
"Yeah, that '80s retro style make up suits you perfectly" (are you applying for a position in the circus?)
"No, don't worry, if you need to leave early the office, just go, no problem" (yeah, just go: we've got tons of work, but your presence and intellect are not going to do anything to scale it down anyway).

So, sitting there with my blue smock, feet not really touching the ground, first-grade primary school little me froze in shock and fear when the teacher asked the question "What do you want to do when you've grown up?"
She started from the front of class, I was sitting towards the end: I had an head start to think about something, anything really. What do I want to do?!? What the hell, teacher? I thought that we were here to learn how to spell "elephant" and "apple" and count beans and peas.
You're asking me to go from coloring within the lines (task I'm still not able to perform correctly nowadays) to a long-term plan commitment. Isn't there anything in between you could have asked me instead?
It looked there was no way out: kids were answering, getting closer and closer to my turn.
Ballerina, pilot, doctor, journalist, football player...
Nowadays I believe most of them were lying. Probably the only one with some notion about his future was Domenico: his father was a plumber and he was raised up knowing he was going to do the same job and work with his father. "I'm going to be a plumber", he stated. And so he did.

"Teacher, I'm going to become a teacher", I blurted out and before I even realized what I said, the  teacher had moved on.
I felt a little bit bad. And cheated. I wish I could tell the truth, but even back then I was scared of the reaction of the others.
If I could turn back time and be my young self again I would be honest: "Look, honestly, I got no clue what I want to do. Right now the thing I like the best is playing with my Smurfs collection and building Lego houses where my fiammiferini and exogini can live together happily ever after."
I was 6 and thinking beyond the coming Sunday was as an impossible task, yet I was asked to go beyond my limits.

Future looked like a black hole: what I was going to do, how I was going to turn out, what was going to be my life were questions that looked so complicated I could barely comprehend, let alone answer them.

If I could turn back time, I wonder what the reaction of my teacher would have been when I told her: "Oh, I think I'm not going to stick around any specific course my life will take and after a jump from accountancy to Chinese literature, I will find out that what I'm really good at is software testing, especially in the telco industry".
My ability to read in the future hasn't improved much since: every time I did, it didn't work; every time I planned it, I fucked it up big time. But I've learnt to enjoy this little exercise in mindful time-wasting. 
In few days I will be 36. When I was 6 I couldn't imagine life at 36, partially because I could only count up to 30, but also because of what I wrote some lines ago.
Some days ago I realized this blog had a birthday I didn't celebrate, as it turned 7 years old last month: I've been writing on and off, bad and less bad on this blog for 7 years! That's the longest commitment I ever maintained in my life because I wanted to and not because I had to (as with my mortgage).

In few days I will also celebrate my birthday, as I'm turning 36 on Sunday. When I was 6 ,I couldn't imagine life at 36, partially because I could only count up to 30, but also because of what I wrote some lines ago.
If I look ahead, I don't know what the future has in store for me, I don't really care either, I prefer the surprise. 
And when I question myself about the future of this blog, I feel like I'm back in primary school, trying to make up  something to tell to my teacher. But that's a lie. I don't know what the future has in store for my blog either: it was born as a small diary from abroad. It has become a weird collection of posts in 2 languages plus a dialect, about different topics with no apparent relation other than the fact I typed them.
In the past months I've been thinking a lot about what to do with it: I've been toying with the idea of stopping writing, but then again I also had moments where I wrote too much.
I deleted more posts than what I posted, I tried to understand what to do with it. 

The blog, just like me, have been shuffling up and down: I'm growing restless again, frustrated at the lack of changes, irritated at the city I live in, at people, at life in general.
I realized to my horror that, as much as I hate being taken for granted, I did just the same for my blog. But the blog is part of me and so it feels as if I took myself for granted too.
I was doing to the blog and by reflex to myself too the thing I loathe the most, the one I've found myself victim of over and over in the past few years.

If I look ahead of me, I don't know whether this blog will still be active or not, I'm not sure I'll still be in Milan or that impulse of grabbing the suitcase will have won again. 
I don't want to know where I will be in 3 years and this blog deserves the same right to the thrill of uncertainty to my cyber writing self.
But at the same time I'm going to take more care of the blog: I'll be more careful, I'll polish it a little, try to reorganize the content and then leave the rest to the chances. And keep having fun. That's what matter; the future, as Joe used to say, is unwritten.
I'm going to write this blog's future, but maybe not tonight.