Wednesday, 30 April 2014

i se e i ma che aiutano a dormire

Sono sveglia, occhi più a palla di un personaggio dei manga.
Mi dico: "Sei stanca, dormi."
Mi rispondo: "Grazie, ma no grazie; non ho sonno."
Insisto: "Sono le 4 di notte e fra qualche ora devi essere in ufficio. Un copri-occhiaie così miracoloso ancora non l'hanno inventato."
Mi impunto: "No, io non dormo."
Mi giro nel letto, infastidita. Eppure le ultime notti le ho dormite tranquillamente, qual è la differenza oggi?
E' uno stupido e fastidioso corollario alla legge di Murphy o è perché ho troppe idee per la testa che non riescono a uscire dalla testa in maniera organizzata?

Distesa nel letto ripenso a un settembre di qualche anno fa: il tempo era mite, il sole brillava, c'era un po' di vento e l'aria era frizzante. Beh, frizzante per quanto potesse essere frizzante già ai tempi l'aria inquinata di Pechino. Le lezioni dovevano ancora iniziare e così ho iniziato il mio anno cinese con delle ferie: ho passato una settimana in giro per il campus della Tsinghua, comprando cose per la stanza del dormitorio, cercando una bicicletta di seconda mano decente; camminavo e ascoltavo musica, canticchiando a bassa voce, e iniziavo a fare la conoscenza degli altri studenti nel dormitorio per stranieri. Ho ricordi molto vivi di quella settimana, più di quanti ne abbia dei mesi successivi.

Non sono tornata alla Tsinghua mentre ero a Pechino: non ce n'è stato il tempo o forse sono stata io a non volerne trovare; ho visto scorrere il distretto di Haidian dal finestrino di una macchina: non fosse stato per i nomi delle strade non avrei mai creduto di trovarmi nello stesso posto dove ho passato così tanti mesi della mia vita.

Molti si stupiscono quando dico che parlo cinese, perché non trovano quale sia il collegamento fra ciò che ho studiato e ciò che mi paga il mutuo. E allora mi tocca spiegargli che sì, faccio il tester, anzi il QA software engineer come recita il mio biglietto da visita, ma tanto in inglese il termine non è legato a nessun percorso di laurea specifico, e ho studiato cinese all'università, non ingegneria.
Molti cercano spiegazioni più precise di quelle che potrò mai dare: la verità è che ci sono caduta per caso, sia nel cinese che nel lavoro di tester e ho continuato in tutte e due perché ero brava e mi piacevano. La verità è che al ritorno dalla Cina ero così persa e stanca che mi sono aggrappata alla prima cosa che mi ha fatto sentire utile e capace; la verità è che ora non sento nessun desiderio di cambiare uno dei pochi aspetti davvero soddisfacenti della mia vita.

E allora perché così tante persone sembrano trasmettere un senso di profonda delusione al fatto che io non ho tratto benefici economici da ciò che ho studiato? Per quanti anni ancora dovrò sentire gente che mi chiede perché non ho continuato con il cinese invece di fare quello che sto facendo?
Davvero mi sono chiusa le porte a chissà quali esperienze per il fatto di non aver proseguito con la sinologia?
Perché quelle che propongo come le mie verità vengono quasi sempre accolte da volti dubbiosi e increduli?

Con il tempo poi si è aggiunto un altro livello di fastidio a questa situazione: è mai possibile che il mio lavoro sia considerato così male dalle persone intorno a me da dover pensare che è un peccato che io lo faccia?
So che per molti del mio settore in Italia dire "lavoro come tester" equivale a dire "avrà pure fatto ingegneria ma, poveretta, non sa programmare quindi la mettiamo a fare i test così non rompe troppo", ma non è così nel resto del mondo; è un lavoro interessante che offre spunti continui per sfamare la mia curiosità cronica, mi permette di conoscere persone di culture diversissime e di farmi anche qualche viaggetto ogni tanto; e soprattutto mi riempie di orgoglio per i risultati che ottengo: non salvo il mondo, ma nel mio piccolo il mio lavoro lo faccio bene quindi, perché la gente non può concentrarsi su questi aspetti positivi invece di sminuirli, sindacando sui se e sui ma, manco la mia vita fosse un librogioco?

Me lo ripeto sempre, forse pure troppo, che non dovrei dare ascolto alle chiacchiere di certa gente, suggerendo piuttosto a costoro di farsi un'allegra palata di fattacci propri.
Ma se continuo a ripetermelo è perché sono influenzabile dalle chiacchiere come tutti i miei consimili e in momenti di crisi è più facile cadere in certe "trappole".

Quindi eccomi lì, insonne, con gli occhi spalancati ma pieni di ricordi: l'altra notte mi è venuto da ripensare ai se e ai ma, ai "cosa sarebbe successo se?" Ho provato a cercare di costruire vite immaginarie basate su quei se, su quelle possibilità.
Ho tentato di costruire dei castelli in aria, ma si sono piantati agli inizi, peggio che i lavoro per l'expo 2015. Sono passati troppi anni o forse sono troppo radicata nel mio presente; o forse non ho abbastanza rimpianti e le cose e le persone che formano il mio presente non mi fanno desiderare un passato e un futuro diversi.
Avessi continuato con il cinese non avrei vissuto in Inghilterra e poi in Olanda, non sarei andata in Australia e in California; avessi continuato con il cinese, non ci sarebbe inchiostro sotto-pelle; avessi continuato con il cinese porterei ancora gli occhiali. Avessi continuato con il cinese, non avrei conosciuto le persone che ho incontrato negli ultimi dieci anni: a parte alcune persone (le eccezioni a conferma della regola), trovo tutte queste idee davvero deprimenti. Il che mi fa dubitare e sospettare di chi mi fa certe domande: devono proprio volermi male per augurarmi una vita simile al posto di quella che ho adesso!

La mattina dopo mi sono ripromessa di fregarmene di più di quello che la gente pensa di me e del mio passato. E' una di quelle promesse da marinai che mi faccio ogni due giorni, ma tant'è. Per lo meno ho scoperto che giocare con i se funziona meglio di contare le pecore: nemmeno dieci minuti e dormivo già profondamente. 

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Here and there

I got eye bags the size of a oversize luggage. And a quite heavy cold about to turn into flu.
I'm back home, but I still feel slightly unplaced, as if I were still up in the air, sitting 10000 ft above ground.
In the past 3weeks I flew 3 times across several time zones, towards east and west. I sat on planes, trains and taxi. I munched km over km, climbed thousands of steps.

Now that I'm back and won't have to travel for a while, I'm left with dozens of photos to sort out, lots of clothes to wash, hang out to dry and eventually, someday (as if!), to iron.
I got lots of memories, but right now I can't sort them out properly, because they're all too messy in my head right now.

They're just like the small pieces of a puzzle: when I reassemble a puzzle, I normally start from the edges and work my way into its core. Right now my brain is in more or less the same state of the puzzle I've bought in Shanghai.



Puzzles taught me sometimes you need to jump straight into it, some other times you need to walk away and come back for the pieces to make sense. So for now, I'm just going to keep feeling slightly disoriented and sort out some hopefully coherent writings about this trip.

Till then, I need to work out on my sleeping hours gap.
Enjoy the sound of the rain falling over Milan right now. And plan my next holiday, something I desperately need in order to recover from the past 2 weeks.


Monday, 14 April 2014

Sunshine on Leith

Before the plane had even left the ground, I was already fast asleep. I woke up some time later, a bit groggy, wondering people around me were allowed to have their seat so down when the plane hadn't even... oh, yeah, I see.

I was really tired on my last Friday in the States, but something I've noticed recently is that I don't really need that much of comfort to fall asleep. I just need to take a seat, rest my head on one side of the armchair and I'm already dozing away.

Long haul flights were for me the standard way to catch up on movies: 9 hours on a plane means at least 3-4 movies, a nap and a meal.
Nowadays it's quite an achievement if I manage to watch a single movie on the plane.

So, given I watch just one movie, it better be good. The one I watched on the way back to Italy was definitely worth it.

It's a British movie, "Sunshine on Leith", directed by Dexter Fletcher: it's an adaptation of a stage musical, set in Edinburgh, based on songs by The Proclaimers.
It's a small, sweet and enchanting movie. The cast is great, the city amazing and it made me re-listen to the Proclaimers: not just the usual 500 miles, but also some other songs that got basically no radio time in Italy.

It's a juke-box musical, alright, but it's well crafted, the songs fit in perfectly and I am pretty sure more than one person walking down the aisle on the plane wondered about that passenger watching a movie with a goofy smile, while moving her head to the rhythm of some obviously catchy song.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Fuori Salone

Sono tornati gli hipster a Lambrate, un po' come l'anno scorso, per il FuoriSalone.
Anche quest'anno, dopo essermi sorpresa agli inizi e aver osservato l'aumento anche in Europa di baffi, baffetti e basette di varia forma e arricciatura.

Così ieri, mi sono armata di bottiglietta d'acqua (al FuoriSalone costa più della birra) e insieme a Flavia mi sono fatta un giro per la zona di Lambrate Ventura.

Quest'anno la cosa che mi è piaciuta di più l'abbiamo vista quasi subito, il che ha creato un punto di paragone piuttosto alto e difficile da superare. Si tratta di questo tavolo con i conigli:

The bunnies table


E' un tavolo di marmo, e anche i conigli sono di marmo, quindi chiunque lo compri deve essere più che convinto su dove lo piazzerà in casa. Suppongo che ogni cambio dell'arredamento della sala da pranzo richieda pure una chiamata a una ditta di traslochi.

Poco più in là ecco Spiderman alle prese con lo stress della vita moderna.

.


Abbiamo girovagato fra le varie vecchie fabbriche e capannoni riadattati a spazi espositivi. Scarpe strane, papillon fatti con capelli, cactus di cartone. Di tutto un po', fino alla gara di pelature patate allo stand belga.

Shirts

Tanti bambini in giro, negozi riadattati a spazi espositivi, un'atmosfera rilassata e tranquillo come è arrivato, il FuoriSalone è passato. Oggi era l'ultimo giorno e i baffuti torneranno nelle zone milanesi a loro dedicate, tanto che a breve mi scorderò che abbiano mai messo piede dalle mie parti.
A me un po' dispiace, perché la zona ripiomberà nella sua solita sonnolenza, con gente di corsa e vicini che non ti salutano, così finirà che sentirò la mancanza degli hipster.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The junk post

By the third day of meetings, most of my colleagues were already used to my antics.
Every time they were about to eat something, I'd ask whether I could take a picture of whatever that something was.
By the 5th day, they stopped asking me if I was going to eat that "something", because they knew I was going to return or put it away after taking a picture.

No, I've not been bitten by the foodie instagram mania, even though being in San Francisco is a good enough excuse to be do so. This time around I was quite lucky on this side, as I had Migs to guide me all around. From Vietnamese pho to burritos, from East German food to the best coffee spot in town, I just needed to ask him and he'd come up with the right place.
In those occasions, I was not really taking good picture of the food: I was too busy eating and enjoying the food, rather than photographing it.

What captured my attention was the wholesome level of junk in the different snakes and food around me. And their way-over-the-top and pretty standard for an America sizes.

So here's my "I can't believe they sell it and/or I'm eating it" 2014 spring collection.
First in the list, a must have for its vibrant color boldly displayed all around, emphasizing its sugary yet crumply attitude towards modern life; let me introduce you all to the artificially flavored "sugar wafers":


A special place in the collection is claimed by this pack of candies: welcome to the fat free world of the Swedish Fish!


Bear in mind, if you got diabetes a package of Swedish Fish could kill you.
Bear in mind, if you got no diabetes, you can find it in the package of Swedish Fish.

As for the Organic polenta, package like this next to the brownie mix, I just took a picture but decided to live in blissful ignorance and skip reading the label



On the portions side, this is my last week brunch: 


I ordered a 2 eggs omelette without reading the small prints. I didn't see them, but there must be a point, somewhere in the menu, that stated they were ostrich eggs. 

Akira tried to topped me with this caprese salad fit into a whole ciabatta, with a heavy buttering of pesto; the drink in the background is something called Italian soda: as usual, it was my duty and honor to bulldozer down all the notion my American colleagues had about Italy and its food. They asked me more than once whether Italian soda wasn't truly Italian as I said. I'm not sure some of them eventually got over the notion we don't drink the Sopranos Old Fashioned Italian sodas:


Obviously the Cheesecake Factory beats everybody else hands down when it comes to sizes: I didn't try it out, I shared one slice of a smaller pie with 2 other people and we didn't even manage to finish it, but I appreciate however that the restaurant decided to use the side effect of this cake as its name:

Black-out cake

In case you're wondering about it, I save you some time and will point you directly to the google search result for "bacon brittle recipe":



And if you feel like having a mint after all this food, rest assured that even in that, the States have to stand out: even the Polo hole has to be filled.

Monday, 7 April 2014

And the award for...

... the dumbest of the dumbest sign goes to this instruction list: 



I spotted it last week in the ladies room of a restaurant in Sunnyvale. 
It provides a straightforward checklist that we, the gentle yet clueless sex, can follow in situations when we can't bring a fellow clueless bimbo that can hold us the door when we go to the loo.

I did as instructed, also taking a pause at the moment of pulling the door toward me, pause slightly pause, and then turned the latch to the right.

I can't even start to tell how relieved I felt when I saw the instructions. I am the only woman in my team, how was I supposed to use the loo otherwise? Was I condemned to keep the door open?!?

All's well what ends well, but a small point: there's no instruction on how to unlock the door. I checked everywhere and nothing, not a single note on how to unlock the door and regain my freedom.
Somebody get me out of here...

Sunday, 6 April 2014

So have a nice day



San Francisco bay, past pier 39,
Early p.m. can't remember what time,
Got the waiting cab, stopped at the red light,
Address unsure of, but it turned out just right,


Got out from Linate airport a little bit after 4 p.m. yesterday afternoon.
The first 3 cab drivers at the queue were way too busy checking their smartphones and smoking to care about people waiting to get on board. The 4th one in line wished he could be with them, I bet.
Alas, he got to take me back home.
He got really pissed at me when I asked him if he could helped me putting the suitcase in the trunk (customer service, people?), was absolutely furious when I  told him to stop texting while driving.

It felt good to be back home: as usual I left the house quite a mess and unpacking made the living room look even worse.
As usual, it felt as if 2 massive air balloon got stuck into my ears. They still are: the noises from the street arrives as if they were 2 km away and not just 2 floors below.
As usual, the lingering feelings and memories of the trip coated me against the present.
This time around I chose to stay in San Francisco rather than spending 2 weeks in the South Bay area.
It meant commuting everyday, but it wasn't such a bad thing: altogether it's the same time I spend commuting to my office and it was more or less the only time I had only for myself during the day: the rest flew away in a blur of work, meetings, coffee and wandering around.

Yesterday evening I was supposed to try to clear some of the above mentioned mess.
Instead I went on a scavenger hunt. I was looking for a CD. "Just Enough Education to Perform" is an album that comes back over and over in my life.

When I first heard it, I thought "Have a nice day" started from a real life episode to talk more generally about life around the world, how we're all becoming the same.
That "have a nice day" I came to listen way too many times, alongside the "Sorry", is just an expression of how fake and hypocrite society can get.
I liked the song because of the contrast between what sounded to me as a very depressed and pessimistic lyrics to the uptempo beat of the tune.

It started straight off, "coming here is hell"
That's his first words, we asked what he meant,
He said "where ya' from?" we told him our lot,
"When ya' take a holiday, is this what you want?"

I found myself singing this song quite often in San Francisco for the past 2 weeks. Especially when sitting in the back of a cab.
Until the last evening it looked as if I was getting a special replay of the driver Kelly Jones: each one of them was, in a way or another, completely bonkers.
The Mexican guy shouting at every person on the street, the one complaining about Uber and the pink mustaches, the Russian who asked me whether I minded if he had a joint while driving (yes, I did mind but no, he didn't care about it and lit it anyway), the one that insisted I should drive to Oakland to have the best pizza ever, the guy that wished all this silicon valley people disappeared from the face of earth ("And why are you here, miss?", "better if I don't tell you"), the woman telling me how better she got since she switched prescription ("I'm not even that sleepy any longer!"). 
Either I share with Kelly Jones the ability of picking them, or San Francisco cab drivers are one of a kind. Not that I mind, really.

Everybody was nice and life looked so easy: as usual I had that brief moment when I thought that yes, I could live there and be well. 
After few days, however, that over-kindness customer-service attitude everybody seemed eager to mirror to the outside world was really starting to get me. 
In the past few months I've grown less and less able to lie when people ask me how I feel. But this has become a big problem once in California: try and reply that you feel like shit and the look on people's face will freeze. You can't feel bad or upset, because this unbalances the apparently perfect, all-round-connected life they connected.
You can't say you're feeling lonely, because it's like pointing at the naked king.

And so I was left with little to shield myself with: sometimes I smiled for real, most of the times I faked, both the smile and happiness. All along I hung to the madness I could find in the taxi that carried me around.
I already miss you, crazy people. See you in a year.

So have a nice day...

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

green shoes and happiness

"Shoes see everything; there are no secrets we can keep from our shoes.” 
(Alexander McCall Smith, "The Double Comfort Safari Club")

One of my favorite literary character is Mma Grace Matsuki.
She is the assistant of Mma Ramotswe in the Alexander McCall Smith's "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" books: she scored 97% at her exam at the Botswana College of Secretarial and Office Skills, later set up a typing school for men and helped Mma Ramotswe solving cases and drinking tea. 

I love Grace, because she's not perfect, she's not a spotless heroine; on the contrary, she's a full rounded human character: she can be extremely sharp but also jump to the wrong conclusion. She is kind and gentle, yet bossy and with no filter when speaking. 
The contrast makes her stand out, feel so human. It's easy to relate with her. Even more so because of her passion for shoes: she can't resist shoes, they're the only luxury she allows herself to enjoy. Shoes are her conscience: when she's in doubt, she looks down at her feet and argues with her shoes.

There was a time where I didn't care about shoes: I had two pair of fake Dr Martens I bought at the market and a pair of sandals for the summer. That was it.
Looks like a million light years ago. I eventually developed a love for shoes, just like Mma Matsuki.
And, let's face it, just like Imelda Marcos.

The problems for fulfilling my love for shoes at a Marcos-level were, and still are, basically three: I don't have the patience to go shoe-shopping; I don't have enough money to go extreme shoe-shopping; I'm extremely picky when it comes to shoes and clothes. If I see something I really like and it's reasonably priced, I won't spend debating whether I should get it or not. 
But, if I don't find it, I end up spending a lot of days debating what to get, going into different shops and very possibly not buying anything. I spent the whole winter pondering about a new pair of boots and ended up not buying anything because there was nothing I really wanted to get. It was frustrating because, with the vague hope of finding something nice, I endured way too many afternoon in the middle of the Milan weekend shopping orde. 

On the other hand, if I see something I like, I won't rest till I got it.
That's what happened with the last 2 pair of shoes I bought. In the middle between the 2 pairs I saw one pair of shoes that tempted me a lot: it was so insane I honestly thought about buying it. But alas, my bank account resembles more the one of Mma Matsuki (and she's a fictional character!) than Imelda's one, so the only thing I could do was trying them on and taking a picture of them:



I had to told myself that yes, they were nice, but too expensive (300$ discounted!!!) and very unpractical: I couldn't really picture myself hopping on the first train towards Gobba wearing such a pair of shoes!

On the other hand I could picture myself very well with my shiny new shoes... 



Part of me wondered whether it made sense buying 2 pair of shoes in such a short span of time. So tonight I took a look at them, put them on and asked them directly.
We all agreed that they might not be real happiness, but we're fine sharing a part of the walk together. And looking at them on my feet, we came to the conclusion that we do fit very well together.