Wednesday, 15 October 2014

What travels

You are here. Your senses tell you so with certainty. You can touch the surfaces and taste that scrambled egg you just cooked. You sit in the hot-tub wondering if a big black bear is going to climb over the fence. You hear the fountain trickle. You are here. But not in a permanent, historic sense. No time continuum has brought you here, a job or family in Tahoe, a cabin for sale. No, you are here, but only in the moment. Now. You are here NOW. But if now is all that ever exists, then, if you really, really, relaxed into this immense feeling of belonging, you would perhaps find the KEY that shifts you into a different continuum, the one with the past and the future you always wanted. In this expanded windy morning, out in the desert, in a later now, you try to imagine what kind of act of rebellion or enlightenment would have brought you to live here, in that other life, of which you are only living, intensely, the now. Later still, you look in the mirror, the same mirror you looked into last year, and the year before. You have more wrinkles, you are skinnier, fatter, fitter, less fit than before. You discover that now, as you are not protected by your continuum. You are naked. You also find that you are not as flexible, nice and funny as you thought you were. Divided as you are between fear and bliss.
As you travel, you morph into a new person, you shed some resentment and grow jewellery, new t-shirts and hats, sunglasses and a tan. All of these things, you think, will keep me here. Time is slow at first, and during the walks on the beach with your travelling companion, the now and the future of here seem so permanent, so exciting, so infinite. And your past, really, doesn't feel that real. It's a remote blue planet seen from space, round and simple, easy to conquer. Your life seems easy to conquer. As the journey progresses and time suddenly accelerates into shorter and shorter nows, the walks and talks on the beach change intensity, not so much about future adventures, but on ways to bring back all of this, to pack this light, this sun, the funny dogs that lick your knees, the chollas, the desert, the swimming pools, how to pack all of this in your 23kg suitcase. And, in the safety of distance, you approach conversations based on change, on solving, on climbing mountains, conquering the universe. But the very last night, while emptying bins full of your discarded bottles, hiding in the shelves the books you thought you might want to read and now are not so sure. While you pack all your knick-knacks, bits of stones and driftwood, the pain of separation becomes overwhelming, the light seems to dim, and you find yourself walking with your partner on a dark beach, staring at the stars, and feeling that you are now torn even from him. Because you've failed. You failed to find the KEY.
Silence on the plane. You try to sleep but your eyes are full of images going faster and faster. And then. Then you are here. For real. Although, it doesn't seem real at all. The key fits the lock. You slip back into your continuum. But it doesn't feel right, at all. You sit on what you rationally know is your couch, and think, I can't cope. I WILL NEVER COPE AGAIN. You open the suitcase, pull out all your knick-knacks and new t-shirts and put them on the floor. They are all dead. You take your socks off, and there is sand between your feet. You look at your partner, shyly, "We are still there, aren't we?". We are still there, where we belong. In a life without continuum and just an expanded intense magical now. You realise that all the stuff you put in your suitcase, the sun, the rented car, the museum tickets, has lost its fizz, like imported champagne. You are here, again, naked.
Too much sleep or not enough sleep, images flitting, tan fading, bills paying, going for local walks, slowly, some of your cachinas end up on the TV shelf, some new recipes sneak into your cooking routine, and a sense of achievement, peace and expansion slowly takes over. We were there, you say. We were there, together.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Want what you find

I have been blessed lately by lack of internet access. Of course it doesn't feel like a blessing at first, like when you find a lot of acorns and wonder if they are edible, but, alas, you can't "look it up". So you start writing your little or long "look up" lists with everything that you would like to read, make, find out. Find out how mad Mark Twain really was, so that you can enjoy Roughing it a bit more. Without google or wikipedia telling you what to think, well, you have to make up your own mind. You also suddenly have a lot of free time to surf the world instead of the screen. To look around instead of up. And things start serendipitoulsy to appear, like a book on zen philosophy ( The way of zen) that tells you that rational thinking is not that rational, that after we have weighed all our information scientifically we still make decisions based on a hunch. The same book also explains i-ching as divining the lines on tortoise shells, but, should you not have a tortoise handy, you can just look around (not up), because signs are everywhere, they are there to show you your path, to give you solutions. But by now your look up list is so long you need about 10 starbucks cappuccinos to find out how to make books out of brown paperbags, how to recycle old books to use as photo albums and whatever other creative ideas you need a bit of visual inspiration for. And that is when you remember how tedious it is to try and find what you want , how many dead ends, how many digressions, how lost you get, how full your stomach with frothy milk. And this is when you finally realise the secret for a happy life: don't try and find what you want, just want and treasure what you find. Serendipity will help you (and save you from cappuccino overdose).

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Beryl Bainbridge, envy or not at all, just sunshine

Looking at a slither of Thames from the back cofee tables at Somerset House with the sun playing hide and seek with the clouds and with the temperature, and me putting my jacket on and off at all the wrong intervals, while pondering whether I still feel envy, my friend asks me if I am still writing my blog. "Of course I am", I reply lying. Well, not exactly lying, it's just that instead of writing first and thinking after, or as I go along, I wait for that ephemeral thing called inspiration. And, as inspiration comes at the most awkward times, like when you don't have a pen, a computer, it's raining, you are standing on a bus. Then of course you can repeat what you want to write over and over as a mantra, but by the time you get home, you are already sick of it. So that's what happened to last week's skipped blog. I was going to write about the Italian P.E.N. Club, on how becoming a member in 2007 was/could have been a life changing experience. How it wasn't so, for various sad personal circumstances. And how I had thought about that upon receiving a copy of the magazine and reading about Mario Luzi, the Italian poet. The articles about him were describing his sunny apartment in Florence, the gentleness of his person and thoughts, his long walks even when in his eighties. And I felt something, something that in the past perhaps would have been envy. But it was a softer feeling. I had been myself  in his sunny flat in Florence to interview him when I was a rebellious young radio presenter. And yes, everything seemed gentle to me too. And the bright light was there, just as described in these articles about him. If you are a human being that has touched the heart of a number of other humans, they will collect little precious memories of you, they will remember how the sun shone on you. That, I guess, is what saddens me, more than makes me jealous. When I'll be gone, everything will be put into a pile for the recycling centre, all my dreams, all my little collections of stones, all my many collaged journals. And a similar emotion I felt looking at the Bainbridge art exhibition. Look at this woman, I was thinking, she did what she enjoyed, was successful at it, and had the space and confidence to paint, draw, write and doodle on journals during her travels. Everything preserved, because she touched the heart of many. She had the life I wanted to have, so I could be envious. But she didn't, did she? She didn't live a life that I could have lived. Because I'm different, doing different things. So what exactly should I be jealous or envious of? Because everything she had was a reaction or interaction with her circumstances, which are not mine, and what I do or not do is an interplay with my own circumstances. That's why I am not capable of envy anymore, only of dreams of getting where I want to go, or strategies to be as happy here as I would be up there at the top of that success that opens your world to time, connections and people who will preserve your treasures. It's all good, even down here, sipping cappuccino and reminiscing, looking at the Thames, the sun, the clouds and the end of another summer.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Malevich and me

At the Malevich exhibition half of me flies out of my body, leaves the Tate, London, and ends up, old, in a dark an sparsely furnished apartment in Genoa - an artist, finally, telling a story. My story, or my father's story, I am not sure. But something that seems to make a lot of sense. "However confusedly and meaninglessly our way may deviate from our desires, after all it does lead us inevitably to out invisible goal.", says Stefan Zweig in The World of Yesterday. Suddenly the tense muscles of exile relax and I feel the purpose, the continuity, the explanation for it all, for my journey, my suffering, my search. It's all very beautiful. Except for one thing. It's an impossibility. I cannot tell my story, or my father's story, or his father's story in a dark flat in Genoa. Because we are all dead. My ancestors, as they really are not here to influence or take part in the events, and I, because there is no "back" to go to. This is not how it's done. The only people I can talk to are the living or the not as yet living. While the only people I want to talk to, the only people I want validation from, are the dead. I want to be a Russian suprematist, yet think that the graph paper I am sketching on should be already tanned with age. It is, indeed, a senseless proposition. The game has to be played in a different way. But which? The past always makes more sense than the future. Anxiety flies out of the past. About ten years ago I was asked to translate Pirandello's Henry IV into English for Tom Stoppard. I read Pirandello as a kid, but found him claustrophobic. Something to do with his nose, while I had just discovered at the age of 12, that I had a nose between my eyes that blurred somewhat my vision. Pirandello came back many years later, this time in an apt text, because longing for home is often longing for our roots, in other words for the comfort of the past. "Whatever happens has happened, however painful the events and brutal the battles, they're history and nothing can change them... so you can sit back and admire how every cause leads obediently to its effect, with perfect logic...", says Henry IV. In the present, the past is safe, yet, when it was present it was uncomfortable and insecure and as illogical as the present is now. What we really want is logic, the logic that seems so clear when we look at the past - cause and effect - so linear. There is where home is, the comfortable place of logic. This whole exile thing feels more and more like Schrödinger's cat. I can only go home if I don't exist anymore. I can only go home if I am already there and have never left. But perhaps I should be grateful for that. The beauty of travel, the beauty of the present and the future is, ultimately, the lack of certainty. ZAUM = Beyond reason. ZAUM = Beyond logic. ZAUM. How peaceful Malevich's anxiety feels today.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Identity, belonging & cheap hotels

I was a film extra for fifteen years and did a lot of costume drama, period and sci-fi. What was fascinating was how the costumes - and to a lesser degree the settings - changed our personality. We identified with the clothes, we became our characters. To the point, even, that all the guards, all the uniformed characters, would sit together at the same table for lunch. We all have our rituals, and these rituals give some roots and solidity to our sense of identity. We make tea or coffee in a certain way, drink it from our favourite cup. We have our breakfast in a certain way, in a certain place in the house, we even dress in a certain order. And, obviously, we also surround ourselves with things that are of our choice, that are familiar and make us know, without a doubt, that we are who we are, and are where we are at. But when we stay in a hotel room, or are guests in someone's house, all of that goes out the window. I am choosing here to talk about cheap or average accommodations and not luxury hotels, because I am interested in the quirks and in how we adapt or react. For instance, last week I was in a hotel room. It wasn't too bad, quite decent and clean. But the sheets felt damp. Why? Were they really damp? I touched the walls and they were dry. And it was cold. I am always cold, but at home I have all my blankets and central heating. Here, I found a heater and after a mighty struggle I managed to turn it on. Then I proceeded to make myself a cup of tea. I had brought my own tea, just in case. The kettle didn't fit under the tap, so I filled it with tiny glasses of water, one at a time. The cups were tiny too. I felt really clumsy in my attempts to create a routine that fitted all this stuff that wasn't mine with my personality. But my personality was already changing. The irrational part of me was trying to figure out, "Who am I? How did I end up in a room with damp sheets, silver wallpaper, and very small cups? Am I this room? Is this room a result of me? And what sad me would end up living here?" As a foreigner in a foreign land for nearly 30 years, I have always been very interested in the feeling of belonging. What makes you feel that you belong? Familiarity? Purpose? Acceptance? In that hotel room, I started feeling that belonging is when your rituals feel right. I was learning my environment already, adapting to it, and transforming it, so that my rituals felt more real and familiar. I quickly adapted to the kettle and the small cups. I put my ipod with guitar jazz radio in an empty drawer to amplify it, and wrote. Writing always feels comfortable, and profoundly me. "This hotel room," I started to think, "is not my story, but it will become my history, part of my past, yet it's not an interaction on equal grounds. My input, the music, the tea, cannot quite overcome the old blue carpet, the damp sheets, the small cups." I wondered if in order to feel that we belong we need to be on equal grounds in the giving and taking. Because my irrational me could not make sense of how I ended up there, I lost part of my history, and started fresh, like an explorer. I tried to find more ways to personalise my space, I bought a vintage dolly and a small red penguin that I put on her lap, almost like a Mexican apparition, and then started making some very rough collages (I had no scissors) of the stuff I had come across during the day, gluing everything on paper shopping bags. I would then hang the handle on the bathroom door or the closet's. Soon, a bizarre sense of belonging formed, not the me who is writing in my flat now, but another me, with less history, who had blended into an affinity with the place, and struck a decent compromise between mild squalor and creativity. Perhaps creativity is the number one ingredient that makes you belong.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Points of view

By chance, I came across an article my father wrote in 2002 about the view from our Genoa flat. The view was indeed amazing, over the greenhouse with its palm trees, the whole city and, on a clear day, the sea. To the left there was a castle. Throughout my youth, I used to look from the window, at the grey slate roofs and the castle, which, against the setting sun, sometimes looked like a skull. I loved that flat, and it will always be in my heart. So, holding back the tears, I read my dad's article, curious and scared to learn how he felt about the place. It turned out - and actually I should have remembered - that, while I, in my room, was looking ahead, at the buildings, the castle, and the sea, my father, in his study, was looking through his bay window at the winding road. And while he was looking and thinking of all the years gone by, of his ghosts from the war, he was also waiting for me to come home. This image, this different point of view, the looking ahead and the looking to the side, made me suddenly see a different person, not my father, the all-knowing, the powerful, the wise, the giant, but a man, a mortal, with all his insecurities, fears, and sorrows. As I don't have children, I never really think of what it must be like to be a parent, of how mysterious a young life must appear. Mysterious and worrisome, fragile, yet in need of space and trust in order to grow. Being a rebellious, exploratory and dreamy child, I must have appeared particularly mysterious to him, while he pondered on how to be a good father, looking at the winding road from the bay window. Sometimes, out of desperation, he would make me sit on the couch and read to me from the Ecclesiastes, 'To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:, A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted...' He was hoping to slow me down, to make me wait until I was more prepared. But the time was right, it was the right time for me. Now, I like to think of this sense of time as an intuitive clock, that has its natural speed, its right time for things. Even though my fast clock was cause of concern for my father, back then, I followed its rhythm, like a dog on a walk, sometimes running, sometimes stopping to investigate a scent or a movement. It was only later in life that I started fighting against my clock, wanting to learn things faster, to work harder, more and more, in order to get to that place that is supposed to be my destination. But my intuitive clock thinks otherwise, 'To everything there is a season... a time to get and a time to lose.' The journey will take the time it needs to take, for how valiantly I fight against windmills. I am glad I didn't know that my father was not omniscient when I was a child and needed to think it was possible to have control over our own lives. And I am glad that my intuitive clock has shown me a different version of my father today, today that I am the same age he was then, when he sat on his chair and read me from the Ecclesiastes. There is indeed a time for everything.

Sunday, 29 June 2014


In my caravan I have no tv, no wi-fi, just a few books, old illustrated maps of the continents, and a couple of my jazz bottles with Queen Ida and a blue Miles Davis. I also have silence. A silence so deep, sometimes it's almost scary. But mostly beautiful. I can stare at the flowery curtains and drift away into a natural meditative state. I also have a few pens and colours and paper. Sometimes I draw, sometimes I just sit outside reading travel books and feeling the grass with my bare feet. Everything is perfect. Then I come back home, open the door, and I am immediately overwhelmed by... stuff. I've accumulated so much stuff, books, cds, gadgets, art supplies, cameras, nick-knacks, pictures, canvasses, art magazines, sketchbooks, full and blank. I sit on my couch, shoving some of the fluffy toys and cushions out of the way and I stare at the blank tv with a sense of dismay and anxiety. Why? Because every single object requires a decision - namely, should I use it or not. And it entails further decisions to make, such as how to use it and why. The other source of anxiety is the fear of losing what I've got. Apart from physically losing something, there is the retrieving form of losing. I flicked through a Tate magazine that had an article on Malevich, and when I put the magazine into the recycling bin, I thought, "Now I am not going to remember Malevich, his work, his theories, his sputniks and planits." And that made me incredibly sad. I write, sometimes I write a lot, in notebooks, in my computer, on my phone. But where does all the stuff I write end up? How do I archive it for retrieval? The simple caravan life is lost in the city, with its deluge of information and stuff that should be used, retained, accessed, retrieved, remembered. And a flowery curtain is not enough to induce meditation under the bombardment of phone calls, emails, post, bills, magazines, tv. And then there are art galleries, exhibitions, sketching and photography outings. A sea of stuff.
I often wondered why monks choose gardens, ponds, rocks, mountains or the sea to meditate. I thought that was cheating. Too easy to go to a beautiful place, sit on a solitary bench in the sun and watch kois glide by in the pond, perhaps with dreamy wind chimes and birds singing in the background. Because then you go back to all your stuff, and your heartbeat is raised, by millions of stimuli and a sense of guilt and powerlessness. But someone explained to me that the more you expose yourself to calm, meditative environments, the easier it becomes to access that state, to remember it when you are surrounded by stuff. So here is what I learnt in two days on my caravan. I don't NEED stuff. I don't need to retrieve or archive anything apart from what gets automatically stored and catalogued in my memory. I will remember Malevich when I need to. Or not, and then I'll do without his sputniks and black paintings, because I will be engaged in something equally valuable. As to my writings, it will be a constant journey of rediscovery, like a goldfish in a bowl swimming past a castle. Oh what a beautiful castle.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

My life with books

I am making myself a cup of chocolate tea while debating whether I should buy yet another book by Keith A. Smith on bookbinding techniques. I like them, I am thinking, because... well, they read like books. I can sit down with my tea and read about the structure of books as if it were philosophy or religion, even. Well, ligature and religion kind of have the same origin. And then there is The Book. Books are powerful. I was happily reading somewhere that young people prefer real books to e-books. It doesn't take that long to make tea, but I am a very fast thinker, and I managed very quickly to run in my head a super fast film of my life with books. So here it is. I was born in Venice, in a flat full of books. My grandparents and great aunt could read many languages and had a massive collection of French, German and English classics. My great aunt read me stories, translating in real time without pauses or glitches. At the time, my father was head librarian at the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Florence. At home he had about 5000 books. We had no bare walls. I can't recall what my first reads were, probably Treasure Island and To Kill a Mockingbird. But the first love was Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, from a collection bound in red leather. I was ten. I would stand on top of my bed and recite, "O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?" Then I read The Rivers Ran East, in a thatched hut in Venice Lido, and the Secret Agent, and I started dreaming, dreaming of adventure, far away places, full of spies, and palaces and jungles. I knew that wherever I went, there would be another layer to beauty -  the layer of literature. I got a job in a Russian library, age 14. I knew the alphabet, and that was sufficient. There was nothing to do, so I would go into one of the empty reading rooms and meditate lying on the floor while staring at the shelves. It was a good job. Then I worked in bibliographic research, at the age of 19. Before the Internet, finding books was difficult. So you needed book finders. Except that I wasn't finding anything, I only packaged the books and took them to the post office. The rest of the day I would read Lovecraft and all the dark spooky literature, like Derleth and Machen that were lurking in the dusty shelves. I dreamt of rooms without corners. Around that time I started to translate and proofread books, and study and accumulate degrees and all of that stuff that is kind of the backbone of my life as a freelance translator and writer. My adventure among books continued with a job at the British Library collating manuscripts, when it was still inside the British Museum. Walking through those corridors and handling those mysterious codexes was magical. Apparently some librarians in the past died in there because they got lost. Bodies were found years later. Then I became a book cataloguer for book dealers, handling the most incredible, fragile, bizarre specimen, and falling in love with bindings. I translated a book or two on the history of bookbinding and did research and scouting for a Milan publisher catering for the bibliophile. We had some great adventures trying to buy the rights of obscure books written by obscure writers. I ate the most wonderful veal milanese near his beautiful office, while chatting with the great writer and friend Hans Tuzzi. Then I indexed and proofread a world atlas for two years. I was paid to do arm chair travelling. I had to type fast and go through thousands of names, but I dream fast, so I dreamt a lot, especially about Mongolia, as it reverted to the Mongolian names of all its towns, rivers and mountains. I have written more Mongolian words than any of you, I bet. We pored over the published atlas with my best friend (and avid reader) and her family in her Genoa flat. Then we made a laurel wreath for my dad, when he was still alive. It hung in the kitchen for nearly six years. Now, well, I still translate, and read, and sometimes write books. And in between I bind books, draw and collage in books, and read Keith A. Smith, as if it were the best novel ever. Do I like books? I think I do.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Memory and reality pegs

The other night, as usual, I was reading a novel in bed. In the middle of the page, I read a direct speech that said, "They used him as bait." As it didn't make any sense in the context of the story, I went back a few lines. But when I got to the same spot, I read again, "They used him as bait". And that's when I decided it was time to turn off the light and go to sleep. I knew that that sentence was not in the book, that it was a creation of Mr Sandman, that it was time to abandon reality and go somewhere else. But how did I know? People affected with dementia don't know the difference between reality and imagination. How do we know the difference? I am always so aware of the difference that I don't even have nightmares. In fact, I love scary dreams, because I know they are dreams, so it's just like watching a movie on tv. Only better. But I don't know how I know. Because, when you think about it, it's an extremely fine line. I don't know anything about insanity or mental illness from a medical point of view, but I cannot stop thinking that reality is both strong and fragile. How interconnected are reality, sanity and memory? Is loss of memory the cause or the effect in dementia? It seems like real memories are replaced by invented ones. But the invented ones are pretty consistent. I thought that lack of continuity was the clue that we are dreaming instead of being awake. But if continuity is not lacking, does that make us sane? I have more questions than answers on this subject. So, I'll tell you more episodes of my life and my idea of reality pegs. It seems to me that a certain amount of effort is made by everyone to stay grounded in what we call reality and that we are scared of things that somewhat disorient us, because we don't know what might happen to our sense of reality, hence to our sanity. I was a smoker in my twenties, a dedicated smoker, with so many rituals about brands, ashtrays, lighters. I tried to quit once. After a day without cigarettes, I was running a bath, and I saw myself entering the bathtub as a different me. A non-smoker. A different person. I felt that the bond with Me would be so loose, that I might not remain attached to Me and fly away, I don't know where. So I didn't quit. I eventually did, about five years later when smoking was not one of my identity pegs anymore. I have this strange image that we build reality and sanity and perhaps memory itself by hammering tent pegs along the way, reference points. And that when we lose some of these pegs, we don't just feel disoriented but also a bit less real, a bit less grounded, less rooted in solidity. I especially find that with flying. I am here within the solid walls of my flat, looking at a familiar view out of the window, and I definitely know that I am me, and awake, and living this particular life that I am living, as a solid entity called Francesca. If I am flying somewhere, in a couple of hours time, I could be catapulted into a different flat with a different view, where I have to resume a previous life. I can do it, unharmed, but I need to imagine it, and to imagine it I need to remember it, and to remember it I need pegs, I need to rehearse in my head the whole journey. Last year we were driving around California, it was evening, dark, and we got lost (yes, we had gps), we couldn't recognise anything, and because we had hammered no pegs, we could not judge if we were in a safe place or not. The area was deserted and there was only one restaurant open. It looked weird, the people, the furniture, the pictures on the walls. We had no reference point, like floating in space. Everything turned out ok, the food was reasonably good and the waiters reasonably friendly, but the feeling of unreality stayed with us for a long time, it had been like falling out of a net. A net that you don't think it's there, because you take it for granted.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Chains, change & choices

I feel trapped. I feel so trapped and so sad to be trapped that for a while I felt I wouldn't be able to write my Monday post this week. Then I thought that perhaps I could write about being or feeling trapped, and see if I can do it while it hurts, while my vision is still blurred by pain and sorrow. I don't want to tell you why I feel/am trapped, I've learnt that, unfortunately, only a few pains go away by talking. The rest of them go away by change. And here is the point I am trying to analyse. Should you force change or wait for it? Please, please, obviously, think for yourself, do what feels right to you, I cannot advise you about what is trapping you and what course of action or inaction you should take. I just like to analyse things, take them apart and see how they work. I needed peace to lick my wounds, and wherever I turned I found a new bar to my cell, until I was completely surrounded by bars. I sat on the cold floor of my tiny cell. If I had been a cat my tail would have wagged furiously. I am not a cat, so I cried instead. But I cried loud, so loud, because I wanted something to break, the sky, the walls, my heart. I wanted change. Now. I wanted out of the cell. Now. But nothing did break and I calmed down, eventually, out of sheer exhaustion. Slowly, I started touching the bars of my cell, tried to see what they were made of. Most of these bars have been there for three, four years or longer. Some have been there forever. So why, all of a sudden, I didn't see any way out and all hope was gone? Because I'd had enough. I had allocated a certain amount of time for the endurance of these pains. But they were still there. It was not fair. Not fair. Life should be different, things should get better. Life should be fair. I deserve better. I wanted to gather up enough negative thoughts to create enough negative energy to break the bonds with rationality and cause change. Change would set me free. And because I can't see a rational, viable change in the near future, because I cannot see a change that I can bring about in a calm, mature way, I want to gather up enough frustration to explode into irrationality and break the chains. A lot of people do that, too many people do that. To end up in even smaller cells, hurting all their loved ones in the process. Caressing the walls of my cell, I crawled towards my headphones and listened to my favourite music and, slowly, I fell asleep. This morning, I woke up in my cell, with all the bars still in place, but a shift has occurred. A tiny shift. It was raining, I opened the window, the air felt fresh, and my rhododendron had nine pink flowers sparkling with dew. My husband had rescued it from a skip over ten years ago. And when it makes flowers, it does it for us, as a thank you for having saved its life. Miracles do happen.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Idleness, contemplation & the machine

When I draw, I feel I should be reading, when I read, I feel I should be cooking, when I cook, I feel I should be tidying up. We should do something productive all the time. If you are productive you are good, if you are not, you are a sloth, and you'll pay for the consequences with guilt and less real happiness. Because happiness comes from being productive. Do you sense that there is something wrong here? Who taught us all of this? And when? "Work ennobles" evokes some dark memories. Something has gone wrong, perhaps from the industrial revolution onwards. I am not sure. But we talk of ourselves as if we were machines, we talk about being wired up wrong, needing to reprogramme ourselves, change software, recharge our batteries. In this desperate need for productivity, we've also tried to suppress, eradicate or redefine a lot of feelings, emotions and nuances. Melancholy doesn't exist anymore, sadness has been replaced by depression, with its diseased, malfunctioning machine connotations, definitely something to eradicate. Because the only acceptable feeling is happiness. You must strive for happiness at all costs. But not just any happiness, only the real one, the one that comes from hard work and success. The happiness that comes from a walk on the beach is no good. And what happened to reverie, contemplation, boredom? The machine should never be bored and should never be idle. So, instead of daydreaming, we text, watch videos, play games, read and write on our social platforms. There is no boredom to prompt us to look deeper, there is no search for meaning. That would be idle, and might lead to melancholy. Perhaps, if we went for a stroll in the woods, sat on the beach staring at the sea, lied on the grass counting fluffy clouds, perhaps if we did all this, we would shatter into a thousand tiny pieces. Before this madness of man machine productivity, contemplation was seen as one of the most spiritual pursuits. Reverie is as important as work in a balanced life. Try to do something new today: do nothing. And see what happens. You might be surprised.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

On public spaces, money and... Wallander

I remember reading something by the philosopher Betrand Russell about a utopic society in which people live in frugal apartment buildings but share grand public spaces, like an amazing dining room with stylish furniture, oil paintings, statues, etc. I never found this essay again, so now I am wondering whether it was a figment of my imagination. But let's pretend he did write it. The closest place to this utopia that I have found is London. Apart from the obvious public spaces, like parks, gardens, museums, galleries and libraries, which are almost all free, there is also a quite relaxed code when it comes to cafes and bookstores. You can sit in a cafe for hours with just one cup of coffee, and some bookstores have comfortable couches that encourage you to flick through as many books as you want. In recent years I have become quite an expert in London's public spaces because I've started to appreciate Russell's utopia. I don't need to own a Vermeer or a Rembrandt. I can go to Kenwood House, sit on one of their new leather couches and let my eyes feast on great paintings and amazing furniture. For a reasonably affordable fee, I can become a friend of galleries and museums and have access to the members' rooms, most of which have couches and armchairs. And some, like Tate Modern, offer breathtaking views of the city. Of course most spaces, including the free ones, like the Barbican Centre, also have free wi-fi. So, two or three times a week, I pack my explorer kit - hat, water, a printed map or itinerary and my smartphone - and I go on a reconnaissance mission. Some interesting points that I have noticed. One is an intense  feeling of transience. I am aware that I am only passing by, that this place doesn't belong to me. The other is a strong impulse to buy. I noticed that while I was perusing some art books in a bookstore (on the comfortable couch). I had this strong impulse to buy at least one book. Of course there are books that I consult over and over and so I need to have them, but exhibition catalogues and art books I hardly ever open again. This made me think about our, or at least my, relationship with public places. I wonder if we "mark" them, if there is an instinct to assert ownership. Something very primal. I seem to have a sequel of rituals in public spaces, especially the newly discovered ones. I have to sit on a number of different chairs, facing different directions, I have to buy something, at least a coffee, listen to my jazz radio and... read Wallander. I have read Wallander all over London, he's been my fellow explorer. Why Wallander? Well, I started reading Mankell's books because I can download them for free from the library, and they are an easy read, ideal for tube journeys. They are also gripping and well written. But so are a lot of other books. I don't know why Wallander, I don't think I would particularly like the guy as a friend, but his environment has become familiar and gives me the continuity I miss when I am outside. I am down to the last book, so I'll have to say goodbye to my travelling companion soon and find a replacement. I feel almost sad. This exploring voyage has also made me think about money a lot. Not about the usual stuff that you can easily find in millions of books and articles and blogs. But money as a way of marking one's territory and asserting continuity. The exchange of symbolic value and goods as a way to declare one's existence. It's very subtle, yet very strong. Public spaces are a way to enjoy an infinite wealth of beauty, information, comfort and, well, wealth itself. But the act of buying gives us roots, so that we don't fly away or become transparent. It's holding on to something, it's not trusting the flow. If we could trust the flow, the next non-Wallander book, and all the free internet things, videos, tutorials, articles, and all the things we have already, pens, pencils, notebooks, clothes, conversation (remember conversation?), we could free ourselves from this need to find roots through financial transactions. This is only a small part of the huge subject of money, but it's an interesting and not commonly explored side, the urge to buy things that we already have or that we can enjoy for free.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

To all lost friends

I am on the round terrace of the British Library. Looking up at the clouds. My lost friend Steven Taylor told me something a while ago, something that Allen Ginsberg had told him, about the sky above, the closest sense of infinity that we can have, everyday, all of the time, just by looking up. I don't remember the exact words but I treasured their general meaning. Forever. Our friendship, though, was not forever. And this made me reflect upon friendship, how it is formed, sustained and how it ends. Most friendships are born, maintaned or terminated by mutual agreement. This mutual agreement is a complex and intricate dance, made mostly of micro signals with which we define the terms of the agreement, our boundaries. How much space we need in our relationship with that one person, what subjects can be approached, what activities can be done together. Every friendship is different, with some friends we speak everyday, with others only once a month. Normally we are pretty skilled at this friendship creating and managing. In most cases, if we like someone, they like us too. Why? I don't know, but our instinct does. Even in the ending of a friendship there is usually a mutual agreement, growing naturally apart or arguing over something important. There may be pain in ending a friendship, but still, it is mutual and explainable. There are cases, though, that leave us puzzled. The ones in which the severing of a friendship is one-sided. You were happy or satisfied with how a friendship was developing or continuing, but the other person was not. Luckily this doesn't happen too often. Because it hurts. Often for both parties. The person who has been 'unfriended' is confused. What micro or not so micro signals had she missed? What did she do 'wrong' that could be put right by talking, explaining? We think that if our friend suddenly doesn't want our friendship anymore, they must have misunderstood us somehow, and if only we were given the chance to explain, we would be able to resume our relationship, or at least find closure. This is hardly ever the case. How do I know? Because I had to withdraw from a friendship a few times myself, and if my unfriends asked me for an explanation, I would feel horribly trapped. It's not that I don't know. It's just that the friendship was severed because I knew that there was no point in explaining. Most of the times, when our chatterbox rehearses arguments and explanations in our heads, is because we know that the other person would not understand, no matter what. We want to explain because explanations are needed, and if explanations are needed, the natural dance of friendship is simply not working, is not naturally flowing. Paradoxically, when explanations are needed, they should not be given or demanded. I hear you, of course there are cases in which explanations work, but those cases are the non-one-sided cases, in which both parties want to continue the relationship. If one of the two has made a final decision, and instinctively they know it's final (and so do you, deep inside), letting go is the best policy. But some of my lost friends were great people who contributed positively to my life while the dance lasted, they opened new horizons for me and created magical moments. So I celebrate that. I look up to the sky and I am grateful to see an infinite world.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

On memories and validation

I've been trying to understand why dementia patients want to go home. Home being the place of their childhood, where their parents are still alive. There may be a neurological reason, perhaps related to the way we store memories, but all I've found are psychological explanations, mostly given by women whose mothers are dementia sufferers. They say it's a search for a place of safety, a way to find refuge in a world that has become to various degrees unfamiliar, hence scary or unsettling. The more I was reading these articles and blogs, the more I saw certain patterns emerge. I could not find any men talking about their father with dementia. Well, I am sure there are some, but it's the daughter-mother bond that seems to be more affected. Also it seemed to me more and more that this sense of living in an alien world, from which we have to find reassurance and safety in the familiar, is something that we all experience. Dementia just seems to magnify it. Very early on in life we stop looking at the future and start to look back for comfort, old songs, old toys. We fall in love with vintage, flick through black and white photographs, we tread memory lane more and more often. But why? My childhood, for instance, was not at all a stress-free zone. I had pressure at home and from society to be something I was not. What made it a safe place, in my opinion, is that I had no say. That's right, because I was not the decision maker, I could not do wrong. Now it's different, now I have choices. Constantly. And choices are stressful, because if you make the wrong one, it's your fault. Nobody else's. You could have had a good life, but you messed it up. Your fault. Forever. So, what do we do? We look for reassurance. We post a little something on facebook and wait for the thrill of the 'likes'. And we shape our lives accordingly, to get that buzz again and again. Like children, running to their parents for approval. But guess what? You know it already. It doesn't work. Online validation is like a crystal flute of champagne, with all those glistening bubbles rushing to their evaporation. Just like memories, the memories that keep us grounded in a safe place. I wonder. If we tried now, while our memories are reasonably intact and so are our mental tools in general. If we tried now, while we can, to have a different vision, to look for validation inside ourselves, to learn to create a portable safe place that comes with us wherever we are, if we cultivated belief and a sense of belonging to the world, and not just to a tiny vulnerable community. I am not talking about a form of religion, just belief in our resilience, strength, adaptability. Belief in what we do, joy for what we do, belief in our ability to find something good in everything. If we did all that now, would dementia still strip it away? There is no answer to this question, I guess. Yet, search for reassurance and validation from the outside can actually stop us from growing, learning, making mistakes, learning, becoming stronger, learning, liking ourselves and what we do, and, yes, did I forget to mention? Learning.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

My guide to Veronese

The (rather pompous) guy next to me steps way, way back and then arches his spine so that his head is even further away from the canvas and exclaims, "Ahhh, look at those trees... and the clouds... absolutely stunning!" I look at him first, then at the super tight cluster of semi naked humans in very uncomfortable poses, and detect, way into the background, two squidgy chubby trees and some chubby squidgy clouds. I am confused. Is that not how they usually portrayed nature back then? In the background, all soft and squidgy. Like those thick white ankles, so soft your finger would be engulfed if you tried to poke them. What a contrast, I think, with those pink, sweaty and decidedly ugly feet. I look at all the pictures, and the feeling is the same: I feel rejected. That's right, I am not the one doing the rejection. This art refuses to talk to me, it averts its eyes, and I am left alone, intellectually naked, and utterly confined to my modern world. These paintings speak a language I don't understand. Of course, I could pick up some kind of Veronese for dummies, and an art historian would talk me through all the layers of meaning, all the breakthroughs, innovations, allegories. It is obvious that in these paintings nothing is left to chance. Everything has a reason and a meaning, or more than one. But where is the human connection? Where are the joys, the pains of these people? Apart from Cupid, allegedly being mounted by a dog, who does look genuinely scared, everybody else is, to say the least, ambiguous. And even Cupid is not exactly looking at his unwelcome suitor.

Yes, that's it. What are these people looking at? Not at each other, not at me. Their eyelines, like their postures, seem to compose a mysterious web, a thread that I should be able to follow, but fail to. But I paid for my ticket, so I am not going to give up as yet and will try to observe every painting, to come up with some understanding and conclusions. Here are my observations: most of the cows look at the ugly pink feet with a mixture of curiosity and distaste.
Most of the people are seeing things that are not there, yet they are paying no attention to rather disturbing presences, like cherubs carrying crosses.

Little by little, I try to open some communication doors with the world this guy lived in, over 500 years ago. Was it really that crowded, everybody on top of each other? I imagine bustling squares and markets. And religion must have been so powerful. Did people actually see cherubs? Perhaps so often that they were unfazed by them. I imagine bringing these mysterious people down from their ornate frames into the gallery, with their unnecessarily bare breasts, their lavish fabrics, aloof cows, skinny dogs and squidgy trees. I want to hear the shouting of those bright clothes, I dread the smell of the pink feet. Room by room, thought after thought, I come to the conclusion that time, an open mind, and a pinch of humour and irreverence work better than any art history book at bringing down the walls that separate us. Thank you, Veronese, for this brief tour into your world, you've certainly given me food for very, very strange dreams.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

The extraordinary value of ordinary days

Tonight, when your loved one(s) will ask you, 'What  did you do today?', you will probably answer, 'Nothing much,' or 'I bought a T-shirt.' But, by telling this very thin story, you are discarding the wonderful magic of ordinary things, you are not acknowledging that, at every given moment, you are thinking and feeling thousands of thoughts and emotions. So let's see if we can tell a better, and more realistic, story, when someone asks us what we have done today. As an example, I will tell you a summary of about an hour of my day. Here goes the story of a very ordinary day.
    On the way to the tube, I saw a blue Fiat 500 parked on the street. A modern one, it shouldn't even be called a 500. But I noticed a pair of eyeglasses on the dashboard. Heavy turtle rims. They could have belonged to the 60s and 70s, when there were real Fiat 500s that my friends drove in a very bumpy jaggedly fashion. Because they had to do that funny dance with clutch and accelerator, called double-declutching. La doppietta, in Italian. La doppietta is also a double-barrelled shotgun. The one Elmer used to hunt the great Bugs Bunny, the coolest guy in the world, who was totally unfazed by this guy trying to kill him. I bought my husband a book about Bugs, 50 Years and Only One Grey Hare, for his birthday, a while ago. Unfortunately it was a library copy, very grotty and with those sticky protective covers. Bugs is great and I have an original cell painting of him sitting in a cinema. Before digital, every frame of an animated film was painted by hand. By an artist called... a cell painter. The colour had to be laid completely flat and smooth. A friend of mine caught the tail end of this now deceased profession. She wasn't too impressed with the job, but I was.
    I had by now reached the station and boarded the train. I glanced at a young woman wearing bright red tights. Coloured tights have been fashionable before, I am sure, in the 70s. I am almost certain I bought a pair of red tights as a young girl and felt the special excitement of new unworn clothes. I also had ribbed woollen tights as a kid. Another memory now appeared, of me walking down the stairs of a hotel in the mountains. It was the last day of our school trip and we had to dress up for dinner. I had woollen tights and a woollen jersey dress. While I was walking down the stairs of the hotel, blushing from shyness and allergy to wool, the thought suddenly occurred to me that soon, very soon, this moment I was living would be a distant memory. I had a similar thought three years later, while I was waiting for a friend near some steps (time must be step related) to go and see Easy Rider. The friend never turned up. I waited for almost an hour, thinking, One day this will be a very distant memory. And so right I was. This second event would not happen today with mobile phones. Had I had one then, I would have not waited, and I would have missed an opportunity to understand the healing power of time. These two episodes are so engraved in my memory, I am sure they will still be there when all other memories will have faded.
   By this time I had reached the store I was going to, and, serendipitously, found a Bugs Bunny T-shirt. The guy at the cashier was in his late 20s, intellectual Buddy Holly type, with a French accent. He said, 'Ah, Bugs Bunny, he's from my generation, he was my hero as a kid.' 'Your generation?' I enquired amused, and told him about my cell painting, the lost art of film animation, and the healing power of time.
   So, what did I do today? Nothing much, I just bought a T-shirt.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

On saving the past

We are the product of belief, I believe. Belief that we count, that we belong, that there's a place we call home. Traditions keep that belief alive, they feed it, renew it. Family makes you feel part of a cycle of life, friends make you remember that you were always, fundamentally, the same, that the passing of time, the accumulation of experience you really didn't want to experience in the first place, have not damaged your unity. So, stay at home, never travel, never leave the circle, never doubt, never put yourself to the test, never see a bigger picture. Stay there. Of course, if you did, you'd probably wonder what it's out there and whether you should be out there too. I personally met two people who had never left their town, one was from Genoa, the other from London, but I know there are many more, for how absurd it might seem. Now, I think that these two people I met saw the passing of time in the most gentle of fashions, because everything was slowly replaced, brick by brick, with other bricks that still belonged. On the other hand, when you do leave the circle, when the explorer in you wants to see what this wonderful, mysterious, world has to offer, you also step out of the comfort of tradition. Of course, you could find a network of supporters and you could go back into the circle often enough to give it the illusion of being still intact. Keep the belief alive that you are Marco Polo, but when you come back after twenty years, you've actually come back, the circle closes again, and that's it. Perfectly safe (apart from going to jail for 20 years, of course). There might be a case, though, in which the circle is not there anymore, or, at any rate, your belief in the circle. In other words, when you cannot go back, when the comforting belief dies that you are only in Space for a given time and that your rocket will take you back to Earth. Perhaps it's because you've turned slightly green and grown small antennas. Perhaps it's because for how hard you search your pocket, that small stone with your details carved in, has disappeared. Or, more simply, your motherworld, Earth if you like, has gone. In other words, the continuity is shattered. Forever. What happens then? There is no certainty at first, just hunger for pegs, to keep you pegged to something. Then your mind starts rebuilding, and you observe it at work (who are you if you can own your mind? But this is for another post). It starts recreating the same puzzle, when it can't find a piece, it replaces it with something similar. Similar in smells, memory, size, colours, texture. If you ever lose your world, I suggest you go for long walks, picking up small sticks, taking random photographs or sketches, touching brick walls, sitting on all the benches you can find, facing North, South, East, whatever. Sieve what is yours from what is alien, by asking yourself every time if it belongs or if it doesn't. If it feels like home or not. The puzzle will slowly form, all the pieces will eventually be found. When you start seeing the picture, compare it to your first puzzle. It probably shows a different scenery, but the atmosphere, the flavour, will be the same. Different ingredients with the same taste. Don't ask yourself if all of this is normal. Nothing is.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Journeys & destinations

When I was 21 I was in the production team of a very bizarre radio programme that some of my Italian friends might remember, called "Un certo discorso" (what would a good translation be? "A certain topic", perhaps? It never occurred to me to find out what it really meant). We used to go live on air for an hour and a half everyday. One evening we found out we had nothing ready for the next day, and I volunteered to write the script for the show. I went home and sat in front of my typewriter (as you did), and stared at it intently. I really, really stared at it. Mmmm. Then I put a piece of paper in and started typing. About nothing. About having nothing to say and very little time to say it in, and yet having to drag this nothing to say long enough to cover 1 and 1/2 hours of air time. And I did, I wrote over ten pages about, well, writer's block and having nothing to say, etc. When the show went on air, a few journalists who were listening on their car stereos had a near accident. They could relate to the desperation of blank page/time pressure. Very often it's not that you have nothing to say, but that you don't know how to say it, or you see a problem, you want to write about the solution and not the problem, but the solution is not coming, and then you question whether the problem was formulated right. As I don't dislike talking about nothing, non stories, non event, non ideas, I hardly ever get stuck these days. Yet it's happening today. So, stop driving while you are reading this and help me out. Yes, I shall ask you to solve my problem. Here it is: the saying is that it is the journey that counts, not the destination. But would you start a journey if you knew that the destination was unreachable or disappointing? Let's say that you are an artist and your destination is very simply to be happy with your finished work, which is not happening, and that your journey is an irritating voice in your head saying, "This is wrong, the nose is much shorter, the right eye bigger, the building straighter, oh no, it doesn't look anything like it. NO, NO, NO!" OK, so if the destination is disappointing and the process so annoying, should an artist continue to work? Here, I am going to help you helping me with some questions to look at, Who chooses the destination? I can set a goal that I am not reaching and yet reach goals that I haven't set. What is the journey? Is it the irritating Leonardo voice shouting at you that you are less skilled at drawing than your fluffy toys? Or the observing? The exciting search for that ever eluding magical art supply? The alluring blank sketchbook that promises to collect the sweetest of memories?
I painfully discovered that I don't like flicking through my sketchbooks and that my Leonardo voice is awfully difficult to switch off. I keep my sketchbooks in a box, but I don't feel any pride looking at it. Am I looking at destinations and journeys in the wrong way? Should I not do art if it doesn't give ME pleasure? But it does give me pleasure, it gives me a dialogue with my surroundings, things to look forward to, and masses of toys to dream a magical world with. Not to mention the friendship with fellow travellers. I guess I envy artists who are happy in the creative process and are proud of their results, but perhaps you've got to accept your pain as part of your artistic self, and say, "So what if I don't like my sketchbooks, so what if Leonardo thinks so poorly of me, there still a lot of good in what I do."

Sunday, 9 March 2014

On digital, repetitions, rosaries and time travel

The first day of spring always saddens me, I see the sun that is a year older, all the cycles of life seem so claustrophobic. I need to break that pattern, regain freedom, grow wings like a butterfly, time travel. I am not sure if my search is serendipitous, or if it is all a big grid of join-the-infinite-dots, where any image can appear and give you the illusion that it is exactly what you were looking for. Anyway, it seems that as soon as I see an obstacle, a solution comes up, an inspiration, a trail of thought that I can continue to tread on, making some kind of progress. Digital, like spring, has an intrinsic sadness. Mainly, I think, because it is disembodied, images on a screen, with no physicality, smell, texture, taste even. This lack of physicality has disenchanted me from photography and digital art. Because when I try to incarnate it into tangible prints, it kind of feels even more wrong. Cheap, or something, unnatural. As I was still exploring Burroughs's photography and collages, I discovered that he saw photography as time travel, a way of breaking the power of the grid, the control that they (whoever they are) have over us. Break the pattern. I started printing my photos and breaking the anonymity by painting them, ripping them, sticking them down with tape, overcoming the coldness of digital. And then, like a miracle, I went to a lecture by the German artist Thomas Bayrle. I took notes. He hates digital. I took bad notes, but here they are:
"The digital grid is boring to the eye... Our souls can perceive thousands of dots... Pixel is boring and it asks for more images... Our mind is bored in a nanosecond... The rosary is important, the boredom of the repetition. The rosary... rhythm... machine. Rhythm, repetition, rhythm... Dive into another area and see what comes out... I don't want to have an overview. I am always in the detail." And there was my answer, the freedom is in the detail, in mindfully following the repetition, as if it were new, and different, and see all the nuances, all the variations between cycles. "Everything is different, nothing is the same", concluded Bayrle "And this is God."

Sunday, 2 March 2014

On storytelling

My entire past is made of one carpet, one clock and two folders, a brown one containing writings dating back to my first few years in London, and a yellow one containing whatever I rescued from my Italian life - some documents, a few photos, poems. I was rummaging through these two folders looking for, and finding, typewritten pages to photocopy and cut up for my journal. I miss the typewritten page, with its mistakes, rewritings, and the different strength at which the keys are pressed.
It was interesting to reread all of this stuff. Most of it seemed to be Introductions to novels I never wrote, especially autobiographies. I was under the impression, as most of us are, that you needed a story in order to write, and I couldn't find a story. Not in the usual form of character, problem, conflict, resolution. Nothing in my life has ever taken that shape. So, my frustration was that nothing exciting enough had happened to me to warrant a biographical narration. It would take me virtually up to now to understand that such structure might, or might not, be a requirement for novels, but it certainly isn't for all writings. Poems, for instance, don't need it, and they are, or can be, mostly autobiographical. While reading those fainted pages and discovering a past that I remembered rather differently, I was disappointed that I hadn't written more. Not factual, diary pages, but more meditations, quick panning shots over a time now gone. My pages were full of colour, memories and dreams. I wanted to read more of them, many more, but there weren't anymore because of my ever present fear of pointlessness. Now I am trying to change that, I am writing more, so that all the magical things I live everyday will not be wiped out by a selective memory. I have also come to understand that what counts is the process of creation, not the potential audience, which can be a limiting factor if you attempt to guess what is readable, or understandable, or interesting or, even worse, saleable. Art, and sketching in particular, have taught me that simple, everyday objects can be amazingly interesting if you take the time to observe them. Good photos can also be uneventful, just capturing an atmosphere, a moment, something funny or quirky. Now I carry a notebook with me all the time and I jot down all the un-events as they happen. I imagine characters, and myself, doing nothing at all, just being, and thinking and living, without a clear separation between me and others, reality and fiction. Because, well, nothing happens anyway.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Imaginary grannies

I walked by Valance Road the other day. 'Valance' was one of the new words I learnt when I first moved to London many centuries ago. I had found a bedsit (as you do) and went to the market to buy bedsheets. I discovered that some of them were 'valanced'. I associate that moment with a bizarre calm in the turmoil of leaving friends and family for a new, lonesome, adventure. For I immediately associated 'valance' with a world of grannies. British or American grannies - not Italian for some reason - with floral wallpaper, freshly made cakes and... well, valances. My first Christmas in London was a lonely affair, my friends went off to their families, and I was left in my bedsit, staring at a dirty wall, partly redeemed by a gigantic Marylin poster. Then I decided to buy myself some presents, including a pink, flowery make-up bag with frills and lace. A gift from my imaginary granny. Moving to a different country entails some re-rooting. There's the excitement of a new life and there is also a profound sense of loss, that needs some dams put in strategic places. Imaginary grannies are great for that. With time, I learnt that what makes continuity less continuous than we would like it to be, is not just moving somewhere else, changing language and all that, but also that everything is always moving, you are ageing and so is the world. In other words, it's not just location, but time that makes your sense of reality way less real. The first sheets I bought in London were the first sheets I ever bought in my life. For what I know, there might have been valanced sheets in Italy too. Should you be interested, there is a particular type of valance called Italian valance, quite grand, actually. So, in a way it's where your attention goes at different times in life that determines your knowledge of the world and the way in which you write history. We are hardly ever aware of things we don't need.
I never met my imaginary granny, but many times I walked into her environment, and felt peace. My caravan in Kent is one such place. It's a static caravan from the Seventies with wonderfully clashing patterns, black and orange carpet, wallpaper with pink flowers and... valanced blue curtains. I would never choose such a candyfloss interior design, but it feels peaceful because, when I am not there, my imaginary granny is, baking apple pie and remembering a past that, just like mine, never really existed.
I wanted to put a picture for this post, but couldn't find anything relevant. Then I came across this image. It's a glass plate I found in my mum's flat in Venice. It portrays, very likely, some ancestors. As I don't know who they are, I realised that it might actually be the perfect choice to illustrate false memories or real non-memories

Sunday, 16 February 2014


While I was watching Burroughs: the Movie at the ICA, I kept on thinking that I wasn't as yet sure as to what my Monday post was going to be about. I wanted to talk more about Walser's microscripts and about my attempts at exploring notebooks and handwriting, but I also wanted to talk about Burroughs and the movie, which at the beginning felt like a completely different subject. Then I thought of metagrams, where a word morphs into a completely different word by changing one letter at a time. So a thought could become another thought, or another subject by small increments. Lately, I have been intrigued by the idea that writing tools might affect style and writing matter. What you write with might affect form and content. So, I started writing in notebooks with different pens, but also breaking the traditional line after line layout into scattered boxes, albeit chronologically numbered. I have just started reading Philip Hensher's The Missing Ink, so I don't know as yet if it will help me in my search, but interestingly enough he talks about cold and warm tools in a way non dissimilar from Marshall McLuhan's theory of cold and warm media. And pens are definitely warm. I shall remind you that I was thinking all of this while watching the movie. I didn't know much about Bourroughs until recently, when I watched Beat  and then today this amazing documentary. And coincidences started to appear, as by magic, metagrams started to form. Brion Gysin was being interviewed, who taught Borroughs the cut-up technique, a typed writing cut up and recomposed in a different way, like a collage, with new sentences and juxtapositions being formed. Not too dissimilar from my box writing experiments. I also kept on spotting typewriters in the background, and thinking of Martin Eden  by Jack London, written not much after the invention of  the typewriter and definitely influenced by it. I started typing for my dad at the age of six, and never stopped typing since, from Olivettis, to PCs, to tablets and mobile phones, from two fingers, to ten, to one. Now I am investigating pens and paper, almost for the first time. Burroughs was a different person in different settings, and wrote in different styles according to his surroundings. I am curious to know if I write about different things in a different way with a pencil, a marker, a fountain pen or my mobile phone. I don't know where this journey is going to take me but, if nothing else, it will take me to writing more, in more locations and about more things. It can't be bad.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

On style and language(s)

On his article on Robert Walser, Walter Benjamin says, "...what we find in Robert Walser is a neglect of style that is quite extraordinary..." I have been fascinated by Walser's works for quite a few months now and I finally had the joy of reading his Microscripts. I wondered, upon reading Benjamin, as to whether I was missing something. I had not noticed a lack of style, and I asked myself if that lack was more visible in the original German. I wondered, in other words, if the translator had made the text smoother. Or, if style is ultimately a matter of taste. Or as to whether in 1929 the idea of stream of consciousness as a paradoxically conscious choice of style was not very widely diffused. As I grew up reading the likes of Allen Ginsberg, I found punctuation a very odd beast that parsimoniously came into my life very late. Walser said that he never reread himself, never made any changes. We cannot know if this is true or not. What I know is that it took scholars quite a few years of hard work to decipher his microscripts, a form of writing that he adopted during the final decade of his writing life. I find these scraps of paper, with their tiny tiny handwriting, objects of outstanding beauty. But the thought occurs to me that perhaps they weren't that easy to decipher for Walser himself. Although he did transcribe some for publication.
I have been battling with the dilemma of two languages ever since I deemed my English good enough to be used creatively. Because my Italian is certainly smoother, richer, more precise. And authors write in their mother tongue, there are very few exceptions to this. Conrad, of course, and Nabokov (I didn't know). I happen to be reading his autobiography Speak Memory at the moment which, I believe, was written in English. And I find similarities with Walser, perhaps the synesthesia, or the freedom of style, coming, in the case of Nabokov, from using a second language. I don't know if anything I am saying is true, but I find in it validation for the adoption of a language or a style that is jagged, bumpy, awkward, but ultimately perfectly capable of conveying images, emotions, atmospheres. Even, perhaps, more so than if it was smooth and grammatically perfect. 

Sunday, 2 February 2014

On ageing

The time comes every ten years to renew one's passport, get new passport photos and end up comparing the now and then. As the changes in features (and hairstyle) are not massive, that gives me the rare opportunity to investigate a more philosophical aspect. After long examination, I've come to the conclusion that the eyes are different. Not so much in the way they look, but in the way they SEE. Are they wiser? Sadder? Not really, they have just seen more. More good things, more bad things, more indifferent things. As we continue our journey through life, we simply see more. Getting old, though, is something different. A lot of times it's a choice. A child learns to walk, he falls, gets up, and tries again. In life we fall, we get up, we walk, we fall, get up, walk, until one day some of us say, "I'm old now, I don't want to get up again". So they sit on the cold floor for ten, twenty, forty years. That, to me, is being old. The rest is just change, the scenery outside the window is always moving, the past is moving, our desires, sometimes, our interests, our jawlines, why not. Our faces. But new avenues open up in front of us, new possibilities, new adaptations, new discoveries, all in that blend of good, bad, indifferent. As long as we keep on getting up, we can keep on exploring.

Monday, 27 January 2014

On Happiness

I was meditatively sipping tea, when the guy at the next table said to his friend in a stentorian voice, "I always wanted to be a chef but I am frightened of food." I wanted to hug him and say, "Brother, soul mate, spiritual twin, I know how you feel!"
I discovered le mal de vivre very early on in life. When I was a small child, a sun ray came through the window. I looked at it, ready to rejoice, when I saw it was DUSTY. I learnt in that moment that beauty was impermanent, that everything gets covered in dust, and that, ultimately, life is a fight against physical and spiritual dust. I also discovered that my mind had a mind of its own, a trickster that created bizarre obstacles, unnecessarily convoluted thoughts, to keep me away from my goals. So, I became interested in happiness, what is it, is it fleeting or permanent, can it be achieved and, most of all, can you achieve it by actively pursuing it. I studied philosophy, religion, magic, meditation, nlp, cbt, positive thinking, negative thinking, not thinking. And decades later, I realised that my mind's mind was still playing tricks and that the world was still rather dusty. I felt that I had dramatically failed, because I had not achieved the wisdom that gave access to happiness. But then a thought occurred to me, "I don't NEED to be happy!" And that, well, that made me happy.
I asked my friends to give me their definitions of happiness, and here are some: a garden; a quiet moment, calm, ecstasy, beauty, making art. Happiness is something very simple, yet magical and fleeting. Sometimes it's just a moment, sometimes it lasts longer. We don't go to it, it comes to us, it's not in a place where you can always access it, the same garden will not always make you happy. Yet, happiness will always come back. But, for how hard you practise, you cannot run away from pain and sorrow, your mind's mind will always be with you with its bag of tricks, and you will always be you. I have not learnt how to be happy on command, but I have learnt to accept le mal de vivre as an annoying, yet stimulating, companion. I don't try to wrestle it to the ground any more. And happiness now comes back more often.

Friday, 24 January 2014

JawSpring Exhibition : Poetry Art: The promise of Francesca Albini

JawSpring Exhibition : Poetry Art: The promise of Francesca Albini: Francesca Albini - TUBE book Welcome to Jawspring, the exhibition that is celebrating World Poetry Day on the 21st March by fusing Art a...

Monday, 20 January 2014

no of-fence, or in my de-fence

Three guys with hoods over their heads are digging up my garden in the first dry day for a long time. Lady Luck has given me a shy smile. As they take away all the rubble, they also relieve my anxiety and the stratification of out of control circumstances that have characterised 20 years in this place I try so hard to call home. I am still half asleep after dreary dreams of fences and potential people of-fended by them. So, I decided to stay in bed and read. Oliver Burkeman, The Antidote. The antidote for positive thinking, that is. So far, the actual prescriptions or suggestions leave me quite cold, for instance the Stoic approach, which seems to me pretty grim, I prefer no approach at all, then, perfect atheism and suspension from belief. Yet, I have now entered a part of the text that tackles the sense of discomfort given by uncertainty, and of how much we always try to scramble upon safer land, to avoid the pain of uncertainty. Somehow, in my personal life, I seem to think of  less uncertainty if I purchase what I like instead of just admiring it. The actual physical possession, taken from a shop and brought to my cave, seems, at the the time of purchase, to give me control. I am leading a quite nomadic urban life at the moment, thanks to all the public spaces available in this town, from the Barbican, to Southbank, Tate Modern, etc. Plus the plethora of new coffeehouses, that  for a couple of extra pounds offer you star treatment in incredibly inspiring, relaxing, creative environments. I enjoy the fact that my purchase of a cup of tea grants me a couch, a table, often wi-fi, clean toilets, polished floors, new furniture and even pleasant art on the walls, not to mention sometimes stunning views. But these places are NOT MINE, and the desire for security, for constant, private access to those places, kicks in. Possessions. What exactly are the mechanisms of possession. Why would you want to own a book instead of borrowing it? I went to celebrate a friend's birthday yesterday, and I loved her flat, big rooms, nice classic furniture, a good cosy atmosphere. And I immediately thought, I want this place. Yet I had enjoyed it, yet I can enjoy visiting many friends with beautiful places and immerse myself in their atmosphere. Uncertainly will always be there. Out of positive thinking though, I want to keep dreams of a fun future in beautiful locations. Lake Tahoe being one of them. Perhaps Lady Luck will smile again. And no, Mr Burkeman, I am not giving her up for a nice parade of worse case scenarios.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Not quite Monday

Still Sunday, but I made a promise to myself to write a new post every Monday, until I don't, that is. It's fine either way. The thing is I haven't really thought much about what to write about. So I'll just tell you about my day. As I read every night before going to sleep, my body has learnt that if I'm reading it must be time to sleep, no matter what time of day it is or where I am. So I read on the tube, and I fall asleep on the tube, and then I wake up suddenly, wondering if I have snored, screamed or spoken or cried. Today, reading Wallander, I fell asleep from King's Cross to Holborn and woke up banging my elbow really hard. I cannot recall as to whether I banged my elbow during my sleep, or soon after. All I know is that it hurts. A lot. I went to a misophonia meeting to see if I can get rid of some of the hurdles that I seem to avidly collect, you know, all those knots, useless paths of thoughts, mental habits that stop you from functioning well, but at the same time are a wonderful stimulus for your intelligence. The misophonics mentioned hypnosis and meditation. And I thought, yes, I should really learn how to meditate properly. The way I meditate now is like playing tennis against six or seven people, they throw balls at me and I try to catch them, labelling them, 'thought', 'thought' 'thought'. I catch them and throw them out of the court. It is good because I don't follow any thought, as I throw it away, but I rush around the tennis court in a state of frenzy that leaves me quite debilitated. Anyway, I was thinking of all of these things on the train back home, while sleep-reading Wallander and trying to remember the murder scene and whom he was talking to. At home I found some good hypnosis by Mark Tyrrel, and followed him inside his colourful bubbles and through walls into safe places, that were quiet, beautiful and relaxing. And then I came back to the room, my room. At least I think I did, my elbow is still hurting, but everything else is softer and gentler.

Monday, 6 January 2014


It all started with a Time Out card that offered a discounted membership to the ICA. And there I saw the film All This Can Happen. I found the film absolutely amazing, old footage, but the way it was put together was sheer magic. A voice-over was reading The Walk by Robert Walser. I kept on trying to remember the name Tomzack, until I came home and forgot it. I borrowed Walser from the library, though, and read The Walk, and remembered the footage, and found Tomzack again. A writer friend of mine mentioned that Walser died during another walk, in the snow. And also that W.G. Sebald liked him. Sebald being one of my favourite writers. One of the short stories in Walser's book is about Heinrich von Kleist, another author new to me, another solitary person, like Walser, like me. I was also watching a BBC programme yesterday about still life and they were talking about Cezanne, who became a solitary person and just painted objects from his studio. All of these magical people, though, were somewhat connected to other great artists and writers of the time. Now we are all connected through social networks, the good the bad and the ugly, and it takes up an extraordinary amount of time to get back what seems to me very little. Everything is so vast and time consuming, so, although all of these networks are supposed to bring us together, we are in fact more isolated, I believe, than before. It takes too much time to sift through what is original and refreshing and real. It seems to me that now it is all down to serendipity, islands you mysteriously bump into while lost at sea.