Wednesday, 26 November 2014

November bonsai

On certain Sundays in November

When the weather bothers me
I empty drawers of other summers
Where my shadows used to be
("Hard Candy", Counting Crows)

Last weeks went by in a whirl of emotions, travel and lots of swearing, with an extra pinch of medicine for the cold for good measure.

I've been quite busy at work and outside of it.
Last week I was in Rome for the meeting of my team: the fact we look like a joke walking into a bar made it funnier. I needed a break from Milan, from the rain and from the massive leak caused by a broken common water pipe that caused rain in my kitchen.
Not a figure of speech: I got back from a weekend in Torino around 2 weeks ago only to find about 1 inch of water on good portions of my kitchen surfaces and floor. I've been reassured that the pipe has been repaired, but no words yet on when I'll get the damage fixed in my flat. It really bugs me to think I'll probably have to start using expression as "my lawyer will be in touch" or "will call the health and safety department" or "I will reduce the rent I pay monthly", but it looks like the only way to guarantee my rights.

Rome was a good way to escape from this mess: it was sunny and warm, I walked a lot around town, spoke more Italian than I normally do on average during a week (with only 2 Italians on a team of around 50 people, we had high chances of working as translator).
I managed to get some time to visit the Vatican Museum and an exhibition about Escher (in the palace! sang a-là-Clash, as I usually do): the exhibition was very complete and had lots of game to explain children the scientific basis of many of the optical illusion Escher used in his work. I obviously did try them all and, being a responsible kid, put everything back in place for the next kids visiting the exhibition.

I knitted a lot too, even though it resulted in only one single item: a massive shawl by Stephen West called Exploration Station. So far not only I casted off a huge amount of stitches, but also washed and blocked the shawl:

Only thing left to do is wearing it and I think I got the best excuse (as if I need it) to wear it: tomorrow I'm going to see Paolo Conte playing at the Milan Conservatory.

It's going to be my second concert in 5 days: on Sunday Adri and Francesco dropped the kids to the babysitters (aka the grandparents) and drove to Milan to see Counting Crows playing.
When they arrived we looked better off if we were admitted into an hospital: cold and cough, otitis and headache. But that didn't stopped us (as if!) and we managed to get a pretty good spot near the front: the concert was really good and we enjoyed it a lot.
They played my favorite songs from the most recent album and some good classics.

On the way back home I said I really wished they played "Hard Candy": with that intro, it felt so right for the moment. Plus it's probably the song that cemented my love for the band.
But I guess it would be like finding that diamond cuff lost 20 years before in the fish you eat in a New York restaurant: too much of a coincidence not to laugh in the dark about it.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

When Mom took her first step

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Saccharine evil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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