Thursday, 31 December 2015

And this is...

And this is our heyday baby
And we're not gonna be afraid to shout
'Cause we can make our heyday last forever
And ain't that what it's all about
Oh living, in our own terrible way.
(Heyday - Mic Christopher)

2015 was so 2015, it couldn't survive. It was doomed since the start, the clock was ticking and I'm pretty sure it knew it'd eventually met its demise. All these years, they start pretty new, but then they don't really last, right?

So long 2015, you were pretty shit, but friends, music and books made it up to me.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Surviving Christmas

Christmas has passed and I survived it undamaged. My liver, however, begs to differ.

As usual it was a very family business: there was a lot of food, even though the amount of it seems to shrink compared to the tales of the Christmas Eve dinner at my sister's in-laws. There are tales of them basically causing entire species of seafood going extinct for the sake of a main course. It seems however there was a pepper conspiracy: at Christmas Eve my sister had her fair share of about a dozen kilos of pepper roasted to celebrate. And my mum had pretty much the same idea.

No matter what my sister says and how much she complains about it, our mother also got the best present award. Much to all her promises of not buying any present to the kids, she got a present to each of her grandchildren and she got a Indominus Rex toy for Davide. Once assembled, it proved enough to keep Davide distracted for quite some time: he played with it for good part of the afternoon, having it eating everything in its wake, from Davide’s most beloved, bestest of the uber-best aunt in the world (i.e. me) to each character of my parents’ nativity scene (Darth Pig included).

We spent some good part of the afternoon assembling the Lego Tardis. It’s nice to see that my family is also getting obsessed interested in the Doctor, even though sometime the kids have a bit of an anarchic approach to it.

Fezzes are cool

I kept taking the fez off the Dalek only to find it on top of it again and again. Annoying. 
Yet it was nice to share with somebody the annoyance of the broadcasting of Rai, that decided there would be no episode of the Doctor on Christmas Day... I'm not even talking a Christmas special, no episode at all.

Even so, I managed to go through the day without fight or getting upset (which was quite common up to some years ago) and managing to return to the safety of my flat at the end of the day. Now I just have to survive New Year's Eve and, even worse, having to return to work. Ugh.

Thursday, 24 December 2015


It’s just a matter of point of view, I guess. And of chances too.
As I said, there’s always some restlessness when starting a journey by myself, all my doubts and self-consciousness piling up and making sleep hard to come.

Thursday morning I was still asking myself what I’ve gotten myself into: yet, it was too late, I was on my way to Dublin and I got tickets for two concerts and booking for an hotel, not much else to do but go.

So Thursday evening arrives and I’m sitting at the bar of Vicar Street asking myself the question above until they opened the door of the venue and they pointed me to my seat for Colm Mac Con Iomaire gig.
Have you ever seen a concert opened by a poet? Until last Thursday I didn’t either, but then I set at a table listening to the magic of words by Steven James Smith.

Table? Oh, I see why on my ticket there was “Table 21” written on the seating: I was seating at a table, with a small candle lit on it! That’s first time I watched a concert sitting at a table.


Sitting at a table for a concert is quite interesting. In between the breaks between the acts, I chatted a bit with the other girl at my table. I don't know her name, we never got around to introduce ourselves to one another, but that was ok: I know she's French, she's a cinema journalist, she saw Glen Hansard play in Cork the day before and she watched Star Wars that morning. She also hinted about the possible link between fashion statement and ugly sweaters.

After the concert, I decided to wait in line and ask for an autograph at the end of the concert. It is not something I commonly do. No, scratch that, let’s rephrase it: I never do it, once concert is over, I don’t wait for the band, I don’t ask for the setlist from the crew, I just shoot away.
This time however was different, even before it began: first of all, I brought Colm’s latest CD over from Italy, so part of me had somehow contemplated the possibility of asking for the autograph (gone are the days when I contemplated which CD to carry with me while traveling, now I just sync playlist offline).
Then, CD in hand, I queue up with a lot of other people and stroke up a conversation with my queue neighbour. He told me he had traveled from the western part of Ireland for this concert, quite a long journey, but it was worthy, wasn’t it?

I agreed with him: “Oh, definitely worth it. I’ve flew over from Italy for it.”
“Yeah, took the plane this morning from Milan and here I am.”

And that’s how I met Mike from Galway: journalist, writer, Pearl Jam fan, traveler and much more. By the time we reached the head of the queue, I found out he lived for several years in several Southern America countries, had been in Genova during G8, and he’s relearning Irish Gaelic and in the process of writing a book.

We could have parted way then and it’d be a great evening to remember already. But then Mike got us some passes to go to a little after-gig pub event (not really a party, more just some pints) where I met his friend Ruairí and his wife and chatted with some other people.
Hours flew by quickly amidst cider, cheers, chat and laughters. Many more "wow" followed: people were surprised and happy to see somebody traveling from that far and for once it didn't feel odd to say I was traveling by myself.

I parted ways with Mike outside Vicar Street. I brought back some good memories, a Lisa O'Neill LP and a CD with Colm's autograph.

Small treasure, with autograph

It's just a matter of chances: what would have happened if I had decided not to join the queue? Or to not reply to Mike's chatting?
Now that days have gone I wonder why I didn't ask him for a mail address, to be able to contact him again after the concert. Was his name even Mike? I've got this terrible habit of never remembering names when people introduce themselves, and to make up for it I just give them random name of my choice: so he could have be a Frank or a James for all I know.
Perhaps our path will cross again, who knows? It's just a matter of chances, after all.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

of Christmas sweather and cheer

After getting off the plane, I walked towards the exit, feeling slightly off. I was ready for the rain; instead the sun wass shining over Dublin.

While working over my weather confusion, I spotted him, walking in the opposite direction, towards me. In a dark blue ocean of stockinette stitches, a reindeer with googly eyes and a red pompon nose was staring at me.

In that very moment, weather debate went out of the window (where it should righteously be, to be fair), and the brain jumped from a replay of infamous "Bridget Jones's diary" scene to a less dignified “WTF?!!!?"

It wasn't the last. It was the first of an outrageously long list of ugly Christmas sweaters.
I didn't have to wait that long for the second one to show itself up: the guy at the bus ticket counter was proudly sporting a red sweater covered in silver sparkling stars and two candy canes crossed over one another as a medieval coat of arms. Twenty minutes later I was sure something was going on around me; I also realised that part of me would have been more comfortable if that "something" was, I don't know, an alien invasion or a zombies apocalypse.
But no, you never find a brain-eating decomposing undead when you need one, unreliable bunch!
Penguins in santa's hat, Santa with reindeer horns,snowman with fluffy carrot nose, thumbs up Jesus: you name it, I saw it.
Mostly wore by men aged 10 to 90, women went for more subtle fashion choices.

Ho ho argh!

I've been tempted more than once to stop the first bloke passing by and ask him about his fashion choices but eventually gave up. I texted Beth as she might know something about it. Then I texted Sal too: you see, my friend currently lives in Cork, I was worried. Has the Christmas sweaters epidemic reached there too? Were they in quarantine?
A French journalist (more on her in a future post) explained me it was some sort of fashion statement. Which is fine, unless you're a bit like me and Christmas sweaters are for you what Pennywise was for the Losers' Club.

The mistrust I feel for these sweaters is linked perhaps to some sort of mistrust for Christmas in general and Christmas cheers in the specific.
I like Christmas, most of it anyway: I get time off from work, I got time to do what I like and meet my friends, I can drink the Christmas beer at the birrificio, torsion’s brewery and watch rerun of Disney’s classics such as "Robin Hood", "The Jungle Book" or "The Sword in the Stone". Plus there’s some good chance my mum's made those awesome cherry under spirit she prepared some years ago and that got me drunk in the sweetest, loveliest, most hangover-free way possible.
But there’s something that still leaves me uneasy.

Some days into my Dublin holiday and I got used to the ugly sweaters. I have to say I got used to them quite easily and I refrained from any double take unless the sweater was particularly ugly. Some were actually pretty nice, I'm almost tempted to write subtly elegant (there, I wrote it).

My feet hurt (it probably has to do with the fact I’ve walked for about 16 km, according to my pedometer app), so I decided to sit down: it didn't matter where, I just wanted to rest my legs.
However, finding a seat in the middle of the last Saturday before Christmas proved a bit challenging. At the end, I've come out of the battle victorious: I perched myself over a Starbuck stool and set myself to watch people passing through the mall, while waiting for the cappuccino I ordered to cool itself down to drinkable temperature (my friends joke about the fact I’m able to gulp down very hot coffee while they’re still blowing over their own, but the barista there must have used a steel furnace to warm the frothed milk!).

There was something in the air. I noticed in Dublin that Christmas seems to be more all over the place: the decoration of the streets and the shops, the people with the ugly sweaters, the amount of Christmas movies advertised on TV and all around me, the Santa workshops in every area of the city, the news on TV reporting on people returning home for holidays with a live coverage from Dublin airport, everybody greeting you with a “merry Christmas” (but no “oh oh oh”).

I wondered whether I don’t notice Christmas in Torino any longer because I’m used to the way we celebrate it: I’m not paying attention to the Christmas lights, to the decorations in the shop, to the atmosphere around me just because they haven't changed that much in the past year. It could possibly be a part of the reason why, yet I think Christmas wasn’t like this in London either. In Dublin it really felt “alive”, even though… some common traits were obviously present there and they are the one that normally upset me the most.

Aside the sweaters, I could see lots and lots of shopping bags in the arms of different people: chavs, hipsters, young and old people, drunkards, all gathered at the temple of god Shopping.
Everybody around me seemed bent at buying something. It was a frenzy that almost got me too. How to explain me sitting in a cafe inside a mall otherwise? Shopping malls make me nervous and anxious, I just don’t like them, yet there I was.
Three, four bags in each hand, people looked determine or utterly destroyed (depending on the amount of gifts still left to purchase I guess).

Now if you speak Italian, you probably understand the lyrics of “Baffo Natale” by Elio e le Storie Tese; EelST are true masters: not only amazing musicians, they are geniuses at writing lyrics too.
The song is the story of a guy dropping into a shop at closing time on Christmas Eve, desperate for a present, declaring that he’s fine with whatever crap the shopkeeper has, a colored doorhandles, a pin holder, a coin purse, a kid holder, whatever. Form there the story evolves into a nonsense story of ‘80s pop music stars before their stardom and sporting mustaches and Christmas parties. Listening to this song makes my Christmas more bearable, because it's funny and honest in the way it describes what Christmas turns out to be in reality: there are reasons to be merry, but they are most of the time overshadowed by more pressing concerns, such as finding presents, organizing party and dinner, be at our best, no matter what.
Everytime Christmas approaches I feel myself longing for it, for the time I can spend home with family and friends, while at the same time resenting this need to celebrate in the "right" way, this need to be merry and in good company, no matter how grumpy or sad one might feel.
Yet, being in Dublin, surrounded by this sea of sweater made me feel a bit more forgiving towards this "duty of Christmas": I finished my drink, and while singing quietly "Baffo Natale" made my way through the crowd of people, resisting the temptation of getting a sweater for my sister. Maybe I should have gotten one, I bet she would have loved it.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Be my weather

Be my weather
Blow through me like the wind
Wind in invisible shapes about my ribs
Rain on me
Be my winter
(Prayer Before A Voyage)

There’s always a moment, before setting out for a journey, where I’m tempted to call it off.

Why should I go? Home is so warm and comfy, why leaving it?"

It’s also the moment when people marvel I’m going to travel by myself. I’m still way too self-conscious for my own good and sometimes I struggle with people’s reaction. My brain, or at least a part of it, interrupts its normal activity and spins a tale of its own.

Why did she say that? What did he mean by it? Was that pity I read in between the lines? Yeah, it must have been so…"

Yet, the moment I feel so ready to chicken out is also the one I start feeling the pull towards going away: close the flat door behind me and never stop travelling. Move from one place to another, discover new towns, new faces, new food.

Tomorrow I’m off for yet another journey and I’ve already been through all the usual stages of panic and delight: suitcase packed, passport ready, I’m off for some days of music, Guinness and lots of walking and rain in Dublin.

As usual, I’m looking forward this trip: I will be able to escape Milan and everyday life for a while. As usual, an irrational part of me keeps thinking and believing that, while I put my life in a kind of nice and relaxed hiatus, problems will sort themselves out and a nice solution will be presented to me at my return. I can’t but daydream that while away from home, I’ll have a Eureka moment and know what to do from that point onwards. Yes! I will be back with a clear idea of how to fix everything, and I'll be fine and happy and won't get angry as easily as I do now.

This foolish belief simply keeps the door open for all kind of disappointments, I know; yet I can't stop myself: years pass by and, while I repeat to myself that it does no good to believe in it, a part of me sneaks in my thoughts and make me wish for it to come true.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Growing avocados

How was your long weekend?”All the colleagues I chatted to today asked me this question.

Yes”, was my answer, “Way too short".

Two national holidays one after the other meant I was coming back after 4 days away from the office and with the nice prospect of a very short working week ahead of me. Not bad!

Yet, getting back into Milan and into work proved very difficult, if feels harder at each train trip.
Ah, if only I had a penny for every single time I found myself trying to explain the reason why I hate this place so much! Summed up with the pennies I wish I had for each time somebody asked me what’s wrong with Milan and/or why my company didn’t move to Torino… Well, I think at that point I’d have enough money to stop working, retire and do something better than trying to find impossible answers to insufferable questions.

As nobody is giving me any money, I’ll try to answer the questions, just not this time, just not here, it’s something we can postpone to some better time in the future.

For now I just want to wallow in the nice feeling the memory of 4 days spent at home can give me.
I didn’t do anything spectacular or breathtaking. I went to the hairdresser: my hair took a beating by the week spent in Chengdu, as something in the water and air made my hair bleed the color dye out way too quickly and by Saturday I was the shade of a very pale cotton candy. Now I’m back to a nice punch-in-between-the-eyes, glows-in-the-dark shocking pink.
It goes extremely well with my new hat:

rikke hat

I spent times with my family. Without putting any real effort into it, my niece and the family fell into Doctor Who! My sister was even talking about getting a Dalek ringtone (I might have helped her a bit a little later on).
Because Rai is playing catch up, it’s basically running a single episode every day, so my niece is happily overdosing on it: I’m not sure about what will happen when they’ll get to the end of this season. I think it’ll be around Christmas break and at that point I’ll have a cranky 10-year-old niece with no new episode to watch… and cinemas too packed to go and watch “Star Wars”. Oh joy.
I watched Ninotchka twice, because it’s a nice movie and it was the only movie I remembered to load on the iPad on Friday (note to self: organize better for Christmas break).

Well, we're not thinking too much about it right now. At the moment the talk is about how heretical we can get the nativity scene to be this year. Oh, I know, I know: we're an atheist family, what's the point of us celebrating Christmas. Well, I'm celebrating the fact I get days off work, where I can be over-indulgent with food and alcohol without having to deal with my ghosts and paranoia.
And in the past few years watching the kids setting up the nativity scene at their grandparents have proved to be the most entertaining part of the whole holiday. My mum has recently declared she was never ever going to get the statues out, she was done, no way she was going through the whole nightmare one more time.
Three days later she was proudly showing off on FaceTime her latest contribution to the scene: she made a small shop "buy here" with some old box and she was going to place the Angry Bird Darth Vader I got her as souvenir next to it.  The nativity scene isn't complete yet, but I already spotted 2 statues that look straight out of "The Walking Dead", a blue duck with a star hanging off the neck and my sister also temporarily placed her penguin, Pinguino Gerundio, in it.

I am going back in two days, so I am pretty sure I'll see more interesting addition to the ensemble, and as long as I can remove any battery that powers nasty music boxes I'm going to be ok.

(2 of those nasty music boxes in the background)

I spent lot of time reading: nothing better than my armchair, some tea and whiskey and a book to finish. This weekend around it was the turn of “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman. I finished reading it yesterday on the bus: it was cold and dark. Humidity made the bus damp. I had music on, as usual, so I was in a bubble, even though not as comfortable a bubble as the one provided me by my armchair. In a way it made sense: I was sad as I could see the pages to the end becoming less and less each stop and I didn’t want to be too cozy when I was being sad.
While waiting for the bus I read this:
“Yes,” said Whiskey Jack.“‘Yes’? What kind of an answer is ‘Yes’?”“It’s a good answer. True answer, too.”
“Avocados,” agreed Whiskey Jack. “That’s them. They don’t grow up this way. This is wild rice country. Moose country. What I’m trying to say is that America is like that. It’s not good growing country for gods. They don’t grow well here. They’re like avocados trying to grow in wild rice country.” (American Gods, Neil Gaiman)
I wrote it down, in a very bad calligraphy: try to write while standing on an articulated bus speeding on some tram tracks and then tell me how good your calligraphy is.
It’s an honest answer, yes, more honest than most of the bullshit I received as answers in the past few months.
And perhaps me trying to live and be happy in Milan is just like being an avocado trying to grow in wild rice country.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

career of evil

I didn’t know it. I couldnt know it. But sometimes things happen as they’re meant to be and that’s all I or you need to know about it. Here’s the non-linear explanation of what happened.

I started reading the Cormoran Strike’s book series by chance: I had a voucher to use and the book fitted the amount I had left, shipping included. It doesn’t happen that often so I had to buy it. As soon as I started reading it, I got hooked on it.

When the released of the third instalment of the series was announced, I preorder it: paperback edition, as the previous 2 books are paperback too and I don’t want a different format to mess with my shelves layout scheme.

It took me one week of commuting and some quiet time in the evening to finish reading it and I enjoyed it a lot. It’s entertaining and I’m a bit worried by the small note at the end of the book about a BBC series inspired by the book: what will it be like? Will I like it or hate it? I’ve got my own Cormoran and my own Robin in my mind, I’m not ready to see them on the small screen.

But then again, why being so negative? I had the same kind of doubt before watching “The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency” and it did turn out just fine.

What I did while reading was listening to music. There’s nothing new in this: music is always on at home and when I’m wandering around by myself. But usually the music I listen to follows my mood. It might be that the book impacts my mood and, as a consequence, my choice in music too.

This time around, however, it was the book itself dictating the soundtrack. Every chapter in “Career of Evil” starts with some lyrics, all by Blue Öyster Cult. Well, even the title of the book comes from one of their songs, so why listening to something different? However it was not so easy as it sounds: at the beginning I thought I cuold simply follow the tracks in the order they were presented, but it didn’t work out that well.

First of all the chapters vary in lenght. Songs do that too, with the little detail that BÖC weren’t exactly famous for their radio edit versions.

So, to put it in a way a 3rd grader can understand:

“Virgi reads a chapter in 5 minutes, while the song at the beginning of the chapter last 9 minutes. How long will Virgi have to wait before moving to the next chapter and the next song? Provide examples of how she could use the time she will have on her end while patiently waiting for the song to end."

The temporary solution I found was putting the book on one side, going to the kitchen and refill the glass with San Simone.

Following chapter, I set the book on one side, went to the kitchen and brought the San Simone bottle back with me.

Five chapters later, I found out Robert Galbraith, BÖC and San Simone mix perfectly together; alas, they also result in a splitting headache and hangover the morning after.

Friday, 27 November 2015

To be played loudly

I bet that when the parcels arrive at reception, Liliane doesn’t need to check the recipient names any longer: one look at the flat square box and she calls me. Another vinyl on the way.
Luca calls them “those things that turn around”, followed by a mimics with a finger spinning around (it's either a LP  or a frisbee), his wife has never seen one before starting to work in our office, so one of the last delivery I got caused a lot of curiosity.

Because of the trips of the last month and a half, plus searching for where to buy a new stylus for my Vestax (not the easiest task, when the manufacturer has gone busted), meant that I got a nice pile of new albums to listen to.
And that’s exactly what I did yesterday. I was working from home, so I ditched all the streaming services and plugged my Vestax and started working down the pile: Star Wars, as in Wilco’s latest masterpiece, was the first, followed by a Chet Baker concert album, a live by BÖC and last but not least, “It was triumph we once proposed… songs of Jason Molina” by Glen Hansard.

I’ve been listening to this EP a lot at work, mixed with original recordings of the songs by Songs: Ohia but yesterday felt different. It was getting darker, but I couldn’t be bothered to turn on the lights. As I worked with only the MacBook casting a bit of light from the monitor, Glen kept playing. Once the side was over, I would simply move over and turn the LP and start again. You can play a 5 songs EP a lot of times in an afternoon. Yet, it never seems to be enough: I’m not sure whether it’s just an impression made on my feeble mind, but I seem able to hear more when I use the turntable. So at each new round I grasp something more and feel the need to listen to the songs once more.
Moreover when I read the sleeve for the first time, it struck me as a very well tuned example of serendipity, given I had just finished listening to Wilco.

to be played loudly

I followed the advice of the sleeve: my lovely turntable is extremely powerful even without a amplifying system.
Hopefully my melomaniac neighbour didn't mind it too much.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

it's only words

When I was 6 years old, my grandparents got me a geography book. It had maps of all the continents and brief chapters explaining how's the word made, what are the geological characteristics of the different part of the planet, what's the position of Earth in the solar system and so on.

It had a page explaining the national characteristics are: well, "stereotypes people have about you because of the place you were born and you have about them for the same pathetic motives" was perhaps too long for the title of a chapter in a children book. It had flags of some random countries and listed things like food, climate, language spoken.

I remember I spent more than an afternoon trying to make sense of this “language spoken” detail. I couldn’t comprehend how was it possible for people to speak different languages. Did they have to learn it at a certain point? I then considered the case of my parents and other relatives: they were all bilingual, as they spoke Italian and dialect. The conclusion I came to, with a degree of intellectual acumen and raw geniality that would leave the likes of de Saussure, Jakobson and Derrida literally speachless, was: people might speak different languages, but they think in Italian and then their brain translates their thoughts from Italian to German or English or Bantu.

That would also explain the reason why wars broke out: too much misunderstandings were due to bad simoultaneous translation made by the brains. If everybody spoke Italian, that wouldn’t happen, reasoned the 6-year-old me.

My political vision is a bit more cynical nowadays, but this small story comes back to my mind quite often: I can almost pinpoint the starting point of an obsession that accompanied me for most of my life, I can see in this explanation I made up for myself the beginning of my interest with words and translation, the curse and blessing that is Babel.

At University, while studying Benjamin & Steiner (which are not an indie-rock band, even though somebody should name his band so) and tried to make sense of their works, I also found another love of mine: untranslatable words. There are so many words that don’t have a full correspettive in another language, because of the many different cultural, historical, geopolitical factor that shapes a language and that can be defined only by the language they influence.

About an year ago, I was wasting time on internet. It happens often: I open Safari with an objective in mind, a website to visit but then things derail. Aside the attention span of an hamster the temptation of wikipedia, rather than online magazine and similar sites is too strong for me to resist.

And that’s when I found the definition of a word, heartworm:

n. a relationship or friendship that you can’t get out of your head, which you thought had faded long ago but is still somehow alive and unfinished, like an abandoned campsite whose smoldering embers still have the power to start a forest fire.

I never heard it before, and when I read it I wonder why. It’s so nice, so poetic, so… invented.

I had stumbled by pure chance on The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrow: it’s a collection of invented words. The author, John Koenig, creates neologisms, he gives a definition and name to an emotion that we might know how it feels but we don’t have a word for it… yet.

I’ve been reading the words slowly, one or two a week, sometimes I alternate them with untranslatable words. Alternating English and Italian every single day sometimes makes me forget the words: I have an image, a thought, a feeling in my head and I know that I know the word that defines it. But I can’t find it; sometimes I forget the Italian translation of an English word and I have to check on the dictionary for it. When I’m tired, my speech become even more garbled, as words from other languages I studied are thrown in the mix. I've always struggled to find the right words to voice my idea, I normally choke midway through, nervousness and anxiety having the best of me; the way languages are getting more and more mixed over the years makes me wonder if I’ll ever be able to separate them again. And I worry if, with time, I’ll become less and less comprehensible to other people.

Funnily enough, at the same time, all these languages piled up, in combination with neologisms and untranslatable words, make my ideas more clearer to me as I can patch up all the spots where one language is not complete with something borrowed from another one.

And if you ever had to learn a word from the dictionary of obscure sorrow, and you’re a bit like me, I think you should start with “fitzcarraldo”.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Chess and Tetris

I was obsessed about Tetris. I still am, but I got better self-control on. I used to play it non-stop, borrowing a friend’s Nintendo and on our home computer, on a floppy my dad got us.
I would embark into marathons. I hit bottom rock in Beijing: no class scheduled because of the Sars-induced shut down, personal life in shatters, I started a game of Tetris. I played for about 20 hours: safe for some loo break, it was a non-stop brick after brick frenzy.

I told myself “Just one more game”.
But then I made a stupid mistake. Or beat my record.
So I told myself “Just one more game” once more and started again. I drank hot water and ate that weird supermarket bread that felt and tasted like rubber, because I had nothing left in the room.

When I finally turned the computer off and went to bed I wasn’t feeling completely myself: I could feel my heartbeat in the throat, thumping like crazy and I couldn’t breath properly. Every time I closed my eyes, colored bricks kept on appearing behind my eyelids and I had to rotate and move them to clear enough lines to keep them falling. I didn’t fall asleep easily and, when I did, I dreamt of Tetris.
When I woke up I was still very tired, still with a crazy heartbeat. Tetris brick were now everywhere: in the washroom’s mirror, in the chopsticks holder in the canteen, in the paths and ponds around Tsinghua garden.

Because of the lockdown, foreign student were extremely bored and this brought a surge in consumption of booze and pot. People all over the dorm looked quite stoned and in a perennial state of hangover (with the exceptions of the North Koreans, of course). Having just overdosed on Tetris, I fit in with the rest of the crowd so perfectly, I think I never fit with the crowd so well before, nor I ever did after.

Obsessed and high as I was, I also knew I had reached a limit with Tetris I couldn’t allow myself to go over again. The fascination with the game was (and still is) strong, but so were the alarms ringing in my head. Obsessions find a welcoming habitat in my head, my brain seems to always be waiting for the next one to come along. But right then I had a very physical reminder of the consequences: the nausea blocked my body and thought process. It took me more than two days to go back to normal; I knew I couldn’t let this obsession take over, so after that episode I didn’t play Tetris for about 3 years.

I still play Tetris nowadays, but I got strict rules: there’s no game after 10 in the evening. The Tetris app gets periodically deleted from my iPhone and it’s got to go before I’m about to go on a long trip (which reminds I need to delete it before Saturday: 18 hours of plane travel are waiting for me, I simply can’t afford to leave room to temptation).

Last month, while in London, I bought a book by Stefan Zweig.
I didn’t plan to buy (more) books and the way I justified it to Francesco sounds a bit pathetic.

“It’s only 3£. And it’s a novella, not a novel. And it’s so tiny it fits into my coat’s pocket. So it doesn’t really count as a book, does it?”
No, you’re right. It doesn’t count as a book”, said Francesco, with the kind the kind of tone a nurse of a mental word would use with one of her patients before trying to make her wear a straitjacket.
I didn’t say that I bought it because of a sign:


A small communal garden, a giant-size chess set, a match in progress. Five days later, I was at Foyles holding a small book, aptly named “Chess”: could I have left it behind it? I could have, but it'd be not very in character and I wasn't in the mood of disappointment.

It took me 2 commuting travels to finish it, but the story stayed with me for much longer. It was a discovery from many point of view.

First of all the author: how is it possible I’ve lived until today without having basically no knowledge of his work? For such great and famous writer, I couldn’t remember his name ever be mentioned during literature or German culture classes.
Secondly: how could I have watched "Grand Hotel Budapest" without ever feeling the curiosity to find out a bit more about Wes Anderson's inspiration? Zweig's life and work, everything is tragic and fascinating. Reading “Chess” made me curious about his other books.

The story takes place on a ship headed to Buenos Aires: on board a world champion of chess accepts to play for money against a group of passengers. It looks they're set to be defeated when they're helped by another passenger. The narrator then listen to this man, Dr B, recanters his story: originally from Austria, like the author, Dr B used a stolen book on chess to learn to play the game and used it as mental relief during his imprisonment by the Gestapo. But then chess, turned into an obsession: the game moved from his improvised board to an imagined one and then into his mind only. He started playing both black and white, battling his now self to a game that claimed his physical and mental health.

It’s a fascinating read, no matter the fact I can barely tell a pawn from a knight. What gripped at my soul the most is the description of how something can quickly turn from saving grace to obsession, pushing you to the brink of insanity and perhaps beyond. One could argue that Tetris, a video game, is not the same thing as chess, the Royal Game: true but, as the title of a brilliant documentary suggests, it's the ecstasy of the order. And much more than that.

The sentences Zweig used to describe how the chess matches claim the whole intellect of Dr B rang true to my eyes and ears, as I felt the same for Tetris when in Beijing. I was not in a prison, even though Beijing during the Sars was not (and still isn’t, after it) exactly the poster image of freedom. Yet I felt trapped. Tetris provided me a getaway from a physical prison, but triggered the bars that could and still can shut my brain down.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

In due time

This morning I was slowly making my way to work: I didn’t hear the first, second and third alarm clock and when I managed to snooze the 4th one, I was already 30 minutes late for work. I woke up asleep: I got up, but brain decided that no no, I’m going to have a lie-in, come back in half a day, thank you very much.

On the way to work, my 30 minutes slowly but surely growing into a 45 minutes delay, I sat on the metro skimming through my Twitter feed and one tweet caught my eyes: it was a news from an Italian magazine, telling the news of a movie going to be in the theatre very soon.

The thing is I already watched this movie, not in a cinema but on DVD: “Grave of the Fireflies” is a 1988 Japanese move, it has a new dub version and that's the reason why it’s finally coming to Italian theatres. It’s being called an event. In a way it surely is: this movie is almost 30 years old and it’s appearing on the big screen in Italy only now. For two days only.

Either you go on November 10th and 11th to the cinema or you buy the DVD like I did years ago.
Yesterday, after dinner at Eli’s place, we watched “My Neighbour Totoro”: we’re both big fans of Studio Ghibli and I, as per tradition and habit, had to wine about how hard it is in Italy to see a Studio Ghibli movie in the cinema. Or any non-Pixar/American animation for all that matters. It’s not the first time movies by Studio Ghibli are released in Italy as a “1 weekend off deal”: it happened with “The wind rises” and “When Marnie was there” just in the last couple of years.

It just makes me mad. Why? Why? Why!?!? It’s not like people are not interested: the cinema was packed for “When Marnie was there”. And why shouldn’t it be so? Not only it’s a beautiful movie, but when you know that if you miss that weekend you might as well start looking for the DVD, you’re surely going to buy a ticket. This time it’s going to be even harder because they’re releasing the movie during the week, which means everybody working will have to go to the evening show.

Looking at the DVD I’m sorting recently and the films I bought on iTunes, I realised I have been to the cinema only twice in the past 8 months. Why should I? Movies are all dubbed and the choice for the one in original language is sometimes non existent. Films I’m interested in don’t last more than 2 days on the billboard. I get annoyed at people munching popcorn and chips and vacuuming up the drinks… cinema looks more stressful than anything else right now. Yet it might not be enough to keep me from getting a ticket for next week.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Fast Car

I remember lending “The Hare’s Corner” to Barbara.

I remember she gave it back to me and I brought it back to Milan.
I remember it sat in my office desk drawer for quite some time then: I was not in a hurry to bring it back to the flat. In one of my midnight insomnia induced redesign of the living room I had unplugged the DVD reader, the only way I had to listen to CDs. Plus with the music on my iTunes library I didn’t feel the need for it.

I spent about a year without the DVD reader. It was good in a way: in between TV, DTT box, Apple TV, an uncounted number of lightning cables and the plug for the turntable, my living room is a bundle of cables crossing one another in a lovely electric spaghetti nest… Having 2 cable less to deal with made the whole thing look already tidier.

But, on the other side, what if you want to watch a movie you like and you own? Tough. I did re-buy some of the movie on iTunes, but it wasn’t the same thing, especially when I bought “Grand Hotel Budapest” thinking it was in English and it turned out to be only the dubbed Italian version.

While in London I bought a DVD I wanted to watch (more on that another day) and once back, I went and replugged the DVD into the mess.
Tonight I wanted to listen to “Blue Shoes” but, instead of iTunes or Spotify, I thought I could just listen to the CD. I could, if only I remembered where on earth I put it. But even remembering where in my apartment I put it would do, really.

I dived into the search and lost myself in it; I found some DVDs like “To be or not to be”, and “天下无双“ (this movie is hilarious, plus there’s Wang Fei acting in it), 1 bus ticket and some CDs: Fabrizio De Andrè, Wilco and then “Tracy Chapman”.

Ah. The first time I bought "Tracy Chapman", it was on a cassette: I bought it at "Maschio", a music shop that was more than a shop and that I still miss every day. I listened to it so much the tape eventually gave up on me and I was extremely sad about it. I bought one CD then, but left it as a farewell gift to a friend: it felt bitter-sweet and I do hope he still listens to it.
I re-bought it once more the first time I went to China, about the time I found out that even big French supermarket chain sold not-so-legal (read: downright ripped) CDs.
The copy I found tonight has seen all my moves of the past 10 years, with the other CD of hers. I put it on tonight, playing the song in the order I used to like listening to them as a teenager… no wonder the tape self-destroyed! You can't keep fast forwarding, rewinding and switching sides without the poor tape going a little bit bonkers.

I moved to “Collection”, yet another souvenir of Beijing, even though slightly more legal than the previous one I bought there. At the same time, I've kept searching for “The Hare’s corner” while Tracy played: now I got a nice pile of DVDs waiting to be played in the next days and, if I’m lucky, I’ll eventually find some CD to play too.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

The etymon of a scarf

The Italian word for “sausage” is salsiccia.
I have to confess I was more than 10 years old when I discovered its correct spelling. Before then, I was convinced the word was salsiccia. It made perfect sense to me: “sal-“ as in sale, meaning “salt” and “-ciccia”, meaning fatty. And what’s a sausage, at the end of the day, but salty fat? When I discovered my mistake, I was puzzled as nobody had ever corrected me, possibly because people found it funny or cute; or maybe they did corrected me, but I didn't pay attention, as usual.

For sure I’m not the only one that made this mistake while growing up, even though I’m not sure how many others felt the need to base their spelling on some etymology ground, no matter how partial and non-sense it was.

When I showed a photo of my ongoing scarf project to my friends, the mistake came back to my mind and I decide to name it “salsiccia”.

I’ve started knitting in at the end of March, at the beginning of my streak of concerts. It’s an easy pattern, the kind you learn after 2 or 3 repeats, not too difficult yet not too plain: perfect for traveling. I was planning to knit a shorter version of it, maybe turn it into a cowl, but then I realized I had no pattern to use the eventual yarn leftover. Also, I don’t wear cowls: I decided to keep knitting. And knitting travel after knitting travel, the scarf reached a considerable length and started creating quite a mess in the project bag I carried it around (ok, the supermarket bag I carried it around).

The solution to me was simple: I just rolled it up and block it with an elastic, and voilà, here’s a salciccia. Ok, the original name of the pattern, “Foreign Correspondent’s Scarf” is far more elegant and suggestive, but, really, at the moment the scarf doesn’t resemble much more than a badly spelled sausage!

Friday, 30 October 2015

This gift

This gift will last forever
This gift will never let you down
Some things are made from better stuff
This gift is waiting to be found

Last week, while in London, I went to Glen Hansard’s gig. It was the last concert of his European tour and to me it was a way to balance the fact I missed the concert in Milan: I can’t understand this nasty habit of everyday life’s duties, such as work, to interfeer with my concerts schedule.

Despite my never-ending wonder at how drunk Brits can get, not just in general, but specifically at a concert, and how people can be more interested at their phone displays rather than watching the concert (yeah, I’m talking to you, blonde on the 3rd row that spent good part of the concert blinding me with the display of your iPhone: from where I was standing I could see that you’re truly into Facebook, but please pretty please dim the brightness of the screen, ifs), I loved the gig.

The setlist was a cool mix: a bit from the old album, a bit of the Swell Season, tracks from the new LP, one cover by Songs: Ohia and one by the Interference.
Towards the end of the concert I got a little bit blue: if a concert is really good, then there’s a moment, shortly before the encore, when I wish that it never ends. I wish we were trapped in a pocket in the fabric of time and space and we could be listening to music forever and ever.
Sadly, encore arrives, if you’re lucky you get a second encore as well, but then lights are on and you’re out, making your way to the train station.
The best way to deal with this kind of sweet sadness is to think about how beautiful the night have been and about more beautiful nights ahead.

It’s the same way I feel in the days after I return from a travel: I’m happy, my eyes full of wonder and memories, but also sad and with a longing to leave again. The best way to deal with it is to postpone the sorting of the photographs and plan the next travel.

With concerts I do pretty much the same: after I've been to one, I think of the concerts I already got tickets for and about the ones I hope to go to. Last week, sitting on the Hammersmith line, my mind was split between images of the concert I just saw and vague hopes for the ones that I'll go and see very soon.
In the last year travels and concerts have often gone hand in hand. They become my perfect getaway from all the things that are not really working as they should.
It's nice to visit a place and return home with a soundtrack in the mind and not only with pictures that I won't sort out but will rather dump in a random external hard drive anyway.

Instead of overthinking what doesn’t work I’ve decided to not care about it for the time being, or at least try to do so.
I try to not dwell too much on life and get an headache because of my inability at fixing my problems, but let stuff go with the flow: every travel I do, concert I attend, play I watch is a small gift I allow myself for having not given up so far.
Sometimes in order to enjoy my gift, there are some small price to pay, such as traveling with Ryanair after having managed to avoid it for almost 8 years: I got nightmares by simply recalling their lottery ads on board, but I still got a bit more of month to get used to the idea.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Friends. Gifts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

on Sunday

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Lovercraft on the beach - part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Metropolis and meatloaf

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Lovercraft on the beach - part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 6 September 2015

The high end shop

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Ode to Mrs. Spears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 4 September 2015

Dachshunds, books and knitting

The bookshop "Mercurio" is one of my favorite spot in Torino: I was really amazed by it when it opened, many years ago by now.

"What? Opened till midnight? Seriously!?!?"

Nowadays we're used to shops being always open, to supermarket working 24/7 but this was different: it was a time when shops being opened on a Sunday afternoon were one-off special events and, there it was, a shop open until late, a shop open when all the other shops were closed.

And above all it wasn't a chain store, but an independent shop. And it was an independent book shop!
You might think it's a small shop but that's an illusion: once you step in you realize how wrong you are; down the rabbit hole there's a corridor, stuck with books on one side and cards, postcards and other stationery on the opposite wall, and at the end of it there is another room. Then, at the end of the room a set of stairs takes you upstairs. Or you can turn right into the other room for kids literature.

There are many things I love about Mercurio: the fact that the booksellers know about books is a winning factor. I stopped taking for granted the knowledge of booksellers when, in a big chain bookstore branch, the shop assistant asked me how to spell Stephen King.
I like that they store books that are not so easy to find in other bookstores, like books about sewing patterns or about Japanese anime. They have a massive stack of photography books, a small but heavyweight section dedicated to Torino, the standard set of classics, travel guide, popular paperback and then they always got something on offer.

I never purposely plan to go and visit the shop, yet, every time I'm in town, I somehow find myself turning into via Po from Piazza Castello thinking that "Oh well, I got up to here anyway and it's less than 50 meters away... Let's go and have a look at Mercurio"

And that's exactly what happened about 1 month ago. I was looking for a book for a friend, but my attention got completely sidetracked by a big display of a book series by a publishing house I (shamefully so) never heard of before, Polillo Editore: the covers were all salmon pink and the name of the series is "I bassotti" (The dachshunds). I found hte name of the collection and its logo so cute, I didn’t really stop to wonder why they linked this dog to a collection of crime fiction, but at that moment I couldn’t really be bothered by it. There was a whole array of books with a special price tag flashing in front of me and the first title my eyes fell on to was Freeman Wills Crofts’s “The 12:30 from Croydon
Croydon! There’s something more than Ikea in Croydon, I know... and I know that one of those things is the airport (I remember watching a documetary about it).

Not so long story even shorter, I bought the novel and ready it in less than a week. I just couldn’t put the book down. The inverted detective story and the translation just got me hooked and made me miss my metro stop more than once.

I once more found myself by pure chance in front of Mercurio on my next visit back home. Pure chance, nothing planned, but well… I was there already, why not going in to check if the offer on Bassotti was still going on? Yeah!

I just wanted to have a look at the bookshope once more, what’s wrong with it? What’s wrong is the fact that I’m not a big fan of crime fiction unless it’s from the golden age of crime fiction and “ I bassotti” is a book series focused solely on American and British novel from the golden age of crime fiction.
So, I was not that surprised I left the bookshop with a new book in my bag, “Death at Broadcasting House” by Val Gielguld and Holt Marvel.
It took me a bit longer to finish this one, because I was trying to finish knitting a pair of gloves. And because (spoiler alert!) a pair of gloves plays a big part in this novel, it seemed like a sign that I should continue knitting and reading at the same time.
Well, it’s not easy: it’s very complicated; knitting and reading are not the best pair of activities you want to try for multitasking.
At the end of it, I finished reading the novel, finished one of the gloves, and learnt how to turn pages using my right foot (still debating whether adding it as skill on Lindkedin: curious how many people will endorse me for it). I've also learnt that the consequent backache is not an experience I want to repeat in the near future.

glove & book

I finished the book this week and I already miss it: the things I enjoyed the most are how smoothly it flows, the description of the characters and the description of a London that is no more. I used to work in Soho, my beloved tattoo shop is in Soho and it is so fascinating to read of an area htat I know but not that has changed so dramatically since the time the book was written.
I think that authors being so knowledgeable about how BBC worked at the time helped them a lot.
I found myself wishing a movie could be made out of it, because in my head I could picture contemporary actors in the different roles, yet at the same time being afraid of it, because I don’t really want this small universe I built inside my head to be crushed by the constraints imposed by modern movie productions on screenplay and directorial choices.
I was very happy (and relieved) to find out that a movie was actually made out of the novel the same year the book was published. Moreover Val Gielgud plays one of the main character.
And guess what? It’s available on DVD...

Monday, 31 August 2015

Where on earth is…

Times are tough.
Life is getting rougher and people are getting meaner.
I understand it completely. I understand empathy is a tiring, difficoult and most of times unrewarding exercise.
Yet it still happens, every now and then, that a small little event happens and I'm completely dumbfounded and speechless.

Got back to my flat in Torino on Friday evening, as usual.
Well, truth to be told it’d been some Fridays I haven’t been in Torino, so I expected to find some ads and bills waiting for me in the post box. And I was right:

Gas bill, Ikea catalogue and a letter with important news from a funeral parlour.

There’s something off. And no, I’m not referring to the essential information that the funeral parlour felt in need to provide me. Something else’s off. Or better, something is not where it’s supposed to be.
I look at my flat door. I look down. I look up. Down again, up again and down once more for good measure.

Fuck! Oh pardon my French.
I meant F**k!

Some fucktard stole my doormat. I didn’t want to believe it at first. So I texted my mum because, well, in that very moment the most logical explanation I could come up with was that my parents swung by my flat feeling the uncontrollable need to retrieve my doormat and store it inside.
My mother didn’t even bother to reply to the message. Yet, even today, I still think that my idea's somehow more plausible that somebody stealing a doormat, ok?

I used to own a normal doormat. I’m not even sure it’s the right adjective. Until recently I've never really contemplated about the nature and possible descriptions of a doormat. I lack words to proper describe my-once-doormat. It was nothing fancy, it wasn’t a diamond-encrusted pimp-my-doormat. Nor it was an iDoormat with some revolutionary HomeKit functionality or internet of things features.
It was a standard Ikea doormat.

Yet somebody nicked it away.
Who did it?
A neighbour? The cleaning lady? A random doormat thieft? Carmen Sandiego?

I don’t know and I’d be very interested in finding it out because it could help me answering the question that has been bothering me the most in this whole matter: why would anybody bother stealing a doormat? Pettiness? Need? Boredom? Too lazy to go to Ikea? Cleptomania?

Part of me, however, is secretly harboring the idea it truly was Carmen. I will never know where my doormat is, but I could still say I knew where on earth Carmen Sandiego was.

Monday, 24 August 2015

The unbearable sadness of lukewarm cappuccino

It's raining.
It's cold.
The station has the sad atmosphere of a place left behind by time, people and life in general.
My eyes are half-open. I've tried to open them as soon as I woke up but found out that I could manage with partial vision (it worked! I managed to get to the metro station without being run over by car, bus, pedestrian, etc).
The queue in front of me moves up pretty swiftly, we're all nice cogs in that big infernal mechanism known as everyday life.
Soon enough it's my turn in front of the cashier.

"Cappuccino and a simple croissant, please."
"Can I interest you in our brand new Grand Cappuccino?"
The girl at the till points at one small board with a big mug of cappuccino and bold bright letters my brain can't fully decode.
"No, thanks. Cappuccino and a simple croissant, please."
"That's 2.60 then."

There's some disappointment in her voice. Yet she should be grateful I'm too asleep to let my irritation seep through in my voice. In truth, aside my breakfast, there’s nothing I wish more than being brave enough to say what's really on my mind.

"No, no, strongly no! What the fuck, woman? Why? Why? Why would you offer something like that to someone like me? Moreover I can read, damn it! I’ve been quite proficient at it since a very young age and, trust me, if I want something I’m quite able to express my wish vocally. Or, if too asleep as I’m right now, I think I can still manage by getting it by pointing at it and grunting some inarticulate sounds. I managed to survive 8 months like this while in the Netherlands, I’m pretty sure I could apply the same technique if, under the side effect of some heavy dose of magic mushroom or spice cake, decided that the best thing to order in this bar was a Grand Cappuccino! Now take my money and give me my croissant! Ugh."
In the past 3 years and 3 months, each time I spent a weekend in Turin, I've taken the train back to Milan on Monday morning and I've had breakfast in the same bar.
Like most bars in stations and airports, my Monday morning bar belongs to a chain. Not a chain like the American and British ones, where everything is the same no matter where you are. Here food is basically the same, but many things in its decor are left to single bar managers so you don't realise it's a chain bar unless you look at the receipt.
"Grand Cappuccino" offer has been going on for some months and I’ve been offered it ever since. One day I’ll probably cave in and let myself go in that massive rage-fuelled rant imagines some lines up in this post.

What's saved me so far are the fact that I'm still too asleep when I get to the bar and the notion it's not nice to take my rage on to the cashier.She's doing her job, nothing more nothing less. The barman on the other hand...

There's no worse way to start a week (and no better indication of its general trend either) than sitting by yourself at a table in a sad station having a lukewarm cappuccino for breakfast.
Cappuccino and croissant are not “just" breakfast. They're a ritual.
To me at least. Some people go to church for it for the holy wafer and blessing. I choose carbs and caffeine over hypocrisy and head for the bar.

The problem? The problem is, most of the cases, the cappuccino is not really lukewarm: it's almost cold. I understand that a bar in a railway station has a steadfast stream of people but is warming the milk a little more a crime?

If your cappuccino is turning into cold latte by the second, you don't really have time to indulge in breakfast: you basically gulp it down and munch the croissant. And breakfast is a slow business: I can run like like the Flash for the rest of day, but breakfast is my and mine only moment. I don’t eat is standing, I don’t read, I don’t text, I don’t check mails. It’s my “world outside and duties of a not-that-young-any-longer professional fuck off" time of the day. It has to be savoured, enjoyed, cherished and respected.

So, if my conditions in life at the moment weren't depressing enough, there I was: a shitty rainy Monday morning, doomed to head back to Milan and, the proverbial icing on the cake, having to maintain an acceptable level of civility when asked whether, rather than a mug of cold pseudo-cappuccino, I wanted to pay for a bigger mug of the same beverage.

It’s an harsh truth to stomach, in all senses, because a bad cold cappuccino can have, mmmh how to say it, unpleasant side effects at gastric level.
But above all, every time I sit at one table of the bar in Porta Susa station and stare at my cold cappuccino I think that it’s not just a good quality cappuccino that I’m giving up. I’m allowing, once more, this hectic frenetic lifestyle bestowed on me to take control. I’m giving up on myself. I feel a bit of reproach and shame: is this what my grandparents and parents fought and worked so hard so that I could have a better, nicer, easier experience of life than the ones they had? Is this the improvement they envisioned for me.

My lukewarm-going-frozen cappuccino summarises this shame, and also all the things I’m “allowing” on myself, this habit of mine of deprecating my condition in life compared to other ones.

First world problem? Sure, I think some other areas in the world are in much worse shape than my stomach at the current time. But on the other hand, that's the world I'm living in and, also, I always resented those “eat your veggies, think of kids starving in Africa right now” bullshit. I thought that the comparison was meaningless and stupid before I could even spell my name correctly, and still find it a massive bullshit. How many kids in Africa did I save in my childhood by finishing my plate of courgette or Brussels sprouts? How many have you?

Should I just accept this overall status of things because I’m better off?
Should I just let shit happen because there are people worse off than me in my hometown, in my industry, amongst my and younger generations?
Shameful and painful to admit it as it is, that’s exactly what I’m doing.

I got a job, so I shut up at all the situations that are destroying my mental health.
I got a roof over my head, so I can accommodate all the things that make my life a misery under it.
I keep promising myself it’ll get better, that I’ll find a solution and I’ll be “happy” (gosh, even writing it scares me, as if I didn’t deserve it). I keep telling myself next week, month, year will be better. Just like I keep telling myself this is the last station cappuccino I’m going to have as breakfast on Monday morning.
Maybe it’s time I switch to tea.

And because I don't want to end this post on too much of a depressing note, here's some good music to end the day.

"Sometimes I feel the fear of the uncertainty stinging clear
And I can't help but ask myself how much I'll let the fear take the wheel and steer
It's driven me before, and it seems to have a vague
Haunting mass appeal
Lately I'm beginning to find that I should be the one behind the wheel." 

(Drive - Incubus)