Thursday, 18 June 2015

Allons-y, Paris!

Last week I had a work meeting in Paris: after 3 days of work, I added an extra day of holiday, the weekend and voilà! 6 days in Paris, and half of those days were for me and me only.

I love Paris, I love how everything looks so much more romantic, smarter and charming in this city.
I love the fact it's a massive pot of cultural references that seem to sprout out of every single corner; photography, art, literature, history, cinema and theater: you name it, you find it there, each reference inexorably linked to one another, so that walking along its street sometimes feels to me as jumping from one Wikipedia hyperlink to another.

But Paris, to me, is also a catalyst of painful memories and negative feelings: betrayals and disappointments, lessons learnt the hard way. Because it's been a long time since the last time I stayed in Paris for more than a day, I had no chance to form new memories, so the sad ones cemented in and it had become difficult for me to think about the city without some bittersweetness and it got harder and harder not feeling upset.
I needed new memories of Paris, not to delete the sadness of the painful ones, but to counterbalance them. I wanted to be able to look around me without feeling just completely miserable.

And that's what I did the last weekend. Mixing old places and new places I walked around town, sometimes with purpose, most of the time aimlessly, sporting a bad French mitigated by a smile, as it's so much easier to smile when I'm away. 
I decided to return to some of my favorite spots, starting from breakfast at Florence Kahn:

Linzertorte and tea is pretty much the best way I can imagine to start a day in Paris: the street of Marais are still quiet around 10, most of the shops are still opening, some delivery trucks pass by, and sitting outside one can watch the world passing by slowly.

And then I went to Musée d'Orsay:

This time around, however, the crowd of people snapping photo after photo at the paintings without bothering to stop to look at them didn't bother me (as much) as it did the last time I visited the museum. Maybe I'm just more cynical, or I grew used to it, or I just learnt to care a bit less about human insanity, but I spent a good half a day inside, going from room to room, going up and down the floors, always returning in front of Vincent's self-portrait, staring at those eyes and thinking about his stars.

I walked a lot along the Seine, chilled and knitted in the garden of Rodin Museum, paid more attention at the stencils scattered on the walls than to the Eiffel Tower. I got new memories to treasure now, with a new soundtrack linked to them.
I was alone, yet didn't feel so.

The things that left me really puzzled was the staggering amount of lockets on the rails of basically every single bridge of Paris: lockets of every shape and form, lockets locket to other lockets, people trying to sell you a locket at every single corner.

"Lock love and throw the key": maybe he was right when he told me I'm not able to love or maybe I'm really that stone hearted person I'm so often accused of being, it became so easy for me to believe.  Yet, in my whole unromantic self, I can't think of anything more unromantic and unlovely that locking your love with a cheap piece of metal design to rust and throw the key in a dirty and polluted river.

Having said this, I have to admit that when I spotted this locket in Montmartre:

Well, a whole different train of thoughts started in my mind with different hypothesis on its meaning, on the how, why, when and, above all, who.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

My home, our home, 10 years on

Somebody much wiser than me once wrote something on this line (bear with me, as I got no English version of the book and I'm translating from the Italian version of the French original):
"When a person we like gives us a book, we look for them at first between the lines, we look for their tastes, for the reasons they thrust it into our hands, for a sign of a brotherhood. [...] with the passing of the year, just a mention of the title is enough to bring back memories of that person [...]"
When we gift a book to somebody, we might think that they'll enjoy it, but primarily hope they'll find us inside the page. Well, at least I do and it's so convenient that Pennac managed to write it in such a wonderful and elegant manner, saving me the trouble of failing to express the same concept.
Some years ago a good number of my friends received the same book as present: for Christmas, for their birthdays, for no specific reason at all... it almost looked as if I had bought a stock of them and use them one by one. And that's not far from the truth, since I used to get into the bookshop and buy multiple copies of Giuseppe Culicchia's "Turin is my home" in a single go.

The book is a one of a kind guide to the city, pretty much as Turin is one of a kind city: it's described as a home and, like any other home, it has an entrance, it has a kitchen and a bathroom, alongside bedroom, living room, etc.
It came out about in the same timeframe I was packing by belongings and moving out of home, direction London. I used to bring back my copy of the book when visiting Torino, so I could re-read it the way I liked the best: sitting on a bus or tram, reading the chapters not in the way they were presented on the pages, but on how they came along on the bus route.

Reading at that time was quite bittersweet.
I loved my city but was so upset with her (she's always a lady to my eyes and my heart): I was upset at the lack of opportunities for me in there, at having to leave it, while at the same time struggling to break out of it. Giving that book to friends I was living behind had me hope they could understand my choices and find me hidden in between the lines when I'd have been faraway.

Ten years have passed and I still go through similar feelings nowadays, even though the distance has gone down and I'm barely one hour of train away.
Recently Culicchia has published a new book, "Turin is our home": it's not a sequel, more of a well needed rewrite. Which home stays the same for a whole decade without any change? A home that is not loved and lived, but Torino is loved and lived and consequently it changed, a lot. Sure, here and there you can still see the "old" Torino. Some parts haven't changed much, that's true, but some room went thorough a overall makeover that left them hardly recognizable, and there were also some expansion.

This time around I had no patience to wait to be back in Torino to read it on a tram, so I read in on trains and planes and now I'm waiting for Friday evening to be back home and read it on the metro, eager to read again a beautiful sentence that appears towards the end of the book and that hasn't left my mind ever since: "Beauty is needless, yet so indispensable".

Sunday, 7 June 2015

running out of space

Last Tuesday was National Holiday in Italy and this allowed me to postpone the fears, anxiety and sadness I’m normally subjected to on Sunday evening.
Did they disappear?
Nope, they were not so graciously shifted to Tuesday afternoon.
Oh whatever... never a joy, right?

Amongst this feeling I can probably filed under “I’m wasting my life” (And as your conscience I have to agree with you on this) there was another more practical, material feeling of uneasiness creeping through.

I had a massive clear out of my basement last month: I went from crammed up to the roof to a state of a couple of boxes and empty shelves in less than an afternoon of hard work. I donated lots of books, trashed the ones damaged beyond repair by humidity and came to the conclusion that yeah, space-wise I’m ok with expanding my book collection, because it turns out that, in the end, I don’t have that many books. Plus I got a kindle. And a library card.

Which means I can do a lot of reading without having to buy more paper books. 
Sorry to be bothersome, but...Which means that if I buy one or two books every now it’s not such a tragedy to find a place for them on the shelves.
As your conscience I should point out what a pile of shit you're just thinking and deluding yourself with...

And at some point in my reasoning here something went completely wrong: I didn’t take into account some important factors that could counter-balance my recent clean up. Because you see, I don’t read on the Kindle as much as I did at the beginning, giving I keep forgetting him at home. And I haven’t been to the library for ages, since I’m always away during the weekends and opening hours during the week fit people with a “normal” working life in a decent office. All things I haven’t got at the moment.

As a consequence I’m more often than not without anything new to read. I’ve been re-reading books even more than I normally do.
I’ve even borrowed books from my sister (when it’s normally the other way around). But obviously it’s not enough. That’s why, last weekend, barely 1 day in Torino, I found myself staring at a small tower of 6 books on my bedside table, wondering how it did happen. 
Duh, you simply went into 2 bookshops and came out with a stoned smile and a paper bag to hide your purchase, that’s what happened.
And then I realized that just the day before I had placed an order for 3 books on the web!
Not happy with that, after lunch at my parents, I started chatting about books with my mum.
Don't, just don't, because we both know what it's going to happen... 
She pointed that she still had some books of mine I should take back home and so I took them off the shelves and put them in a bag.

I didn’t take the bag home with me: it was too heavy. 
Before I even realized what I was saying, I heard my treacherous voice asking my mum if I could take home her comics books from the ‘70s: Beetle Bailey, B.C. and the Wizard of ID, Sturmtruppen, Charlie Brown…
I totally empathizes with Jiminy Cricket...

The chance of freeing up some space was too good for my mum to pass it up and before I was done I became the new owner of a collection of small pamphlets of basic knowledge published by the Italian Communist Party back in the days (total of 5, price 100 lire each, bought by correspondence) and some other political studies books.

So my mum drove by the following day with this huge heavy bag that filled a whole shelf of the white-it-can’t-be-named-maybe-they-should-have-called-it-Voldemort-Ikea bookcase. And what I did then??? I just bought another book! I can still layer a second line of books in front of the ones there are now and then stack them on top. And didn't Adri just added some extra levels only few months ago to her bookcase?! I could do just the same and fix the problem of lack of space! Easy!

Maybe it’s time to start investigating audiobooks…

Monday, 1 June 2015

Memories of Ravenna

My memory is like a slice of gruyere: in some spots it’s thick, dense, yet you just need to move 2 millimeters away from it to be faced with a huge hole. Complete void.
So it’s pretty normal for me to struggle trying to remember what I had for dinner about 1 hour ago, while I can clearly remember what was in the sandwich I had during my school trip to Milan in junior high (fontina and ham in between a sliced "musichiere" bread strip. Oh and I also had a small package of pear juice. And I got my walkman stolen on the underground, first clear sign that any relation of mine with this city was doomed to failure).
In the past the state of my short-term memory worried me a lot, but years of incidents had thought me how to deal with it most of the time: nothing that some Omega 3 and a big stash of post-it scattered around the house can’t solve it. Nowadays I even got rid of some of the most basic post-it that used to be on my front door: “Comb your hair”, “Slippers off, shoes on” and “Lock the door”, followed by “Take the keys with you”.
The long term memory, on the other hand, had always worried me less, even though it’s not the nicest thing ever either: the fact I can remember up to the smallest detail what somebody has once told me can turn into a ugly moment when I remind that same person about it months or years later while we’re having an argument.

Still, the notion of retaining such vivid images makes me happy most of the times. One of such occasion happened recently when I decided to spend a weekend in Ravenna.

Faced with the threat of 2 entire days in Milan, I looked for a solution and so on Saturday morning I was on a train that took me quickly to Bologna, where I stepped onto another train that dragged me ever so slowly to Ravenna: it stopped in every single station, even the ones that don’t exist.

Visiting Ravenna was stepping back right into my long term memory: I have vivid memories of my school books and Ravenna is so rich in history that I just needed to step in any of its church to be reminded about it.


“Ah, history books 4th grade elementary school, just with the extra of the Jo Nesbø novel”


“yeah, that’s High School textbook! Oh there was this one too!”

The byzantine mosaics Ravenna is famous for are already breathtaking in picture, but it's difficult to describe how unique they are, once you can admire them closely. It fills you with wonder at their mastership and craftiness. It's a lot to take in a single visit, because sometimes you got no idea of where to look: there's a small masterpiece tucked in any single corner of these churches, so that the only thing I found working for me was finding a spot to sit and look up, letting my eyes decide where to wander next.
On the other hand it makes looking at the rest of the city a bit tougher, because the shininess inside is not mirrored by anything remotely similar on the outside. But even that it's not a problem because people are really welcoming and warm.
The only regret I have is that I should have asked the guy I met at the piadineria where he got the awesome Guardians of the Galaxy pixelated t-shirt.