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)

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Javier's maze

Amongst other presents for my birthday, Adri got me a voucher, that kind of gift card you can spend in a bookshop. It was gone in less than 24 hours.

I got a couple of books: one was a planned purchase, Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", now waiting not so patiently in the stack I got for my coming vacation.
The other one was an impulse purchase.

Few days before my birthday, unable to sleep, I thought the best thing to do at 2 o'clock in the morning was to watch the movie "Richard III".

The logical step after that was to watch "Looking for Richard". And I mean watching it straight after the previous movie ended. Needless to say the morning after I looked and felt like s**t. It was one of those rare moment where appearance and being coincide perfectly: crap, inside & out.

And then, there I was, in the bookshop few days later, feeling quite ok, with my roman history book, heading for the cashier, thinking I was still going to have about half the value of the voucher to spend on the next visit to the shop. Then my eyes fell on a book.

Its dark cover is a detail from Matthias Grünewald's Isenheim Altarpiece. The words forming the title stand out in bright orange on the black background: "Tomorow in the battle think on me" by Javier Marías.
It took me more than a month to finish reading it.

Aside my usual issue of forgetting books in the office or temporarily misplace them in between the pile of laundry that will eventually get sorted, this book forced me to slow down a lot in its reading.

In a way it's like reading Joyce, it follows his own stream of consciousness and you need to tag along and hope to not get lost.
And it happened a lot of times.

At the beginning everything was ok: Marta invites Victor to dinner while her husband is in London. The night takes an unexpected but definitive turn for the worse for Marta when, while undressing, she feels suddenly ill and dies. Victor leaves the house after setting some food for Marta's 2-year-old kid who's sleeping in his bedroom and then...
Then, even reaching that point in the story proved quite challenging and we're barely 40-50 pages in the story.

One moment I was "Ok, cool, got it, let's see what happen next" and 3 pages later I would just stop. "Uh? What the hell was happening. Am I still reading the same story?"
More than once I had to go back to the last sentence that still made some remote sense to me and start back from there.
Javier was taking the plot in a specific direction, moving across swiftly, linking words and moments in the past, present and future. In the meanwhile, I was trudging behind, trying to catch up with him only to wander in the wrong direction.

I was about to toss the book across the room once only to realize I was sitting on a train coach and it wouldn't look normal or nice doing so.

Eventually I found a solution. I went back to basics. As back to 1st grade basis: I applied the same tactic of when my teacher forced me to read an awful book about Davey Crockett and then summarize it. It was dreadful, but if that didn't put me off literature I doubt anything ever will.
So I took a ruler and started using it to follow the words.

Word after word. Line after line.
I read it moving my lips as if I still was a kid and the actions of my lip could make the words sound louder in my brain.

I finished the book on Saturday morning, while drinking tea in a cafe in Farnham and nursing the holy mother of all hangovers (note to self: next time stop at the 3rd gin & tonic, you dumb-ass!): I should have probably read the whole book with an hangover as everything seemed to make more sense on Saturday, yet I'm not sure I "liked" the book.

It falls in that category of book that I didn't enjoy reading per se but that, at the same time, I could not simple set down and stop reading.
Doubtless he's good at writing and has a very good Italian translator, but I got no clue what all these pages were about. Literary exercise perhaps?
I guess "annoying" is the closest I can get to a definition, but it's not exactly precise, as usually I don't try to do things I find annoying... unless they involve me receiving a salary at the end of the month, but that is called "work" and falls into another altogether different category.

Friday, 14 August 2015

how to not understand Joyce

I was around 16 years old when I first read James Joyce’s “Dubliners”.

I didn’t understand 80% of the book and I remember feeling a bit upset about it: ok, it’s not that we have to understand (or like) every single book we read, but I picked this one up as it was “sold” to me as the less difficult Joyce you could read.
Which is probably true, but misleading, given the Joyce redefines the concept of “difficult to read and understand”.

Even so, about one month after I closed the book wondering about what I had just read, I discovered an extra reason why I didn’t understand anything: the book itself.

You see, I had inherited my parents’ 1970s copy of the book. It was in a box that has been moved multiple times from one flat’s basement to another house’s cellar.

How could I have known that in between all these moves some pages fell off and not all of them where placed back in the book? And how could I have known that the pages that were placed back into the book were not in the correct order?
"Oh that's why I couldn't understand more than two sentences! I'm missing some pages and on top of that I was jumping from page 16 to page 71... I see, I see, it kind of makes sense"

What I did next was to get a new copy of the Dubliners and start from scratch. I still had some major issue with it, but I understood at least the progress of the plot of the single stories. Since then my relationship with mr. Joyce hasn't changed that much: he speaks to me in a way, I don't understand him most of the time but that doesn't upset me very much.
I've tried with "Ulysses" and "Finnegans Wake" but so far I haven't managed to finish any of them. Yet I don't get that massive sense of frustration I felt when I read Kundera or Garcia Marquez the first time.

Recently I found something that reminded me a lot of the way I read the Dubliners: there's a Twitter account, @UlyssesReader, that does just what its name suggests: it reads "Ulysses", slowly, one tweet at the time. As it had just started the 8th reading, I thought I could follow it and have it read to me the book.
The fact is that (luckily) I don't spend my whole time on twitter and so I fall behind quite regularly: sometimes I am so far behind with reading my timeline that some of the Ulysses tweets get lost in the process. Reading these tweets sometimes makes very little sense altogether, yet I'm fine with it. It's like I came to a nirvana state with Joyce: "Look, buddy, I'll never understand you, but you look like nice and not too bad for a fine hipster. Plus you were a friend of Italo, and I like Italo".
Also, I stumbled on many tweets that were brilliant just on their own, like this one:

Thursday, 13 August 2015

texting lyrics

I slept very little last week: it was too hot and there were too many mosquitos biting around. On top of it, Sunday night was even more sleepless. I had an early flight to catch, so I couldn't fall asleep as I was afraid of not hearing the alarm clock in the morning. To make the situation even better there had  been a thunderstorm too.
Not a simple one, but one hell of a massive thunderstorm: there was basically no time in between the moment the bolt appeared in the sky and the moment the thunder stroke as if the epicenter of all was the communal area of my building.

As a consequence of my sleep-deprived state I was even less of myself on Monday.
All in all it's not that bad: less moody, less sarcastic, people might even like me better this way. Ugh.

One funny side effect was the way I texted people.
Is "to text" still a valid verb, semantically speaking? I whatsapp/telegram/iMessage people, but text is something confined to my QA activities nowadays.
Anyway, some of my texts resembled random song lyrics.

Thunderstorm kept me awake the whole night
Took the plane at 7:30
I look like a zombie
Oops started a call out of the blue

To be honest, I am merely following a family tradition, that reached its apex in the '90s when my sister randomly picked up sentence and created that masterpiece titled "Credi nella sip?" (which corresponds roughly in "do you believe in British Telecom?")

Alas, waxing poetic is not something easy to do, so in order to keep up with the lyricism in my life I started to read a new book that promises to increase the level of sublime poetry in my life to never-reached-before peaks.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

the life of others, 10 years on

Wind has picked up, some drops of rain has started falling from the sky and I heard a thunder in the distance: maybe a storm is brewing and it'll allow me some sleep tonight.

I finished my gin & tonic, ate the lemon slice and finished packing my suitcase. The taxi is booked, nothing left for me to do but set an alarm clock and head for the bed.
But on TV, oddly enough, there's a good movie, "The life of others": I got the DVD stacked somewhere, I bought it shortly after watching it, back in the UK.

It's nice yet weird: it's the first time I see it in Italian. and it feels a bit alien to watch it dubbed: the voices don't match the actors.
The first time I watched this movie I was sitting on a wooden floor, feeling tired yet unable to stop watching. The movie was just too powerful to stop watching.

Today, 10 years on, many things have changed but not the power of this movie, even with those weird dubbed voices. A true sonata for a good man.

On a certain day in the blue-moon month of September
Beneath a young plum tree, quietly
I held her there, my quiet, pale beloved
In my arms just like a graceful dream.
And over us in the beautiful summer sky
There was a cloud on which my gaze rested
It was very white and so immensely high
And when I looked up, it had disappeared.
(Bertolt Brecht)