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.