Nothing really changes, nothing ever stays the same

San Benedetto del Tronto at sunset – copyright: marchetravelling.com

Funny how memory works.

One moment you’re thinking of nothing, minding your business, then a song comes up on the radio or on your MP3 and you’re suddenly there, in the place where that song and a memory it’s linked to first met. You can see what you saw at that time, feel what you felt, and nothing you do can save you from going through the same sensations. It’s a force that cannot be stopped: the more you try, the more it overwhelms you.

It’s always kind of bittersweet for me to go back to my home country, Italy. Be it the town I was born or the city I lived in for 8 years, Bologna, my old self will keep popping up, making me feel as if I was back after a long journey to a place I no more belong.

Both cities are filled with all sorts of memories. Both are my past and the reason why I am who I am. And every corner, every street, every glimpse of blue sky I see sitting on top of those red roofs will be part of me forever.

I’ll have but to close my eyes to remember them, no matter how far I am.

Bologna, with its intolerable summer heath, its open galleries in the old town, the students and the tourists crowding the galleries, getting in and out of shops along with a blow of icy cold air. Piazza Maggiore, the Japanese hiding under their massive umbrellas in the boiling heath, the V sign stretched towards the camera. The usual picture at the Fountain of Neptune, but on the side, because from that corner you can see the cheeky optical illusion the artist created.

A slice of pizza in town, a slice of chocolate tart bought at the historical bakery in Saffi neighborhood, an ice cream at the bio ice cream parlor I thought had closed by now, but 15 years on is still there, as crowded and popular as ever.

Then the train heading South, speeding along the east coast, towards the place I was born, me going back to those beaches I love, still half-empty at the beginning of the season.

The hot sand underneath my feet bringing back the same old sensation of freedom I used to feel at the beginning of the summer holidays, when school was over and I had 3 whole months of lying in the sun, swimming and fun ahead of me.

The hot breeze, the sea as flat as a glass and as compelling as a siren’s singing to the sailor.

Different beach umbrellas at the same old place offering shelter to the same old customers placed under different umbrellas.

The old lady going to take a swim walking backwards, flippers at her feet, the flowers on her distinctive swim cap sparkling in the midday sun.

The lady from the umbrella next door, squeezing the years we’ve not been seeing each other in an incessant 1 hour talking, stopping from time to time only to write down another word in her beloved crosswords magazine, wearing the same old turtle print swim suit, as unique as the other lady’s flowery swim cap.

And then the people who not so long ago were teens and now are grown up men and women with kids, a driving license, convictions, depression – sometimes all at the same time.

The morning strolls along the seashore, peaceful and beautiful despite the kids throwing themselves towards the sea, so oblivious to the truth they almost – quite literally – run on top of me.

The songs pouring out of the speakers along the beach, still the same after 20 years.

Everything seems to have stayed the same, and yet everything’s changed.

I have changed, people I used to know have changed in the years we spent apart. There’s now some sort of subtle melancholy in the words we say when we meet and talk of old times. There’s a sheer sadness when we say our goodbyes, never knowing if and when we’ll be seeing each others again.

And, finally, the inevitable homesickness and the sorrow at the thought of being back in the place I live now, the end of my holidays, the farewell to the ever sunny sky and the heath, the grayness outside the windows, the cold and often rainy summers in the city I learned to call home, where half of my beloved ones live and where part of my heart stays each time I get on a plane to go somewhere else.

Life as an expat can be an amazing, marvelous experience, but how many times can we truly afford to pay the emotional price it demands to give us in return such a unique, lifelong reality?

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ROOM by Emma Donoghue – what I think

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It’s quite an ambitious project the one Emma Donoghue embarked with this book.

First person narrator is by default a tricky choice, as it lets the reader step into main character’s shoes, and see and feel what he feels.
When the main character is a 5 years old boy, it becomes even harder, not to say extremely challenging, for who’s reading.

Jack is 5 and lives with his mum in a 11×11 ft soundproof shed, “Room”, a nutter built in his backgarden shortly before he decided to kidnap Jack’s mum, then 19, and imprison her there.
Seven years have passed since that day and the young woman, who we know only as “Ma”, gave birth to the son of the man who abducted her and who Jack calls “Old Nick”.
Life in a 11x11ft shed can be funny and full of surprises despite its limitations, or so Jack thinks. He knows no other world apart from Room, he doesn’t know there’s more outside those walls, that what he sees on TV every day is real, that there are other people out there, a life which is completely different from the one he ever knew by living imprisoned in that garden shed.
[[SPOILERS!!]]
One day Ma decides that it’s time for them to try and escape from Room. Old Nick has lost his job, the bank might take his house off him and he might have to have to get rid of both her and her son.
Ma plans Jack’s escape, he’ll have to play dead and let Old Nick carry him out of their prison. Their freedom will be in the hands of a 5 years old boy who has never seen the outside world before and who doesn’t know how to interact with it, he doesn’t even know the outside world even exists.
Despite all odds Jack brilliantly manages to bring the police to the garden shed his mum is still imprisoned in. They will be both brought to a special clinic where Ma will try to slowly reinsert into normal life and Jack will live his days in a constant state of awe and discovery with the help of his Ma’s mum and brother.

I’m sorry to say I hated this book. I believe this was one of those rare occasions I kept asking “when does it end??”. I could not stand the absolute lack of a real plot, at least a plot worth reading. The whole book could be summed up in a few lines, none of which including the psychological impact the situation had on Ma or her family.
Matter is: a 5 years old boy point of view can be extremely limited. We can’t get all that from the little of the world a kid has seen, let alone one who lived his whole short life in a garden shed. It’s surely amazing to see how Emma Donoghue managed to perfectly render the innocent, inexperienced point of view of a kid who never saw the outside world before.
But that’s where my awe stopped.

It took me a long time to finish this book and I really had to force myself to keep on reading. I am one of those people who rarely put aside a book she doesn’t like, but with ROOM I was tempted to do an exception many times.
When it seemed the story finally started to speed up a bit – that was, when the kid eventually manages to escape – in a few pages we went back again to the usual routine and slowness and boredom.
I understand the auhor wanted to show mum and son’s life exactly the way they perceived it living shut in a 11 x 11 feet room for years – boring, repetitive, sad, dull, depressing, etc. – and she certainly achieved that pretty well, HOWEVER from MY point of view as a reader this led to excessive repetitiveness and to too often silly descriptions due to the 5 years old boy point of view mentioned above.
A bit too much to carry on for the 300 pages of the book.
Basically, I had a feeling that, apart from the wonder and excitement of this kid, who was seeing the world for the first time and considering as magnificent or weird what we consider normal, there was little to nothing else valuable in the plot.

As I said, the point of view is limited and first person narrator means we have a subjective, single point of view of what happens. We don’t know, for example, how adults are coping, how Jack’s mum is doing or what she thinks and feels, having to face every single day the thought they are prisoners, cannot escape and she has a 5 years old boy to keep entertained without the toys and stuff normal kids have in the Outside. We can only guess from what Jack sees and the little he understands what must be going through her mind.

Pity I disliked this book this much, as the idea behind it isn’t bad. A third person narration surely would have helped to give the story that extra something which is instead clearly lacking of.

Time to say goodbye, by S.D. Robertson – A review

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They say that a good book is one that, once finished, makes you feel as if you were parting from an old friend. Funny enough, that’s exactly how I felt when I read the last sentence on Time to Say Goodbye, debut novel by British author S. D. Robertson.

Will Curtis dies in a car accident, a fact we know from page 1. His first and main concern as a spirit is to see how is 6 years old daughter Ella will react to his death and how she will carry on without him, having already lost her mum the day she was born.
Being given the choice between staying a bit longer or going straight “upstairs”, Will decides to stay and wander around to check upon his family while trying to get through to Ella.
As it happens, things are never as straightforward as they may seem, and even if odds seem to be on Will’s side, the decision he’ll have to take eventually won’t be an easy one: staying on Earth forever and look after Ella as a spirit or let her live her life, go to Heaven and wait for her there?

Characters from this book felt so real that I really felt as if I was bidding my farewell to my friends, once finished. Will, but also his parents, his sister, Ella, they all seem so real that at times I felt as if I was reading about the lives of actual living people.

As an author I always have very high expectations towards each and every book I read. I expect a lot from the plot, I hope to get attached to the characters, to be kept awaken late at night, reading, and all that because that’s what happens when I’m working on my own books.
I was thus glad and positively surprised to find in the tragically beautiful story of Will and Ella exactly the type of story that pushed me to carry on reading, and when I got to the last page I was at a loss and even felt a bit of disappointment at the thought that it was over, that it was, in fact, time to say goodbye to them all.
It’s a terrible and yet marvellous feeling; to me, it means that this book indeed left me something.

A moving, beautifully written novel I’d happily put on my “re-read” shelf, one day.

A new year just started

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《 To create the life of your dreams, the time has come for you to love You. Focus on Your joy. Do all the things that make You feel good. Love You, inside and out. Everything will change in your life, when you change the inside of you. Allow the Universe to give you every good thing you deserve, by being a magnet to them all. To be a magnet for every single thing you deserve, you must be a magnet.》Rhonda Byrne

To a new end and a new beginning. Happy 2016 everyone!

The strength of the British spirit

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There’s one thing I’ll always admire of Britons: their capability of keeping their head up against any adversity life can possibly throw at them.

I was astonished the first time I read about the London Blitz and subsequently watched the videos on YouTube. Over a period of 8 months London was incessantly bombed by the German Luftwaffe, and yet every morning people got off their shelters and wiped out the crumbles that once were their homes, opened their shops – at least those who still had one – sent their kids away, in the countryside, where they could be saved from the death coming down from the skies every night. Shortly, they kept calm and carried on living.

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Rochdale town centre

The night between Christmas and Boxing Day this year the floods that had previously hit Cumbria eventually got to Lancashire and the Greater Manchester – and even further down on the map.
The response of locals was amazing. As rivers’ banks burst and water poured on the streets and into their homes, they put on their wellies, rolled up their sleeves and got started. Manchester was divided by the flooding that hit the city of Salford. People grabbed their raincoats and inflatable boats and joined the rescue teams.

“Bookmakers have slashed tge chances of December being the wettest in history to even odds”Source: Sky News 24.

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Rescuers at work in Radcliffe

People didn’t waste any time in crying or in pulling their hair. It would not have stopped the flood, nor saved the few belongings still in their houses and the elderly trapped in the upper floors. They put any feeling and thought behind and kept working. Manchester community proved itself strong and unified, its citizens working side by side with firefighters to clear the roads.

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Another image of Rochdale town centre, with shops completely flooded

Obviously there have been plenty of online debates, the ancient dispute between North and South coming up once again, this time to discuss on whether this situation could be prevented or not, with some users stating that “in Tory’s South this would never have happened” and some replying quite firmly “remember Somerset a few years back”. Others preferred to remind everyone of the money the Government gave to help the Sirian refugees last fall… with Britons now left without a penny to re-build their homes.

I had a look at BBC website, not too keen to stick to local Manchester Evening News only. I found out that those users could perhaps have a point when they said that they are being forgotten. UK floods news on BBC homepage was a small link shadowed by Texas’ storm, politics, economy and various world news. Clearly what’s happening in England stays in England, and we know where to go if we want to read news about what’s going on here – or so webmasters think, clearly.

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Lowry hotel, Manchester, with Blackfriars St bridge in the background

So many years spent in the UK and yet I still cannot understand how people here can cope with that heart-wrenching feeling in the chest at the sight of their homes being flooded, their lives covered in mud and debris, memories washed away by the dirty water. An inner strenght that keeps them going, and I quite like the idea that some of that composure rooted in me, somewhere. Somehow.

Adopting the same pragmatism shown by local people, in the past 2 days I explored the alternatives I had should my own home and car be hit by the flood. I kept in touch with my neighbours and did my duty by offering help to the areas affected. Needless to say, 48 hours later neighborhoods and streets have been cleaned up, and things are slowly going back to normal. A proof of efficiency Manchester had showed already 5 years ago, when the city was cleaned up less than 12 hours after the riots had wrecked the town centre.

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From the images posted online by local newspapers I saw the block I used to live in Collyhurst towering above a burst Irk, the Lowry Hotel in town surrounded by muddy water, the below stores and garages flooded. I kept an eye on the floods map, as both my house and the company I worked for were marked in orange. It’s not easy when you are some 1.3k miles away.
The pictures taken in those villages I have been in the last few years – Knaresbourough, Middleton, Haworth, Hebden Bridge – shook me and upset me. I can only imagine what kind of feelings their inhabitants must be experiencing. Yet they carry on, they keep cleaning and shovelling, as thinking about what’s lost won’t give them back their homes. For that and for everything else, I admire them so.

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A pub collapsed near Bury after the river burst in

The boy in the striped pajamas by John Boyne

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How can I possibly express the way I felt after finishing this marvellos, yet terrible in its crudity, book? The subtitle, A story of innocence in a world of ignorance, couldn’t fit better.

Bruno is 9 when he and his family have to leave the beautiful terraced in Berlin and relocate to a smaller house in a place in the middle of nowhere called Out-With. Bruno’s father is a Commandant. The Fury himself asked him to relocate in Out-With as the Fury “has big projects in his mind for him”.
There are no shops in Out-With, no cafés, no schools, no neighbours. Above all, there are no friends for Bruno and his elder sister. The only children in Out-With live in some kind of big camp Bruno sees from his bedroom window.

Bruno dreams of becoming an explorer one day, so he decides to go out and start discovering the new place he’s living in. He eventually runs into a pale, bruised child sitting cross-legs on the ground on the other side of the fence. The boy, whose name is Shmuel, is Bruno’s age and was born on the same day as him. Shmuel is a Jew, a fact that Bruno accepts with a shrug, incapable of grasping the meaning of it.

It’s the beginning of a special friendship. For over a year the two kids will spend most of afternoons together, sitting on the two sides of the fence and talking until it’s time for Bruno to go home.
One day Bruno’s mother decides it’s time for her and her children to move back to Berlin. Bruno and Shmuel will have to say goodbye.

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Worst day ever?

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Today was the absolute worst day ever
And don’t try to convince me that
There’s something good in every day
Because, when you take a closer look,
This world is a pretty evil place.
Even if
Some goodness does shine through once in a while
Satisfaction and happiness don’t last.
And it’s not true that
It’s all in the mind and heart
Because
True happiness can be attained
Only if one’s surroundings are good
It’s not true that good exists
I’m sure you can agree that
The reality
Creates
My attitude
It’s all beyond my control
And you’ll never in a million years hear me say
Today was a very good day

(Now read it from bottom to top…)

Poem by Chanie Gorkin