Perfect Valentine’s Days – Part 1

What happens to your life when you’ve grown up seeing perfection?

I had memories of Lake Titicaca in Peru,

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Lake Titicaca, the highest lake in the world.

of the stunning scenery of its eclectic geography. I had memories of walking along the city of Arequipa with my dog, alone, but always unafraid, and never had any cause to regret that daring. I lived  as good as alone, yes, in a big six-level-villa surrounded by a garden, but my maid Gladys prepared my meals and I would sit and watch a couple of telenovelas with her, and I had my animals: my llama, Bibo, my dog Churro, and various kittens that would come and go. I already said I played with earthworms, in Peru I had progressed to earthworm races.

I loved my freedom and I loved my own presence in this world. The occasional encounters with parents or siblings I remember little about, this was when my parents were beginning to split up for good and so I saw them even less than before, and that suited me just fine. There were once or twice long trips in the car with my dad, and we all just focused on the extravagant magnificence of the Peruvian landscape and fauna. Back at home, I was happy with the chats with Gerardo, our driver, looking out from where we sat in our garden out over the city of Arequipa.

But this is all part of the tale of my years in Peru, in its own chapter in the book I am writing.

From this I was swept up and taken, along with my brother, to the north of Italy, where we would now live in a small house with my mother and my sister. This is where the chaos in my life began.

I was 12 when I arrived in Italy, and what a hugely different place that was. It was massively crowded, both in the house and outside. There were people everywhere, and there was no escaping talking to all of them, it seemed.

I struggled to understand why my Peruvian jumpers were funny, and I struggled to understand almost everything that was supposedly funny, even when not about me. My father had picked out in advance some girls for me to become friends with, and though they were indeed nice and gentle, I didn’t understand them. Oh, I knew enough Italian to understand the words they spoke, but they made little sense to me. I tried, but I soon found myself preferring the company of boys, who were more boisterous, more interesting, more adventurous. Boys took their bikes and went exploring places, and that was far more my style. So I began tagging along with them.

I had always been precocious in my appreciation of boys, so by all means part of me wanted to be with them because I found them overall more interesting: they were cute, one of them in particular, and they did things that were more fun: girls, particularly these «good» girls my dad had picked out, never stood a chance, really.

I will write more about these boys and those first years in Italy in my book, but because yesterday was Valentine’s Day I wanted to tell you about a couple of perfect Valentine’s. 

You see, I come back to the perfection I mentioned above.

Valentine’s Day has now become absurd, according to me. It is everybody’s day. I’m not kidding when I tell you my father sent us girls (women and children) a «Happy Valentine’s kitten in a champagne glass» email. I had to respond with laughter and say hahah but why, it’s not like it’s women’s day!

Crazy stuff happens now with Valentine’s: people moaning about how it should be abolished because they are bitter or depressed as they don’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend, America trying to establish a «Galentine’s day» to celebrate best friends (just so more people buy on the day before too), friends say Happy Valentine’s to friends (why!) and so on and so forth.

But to me, as I was growing up, both in Peru and in Italy, Valentine’s Day was the day when hidden love was revealed, confessed, brought out into the open. Sometimes anonymously because they were too shy, or not quite ready, sometimes with open declarations. It should mean a lot to gay people coming out these days, since heterosexual kids these days just whatsapp their love to each other before it’s even formed!

The story behind this day was that it was named after a priest who would marry the couples who were secret lovers: this way, they could finally come out into the open. It’s a lovely story and why can’t we keep it?

Well, I have had a couple of perfect Valentine’s. But the two most perfect ones have got to be the one with Massimo and the one with Michele. How do I tell these stories without their long backgrounds?

I will try, but they’re both worth reading up about in whole in my book, I promise you.

Massimo was a boy, a couple of years older than me, from the group of houses next to ours. He was a cyclist, a serious one, sure to become professional one day, it was clear to everyone, especially his dad who trained him. He was a cute boy with large brown eyes and brown hair and light skin. We’d gotten together around the age of 13, but because his friends, who were jealous of the time he spent with me, had found out about my running around with the kids from my school and their older siblings, they began calling me names and insulting me in front of and to Massimo. Massimo always told me to just ignore them. But it wasn’t enough for me to ignore them, they were hurting my feelings deeply and I wanted him to do more about it. So I broke up with him. He accepted it, though he was sad, but he began cycling past my house where I would sit with my friends to watch the world (and cute boys) go by. Then he began doing funny things, such as cycling past and then immediately cycling past again, making faces and singing songs, until eventually he convinced me to get down from the rock my friends and I sat on and come outside the gate and talk to him.

By then I had started to go out with a bigger and older group of friends, a result of following a couple of older brothers of the boys from my school. These all had motorbikes, mostly Vespas. Massimo had seen me with them, they were cool, and older, and they smoked, and they had motorbikes: he knew he couldn’t compete, so he began to tell me he was thinking of buying a motorbike. He must have seen my eyes open wide. He would tell me all about it and eventually one day instead of cycling past, he drove past with his motorbike, and he’d gotten good with it, and he did wheelies with it, and he convinced me to go for a ride, and we did, and it was such fun. We were still split up, but we had become fast friends.

More than once, he’d fall off his bike. He would come and laugh with my friends and me about his scabs, the big scabs from his falls, we would have fun picking them off.

Then Valentine’s day arrived. There was a party at his group of houses, organised by his friends. He invited me and I was very worried because his friends continued to be very frosty towards me, adding to their scorn for the boys I hung around with their supposed anger at having broken Massimo’s heart. He told me not to worry, he’d walk in with me, and never leave me alone.

So we went, and there was music as there was in the eighties, you know, fast pop music for dancing, and then slow ballads for slow dancing.

I still remember that day as if it were yesterday: Massimo and his black jumper, thin enough that as I hugged him and he hugged me as we prepared to dance to a song he said he’d prepared just for me, I could feel the scabs from his latest accident all over his back and strong arms. I felt enveloped and protected and loved, and I was also hugely aware of the piercing stares from all his friends at the party: Massimo had many friends, some even came from the church, as you’ll read in the book. The song «Hard to Say I’m Sorry» by Chicago came on, and he hugged me tighter, and spoke in my ear gently that he should never had left me undefended, he should have stood up for me, he should have told them all to go to hell, and he should never have allowed an ill word about me to be spoken by them. He promised me that if I ever gave him another chance, he would be proud to hold me in front of everyone, and slam down anyone who dared speak badly of me. We would «come out», into the open, and even if I wanted us to remain friends, he would hold me and love me in front of everyone.

I cried into his jumper. I apologised and we laughed, it didn’t matter that I’d gotten his jumper wet. The party was over and we left together, and he didn’t let go of me one minute, and he stayed close and looked openly and defiantly at his friends, who had to look away and gossip amongst themselves. I felt like the Queen of the party, because Massimo was by all means the King.

This is hard for me to write.

To this day, I can barely hear that song without shivering and crying, and even as I write these words now, my eyes fill with tears and I am not sure how I will continue.

A few days later, Massimo came up to our group of houses as always, and we went for a short walk into town. I walked, he pushed his bike, on which he had just done his usual pirouettes to impress me. As usual, I told him off about them, pointed out his many falls, and told him how he had to be more careful. He asked me whether I’d thought about what he’d said, and whether I was going to give him another chance. I said hm well, let’s try, and see how it goes. We arranged to meet that coming Sunday, it would be the first day of our renewed relationship. He was so happy and whoopped and bounced on the motorbike and began to set off and I laughed and yelled at him over the racket he was making «That’s if you make it to Sunday considering the way you drive!».

He laughed as well and drove off.

That Thursday he crashed with his bike, and died.

This will have to end here. Part 2 tomorrow.

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The introduction to my childhood – Albums

From my second book, temporarily called Lysa around the world:

Chapter 1, Childhood

Albums are important, or at least photographs. They tell stories our memories would struggle to remember. In those photographs I could see how happy my mum had been in those first years in Australia with my dad, whom I loved very much. She smiled loads, she was free and full of life and passionate.

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Then, she gradually changed. Everybody was more serious in the pictures, angry, resentful. That’s after I came along. I knew it wasn’t her fault. It was just that shit happened and I came along at a bad time. But this mum, the mum they see in the pictures of when my siblings were little, I have never met. I would glimpse her on occasion, and I loved her terribly, but it was only a rare glimpse.

I missed my childhood. There is no doubt about that. Despite looking at it later with the eyes of an adult and realising it was a neglected, emotionally abrasive and damaging childhood, if I looked at it with the eyes of what was real, what felt real, I missed it.

I missed the freedom. If I looked back, I thought of instances I loved.

I thought of scattered green oases within a greater desert land, lush trees and grass and rumbling waterways. Cows grazing. This was the countryside around Arequipa, in Peru. I was always allowed, because there was nobody to say no, nobody to ask permission to, either, to go for the longest walks, getting lost in nature.

I wanted that back. I had often felt like I was waiting to have that back my whole life. One of the things I waited for was to go back to that.

I am sure many people miss their childhood, but how many live in the constant, daily craving to return to it? All this at the same time as being aware of all the good things in this life that are now present, that have passed and are yet to come.

1971 – 1976 New Zealand

My infancy began in Rome. I was born by Cesarean section there. The family (my pregnant mum, my dad and my siblings) was there because my dad got fed up and restless of a perfectly good work situation in Australia, decided to return to Italy by boat on an impulse, was penniless and jobless for months and then found a job in New Zealand. So I was born in Rome but conceived in New Zealand. He barely said hello to his third baby and departed again. We all joined him a couple of months later.

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I was a couple of months old when my sister, my brother, my mum and I joined my dad in New Zealand. We lived in a lovely house by a big river, surrounded by trees and greenery. When I was old enough, 3 or 4, I used to tricycle to school. Sometimes I tried to keep up with my older sister, her friend and my brother who tagged along with them. I could never keep up with them for long. I used to climb trees, sometimes chasing our cats,

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and bounce on the trampoline for ages and ages. I explored, alone, and loved every bit of it. And when I say every bit I mean I sometimes spent hours just interacting with the insects, the dirt, the blades of grass, the earthworms.

Sometimes we would have tremendous fun when my dad was there, organising film sessions where he was the man dressed in black, and he chased us around the woods around the house, in and out of empty gardens, and us kids completely loved it, and he would film it all.

I had a friend called Tyler, a little Maori kid, he was my best friend and the only one I remember, except for Bee,

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who was my neighbour, a round headed blonde little girl, we used to climb under fences to see each other. Taylor was the best because he would climb trees with me, and he was better than me at climbing down, so while I got stuck on the tree a lot of the time, he would clamber down and tell my dad to come get me.

One of these times he hadn’t come in time and I fell and broke my arm.

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On one occasion on a trip out, we were horse-back riding.

I was very little, maybe three? Everyone was on a horse, my dad was walking holding the rope for my horse. I loooooved being on that horse, so high up. We walked a long way, then we walked up a hill. On turning back however, my sister and brother’s horses went full gallop down the hill. My horse followed! I was scared of the galloping, but held on as much as I could, exhilarated, thrilled. At one point I was vaguely aware of my dad being dragged behind me, trying not to let go of the rope, bumping on his bottom as my horse got free, then veered off back to the road, and I fell, and rolled down the steep edge of the hill, and everything spun, and I wondered whether this was when I’d die. I didn’t, I remember my dad near me, I must have been fine.

This didn’t put me off horses, I still thought them amazing beautiful creatures. I was already jealous of my sister for having her own horse. I felt sure I would have one too, someday.

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Safe with my mum and my sister this time

As a writer I’ve established I need to a) get rid of everything that was my life and b) regain a semblance of writing craft, one that I had loads of, once upon a time.

Hence this book.

Everything in it is as true as can be, considering my often failing memory. And yet, at the same time, because the truth is never black or white, there are always nuances, versions, perceptions. I don’t want to sound maudlin, I want my life to be pleasant to read, I want my book to show the adventure and the laughter and the beauty of freedom, rather than the sadness, the isolation, the awkwardness and the loneliness.

This is also why I am posting bits here. They’re for me, mainly, so I can come back and look at them with the eyes of an outsider.

Of course, any feedback is always welcome.

Take a walk on the wild side

Sometimes, the craziest thing you can do is actually do what you wish, the smallest things.

That is how I got fed up of waiting of having enough willpower, money and encouragement to find a new hairdresser who would deal with my hair.

So I cut it. Chopped it, more like. But it’s ok. honest!

I am nearly 50, I can afford to hear once again the same old litany of “oh no!” and “oh my god you’re always doing this” and “nooooo” or what have you.

It’s done, I feel lighter, of course, because you may not know this, but my hair was very long ad very thick. Ok, here is a picture of the other day:

 

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Don’t get distracted by the gorgeous puppy. (Her name is Nikita by the way, and yes she is adorable)

Look at my blooming hair!

I am a wild woman, I am, I always was, I always tried to adjust, fit in, look better, dress better, be a little more elegant.

It doesn’t work, it just doesn’t work.

And yes I love my hair long, but it’s loads of hair and it’s heavy and it gets dry and I get regularly fed up with it.

So I cut it!

Ha.

My husband doesn’t know yet. I curled it up in a bun on the top of my head like it was this morning, so he doesn’t know yet.

If you know about me you know I have done a lot of wild things in my life. If you don’t, trust me, I did. You’ll be able to read most of them in my second book! A That is of course if I have the courage to publish it under my own name. Otherwise you’ll have to settle for my first novel: it is still me, in a  way.

And yet, the wildest thing to do, for me, is always actually act according to my own heart, and bear the consequent disappointment and confusion in others.

I am preparing for that stepping stone: after 50, I will no longer be anything but who I am, even if who I am changes rapidly, enough of trying to please. I am walking on the wild side, of me.

Free of the handsome young man

I went to a lovely second hand shop yesterday, and two of my greatest passions were present.

A second hand shop that has enbiggened, and a very cute man (not so common round here, fortunately). The man however was quite young, and I finally moved into the area where I thought “you’re nought but a boy to me sweetie”.

I am glad of that.

Beginning of the book

I am working on my second book. I have now written 12223 words, it’s not too bad!

This is how it begins:


Prologue

A lot of people like me. Are charmed by me, sometimes. Old ladies see me smile and look again, and they love me, they say, though they don’t know me.

It fills my heart and makes me happy, though I never really know why they do. The old lady who is my landlady, I like to think, does that because maybe when she was little, she met my grandmother, my father’s mother. She was from here you see, well, further down south, right in the centre of the lowest part of this, the Heel of Italy, surrounded by a deep blue sea.

My grandmother’s name was Chiara, which means light, and I didn’t know her very well. I knew about her, through my dad, so yes, very, very little. My whole family, well, my mother and father, were never very talkative about the rest of their (not ours, not mine) family.

Nonna Chiara lived in a beautiful apartment in Rome, at the side of the Gianicolo. Marcello Mastroianni, a very famous and beautiful Italian actor from the sixties, lived on the floor above and then sold his house to some other famous Roman actor. The building looked fairly plain from the outside, but it was lush with plants and surrounded by paths you could walk on, so that you felt removed from the big road that bent lazily in front of it. You walked down a few steps, decorated with pretty tiles, then small cobblestone paths to enter the garden that surrounded the building, then the paths led you to a gate on the side, and out of that gate you came out onto the long steps that wound their way down into the heart of Trastevere. It was like entering a separate world, I still remember feeling protected, safe, part of the city, and I could smell the heat coming up from the cobblestones.

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Google Maps 2015 shot of “La Scalea del Tamburino”, with my grandmother’s apartment block on the right

The flat itself felt tight, and dark. You’d come in from the door into a parlour, on the left you’d immediately see a grand piano, and a window/door to the balcony, letting a lot of light into that particular space. Perhaps a couple of armchairs on the right. Through a big indoor glass sliding door you’d go to the dining room, darkened to keep out the massive heat of a Roman summer, I think now, but at the time, I didn’t know why it was so dark, it was intimidating, as though bad things were meant to happen. The table was massive oak or something, and the room had glass cabinets on each side. There was a narrow corridor, and the next room to the right was a big study, my grandfather’s study: all in wood, solid, with a distinctive smell of pipe, a sweet smell. This had a large, long window on its back wall, also with blinds lowered, but not quite as much so not quite as dark. It was an important-looking study, beautiful and of solid wood, but somehow bright, good, happy. I also remember my grandfather a little, he smiled most of the time.

His name was Nonno Nino. He was very nice. I found out many, many years ago, that Nonno Nino was one of three brothers who had inherited various hotels and restaurants in Ischia, a beautiful island next to Capri. One of the brothers had squandered it all with a bad game habit. My grandfather had helped him out, but they had lost their properties. Then, he became a public prosecutor, and he was friends with Italy’s most beloved president, Sandro Pertini. Apparently, others who had his job took bribes to hep the rich and famous, but he didn’t. My grandmother would tell him she was glad he was so honest but whereas his colleague’s wives had all the money in the world, they remained (relatively, I’m guessing) poor. I do know my father considered himself and his family financially (though not spiritually) poor. But I can think of worst reasons to be poor. I was happy to find out about the compulsive honesty of my grandfather, who died too soon for me to know him any better in person.

My aunt, my father’s sister, who lived there, was not as nice. She felt bitter, and sharp, and I felt that she disliked us, the nephews and nieces visiting from distant continents. The woman had had an accident during her time working in some factory, and had lost three of her fingers. She felt, and smelt, older than my grandmother, Chiara. Her hair up in a bun, her clothes demure, old fashioned, but good quality. How do I remember this? I guess it’s hindsight.

There will of course have been bedrooms, but I have no memory of them whatsoever.

The kitchen was narrow and dark, and I don’t ever remember my grandmother cooking in it. A woman after my own heart.

Hey I’m quoting myself here, these are my words. Ta.

Next step: keep my name or use a pen name?

I have already got one, and it’s perfect for me. So perfect I am afraid that if I advertise the book with that name at least my father, who surely does not read this blog and surely is too self-involved (bless him) to even notice if I did advertise the book, nevertheless, he might spot me.

Why do I want to use a pen name?

Because I am ashamed. In the first book, the House of Blue, because of the way it came out, despite my efforts to write fiction I still had too much of my own life and feelings that had c´to come out. It is therefore filled with characters inspired from my own life, so much so that one criticism I got was that the reader was getting a little confused with the so many names.

It is true that the house is inhabited by people with those names, but I guess because they are so easily drawn from people I really know, and sometimes mix-ups of them, I may not be able to capture their description very well, and thus they are not identifiable enough for the reader to distinguish them?

It sounds odd to me, but again, this would be solved by a reader telling me how they perceive it.

The other strange (for me) feedback I got from my very first proof-reader, to whom I’ll be eternally grateful (she’s an awesome photographer, check her out at saralando.com) not just for doing it but for reading through the very first draft, which was very chaotic, was that the one letter written by one character for another which basically was me, my voice, was her favourite, it sounded more real.

Since then, I have tried to adjust the book, write more, take long parts out, but the truth is it remains something I need out there, and I love the end feeling of it, the aftertaste if you like, but it’s probably something that isn’t very good. I don’t know, it’s too close to me still.

So, the next book IS me. It’s my life. I am not fifty yet, but my life was… well, very, very full. And, by full, it’s full of everything: adventure, attempted murderers, hippies, crazy road trips, ghosts, witches, dancing, drama, tragedy, heaps of fun, drugs, famous people, and sex. Lots and lots of sex. In order to protect all the people involved, I thought the best way to do this would be through fake names, including the author’s.

So if you keep up with this blog, you may be invited to the blog for the other writer, and have some snippets there.

Here, I shall post snippets of my published book, and see how I feel about reading them after a while: it may be the best way to slowly redraft it into something I like better. When the second book is finished, I can do a big overhaul of The House of Blue, because I know it can be good.

A self-published terrestrial writer.

My life has taken an odd turn. Everything used to have so much meaning, when I was much younger. I felt everything with such forceful passion. Then I became deflated, and then I had to leave what I thought was my home, the UK. What are my stances, my passions now? I’m not sure. The same as always I think: be excellent to each another (cit. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure)

After that, I contemplated what it meant to be Italian, as I was now no longer a future UK citizen, I was back to being an Italian, but do I feel Italian? Did I feel anything, ever? I’m not sure I did, ever.

Like me, there are many people out there who have lived so much elsewhere they no longer feel from anywhere. Or they feel from a mixture of places, like me. Or they feel from no place, like me.

I know this is tedious.

If anyone should read this who has read this before they will say “my god, will you ever stop writing about national identity, meaning of life and all that?”

Well, the answer I think, is no. I am nearly 50, so I now claim the right to talk about whatever I like.

My most recent epiphany was that, whereas for a lifetime I was trilingual, or bilingual when I lost my Spanish, then English native speaker when I realised my Italian had faded enormously, and then nothing, neither, I realised actually, I am native speaker of nothing. They are all foreign languages to me.

If I were to try and find a traditional publisher for my novel, who would I contact? I have written a book set in Norway (I still think that was an incredibly stupid idea, of all the places in the world I’ve been, and I’ve been to many, why did I pick a country I know NOTHING about? Mah. Then again, most of the decisions in my life have no rational basis), it’s a fantasy/fiction/dream involving characters from all over the world, but whom am I? How would a publisher advertise me?

“New Italian author….” stop right there. I don’t really identify with most Italian culture, there is very little about Italian culture in my novel, if any, and, plus, it’s… written, not translated into, English. Ah well that’s easy, then, you’d say, contact an English, no Irish!, ahm no, an American/Australian/New Zealand….. which? Which is my English from? What culture do I derive from?

It’s my own.

It’s none.

So, liberatingly, it’s whatever I choose it to be, a bit like the language I choose to use, such as “liberatingly” because nobody can say I am not speaking my native language properly.

Thus I will once again (because I can) slightly shift the focus of this blog, and say I am a published author, I am writing a new book, and I will speak about that. Yes I will be amongst the millions and millions trying to be known as authors, but the bonus for me is I don’t care to make money out of these. I do want them out there, even though it terrifies me that they are associated with my name. The book is almost certainly crap as nobody who has read it has wanted to write a review of it anywhere (there are people who have read it, if you are reading me now, please leave a review/any public comment!), but, that is the freedom of being an anomaly: there is no set standard of behaviour to adhere to.

The book is on sale here, if you’re curious, but I will be posting excerpts here of both this one and the one I am writing. The House of Blue is definitely a product of Nanowrimo, in that it was written over 30 days, started off with the idea of a cool 15-year-old speaker, then I realised I couldn’t possibly mimic that voice – I was already way too cerebral at 15 for that tone. So it got shifted and then it was daring and then I curtailed it, and then it became a stream of consciousness and then I realised it was more therapy than a novel, and then I badly wanted it to be a novel so I rearranged it, I kept changing the names… but the end result, in all its imperfection, I was left satisfied with. It conveyed the mood, the magical realism of the place, and the motifs. It got some stuff out of my system so that by the end of it, a lot of it wasn’t even relevant to my feelings at the moment. It was a half-fantasy, half-fear of how I would live my elder years.

My new book is the story of my life. Once that it also out of the way, I can go back to writing complete fiction, which I used to be good at. I just had to get my own life out of the way first. So if anybody wants to try and having a go at reading my published novel, keep in mind that a lot that’s in there is true, true feelings, true intentions, true thoughts.

This below is the original drawing my husband did for the cover in all its beauty.

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This is just an experiment, for a place where I also write, Mastodon