The dogs of my life – Part 2

I am very aware that reading about other people’s dogs is not half as interesting as having one, or reading about your own.

But as part of my books consists of talking about my life, my life wouldn’t be complete without the dogs I’ve had. However, there has always sometimes been conflict around them.

The first dog in Italy, so after I was say 13-14 was a lovely white Spinone someone had given me. My mum did try to keep him for a while, but of course, as with most kids, I was in and out of the house so very, very much, that in the end it was her taking care of him, and she simply didn’t want to have a dog. So she sent him back.

Then around maybe 16, some unknown person gave me a German Shepherd puppy I called Tequila and put a red bandanna on him I had on me as I wore them myself (it was after the fashion-devastation of the Philippines, when I would wear lots of Americana and my favourite item was a pair of black cowboy boots… in humid and very hot Philippines). I hung around the park with pals for a bit and with the puppy, then took him home with me on the train, then my mum turned me away at the door. I got back on the train and took him back to Milan to the person who’d given him to me.

When I moved to the Philippines, with my dad, we were staying in a massive villa of some colleague of his who owned a white fluffy dog, a pretty white Pomeranian who, despite our best efforts got infested with fleas and ticks. I felt very bad about it and was glad I didn’t have to face the owners on the way back.

There was no dog, for a long time after that. After all, I was in and out of the house, the region, the country even for so long and so many times that it made perfect sense that my mother wouldn’t allow me to have dogs.

In my late teens I would sometimes across the dog of a friend, one whom I’d come to share a house in Tuscany with: her mother, out of spite because this friend had wanted a puppy and then was never there to look after it, kept this ball of white fluff chained on the front lawn, and never took him anywhere nor did she pet him, as she was a cat person, she said. This turned out to be a very evil woman, but at the time, she posed as a lovely person, though her cruelty to this poor dog should have given her away. Secretly, I thought my best friend was also cruel for allowing her mother to treat her dog so.

Time passed, I went to London to study, came back pregnant, went to Spain, returned from Spain, and finally moved to Tuscany, this time without my partner/first husband, but with two boys and the above friend, my best friend.

We lived in an incredible area, very wild, with wide open grounds almost wholly ours to frolic in, and so, for this reason, as well as for discouraging the father of the kids from coming upon us unannounced again, I wanted a dog.

Like my mother, my friend threatened me that if I did get a dog, I would be the only one to look after it. I promised. I went to the dog pound, and they convinced me to get a puppy who was a Husky mix. She at the time told me this as a good thing: knowing more about dogs now, recommending anything containing any Husky to someone who is a single mother of two very tiny children was really NOT a good idea. I guess they didn’t know that much about dogs either.

We called her Lula, and she was ever so pretty. But she was unruly from day one. They had said she was an 8 month old puppy, and I later learned that at 8 months a puppy has already got a pretty ingrained character: if it is an unruly, wildish dog, she is not likely to change, no matter what efforts you put in it.

She was nothing like Churro. Churro was constantly next to me, she found any excuse to run. She pulled like a demon and hated being held back.

Things between my friend and I quickly soured, not because of Lula but Lula was a factor, and I moved from that incredible place in the Tuscan wilderness to Florence, where I had found a job. I shared the flat’s rent with a friend (more on that in my book) and I had an aupair helping me pick up the boys from school and walk the dog. However, for various reasons all of this fell apart, and I was left coming home after picking up my boys to a kitchen filled with dog poo and pee. It was not a happy experience, certainly not for the boys either. Eventually, because I could no longer afford that crazy expensive flat, I found a new house with enormous difficulty (nobody in Italy is keen to rent to a single mother of two small children… and a dog) half an hour outside of Florence.

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Beautiful unruly Lula and the boys

The place seemed perfect: forget the condition of the flat, just outside there was a little fenced-in garden, and outside that a big park you could walk and play in, and all around our little town there were glorious hills and nature. It was a perfect place for a dog, and we happily took her for walks, although that soon became an issue: Lula was completely restless, wild, pulling on the lead hurting me and the boys. Wish we had known about Haltis at the time.

Eventually the time came that everything was way too much for me. I began looking for a flat near my sister’s house in Northern Italy but on top of all the other difficulties, the final no came as soon as the heard I had a dog. This was even though we were looking for an unfurnished house.

The rental market in Italy was tough: it is not usual to rent. Somehow, people always seem to have some money stashed somewhere, either from their parents or what have you, and with that they would put a deposit down and buy a house. Everyone owned a house, back then. If you rented, you were looked down on, especially in northern Italy.

Back in Tuscany, as all this happened, I had gotten to know a Norwegian lady that lived across playground area and up another bit of hill. She had an enormous house, and a huge green area in which she also cultivated fruit and vegetables. She also had 8 or 9 children. She lived on the charity of the Church. I, ever the outsider, had no such privilege. She had met Lula a couple of times, and I had told her about how the months were passing and I was increasingly desperate to find a home, also because the current owner of the house I lived in had grown tired of my delays in paying the rent and thus wanted me out. Bless her forever and always, when she heard my major hurdle was Lula, she offered to take her. Waves of relief washed over me, and I cannot hide I was also relieved because Lula was a dog who was very difficult to love, when you had your safety and your children’s to worry about. All this lady’s children were older, and they had plenty of grounds in which to attempt to contain her, so I just let the relief wash over me and soon after that, a new place was found and I moved away from Tuscany.

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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.

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.

Translate into English. or English. Which English?

If you look at the number of Dictionaries you can download for, say LibreOffice (a wonderful suite with which you can create and edit all the documents you can create and edit in Word except it’s FREE – you can donate, which I did as I want to encourage the lack of monopoly – and doesn’t screw you over with new docx formats and weird updates and all that) or even the Firefox browser, you will see that there is ONE for Italian, and about 5 or 6 for English.

In some suites there used to be a “Swiss Italian” but I honestly believe that was just a way in which the Swiss Italians could pretend to have some identity of their own (no offence Swiss Italians, I used to live twenty minutes from you and you honestly didn’t speak any differently from us).

English, however, is an entirely different matter.
When you are translating a technical text, it is fairly simple: once you have established where that manual is going you translate everything in exactly that country’s language. Measurements will become a paramount and obvious choice whereas for other types of texts, unless they are metric, they can be perceived as fairly arbitrary and a little crazy for us who descend from the sensible Romans.

If you are translating classical literature, again the problem is relatively simple: are you translating for an American edition or a British edition? With classical literature you tend to be fairly… well, you strive for what is closest to the author’s background, but you need to also consider what your readers are going to be like.

Because ultimately, the aim of a translation is to have that book read.

So, I had a little chat with my author yesterday via email.

At the beginning of the job, I had told him we needed to think about his preferred initial audience: are we going American, British, or Standardised European English, which is a “sensible”, well constructed but not too playful use of English?
I think because he was thinking of publishing with an English publisher first, he chose British. I then asked him: “Do you want this to be a translation that reflects the author’s voice (yours), or would you like it to be as though it were told by someone British or of any other nationality?”

This is a very important distinction, which is not always possible, but it was in this case: the novel consists in a fictional narrator who is telling the events in the life of a person who has really lived, who happens to be Italian, so the fictional narrator is telling a non-fictional account. It also happens that the person whose real life story is being told is the author himself.
Yes, it is a little confusing, though on the surface it is very similar to the picaresque novels where the author invents a fictional narrator who then tells a fictional story but that he tells as true.
So, the protagonist himself remains who he is, but the narrator could then be a generalised Italian man that the author has made up with specific characteristics, a specific Italian man with specific experiences and personality (so, basically, the author himself) or it could be someone with a different personality altogether, even an English guy.
That English guy could be an ex-high school teacher, or he could be an ex-diplomat, or he could be a postman who’d been friends with the guy. The narrator needed to have an individuality too, so that I, the translator, could transfer him into a new language.

As it stood, however, the narrator didn’t have a defined personality, so I had to asked the author: who is telling this story?
My author said “I want it told as though it were a story in its own right, told by an English person”.

So, that gave me lots of elements to play with, and I had a very clear idea in my head of how I would approach the tone of voice of this English-speaking narrator. I made the narrator up in my head, as the author seemed to not want to make up a personality for him.
As the first drafts were finished and the author started reading them, he picked up on some elements and started to change his initial indications.
The author is not a professional author, and certainly not a translator, so he has no idea how delicate this process is.
He started by pointing out that the tone of the narrator wasn’t right, because that was not how his protagonist (he himself) would describe things.
After some discussion, we agreed that the narrator and the protagonist were basically the same person, with the same value judgements, the same reactions to the events, everything.
That, of course, changed a lot. I really should have overhauled the entire translated book! This would have meant many many hours of work for me, which I didn’t feel like charging him on top of everything else (which a translator is obliged to do if he or she wants to survive) just because we hadn’t understood each other at the beginning.
Instead, I did a wide and detailed revision, and changed what I could.
My author speaks English so he is doing a lot of that himself. That will be easy for him because he can apply his own personality to this narrator, who started off a separate fictional character but it then ended up being him, the author. It was, however, a little frustrating, to say the least. We’re talking a 60000+ words book.
As he carried on reading, he pointed out that he would prefer the metres in the novel to be turned to feet, because that’s what American readers understand better.
So. Metres and feet. In England, the metric system came into force many years ago.
People, however, still feel more comfortable with yards and miles and that has remained on the road, and pints have remained more popular than litres (though they do write the litres pitifully in small letters on the bottles) and so on. In hospitals, it is funny to see the nurse struggling to explain to me what that kilogram unit means, when to me it is much more immediately understandable than the pounds and stones.
Now, when translating books from a European language that uses the metric system, especially books that are not meant solely or even primarily for a British audience, it is now starting to be common practice to leave the metrical system in. When translating for the American market, however, there is a tendency to keep things as simple as possible and therefore indeed, change those metres into feet (remember these are not technical translations so exactness is not paramount).
When my author pointed out this “little” factor (according to him), I trembled:
a) go back 60000+ words and check every instance where metric was used instead of Imperial, to maintain consistency (you shouldn’t really speak of feet and yards and then speak of litres, for example.)?
b) was he starting to think about changing the whole book into a more Americanised translation? Because THAT would mean a complete overhaul. Sentences would have to be shortened, vocabulary and construction changed, hell, spellings would need to be modified, punctuation and even tone would vary! He didn’t come back to me about that, so I’m hoping he will just leave it rather than attempt to fix it.
In this case I was dealing with someone with a relatively poor knowledge of all the language he speaks, although not very ready to admit it and trust in me.

He is not, however, an isolated case.

The greatest challenge I have come across when translating, the challenge most translators will probably recognise, is translating for someone who knows the language enough to read what you wrote.
They will always have an input. Depending on the person, this input will sometimes come in the form of “that is not what I meant” or “you have taken all my words and shifted them all about” (yes, that is often the case, especially translating very laborious sounding Italian into the simpler English form).
On the other hand, if you know the author wants the text to be as Italian looking as possible, to make him or her happy you may purposely keep a very correct English, which, however, doesn’t sound that natural. Then of course you get the British reviewer who is horrified at the elaborateness of the language, or the American one who tells you that American readers won’t read a sentence of that as it is way too abstruse!

This is one of the skills of a good Project Manager in Translating companies: they will know who the client is, what they want to see, and which translator can achieve exactly what they want.
As an independent translator, care needs to be taken in understanding your author and what he or she wants, and discuss things well in advance, before starting the work, and writing them down. I did this with the author before this one and it was a very good idea. Sometimes, as in this case, the confusion is just due to the author himself not knowing what he wants till after he’s got it in his hands.

Between a blog post and a novel…

….runs the Mississippi river.

True.

I have recently subscribed to many, many blogs, and I saw today that what I feared would take up way too much time in order to be a proper blog reader, rather than one of those who bot-like add people and never, ever read what they write, actually takes about an hour, so, that’s entirely doable.

I left a couple of much longer posts on the side to read a little later, but on the whole, it is a perfectly feasible experience.

When you are reading a book, usually a novel, you enter it and, if it’s good, you’re a little sorry to put it down and perhaps carry a bit of it into your dreams, but you will easily slip back into it once you resume it. I love books and I think besides the nature-given animals and human beings and trees and landscapes a book is the greatest most wonderful thing on the planet. If you can combine two or more of the above elements, as far I’m concerned, I’m in heaven (example of perfect happiness = reading a book on the top of a hill near a brook with trees around me and my dog and my children playing nearby, maybe my husband next to me though he’d probably be on his phone complaining about the lack of proper reception so I’d probably leave him at home tbh.) Books are the best.

But, when you are reading 15-30 different blogs a day, you are skipping in and out of entirely varied and different worlds. The treasure is immense. Unmeasurable. You are diving in and out of a person’s soul. Sure they will choose what exactly they are sharing with you. But you see, the blog format pushes people to express themselves way more effectively than any other creative expression.

In a similar way to the “In Vino Veritas” principle, which I believe in profoundly (If I cannot stand you when you’re tipsy you’re probably not a person I want to hang out with when sober), a blog brings out people, you can read between the lines or even just read what they want to say.

I remember since I was little and up to very recently one of my recurring cravings was to know what people talked about when I wasn’t there. There wasn’t, believe it or not, any element of nosiness or minding other people’s business involved. I’m just one of those people who couldn’t care less about your job, your position, your prestige in life, your star status, your money, or anything like that. What I do care about is your inner workings, your personal stories.

And here are blogs: they show me glimpses of REAL human beings, not fictional characters. They teach me stuff, make me laugh, make me sad and melancholy, tell me about worlds I had no idea about, give me little gems to treasure, teach me new vocabulary and writing styles. They can give me ideas for future stories and I might get back to them one day for a consultancy on a particular subject.

But for whatever the reason, in fact because of all these reasons, blogs are the most amazing depiction of how human we can all be, and how very very easy it would be for us all to get to know each other a little better, and actually appreciate and understand each other a little more.

Illustration by Will Worthington

Of course, then you go on the internet to find an image you can relate to blogger and you find out about bloggers who were murdered in Bangladesh. And that’s the downside. These are real people, and people can use the privileged access a blog gives to a real person for the foul reasons driven by other real people’s evil intentions. May all bloggers always be able to live long, and tell us about them, and always be entitled to their word.