REPORT A PROBLEM
You never know who you'll meet in this job. The lady had things to say, and I had the patience to listen. You'd never think such a river of words could come out of such a small person. It was like watching a dam break at first just a fissure, and suddenly a flood. Cigarettes always smoking in her hand as she yelled and snarled. They never made it to the lips until nearly burnt out, than one quick puff and it was gone, and another on the way. Struggling to keep an open mind, I sipped wine and nodded.
'Men, I can't stand men, they bore me. The only reason I put up with my husband is he is beautiful, he is the father of my sons, he has always respected me, and never interfered in the upbringing of my children. I am a mother of men, so I know why mothers protect their sons because they recognise their inferiority to women. They have the world waiting for them, jobs, politics, so why would a mother protect them? Because motherhood is such an important experience for Italian women, but the sons will never be mothers. They are only men.'
Dressed as a nun, all grey and modest, and went out. Found a fast-food pizza place, crawling with greasy jaded smoking Italian teenagers. I hid behind a book. I was eating when a she-child in a colourful hoodie came up and begged me for money. Somehow being dressed as a nun it was easier to refuse her (if you want money, ask your family). I watched her walk away sulkily, and caught the reflection of my pale face in the window. It was not the right thing to have said, but there was nothing right about this situation.
'Interesting', he murmured, looked at the left one, the right, both. Than he started talking.
'If you want to know about the future, I can't tell you anything like that. I can just read character. I'd say you will probably have two children, and you'll have a long life... But never mind. Your character is more or less formed, you have your way of thinking, your logic, your way of approaching things. You're not the kind of person who changes their mind every other day; you're stable. You're very open, you approach people with an open mind, without creating barriers.
You have a strong character, but you do not impose it on others, you try not to; it is strong enough to be felt without you having to do it. You are a rational person, quite logical, even pragmatic, you pay attention to real things. But, here is the interesting bit. Recently, you have started changing. You have decided to become more interested in ideologies, in philosophy, less tangible things. Normally you see people that are very idealistic, and with time become more and more pragmatic. It is nice to see the opposite happens as well; it is very rare.
You are a very sensual person. It's not that you live for sex, but it is important. Here, however, another change. Your sensuality used to be focused on sex per se, hard stuff. Now you are starting to discover another kind of pleasure, of touch, of kissing, of feeling, a more mental kind of sensuality, more gentle, and not necessarily leading anywhere.' He smiled, closed her hands, and asked: 'So, what do you think?'. She smiled back. The man has known her for half an hour, and what he read in five minutes it took her twenty years to discover.
What have I ever done to merit this! Taken aback, I shrink from the tall old man who is gesticulating madly, spit flying around as he rages on, the full extent of the impressive rant being sadly lost on me, as it is delivered entirely in the dialect of this particular part of Abruzzo. It seems though that having withstood the trial of his monologue I am deemed resilient enough to sustain a real conversation, and soon we chat peacefully about wine, vines, tradition this time a more standard form of Italian is deployed, but thank God for body language.
'For my 44th birthday I drunk a bottle of your Montepulciano, harvested the year I was born, 1974. It was so special it made me cry, and I wanted to thank you.' Suddenly, as she reads out loud, her nose becomes violently red, her eyes water, and she says: 'You see, I, that have nothing to do with this cantina, I am moved by this. And when signor Pepe saw this email, he said this is what we do it for, not the prizes or articles, this!' She waves the print-out at me, sniffling with animation and blinking wildly.
A moment's panic AM I GOING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION?! The sea on my left, the mountains on my right, damn! I look around the carriage. Closest to me is an older man, all beard and hair, in a shabby coat and with an old backpack. Without stopping, I go ahead and pass him, and ask a woman sitting further down. I feel awful having ignored him, and so I sit opposite him, the other side of the gangway, to show I am not embarrassed. For the first time I look at him properly, and realise he is a monk.
'Fascism was first of all a social movement. In twenty years it did more for this country than fifty years of democracy. You have to judge things by the standard of their time, too it was either monarchy, or fascism. Mussolini may have been a buffoon, but at least he believed in something!' I listen and think about the souvenir apron with a saluting Mussolini I saw in Rome. I, like most of Europe, believe Fascists to have been a bunch of narcissist, cowardly, cocky boys playing war. There is nothing serious about them the laughing stock of modern history.
'So one year the cantiniere was decanting, and he noticed there was this white sheet in the cistern just like a napkin. He called me up immediately, and the oenologist, come quick, there is something I don't like. I remember in the cantina there was this heavenly smell, wonderful, real perfume. It was natural yeast. We opened the main cistern, and there were all those white sheets, hanging from the walls beautiful. We sent them to the University of Padova to try and reproduce them, but it did not work. That year we had the best rose' of all times.'
It felt like sitting in front of a black hole. Only I wasn't; I was actually speaking to this biggish, pinkish Italian oenologist. Megad, what a negative energy that guy was. The moment he opened his mouth, it was like opening an empty air tunnel, eating my soul away, I felt myself become fuzzy at the edges as he sucked at my entire being with every breath, and spewed it out back at me in the form of a Death Ray meekly disguised as 'conversation'. I was so exhausted I could only watch myself melt away and wish him dead.
They have a beautiful way of training vines, here in Abruzzo. It's called 'a tendone' the plants are trained in rows, but the branches are led along cables running across rows, a metre and a half above ground. Growing, the vines reach out to one another, intertwine, and create a uniform roof of vegetation. In the summer, when the sun strikes hard, it's cool and pleasant underneath, with grape bunches hanging down like chandeliers from the green ceiling. In the autumn the vineyards seen from above are carpets of colour, splashed with yellow and red, all plants together as one.
He was lying on the bed, and she was sitting on him, squeezing him with her things, rocking , and crying. She started crying suddenly, should he hold her tight against him, kiss her? But she would not be held, just kept rocking, face all red, nose running, so he just stroked her back. She found a pen and started writing on his chest, always sobbing; she wrote in mirror writing, so that he could read it easily later; crazy girl; I mean, in a moment like this, to take time to write in mirror writing, to have that idea, crazy.
Hate depending on others. Depending on others, what a joke, as if one could, at any time; but besides that, what I'm saying is that depending on others,
being dependent on someone
, that is a real nightmare. Feel the net tighten, know you have to control yourself, measure yourself, can't be yourself, your gestures limited, your words self-surveilled the nausea! The nauseating feeling of sinking, of holding on to this slippery piece of shitty wood that is supposed to keep your head above the swamp, but can you depend on it, the piece of shit? Better learn to swim.
There is dust everywhere, in my mouth the strangely bread-like taste of wood, my eyes stinging, don't touch them, it will just get worse. The holes for the biscuits are done, I check they are nicely aligned, smooth the surface of the wood with the palm of my hand. Now working quickly, cover all parts with glue, stick it together, hammer it in, put the clamps on, wash of the excess glue; all this with Dire Straits in the background and Henry talking softly to himself as he finishes sanding the table top in another part of the workshop.
'No photos, no!'. She flashes a quick one of me in a ridiculous floral dress anyway before they kick us out. We buy nice hats and go for another coffee. Outside, the light of the day is still burning on the spires of the duomo, making it look like a huge birthday cake with the candles lit. Red lipstick, menstruation, shopping, and a lot of talk about sex and relationships, fab; all the better for I hardly know her, and she hardly knows me, so we can give one another the 'bartender therapy'. I've not felt that girly for months.
There is only one thing to be deducted from the messages. The one is overtly emotional, all pastoral scenes and eternal bliss. The other fundamentally rational, pure time management and practicalities. As a result, they cancel one another out, it is as if none of them had ever happened to me.
It is really time to go home. I miss living by my own pace, own place, and reaching out to touch his hair whenever I feel like it. Wake up on a grey morning, hear the rain, roll over and snuggle up for a few more minutes, for eternity.
The research has reached a point of over-saturation. Or rather, I have. My laptop is full of data: interviews, photos and films that need to be analysed, and my interest in the project is falling rapidly. I feel lost, without direction, and afraid I may already be deep in the wrong wood. It is time for a reassuring academic pat on the head well done, keep up the good work and a few indications as well (most of them will probably be 'Don't go there.') But how, oh how will I ever communicate all this stuff to my supervisor?!
I was standing on the beach, watching the sunset over the sea. He stopped abruptly before crossing my line of sight, and walked carefully around me. With the corner of my eye I saw him stop a bit further up the beach, and stoop; crying? When he passed me again I asked if he was allright, and we got talking. Two hours and a few wine glasses later I knew his biography, and that his girlfriend was pregnant, and he was only twenty one. When the time came we hugged and parted, and I'm sure I'll never see him again.
We drank a bit too much, and the sky is full of stars. The whole day of anxiety and sadness culminated in a feeling of excited anticipation and relaxed acceptance. All that was sad became romantic. All that was unsure became irrelevant. I feel now I can leave things where they are, I do not need to grab for straws, I can step away with ease. Above my head the deep black void, and I look into the milky way, and down onto the lit porch of what was and will be my Italian house, and I step lightly, again.
It has come to me now, as I'm being carried a thousand metres over the beautiful Alps, why this research feels so strange. There were many things I expected to happen, bad things mainly, but this I did not think of: the fact this research has become a life. In those two months and a bit, I have been given, and lived, another life. My interviews, travels, meetings, and most of all the daily work, they are not research really, but an ongoing conversation, an interaction with places and people, maybe a dance, but, really, a life, a new life.
Take it away, girl.
Incoming, outstretched hands, touch his waist, the lightest contact, move on. Go back, move in closer, touch his outstretched hand, be grabbed, be pulled in, be held, taken in, passionately, naturally. So beautiful when he smiles, most beautiful, in that one moment he loses himself, lets himself be lost, and looks at me from that far away land, over that sweet ocean, and
he really sees me
I really look into him
, and that one moment is worth it all, that one moment I want to keep, that abandonment, and this finding of one another.
All is normal, the normal motions, the normal pace. I wake up in the same bed two nights in the row, and my man is there, warm and breathing, and there is the grey sky outside, and the normal day that looks at me placidly. The streets and the people are normal, the buses and the trees. I understand the humour, I follow the conversations, I go through all the right motions with ease, happily, but I feel passionless. My heart seems to be asleep, or maybe enjoying the show from a distance, it's not in it. Yet, I presume.
'We need a headline for this research, like when a journalist asks us: you have 5 seconds to tell me about your project; a headline, something like 'Obama is a socialist', like that, just not stupid.'
'How about: The Unforeseen Consequences of the Waste Management Infrastructure Investment.?'
'Ok, but too many long words.'
'Right, we should switch 'infrastructure' to 'ugh'...
'What about: The Waste Bubble?'
'Waste bubble? That just sounds weird, like a fish fart or something.'
'We're so silly after lunch. We should have fasted; we were motivated by the prospect of working towards lunch... now it's all downhill.'
Guess I'm still not over this. I told my man this morning that if there were one thing I could change about my life, it would be that relationship. So much time, effort, money, good will wasted! Still, I thought I was better than that, better than responding to his neutral-friendly message with a load of badly-hidden emotional abuse. Unsurprisingly, he came back with the big guns, and it got ugly; it was liberating, though, to finally spew out all this acid that was brewing in me. Why the fuck is this prick still able to hurt me???
There was frost on the street yesterday night, we slipped along, our conversation suspended in the form of small clouds. As a child I used to say my favourite time of the year was winter partly to be different, but mainly because it was true, the long evenings for reading, the snow, and just sometimes the whole world would become white when the fog froze, turning all into a magical negative of reality, and tree branches would break off under the weight of the ice, and the roads would freeze, and I would not worry, it meant nothing to me.
Hard to say why I got so worked up about England. I am happy to admit there are multiple problems with the UK: that the health services are not up to scratch, that the two parties are virtually the same, that the ongoing clandestine privatisation is shameful. Yes. And I am sure Sweden, Denmark, maybe Germany, they all deal with it much better. But at the same time this is a place that has offered me, a woman, me, an immigrant, me, a young person, a security, a future, a career based on merit, and that makes me oddly patriotic.
It has made me feel alone though, that whole conversation about the UK. I hardly ever think about it, but sometimes it does hit me, that I am not from here, that I don't know it here, that I don't really know anywhere any more, the world I left behind having disappeared. And probably even if I live here for the next X years, I will not get it. I often say I'm rootless, without roots, but maybe it's not such a great place to be, forever superficial, doomed to misunderstand, rely on generalisations, rely on own little private world.
Take it from me, there's nothing wrong in being wrong. Heck, I've been there a number of times, and it's a cosy place, you can learn to like it. Of course, it depends on the person, perhaps for you it will be like a chilly uncovered hill top, I can see that, I have been there too, but even that you can learn to like. At least you stop struggling, always struggling upwards, just sit back and enjoy the view. Being in the wrong, 'The Wrong', I'll see you in 'The Wrong', that's what she should call that dream cafe.
The Tip Jar