Lights, Camera… Paddle!

Living in Italy has taught me a lot of things, one of them being that it’s quite normal to find yourself in random situations like the one I found myself in last Wednesday afternoon – sweltering in my fur coat under the abnormally warm Spring sun, sharing a raft with a B-list Italian celebrity conducting an interview while my friend and I selfconciously paddled a raft along the river, all the while being filmed for a TV show.

Let me give you some background to the story. The day before my friend Gigi calls me and says he needs a favour. A TV station is going to be filming some ‘tourists’ rafting down the river in the city centre. The tourists he had asked to come had backed out, and as I wasn’t exactly ‘Italian looking’ I could play the role and help a friend out. Fine, no problem – thinking that all I would need to do was sit on the boat, pretend I was seeing Verona for the first time from the river, maybe bring a selfie stick. I called my friend Caroline to come along for the ride, she agreed.

We get to the meeting point, dressed as two ‘sophisticated’ tourists. Both wearing coats that were two warm for that partiular day and time. Waited a while for the TV crew to turn up, asked the rafting guys what the plan was. They didn’t really know. Waited a bit more and eventually the crew arrived. It was Rai! A bit like the Italian version of BBC. What? I thought it was just going to be a little amatuer local thing – not Rai! It was for a programme called Sereno Variabile – and they were doing a whole programme on Verona. We got introduced to the crew and Oswaldo (B-list celebrity), we all got handed a life jacket and after a little more italian faffing it was time to row -I mean go.

Girls, would you like to get into the boat? We got on the boat (with all the grace of an elephant trying to put on socks) and were told to sit at the front. Oswaldo was behind me and Davide (the main River Rafting guy) was behind my friend Caroline. Just as we were getting comfortable we were both passed a paddle. A paddle? We have to paddle? I was there in my leather boots, dark jeans, fur trimmed coat, and they wanted me to paddle? Caroline and I locked eyes and knew that if anything, this would be a good aperitivo story for later.

So there we were paddling down the river, in the centre of Verona, sweating cobs while an interview was going on behind me. Paddling rather awkwardly we would take turns to casually turn around trying to be caught on camera and reclaim some of the dignity  we lost getting in the boat. After the 40 minute ordeal  workout journey was over and we had all scrambled out of the raft we were asked for an interview.

The whole idea of filming the rafts was that the Rafts were taking tourists down the river. The tourists didn’t need to be experienced and it was a fun and unique way for the tourists to see the city. So when Oswald asked me how long I had been in Verona – I panicking, forgot my role as a tourist and replied that I’d been there for 5 years… Oswald, ever a professional, continued with the interview as if nothing had happened. I on the otherhand was praying for the ground to swallow me up as I bumbled and mubbled my answers in Italian.

For any of you who want to see the back of my head sweating in the midday sun, check out Sereno Variabile’s programme on Verona, Rai 2 at the end of March. I’ll be cringing and sinking into the sofa as I relive it with my friends, praying that they cut the interview.

Though it’s not all bad – I’ve got my summer job covered. I’ll just leave my fur coat at home next time.

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Finding perspective in Frozen Planet

I am not a great lover of animals. When I was a child I had a strange obsession with pigs – I had pig ornaments, pig posters, even a piggy hot water bottle (which I still have). But for anyone who knows me now they are aware that while other people’s pets are lovely and safe at a certain distance, I have no desire at any point in my life to own one.

That being said, I am now completely and utterly obsessed with the new series of Frozen Planet. I hadn’t watched a lot of David Attenborough before, but scrolling up and down my Netflix list, I’d ummed and arred a few times on whether I should bother watching the programme lots of people were talking about. I decided to put it on as I pottered about the house but within the first five minutes I forgot all the little jobs I had to do and was sat on my sofa with a cup of tea, glued to the TV.

Frozen Planet is undeniably beautiful. Attenborough’s voice is soothing and calming and watching these animals survive (or not) in these harsh conditions can really give you some perspective. No one can argue that 2016 was a bit of a crappy year. Instead of watching more programmes about murders and murderers, political corruption and drug problems – we get enough of that from the New alone, isn’t it refreshing to see the beauty of the world and see how our other inhabitants of this planet live on it rather than see our own species turning on one another.

Penguins can be cheeky and steal rocks from another’s nest when the owner isn’t looking. Female polar bears risk their lives in search of food for their cubs. Orca whales work in unison to knock a seal of its icy raft. The Narwhal with its unicorn like horn looks a right nutter but it and all the other animals are perfectly designed and suited to where they are. No one is standing around with a sign post telling them what to do, it’s all instint. Not only are the animals above and below the ground astounding and extraordinary but the landscapes that we as humans (thankfully) have left well alone are magical places. The snow covered trees look like something from ‘who-ville’, the colours that can be seen in the sky are incredible, the depths of the oceans are unimaginable.

Don’t get me wrong, the animal kingdom is a scary place too – danger lurks around every corner, above and below and I fear that we are the biggest of all dangers to them and we don’t even realise. We can’t even help our own species survive let alone care about them. I don’t want to get all political and Greenpeace, but simply to say that while the world may be going to hell in a handbasket – Frozen Planet has lifted my soul and shown me that there still is beauty, strength and hope on our Earth.

Essere una donna…

È una frase più difficile da finire di quanto sembra. Come donna ho spesso affrontato con articoli, pubblicità, film, musica, ecc che mi dicono come dovrei essere – come essere più sottile, in forma, una cuoca migliore, come fare carriera, come indossare il rossetto giusto , l’elenco potrebbe continuare. Ma che cosa vuol dire essere una donna?

Io certamente non ho la risposta e io non so nemmeno se ce n’è una, ma ho posto questa domanda a un numero di persone e qui ci sono le risposte. Ho chiesto amici maschi e femmine di tutte le età.

risposte delle donne sono a sinistra …

… E le risposte maschili sono a destra in corsivo.

Alcune risposte sono incoraggianti, spiritose e poetiche. Altre sono oneste, schiette e crude. Non pretendo di avere la risposta, non mi aspetto che tutti siano d’accordo con ogni affermazione. Spero che si dimostri una lettura interessante e penetranti e si apra la questione di cosa vuol dire essere una donna.

Essere una donna è…

una forza creativa e creatrice

interessante

pieno di contraddizioni … battaglie interni ed esterni

meglio di essere un uomo

di aver lottato con l’essere una ragazza e diventare un lavoro creativo di sua scelta

un complicato ma bella avventura, sotto pressione per essere tutto per tutti. Gentle ma audace, generosa e sensibile, saggia e spontanea

il mio obiettivo nella vita

essere una persona con uno spirito dolce ma potente

centrale

come essere una barca che cerca un luogo dove ormeggiare in un porto pieno di yacht. Appena arriva tutti la guardano e solo quando riesce, non senza difficoltà, a trovare un posto le rivolgono la parola anzi ha la fila di persone che le vogliono parlarle.

le meraviglia di vivere nel cuore del progetto di vita di ogni uomo che la ama

avere un essere umano crescere dentro di te partiorirlo senza analgesici 

di essere creativa e senza paura

essere altrettanto brava come un uomo

spesso complicata ma mai noioso

essere donna significa avere intuito, sensibilità, saper fare più cose contemporaneamente. Capire certe sfumature nei comportamenti delle persone che un uomo non potrà mai capire

essere favoloso

costantemente lavorare più di un uomo, ma di essere costantemente nella sua ombra

molto difficile

una domanda alla quale risponde con un’altra domanda, è energia che non si esaurisce senza cibo o senza sonno, è un continuo cercarsi nella ampia ricerca di un qualcosa di universale, che è l’amore.

il dono più potente di tutti

come essere una foglia su un albero, fragile si, ma la foglia rappresenta la vita dell’albero

capacità in tutto ciò che fa

guardata, ma non di essere vista

essere donna è una faccenda complicata e affascinante, per molti aspetti misteriosa come cambiare idea senza un apparente perché – eppure indispensabile per uomo

più difficile di quanto sembri

di essere in perpetuo mutamento

completa mamma moglie sorella amica… D come dolce, diligente, decisa, determinata, disponibile

semplicimente di essere

di essere una donna in questo giorno ed età è un complesso labirinto per fuggire da ciò che la società si aspetta di essere e correre verso la libertà a chi siete veramente e di essere consapevoli della vostra importanza e autostima

una cosa bella, nonostante tutte le cose brutte che affrontiamo

di essere di sesso femminile

sensibilità, di essere una donna è quello di vivere pienamente ogni emozione

sentirsi ricca di avere molte emozioni.  Capacità di analizzare e vedere da differenti punti della vista, e della capacità e forza di agire e organizzare velocimente e in modo practico… ma anche sentirsi frustrata di non essere capita

un aiutante

un grande dono, a volte duro lavoro ma pieno di opportunità … nonostante l’orrore del parto

avere potere … la femminilità

fantastica

cosmetologia

il sale della vita

di essere una figlia di Dio e una sorella di Cristo

portare amore nella vita di chi ci circonda

avere un vagina e un utero

Noi umani siamo gli unici animali che possono decidere di procreare e l’atto sessuale diventa consapevolezza e divertimento,  non seguiamo i ritmi della natura come le altre specie animali. Siamo anche gli unici animali che hanno una morale, il pudore ecc. Siamo anche gli unici che uccidiamo non per necessità. Non vorrei fare un trattato, ma per restare alla tua domanda credo che la donna sia una novità nel mondo attuale cioè la donna non è da molto tempo che ha manifestato le sue capacità. E sono tante e tutte importanti: la visione della realtà che ci circonda con nuove chiavi di lettura, quasi sempre più razionali rispetto a quelle dell’uomo. Mettono più passione nelle cose se si lasciano lavorare e riescono a trovare spesso il lato positivo anche quando sembra non esserci.

di essere umani

di non essere un uomo

vedere potenziale in qualcuno e volerlo nutrire

conoscere il valore della vita

potente e versatile

lavorare in un ambiente maschile dove ogni giorno ti guardano il culo mentre passi nei corridoi e invece di farti i complimenti perché ‘il culo te lo stai facendo anche in una azienda pubblica, fanno apprezzamenti sul tuo fisico e si chiedono che tessera di partito mai avrai e tu sei cosi sfigata che l’unica tessera che hai sempre avuto e’ quella del Famiglia.

non per impressionare gli altri, ma per essere sicuri di quello che sei

una complicata avventura

… una domanda non riesco a capire

amare le chiacchere e la condivisione di storie di vita

essere una supereroe

un’avventura

è ricordare Colui che ti ama più di chiunque potrebbe mai ed essere sicuri che siete abbastanza

non essere uomo

fare sacrifici

una trasformista, un’instancabile guerriera rivoluzionaria

è nutrire e amare, per potenziare altre donne, di essere caro amata e figlia di Dio

di essere una mamma (Grace età 3 e 2 mesi)

essere forte

essere la bella immagine di Dio che Satana teme

essere compassionevoli

amare incondizionatamente

l’anima che sa camminare su mille sentieri, che sa aprirsi in mille petali come un fiore di loto, che non sonda con l’asta e lo scandaglio le sue profondità perché il suo io è un infinito e sconfinato mare, che sa chiudere una giornata pessima ascoltando con piacere una canzone di Bertoli e avere la certezza che domani tornerà ad affrontare la vita a muso duro

essere me stessa

un’esperienza completamente diversa a seconda di dove siete nel mondo

una lotta più difficile di quanto dovrebbe essere nel 2016

______________________

N.B. Voglio ringraziare tutti coloro che hanno risposto alla mia domanda casuale (soprattutto perché la maggior parte di voi ha ricevuto il messaggio alle 10:45 pm). La ringrazio molto per la vostra onestà e sono sicura che ci saranno almeno un altro post del blog riflettere su questo.

To be a woman is…

(versione italiano)

It’s a harder sentence to finish than it first appears. As a woman I’m often faced with articles, adverts, films, music etc that tells me HOW I should be – how to be fitter, slimmer, a better cook, how to get on the career ladder, how to wear the right lipstick, the list goes on. But what does it mean to BE a woman?

I certainly don’t have the answer and I don’t even know if there is one but I posed this question to a number of people and here are the responses. I asked female and male friends of all ages.

Female responses on the left…

...and male responses on the right in italics.

Some responses are encouraging, witty and poetic. Others are honest, blunt and raw. I don’t claim to have the answer, I don’t expect everyone to agree with each statement. I hope it proves to be an interesting and insightful read and opens up the question of what it is to be a woman.

To be a woman is…

interesting

full of contradictions… internal and external battles

better than being a man

to have struggled with being a girl and become a creative work of her own choosing

a complicated but beautiful adventure, a pressure to be everything to everyone. Gentle but bold, generous and sensible, wise and spontaneous

my goal in life

to be a person with a gentle yet powerful spirit

central

like being a boat looking for a place to moor in a harbor full of yachts. Only when she is successful and able to find a place  everyone else turns to look at her and she has a line of people wanting to talk to her.

the wonder of living in the heart of every man who loves her

to grow humans inside of you and then push them out with no pain relief

to be creative and fearless

to be just as good as a man

often complicated but never boring

having insight, sensitivity and able to do several things at once, understanding certain nuances of human behavior that a man will never understand

to be fabulous

to work harder than a man but to be constantly in his shadow

really hard

a question to which you answer with another question, it’s energy that doesn’t end without food or without sleep, it’s a continual hunt in the broad search of something universal, which is love

the most powerful gift of all

like being a leaf on a tree, fragile yes, but the leaf represents the life of the tree.

having capability in everything she does

to be looked at but not seen

a complicated and fascinating thing, for many mysterious aspects like changing her mind without any apparent reason. Yet indispensable to a man.

harder than it looks

to be in perpetual change

fully mum, wife, friend, sister – diligent, determined, decisive, always available

… simply to be.

to be a woman in this day and age is a complex maze of running away from what society expects you to be and running towards freedom in who you truly are and being aware of your importance and self-worth

a beautiful thing despite all the ugly things we go through

to be female

sensitive, to be a woman is to fully live every emotion

being rich with the ability of many emotions. Having the analysis and see things from different points of view, and the ability and strength to act, organise quickly and practically … but also feel frustrated of not being understood

a helper

a great gift, sometimes hard work but full of opportunity… despite the horror of childbirth

empowering… femininity…

brilliant

cosmetology

the spice of life

to be a daughter of God and a sister of Christ

to bring love to those in the lives of those around us

to have a vagina and a uterus

We humans are the only animals that can decide to procreate and the sexual act becomes awareness and fun, we do not follow the rhythms of nature like other animal species. We are also the only animals that have a morals, modesty and so on. We are also the only ones who kill not out of necessity. I believe that womanhood is a revelation in the world today as women have only really recently been allowed to show their capacity. And they have a lot to give and everything is important: the vision of the world around us with new ideas, almost always more rational than those of man. They put more passion into things and often find the bright side even when there doesn’t seem to be one.

to be human

to not be a man

to see potential for good in someone and want to nurture it

to know the value of life

powerful and versatile

It means working in a male environment where every day they look at your arse while walking down the corridor and instead of complimenting you on the hard work you’re doing in the company they make comments about your physical appearance. Rather than asking you which political party card you may carry in your wallet, they are sure the only cards you have are for Aldi or Tesco.

to not impress others but to be confident in who you are

a complicated adventure

… a question I can’t comprehend

to love chatting and sharing life stories

to be a superhero

an adventure

to remember the One who loves you more than anyone ever could and being confident that you are enough

not to be a man

to make sacrifices

a quick changer – a tireless revolutionary warrior

to nurture and love, to empower other women, to be dearly loved and previous child of God

to be a mummy (Grace – aged 3 and 2 months)

to be strong

to be the beautiful image of God that Satan fears

to be compassionate

to love unconditionally

the soul that knows how to walk on a thousand paths, that opens up into a thousand petals like a lotus flower, which does not probe the beam and sounding its depths because its ego is an infinite and boundless sea. She completes a bad day listening with pleasure to a song by Bertoli knowing that tomorrow she will return to face life’s hard-nosed

to be myself

an entirely different experience depending on where you are in the world

a harder fight than it should be in 2016

______________________

N.B. I want to thank everyone who answered my random question (especially as most of you received the message at 10:45pm). Thank you very much for your honesty and I’m sure there will be at least another blog post reflecting on this one. If anyone else wants to add anything just write to me or comment at the bottom.

I do.

Professional bridesmaid.

That’s what my new business card is going to read. English Language Tutor – Menu Corrector – Professional Bridesmaid. I’m not trying to blow my own trumpet here but I have had the privilege of being bridesmaid 5 times, once when I was 11 and the other 4 in the last 2 years plus another 3 weddings with non-bridesmaid duties.

Don’t panic, I’m not going create a video montage akin to 27 dresses and parade around in my bridesmaid attire while James Marsden photographs me (though a girl can dream) but I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on my bridesmaidness.

First of all I have heard many horror stories of being a bridesmaid. Trying to find matching shoes for 6 women in the Debenhams January sale, bridesmaids worrying more about their hair than the bride’s, dresses not fitting, missing the rehearsal, the list goes on but fortunately I haven’t had any major dramas. I was once tearing through Luton as we forgot a makeup back praying continually that the car wouldn’t breakdown as it was known to have a few issues – but apart form that everything was pretty rosy. The brides were amazing – no Bridezillas there, fellow bridesmaids were beautiful and wonderful and the grooms weren’t bad either.

I’ve had the chance to be bridesmaid to my sister in the Lake District which was a very special moment. Possibly a bit too special as I did end up crying throughout the rehearsal, the ceremony, the signing of the register, the speeches and just about held it together for the first dance but I was probably distracted by cake. I’ve been bridesmaid to my best friend with her sisters on a drizzly day in Luton complete with 2 huge wine fridges. A summer wedding in London with the most beautiful bouquets I’ve ever seen and the best egg custard tarts on the planet. Finally a very elegant wedding in the Lakes where the grooms family and friends were from Essex so it did feel a little like being in an episode of TOWIE.

All these weddings and the ones were I was a simple guest have been wonderful and beautiful and unique. They were proper reflections of the couples who were tying the knot and that is what made them so special. Ros (Disney obsessed) and Jon had hidden mickeys dotted around the spot. Llamas with bowties made an appearance at Tina (animal lover) and Tony’s wedding. Cakes and a sweet cart were of big importance at for my sweet tooth sister and Chris’s wedding. At Kate and Phil’s wedding international food and international guests played a prominent role.

One of my favourite things about being a bridesmaid is NOT trying to walk elegantly down the aisle in shoes I wearing for the first time ever or having a billion pictures take or even being served first at the wedding breakfast (though that is great) – but the morning of the wedding – when it’s just the bride and the girls. Ok, it can be stressful especially if you lose your make-up bag, or the hairdresser is running late or you don’t really know where the best man is BUT I love it. That quiet moment before everything happens. It’s also a really intimate moment. Having breakfast with the bride and the other bridesmaids is a wonderful moment. That moment before your friend is a WIFE. With my sister, it felt like it was the last real moment we would have as us Cooper girls. With my best friends again it was a special moment with just them.

I’ve another wedding coming up in a few weeks and no I’m not a bridesmaid for this one, but as I’m sitting in the church waiting for the Bride to arrive I will be thinking about that moment she’ll be having with her mum, sisters and friends before she takes that first step down the aisle and begins a new chapter. I am thankful and honoured of being asked to be part of my friends’ special day. I’m thankful of these amazing girls I’m friends with and most of all THANK YOU for not being Bridezillas!

The only problem I have now is I need some fancy dinner parties to wear these dresses to. Can someone give James Bond a call and pass on my number?

Everyone loves Summer right?

Everyone loves Summer right? You can head to the lake or the beach at the weekend for a spot of sunbathing. People are that bit happier, nicer, friendlier – maybe due to the extra Vitamin D we get. The promise of BBQs and Beer gardens is enough to get us through the week and the possibility to heading off for a week or two on holiday is what we’ve been looking forward to since New Year.

Verona in Summer is hot, humid and full or tourists. I have friends from Sardinia and Venezuela who suffer from the heat here! It’s the humidity that gets you, it makes your makeup slide off your face after 5 minutes, gives you the sticky sweaty sensation on your skin as you scurry in and out of the shade and makes it seem hotter than it really is. Now, I’m British and we’re not really used to this kind of weather on our lone breezy island. Summer is usually a week, few days  day or two of clear(ish) blue skies and sunshine where everyone strips off even if it’s just over 20degrees. The rest of the Summer is spent encouraging one another that we’ll have an ‘Indian Summer’ in September…

Cycling round Verona on my dash to work I see hoards of tourists from every nationality, downing bottles of ice-cold water, trying to cool down with an ice-cream as it drips onto their feet or hiding in the shade. But even though I see all these people, there is a group of people I don’t see a lot of – the local anziani – senior citizens.

Take a look at the picture at the top or search for people in Summer on a search engine. What you’ll find are pages and pages of YOUNG people jumping around on the beach, drinking cocktails or sitting round a camp fires wearing Hawaiian shirts. This isn’t reality for most people and certainly not for our older generation. For most of them Summer isn’t something to look forward to. It isn’t a time of freedom or hanging out in the sun. It can be a time of isolation. It’s too hot to go out. To tiring even going to the supermarket. Worrying about the sudden changes in temperature from the outside heat to the chill in shops and prefer to stay in their cooler houses – usually alone.

I was listening to the radio this morning and I heard that 1/3 of Italy’s population are classed as anziano. That’s a lot of people. A lot of people to be feeling trapped and alone during a whole season.

There is a lady I meet up with fairly regularly. A couple of years ago her husband died very suddenly and her only son lives abroad. I know that as Summer approaches she gets more and more anxious. ‘Too hot, too hot’, she tells me in her limited English. The house is dark, the blinds are down and the doors closed. I can imagine how lonely it must feel, waking early and sitting in the house all day – feeling trapped. Waiting until it’s a little cooler to tentatively head out, but by then it’s already after 9pm and my friend doesn’t feel too safe going out alone.

She loves reading, goes through 9/10 books in a couple of weeks and is currently addicted to Netflix. I’ve had some very funny and surreal conversations talking about Orange is the New Black and even more as I had to explain what ‘Breaking Bad’ actually meant. And though it’s great to have these entertainments I am always struck by her constantly checking that I’ll be coming over next week too, just for an hour or so of company in this stifling heat.

I hope that those of us who love this season will make an effort to go and visit our elderly relatives, friends and neighbours. Check up on them, keep them company, offer to get their shopping or go with them to carry their bags. Summer is not just for the young and sun-seekers, everyone has to live through it. Let’s not forget those we don’t see on the streets or in the parks but be aware of the closed shutters and dark houses.

Remember, they were probably like us years ago, and we may not be so dissimilar to them when we’re older.

 

Home Sweet Homes?

I came back from the UK a couple of weeks ago after spending a week traveling the length and breadth of the country for parties, hen dos and family time. It was a chaotic 8 days starting in Brighton, stopping off in Cumbria and ending in Edinburgh. I met up with friends I hadn’t seen for a while, family friends which I hadn’t seen for a long long time, and met friends of friends who then became friends. It was a fantastic 8 days of sunshine (which never happens), catch ups, country walks, city walks, It’s a knock out (soft play for adults) and treasured family time sitting in the garden with a pint.

All this meant that arriving back in Verona at 00:30 (after the plane was delayed in Edinburgh, missing the train in Venice and having to wait in Mestre for the slow regional train while being eaten alive by mosquitos), I was NOT in the best of moods and not happy to be back in my beloved Italy. This feeling took a few days to shake off and it wasn’t until a week later that I fell back into the normal groove.

This wasn’t just the ‘holiday blues’ that we all get after having a nice time away, it was more than that. It made me look at Verona and my life here in another light. For that week nothing seemed to go right, the UK was better in every way (this was pre-brexit) – there people understand me, I understand them (most of the time), I know how things work and I my family are there. Here I get frustrated when I can’t communicate the way I want to, it had been raining a lot, I was tired and just wanted someone to make a good cup of tea WITH milk.

I’ve spoken about this with a lot of people over the last couple of months. People who’ve moved to another country which has become home but never able to replace the home that they left. For me, Cumbria will always be my home. That’s where my family are and where I grew up but in the same breath as saying that – Verona is also home. I was 22 when I arrived and now it’s almost 5 years later and the quirky streets, the people I’ve met and the local delicacies I’ve become accustom to have become normal, and in a way more than just a place where I live. Where there is love there is a home and I feel love both in the UK and here in Italy.

It’s wonderful having two homes. Cumbria and the UK are obviously VERY different from Verona and Italy. I love that they are different and in a way compliment each other. In Verona I can sit along the river Adige, sipping Spritz and munching on taralli, while in Cumbria I can set the world to rights over a mug of tea, take a walk along the beach and get some fish and chips with gravy for tea.

However sometimes I get the feeling that I don’t (and maybe won’t) completely 100% belong to either place. While both are Home to me, I am never going to be completely at home in Italy – I’m British, some things are always going to be a bit weird, Italian TV or freaking out over air conditioning. I’m always going to be a foreigner –  una straniera, and struggle with language and certain customs. At the same time, when I go back to the UK there is also an element which is a bit strange and foreign. There are TV programmes, celebrities, cult things that everyone is talking about and I’ve never heard of. I feel like I’ve become snobbish about coffee, food and clothes. Shocked that people go out in the middle of Winter without a coat – even though 8 years earlier I did the same. My speech has become fluctuated with Italianisms and I can’t speak anymore without moving my hands. While this can seem quaint and cute to friends and family, I know that after a while it too can become a bit annoying.

To try and combat this conflict I feel when travelling from one to the other I want to start embracing my two homes rather than put them in competition with each other. Take joy in the fact that they are different and that I can experience deeply these two different cultures and not dwell on the fact that the grass is always greener.

*N.B. I wrote this post a few days before the Brexit vote. Now obviously living abroad in Europe as an expat the future is quite uncertain. I had always been confident of my UK roots which gave me the opportunity to branch out into Europe. I am very sad and disappointed by the result of last Friday but I don’t want to go on a Brexit lament. For now I will sit tight with the other expats in the EU and the Europeans in the UK and wait to hear what will happen next.

At least I can still cheer for Italy in the Euros… Forza Italia!

Walking on Water

When my friend Josh mentioned the words ‘Christo’ and ‘walking on water’ in the same sentence and invited me along I wasn’t entirely sure what he was proposing. With a little clarification he told me that the famous ‘building-wrapper’ Christo was doing a project on Lago d’Iseo in June which involved a series of three floating piers which would stretch from the shore of the lake to the island in the middle – Monte Isola (the largest inhabited island of European Lakes). It seemed like a pretty interesting concept and I couldn’t remember having ever had the experience of ‘walking on water’ before. Arrangements were made and at 4 am on Sunday morning a motley crew of 18 bleary eyed water walkers from England, Scotland, American, Italy and France met at Verona Sud and headed to the lake.

Feeling pretty pleased with ourselves as 20160619_062143we arrived at the seemingly quiet queue at 6 am,
our high spirits were quickly dashed when we heard a rumour that they weren’t opening the piers until 8:00, and on further inspection we realised we weren’t as close to the front as we had first thought… 3 and a half hours later (when we’d all had second thoughts about the trip) we were on the piers.

The first thing that really stood out was the colour. It was pretty cloudy but bright and with the contrast of the dark blue/black of the lake, the green of the mountain and the white of the sky it really did make a statement. Christo himself said the best way to experience it was barefoot, so most of us whipped off the socks and shoes and pattered along the yellow path. It definitely was the best way to experience it. It only being the second day, I didn’t have any qualms about getting the feet out and I was surprised that many people did the same. I thought Italians would be far too hygienic to try it out – but as I looked closer many did keep their socks on – just to be on the safe side. 20160619_094355

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Apart from the long wait at the beginning where there seemed to be no one in charge to let you know what was happening, on the actual pier it was much better. There were people handing out samples of the yellow/saffron material used to cover the jetty (which was special designed in Germany), and were also making sure no one got too close to the edge. Police were on jet skies and in boats in case anyone decided to take a dip or a selfie went wrong.

One of the strange things about it was the calmness of it all. Ok, once off the first pier there was a mad rush for toilets, coffee and panini, but walking along the pier with that many people was actually quite peaceful. Maybe we were all tired from getting up so early – but there really was an amazing sense of something special taking place. It wasn’t just something to see but something to interact with. You could feel the movement of the water which was calm and relaxing – for those who don’t suffer from sea-sickness. There were people from all walks of life. Our group alone had a mix of nationalities, ages and a few artists which all gave different perspectives to the art.

All in all it was fantastic. The early start and even the threat of rain didn’t put a dampener on the day. It felt that we were not only there to see Christo’s Floating Piers, but that we were there to be a part of it. We even saw the famous artist observing his fine work from a boat. It was certainly an alternative Sunday and one which I’d love to repeat… but maybe I’ll wait until I catch up on my sleep.

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Worth

Value, Self worth

What does it come down to?

People’s praise, affirmation for the great things you do?

 

The problem is that when they stop praising

It’s not too long after you feel like you’re failing.

 

Then what do you do, keep doing stuff,

Filling all of your time till you’ve done enough?

 

But you will never be able to please

enough people, you’ll be down on your knees,

toiling away to get affirmation

never stopping or breathing, until you are leaving

yourself behind, to be someone you don’t recognise

You’re fiction, a fable, just someone’s label

Not you.

 

Take a breath and breathe, take a moment and leave

the thoughts and worries that you had in your mind,

Take a step back from the fear that you’re always behind

It’s not them you need to please, but YOU, you need to find

 

And rest in the truth that you have value

Independent of likes, hits and shares through

social networks that make us feel less,

we’ve not go it together, our lives are a mess.

 

Please know you are loved by a higher power from above

He’s written in the bible that you are unique,

No need for popularity of special mystique

You have value because He made you

Regardless of the things you do

 

Stop building your worth on people’s praises

They come and go in various phases

Find value in the beauty that you create on this earth

And be sure to know

You truly have worth.

 

Car talk

After a fun weekend in Brighton, Monday morning I was clambering into my friend’s car to start our long journey home to Cumbria*. I’d hitched a lift with some friends who were already down south for a music concert so I didn’t have to worry about taking out a loan just to pay the train fare. We were travelling in a convoy of 3 cars and the plan was to take it easy and hit our friend’s house for dinner in Preston. I was in a car with my friend Dave and in the back were John, John and … John. I knew them all fairly well but still, being stuck in a car all day with a group of lads didn’t exactly fill me with joy. I was pretty sure I’d be left out of the crack and would have to amuse myself with a few podcasts and spot the Audi.

Fortunately, I had the front seat which I realised fairly quickly was a ploy by the Johns so they could quite happily sit in the back and snooze while I kept Dave awake – nice one boys. And although there were a few quiet moments when a few fell asleep, the car journey was much more than I thought it would be. The first couple of hours we chatted and caught up on the crack. Then it was time for the infamous car games. I Spy was banned as they played it on the way down for far too long so we played a few word games and Categories (betting on how many things you can name in a category in 30 secs). It was (literally) all fun and games until someone suggested the topic ‘British song birds’ …

After another wee-stop it was music time. Everyone had their iPods out for a bit of Car DJ. I love it when you’re in a group and each person has to choose a song, you can learn a lot about someone by what they have in their music stash. After belting out some Blink 182, someone (yes, me) suggested listening to Tom Hanks’ Desert Island Disks (yes I am middle-aged). Now, I spend a lot of time listening to podcasts and the radio on my own so it was really really nice to sit in a car and share a moment with the others. There is something really special about sitting with a group of people, where you don’t have to say anything but just listen or watch something. It made me think of times gone by when families would sit around the wireless and listen to programmes together. These days families don’t even sit in the same room as one another but are in all corners of the house watching their own programmes on TVs, phones, tablets etc. It’s really sad. I would definitely encourage people to do more communal viewing / listening.

Another thing about taking a long car trip – apart from having to do car yoga as your bum and feet go numb, is that it is a great place to talk. Not just chat, but properly talk about life, the universe and everything. I don’t know if it is because you’re (hopefully) looking ahead of you and don’t have to face the other person/people directly, or maybe just sitting brings things to mind, but halfway up the M6 I found myself in the middle of a deep conversation with these boys. And it was great. You don’t have the option of walking off, or slam down a phone, so you have to talk things through if there are any diagreements. On a long trip you get past the usual “How are you? How’s work?” questions and start asking “So really, how are you?”.

Car rides are also great because you feel like you are actually travelling, you’re on a journey. I’m pretty used to taking short flights and they don’t really feel like travelling,  just a series of waiting rooms, queues, a bit of a sit down and you’ve arrived. Trains are a bit better, you can see the scenery change and people watching is always a bonus but it also seems perfectly acceptable to sit with your headphones in and shut out the world and not really take in the act of travelling. With a car you really feel the journey – mainly because your legs go to jelly as you step/fall out of the car at the service station, but you see the miles clocking down until you reach your destination, doing quick maths to see how fast you’ll arrive, you get to know different cars as you pass them and then they pass you – that black Toyota with the young family watching some Pixar film, or the old couple in the red Audi listening to the same radio station as you.

I know cars have their problems, and a long journey could make or break a friendship but I wouldn’t hesitate for a minute taking a long road trip with my friends.

With these kinds of road trips it is way more about the journey not the destination.

 

*Those of you whose British geography isn’t that great it’s just under 400miles/643km