Saturday, 26 January 2013

Ageing Young Rebels

We went to Paris again for the fashion trade fair. Strange things happened. Coincidences, not things that go bump in the night. I recognised an editor who is publishing a piece of mine, in a nearby booth. By chance, in the middle of a mass of booths and fashion and flustered clients, we were both working. It was alarming and sweet. Suddenly feeling a connection to writing and my new book, while sitting on a red sofa in the midst of hoards of people and clothes.

Then when it was all over – the partying, the orders, the hangovers, the odd conversations (with a Danish designer about the Australian lady now married to their Crown Prince and mother of four??), the hotel breakfasts and long starving days – we relaxed in Paris. We were shepherded about by a friend who has just written a guide so is more-than-informed. We drank Mexican cocktails to die for and I ate a lemon tart I could have married (if one could marry a lemon tart – the patissier maybe?). We tried on clothes, swooned over jewellery, walked and walked AND walked.

And then the biggest coincidence. Our friend had to go to the printer’s. The printer had his offices in my old street. Suddenly we were driving the van up a cul de sac – now prime real estate – where I had worked as an au pair in the eighties. My old street. My old life. A skinny twenty-year-old pushing a pram around the drug-ridden 11th before the designer shops and hip cafes.

I stood beneath our old apartment in the cold, absolutely stunned. Too stunned to take a photograph. To stunned to help with the boxes.

As I stood there it began to unfold. F and R in the apartment above, sexy R who kissed me at a party, who took me to a Johnny Halliday concert. M the painter who sang above them, who took me out to films I would never have seen (I remember watching eerie James Mason in Lolita). Another affair. I remember my ‘family’ C & M whom I visited in the south last summer, how I found the advertisement at the Eglise Américaine and first pushed open the apartment door to find a trompe-l’oeil covering the walls, a painted garden of leaves and chairs and vistas. Then a hall with racks of photography books, a creaky-floored studio where C did his theatre set models, all the way around to the crammed kitchen with its mosaic shelves of broken plates where many many delightful meals took place.

Even lately we’ve said it, how that day we all fell in love.

What a whoosh, tumbling into that woman’s life. I remember how hard I struggled to find my place, how I grew up suddenly into a young woman speaking French, tapping her first novel into a crappy machine and trying to decipher what the druggies said to me in the street. Mon Dieu! I was so far away from everything I had known – from the uni student never knowing what to wear, what to say, what to be.

Standing there I remembered greyness, isolation, love, words, dancing. Never seeing blue water. Missing my folks. The guilt. The delights. The men. The books. The knowing that some sort of transportation was taking place and that this would send me forth on a certain path.

And it did.

And coincidences? My wise mate S says that coincidences happen when you are on the right path. That mouse-ridden apartment in Paris was my first true writing environment. And how on earth – by chance – did I happen upon an editor who loved my work?

Clear the decks, this ageing young rebel is going forward.

* * *
Mille grazie to Amy Sue Nathan who hosted a guest blog post from yours truly about these last nine months of book promotion. Thanks Amy and good luck with The Glass Wives this year!

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Big hats, Volcanoes and Addiction

Blogs come and go, don't they? Sometimes a blogger falls off the screen and you wonder, Did Something Awful Happen? Or did they just grow sick of pumping out words into the crammed and fusty blogosphere?

Sometimes I wonder: Are we just patting each other on the back, handing around the mike at a morning brunch of wives? Or are we doing something grittier - really getting somewhere with our lives? Throwing out concrete suggestions and support that strikes a chord?

I know that as far as writing is concerned I've made some good mates. Upon whom I can count at shaky moments. Who'll forgive me for a bad joke or a slip in taste; a bit of ego rubbing.

Kimberly Sullivan, Rome-based writer whom I met at the Matera Women's Fiction Festival in September, has pinned an Addictive Blogger Award on this blog and I'm rather pleased. I love Kimberly's blog (though it makes me feel like the laziest expat stuck in Italy) and especially her travel posts. They read so well when I'm snuggled up with my iPad.

All I have to do now is tell you Why I Blog and nominate 10 blogs I'm addicted to.

I started this blog a couple of years back when I signed my contract for the publication of The Divorced Lady's Companion to Living in Italy. I was clueless. I wanted to conjure up a voice that spoke of the book, but that also spoke about living in Italy as a well-travelled older female who still cracks jokes that nobody understands. I wanted to talk about books, about publication and promotion, about morale, (even morals!) and as I scroll through my posts I see I have rambled about such rocket-science subjects as cherry picking and being told I was driving with my uterus! (I do also have another, serious blog for my forthcoming, serious book of short stories peltandotherstories, which talks about short stories and living in exile.) Now that the book has been out for six months I'm still clutching to the themes of life as an expat in a rowdy country, raising bi-lingual teens, wearing big hats and playing Scarlatti, and being an accomplished, creative and naughty woman.

Next I have to nominate 10 blogs that have me hooked. This makes me sad. Because I don't read blogs every day. In fact I BAN MYSELF from reading blogs every day as already the washing pile is up to the ceiling and don't ask me for socks. And I know there are many more than 10 that I flit between. Here goes. I won't mention blogs I've already tagged, but if I've missed you out don't be disgruntled. I'm scatty as a snowflake at the moment. Can't even count.

un'americana a roma - Shelley on how to be a sassy Roman
averildean - I adore Averil, and her birthday is the same as mine
downith - the way Downith describes her kids just cripples me!
finding myself in france - a giraffe-eye view of not France but la Suisse
gwenmoss - refined, insightful, soothing
macdougalstreetbaby - creative photographs from a creative powerhouse
postcard pictures - makes this Sydney chick mighty homesick
tania writes - short stories and flash fiction mostly (see also
carterlibrary - wisdom, books and gorgeous dogs
thatswhy - Lisa makes me feel we are both such whacko mothers
wayfaring chocolate - Hannah makes me want dahl at 9 in the morning!
whispering gums - WG reviews books the way they should be reviewed

In truth I am addicted to so many blogs, I just don't get around to reading as much as I'd like. And remember my internet connection is slower than that tractor over there.

Oh, all you guys have to do is put up the tag if you like, tell us why you blog and nominate ten more blogs, that way you'll broaden our appreciation of this art form. If not, no worries!

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Dark Galloping Thoughts

When was the last time that you thought you were mortal? That your gut slithered and your neck hairs bristled? That your soul shook and you thought, this will all end for me?

Ours is a fast cluttered world. To age is a thing we must refute, alter, airbrush away. We must remain fit, of optimum weight, our incomes secured and no baggy knees please! Day after day we are shown the gilded youth of our societies frolicking about - whilst the middle-aged struggle to look good without getting caught out. When tragedies strike - and they are investigated with glee - we tsk-tsk and move on, our hearts stilled by the relief that we and our beloveds are unscathed.

It can feel very soulless. Especially as religion or faith are almost taboo topics. Too much fanaticism involved, and century-old ideas that continue to clash. Where is the balm for all of us?

Over the past couple of months my eldest two sons were lucky enough to find jobs. A huge art exhibition was organised in Palladio's Basilica in Vicenza, near where we live. The guys - dressed in spiffy suits - have been working as custodians in various salons arranged beneath the huge barrel vault, spending afternoons in the company of Rembrandt, Bellini, Matisse, Francis Bacon and Paul Cezanne. Each time I see one of them I ask, So who were you with today? Who is your favourite? It has become a dinner table topic, with one of my sons convinced that Rembrandt's subject is mocking the hoards of people who pore over him. Or that Van Gogh was on drugs.

The paintings are rich, startlingly varied, worth gazillions. They range from exquisite Mantegna and Bellini from the 1400s, to Francis Bacon's writhing nudes on sexy blazing orange; from Durer's portrait of a young man (a punk from 1510!) to Picasso's saucy Italian signora. From El Greco's jarring San Girolamo (looks like my old boyfriend!) to Monet's whispering scenes from a sunny riverbank.

The exhibition maps out a Western voyage from sponsored religious works to a more secular seeking of redemption within the confines of the poor artist's life. Though I adore sweeping through huge galleries this is the thought I am always up against: the painter in a cold studio, perhaps with a headache, bills to pay, over or undersexed, pausing, waiting for the go-ahead for whatever image he is conjuring (NB: women severely underrepresented).

It is beautiful, creativity. It is life. And some of the most touching works were those of Pierre Bonnard and Paul Cezanne, who after lengthy creative lives now depicted their aged faces approaching death. With serenity, without fuss.

That was where my tiny, warm soul shifted. That was where I saw the balm to which I can connect. A creative life. An exploration of light, of colour, of composition. Sometimes it can appear as simple as this.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Don't Touch My Arse

The other day my car broke down. Well, twice really. First my own car sat in the portico on the last day of school and wouldn't budge. And then my mechanic's car died on the ski slopes. I killed the battery.

I have had breakdowns countless times. Holding feverish babies on the roadside in Ghana, trying not to cry. Or on the autostrada in the Dolomites: a flicker on the dashboard and then blackness in the night. In fact I am always grateful when my car decides to start. It's a miracle! My son says I am cursed. If we lived in an age where women were branded witches, I would be The Car Witch.

The other day my good friend couldn't find his jumper leads so a bloke I know offered to pull out his portable battery and kickstart my car. Wonderful! Having grown up in a household of extremely practical men I've never had qualms about handing over the baton and letting them do what I know so little about. Go guys, I'm grateful.

So we hike off over the snow in the dark to the car park where my vehicle sits like a forlorn washing machine. He attaches the battery clamps and the engine rolls over. Brilliant! My life can pick up again and I don't have to drag our gear down the hill. Only when I give him a big thrilled hug by the tinny Fiat Panda, his hand travels south and squeezes my ski-tightened butt.


What is it about some blokes who think that because you are divorced, and semi-athletic, that you are on the game? Why do they think they can just have a handful of you, unasked?

I was too stunned to react. It was nothing, but it was still something. And for goodness sake's what a silly way to come onto a woman. Anybody remember Benny Hill and all those pillow-chested nurses?

But later, it went deeper. I began to think about other times I've been shocked to have hands roving over me. Don't get me wrong - I love men, I love bodies entwined and sizzling skin and the powerful act of sex - but there is a type of invasion going on here. 

I'm sure some of it had to do with what happened in India last week. The outrage. The incomprehension. That a woman could be abused so brutally and tossed into the street. A vibrant, hopeful woman with plans. Giggly, soft, striving. I guess I was already on Outrage Alert.

As this story came to light I'm sure every woman the world over felt a clench, a pang of fear, before the outrage set in. Why did this thing (and all the hidden cases of rape in Congo, the Sudan, Rwanda) have to happen? What is it that made these men think that they could even contemplate this act? And what of the women who raised them, their sisters, aunts and mothers? 

To think that a woman raised each one of these men is truly shocking. I wonder what punishment they would choose for these beasts.