Monday, 30 January 2012

Into your arms

One of the trickiest things about being a tough divorcée in wintry northern Italy is that ‘love’ still comes to ring your bell. I’m not averse to love. Savage love, placid love, criminal love. I’ve fallen into it several times, and fallen out of it with an ugly bump afterwards. There was a time when I truly believed that what I had was enriching and everlasting. It was not.

(But let me be clear. One of the loveliest things is an enduring couple, a soft-edged and caring couple. A pair who embrace, make love, cook, read the same books, have their silly in-jokes. God knows they exist, and thankfully I know some of them.)

Another of the tricky things about being a tough divorcée in wintry northern Italy is that it is assumed you are a huntress. It is assumed that you are insatiable and available. Young men with tattoos assume you’d like a little Mrs. Robinson. Desirable husbands wink and hold your arm at length. Sturdy unmarrieds give you worried looks, soiled with temptation. It is assumed that as a divorcée you have busted men’s hearts and must be a tempesta in bed. Oh and add years in Africa to that. It means you have the fiery tropics within.

Okay it’s not so bad. But oh to be taken seriously. As a woman without a label, a woman who chose her path not because of sex or income or betrayal but because these are the things that happen. Oh what the hell, write a book about it…

But back to love, or something dangerously close. It isn’t really fair the way this emotion returns, wells, plays riffs along your senses, even at this ripe and supposedly mature age. It isn’t really fair the way your delight takes shape, making your skin luminous and your eyes wide. Wasn’t it only last month that you were like every second woman in every second film I’m never going to fall in love again. I don’t need a man! ?

It isn’t fair, is it? The way this lesion, repaired, leaves such easily forgotten traces.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

My neighbour Margaret Thatcher

Many odd things happen to foreigners in Italy. People get mugged, fall in love, restore houses, put on weight... Julia Roberts showed us how the blessed among us do it and end up with Javier Bardem on the island of Bali.

But others come to Italy to stay. They set down roots and become part of the local colourful scenery. They are looked upon kindly by neighbours especially with regard to food and fashion and child-rearing (Oh but how can they know? They are foreigners!) Or they are regarded with deep and unfeeling suspicion. I know that when I moved here with my mixed children and mud-splattered car and unruly red hair and, every so often, a wild summer party, my neighbours decided that I was a hippie and a drug addict (WHAAT? HIPPIES DON'T WEAR DIOR). It was even whispered at my kids' school that I had had my four children with four different fathers. Can you imagine dealing with four exes?? Pluh-eeze.

Oddly, this type of judgement sometimes swings the other way. With Meryl Streep portraying the toothy bouffant Iron Lady on international screens and renewed discussion about Britain's now-frail ex-Prime Minister, I feel I must mention that Margaret Thatcher is my neighbour.

On the two hills above where our house lies in a messy valley currently strewn with corn stems and frost, there are two villas. Or, a seventeenth century villa, and a wannabe villa which is a country farmer's pile. In the wannabe villa lives a woman the locals call Margaret Thatcher (Italian pronunciation: Marrgarey Tatchur). True, this signora's red-blond hair is swept up in a now-thinning bouffant, her teeth are dodgy and her smiles are false. Recently bereaved, she drives her boxy sedan like a bat out of hell and will not meet your eyes at the supermarket. Another neighbour at the end of my drive said she has banned her (I don't know under what edict) from hanging her washing on the porch behind her house, because it sullies the ex-PM's view.

The houses are three hundred metres apart.

Sometimes I think of signora Maggie up there on the hill behind the bright blue shutters of the wannabe villa which are always closed and the big sweeping night light to scare away the Moroccans and the Albanians whom she fears, bitterly hunched at the kitchen stove now that her sons are gone, even the one with the problems in his head, and the years have gathered behind her.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Seven things you may not have known

Dear MSB,

These are some of the things I am made of. Thanks for the award.

1. I was given my first pair of heels at nine years of age. It was when my father used to play Janis Joplin every night.

2. My father used to race speedboats and I still love to sit through a boat race, any kind of boat race, and I love the smell of engine parts.

3. My brother and I used to race catamarans and on a broad reach we would nosedive one hull and catapult ourselves into the water.

4. We had a car accident when I was fourteen and my cousin died and I decided that I wouldn’t wait for anything, ever, in my life.

5. In 1988 I used to walk up the main street of Mogadishu to my Somali language lessons, then walk home from the French Cultural Centre after a film around 11pm. No guns, no fear, no war zone.

6. I first drank coffee – bunna – in Ethiopia and fell in love. I’d never had a cappuccino in my life.

7. I can’t live without my piano. And my cherry trees.

I'd like to pass the award onto these five bloggers whose words I cherish (many of my favs have already received the green box!)

Whispering Gums

Sorry I can't count either!

++ ++ ++


Thursday, 5 January 2012

For the love of witches

I had two possible blog paths in mind today while zoning out in a crowded ski lift (Italians yelling into their phones, kids losing goggles, noses being wiped). Either the love perils of the eternal divorcée in this melodramatic country, or something more historical - about the haunted Piave River we pass every time we come up here, where an eighteen year old Ernest Hemingway was among those injured in the devastating and decisive Battle of the Solstice in June 1918.

But between that zone-out time and now a million things have happened, not the least being extreme thigh-fatigue from telemark skiing which required an old lady afternoon nap. And later, when googling this blog after my daughter used my iPad for hours and cancelled my pages to cover her tracks, I saw that my book - The Divorced Lady's Companion to Living in Italy - is up on Amazon for pre-order! What joy! How unbelievable! Said daughter is now tired of my preening and suggests I go out for a drink. Which I will do. If my thighs agree to come out in the cold. How wonderful is that? I do wish some of you ladies were curled up in that house up the hill.

So as you can see I am now too witless to write of anything else. And the Lovesick theme can well be saved for another day, a snowy day perhaps, a day with wings. And the WWI battles - twenty thousand young Austro-Hungarians drowned in that river! - tis more than the heart can bear.

Instead tonight the village bells are clanging and it is the night of the Befana, the witch who brings sweets to good children, lumps of charcoal to bad. Suddenly I feel like messing up my hair and getting out my broomstick.