20s

Musings on money and the bourgeoisie

036[amolenuvolette.it]bourgeoisie, le corso de neuilly, middle-class, corso de neuillyLast week my 20 years old nephew was in town and spent the night with us. We went for a walk in the neighborhood, to get toiletries he had forgotten at the night shop and stayed a little longer wandering around. It was still warm outside and I showed him the local cafés and restaurants on the way. He’s the one and only baby I ever held before having mines and despite the fact that he’s now taller than me and has a beard, whenever I get the chance to see him (20 years old have amazingly busy lives) I can’t but remember the chubby cherub cruising around the garden in the early 90s.

He has an artistic temperament and is as lost as one can be when he/she leaves eagerly high school, filled with dreams and hopes, only to find out that the following step is way less glamorous and pure and ideal than imagined.

On our way to the night shop, we passed a tiny pizza restaurant which opened 8 years ago and quickly became a typical Italian success story. Marketing the simple roman concept of pizza al taglio (pizza sold at the counter by its lenght) and employing authentic Italian pizza makers, the founder built an icon of Brussels’ weekends, late nights and quick lunches.

“Look, the guy who invented that (shop) is a genius – I told impulsively my nephew – He made so much money out of that shop”. He looked back at me and said: “And the fact that he became rich makes him a genius?”. There was no sarcasm in his voice, just a pinch of sadness. I tried to make it up, saying (what I actually think) that I was referring to his ability to sell a simple good and make it look cool and desirable but there was no way out of there.

I, the 35 years old aunt, told my 20 years old nephew that becoming rich implies some degree of genius. When did this happen?

I am no revolutionary and have a pretty earthy vision of the importance of money in life but I never realized before how practical I had become with time. Has it to do with age? When did we start thinking of money as a measure of success?

Of course, I am aware that this reflexion doesn’t apply to the U.S. where money talking has been legitimized since forever but in old Europe it wasn’t when I was growing up. I have been brought up with the idea that money and success might be a consequence, a side-effect of geniality but not its main constituent.

A year ago I published a small book and was surprised to see that every time people asked me about that, it wasn’t to know what it was about, or how it took form or the work behind it. No, they always asked about how many copies it sold, and if I could live now out of that. Shock ensued, when I candidly admitted that I had no idea, that the editor only wrote me once a year about figures and that I wasn’t that much worried about following sales daily.

In the same way, when I tell someone I started blogging, they always ask: “How do you make money out of it?.”I don’t”. “What’s the point, then? What are you offering your readers? What do you sell them?”

“Hm…I just share thoughts and chat and find likeminded people across the world?”.

At this point, my interlocutor usually fills his glass of wine and changes the subject.

Am I Alice in the Wonderland or there’s an exaggerated interest on money? When did it become a measure of worth in Old Europe? Or is it just that money is what middle-aged people talk about?

30s: regretting 20s, looking forward to 40s

I write, think and talk a lot about age. Everyday. It became an obsession when I turned 30 and people expected me to be an adult when I couldn’t feel any actual difference from my younger self. According to my father who is well settled in his 80s it stays like that for the rest of your life: you keep feeling 21 and can’t really process the fact that teenagers get up to give you their seat when you use public transports.

What I find really confusing is that there is no “old age” anymore. I am 34 and I can remember my mother when she was my age. She dressed, behaved and spoke as a grown up. She even had a grown up’s haircut (that mid-lenght, parted on the side thing moms had in the 70s). Now everybody dresses the same between 15 and 85 and you spot grandmothers trying on the same Zara jeans as their granddaughters. So when do we get old? Or when do we stop being young?

I have already written of my (apparently inaccurately remembered) 20s: the Golden Age when you started adult life and risked being obsessed with the quest for real love. My 30s are turning out to be what everybody said: a chaotic number of years where you are supposed to be wise and organized and responsible and to take care of everybody and everything but yourself. I am constantly running, and most of the times I am running late. I still remember the  shock when, freshly married, my husband made me a list of things to do. Errands. Dry cleaner, shoe-repair guy, car repair and so on. The kind of stuff I always outsourced to my mother. Well, I am becoming her. And that is scary.

In these past months I am seeing very often women in their 40s. They seem to have an appeasing effect on my anxiousness. They survived through 30s, some divorces, young children and everyday frustrations. They are better dressed, younger looking than 30-years-old who still have to cope with night waking and dark circles around their eyes and in most cases they resumed interesting jobs. They even know who they are. They are to me the light at the end of the tunnel.

What a strange era, the 30s.

Tale of a very conventional adventure (part I)

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Ten years ago, this very day, I embarked a Virgin Express flight from Rome to Brussels. I had plenty of dreams and very little knowledge about what was lying ahead. I had a vague idea, to start with, regarding Brussels exact position on a map. I remembered from school that Flemish were merchants and that they had a direct access to the sea, but I also thought that Flanders were all part of modern Netherlands. There was a very popular Haagen Dazs flavour in the 90s called Belgian chocolate and that was it. I was going to a place somewhere in Northern Europe where European institutions were based and where there might be a flash of coast and a lot of world-famous chocolate. I finished school with top marks but, you know, I never took geography as an A level. My parents used to say there was no point in studying it on a book, when you could travel to learn it. I obliged.

I was in my early 20s and overly excited at the perspective of building a new life in a place I couldn’t point on a chart. It wasn’t Paris, or London, or New York, well known cities where everybody my generation wanted to be. It wasn’t a place you would make a film on. It was Boring Belgium. And yet I felt so different and sophisticated and out-of-the-box in wanting to go in such impopular territory.

First thing that struck me was the bitterness of the cold air you could feel on your neck when getting out of the airport. It was a chilly day as it is today: plenty of snow, negative temperatures, iced sidewalks, silent traffic. No skyscrapers, no grandeur. Claustrophobic and  dirty alleys in the city centre, elegant boulevards and parks all around. It looked distinguished and distant and at the same time messy and dirty and emotional. I was fascinated.

Years passed by and – to my greatest surprise – I gradually stopped complaining about the bad weather, the dirty sidewalks and the fact that Belgians are genetically adverse to take fast decisions, work late at night and take any initiative. It felt (and still does!) like living in 1955. A bourgeois wealthy little city, inhabited by quiet, mild and mostly good-natured people who dislike confrontation, discussion and politics. The sort of Peyton Place atmosphere I was longing for at that time.

A husband, a dog and two children later everything’s changed and yet everything stays the same. Brussels did change a bit: it is far more international now than it was a decade ago. Belgians, on the other side, never moved a step: still boy-scoutish and conservative and mild mannered, still busy in petty neighbour fights that threaten to split the country and still blind and deaf to the wind of change that the economic crash is accelerating all around them.

Someone said that Belgium is the lab of Europe: whatever happens there will happen to the rest of the Continent, some years later. Well, ten years ago, people used to say that Brussels was like New York in the 20s: bursting with ideas and opportunities. That is not true anymore. The privileged fiscal system has brought in billionaires from neighbouring France and Germany and other hi-taxed nations and it is true that you feel the crisis here way less than you do in Southern Europe. But apart from the impressive number of luxury cars you spot around the residential areas, the place is not sparkling with ideas anymore. The European dream that my generation was taught to dream on is crashing at the very first difficulties. Europe’s never been less popular and my overall feeling from Brussels, Eu is that we’re dancing on a sinking ship. You know, something like the Titanic’s orchestra director who died while doing his job.

So, happy anniversary to me. Time to jump off boat!

(to be continued)