children

A dinner party, uplifting conversations and a question

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Last Friday I went for dinner to a friend’s place. We were just six: the ideal number to have interesting conversations and celebrate without falling into small talk or being hijacked by gossip. We discussed pretty everything: from Pope Francis’ peaceful revolution to the perks of globalization and all things that have changed between our generation and the latest.

An Indian girlfriend confessed that she’d never met a white person before age 12. In the same way, I have never crossed paths with a non-white child or adult before around the age of 14 (Then I started taking English summer classes, attended by a lot of nationalities). With no colonies (apart from the two or three held for a short time at the beginning of the last century) and no impressive economy, Italy has traditionally been an emigration country, before becoming an immigration point of access to Europe in the late 70s. When I went to school, it was rare for an average Italian child to meet a non – Caucasian person.

I realized how much this has changed when a friend – who’s just moved to Singapore – posted on Facebook a picture of her blonde son at school, surrounded by Asian children. Someone commented: “How does he feel about being the only white child?”. She wrote back: “He doesn’t know. That’s a thing of our generation”. She’s right. My children don’t even know where their classmates come from. They not once asked about skin color, or eye shape. They don’t see it. I might be a little emotional, but the thought (and the hope) that humanity is progressing towards a future where race, sex, religion and color won’t matter anymore moves me deeply.

So, after these uplifting discussions, a couple of friends told us a story, and asked our opinion. I’d love to hear yours.

Here it is:

A father and a son are in the car when the father loses control of the wheel and they crash against a tree. The father dies. The son is heavily injured. An ambulance arrives and takes him to the nearest hospital. The emergency surgeon comes out, looks at him and says: “I can’t operate this boy. He’s my son”. 

How is this possible?

When holidaying becomes a job: packing for four

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Expats are not all made the same but they often tend to be independent, restless, always-on-the-go individuals. Who like to travel light. I never understood how it could take a day to pack a luggage or what was the point of bringing literally your house on your back as a snail risking major physical injuries when you could just grab the essentials and give yourself the freedom of changing plans, running to catch that last train and hop on the overcrowded bus. Well, now I do. Understand.

Last Friday was “Graduation Day” at school. Theoretically it’s an actual school day, the last of the year but the teachers made very clear since the previous week that, well, “parents can come around 10.30 to have a drink and talk to us” and “maybe you can take your children home at 12.00”. So a very tired group of moms paraded in class, with the half-scared look of someone who’s about to enter jail while the teachers looked for the first time in the whole year rested, made-up, with whiter teeth, rosier cheeks and a happy, bright light in their eyes. They, on the other side, were prisoners about to be released. For a couple of months.

Since then, it’ been a roller coaster ride. My childhood memories are of drawing, coloring and sitting quietly in a corner, not even supervised by an adult. Thirty years ago children weren’t much more of a job than pets. This generation, though, is definitely more demanding: my boys get bored easily, know always what they want to do (eat candies, go to the cinema, make cupcakes, eat pizza, climb trees and break windows while playing football…not always in this order) and won’t take no for an answer.

After being their slave for the past four days, I have finally found a way out: a mosaic class, where they will decorate some frames with a bunch of well behaved, pink clothed and pig-tailed girls. I needed the day off not to go get that pedicure I am dreaming of since a few weeks but to accomplish the terrible task of packing for four.

My light travelling days are gone and I have to stack clothes, medical equipment, favorite stuffed toys and a mountain of sticker books with the performance anxiety linked to Ryanair’s luggage weight standards and the risk that I forget that very little thing that of course they needed the most.

So, I apologize for not being a good chat right now but packing for four has certainly taken the best of me. I will be back soon, hopefully. If Ryanair doesn’t detain me for breaking some of their absurd regulations.

The California Diaries – getting a taste of San Francisco

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So here I am. After much babbling about sinking Europe and dreaming about faraway lands, I finally got on a plane and landed, almost a day later, on the other side of the planet. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds: I had to place children and dog before even packing and it wasn’t without a pinch of anxiety that I left all of them behind. The day I brought the small ones to their grandparents seemed exciting at first: after all, they had been waking up at impossible hours for the past two weeks and with my husband we started fantasizing about wonderful things we would do once alone. Watching 2 movies in a row at the cinema. Having sushis at midnight. Waking up naturally at 7:30 and not being screamed out of bed in the middle of the night to bring some hobbit  to the loo. It sounded like the best holiday ever. Truth is, when I came back home it was snowing again and I didn’t feel relieved. I felt lonely, and so did my husband. Two almost middle-aged persons in a deadly silent house. We ended up watching TV and eating pizzas instead.

24 hours of loneliness later we finally were on the plane. First consideration: California is FAR. I mean, really far. Way further than it looked on the map and definitely further than in my imagination. By the time we got to Washington I was already tired of being on a plane. Six hours later, squeezed in the middle seat on an audio-entertainment free airplane (I didn’t know they still existed!), I was starting to lose my sanity. But then the lukewarm California breeze made it right again.

We are staying in a lovely room in Potrero Hill, a sweet neighborhood not far from downtown San Francisco, all community gardens and young families and organic restaurants. The concept of ORGANIC has been the first one to surprise me in California. It’s actually just a label here. I mean:  European organic is a lifestyle, on top of being a label. An organic restaurants serves healthy food, mostly steamed or raw. In California, organic looks like a label they put there to make you feel better. It certainly certifies the natural and pesticide-free nature of the things you’re buying but that’s it: it doesn’t preserve you from the deep-frying or the char-grilling.

I have the impression that food wise Europe is someway ahead. All the Starbucks display the number of calories of any pastry they sell (nothing below 370 calories, if anyone’s interested) but they don’t have a fat free version of anything. I imagined California as the realm of vegans, vegetarians and extremely healthy people and…well, they maybe are compared to the rest of the States but they really aren’t by European standards.

Apart from food considerations, San Francisco is a livable, medium-sized city (I expectd New York with sun but it’s actually way smaller) where everyone on the streets seems to be young (but then in Europe everyone seems so old), hi-tech and laid back. I had never been on the west coast and all I knew in the US were New York and Boston. Two very European cities, where people are stressed out and yell a lot (espacially in NY). Well here in SF everybody’s calm. No yelling, no stress, no endless lines to get a table at a restaurant. Surprising. Awesome.

Today we leave the city and start our journey to Los Angeles. I haven’t figured out yet if I could actually live here. I have to admit it hasn’t been love at first sight but it certainly is another world compared to the one I grew up in.

PS I had taken lovely pictures of the art-themed cakes at the SF Moma (there was a Mondrian cake, a Rothko PB&J toast, Frieda Kahlo biscuits and so on..) but clumsy as I am, I managed to lose them while doing a back-up. I will take more in the next days, hopefully.

Five things I learnt about love

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I spent more time thinking about love than probably Elizabeth Darcy (née Bennet). At the age of 6 I engaged myself to a boy named M. without him being aware of that. I would take him by the arm to show my classmates we were close and I would leave messages in his duffle coat pockets every single day. He was shy and initially complacent but after a while, when the other boys in the class started mocking him and he heard about my engagement story, he publicly dumped me with a note his fellow classmates had previously agreed on. It said more or less: “I think our engagement is off. Please stop bothering me”. It was the end of the world.

If this makes a cute childhood story where all the characters can barely read and count to 100, things got a little bitter later on. I was determined to find the love of my life but I didn’t have the slightest clue on the following points:

1. How to find him

2. How to recognize him, admit I would actually cross him at some point

3. How to get to know him and to look interesting

4. How to make him fall in love with me

I thought falling in love was the necessary and sufficient condition for anything else. And so love I pursued. For YEARS!

It hasn’t been bad. Looking back now, I wish I had more fun on my way to perfect love. I wish I took myself less seriously and were able to laugh more. But, you know, I have now made peace with my limits. There’re a few things, though, that seem now so normal and that I wasn’t so sure about then. And they would have saved some tears and some end-of-the-world drama.

  1. Give guys the thrill of the chase

Risking to sound as old-fashioned as the Dowager Countess of Grantham I really have to warn any good-willed young lady out there. Please, don’t play the conqueress. It may seem to you that the pale, skinny, smart boy you spotted the other day at the workshop is too shy to ask you out. Don’t help him. There’re not really shy guys. Not so shy they can’t ask a girl out. They can be goofy, or embarassed. They may even flush when looking at you. But there’re no interested guys that won’t go great lenghts to propose something. Anything. A cup of coffee, a movie, a walk. Even time sitting together in a library. Studying.

Of course, there’re tons of women who decided on marrying a man and eventually did. They imposed themselves and got their way. You just have to be fine with the idea that in future quarrels you will always be the one that forced him into the relationship. I always found that annoying.

2. Forget everything you’ve read and/or watched about love and marriage

Do you know the all-consuming love we all hope to live at least once in our life? The kind of love that makes you lose 10 pounds in a week, sleep 2 hours per night, feel every heartbeat as it was the last one and yet look gorgeous and young and bright? Well, let’s hope you never marry that guy. Because that is not love: it’s passion, madness, desire, a total eclypse of the heart brain.The minute you start doing the laundry or scrubbing the bathroom sink or – even worse – the minute you have a child together and experience the Guantanamo year(s) (sleep deprivation + house confinement + falling asleep by exhaustion on floors or sofas or wooden chairs) you will need more than butterflies in your stomach, breathtaking sex or cosmic connection. You will need a good laugh, then. Believe me.

Passion is a thing. A crazy, sublime, unforgettable, necessary thing we need to live at some point in our lives. Even more than once. It’s great. But married love is another thing. And it’s more precious, and rare, and longer lasting. It’s the kind of love that comes with time and it’s made of time spent together, intimate knowledge of each other families and friends and secrets. Yesterday I watched with the boys the video of my wedding day. I barely knew my husband then and yet I had this huge smile stamped on my face the whole time. I was crazy. And lucky. Because I had no idea of what life was going to be made of. I couldn’t think much further of having breakfast together or travelling or having friends over for dinner and watching films. I didn’t know that real life is made also of less glamorous things: losing one’s parents, battling illnesses, caring for other people, spending hideous Christmases with families who’re not yours and whom you don’t even feel connected to, having children and wanting to kill your husband because he is looks useless and you need so much a shower and a 7-hours uninterrupted night.

3. If he gives you goosebumps, then check that he can laugh as well

I loved bad guys. Complicated, smart, dark characters. Ideally with a troubled past. It looked SO sexy to me. No wonder I am crazy now about Damian Lewis/Nicholas Brody and Homeland. But I bet the moment I’d start cooking Congressman Brody his dinner or waking up with a migraine in his bed, I’d love him to be able to just laugh.

4. Find the one that likes/loves you just as you are

We all loved Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones’ Diary for that. Remember? He liked her just as she was. It may seem obvious but it is not. I have overweight friends that go out with guys who publicly declare that they despise overweight women and that their beauty ideal is Kate Moss. Now, if you like Kate Moss, then you don’t go out with Nigella Lawson. Or, if you do, you don’t ever say that she should lose weight because you prefer the skinny, androgynous type. Ditch that kind of partner. If he doesn’t like you as you are, than he’s not worthy of your attention.

5. Never give up on love

I have friends who panicked around their 30s and got married. To someone they were used to but that they didn’t admire, or trust, or actually love. They thought at least they would have a life, kids, holidays. A past. There is nothing worse than a marriage you don’t believe in. Don’t let age trick you into one of these plans. Never give up on love, you will regret it eventually.