Friday, 14 August 2015

Easter Holidays

Easter with the grandparents, 2011

My parents came to see us during the Easter holidays
Back from my holidays in London I was soon caught up in my usual routine of cleaning and tidying, the more so because my parents were arriving from Rome the following day.
During their stay the weather was surprisingly lovely for several days, which gave us the opportunity of going out, working in the garden...and having exciting spring cleaning sessions.

 We drove to Keswick, walking round the centre and over to the lake, Derwentwater.  It doesn’t seem much but for my old parents it was a long walk.  They were impressed by the town and Hope Park, neat, tidy and beautiful, and took pictures everywhere.
We went several times to the centre of Lancaster for shopping with my children, or sometimes only my mother and I.  She was happy to escape with me, free from her usual routine, especially now that my father is getting more and more tired and doesn’t go out much.
I also cleared and weeded the garden, adding new plants: a rhododendron and some roses, in place of the ones killed by last winter’s frost.  Finally, my mum and I had a massive spring clean, wiping away so much dust and dirt from surfaces, top shelves, windows, window sills, doors, lamps and ceiling lights that luckily she was here to help me or I would never have the courage and energy to do it all by myself.
Our best time out was when we went to Lancaster Castle for Mozart’s opera Così fan tutte (‘Every woman’s the same’ or ‘They are all like that’), .
The Shire Hall in the castle is such an original and enchanting venue for an opera, especially for an opera buffa, that I was sure my parents would appreciate it.  And they did.  They enjoyed it immensely though it was in English, not in the Italian of the original libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte.  The English version added an updated interpretation of the story.  It is made clear that not only women are inconstant, which is the main theme of the original plot, but also, reading between the lines, men are deceitful.  The English translation states this openly.  A better title might, be Così fan tutti, where tutti refers both to men and women, while tutte refers only to women.
In this funny, entertaining, farcical comedy pranksters are finally fooled and virtuous ladies fall easily in love with a sister’s lover; the powerful, rich philosopher don Alfonso holds the strings of the puppets’ characters and shows their contradictions and weaknesses, which are his own (and our own) after all.  There is no goodness or virtue that can resist a well-plotted illusion and to cut a long story short we need to accept life and people as they are and take it easy.  But the ending leaves you with a big question: will their marriages be successful?

It rained that night so I did not need to water my new plants.
On Saturday night I couldn’t miss the Easter vigil Mass at St. Peter’s cathedral, which was particularly atmospheric, with a multitude of readings (seven plus seven psalms, the New Testament reading and the Gospel) lit only by the audience’s candles. The ritual of Rebirth and Resurrection was intense and inspiring.  A good way to review what I have done and face up to the last part of the academic year before the long relaxation of summer holidays.

Easter holidays 2013
Hibernating at home
The main focus during the Easter holidays was the weather: harsh, freezing, definitely wintry. Worse than the average weather we had last winter. Snow, frost in the morning and the north west wind cutting your face. From time to time a bit of trickling sunshine; no rain though. My garden was so dry that I would be able to brush off all the dead leaves in a few minutes (well, half an hour) when the temperature started to rise.
I was hardly in the mood for opening windows or spring cleaning. I put it off until the next holiday, May half-term. Instead I stayed at home most of the time, going out only if I really had to, e.g. when the fridge was emptying or in similar emergencies.
Besides, we were stuck at home because my autistic daughter Valentina doesn’t like going out or leaving for holidays any more. Her behaviour is becoming so seriously challenging that she objects to leaving her room or doing anything different from her usual routines and spinning around. If we force her into something she doesn’t like she becomes aggressive, and it is difficult to deal with her in such a mood outside the house. 
So we stayed at home. My husband and I took turns if we had to go out for any reason. My two sons were at home too, for their school and university holidays. My daughter was with a friend in Dubai (lucky her!) basking in warm sunny weather. I missed her so much that I sent her messages on facebook every day. No shopping with her or chatting about friends, fashion, art, no art galleries or exhibitions to see together, no baking or cooking new recipes... it was so boring without her that I wondered what I’d do when she is at university. I suppose I’ll often go and see her, if she allows me.
I was at home, hibernating, with the central heating always on during the day,  reading (mainly poetry), painting (mainly art books), redrafting some of my poems and preparing lessons for my Italian language and literature classes. It was absorbing and engrossing at times.
I finished illustrating my art book containing favourite poems, ones I consider outstanding chosen from collections by poets in the north west (Carole Coates, Sarah Hymas, Mike Barlow, Jane Routh, Kim Moore, etc.), other British poets (W.H. Auden, Philip Larkin, Andrew Motion, M.S. Roberts, Mario Petrucci, Don Paterson) and famous poets from other countries (Emily Dickinson, Seamus Heaney, J.L. Borges, Adrienne Rich, Eugenio Montale, Alda Merini, Arthur Rimbaud, Sharon Olds, Maya Angelou). The illustrations give my own interpretation, both in the drawing or painting and in the handwriting. It was such fascinating work, linking my passion for poetry and my artistic skill. Unfortunately I can publish only part of it for copyright reasons, but I’ll exhibit it at Silverdale art and craft trail (I am at St John’s Primary) at the end of June ( together with all the art books I worked on during the year. I am also working on illustrating some of my own poems, which I’ll post on this blog shortly.

The good side of being at home was that I could read plenty of books, mainly poetry. Here they are:
Solstice, 24 hours of poetry (Beautiful Dragon Press, 2012), an anthology collecting twenty-four poems by poets living in Lancaster and in the north of England. The idea came to Sarah Hymas and Rebecca Irvine Bilkau when in May 2012 they each wrote a poem at the time of the supermoon. They invited twenty-two poets to write on one hour of the summer solstice, so there is a poem for each hour of the day: twenty-four impressive, new and inspiring poems. Besides Sarah Hymas and Rebecca Irvine Bilkau, there are other well known poets like Jane Routh, David Tait, Andrew Foster, Elizabeth Burns, Carole Coates, Polly Atkin and many others. The poems are about the poets’ activities, feelings and impressions during the different hours of the longest day, moving from Lancashire landscapes to family and lovers, to Joan Mirò and sundials. The anthology was launched last March at the Judges Lodgings in Lancaster, a beautiful 17th century building displaying Robert Gillow’s imposing furniture and a collection of paintings and toys from the Victorian age to nowadays.
On the same night was the launch of Rebecca Bilkau’s poetry collection Weather Notes (Oversteps Books, 2012). Rebecca lives in Germany but often comes back to Lancaster with her German husband. Her moving between two countries gives her poems a freshness, a note of surprise as if she sees and describes places for the first time. The elegant musicality of her lines makes the act of reading a pleasure, and the stories she tells convey profound experiences of life and relationships.
On my shelves I found a book I had wanted to read for a long time: Visibility by Graham Mort (Seren, 2007). It contains selected poems from five previous collections with some new ones. I was impressed by the style and complexity of images and the richness of language which place the reader in the middle of these deeply felt, unforgettable and often dramatic pieces. It’s impossible not to get involved, not to breathe and beat the rhythm of his poems.
The last book of poetry was an anthology: Sculpted, Poetry of the North West, edited by Lindsey Holland and Angela Topping with an introduction by David Morley (published by North West Poets in 2013). I was so happy to find poems from lot of good writers I personally know (we attend the same readings and workshops or I meet them on facebook), like Keith Lander, Janet Rogerson, Geraldine Green, Jacob Silkstone, Janine Pinion, Joy Winkler and Kim Moore. Their poems sounded so familiar I could hear their voices and intonation while I was reading them. It was like meeting friends.
Two fiction books were in my ‘must read’ list as well: Cold Light by Jenn Ashworth (Sceptre, 2011) and Cathedral by Raymond Carver ( Vintage, 2003).
I found Cold Light even better, if possible, than A Kind of Intimacy (the first acclaimed novel by Jenn Ashworth). The pace of the plot, the style and building of characters are flawless, the whole story gripping from the first to the last page. Also it is set in Preston, just round the corner for me. The theme of what people want to believe, or find convenient to believe, (a romantic and tragic love story to celebrate St Valentine’s Day) compared to what really happens is masterfully developed at different levels, with irony, suspense and a stark sense of reality.
Cathedral is a collection of short stories first published in America in 1983. Carver’s style definitely adheres to the well known motto: show don’t tell. Everything in his stories is only and always shown, guiding the reader in the understanding of characters, their reasoning,  dreams, frustrations, and to the developing of the story. His prose is simple, short sentences most of the time, reflecting the way the characters think and speak. The endings surprised me every time: lingering in mid-air, open and always puzzling.
What else? On 6th April I took part in the Open Mic night organized by Beyond Radio ( at the Gregson Centre in Lancaster. It was an opportunity to read my flash fiction pieces, watch poets and singers perform and help raise money for the Beyond Radio project. It was a fantastic night, exceptionally well attended.
We had one day out at IKEA to buy the new bookshelves we needed: as essential as bread and butter. When my husband had assembled the unit in a corner of our kitchen (the only space left in our house), I filled a full section with my poetry books. They were now easily reachable (instead of being piled on my desk and kitchen table). And we even had an hour out in the sun (one of the two and a half warm and sunny days in the two week holiday) cycling along the River Lune. It wasn’t Dubai but we had fun.

Easter holidays 2014
Last Easter holidays were definitely the busiest I’ve ever had. Not only were all my children at home (which was fantastic), I also had three days in Surrey with my daughter and my husband and I had the good (but tiring) idea to start to redecorate the house: he is painting the walls, my task is to refresh the wooden parts, doors, windowsills, etc. Needless to say, I haven’t done the spring cleaning yet (but I have to do it sooner or later). Not to mention the garden which looks like a piece of abandoned land after winter storms. I came out of my holidays exhausted but in a good mood, confident to accomplish all my tasks before summer holidays, hopefully.

In Surrey we visited Kingstone upon Thames and Guildford, pretty places with great shopping centres. It was sunny and lovely warm. I noticed that trees had already new lemon green leaves giving the landscape a very spring aspect. We went to two exhibitions in London: Italian Glamour at the V&A and Jean Paul Gautier from the sidewalk to the catwalk at the Barbican. Only fashion this time (for the joy of my daughter) though I had planned to see watercolours exhibitions as well, but there was not enough time. There was so much to see, talk about, read and comment at the fashion exhibitions we visited, that when we had finished all the other museums were closing. London, like all capital cities, has such a concentration of special events that the time spent there is never enough.
The Italian Glamour exhibition spans from post WW II till today. I read from a book on sale at the V&A shop (The origins of Italian Fashion, 1900-1945 by Sofia Gnoli) that during the Fascist era, Italian stylists and dressmakers started to be independent from French fashion, which dominated all over Europe and America at the time. This happened because of the nationalist characteristic of Fascism itself, tending to make Italy self-sufficient. As Bulgari says in a quotation at the beginning of the exhibition, Italian fashion comes from the  ‘tradition of high-quality material and artisanal craftsmanship’ that in Italy dates back to the Middle Ages. After WW II the Italian government, with the help of the Marshall plan, invested in fashion, which became one of the pillars of Italy’s recovery. Alta Moda (high fashion) was especially appreciated in America, by Holliwood stars but also in department stores. This was the time of Roman Holidays (starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn), La Dolce Vita by Federico Fellini, and Cleopatra with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor (her necklace with emeralds and diamonds plus ring and brooch are on display as well).
I liked the quotation by Anna Piaggi, a fashion editor, who described fashion designers as ‘a secret society, made up of pioneers, a few inventors and a few poets. They are the new phenomenon and the new élite’. I’d say that most of the Italian artistic skills, poetry, cleverness and business are concentrated in fashion today.

The women’s and men’s clothes on display are absolutely astounding. There are outfits by Fontana sisters, Fernanda Gattinoni, Maria Grimaldi, Roberto Capucci, and Valentino, Max Mara, Dolce & Gabbana, Fiorucci,, Trussardi, Armani...all so beautiful, stylish, I dare say perfect. An incredible jacket by Moschino reproduces the pattern of the yellow pages with gettoni (telephone tokens) for buttons; but they are special yellow pages with puns and intentional misspelling of famous stylists and fashion trademarks, e.g. Charmès (for Hermès), Fax Sara (for Max Mara), Cocò de Bel (for Coco Chanel), Strada (for Prada), Vernice (for Versace).
The last room is almost unreal. The beautiful evening dresses and accessories on display, the video with models, the light and the music, everything contributes to give the idea of a glamorous, fairytale world of high artistry.
Jean Paul Gautier’s exhibition is very different, but not less engrossing. He is considered the enfant terrible of French fashion, comparable to the avant guarde art movements of the early 20th century in art. He reflects our multi-cultural society, mixing traditions, reinventing and transforming myths and stereotypes. While in the Italian Glamour exhibition it is very clear if an outfit is for a man or a woman and all the clothes are ideally wearable everyday and everywhere, with J-P Gautier there are no boundaries between sexes, or there are no specific sexes, or, on the contrary, sex is intentionally highlighted. Most of the outfits are made to provoke, even shock, and are more suitable to wear in a show or in an artistic performance than in real life. It isn’t a surprise that he worked for film directors like Greenaway, Almodòvar, Luc Besson, and designed stage costumes for Lady Gaga, Boy George, Kylie Minogue, Tina Turner and Madonna (the famous cone bra corset). Very open minded indeed, a bit crazy sometimes, but so creative. There are some recurrent motifs: Madonnas, sailors’ uniforms (the famous Breton stripes everybody wears), sexy androgynous creatures, armours for women or second skin dresses with genital hairs and nipples highlighted with brown pearls; for men skirts made with ties or dresses with protruding breasts like African fertility statuettes. Here fashion, more than ever, is a pretext to make art, show off, put up a performance. Everything is so intriguing, original and, above all, great fun, but honestly hard to wear in everyday life.
I was happy to come back home at the end, to prepare large and delicious dinners for my big family and go back to paint doors and window sills.

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