Thursday, 11 January 2018

What I did before Christmas

Wrapping presents and decorating the house for Christmas made me finally realize that the deadline was near. I needed to stop fussing with books and writing and think seriously about planning dinners and family gatherings.

I overloaded the Christmas tree as usual and scattered old and new Christmas cards on every possible free shelf and top surface available, prepared saffron buns and pepparkakor (ginger biscuits) for St
Lucia on 13th December (according to the Swedish tradition), baked panpepato and bought Italian Christmas cakes (Pandoro and Panettone) and other Italian products at Italian shops in Woking and Maidenhead for our Italian binge, and we all travelled north to celebrate Christmas with my autistic daughter Valentina.

Before the hectic family festive routine, I managed to meet the deadline for my PhD and send an application for a bursary. Some of my creative work was published in poetry magazines (London Grip and Poetry News) and others were accepted and will be published in spring (Ink, Sweat and Tears and Alternating Current). I have also submitted some more work hoping my lucky streak will keep. And I am on Twitter now (@scaranocarla62), trying to post something smart (but not too smart) almost every day.

My mum spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve with us. We went together to see Robin Hood at the Victoria Theatre in Woking, a cracking pantomime with a scary part in 3D. We also visited a beautiful exhibition, ‘Turner in Surrey’, at the Lightbox. It focused on the period he lived in Isleworth (around 1805) when he used to fish and paint along the Thames and the river Wey. His sketches were quick and direct, reminding of the Impressionists’ practice to work in the open air reproducing the subject as it appeared, depicting in blotches and approximate marks. The contact and engagement with nature was paramount (differently from the French Impressionists who, about seventy years later, mainly represented life in cities). There were maps of Surrey, his fishing rod and elegant engravings of mansions and lakes in Middlesex and Surrey. Some of the sites are now part of Greater London as the growing urban development incorporated places that used to be in Surrey, such as Richmond and Kingston. My favourite pieces were the oil sketches, so fresh and original, evoking the pictures of his last years.

My mum could also meet her friends at the Italian club in Maybury and at the Italian mass at St Dunstan’s. They are lively elderly ladies who always welcome her. One of them, her best friend, invited us for dinner at her house. She was a cook before retiring and prepared a typical English dinner especially for us with two kinds of meat, gravy, vegetables and potatoes. We had a lovely day watching Italian TV and talking about her past. She came to England in the late 50s almost illiterate as her primary school teacher made her look after her own children instead of letting her attend the lessons. She came here because she desperately needed a job to support her family. Starting as a
maid, she soon improved attending courses to become a cook, found better jobs and took her whole family here. She also told me she saved her father’s life. In fact, he suffered from diabetes and had one of his legs amputated after a fall from a tree. In Italy there weren’t proper cures and assistance at the time, so she took him here and he lived with her for ten years till his death. Later on, she married a Ukrainian man who had a story similar to hers, but harsher as he was wounded during the war; unfortunately he died three years ago. Living alone is not always easy for her, but she is such an energetic person; she drives and helps her neighbours and her family, who live nearby. I definitely feel proud of my Italian friends.

Before Christmas, we also went to visit my autistic daughter who lives in a residential school near Doncaster. We spent two days with her and she was overjoyed to have the whole family around her, spoiling her with presents, her favourite food and playing with her all the time. We had dinner at an excellent Italian restaurant, Trattoria Toscana, where we had our official Christmas event all together and exchanged presents. Valentina was lovely in spite of the noise and the excitement of the evening. We took videos and photos, had great fun with her unpredictable original way of dressing herself up and with the way she communicates drawing what she wants on a piece of paper in such a skilful way.

Just after that, my husband went to Italy to spend Christmas with his parents while I stayed at home with my mum and two of my children, who had decided to spend Christmas in England.

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