Saturday, 12 March 2022

Ukrainian conflict, reviews, day job and catching up with my creative self


The Russian invasion of Ukraine is such a scary moment in our current history that it’s hard to believe this is really happening and that I am here to witness it. The situation is apparently clear, Putin invaded Ukraine claiming the country is part of Russia and he does not want the NATO or the West to interfere. But the political and economic implications are more complex. Political manoeuvres of the different leaders involved directly or indirectly in the conflict and economic retaliations might be the core points. Wars are always a disaster especially for civilians, as we can see from the news. Soldiers die though now some of the military operations are performed remotely. But war is also a profitable business; it makes money and distracts people from other issue. Who remembers Boris Johnson’s partygate? Or Biden’s controversial evacuation of Afghanistan? Silvio Berlusconi, who was Italian Prime Minister in several governments in the 1990s and in 2001, 2006, 2008 and 2011, was great friends with Vladimir Putin. 

The news coverage is only about the Ukrainian conflict at the moment. There is so much information around and videos too that we feel immersed in the war and in the dramatic effects on the population. Protests, sanctions and boycotts of Russian products all over the world give a sense of cohesion against Putin’s Russia though they do not seem to end the invasion. If we go back in history, Russian people have never given up and only a revolution might make a real change. The strength of Ukrainian resistance was unexpected though I wonder how long it can last. Besides, there is the risk of a nuclear conflict that would provoke a real disaster for everybody. The European dependence on the Russian gas and oil, especially for Italy and Germany, is another crucial point. They are planning to reduce this dependence by half though I guess it won’t be easy and immediate. That’s why we have an increase in energy bills both in Italy and in the UK. Z is the symbol of Putin’s regime, a cryptic sign of Russian propaganda. At times the whole story seems so farfetched that I feel as if I am experiencing a fictional reality, especially on Youtube videos and TikTok, despite the bombings, deaths and refugees. 

In the meantime, I carry on with my job at The Park School trying to catch up with my articles, reviews and creative work at the same time. I must say it is hard sometimes to keep up with everything. I enjoy my role as a teaching assistant, I like my pupils and I have a good relationship with my colleagues, but at the end of the day I feel exhausted. When I come back home, I chill out browsing on social media and doing less demanding things for at least half an hour. After a good dinner, I feel better and go back to my creative work. But time is tight and I need to go to bed by 10.30 if I want to start again the next day refreshed enough. A part time job would have been better for me but I couldn’t find one. Full time jobs are more available at the moment. During the weekend I relax but also need to catch up with the house chores, though I ask my husband and my daughter to help me. I plan carefully my readings, my writing and artwork, making a list of priorities according to the deadlines, but Saturday and Sunday go so quickly. It is tough; I can still attend online readings, some workshops and a few exhibitions. I had to cut some things, such as volunteering at The Lightbox and the art group in Chobham. I don’t even have the time to visit my elderly friend, so I am just phoning them at the moment. I still attend yoga classes and go swimming, write poetry and reviews, carry on with my research on Margaret Atwood (I am writing two papers for two conferences I have planned before the summer and I am also revising an article on The Testaments that has just been accepted in Margaret Atwood Studies Journal). At the end of February some of my paintings were on display for two weeks at The Lightbox for a charity auction to raise money to replace the Kitty, an event organised by the Basingstoke Canal Society ( ). They are inspired by the Basingstoke canal flowing near Woking centre. I still do my crochet in the evening; I am making finger puppets for my granddaughter and I have a project in progress of the globe of the earth with all the continents in different colours. It is an installation of sorts linked to climate change and environmental concerns. 

Some of my poems have been recently published here:

Monitoring my body

The colour blue 

I have something to say about crochet

Tasting blackberries 

You can begin your journey of life anew

The lesser loss 

Words are good (Acumen 102)

And Dreich will publish five of my poems in the Spring issue (April 2022).

In the past few months, I worked on a number of reviews. I enjoyed all the books I read finding new voices and new perspectives. It was engrossing and fascinating. Visiting and reviewing art exhibitions in London and in Woking was very interesting too. I reviewed Hogarth’s exhibition at Tate Britain and Hokusai at the British Museum for London Grip, Bridget Riley for Woking Writers Circle’s website, and the exhibition on Australia at Tate Modern for Litro magazine. Here are the links:

Hokusai: The Great Book of Everything 

Hogarth and Europe 

Bridget Riley: The Pleasures of Sight 

A Year in Art: Australia 1992 

I also visited the exhibitions on Peru: A Journey in Time at the British Museum and Albrecht Dürer at the National Gallery. Dürer was such a brilliant painter and engraver. He worked at the time of Raphael and Giovanni Bellini, whom he met during his journeys in Italy, and was influenced by Italian Renaissance art. Classical proportions and the study of perspective were essential for a painter of the 16th century. His watercolours are fascinating, delicate and detailed at the same time without being overworked. For me, his best work on display at the exhibition were the engravings. The lines are so fine, the details so effective that it is hard to believe that it was made by hand. He travelled to Italy and the Low Countries taking sketches of people, plants and animals in his journals. My favourite pieces were ‘Melancholia I’ and ‘The knight, Death and the Devil’, two surreal works so modern and thought-provoking.

The exhibition on Peru at the British Museum was comprehensive and engaging. The works on display gave a clear idea of the artifacts produced in the different regions and the captions explained well the different kinds of environment present in the country and how people adapted to them. They had an irrigation system with subterranean water channels and innovative agricultural techniques that allowed the population of the Andes to thrive in challenging climates. Some of the population named are the Inca, Chavin, Wari, Nasca and Moche. They lived in the mountains, deserts and tropical forests. For them, nature was a living being that sustained people’s lives. Therefore, the natural and the supernatural are connected in a cycle of life and death that is linked with the past, that is, with ancestors. In the iconography and tapestry, snakes, jaguars and birds are often present symbolising respectively the underworld, the earth and the sky. The world of the dead is strictly connected to the living, for this reason human sacrifice was seen as a continuation of life in another dimension and not as an interruption. Blood had a special power for them and was used as a medicine and in potions. My favourite pieces were the vessels which were used in everyday life and in ceremonies. They are beautifully crafted in the shape of animals and human figures. Some tapestries were interesting too with apparently simple geometric patterns and stylised shapes. On the same day we went to see the new show of Le Cirque du Soleil, Luzia, at the Royal Albert Hall. The atmosphere and choreographies were mesmerising. There were all the traditional circus acts such as acrobats, rope walking, juggling and clowns but with a twist and the unexpected pouring of water from the ceiling. We loved it.

Here are the links to my recent poetry reviews:

Anna Saunders, Feverfew 

Joy Arjo, An American Sunrise 

Ramy Al-Asheq, Ever since I did not die 

David Cooke, Sicilian Elephants 

Hannah Lowe, The Kids 

Ariadne Radi Cor,  L’Italie L’ondon 

Carolyn Jess-Cooke, We Have to Leave the Earth 

Helen Mort and Katrina Naomi, Same but Different 

Ikhda Ayuning Maharsi Degoul, The Goldfish 

Norman Erikson Pasaribu, Happy stories mostly 

John Freeman, Plato’s peach 

Eileen Duggan, Selected Poems 

Finola Scott, Count the Ways 

Jane Burn, Be Feared 

Graham Mort, Samara 

Barbara Henning, Ferne: A Detroit Story 

Spring is struggling to overcome winter this year. I find frost on the window screen in the morning from time to time. At school, I still wear my hat and gloves during my outdoor duties. I was used to early spring in Rome when at Carnival you can wear thin costumes and parade in the streets. We had Pancake Day at school on Shrove Tuesday with delicious pancakes with cinnamon and lemon offered by teachers. I must say I have my favourite lessons: art, English, RE and cultural studies. Maths can be challenging as I am not good with numbers; Food Tech is good fun. I am having a great experience at The Park School, the pupils are cute and the environment is friendly. Looking after children with special needs is a mission of sorts rather than a job and involves emotional and professional skills. I feel lucky to have such an opportunity to add to my knowledge and it feeds my creativity as well giving me the chance to explore different views.

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