Saturday 26 September 2020

Keeping up with hard times: creative writing, artwork, crochet and more

During the early summer, seeing the coronavirus death rate rising was terrifying, then it slowed down. in Italy, fifty per cent of the cases were still concentrated in the north while the centre and the south seemed miraculously to be almost immune. The most frustrating thing was that despite all the restrictions and the isolation, people still became infected and died in the hundreds. When the restrictions started to ease off, confusion arose. In Italy in phase two you could meet ‘congiunti e affetti stabili’ (next of kin and long term loved ones). The ambiguity of the phrase created puzzlement; what did they mean with ‘long term loved ones’? Apparently a lover was not

considered such. Then people met in parks and town centres, movidas started again; they wanted their life back especially in southern countries like Italy and Spain where staying inside with hot weather is sweltering. It is clear now that health has become a global issue and is connected with the economy. We are isolated in this pandemic but we cannot save ourselves without others’ support and help. So, we are connected both in the risk of transmitting the infection and in helping each other. According to statistics, more men than women are dying, probably due to hormones, and some ethnic groups are more vulnerable than others, though this is debatable. Some ethnic groups are socially deprived and live in crowded accommodations or have jobs that are at risk, which might be the causes of the higher death rate. Elderly people seem to be more vulnerable, but some of them recovered and then young and middle aged healthy people became seriously affected by the virus. I wonder if it is possible to have straight answers. We don’t know, maybe we will never know or we will know in ten or twenty years. By now, I feel sceptical about definite conclusions.

I was bewildered that face masks became mandatory in the UK so late compared to other countries. In Italy my mum has been wearing a mask when she is outside since the lockdown started to ease off in May and she has to use a surgical mask not homemade ones or generic face coverings. I don’t think face masks are a solution but they help to contain the virus.

When some shops started to open, I managed to spend £ 50 at Poundland, I still wonder how I managed it. I craved everything I could not buy for weeks: sweets, toys for Violetta (my future granddaughter), balls of wool to make a blanket, tortellini on offer, kitchen tools, flip flops for my daughter Valentina, 
everything attracted my deprived shopping ego. When the heatwave hit, I bought loose long dresses at Morrisons and Sainsbury’s and at Longacres Garden centres, which have clothes departments. Because of the ups and downs of the English weather, sometimes I needed a light cardigan and a cotton scarf to match. I felt very comfortable in my new look and never bothered if some of the clothes I used to wear the previous summer didn’t fit. At a certain point some charity shops re-opened. I found some lucky

picks, such as a comfortable pair of white sandals and new shoes decorated with shells that match perfectly with a dress I have with similar decorations on the neckline. Then earrings and clothes, of course, for my ‘future self’ when I lose weight, especially on the waist line. These hopeful thoughts inspire a re-shaping that probably will never happen but it is a way to entertain myself.

My garden flourished during the summer. Tiny plants of herbs became bushes. I regularly harvested cherry tomatoes, lettuce and courgette. Running beans were rather resistant to develop edible products; they grew taller and taller and showed beautiful red flowers but then the harvest was scarce. Geraniums, daisies, begonias and pansy flowers thrived throughout the summer encouraging me to spend more time outside and inspired my artwork too. I collected photos of flowers and made sketches. Flowers are a versatile subject you can render in different ways from the most detailed and figurative ones to total abstract. 

Because of my passion for art, I bought some pictures by artists that exhibited in Woking. The cover picture of my collection, Negotiating Caponata, is from a painting by Janice Dempsey ( ), ‘Cappuccino in Positano’, a gouache that now hangs proudly in my living room. 

I also bought an abstract painting by Geoffrey Pimlott, ‘Cadmium yellow below

black’(, a piece I really like, from his last exhibition at The Lightbox that unfortunately lasted only a few days due to the lockdown. I reviewed the exhibition here: I love the way Geoffrey uses the ochre and black together with pink and yellow. The juxtaposition of colours gives me joy and makes me think of the positive side of life. 

Hannah Bruce is very active in Woking Art Society (; she regularly exhibits in the area and her work expresses the right balance between figurative and abstract. I chose ‘Cat peeking’ among her beautiful pictures for its warm colours and the skilful use of watercolours and inks. 

Finally, I bought Liz Seward’s ‘Virginia Water – Autumn’ ( in watercolour at the Peacock exhibition. I attended one of her workshops with WAS before the lockdown and admired her way of teaching and her paintings. She uses watercolours with expertise, exploring the transparencies of the medium. I love this piece because of its freshness and delicate tones.

Crocheting is one of my passions. I experimented new patterns such as the mosaic pattern and new granny squares with the help of tutorials of Ophelia Talk crochet I found on Twitter. I made potholders and face masks and am planning to make a blanket for Violetta too. I quite like wearing face masks and matching them with my outfits. That’s why I created some handmade ones with fabrics and crochet. If they are too thick I feel short of breath because of my asthma condition, but the crocheted ones are perfect. 

The V&A sent me links of sewing patterns such as Mary Quant ‘Georgie dress’ and the Japanese style ‘boro’ bag, which I made. Here are the links:,TK0R,AGDPP,3KP8V,1,TK0R,AGDPP,3KP8V,1

The ‘boroboro’ bag, which means ‘something tattered or repaired’, is a re-working of pre-existing materials sewn together and then embroidered with simple stitches. I made two and added my Italian touch crafting a more complex kind of embroidery and interweaving figurative patterns with abstract ones. The V&A also sent me videos about its collections, fashion, handmade crafts, such as crochet, jewellery making, illustration and the fantastic kimono exhibition, which had to close because of the Covid-19. Here are the links:  

Part 1 

Part 2  

Part 3  

Part 4  

Part 5  

Eventually, I could attend the exhibition at the end of August and reviewed it here: 

I attended some online events with Canada-UK Foundation too about Canadian ethos, the effects of the pandemic on economy, business and education and how to recover from this situation. I took part in Canada Day in a virtual pancake breakfast and also wrote a prose poem on it:  

Canada day  

It had been a long day at the computer and then preparing dinner, peeling potatoes, washing salad and tomatoes, chopping carrots, frying meatballs then laying the table. What day was it? Monday or Wednesday? The last day of the month or the beginning of a new phase? I lost track in isolation. I began to think that maybe, just maybe there might be something for me, just for me on the doormat. How else to explain this sensation of novelty? I unlocked the door and there it was, a parcel tightly wrapped in grey plastic. I tore it open and a box with a red maple leaf printed on the top appeared. Inside a bottle of pure Canadian maple syrup and a packet of flour mix for buttermilk pancakes. ‘Dear Carla’, it began, ‘Happy Canada Day!’  

From time to time I enjoyed music with the Philharmonic Orchestra and the Royal Opera House online events, and ‘The Story of Anansi’ with the Unicorn theatre, an entertaining show for children, but very involving. I had great fun, here are the links:

Shena Grigor, one of my yoga teachers, organised yoga sessions at Woking park on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. It was so exciting to meet people again and exercise outside in the sun or under trees if it was too hot. When the leisure centre opened again, I could also attend yoga with Sandra Cooper though spaces are restricted and the course fills quickly.   

Unfortunately, with autumn coming it is getting colder and we have to stay inside hoping that the freedom we have gained after summer is not taken back again due to a second wave of the virus. I try to be realistic, keep things small in everyday life and not plan ahead more than one or two months. Though the Government’s rules may be confusing sometimes (which I believe is not a characteristic of the British situation but is global), I believe it is important to follow them. The basic rules such as ‘wash hands, cover face and make space’ are fundamental. Then stay hopeful, keep in touch with friends and family and look after each other if possible. A good recipe for survival.

Sunday 13 September 2020

Coronavirus diary: recovery and planning ahead

 Here I am again after the summer break where everything seemed static but actually a lot of things happened behind the scenes both in my life and internationally. The pandemic should have been a restrain but it wasn’t in the face of serious events such as the death of George Floyd, the manifestations that followed, which rightly expressed the issue of discrimination against black people, and the Beirut explosion. From my isolation and consequent staycation, I couldn’t help feeling worried and helpless but I am also aware that I can voice my opinion in writing and in everyday life. It is a little contribution but as Madre Teresa of Calcutta says: ‘We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.’

August was dedicated to my PhD thesis on Margaret Atwood, the title is: An intertextual reading of female characters in Margaret Atwood’s work. The proof-reader gave me some deadlines and my supervisors wished to have a semi-final draft by the end of August. So, I concentrated all my energy on writing and eventually finalised 87,000 words. It was hard work and a big effort but I’m so happy to have accomplished it according to my plans.


When the restrictions of Covid-19 eased off, we managed to visit my son Lorenzo and my daughter in law Layla in Leeds and my autistic daughter Valentina in Doncaster. The great exciting news is that Layla is pregnant and I will be grandma before Christmas! She should be a girl, Violetta, and I am already preparing knitted and crocheted things for her in white, pale pink and purple. Lorenzo and Lyla are overjoyed, of course. She had some low blood pressure problems at the beginning of the pregnancy but is now fine.


My daughter Valentina is all right too. The social services have just moved her south near Redhill so we can visit her more often. She is settling in the new accommodation with new staff, which is not an easy matter for her, but we can see her every week now and she is so happy when we are there. We always bring her new clothes, the sweets she likes and the things she buys online, usually Futurama items.


I also started my new job at ISL London, an international school in Hammersmith. I teach Italian language and literature to MYP and DP students, that is, high school students, according to the International Baccalaureate program. Commuting to London is not so easy, it means leaving home at 6 am to avoid the traffic and coming back home after 6 pm. It is a major commitment and a big change from my previous routine. I work three days a week in London while my husband works full time in the same school. Luckily he is the one who drives, so I can read or have a nap during the commute. Earning money is good and rewarding and I love having contact with students again. The environment at ISL London is welcoming both for staff and students; the international atmosphere makes you at ease and is very friendly. On the whole I like this opportunity and hope to make the most of it, and, at the same time, I will try to keep on track with my creative side.

We also visited my son Francesco who moved to Newcastle to start a teaching job in a high school as a maths teacher. He is sharing an apartment with some friends and seems very happy with his new situation. Here is a poem I wrote for him before he left:




For Francesco


I hope your road is a good one

full of unexpected discoveries,

paths you’re exploring for the first time

where dragons and kind elves mix.

You enter a new environment

a school where you will teach maths

to disadvantaged children, KS 3 and 4,

where you will meet the unlucky ones

who will never access Oxford as you did,

who maybe are not as talented as you are

in painting, music and writing,

or excel in Physics and maths,

or understand Nietzsche’s and Kant’s thoughts.

Moving there is your choice

away from the too caring Italian family

to learn life from scratch, the ‘real’ one

after the university bubble.

Keep Newcastle in your heart and mind,

it will make you rich.


During the lockdown I gained three kilos and managed to lose two very slowly thanks to some good advice from nurse Emma who is monitoring my diabetes 2 condition. I crave biscuits and chocolate but I try to stick to my diet as much as possible. Despite this, I still baked but mainly experimented new savoury recipes as a pastime and also to give a bit of taste to the dullness of isolation. I will post the new recipes in the autumn blog.


I also took part in the Woking Art Society’s exhibition at the Peacock centre in Woking. It lasted two weeks and was a great experience. Being part of an art group motivates my artistic side. I feel I can produce more and develop further. It was also an opportunity to compare my work to other artists’ of the group that had their work on display too. I am working on kimono patterns at the moment inspired by my travels in Japan and by the exhibition at the V&A, Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk. Art has no boundaries and you can express yourself in whatever ways and whatever style you like. This is liberating and releases frustration as well.


Online classes and zoom sessions were a great opportunity to keep in touch with fellow writers and also produce creative work. I attended art classes with Grainne Roche and poetry classes with the Poetry Business as well as open mic sessions with 1000 Monkeys, organised by Dempsey&Windle, and Write Out Loud zoom nights. It was a bit hectic at certain points when some events overlapped and I was having most of my evenings booked. I had to cut some of them in September when I started to work at ISL London.


On TV I watched the young Montalbano season two and Mrs America with Kate Blanchett on BBC 2 and the brilliant Talking Heads on iPlayer, all great fun. A lot of my time was dedicated to planting and growing my trug vegetable garden and arranging new flower pots. I had some good harvest from time to time thanks to the sunshine and a bit of spring rain. We could savour fresh salad and cherry tomatoes as well as courgette and beans.


I feel I am on a recovery plan and though things are not back to normal (but what is ‘normal’?), it is getting better. Is a new coronavirus wave coming soon? Are we going to celebrate Halloween and Christmas as usual? I hope so. More of my summer and my present days in my next posts.