Friday 20 November 2020

Deepening into autumn: the effects of the second wave

 It was a shock to realise that we are in a Covid-19 second wave as it was predicted last summer. I thought it wouldn’t happen but I had to surrender to the evidence. The Italian government decided to implement a partial lockdown with a tier system: red, orange and yellow, when the death toll rose to 200 per day with peaks of 500-600. The tier system was compared to Dante’s Hell (red), Purgatory(orange) and Paradise (yellow), and to the colours of wine, Lambrusco, Orange Wine and Moscadello di Montalcino. At first, the worse areas were Lombardia, Piemonte and Valle d’Aosta in the north and Calabria in the south. A few days ago, Tuscany, Abruzzo and Campania were declared red zones too. Things change from one day to the next and it is difficult to make plans. Around Italy there were

protests and some riots against the curfew at 6 pm and the closure of shops, bars and restaurants in the red areas; however, some people claimed the measures came too late. But the situation is critical and the hospitals are almost full. In this confusion a nice note, a child sent a letter to Giuseppe Conte, the Prime Minister, asking if Father Christmas will be allowed to circulate and deliver presents. Conte replied assuring the child that Father Christmas has a special pass. Surprisingly hairdressers and barbers are still open as well as primary and middle schools, though secondary schools are closed. Some towns in the north forbid the access to non-residents placing concrete barrier at the entrance. We all hope for a better scenario before Christmas holidays and for a reliable vaccine.

My husband and I have decided not to fly to Italy during Christmas holidays as the situation is unpredictable and though it might improve, it gets worse as soon as people move around. We are afraid we would be trapped in endless quarantine periods both in Italy and in the UK and, of course, there is always the possibility of catching the virus. Besides, I have had some health issues recently due to my bad bones, that is, osteoporosis. My back ached so much at a certain point that it was painful even to stand up and sit down. I thought it was a muscle problem, as it had happened in the past, but the x-rays revealed a fracture in a vertebra so the doctor asked for more checks. I feel my spine does not support me properly. I often need to rest, sitting or lying down. I stopped exercising (I used to attend yoga classes, go to the gym and cycled every day during the summer) because of the pain and I am also afraid of breaking some other bones. The doctor gave me strong vitamin D and calcium tablets and I feel better on the whole though a bit worried. I still walk, as at the school where I teach the main campus and the college are at a distance of about a mile. My asthma got worse as well, maybe due to the kyphosis that is affecting my spine. Luckily my diabetes 2 condition are stable though I re-gained the two kilos I had lost during the summer. I am trying to fight back this general weakening that in my worse days I call ‘a disaster’. Buying new clothes cheers me up as usual as I can see myself in a better shape despite all. I am wearing loose dungarees from TU for the autumn that I match with Primark turtle necks (I have a sort of collection now) and thick coloured tights. I wear flats or light boots and a leather jacket. I still put on lipstick, though nobody can see it because of the face mask, and three earrings per ear I mix and match with the colours of my clothes. Face masks are a must now, so I match them with my outfits buying new ones and making them with remnants of fabrics or crocheting. I am slowing down in my routines but luckily my brain still works all right and I can produce creative things.

During half term week we visited our daughter Valentina and celebrated Halloween with her in her new accommodation near Redhill. We prepared for her a bat kit that included a face mask too. At the moment she is very interested in sorting out colours and stuffing them in socks. She spends hours doing this. We could briefly visit our sons in the north of England too and brought them Italian biscuits and pasta I buy at the Italian deli shop. My daughter in law is at the end of her pregnancy and we are all looking forward to seeing Violetta, at least in photos or videos if the lockdown doesn’t ease off. My mum is safe in Italy though I am sorry I won’t be able to see her at Christmas.

I am enjoying teaching at ISL London very much; my students are very motivated and worked hard on poetry in the first unit. We are in the process of collecting the Italian poems they produced in a booklet with the English translations too. They performed their poems together with their fellow students in their mother tongue at Gunnersbury Park in October just before half term. Now we are studying prose, short stories. I selected some classical authors of Italian literature such as Giovanni Verga, Grazia Deledda and Luigi Pirandello as well as  contemporary ones, like Stefano Benni, Marco Lodoli, Leonardo Sciascia and Elsa Morante. 

During the weekend I try to chill out as much as possible. First I catch up with house work, then concentrate on my creative activities, crochet, drawing and writing. I study too, Margaret Atwood, of course, and other authors that inspire me such as Sylvia Plath. Watching TV is my evening pastime. One of my favourite programs on the Italian TV is a new series on RAI 1 about a sostituto procuratore (deputy public prosecutor), Imma Tataranni. It is set in Matera, that is, in Lucania in the south of Italy. The stories are inspired by the books of Mariolina Venezia, a poet and writer from Matera. For me

Imma is better than the acclaimed Montalbano. She is clever, determined and intuitive, similarly to Vera, the Yorkshire detective. She is sharp and never gives up until she solves the case. Her colleagues say she has ‘a bad character’ but she is so efficient and experienced that at the end she always gets what she wants. Her husband is a romantic Italian guy who loves her dearly but they are not a perfect couple. Though they enjoy sex together, they have secret dreams of younger partners. Imma’s other characteristics are her lack of domestic skills, such as cooking, she simply has not time, and her cute outfits, like leopard patterns, pink coats and tight tops. She is brilliant! I hope the BBC is going to broadcast the series sooner or later so we can watch it again. 

Here is a link:

In the meantime, we look forward to Christmas hoping for a better and always creative scenario.

Saturday 7 November 2020

Staycation: spending time with family, Arundel castle and Newcastle

Our summer staycation included an inspiring visit to Arundel castle and seeing our sons in Leeds and Newcastle when the tier 2 was not yet in action. Looking back now, it seems it was a wonderful free time, though we were not aware of it. We could hug each other, walk side by side, go to the restaurant and sit at the same table and even linger in their apartments as long as we wished. Now we skype and are allowed only to see them outside, though it is discouraged by the Covid rules. And Christmas is a big question mark.

Arundel is a special place, not just the castle but also the town around it. We had planned the visit with my son Lorenzo and daughter in law Layla who had come to see us south. It was such a happy time! The castle belongs to the Dukes of Norfolk and is in remarkably good condition with beautiful

redesigned gardens around. Some parts of the castle date back to 1067. It was damaged during the Civil War and rebuilt in the Victorian period in Gothic style by Henry, the15th Duke of Norfolk, in honour of his late wife. The interior is impressive, it is not only well preserved, but beautiful furniture is also on display together with pictures and china pieces all elegantly arranged in the apartments. Walking around is a pleasure. The pieces collected are fascinating and include portraits by Van Dyck, Gainsborough, Reynolds and Lawrence, and even pictures by Canaletto. In the main Hall there is a real lion skin with head and open jaws and a big portrait of Cardinal Newman as well as pictures of family members with Pope John Paul II. My favourite place was the library where cosy corners with soft chairs and sofas are arranged along bookshelves packed with leather bound books locked behind wires. 

The gardens are charming; they have been redesigned by Duchess Georgina, the wife of the actual owner, Duke Edward Fitzalan-Howard. There are extraordinary arrangements of flower beds and roots and the leitmotif are constructions in wood and shells, sort of temples that emerge from the foliage and at the end of pathways. Stone fountains are surrounded by exotic plants such as echium that mingle with the more common wild flowers, verbena, foxgloves, cardoons and roses. Red hibiscus flowers are in the hothouse and apple arches were loaded with fruits. The beauty of the garden is in its arrangement that looks both pristine but also wild in some parts.

When we completed the tour, we wandered around the town centre visiting all the antique shops in the high street. I counted five selling different kinds of things, all interesting to browse and with affordable prices. I managed to find something to buy, of course, three dolls for my collection, two dolls from Japan and a papier mâché one from Mexico. We had a late lunch in a pizzeria and finally headed home. It was one of the best days of my summer holiday.

In late summer we visited Warwick castle too. I was impressed by the edifice and its history. William the Conqueror built the first castle but massive reconstructions and alterations were made throughout centuries. Nevertheless, the castle maintained its importance due to its strategic position on the river Avon and eventually was sold by David Greville to the Tussauds Group and absorbed into Merlin Entertainments in 2007. Maybe for this reason, in most of the rooms there are wax figures that re-create the ambience of the 19th century; they look almost real according to Md Tussaud’s style.

In the afternoon we attended  a spectacular show of birds of prey at the boathouse with vultures, condors, eagles and falcons flying over our heads, looking fierce and proud. Unfortunately, all my pictures were blurred as the birds were too swift.

Newcastle was surprising, especially the castle. It is a sober edifice  whose construction started in the 12th century near the first bridge that was built on the river Tyne by the Emperor Hadrian. It is a

Norman castle with beautiful mason work in the arches at the entrance. It was restored in the 19th century but then the construction of the railway crossed the site and part of it had to be demolished. The castle keep can be visited until the top where we admired a magnificent view of Newcastle. It has a particular charm because it gives the idea of how life was in medieval time. In the evening we had dinner at Pani’s, a Sardinian restaurant with authentic Sardinian dishes and Sardinian waiters. We had Sardinian ravioli, caramelle (pasta stuffed with goat cheese) and even Sardinian beer. I loved it! We were able to relax and have a small vacation, though shorter than usual.