Saturday 26 March 2022

Planning Easter holidays

 The days are growing warmer and the light comes from the window earlier in the morning. My outdoor duties at school are more pleasant. I enjoy the sun and already feel in a holiday mood. I am looking forward to the Easter break as I terribly need a proper rest. I worked

hard in the past few weeks, not just at school in my TA role but also at home completing a conference paper on Margaret Atwood’s poetry. I analysed her latest three collections, Morning in the Burned House (1995), The Door (2007) and Dearly (2020). It has been an involving and engrossing work that absorbed most of my time for more than a month. Here is one of my favourite poems from Dearly:



In the early morning an old woman

is picking blackberries in the shade.

It will be too hot later

but right now there’s dew.

Some berries fall: those are for squirrels.

Some are unripe, reserved for bears.

Some go into the metal bowl.

Those are for you, so you may taste them

just for a moment.

That’s good times: one little sweetness

after another, then quickly gone.

Once, this old woman

I’m conjuring up for you

would have been my grandmother.

Today it’s me.

Years from now it might be you,

if you’re quite lucky.

The hands reaching in

among the leaves and spines

were once my mother’s.

I’ve passed them on.

Decades ahead, you’ll study your own

temporary hands, and you’ll remember.

Don’t cry, this is what happens.

Look! The steel bowl

is almost full. Enough for all of us.

The blackberries gleam like glass,

like the glass ornaments

we hang on trees in December

to remind ourselves to be grateful for snow.

Some berries occur in sun,

but they are smaller.

It’s as I always told you:

the best ones grow in shadow.

And my response to Atwood’s poem:

Tasting blackberries

The best ones grow in shadow

Margaret Atwood, Blackberries

Cycling to Heather Farm

I see blackberries gleaming in the sun

black spots and red spots

among avid spines, 

the biggest and ripest ones recede in the deepest undergrowth – 

they will feed blackbirds and sparrows

or melt in the mud.

I have no plastic bag or bowl

so I gather them in my surgical face mask,

collect quite a few

gobble up some,

their wild taste bursts black under my fingers.

I feel satiated by the little sweetness,

treasure their blackness

that absorbs the late summer sun.

I make off with my bundle of pitch-dark garnets – 

furtive as I go.

Back home I simmer them in a pan with lemon juice and sugar

seal the jam in jars

with the label Gratefulness.

Published here: 

I played Wordle recently and was lucky to get the right word in a few attempts. The last one was RENEW, an inspiring and appropriate word for springtime. I feel renewed and my article on Margaret Atwood’s poetry is actually about renewal, transformation through storytelling that for Atwood happens in a voyage into the underworld. In her latest collections it is also connected with ageing and consequently death. But her view is not completely negative, on the contrary the ageing of the body causes a transformation that she interprets as a renewal. We need to acknowledge and accept our mortal condition but also look for transformation, a change that is revitalising.

My working week is full though I am getting used to the rhythm of my job and am better organised now. I have hectic weekends where I pack all the things I cannot do during the week, e.g., yoga classes, swimming, workshops, shopping and visiting my autistic daughter Valentina in Redhill. I try to take it easy and say to myself that what I cannot do this weekend I will do the next one. I noticed that I usually lose a kilo during the week and re-gain it in the weekend. I still wear trousers, boots and long woollen dresses but some of my colleagues are already wearing summer dresses with thin cardigans and sandals. It is difficult to choose what to wear in this period of the year as it is still chilly in the morning when I start the day, then it becomes bright and warm. It might change again before Easter and go back to wintry weather and perhaps settle after Easter. Who knows?

Russian invasion of Ukraine seems unstoppable. They say Russia may use chemical weapons and have Chinese military support. Poland might be in danger too and Ukrainian refugees continue to flee the country. The news show shelling, devastation and people crying. Isolating Russia’s economy doesn’t seem to solve the conflict. Zelenskiy declared that Ukraine is not going to join NATO, but this doesn’t seem to be enough for Putin. I wonder what he wants, does he really want to conquer Ukraine and make it part of Russia? The Russian advance is slow and the Ukrainian resistance is tough. Putin’s battle is lost as Ukrainians will never give up even if the Russian army covers the whole territory. And how should the West support Ukraine without provoking the potential escalation of the conflict?

The return of Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe after six years of imprisonment in Iran was great news. I was so touched by her husband Richard’s campaign for her liberation, with sit ins and hunger strikes and his relentless appeal to authorities. He adopted the right strategy though he was often criticised by the authorities. The newspapers wrote about the power of love but apparently money counted more than love. The newspapers reported about a debt of £ 400m that dated back to the 1970s about arms that the UK never delivered. Eventually the two governments reached an agreement and Nazanin was released. Does the need for gas and oil from countries other than Russia have anything to do with this story? Nazanin suffered physical and psychological torture in Iran. She could have died in prison. It is incredible how much global events can affect ordinary people’s lives. In the interviews she looks beautiful and fit and ready to re-start. Her resilience and strength are amazing, an example for all.

I will fly to Italy during the Easter break and I am planning to visit some exhibitions in London when I come back. Maybe I will squeeze a visit to the cinema before going back to school too. I am intrigued by the films nominated for the Oscar awards, such as Coda, West Side Story and The Power of the Dog. Here is the link to an interesting article from The Times on Oscar 2022 predictions:

I am crocheting bunnies and eggs and experimented making Ukrainian biscuits and a Japanese cake for my daughter’s birthday. Here are the recipes. I hope they will be useful for Easter time in alternative or together with the traditional chocolate eggs. 

Ukrainian biscuits

Moon Almond cookies

For the dough you need: 200 g of self-raising flour, some warm milk, two eggs, 

50 g of ground almonds, 100g of sugar, a pinch of salt, 100 g of melted butter.

For the filling you need: 50 g of ground almonds, one tbsp of melted butter, 1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon.

Icing sugar to dust.

Mix all the ingredient for the dough and chill it in the fridge for half an hour.

Prepare the filling melting the butter in the microwave and adding the other ingredients.

Roll out the dough and spread the filling on half of the dough. Fold the sheet over then cut the moons with a biscuit cutter. Bake the biscuits on a grease oven tray for 15-20 minutes at 180 C or until ready and finally dust with icing sugar.

Honey cookies

You need: one egg and one yolk of an egg, four tbsp of honey, ½ tsp of ground cinnamon, ½ tsp of ground cloves, 200 g of self-raising flour, some warm milk, 50 g of melted butter; icing sugar and the white of an egg for the glaze.

Mix all the ingredients for the dough starting with the honey, the butter and the milk then add the eggs, cinnamon and cloves and finally the flour. Roll out the dough and cut the biscuits with a biscuit cutter, I used the shape of a star. Bake the biscuits on a grease oven tray for 15-20 minutes at 180 C or until ready and finally prepare the glaze by whisking the white of the egg and adding some icing sugar till the mixture is thick. Spread the glaze on the biscuits and decorate with sprinkles.

Fruit cookies

You need: 100 g of melted butter, two tbsp of sour cream, one egg and the yolk of an egg, 100 g of sugar, 200 g of self-raising sugar, some vanilla extracts, 50 g of chopped nuts and 50 g of dried fruit soaked in warm water and liquor; white of an egg an icing sugar for the glaze.

Soak the dried fruit (e.g., raisins, apricots, mixed peel) in warm water and liquor. Mix all the ingredients of the dough and add the dried fruit. Form a roll and cut it into circles of half an inch. Place the circles on a tray lined with parchment paper and glaze with the whisked white egg mixed with icing sugar. Bake the biscuits for 15-20 minutes at 180 C or until ready.

Shortcakes with strawberries

You need: 200 g of strawberries, the juice and the grated zest of a lemon, 100 g of white caster sugar, 50 g of soft brown sugar, 200 g of self-raising flour, 100 g of soft butter, two eggs, some drops of vanilla extracts, two tbsp of single cream; parchment paper.

Prepare the strawberries. Chop them in a bowl and add one tbsp of sugar and the juice of a lemon. Prepare the dough whisking the butter and the sugars then add the eggs.  Add the rest of the ingredients and finally fold in the strawberries. The mixture should be sticky so use a spoon to place the biscuits on an oven tray lined with parchment paper. Bake the biscuits for 15-20 minutes at 180 C or until ready.

Japanese cake

For the sponge you need:  six eggs, 150 g of self-raising flour, ½ tsp of baking powder, ½ tsp of bicarbonate of soda, 50 g of cornflour, 100 g of white caster sugar, 50 g of melted butter, 100 g of double cream; parchment paper and icing sugar to dust 

For the filling you need: some raspberries and 300 g of whipping cream.

Warm butter and cream. Whisk the eggs with the sugar for 10-15 minutes. Add the cream and butter mixture and fold in the flour together with the baking powder and the bicarbonate of soda and the cornflour. Line a round tin cake with parchment paper and pour in the cake mixture. Bake for 30-40 minutes at 180 C or until ready. Let it cool then cut it in half and wet the two halves with milk mixed with some sugar. Whip the cream with two tbsp of sugar and add the raspberries. Spread the cream on the base of the cake and place the other half on top. Decorate the top with icing sugar and chill in the fridge before serving.

At The Park School the student made delicious fairy cakes for Red Nose Day and scones just before Mother’s Day. They were so good that they sold out and we all had sugary snacks during the breaks. My students are also working on religious pictures inspired by Jesus Christ’s passion and resurrection. I think their approach is very original though it might seem naïve at first sight. But this is the reason why I find their artwork so fascinating and unique. 

My daughter took part in an art project at ISL London for the Sakura Festival, that is, the two weeks dedicated to the blooming of cherry blossoms and to spring. She helped the Japanese students build up trees with more than 2000 origami cranes attached to the branches. An amazing achievement.

I am intensifying the writing of occasional pieces, that is, essays on Margaret Atwood and other writers or poets, poetry and art reviews, which are mostly commissioned by online magazines such as The High Window, London Grip, Tears in the Fence, Write Out Loud, Pulsar, The Temz and others, or requested by fellow writers that like my style of reviewing. I am very glad they appreciate my work and I enjoy this job.

I hope the Easter break will bring good weather and rest to everybody despite the difficult times that seem to endure in our frantic world. 👍💮🌸

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.