Milan: Behind the Façade

I guess it was appropriate that my first conversation in Milan should have been about fashion.  H. and I just had lunch at Stazione Centrale and were leaving the restaurant, trolley suitcases in tow, when I noticed a young woman oscillating her head as I passed, to follow my feet with her gaze.  She was sitting on a high stool, and turned to mutter something to the young man next to her.  I did a sharp U-turn.  “You’re talking about my socks, aren’t you?” DSC00225.JPG

She raised her eyes to mine, evidently assessing my tone on the friendliness scale.  “I was just telling him –” she began, cocking her head towards the young man.

“I was talking about tights – not socks!” he stammered, blushing.

“No, you weren’t!” she almost snapped, outraged at this evident betrayal.

“Well,” I said, “normally, I would never wear white ankle socks with this kind of shoes but, firstly, I come from England, and in England fashion is not a priority, and, secondly, I’ve just been on a train for several hours, wanted to be comfortable, and the socks stop my sweaty feet from sticking to the insides of my shoes.  I know, the white  ankle socks give it a little girl look –”

“– and the actual shoes are also little girl shoes,” she added with organic seamlessness until her face suddenly froze with the realisation she had dispensed a gram of honesty too many.

The young man was looking away, his entire body expressing an unequivocal desire for a hole to open beneath his bar stool and swallow him up.

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I glanced at my shoes.  Sand-coloured leather with flat, white rubber soles, a T-bar with a buttoned strap and oval details carved out at the level of the toes.  It hadn’t occurred to me but, now that I studied them, yes, they did look like little girl footwear.  I looked up at the couple and burst out laughing.  The young woman ventured a smile of relief and I walked away, wheeling my suitcase.

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I had never been to Milan before.  I pictured high fashion, risotto with gold leaf and Northern Italian efficiency.  I had read Caterina Bonvicini’s exquisitely incisive portrayal of upper middle-class Milanese women in her brilliant (sadly not yet translated into English) novel, Tutte le donne di (“All His Women”) and an article in the Corriere della Sera that presented Milanese ladies as a bouquet of beige outfits, fish and salad lunches, private views at art galleries and operas at La Scala – but never on opening night.

After a week in the city of unbridled sensual splendour that Rome is, the relative austerity of Milan’s imposing, chunky buildings felt like a foreign country.  With a foreign language.  When I used the word stampella (entirely common in Rome) to ask the hotel receptionist for more coat-hangers, he did his best not to stare and, with composed politeness, asked me to clarify, then, with equally measured politeness, communicated to me that a perhaps more easily understandable noun would be gruccia and that I had, in actual fact, just requested a walking stick.DSC00226.JPG

As we walked along Corso Buenos Aires, then Corso Venezia, every building offended my baroque-spoilt eyes.   The massive palazzi, the lack of finesse in the stucco and carvings – everything seemed to stand witness to the slight vulgarity of 19th-century industry-generated money that has to prove itself.  The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II struck me as rather glitzy and vulgar, not a patch on the genteel, if a little worn, Gallerie de la Reine in Brussels.  Even my first sight of the Duomo was a disappointment, like an over-decorated cake, with sculptures filling every available space – even at the top of the tall gothic spires.  Every building in Milan seemed to antagonise me.

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On our first evening there, I e-mailed an Italian writer whose books I have translated. “Milan is not Rome,” he wrote back.  “Its beauties are hidden.  Give it a little time…”

There was a festival of Baroque music the next day, and H. and I went to a concert of sonatas by Arcangelo Corelli by the Ensemble Estro Cromatico at the church of San Bernardino alle Monache.   As it was some distance from our hotel, H. suggested taking the metro.  Frequent and swift, the Milan underground transport system is light years more efficient than the one-down-one-across metro network in Rome.  We emerged in an area quite different from the one we had walked around until now.  Older, friendlier-looking buildings that had more history and more heart.  That were not in your face.  Buildings that whispered.  I approached the makeshift box office outside San Bernardino alle Monache to pick up our tickets. “Ah, Gregor,” the lady behind the desk exclaimed as though she’d heard the name before, and rummaged through a stack of envelopes.  Benvenuti!” she said, smiling and handing me our tickets.  

For a second or two, I was puzzled by this unexpected welcome.  Then it occurred to me that mine must have been the only non-Italian name on her list.  Grazie!” I replied, suddenly feeling unaccountably cheerful and glad to be there, in this initially aggressive-looking city that clearly had a warm side.   

 We sat at the very back, by the doors that had been left open for the air to circulate in the 35ºC heat.  Everyone sat fanning themselves with either fans or programmes in this enchanting, 13th-century church with frescos, filled with the haunting, gentle emotion of period instruments.  I could get used to being here, I thought.

As though the evening of the concert had unlocked a door I had been walking past without realising it, I began to see a different side to the city.  I remembered my Italian writer acquaintance’s advice.  Yes, Rome opened its arms to you.  Milan required a little courtship.  Along the very Corso Buenos Aires and Corso Venezia that had so offended my eyes on the first day, I began to notice small gates leading to magnificent courtyards with hidden gardens and – in one case – a small pond with flamingoes.  Yes, flamingoes.  Who – what kind of individual keeps flamingoes in their garden? I wonder if I shall ever find out.  All over Milan, behind chunky, thickset façades, through elaborate, wrought-iron gates, lurked these alluring, elegant courtyards made of arches, a single lantern and sprawling foliage.  Intimate spaces shielded from prying eyes.

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The view from my temporary “office”

Freelancers aren’t free.  Fifteen pages of translation editing – a couple of hours’ work – had to be done every day, holiday or no holiday.  Not wanting to stay cooped up in our hotel room, I went in search of somewhere with a table, a view, tea, and where I could linger undisturbed for as long as I needed.  The ideal spot presented itself at the Mondadori bookshop, in Piazza del Duomo.  A corner table by the window.  A view over the Gothic cathedral looming over a square swarming with tourists, spires challenging the Heavens.  A cathedral which, as the days went by, began to look less aggressive to my eyes.  Its whiteness less glaring, its size less daunting, its spires less defiant, more inspired.  More inspiring.

I could get used to being here, I thought once again.

Scribe Doll

 

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Paris to Rome by Train

“Why can’t we take the train?”

“What – all the way?” H. gives me his your-quirkiness-is-turning-into-madness look.  “It’s – it’s –”

“The longest leg would be just twelve hours,” I filled in, smiling sweetly.  “If you went to Australia, you’d have to sit on a plane for over twelve hours.”

“Y–yes, but–but, you’re actually proposing to take a train from Norwich to London, London to Paris, Paris to Rome, then Rome to Milan, Milan to Paris, then –”

“Yes, I know.”

“But you even want to go from Paris to Rome by train? That’s, like –”

“Yes, twelve hours.” My smile loses some of its brilliance.

I truly hate flying.  I do it when I have to but I find the whole experience increasingly stressful.  The wait at the airport, the luggage restrictions, sitting cramped in that tiny space, with the constant noise of the engine, and that unpleasant aircraft smell.  

And so here we are, in a taxi driving us across a barely awake Paris to the Gare de Lyon, to catch a 6.30 a.m. train to Milan, where we will change for a train to Rome.  I wonder for a moment if I am putting our marriage to an unnecessary test.  I’ve come prepared to tackle any protestation of boredom on H.’s part.  There’s music uploaded on my iPad, a velveteen-covered neck pillow and a copy of The Society of Authors’ Author magazine in my holdall.  

As the TGV leaves the station, my heart feels light.  Twelve hours to myself.  Twelve hours with no work, no e-mails, no mother phoning, no household chores to be done.  When was the last time I had twelve hours in a row to myself? When was the last time I had even half that to myself? 

The early-morning grey is gradually dispelled by sunlight.  The sky is brightening.  We whizz past country churches with steeples, fields, small towns.  I fall asleep, my neck pillow wedged behind me, supporting my low back.  

I wake up to luscious, dark green hills against a turquoise sky.  The guard announces Aix-les-Bains as our next stop.  The hills reach up to become mountains and the train plunges in and out of their bellies.  Suddenly, a large expanse of water a slightly greener tone than the sky.  A lake.  “Let’s go to the buffet car,” I suggest to H. and we make our way down from one carriage to the other, swaying between the seats, trying not to step on protruding feet and canine tails.  By the time we reach the buffet, we’re in the middle of this magnificent lake.  There’s a small island, with a fairy-tale-like château sprouting out of it.  “What’s this beautiful lake called?” I ask the lady behind the counter.

Lac du Bourget,” she replies, smiling. 

We stand by the window and watch the sunlight glinting on the smooth, green-blue surface.  There are children bathing by the shore, and people having a picnic.  Any moment now, I expect to see water sprites leap out of the water.

“Well, isn’t this sight alone worth the train journey?” I ask tentatively.

“Hmm…” H. replies.  But he is smiling, entranced by the view.

The mountains grow taller, their peaks sharper.  We’re passing the Alps.  I now cannot see them without thinking of the many books and extracts H. and I have recently been translating, all set there.  The Alps seem to have become a favourite backdrop to many Italian novels.  A place between countries, languages and cultures.  Where Austro-Hungarians turned Austrians, then became Italians, then Germans, then Italians again, each time switching language.  Summits veiled in shreds of cloud like gossamer, with streaks of snow on their sides.  Patches of brown showing through subtly different shades of green.  I wish I had the vocabulary to name all these vibrant, deep greens.  Gorges with jagged sides, as though hacked with the sword of a pre-human giant.  Rock formations like camouflaged faces watching the train as it runs past them.  Observing humans, unseen.  Sprawling masses of rock carved by the wind and smoothed by the rain.  A view that commands awe.  I can’t help feeling that there is something un-judging and yet unforgiving about mountains. A force not to be challenged and never to be disrespected.  On one summit, a solitary cross. 

My ears imagine the wind howling through these narrow gorges, sweeping across the green valleys.  I picture Alpine witches riding on broomsticks, carried by this wind, laughing uproariously on their way to a sabbath, circling the peaks, snowflakes blowing in their faces.  Perhaps they gather to stir polenta in a large cauldron, on cold winter nights.  Trilingual witches who compose rhymes in Italian, German and French.  

In Milan, we jump into a taxi to change stations, to catch the train for Rome.  After the rather slow, tattered TGV, the Italo train is a luxurious experience of speed, ample leg room, comfortable seats and just the right potency of air conditioning.  

Between Milan and Turin, the flat land of the Po Valley, with rice paddies, grey skies, and a pastel landscape.  H. falls asleep, my velveteen pillow framing his neck.  The countryside becomes more chiselled and colourful as we approach Tuscany.  When the train pulls into Florence – blink and you miss it – I catch a glimpse of  Brunelleschi’s dome.  I am as excited as a child.  I think Dante, Guelphs and Ghibellines, and my old friend Gianni Schicchi.

Deep in Tuscany, there are faded, terracotta-red casolari atop hills, with rows of cypresses straight as arrows, silent sentinels of olive groves and vineyards.  Mediaeval cities perched on cliff tops, as though carved from the rock itself, with churches I imagine covered in frescoes.  H. is also looking out of the window, while listening to Turandot on my iPad.

The woman sitting behind us pulls down the blind.  I could weep and protest as politely as I can.  I want to see every tree, every rock, every stone castle and olive grove.  The direct sun is uncomfortable for her eyes.  We compromise and keep the blind halfway down, which means that I have to curve my body to see outside.  After a while my back is aching and the poor woman’s eyes are stinging as the sun is now lower down in the sky and she asks to pull the blind down lower.  I wish I could explain to her that where I come from, the sun is an unpredictable luxury not to be wasted but worshipped wholeheartedly whenever it honours you with its presence.  That I have spent the last couple of years feeling cold and am so sun-starved I could almost hold the sun’s glare, afraid to look away in case it hides behind the clouds again.

As we approach Lazio, maritime pines begin to appear, their tall trunks slightly twisted and bent by the winds from the Mediterranean.

The sun has set by the time we reach Rome.  H. is exhausted.  So am I.  We take our luggage and step out of the cool train into an embrace of intense July heat.  

“Next time we’ll take a plane, right?” H. says as we walk to the taxi rank.

“Next time, perhaps you can fly, I can take the train, and we can meet in Rome?” I suggest.

“Well, we’ll see,” he replies.

I peer into his face out of the corner of my eye.  I think he has forgiven me my quirkiness-turned-madness, but I guess I shouldn’t push my luck.

Scribe Doll   

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Thunderstorm

After weeks of relentless, unusually intense heat, the weather forecaster announces a violent thunderstorm with possible flash flooding in the East of England.  That and we’ve been promised the longest lunar eclipse – with blood moon, no less – in a hundred years.

My heart sinks when I hear of a forthcoming moon or sun eclipse.  I live in England, and England, as proved – as if proof were needed – by recent political events, always has to be different from everybody else.  So, while much of the rest of Europe is awed by this spectacular display of cosmic art, England, true to the spirit of the Reformation, has to shield its residents from too much magnificence with a blanket of cloud.

By 8.30 p.m., when H. and I go for a stroll, I know that, unless a coup de théâtre by our recently-returned grey weather suddenly raises the curtain on a patch of clear sky, preferably where the moon is scheduled to rise, the extraordinary eclipse is something I’m going to see in other people’s photos.  The air is so dense and heavy, it’s an effort to pull it through your nostrils.  The moisture is so oppressive, it makes every step laborious.  We decide to go back home and breathe more easily indoors in the breeze of an oscillating fan. 

Exhausted by having worked all day and overwhelmed by the heat, H. falls asleep to the regular, slightly rheumatic creak of the electric fan that’s recently been brought out of storage after several years.

I am not sleepy.  On the contrary, I feel a sense of anticipation, of excitement I usually experience before a thunderstorm.  I love thunderstorms.  Even as an easily frightened child terrified by things real as well as imaginary, I always felt strangely safe during them.  As I close the curtains and switch off the lights around the house, I catch a glimpse of a sky that’s like marble, with different shades of deep grey infused with lilac, gold, blue, terracotta and red.  I wonder if it’s the blood moon seeping through the clouds.  A flock of starlings circles over the Norman church tower a few streets away, then settles on the crenellations, like a row of soldiers ready to face the invader.  

I take my notebook and pen and sit on a chair facing the window, which I’ve pushed open as far as the frame allows, my feet on the sill, watching the gradually darkening sky.  Everything feels still.  I switch off the radio and the silence is suddenly thick with possibility.  The only sound is the whirr and creak of the electric fan behind me.  I consider turning that off, too, but the heat is unbearable, so I just tune its noise out of my ears and focus on the sounds outside the window.  There is enough light to write.

I smell the unmistakable, slightly metallic scent of impending summer rain.  Like a refreshing shower of silver after a day bathed in gold.  There are hints of lighting splashing here and there throughout the sky, now a mottled apricot-gold.  A hesitant breath of cool air laps the soles of my feet.  Then a sudden gust of wind ruffles the short palm tree in the neighbours’ garden.  A playful gesture.  And here it comes – drops of rain drumming gently on the glass pane and the roof tiles.

I glance at the church tower.  The starlings are no longer on the crenellations.  I wonder if they’ve huddled up inside the walls.

A small white cloud drifts quickly across the horizon.  Purposeful.

The flashes of lightning are now more frequent, brighter, more urgent, until there are explosions of blinding white before me.  The church tower is floodlit.  I remove my feet from the sill.  Something black flutters a few inches away from the window pane.  Is it a leaf? No, it has wings.  A bat searching for refuge.  Although fascinated, I quickly pull the window pane closer to the frame.  I don’t want to deal with a panic-stricken bat inside a house where you can’t open the windows in full.  It’s now too dark to write.  I can’t make out the ink from the paper.

The mane of the neighbour’s palm tree is suddenly swept right back with violence.    There is a vague rumble of thunder.  Another small white cloud rushes across the horizon, as though seeking safety.  I take a small torch and shine a small ringed circle of light on my notebook.  I pick up my fountain pen again and resume scribbling.

I hope the next thunderclap will be louder.  I long for a thunderstorm like the ones I would watch while growing up in Rome.  Like the ones we would always get immediately after 15 August, once Ferragosto was over.  With the skies letting rip, the water pelting down into rivers streaming down the streets, and thunder that exploded as though tearing the air apart.  This thunderstorm is more subtle, more understated.

Two little white clouds now flee across the horizon.  Anxious.  The wind is now shaking the window pane and I hear something crashing in the street.  The sky is now a dark, reddish brown. 

I feel a surge of power within me.  Whole.  At one with myself.  My fountain pen runs smoothly on the pages I keep turning.

Then an alien light takes over the garden and filters into our room.  Brash.  Intrusive.  The neighbours are in their kitchen.  I can hear their television, their laughter.  Their noise upstages the storm and drains the silence of its possibilities.  I suddenly become aware again of the whirr and creaking of the fan behind me.   

My fountain pen stands still.  I put the cap back on the nib.  I forgot what I was about to write.

Scribe Doll

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R. R. R.

Different ways of speech communication is one of my earliest memories. The fact that, at home, my mother and grandmother speak one way, and friends, neighbours and people in the street another. Then there’s the way my mother speaks to my grandmother when she doesn’t want me to understand what she’s saying. The third way. Russian at home, Italian outside, Farsi for secrets I long to know.  I am at the stage in my young life when I have a notion of existing but not living. My body still feels like a chunky box that’s the wrong shape for me. Too bulky, too slow, too clumsy, too heavy.  Like a container in which I am trapped and which prevents the lithe, fast, agile, sprite-like me from moving as easily as I feel entitled to by right. 

On top of this hindrance to the full expression of my self, there is the disobedience of my tongue.  I cannot roll my “r”s.  This is just another way my body is opposing me.

My mother looks sternly. You cannot speak Russian or Italian with a weak “r”. Her daughter will learn to rattle “r”s as hard as engines, as uncompromising as machine guns. “You’ll practise this Russian tongue-twister,” she instructs.

На горе Арарат

Ростëт крупный виноград

On Mount Ararat 

Grow large grapes

Where’s Mount Ararat? Why are the grapes there large?

While my mother is at work, during the day, my grandmother prompts me gently. When my mother comes back home, the evening, it’s boot camp training mode. I know you’re sleepy.  Say it just once again and you can go to bed.  Come on.  One more time.  Rrrrr.

I hate Mount Ararat. There are probably big spiders and nasty people living there. And I hate grapes.

I finally manage to produce a guttural “r”. “Good,” my mother pronounces as though she expects no less. “But no one is French in our family. We need a strong, Russian and Italian RRR.”

I am caught between wanting them to leave me alone and the conviction that the goal is non-negotiable. It’s as though my life is impossible until it is achieved. I dread uttering words that contain “r”s.

Then, one day, it just happens as though it were the most natural thing in the world. R r r. My mother is relieved. The uneven edge of my speech has been sanded down.

Scribe Doll

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In Praise of Tricksters

I feel tears pooling my eyes before he even utters his final lines:

Ditemi voi signori se i quattrini di Buoso potevan finire meglio di così.

Per questa bizzarria m’han cacciato all’inferno, e così sia.

Ma con licenza del grande padre Dante,

Se stasera vi siete divertiti, concedetemi voi [he gives a little clap] l’attenuante.

(You tell me, ladies and gentlemen, if you think Buoso’s money could be put to better use.

Because of this bizarre event, I have been sent to hell – and so be it.

Still, with all due respect to the great Dante,

If you have enjoyed yourselves this evening, then why don’t you plead [he gives a little clap] mitigating circumstances on my behalf?)

By now my eyes are brimming over.  I have no idea why the words of the protagonist in Puccini’s only comic opera always stir something deep inside me.

Loosely based on real-life character, Gianni Schicchi – a 13th-century Florentine nouveau riche – is reluctantly called upon by the snobbish, upper-class Donati family to get them out of a very inconvenient situation. Old Buoso Donati has just given up the ghost and, after a frantic search for his will, the outraged relatives discover that he has left his entire fortune to the local monastery. Young Rinuccio Donati, who is in love with Schicchi’s daughter Lauretta, and whose hopes of marrying her (albeit against his family’s wishes) are now thwarted by the unexpected lack of an inheritance, sends for the nouveau riche wheeler-dealer.  If anyone can think of a way out of this impasse, then it’s shrewd Gianni Schicchi. And so he does. After ascertaining that nobody outside the room knows of Buoso’s demise yet, he puts on the dead man’s clothes and nightcap, wraps a scarf around his face and takes his place in bed. The notary is sent for so that a new will may be dictated: one that will not increase the roundness of the monks’ bellies and, instead, keep the Donatis in luxury. But as Gianni Schicchi itemises the list of Buoso’s possessions, it is to himself that he bequeathes the choice morsels. Seething with anger but unable to speak out for fear of having their hands cut off and being exiled for aiding and abetting impersonation and fraud, the Donatis listen, powerless, as Schicchi goes as far as bequeathing himself the family’s palazzo before unceremoniously booting them out of it, as the now lawful owner.  Once they have all gone, he sees Rinuccio and Lauretta embracing, happy than they can now marry.  Moved by this scene of young love, Gianni Schicchi addresses the audience in his short concluding speech.  This act of his made Dante consign him to his Inferno, but if we have enjoyed the show, then perhaps our applause will serve as mitigating circumstances.  And thunderous applause he gets as the curtain falls.

I have always had a soft spot for theatrical and literary tricksters. Scapin, Figaro, Harlequin, Truffaldino.  Gianni Schicchi.  Ever since I was a child, I have admired characters with the cunning to circumvent unfair rules or to give authoritarian bullies their comeuppance, not with any kind of violence or self-righteousness but the elegance and grace of their wits.

In the Russian fairy tales my grandmother would tell me when I was a child, my favourite animal was the vixen for her invariably imaginative ruses against stronger, larger animals.  As well as foxes, I now like cats and crows.  Intelligent and self-possessed, they find creative solutions to further their pursuits without losing any of their natural grace (cats especially).  From what I have seen of them, foxes, cats and crows are patient observers.  They watch, plan, calculate, then act.  I get a sense of inner negotiation, of weighing pros and cons, and, above all, of a thought process that is “outside the box”.  They see things they way they see things and not according to the popular trend.  One could call cats, foxes and crows “original” thinkers.

My favourite literary heroine of all time, Sheherazade, is no innocent, man-dependent maiden.  She knows precisely what she is doing.  She uses her cunning to hold the king’s attention until he has grown to love and respect her so deeply that he cannot bear to kill her.  Not only that but he also becomes a just ruler beloved of his subjects. Sheherazade has immense courage, yes, but it is her intelligence and cunning that transforms a predatory, bloodthirsty misogynist into a truly good man.  She does not opt for the dagger-in-the-heart-while-he’s-sleeping-off-sex solution.  She thinks outside the box and that’s what makes her a role model.

The first fairy tale I wrote, when I was about eleven, features a princess who delivers her father’s kingdom from an evil witch by dressing up as a boy, entering the witch’s service, gaining her trust and watching her every move until she discovers the weak link in the castle’s defence.  In the process, she also frees the knights her father sent, who are locked up in the witch’s dungeon.  Impressed with her courage, the king allows his daughter to chose a husband from among his most valiant knights.  At this point, the princess weeps at the sudden realisation that she will never marry.  For she can only be the wife of a man she looks up to and there is no such man among all those who did not think to put away their swords and shields and fight by cunning instead.  And so the princess eventually becomes a much-respected, much-loved and very lonely queen.

I was severely bullied at school.  I couldn’t fight back on the same terms.  I simply didn’t have the resources.  So, when I was about twelve, I bet the class that I could stop the English language test from taking place that afternoon.  Nobody believed me, of course.  I walked into the classroom more slowly than usual, wearing my most anxious expression.  I glanced at the teacher.  He looked at me quizzically.  I frowned, made to open my mouth, then shook my head, went to my desk and sat down, still frowning, knowing the teacher was still looking at me, wondering.  I was top of my class in English, so I knew he would never think my anxiety was in any way connected to the scheduled test.  I looked up at him again, then repeated the slight head shake.  “Are you all right, Katherine?” the teacher asked.

“Yes, yes, sorry.  Well, no, I mean – no, it’s all right.”

“What’s the matter? Tell me.”

I gave him a hesitant look.  “Well, if you insist, sir… It’s just that I’ve been wondering… Who was the first king of England?”

The teacher froze and the classroom fell silent.

“I’m afraid there’s no straight answer,” he replied. “You see, it’s rather complicated.  There’s Offa and Egbert, then Alfred…”

He stood up by the blackboard, picked up a piece of chalk and began tracing names, arrows and dates.  He spoke for about twenty minutes.  Then he dropped the chalk back into the tray and looked at his watch.  “A bit late for the test now,” he said, “but don’t you all get too comfy because tomorrow straight after recess…”

In case you are now thinking that I am a natural cheat, please let me assure you that I am not.  I am not a liar, either.  The tricks and tricksters I enjoy cause no harm or real disruption.  What appeals to me about them is not the dishonesty or manipulation element.  It’s their courage, their daring to imagine a different possibility to the one dictated by narrow-minded authority or lazy, unquestioned custom.  After all, isn’t “thinking outside the box” a way of honouring life’s hidden yet available resources and possibilities? Isn’t thinking outside the box the resounding YES to life against the self-limiting NO?

Perhaps it’s the reminder of all these wonderful possibilities and resources, suppressed or forgotten, that brings tears to my eyes when I hear Gianni’s Schicchi’s apology.

And, Ladies and Gentlemen, if in any way my views have offended, then I ask you to forgive me.  But if anything in this post has made you smile or nod or even suggested further thought, then, pray, leave me a comment.

Scribe Doll

 

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Important – Please Read – EU GDPR

My Dear Readers,

As you may already know, in order to comply with the new European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), effective from 25 May 2018, I must have a privacy policy for this website.

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This is what happens now if you wish to leave comments:

● As soon as you click your cursor on the comments field, a form will drop down, asking for your e-mail address, name and website.  This is a WordPress feature I have not been able to deactivate.  HOWEVER, you do NOT need to fill in your details in order to post a comment.  Just write your comment and click “Post Comment”: even though you will get no acknowledgement telling you your comment has been noted, it will be sent to me for moderation.  The information I will then see is your IP.  This is something I cannot avoid as far as I know.

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Katherine Gregor (ScribeDoll)

Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Rook

My train home wasn’t due for another half hour and I strolled up the platform, looking for something to snack on. There wasn’t anything particularly appetising left at that time of the afternoon at the small town station, and I was suddenly tempted by a bag of cheese and onion crisps. Crisps in general are my guilty pleasure, although I prefer plain ones, and I probably hadn’t had cheese and onion ones since my student days. College food was so genuinely revolting that, more frequently than I care to remember, all it would take was one mouthful to consign the contents of the entire tray to the rubbish before heading to the tuck shop, buying four packets of crisps, and then dining on them in my room.

And so, in memory of my undergraduate former self, I pulled the packet open and the pungent smell of chemical cheese and lab onion hit my nostrils, bringing back a wave of happy memories. I munched and looked up at the East Anglian sky, especially endless and near in Cambridgeshire. Something stirred on the platform canopy above me. Two rooks were looking down at me. Or perhaps at my crisps.

I glanced around, looking for any signs forbidding the feeding of vagrant birds – you never know these days – then wondered if any of the other passengers waiting for the train would raise any objections.  Were I younger, I would not have hesitated for a second.  Now that I am middle-aged, I have become a little more wary of displaying my eccentricity in public.  After all, a young eccentric woman is seen as endearingly quirky. A middle aged one – sadly – often as mad.

I stared at the birds, hoping that somehow, by a telepathic process, they would understand that if they flew down, they would get some crisps.  Then I hesitated.  Did I really want to give these innocent, unsuspecting creatures, unhealthy processed food? Oh, go on.  I quickly glanced around to check that nobody was watching and threw down one crisp.  The rooks spread their wings and swooped down with as much speed as silent grace.  One of them, the larger one, landed a few centimetres away from the crisp, while his more timid companion kept her distance despite my attempts to lure her closer.

The large rook walked tentatively towards the crisp then stopped to study me.  I was drawn into the beady blackness of his expression that seemed to plunge deeper and deeper into my soul.  As though the rook was seeing a part of me no other human could.  A feeling of bonding, of acceptance swept over me.  Then he strutted to the crisp, held it under his talon, and began pecking at it with precision.  I couldn’t help but admire his table manners.  Such a beautiful rook, with a long, sand-grey beak and glossy black plumage with glints of purple.  I wished I could watch him for ever.  Once he’d finished his snack, I slowly walked away.  He followed me, looking up at me, expecting rather than asking.  I dropped another crisp and enjoyed observing him as he secured it once again with his talon and proceeded to take small, delicate pecks at it.  Every so often, he would look up at me.  Not a furtive, indifferent peek.  There was no red robin aloofness about this character.  It was a quick but penetrating, intelligent glance.  A connection that ran deep and was acknowledged by us both.  I know you, it said silently.  And at that moment, I didn’t care what the humans at the station thought of me.

A few minutes later, I boarded my train feeling a lightness in my heart I seldom experience.  A sense of freedom, of unlimited possibilities and peace.  Of pure happiness.  It had been just a moment on a station platform, sharing a bag of cheese and onion crisps with a rook.  And yet it felt like such a special moment.

Like making a new friend. The kind you feel you’ve known for ever.

Scribe Doll

Posted in Animals | Tagged , , , | 17 Comments