La realidad y la ficción

Cada día, cuando encendemos la televisión o el ordenador, las desgracias del resto del mundo caen sobre nuestros platos, y cambiamos de canal cuando no lo soportamos. Estamos rodeados por una violencia virtual que no nos incumbe, ante la cual estamos anestesiados. Por ejemplo, no había hecho demasiado caso a Venezuela que por cierto, terminada la campaña electoral, ha desaparecido y caído prácticamente en el olvido (excepción hecha de un periódico que habló de ella este fin de semana, y, de mal pensada que soy, dudo que lo hiciese por motivos humanitarios y desinteresados). Quienes hemos leído el libro de la escritora venezolana Karina Sainz Borgo, “La hija de la española”, hemos podido leer una historia desgarradora, en la cual la experiencia de la protagonista Adelaida puede resultar, desde nuestro cómodo sillón a este lado del Atlántico, inverosímil o increíble. Sin embargo, hay veces que, por casualidad, se es testigo de cómo desaparece la línea sutil que separa la realidad de la ficción.

Una vez por semana suelo ir con mi marido a tomar un aperitivo en un local tranquilo del pueblo en el que vivo, a unas decenas de kilómetros de Roma. Nos suele atender una chica, a veces con su pareja, otras acompañada por una mujer algo mayor que yo. Soy muy despistada, por lo que no había caído en que la chica del bar no habla un italiano perfecto; fue mi marido quien se dio cuenta y le preguntó el domingo pasado de dónde es. Cuando dijo Venezuela empecé a hablar español con ella y su rostro se iluminó. Bastó poco para hablar de libros y recomendarle la novela de su compatriota Karina Sainz. Ella conocía a la escritora de fama porque es licenciada en periodismo, así que le comenté por encima de qué iba la historia, y cuando ella empezó a asentir, a decir “sí, esas cosas pasan”, fue cuando se empezó a difuminar la barrera entre realidad y ficción. Ella me contó que “su mamá” (pensé enseguida en Adelaida… mi mamá compró la parcela hace mucho tiempo, tiene bonitas vistas) estaba en Venezuela y que quería que viniese a Italia pero que para ella era difícil dejar parientes y amistades. Mientras ella hablaba, me asaltó la misma sensación que tuve cuando leí la novela, la sensación de fragilidad; nosotros afortunados, que vivimos y hemos nacido en este lado del charco, y además, al lado norte del Mediterráneo. Pensé, viendo a esa chica hablar, en nuestra inconsciencia al no apreciar algo que basta muy poco para perder. Todas esas cosas frágiles y bellas que damos por sentado y que no lo son en buena parte del mundo: la libertad, la seguridad, el bienestar.

Así pues, le prometí a la chica que le dejaría mi copia de “La hija de la española” para que se la leyera, además de uno de los títulos de Zafón que acumulé en el periodo de lectura compulsiva de tal autor. Al vivir a solo cinco minutos a pie del bar, fui a casa y se los llevé en seguida. Ella me los agradeció entusiasmada, con la mayor de las sonrisas, y le pregunté si había llegado a ejercer de periodista en Venezuela. Me dijo que no, que había hecho solo algún que otro trabajillo, pero que como con la dictadura no podía contar la verdad… En esos momentos levantó los hombros, resignada. Y noté que algo se me cerraba en la garganta: esa chica alta, risueña, una de esas personas que llevan escrito en la cara que son buena gente, podía ser una de mis sobrinas, podría haber sido yo. Mientras yo vine a este país con su misma edad lo hice con la seguridad de poder volver cuando quisiese al mío, de estar cerca, de contar con que mi país es un lugar tranquilo y pacífico. Nació dentro de mí la necesidad de abrazarla y besarla; cuando lo hice, me di cuenta de que la otra señora del bar me estaba mirando y suspiraba con lágrimas en los ojos, creo, por lo que he visto frecuentando el local, que es su suegra.

No sé por qué, mientras sentía ese nudo en la garganta que cada vez se cerraba más, dije, mirando a la mujer mayor, un instintivo “brava, è una bimba coraggiosa” (es una niña valiente); me deshice del abrazo y salí apresuradamente del bar para no ponerme a llorar delante de los parroquianos.

Si no hubiese sido por el libro de Karina Sainz Borgo, no habría sido capaz de entender qué había detrás de la mirada buena y triste de esa muchacha, y probablemente no me habría salido ese abrazo, esos besos. Un milagro de la literatura.

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The Wall and I – Part 1

Hadrian's wall - Housesteads crags
The iconic image of the wall – View from Housesteads crags

I didn’t know how to start talking about the wall-side of my Northumberland trip, but linnet has given me a clue: “my first impressions of seeing the wall”. Therefore here it is, “the wall and I”.

I’ve always longed to visit the wall. When I was less informed about it I thought that it was placed already in Scotland, not in England (yes, yes, I know… ignorance is something really annoying). Blame it on the movies and tv, I guess. By the way, once the wall is in the “seen dream destinations” list, Scotland, and specially the Highlands, heads now the top-three list “things to see before I die”. Being the other two Australia and the Polynesian Islands (to feel a little bit like Capt. Cook) chances are that Scotland will pass to the “done” column sooner than the other two. The problem is that there are still so many things I want to see near the wall…

As I wrote in the previous post about this trip, I already knew what I expected to see. The current remains of the wall are definitely less impressive of what it once was; this gif I have done mixing my above pic with an still of the film “The Eagle” illustrates the difference.

gif TheWall

Although the fort of Vindolanda was not placed besides the wall as Housesteads (Vercovicium), but a few miles away, archeologists have rebuilt two fragments of how the wall looked like, one in stone and the other in timber; the wall in the east and west was built mostly with wood, as the appropriate stone was more difficult to find.

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Me in majestical and perfectly military pose in Vindolanda’s timber replica of the wall
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Northumberland’s landscape from the point of view of a soldier in one of the vigilance turrets. Vindolanda.

Considering that the wall crossed Britain from Newcastle to Carlisle, even if part of it was made with timber, we are talking of a lot of “lost stones”. They have been used in the centuries to build castles and churches and, should not be for the work and devotion of devoted archeologists most of the wall should be lost now. In the museums of the forts I have visited there is a special section dedicated to this people, the Wall Faces.

During the crisis of the coal mines which left many of the inhabitants of Haltwhistle unemployed, a businessman proposed to create a company (the Roman Stone Ltd) that would quarry what remained of the wall, but fortunately such an action was stopped by the petition of antiquarians, academics and public figures such as Rudyard Kipling. Other Roman archeological treasures have not been so lucky, as the Meta Sudans here in Rome. Their remains stood until almost mid thirties, when they were demolished by order of Mussolini.

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The round base of the Meta Sudans during archeological excavations. Click for source.

Should someone be interested to learn more about the wall I suggest you to read “The Wall – Rome’s Greatest Frontier” by Alistair Moffat edited by Birlinn books. I bought it in Vindolanda’s Museum; I realised on arriving to Rome that there was a mistake in the binding of the book and that the first block of pages was repeated and some missing. I wrote the publisher and this week I have receive a very kind e-mail informing me that they will send me a brand new book, a hardback edition (I bought the paperback). Another example of Northern-Scottish (Birlinn Books is in Edinburgh) kindness; I just asked them a pdf file with the missing pages, not the whole book!

As usual, I am rambling without writing what I wanted: my impressions of the wall. Even if I wanted to visit the wall badly, I travelled not as prepared as I thought. The first night in the B&B, while sipping my mug of Earl Grey (by the way… I saw in Newcastle the monument to the Earl Grey in person) and reading the tourist depliants we had in our room, I realised that if I visited only Vindolanda and the Roman Army Museum in Carvoran I would miss the classical-iconical wall image, the view from Housesteads crags (first picture of this post).  Therefore we devoted the second whole day we had at disposal in the north to Housesteads.

Our “members” ticket

The site forms part of the English Heritage. As we are members of the Fondo Ambiente Italiano we can visit English Heritage sites for free; needless to say that I felt moved and proud. While arriving to destination with the bus (number AD122, the year Hadrian begun the construction of the wall) I felt already thrilled when recognising the shape of the hills, or the famous Sycamore Gap.

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The Sycamore Gap – click for source

When climbing the hill leading to Housesteads I felt really happy, and I longed so badly to arrive to the top and see the landscape that I was about to run.

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Me in the path leading to the Vercovicium’s (Housesteads) fort. Needless to underline my expression of profound and deep suffering.

I entered through the south gate, pretended to pay attention to the remains of the commanders’ house on the left and hurried to the top, because I was anxious to arrive to the northern gate, where you can see this.

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View from Housesteads’ North Gate

I finally had it in front of me: the immensity of the North, the wild land of Brigantes and Picts and, on my right, the second most iconic image of the wall, the Knag Burn gateway.

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Knag Burn seen from the North Gate

More pictures, comments and impressions in another post. Stay tuned!

About sleepless nights, humidity and mosquitoes

Javier Bardem moments before the "incriminated scene" (Click for source)
Javier Bardem in the “incriminated scene” (click for source)

We are having a weird summer in Rome, after a period of not very hot days, now it seems that we are in Macondo, the city protagonist of Gabriel García-Marquez novels. We’ve had heavy storms in the afternoon, followed by humidty the day after, circumstances in which mosquitoes thrive and live happy. Most of all those feeding with my blood that, apparently, has an irresistible bouquet. The other night, sleepless watching the tv, I came by “Love in the Time of Cholera”. I pitied deeply Fermina Daza in her XIXth century petticoats in the heat of Colombia.

I am convinced that García-Márquez novels are impossible to render appropriately to the screen. How can you transmit that magic world of saints and sinners? But there is also another risk, when putting into images a novel: to get the scene wrong. My favourite passage of the novel is the moment when Fermina, returning to her city, meets by chance Florentino Ariza. When I read that passage I understood the character of Fermina perfectly, because in that period I felt just like her; it can happen, in a moment of your life, that you idealise a love, build a world around it, nourish it, worship it, to realise in a blink of an eye, in a moment, that there was nothing real in it. A moment of epiphany, of inner awe, that you get conscience of how stupid you were, and that THAT meant absolutely nothing. This is just how Fermina felt when she saw again, after a year, Florentino in the market. After he whispers in her ear “éste no es un buen lugar para una diosa coronada” (this is not a good place for a crowned goddess), she turns, watches him, says to herself “¡pobre hombre!” (“poor man!”) and the only thing she tells him is “no, por favor” (no, please, don’t) and “olvídelo” (forget it) together with a single gesture, a slight wave of her hand, as if shooing a fly (or a mosquito). And then, by letter, she tells him that she realised when seeing him again that their story was not real. The scene is in this video, around minute three.

As I said before, in my opinion the director or whoever it was, got this scene absolutely wrong. What I see here in the Fermina portrayed by Giovanna Mezzogiorno is regret, whereas in that moment, Fermina did not regret at all to cast Florentino away. She didn’t care an inch about him. Should he be smashed in that very moment under a tower collapsed after an earthquake she would scroll her shoulders and go away. I don’t see, in Mezzogiorno’s acting, a hint to annoyance, disgust, rejection. The actress could have chosen within a varied range of feelings, most of them negative; instead the acting is focused on something the character should not feel that moment: pity and regret. This, together with the decision of making Fermina tell Florentino that their story were not real, instead of writing it, ruins completely the scene.

Should afterlife exist I must remember to search for Gabo and ask him what he thinks about this, if “my” vision was the right one.

PS. Fermina changed afterwards her mind. I didn’t and I’m sure that is one of the good decisions I’ve taken in my life.

Dislike

I’ve never liked my voice. I find it too nasal, too high-pitched sometimes, with no personality and too crazy-accents-mixed. I always have a foreign accent no matter which language I’m speaking. When speaking Italian Spanish, when speaking Spanish Italian, when speaking English… well, I just hope to have any accent but Italian or Spanish, as we are the worst English speaking people in the world.

Therefore, kind sir, I know you were trying to flatter me in order to have a discount in the car our company is selling (crisis hits and we are starting to sell at 6 what we bought at 10 one year ago) but I sincerely appreciate your comment that I have a nice voice.

Repetitia Iuvant

Othelloiagomovie

 

In 1995 I came to Rome as an Erasmus student. As I was studying English and American literature the obvious choice of my classmates were to go to British universities but I decided to come here so I could study and learn two languages at the price of one, as many lessons were in English. During that year, I had the most fulfilling academic experience of my long years as student: an entire year studying Othello with Agostino Lombardo. In Italy, Mr. Lombardo was the most appreciated Shakespearian scholar and translator, and assisting to his lessons was a privilege and indeed the classroom was always filled with people when he gave them. I’ve learned a lot of things thanks to Mr. Lombardo but the greatest lesson he gave me was to realise that, in life, the wisest is the humblest. That year coincided with the release of Oliver Parker’s version of Othello with Lawrence Fishburne and Kenneth Brannagh, therefore, during those months I had a “Othellian-full-immersion”.

Now, almost twenty years later, I’m enjoying a Hamlet’s-month, thanks to BBC’s Drama of the Week. I’ve heard all five episodes through their website and now I’m downloading the podcasts when available. During my walks, in the subway or in the train I hear them again, and again, and again. I must confess that audio books have never appealed me very much, as I prefer reading. But it is quite impossible for me to walk and read at the same time, therefore since I commute using the public transport I have more than one hour a day in which I can’t do anything more than walk and hear. I  thought that  I could not be able to “see” the play just “hearing”, but I was wrong; and I thought also that, being Shakespearian English not the easiest thing to understand, that I will miss many things. Again, I was wrong. As Romans said, “Repetitia Iuvant”, or, “repeating helps”. Every time I catch a new detail, something that I was not aware of during the first hearings. I enjoy the play as when I heard for the first time the absolute beauty of the actor’s voices… To me that is such a gift, something  I will never get tired of. My congratulations to all the cast, the director, the composer of the music, the sound editor… all of them.

Therefore by next month I will be as prepared on Hamlet as I was in June 1996 on Othello. I just hope that I won’t forget the several “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” or the “by Heaven, I’ll make a ghost of him that lets me!” as quickly as I forgot many of the things I’ve learnt with Agostino Lombardo of the Othello.

My “Hamlet’s month” will be prolonged until the end of May. On the 20th will be available an audiobook called “Hamlet”, written by A.J.Hartley. Audiobook of which I would never have known the existence if it wasn’t for “LaEffe TV”. By the way, La EffeTv is an Italian tv channel that belongs to “La Feltrinelli”, one of the main Italian book publishers; my former teacher, Agostino Lombardo, published his Shakespeare’s translations in “La Feltrinelli”. And what has to do “LaEffe TV” with the audiobook? Last December, watching it, I’ve seen North & South and Richard Armitage for the first time, I started following his career and he reads that audiobook. Therefore, if I had not made zapping once certain night of December my Hamlet’s month will have finished after downloading and hearing several times all BBC’s podcasts.  I love pulling Ariadne’s threads.

I long so much to hear the whole book, some samples have been already published and I must say that I really like what I’ve heard. Richard Armitage himself talked rather enthusiastically of it in an interview, and I rely on his opinion as a reader. As he is no longer in the position to “say yes to everything” (or at least I hope not) what he said about the book, and how passionately talked about it, awoke my curiosity.  I have defined that work as a top-quality-fan-fic. Should the authors read me, by one of the many internet’s mysterious ways, are gently prayed not to take that as an insult. Even though some times that term is used in a denigratory way, the authors have done the same thing fanfics writers do: try to answer the thousands of unanswered questions that you pose when watching or reading something you like. What happened before? And after?  What was doing that character when he was not in stage? That is, to fill in the blanks, and even to twist the character’s psychology or resurrect the dead. Of course, the authors are more prepared that the average internet fan-fic writer (including myself), they are professionals and what they have created is really good. Although I admit that a high percentage of the fan-fic in internet is a real crap (including my own), please allow me to say the same for some of the books present in my library: they are an insult to the forests that have been cut down to print them. At least I don’t have any tree in my conscience.

And, to end the post, as far as Richard Armitage’s reading is concerned… I bow to thee, sir. I am sincerely speechless. It takes a real good actor to make a reading like that.

EDIT April 6th: it seems I will just have a single Hamlet podcast. RADIO 4 Drama of the week podcasts just a single episode per week of any of the dramas aired. I will console myself hearing John Hurt as old Dante Alighieri’s in the Inferno of The Divine Comedy… Alas! I suffer so much!

Confessions of an old fashioned snob

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Several years ago someone in an internet forum defined me “an old-fashioned snob”. The very moment I read that definition I pretended not to take it as an insult although I confess that it irritated me. This week, when I found in tumblr this picture of Sophia Loren and Stephen Boyd and I’ve used it as a background of my cell phone I’ve realised that indeed that person was right but, I’m sorry my dear wherever you are, if you pretended to insult me you have missed your goal. I take that definition about myself with pride.

I have a natural tendency to reveries and to have my mind wherever but in the present. Therefore, as far as my cinema, literary and music tastes are concerned, I usually go backwards. If I start following a series I do it when it’s over or at least three seasons after the first airing (there are exceptions, of course).  I “discover” actors and actresses after ten years or more of carreer. I’ve started reading Game of Thrones saga when the fifth novel was published. I’ve also read more classical literature than the actual one and I have no idea which songs are now the top of the pops (by the way, does it still exist, the top of the pops?).

So far about the “old fashioned”. Regarding my “snobbism” … I am a very passionate person, and when I like something I’m overenthusiast about it, and talk of it wherever and whenever I can. But I don’t do it to boast myself about it, to say to whoever is listening (anyway, most probably reading… but that’s another story): I’m learned, you’re ignorant. I  do it because is so appalling, so beautiful what you feel when a novel, a poem, a painting, a film, a performance touches you and makes you feel better that I want everyone I know to feel that way.

 

 

What is love? (as Howard Jones asked in a song in the ’80s)

One thing that always haunts me is when, recalling something that I am sure I have read in one of my books, I am completely unable to remember exactly where. But, sometimes, I begin to pull the thread of an idea and I find the quotation.

Yesterday, thinking about a conversation I had with a friend, I remembered a mythological story about the definition of love and the idea that somewhere there is someone that fits you perfectly. Which reminds me also something that I invented when I was a child (I’ve always thought that the life of people without imagination must be a very boring one): there was an opposite of me somewhere in the world. That is, when I was sad, she was happy, when I got good votes she had bad ones, and so on. This “another me”, being my complete opposite, had quite an unhappy childhood and started to get good votes just around sixteen. Just once I wanted to swap completely my life with hers, in my particular “annus terribilis”, 1986. But anyway, the purpose of this post is not to forget for a while this story, Aristofanes’ definition of love in Plato’s Symposium, which I had in “I Grandi Miti Greci” (The Great Greek Myths) by Luciano di Crescenzo. As you will read, Plato, thousands of years ago, had a more open minded idea of love than many people today. All blame on the clumsy translation is exclusively mine.

“In the beginning of time, humankind was formed by beings of three sexes: male, female and another bizarre kind called the androgenes, which had both sexes at the same time. All these beings were double with respect to us, that is, they had four arms, four legs, four eyes and so on; and every one of them had two genital organs, both masculine in men, feminine in women and the androgenes had one male and one female.

They walked four legged and could move in all directions, as spiders do. They had a terrible character: a superhuman strength, a superhuman superb up to the point to challenge the Gods as if they were equal. Zeus, particularly, was very upset with them, and wanted to punish them but not to kill them, as he didn’t want to lose the sacrifices, but he had to react to their misbehavior. After thinking about it for a while, one day he decided to split them in two, so as every one of them had just two legs and one genital organ; and he menaced them that should they continue on their impiety he would have split them again and make them walk with just one leg. After the “surgery”, even if Apollo healed up their wounds, men became unhappy as every one of them missed their other half, the half-men looked for the half-men, the half-women desired the half-women, and the male half of the androgines sought desperately their female half. Therefore, in order to find back their lost happiness, every one of them longed to reunite with their twin soul. And this longing is called Love.”

Pazza Idea (Crazy Idea) – edited

So I have this kind of crazy, weird idea lately. That, when you are talking to an indefinite audience of millions of people from Tasmania to Alaska there is always something that you say that refers to me. Not to me as a person, but something that refers to something that I like, enjoy, read, hear. It’s weird. Really weird. And makes me feel uncomfortable, inappropriate, unfulfilled.  Because it has happened, after reading or hearing something you have said that accidentally I have surprised myself saying, for instance, “I don’t think that poem was in that book, but it was written for that show on purpose… don’t you…?” and I stopped with my bigmouth still open because I was talking to… no one. Because we will never have that kind of conversation. Those conversations that are like pulling Ariadne’s thread of Art and Life, passing from one book to another, talking of everything, about the melancholic decadence of the country I live in, or the frustrated hopes of the one I come from. Commenting if you think you feel like playing already a character as the tired hero that has returned to Itaca, smeared with the blood of the Greek princes he has just slaughtered. I know for sure that it would be the most fulfilling intellectual experience of my life. But it’s frustrating. Because it will never happen. Then, I wonder: is there something wrong in my life? Following the logic I should say that something is missing, if you unconsciously fill that kind of void with what you said to a vast worldwide audience days ago, months ago, years ago. I’m too old for this kind of feeling.. too old.. older than you (just fifteen months, anyway).

I will give you up one of these days. This can’t be. (I don’t think I will give you up, anyway.)

Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherised upon a table;

Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,

The muttering retreats

Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels

And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:

Streets that follow like a tedious argument

Of insidious intent

To lead you to an overwhelming question…

Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”

Let us go and make our visit

(T.S.Eliot – The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock)

(Note: do not write posts anymore with Tori Amos as background… increases my “spleen”)