The House in Italy

It is in the countryside, close to a one horse town called San Carlo with its one bar, one tiny supermarket, and the Macelleria, butcher, with its white plastic strip curtains in the open doorway. It’s hot, and on still days the town has a rich soupy smell from volcanic earth and the foul river at the bottom of the hill. San Carlo sits on the side of a mountain, one of Vesuvius’ cohort, a view to the sea and Gaeta’s dramatic coastline in one direction, and endless olive farms, vineyards, hills, even a nuclear power plant, in every other direction. It is beautiful.

The house is 3 kilometres from town, marked only by a KM 8 sign, no street numbers necessary in rural Italy. Grand gates and a barking scrum of former strays guard the entrance. The house is old and big and solid. It could do with a spit and polish. Maria, who lives in the gatehouse, greets us and shows us around our ‘villa for a week’. Her English is broken. She strides into the house, up stone steps to a doorway and points “room”, then continues up the steps to more bedrooms – “room”, “room”, “room”. “Si” we say, “Grazie”, our more broken Italian in reply.

It’s huge and did I say old? Oil portraits of long lost brigadiers and ladies on every wall along with framed family crests and official documents. Antique tables are strewn with silver trinket dishes, candelabra, and photos. The photos seem all of a similar time frame, perhaps 1980’s? 90’s? A smiling family, older husband and younger wife, and their regulation son and daughter. No recent photos it seems. The clock is stuck.

The eyes in the portraits follow me around the room. One is of a serious man in a black cape, with a high black collar and glossy black hair. Are there Italian vampires? The spaghetti was laden with garlic that night.

On the first night one bedroom is summarily dismissed by the girls. There are two beds in the room and they are hard and small, with dusty pea green covers. They decide to share a bed in another, grander, bedroom (they are all grand). The lamps have been turned on in this room and now that is no longer needed it is time to turn them off.

It is important to note that the age of the house and its many past inhabitants has my imagination running. It is flapping around like tape escaped from an old film reel – incessant, uncontrollable, and pointless.  Because of this, I turn the lights off in a particular order, from furthest to the door to nearest, to enable a hasty exit. First the ensuite light. Then the lamp by the window. Next the lamp closest to the door, and then a quick step out of the room into the well lit hall. Well done, me!

The girls are ensconced in their bedrooms, clothes already strewn across royal red and blue carpet, iPhones and iPads adorning the beds. I do not infect them with my imagination. They are getting ready for a swim in the spectacular pool in the garden and are happy.

I pass the unwanted bedroom on my way back downstairs. As I near I see light reflected from the doorway onto the terracotta tiles of the wide hall. I slow down and move closer to the other side of the hall. A lamp is on between the two small beds. It was dark when I left, I am sure. But maybe not. It has been two big travel days to get to this remote part of Campania. I am probably weary.

The living room is opulent but tired. Candy-striped satin couches, pink and cream, overstuffed and piled with cushions, but ripped, stuffing coming out one arm. And holes from mustachioed pipe smokers of the past.

There is a guest book with over a decade of reviews from Germans, Russians, the Danes, and the English. A heavy book with thick pages, it sits on a pulpit-high wooden pedestal against the wall.  I read a few reviews to settle my poltergeist qualms. Other people have stayed here. They had a good time! But then I notice that the most recent page has been torn out. Roughly.  It was just the hard beds, nothing more sinister. Right?

 

Smooth Criminal

So yesterday I’m walking home from the train station and I’m only a few steps behind a fellow commuter.

Prior to my trek I had removed my clippy cloppy heels and donned unattractive but very practical and comfortable winter boots with thick rubber soles.

As I headed swiftly home I realized that even though I was walking at speed, my footfall was almost undetectable, and that the fellow in front of me had no clue I was walking only just behind him.

Which immediately made me think.

“Why! These would be fantastic boots if I wanted to rob somewhere!” I thought.

“I could break into a house completely undetected. They make NO sound at all on the ground! They’d be perfect!”

To which I added “But the laces are long, they would possibly swing into something and make a noise (Perhaps they’d graze a laser beam?! Really, what was I thinking!) SO I would have to tie the laces firmly around the tops of the boots to ensure they don’t flail about”.

Which then led to “But this outfit wouldn’t do, what else would I wear?”.

At this point, the halo-ed creature on my other shoulder pointed out that these musings were completely ridiculous. I don’t rob anything ever.

And so I continued to walk home, sans criminal intentions.

A Magical Evening

Matilda London

Matilda London

This December just gone my family spent a week in London. We had a blast. London was in full Christmas mode and we enjoyed the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, travelled out to the Harry Potter Studios, and visited the Tower of London.

In the midst of this, we had a magical evening. Now to be clear, this was planned to be a great night out but in my experience such planning can be hit or miss. And there were additional unexpected events which added to the magic.

The planned portion was an indulgent evening. We had booked front row tickets to the musical Matilda (based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name) with dinner prior at a restaurant nearby. We had been looking forward to this evening for quite some time.

That afternoon in London it started to rain. It was an uninspiring start. Because of this we hailed a black cab outside Hamleys to take us to the theatre area.

As the driver went to turn into the street we needed he realised it was closed. “You’ll have to walk from here” he said, and we all tumbled out into the drizzle.

We quickly gathered that the reason for the the road closure was a Christmas shopping night around the Seven Dials area. The Seven Dials is where seven little cobblestone streets meet and there is a large pillar with sun dials in the middle of the road junction.

The rain stopped and the magical evening started.

The road closures created the atmosphere they always do for me: the glee of strolling calmly along roads across which you would usually dart.

We headed down the street for an early dinner at the restaurant and then headed back to the shopping night.

The first magical thing happened to my husband. At this point in December 2013 he had mostly been away from Australia since February. There were many things he missed from home and one of them was Coopers beer which is almost impossible to find when you’re off Australian shores.

So, as we strolled along the roads that night we walked past a newly opened Industrie store. And on a bench just inside the door he caught sight of an icy cold bottle of Coopers. It had a halo of light around it. Well not really, all I knew is that my husband disappeared off the street in front of us and when we entered the shop he was happily nursing a bottle of Coopers Sparkling Ale.

It was his golden ticket.

After this beer was polished off we returned to the street, ducked into another shop where the girls each received a cup of rich, warm hot chocolate delivered straight from a saucepan and then found ourselves standing in the middle of the Seven Dials junction.

There were a lot of people milling around and we had only been standing there for 60 seconds or so, considering our next move, when from nowhere a sound system started. “I don’t want a lot for Christmas” came the first bar and out of the crowds there appeared 3 then 10 and then finally 30 dancers. It was of course “All I Want For Christmas”. And we were right in the middle of this flash mob.

It was absolutely fabulous.

The whole crowd stopped and stared and probably stood there with stupid grins on their faces just like the one I was sporting. It was ridiculously festive.

As the flash mob ended a time check resulted in a swift entry into the theatre for Matilda, and the last magic of the night.

We were front row. The show was perfect despite being in range of the fearsome Miss Trunchbull’s flying spittle. Our three girls were spellbound. I also loved it, being a fan of both Roald Dahl and Tim Minchin (who wrote the music and lyrics) it was pretty much a sure thing.

For the rest of the holiday our youngest daughter, Petunia, would often whisper in my ear “Some people say I’m a little bit naughty”.

Which is, of course, true.

Monday Morning: A True Story

She sways slightly.

One girl on a train carriage filled to the brim with over-heated, down-jacketed commuters.  Those sitting pretty around her look up in horror.  They register the bloodless face, the sway becoming deeper and know they have to break the commuters’ code of non-communication.  

The two women sitting closest share a pregnant glance.  “What do we do?” and “Do I really have to stand up on this blasted train?” and “Which one of us is it gonna be?”

One takes the lead.  “Would you like a seat” she says, falteringly.  As the girl’s sway becomes deeper and she appears on the precipice of becoming wholly horizontal, the woman jumps up.  “Here, sit down, sit down” she says, guiding the girl downwards to safety.

The girl sits, head cast down, pale and fearful.

Others pipe up.  

“Has this happened to you before?” ventures a classic paperback reading fellow dressed older than his years.

The girl looks up, huge brown eyes confused.  “No” she says.

“Do you feel dizzy or faint?”

“Both” she says.

The man returns to his book.

One woman, the one who did not stand, fumbles in her bag for some water.  “Here have some water.  Do you want a granola bar?”

The girl’s arm reaches out for the water and she takes a few slow sips.  “I have a granola bar in my bag” she replies.

She sits quietly.  The man continues reading.  The other women go back to their phones.

The carriage relaxes back into comfortable silence.

As the train draws into the city, the girl rises with the throng and continues her way to work.

 

On Wardrobes with Coats in Them

Do you ever, now, as an adult, when staying in the spare bedroom of a friend’s house, open the wardrobe to find it full of coats? Coats used rarely so hung up in an empty room mothballing and waiting… and when you find it full of coats do you ever push through them with your hands just in case it happens that you will push through and on the other side will be (you know, I know you know) a land of snow and ice and Aslan and magic?

I do.  I really do and I really have pushed my hands through just in case.  I haven’t found Narnia yet but am ever hopeful that it does exist.  I am 37.

I speak of this because I am halfway through Neil Gaiman’s new book and it is liberally sprinkled with the magic of his (it has to be his) childhood.  The scale and mysteries and characters of childhood and I am absolutely loving it to the extent that writing a post which usually comes last on my list, has come up the list, because I want to try and eke this book out instead of devouring in one which glumph.  I don’t care if that isn’t a word.  Having said this, I know that I will be entirely unsuccessful as I’ll be straight back at it after this is done and dusted.

A quote from the book, it’s called The Ocean At The End Of The Lane:

“Adults follow paths.  Children explore.  Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences”.

I like to think that I have retained a little of the child even though I am now a bona fide grown up with a truly serious job, career even, and three children, one of whom has grown-uppedness starting to bite at her heels (poor love).

Not losing the wonder, getting excited about small things, finding different paths, noticing the dust of the fairies on the everyday.  It’s harder and harder to do once you have your own little people to care for and a mortgage and responsibilities and all that, but I think it may be one of the most important things to keep.

I’m still looking for the tiny door in a tree which leads to………, I might even write about it one day. But for now, I’ve procrastinated enough, it’s back to Lettie and… Neil. 

 

 

Dorothy

You know how it never rains but it pours?  Well instead of siphoning these out gradually, here’s one more little ditty, for a dear friend who got me onto reading Dorothy Parker properly recently, The Portable Dorothy Parker in fact.

Evening y’all! x

 

Dorothy

It is all your fault

that I picked up this pen.

Your acid tongue

your shrewd remark

has inked my

wanton writer’s heart

and makes me speak my mind.

A Spring Kind of Feeling

You know that perfect feeling when it’s finally warm enough to wear a new summer dress and sandals but cool enough that there’s just a slight bite to the air? The world seems shiny and crisp, exciting and new, and anything seems possible.

When the grass is still dewy underfoot early in the morning.

The measly winter diet of oranges and pears begins to give way to summer’s banquet of peaches and mangoes, plums and cherries.

Days become longer, the sea becomes warmer, and the hemlines become shorter.

One of my favourite escapism websites is The Sartorialist.  A simple image of a girl in a frock (or a shirt?) can change your day and take you to another place.  http://www.thesartorialist.com/photos/on-the-street-via-guelfa-florence/

That’s all for now 🙂