Monday, 3 May 2010

A kind of koan...

where I might normally have a mind to moan.
I was getting exasperated simply waiting the other day when i thought of this:
When are your lungs more empty?
When you breathe in, or when you breathe out?
The bus arrives much quicker with this in mind, I promise.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Those flocks of little green parrots

Are parrots a flock? It seems like a group of them should be called a “gaggle” or a “snaggle” or something ending with “aggle”.
It’s a strange city phenomenon over here in Europe. I first noticed them 4 years ago when I lived in Barcelona. I had just arrived in the city and was having a blissful all alone day pottering around and discovering, when a little ghost arose somewhere in my mind and began it’s lonely whimpering. I felt sorry for myself, I missed my friends and then out of no where, right above my head I heard a very animated conversation between about 20 little green parrots who had just landed in the trees above my head. I laughed out loud in a way that only a woman traveling alone can. I was missing my friends and out of the sky came this waggle of tiny parrot friends to gossip and sort me out. They were my welcome to Barcelona and I later learned rumour had it that a couple of parrots had escaped from the zoo and had become a fraggle of parrots over the years. It was a beautiful story and I believed it readily.
A couple of years ago I moved to Rome and several time since arriving here, I’ve seen a green parrot gang playing cards and drinking scotch in the palm trees. I’ve also seen them in Brazil, which is a bit more expected but very surpisingly I recently spotted them in Greenwich, London. So, what is going on? Either I am being followed because my parrot friends think I can’t be trusted to take care of myself and therefore they need to check on me periodically. Or there is a steadily growing parrot population in major european cities. Why have they chosen us? Where did they come from? What do they eat? What do they talk about so passionately and animatedly? I feel sure their discussion topics include the the Catholic church, who makes the best seeded batch loaf and post post-modern films – call it a hunch.  Nevertheless, my heart sings to see them and if you are traveling to Europe this summer, keep your ears open – you’ll hear them before you see them.

Monday, 19 April 2010

As I was saying...

Only just yesterday in a zen sunday mode, I wrote that being unable to go somewhere can be a kind of freedom. So it's as if God is laughing heartily now, because this evening I was all ready to go out to see a friend's concert and I got in the car which sputtered and refused to start. Am I being tested ? I don't seem to be able to get away with anything, ever - I was the kid who always got caught.
However I am also the kid who doesn't let others get away with stuff I don't think is right. I recently got quite cross with Mia Market. It's the posh organic little hole in the wall cafe on the street where I live in Rome. A couple of nights ago, feeling lazy but healthy, I went in to see what they had in the way of soups for dinner. I found a carton of home-made soup and asked the price which I was informed was 4 euro (about $6). So I bought the soup and went home. In the elevator on the way up to my flat I opened the carton and was horrified to find it less than half full. I kid you not, there was less than 200mls of soup in there - not enought to feed a baby! So I marched back in and announced that it was "half-empty" - note the deliberate choice of point of view here. I was informed that it was supposed to be that way. I gave them what for and here's what I said: this is 2 spoonfuls of soup, we're living in a massive economic crisis at the moment, soup is 90% water, the people who pay this price for something so small are as guilty as those who charge this inflated price because they are feeding the same system, I want my money back. Now, it is quite possible that in the history of Mia Market, no one has ever complained about the prices. They sputtered and stalled (much like my car this evening) and looked embarrassed and generally flawed, but I got my money back. My neighbourhood is pretty touristy which means it's expensive because the prices are set for the tourists not for the residents. And while I agree that" it was only soup Sylvie for Pete's sake" - I am glad that I learned to complain effectively from living in the US for 10 years. Americans are fabulous at customer service and getting what they want - something Italians know relatively little about in comparison. I may have been excessive but I am so glad that I stand up for myself.
PS I had an omelette at home instead, for those wondering!

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Clear skies over the volcano cloud....

Well folks, it's a strange thing, to look up and see not one white trail tail left by an airplane. I can't say I mind it. I have a vague suspicion that this is happening to teach us all something...I don't claim to know what exactly I'm supposed to learn from this (which incidentally makes the whole thing feel like a philosophy class) but it might have something to do with noticing things. Also with appreciation. It feels a bit like freedom, to not be able to move - let me qualify that statement. I am no longer obligated to go somewhere so I now just have to get comfortable with being where I am. Maybe I'm just feeling spiritual sunday about things - but isn't that a kind of gift? How often have I been given the opportunity to just get comfortable being exactly where I am without thinking about a) where I'm about to go or b) where I should be going?Being forced to accept something, initially feels claustrophobic but once I've scaled the wall of indignance/frustration/powerlessness, I am free to potter around and see what else is on offer in the land of acceptance. I'm not trapped somewhere expensive with 4 children to feed and house on a daily basis - this is very true. Still, I keep feeling that no matter how apparently stressful the initial situation is, it must also be freeing because all our carefully made plans have evaporated and we are left with space and time to fill and spend as we like. And as inconvenient as that may be, I am absolutely sure it's an opportunity if we hold it right. Breathe - you are online. xx

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Staying in touch was never so easy, sadly!

This is kind of dangerous isn't it? I mean the whole keeping in touch via the internet. It used to be that once you lost touch - that was it. Other than going to the embassy and sending out private detectives, if we lost each other we had to pray that we both made, and kept, that appointment to meet on January 2nd, 2001 in Trafalgar Square at 11.15am. By the way, I was there - where were you?
Now it's impossible to lose anyone - except perhaps ourselves. Infact, we could lose ourselves while staying in touch with everyone we know. Scary but possible.
Last week, thanks to this marvelous technology, I made one person happy and pissed one person off. The person I made happy was: myself. I did this by finding a long lost friend.
The person I pissed off is another dear friend (who may wish they were long lost by me right now but) who will remain nameless. I'm going with the philosophy that says: if you wish to keep your integrity, you can tell the name of the sinner, or you can tell the sin, but never both.
My chosen method of causing a friend's blood pressure to rise? I failed to respond to an email within 24 hours on saturday. The dearfriendemailsender was seriously pissed off. A word of background here: I found myself floating in London for a few days without computer but with a rather rusty old phone that I bought second hand from Shakespeare - read: it does not have emailing capabilities. Hence when I didn't check my email for 48 hours I was out of touch with the whole world. My point is this: other than the fact that I obviously need to renounce my tape recorder and pager and join "the future" - when did we get so impatient? I blame the humble text. Nothing has changed communication like the text message. OK, other than, the tower of Babel, the railways, the talking drum, the telephone, the internet and the invention of therapy -nothing else has changed communication like the text message. It is utterly and completely sudden as a form of communication. We read so much into the speed of people's responses, perhaps more than we read the substance. It makes me wish that my dear pissed off friend had chosen to text instead of email.
We live in a time when you can find everyone, all the time (except me when I'm on Shakespeare's phone).
Another way of saying this is that you can't lose anyone.
But we do have a choice. Yes or no to the "friend request". Not checking email for 2 days.
Chosing not to look up pictures of our exes, hoping to find that one photo where they have regret in their eyes becomes kindness to oneself. Alfred Hitchcock believed that 9 out of 10 people, when they saw a neighbour undressing through the window of the house opposite, would keep looking. Human nature. Now, with a little more effort and a lot less chance of being caught, we can find our neighbours/exes and look at their lives through the window of our computers. Hitchcock was right.
This week, I'm going to give the things I want get: patience and kindness.
By the way, Jim - if you're reading this, you owe me an espresso chocolate chip brownie.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

I wished I was a tourist today

Today for the first time, I actually felt envious of the tourists. Usually I pity them: lost faces, noses in maps, stumbling over each other among the ruins and being overcharged for their ice-creams and cappucinos - there's so little Italian "soul" in the Rome that they roam because it's all tourists just like them . Rivers of them streaming down the streets and flooding the ancient monuments. Tourists out-number even the pigeons, and they're pretty similar when you think about it.
But today I realised this little something: it must be so lovely to be ignorant of the difficulties of life in Italy. To come here and appreciate all the art, nature, wine, ruins, food and music and then to go home. To not have to worry about the politics and economics of the situation must be bliss. I really hope Rome does not become a city where the best possible scenario is to be a tourist, innocent and blissfully breathing in the past without knowing the present at all.
But something lovely did happen while I was wondering around feeling sort of blue Sundayish -
I was walking with my head down because I was thinking and I noticed at a certain point that I was walking next to a knee-high wall that stretched on for a whole block. On the wall, every few feet, an artist had placed a work of art with a title inviting the casual passerby to enjoy his/her work. The artist had even written little comments and titles on the displays. Right in the middle of the wall was a notice in Italian and English which read : "Saying that the city of Rome is nothing more than an open air museum is not good enough : it lives because we are here".
Every now and then, when you feel like shit, the universe doesn't mess around and give you veiled signs which you have to interpret - and for this, I am extremely glad.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Living in Italy Part I

Oh how I miss those polite, little birds. You know the kind - genteel, elderly ladies in their 70's and 80's - still "with it" - nervously pecking around, self-conscious, constantly checking to make sure they aren't in anyone's way. English women mostly, suffering from our national epidemic of embarrassment. I met one today: Australian, in line at the bakery. I let her go first. She was skinny and all angles jutting out to gesture what she wanted, spoke not a word of Italian. I loved her instantly. Green eyes and her dyed brown bob of hair. These kind of ladies don't exist in every culture. In a generalizing way, I have to say that Italian women have stolid meaty elbows to push the competition out of the way in line at the grocery store. They are not paranoid in any way. I miss that jumpy insecurity - that sensitive skin that is so aware of all those around them - trying to figure out who's next in line, not wanting to jump ahead of anyone. Italians don't care who's next - it's always them, as far as they're concerned. You notice it the moment you arrive at Fiumicino airport - someone will inevitably jump the queue at passport control. In Italy the queues form horizontally. They were right - that's why I let my nervous Australian bird go first, because no one else would . She had that lovely tourist attitude of not-wanting-to-offend-trying-to-get-everything-right. We could use a few more like her around here. I love those elderly birds and I miss their flutterings.