Little Italy

Ray Bradbury said:

“Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.”

I’m going to try it. Here’s the first one. Each tale will be a little bit or a lot  – ghostly.

My name is Mia.

I  live in a tall house  full of people . Two of them are my mama and papa. We have one room to ourselves, and the cellar where there is a fire, cabbage pickling in a large wooden barrel and washing always hanging to dry. Sometimes when it is cold outside mama brings in the clothes  at night, stiff and frozen, smelling of  frost and stars . Mama says Deda Mraz makes the nights cold in winter so that her washing will be sparkly and clean. She is always busy, my mama.

I help her, but I’m getting ready to start school which means that all the things I do every day will stop. Papa has bought me some new clothes for my first day and new shiny shoes. I look at them all the time and put them on. I like getting dressed. Clothes are my most favourite thing. He said I am going on my first day looking like a Highland dancer because the teacher is Scottish and she will be really pleased to see me. My papa is a clever man.

I don’t know when I am going to start. The lady who came to look at me and measure me said it would be in the new year. But I am ready, now. It must be soon.

Everyone else in the house knows I am going and they have all given me presents. The old lady gave some crayons, she knows I like colouring in. The smelly man with a big red nose bought me a wooden pencil case full of things. It’s a pity he smells. Mama says it’s because he does dirty work and drinks a lot. She has to clean the bath two times after he has been in it.

The very hairy student, a grown-up who is still at school, gave me an English alphabet book. I know my other alphabet and can read and write already, but not in English. He has been teaching me to speak it and so have the neighbours. I can curse in English. The boys next door taught me.

The best people in the house live at the very top. They are lucky. They have two rooms. I call them Gino and Maria. I go to see them mostly every morning and night. In the morning I put shillings in their meter. I do that for everyone in the house. It is my favourite job. At night, before I go to bed, and after the student has read me a story, I go and sit with them. They play music a lot, we dance and have supper. I dip nice biscuits in hot milky coffee, get sleepy, and ready for bed.

Mama says they are Italian. Not like us. Gino has taught me lots of Italian words like prego, arrivederci , mamma mia, pizzeria, gelato, espresso. Their kitchen is bigger than ours and they have salami, cheese and  many different kinds of  biscuits. The smell from their cooking makes me hungry every day. Mama and papa eat with them sometimes because their food is so good.

Maria makes ice cream and keeps it in the freezer in the cellar. She has an ice cream place in the town and we always go when we are shopping.  Gino works in a shop full of Italian food. He brings it  back to the house and then I cook with him when he is not working

But sometimes I don’t go up to their kitchen. I sit at the bottom of the stairs and listen to them . If they are shouting, mama says I must not knock on their door. They shout a lot when they are mad and sometimes Maria throws things. I hear smashing. It makes me laugh. Most of the time they are happy though. I think all that good food makes people happy. Music does too.

Sometimes  I can hear a baby crying at night, in the house. I tell mama, but she says there are no babies here or next door. But I can hear it. It comes from upstairs, from Gino and Maria’s room. I think they are hiding it from me.

It’s not a loud baby. It has a sweet, sad cry, as if it doesn’t yet know how loud its voice is. I think it might be a girl and this is why they are keeping it out of my sight. There is a place that goes under the roof with a door to it. She might be in there. Maybe they are hiding her from everyone.

Every time I went to visit I asked to play ‘hide the object’ so I could look in all the places that might be secret. But the baby wasn’t anywhere. Not under the sofa, not in the cupboard or the oven. Not under the roof or in the giant wardrobe.

Then one day I asked Maria, where her baby was, I had to know. She was doing the washing up at the time and dropped a plate on the shiny floor. It smashed. I could feel her shaking.  Then she started to sob. She cried and cried. I ran to her and put my arms around her legs and hugged her tightly.

‘My baby has gone Mia.  She went when she was just two days old.’

‘Then I will be your baby’, I said.

And so I was, always, Gino and Maria’s baby girl. Mama said that was just fine.

ricciarelli Ricciarelli di Siena biscuits – recipe here. They take over 12 hours! http://www.turismo.intoscana.it/allthingstuscany/tuscanycious/cavallucci-and-ricciarelli-tuscan-christmas-biscuits/

You are a child of the universe

Four months of evening class in town with a group of people during winter. It was a good experience. My certificate arrived today and with it was this poem.

Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others,
even to the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with god, whatever you conceive him/her to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

by

Max Ehrmann  (1927)

chagall

Chagall…

The Winds of March

I like mild, warm breezes, those sirocco winds on the Med and Adriatic which cool you down after a blistering day.

But the ill winds. Cold, sharp. Gales hurling themselves at the windows. They get under the layers and leave a body frozen until bed time. The sound can drive a person insane, night after night. I suspect people are driven mad by storms.

I have been blown around the Pennines, somewhat cheerily, recently. Enjoying  retiring to a fire in a pub, on the cobbles. A book and a beer then onwards up the hill for supper.

Once there  all of the previous arduous life of the Highlands melted away, forgotten, like I had never lived in tundra.

Then the return – with a creaking knee from walking up and down steep valley sides – and a sore eye – braised by a northerly.

Days of gales, howls, storms and a sudden raise in blood pressure. Rest. A slightly better feel today.

The strains of moving house are beginning to tell.

‘You sound like you need a glass of wine’ said someone.

I need a birthing pool to release the stress.

This change may not yet happen. Everything, as last time, may suddenly end.

There’s a saying from the old Yu – ubila me promaja – the draught is killing me.

Close the windows, shut the doors, everyone would exclaim, even in summer.

No one likes a sneaky wind at the back of the neck. No one likes an ill wind blasting through their lives.

Still it heralds change – not always liked. But that is change. That is wind.

There will yet be a friendly sirocco come summer time.

chocolat

 

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

This is a sweet novella by one of Japan’s contemporary poets.

The story exists in a small, close environment of a couple, their home and the life of the cat they name Chibi.

It is told simply, yet with great detail. A picture of a world in a walled garden and house unfolds beautifully over the seasons  as the visiting cat comes and goes.

It’s just one hundred and forty pages, but is truly delightful. For cat lovers, for everyone who has loved and lost and learned to love again.

I have  respect and many thanks to give to those who take the time to translate from Japanese to English, that I may enjoy stories from a place I have loved for decades but never been to.

Domo arigato, Takashi and Eric.

guestcat

 

 

Fig and Walnut Biscotti

It’s the end of January at last. A month where we make lots of resolutions and then, well, put them off. It’s been a snowy month so far, an icy blast from the north has turned my face all ruddy after a walk around the woods.

It’s been a while since I made biscotti, so today’s a good day for it. This recipe will make a good amount which can be stored in jars or tins. Dip in your coffee or eat with cheese and port.

I got this from Bertolli:

400g plain flour, plus extra for dusting – I used half white, half wholemeal

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

150g olive spread

50g walnut pieces, roughly chopped

75g dried figs, roughly chopped

100ml milk

2 medium eggs, beaten

Freshly ground black pepper

Rub the spread in to the bowl of flour, baking powder and salt.

Then add the chopped walnuts and figs.

Beaten eggs and milk thereafter and make in to a soft dough.

Turn it out on to a baking tray covered in grease-proof paper in to a flat sausage shape.

Season it with the pepper!figs

Bake in the oven at 180C for half an hour

Take out and allow to cool for 10 minutes

Then cut in to thin slices and place them back in the oven at 150C for around 15 minutes.

Cool, store and eat.

Holocaust Memorial Day

auschwitz

 

Seventy years.

Over the decades the stories and memories become deeper.

The first German lesson. Did anyone know any. Yes, I said:

Nichts rauchen

Nichts essen

Nichts wasser

How did I know?

They were in camps in the war.

We bend, but we do not break.

We live to sing and dance

We live with libraries in our souls.

You are as big on the inside as the universe is on the outside.

Make a library in your heart for everyone.

Work does not make free. It enslaves us. Love makes us free.

Expression makes us free. The wind makes us free.

Always and forever we will sing and dance.

Be humble for you are made of earth

Be noble for you are made of stars