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Apart from the fact that I’m fast coming to the conclusion that it’s impossible to work full time, do all the family stuff AND blog, I am also having to recognise for the nth time that I easily stray from the matter in hand. Strangely enough, in Italy, at least in the circles we seem to move in, you are constantly reminded of how little commitment, dedication and focus you have. Most often, this shows up in the expectations parents have for their children.

Kids should do the best they can in EVERYTHING. If they are able, then they must work and work, practice and practice, and be the best they can be. If you are not being the best you can be, then parents have a right to punish you. These punishments are so harsh… my daughter’s eleven year old friend was telling me that she couldn’t come and play because she had been grounded (I don’t usually like Americanisms but this is the only word that means this in English I know of) – and no friends could come to her house. She had also been forbidden to watch television, use the internet, play games on the computer and read. (Hah! Not reading is a punishment – very cool). I looked at her aghast and asked her what was she doing then at home? “I study a bit, then I play a bit, then I study.”

“And why this punishment povera?”

“Because I only got 7 out of 10 in my test.”

At this point my daughter piped up, “If I get a 7 my dad jumps in the air’. Oh dear, said her friend, is he very angry? “No, she replied, “He’s really happy.”

This whole scene loses a LOT in translation, but never mind.

The downside of not doling out all these punishments is that maybe your kids AREn’t doing the best they can, and they’ll hate you for it afterwards.

Anyway, back to the crowded pavements… I was sat next to a lovely Indian professor on the bus who had just spent two months in Chanai after living in Trieste for twelve years. Now he’s going back to live there for good. Meantime, he’s back in Trieste.

“I really appreciate this” – he said, waving his arm to include the stunning cobbled pavements that line the road that travels next to the sea from the pineta in Barcola to the bivio that leads in one direction to the Castello di Miramare, and the other up the hill to the physics centre.

“I know”, I said, fully appreciating how breathlessly beautiful and life-giving this sea walk can be. “I love it too.”

“Well no, I mean, not this pavement, any pavement will do – just an empty pavement”, he said. “You can barely walk in Chanai. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to it again.”

I remembered leaving London almost for the same reason – the unbearable claustrophobia of the tube at rush hour, the museums full at weekends, the crowded parks.

Later of course, thinking I might write about this for my blog, I went online to find out more about these crowded pavements. There were some great videos of bobbing heads of all kinds, weaving in and out, colliding on the sidewalks of New York. From New York I followed the weird internet path of connections to videos of the twin towers that fateful day. I had never watched a film of that event. I had just returned from Brazil (to London) that very day – on a long-haul flight myself and was already in a fog from jet lag. I thought it must be a joke. When I woke up later I knew it was true – and horrific and enough. I didn’t even consider watching it.

But now I have.

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Just a quickie because I want to watch yet another episode of Numb3rs (sic)…

Been skyping my lovely Napolitan friend who’s moved to Colorado with her family maybe for a year, maybe for more – photos of frolicking in bikinis in the snow. She said she’s joined a Spanish Book Club, full of wonderful women from all over and from varied backgrounds and professions. This week, Adele got to recommend a book for the first time. She said she was so excited  – a wonderful little book she had read many years ago, that she found funny and that talked of freedom and all things adolescents yearn for. Now, a couple of days before the meeting, she’s finished the book (again) and is horrified: the book is orrendo! At that age, at that time, it offered a specific reading. Just proves that authors are mere mediaries (is that a word?) to our reading contexts.

Films too (like Amadeus) can change drastically over time, watched under specific conditions and remembered with delight, then naively watched years later seem only macabre and pitiful.

And we’ve all probably experienced returning to a childhood space and finding it to be unexpectedly tiny, or setting off on a ‘hike’ we did routinely as kids, making the required serious preparations and taking along provisions, only to find that it’s a stroll up the hill and down again.

Distance, space, size – they can collapse and expand over time.

Almost makes you want to believe in string theory.

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Of all the things that have made me physically uncomfortable over the last couple of weeks (and there have been a few, believe me) the return of Mr. Mosquito comes high on the list. First, I start to awake way too early with a sense of pain on my knuckles (he always strikes there) then I hear the sound of a buzz from afar, getting stronger and stronger, dive-bombing towards my face and I lash out madly, ‘Aaaagh! Gerrofff@!!’ I fumble around madly for the insect repellant, put back in the drawer with relief, a couple of months ago. Can he really be back so soon? Is there no reprieve?

Two things to note here (as I’m sure you have).

1) Male mosquitoes don’t suck blood but ‘Madam Mosquito’ doesn’t have quite the same buzzy effect.

2)  I’m just complaining about a few red welts but these gals are vectors (isn’t that a cool word?) of serious disease. Some say they are the most dangerous animals on earth.

Not a bad reputation for an insect that doesn’t live much longer than 2 weeks.

If you want to know how to cause effective havoc, ask a mosquito.

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Madonna vagone di riso, ogni chicco mille puttane!’

(The Madonna is a wagon full of rice, and each grain is a thousand prostitutes!)

When we arrived at the Nuovo Antico Pavone the other night, this was the last thing I was expecting to hear. It’s always a tough decision whether to accompany one’s partner to a business dinner, but a ‘maths dinner’ offers particular challenges. Mathematicians have a certain reputation, and scintillating table talk isn’t one of them. On the other hand, the Antico Pavone has long been hailed in Trieste as the best place to eat fish and much as I hate awkward silences, I can’t resist the promise of a good branzino.

A couple of minutes after arriving my instinct was to run away. Seated around the long table, unusually elegantly dressed and expectant, were the assembled maths crew: from Argentina, Russia, Italy, America and  India. That’s something that most people don’t realise, that the language of numbers and symbols has made maths a truly international subject and this in itself must undermine the stereotype. But what happened that evening was truly unexpected.

A world famous mathematician began holding forth, and practically didn’t stop the whole evening. But he was intensely interesting, clearly brilliant, funny and a multi-linguist (speaking English, Japanese, French and German and seeming to have mastered Italian just by being in the restaurant). He told us the story of his father, brought up in what was not yet Poland, speaking 8 languages (including Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish, German and a couple of dialects) and then travelling the world as a journalist and then member of the CIA, among other things. The details aren’t private since he wrote a book about them (the father I mean)  – and if I get permission I’ll put a link to it here. His story blended in my fuzzy yet attentive brain with the book I’m still reading, The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, about (obviously a very old) man who, despite himself, during his life had walked across continents, hob-knobbed with presidents and worked out in his spare time how to build the atomic bomb.

From here we moved on to talking about all sorts of things, including a whole bunch of proverbs which, slighlty tweaking one element, though keeping the sense, somehow change the whole meaning. For example, ‘The sun never rises on the British Empire’.

Next up was the expression, ‘Mathematicians can turn coffee into theorems’ which the brillian mathematician said he found himself desperately trying to reverse in one particular maths institute bereft of that wondrous beverage (‘Mathematical theorems get turned into coffee.’)

The Italian maths professor in front of me, who had listened in most of the evening, occasionally adding a key line here and there, said quietly “with American coffee mathematicians can only create lemmas.”

But the coup came right at the end of the evening, when during another discussion about language, palindromes, whatever took our fancy, we ended up somehow on our favourite Italian swear words, well, swear expressions really, since they can start with a word (usually a holy word, like Dio, or Madonna) and then add on all sorts of foul and blasphemous things that they hope will happen to these sacred figures (including the Madonna getting zits on her fanny for example…) The same Italian professor mentioned the best swear phrase he’d ever heard from a friend in Tuscany (apparently as well as being famous for speaking the most correct Italian in Italy, they also create the most complex and creative bestemmie):-

Madonna vagone di riso, ogni chicco mille puttane!’

It loses a lot in translation, you just have to really savour the pleasure of the syllables….

I’ve since found this great Italian site, http://bestemmia.wordpress.com which helps you assemble your own personalised swear expressions by giving you helpful suggestions for all kinds of collocations. I think my favourite, again purely from the purely poetical point of view is

‘Madonna infiammata puttana troia ladra della madonna!’

As I said, when I walked into the restaurant that night, I certainly did not imagine that this would be where we would end up.

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Prepare to relax!

Prepare to relax!

I basically put this photo here so I could catch up yet again – on missing the midnight deadline yesterday. Ho-hum. Not sure if it’s harder to write a blog-a-day when you’re on holiday and roaming around the countryside, or up to your neck in hot soothing mineral water, with your biological clock telling you that 10.30 is way too early to be getting up, or when you’re back at the grindstone, with someone else’s urgent deadlines to be met.

Well, only tomorrow left in holiday mode (sigh! – or as the Italians always say ‘sigh-sigh!’ pronounced like cig-cig – which reminds me of how I used to feel after smoking too much – nauseous but still desperately tempted by another one)…..so I’ll have an answer to that tricky question on Monday – (‘Is it harder to blog while working or while on holiday?’)

I digress…

Later today I’ll put in another installment….

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Hah! This daily blogging thing is easy peasy. Nah nah. Who cares if the content is entirely meaningless and my total number of viewers to date is 3?

Today I discovered why people go to spas. Yesterday, I was not so convinced. We had gone to a place called Terme Čatež, 14km from the little village (Pišece) we’re staying in eastern Slovenia. Just a big swimming pool really – with a few good water slides, but nothing better than the local swimming pool at the Oasis Centre in Bedford (UK). It all felt a bit Butlins (c.1970s) or Centre Parcs (c.1990s). Not always my idea of fun – or relaxation. I would call it the wow? factor.

But the spa centre we went to today a little further afield at Olimia had the wow! factor as soon as you walked in. You immediately feel pampered, wandering from steam room, to outdoor hot pool, to indoor ice pool, to sauna, to water bed in your freshly laundered dressing gown. And despite the stylish decor (renaissance boudoir meets 70s lounge) nobody tells you what to do or how to do it. Whereas in Italy or England this would lead to instant anarchy, here in Slovenia it leads to nothing more serious than some over-zealous petting in the darker areas of the pools (everyone is naked). Only other downside (though the latter was definitely an upside if you’re a couple) is you don’t have a clue what is going on for the first hour or so. From not realising that the kiosk feature stuck in the middle of an empty lounge is actually THE changing room, to understanding too late that the hosepipe attached to the side of the stone armchair you have just placed your naked butt down on in the very steamy steam room is there for a very good reason…

But the upside is you can do all these adult behaviour kind of things that you’re not used to doing anymore, while the kids flap around mad with joy in the swimming pool, riding fast water currents, listening to music underwater, playing on pirate ships and sitting in dark caves (ignoring, you hope, the heavily petting teenagers who have not yet graduated to the hot tubs upstairs). It is only when these two worlds meet (adults blissed out from hours in the sauna, and kids hyped up from hours sliding down chutes) that you are made aware of the extraordinary different energies involved in being an adult and being a child. Which is what happened when we invited the kids to sneak in to the water bed room at a quiet point in the day when no one was looking. As I lay back and felt truly and gratefully supported by the odd firmness of the water beneath me, my youngest began a rendition of Greased Lightening (you know, standing on the waterbed, arm outstretched, following an imaginary moving car, knees bent, pelvis thrusting forward and back..). It was time to go back to the hotel (happily well removed from the complex, allowing us to practice our Everly Brothers harmonies all the way back).

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So of course the idea is to write something here everyday from now on…trouble is, this resolution has coincided with a hundred other resolutions I made, all of which had to be completed by midnight today…

What’s the point in the blog? Not entirely sure just yet. Main point is to write everyday (great! you say, that’s irrisistable, I’ll sign up straight away…). Second point is totally tied to the first – that in doing is becoming, in writing is thinking, in practice is perfect.

Belief: something good will come of it.

Next trick is to attach a random photograph and hope it wows you.

Here goes:

Seeing in the New Year at Molo Audace, Trieste

Seeing in the New Year at Molo Audace, Trieste

 

 

Hmmm…will sort out a better theme and photos and the whole caboosh tomorrow…but for now, I have done my duty. Wahay!!!

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