I’m thinking of all the things I’ll miss when I have to leave, after all, there’s nothing like rehearsing regrets 😉  and here are the first seven…

Good Coffee

Not a surprise for anyone who knows me.

Coffee in Verona

In Italy it isn’t a hit or miss whether you’ll get a good cup of coffee – you will. As far as I’m concerned in the UK coffee is brewed to be weak and bitter and going to a new coffee shop is a gamble but in Italy it’s always safe. If I want a coffee in Italy and I don’t want to walk to a favourite place I will go to the nearest one and even if it isn’t the best coffee I’ve ever had it’ll never give me gut wrench which is more than I can say for some so-called artisanal coffee houses in the UK. And, of course, there are regional joys like caffe triestino which is an espresso with whipped cream on top. Now, where did I put that Trenitalia timetable and can I get to Trieste before I expire from whipped cream deficiency?

Bidets

I have never understood why they aren’t standard everywhere. ‘Nuff said.

Weather

Italian weather isn’t gorgeous all year round and it gets grey and cold in the north in winter but, for me, the springs and autumns are just glorious and I’d take a too hot Italian summer over a non-existent Scottish one any year. My mother says, “grey skies make grey people”, and I feel the truth of that when I live full-time in Scotland. I get very depressed with overcast skies but it only takes a few days of sunshine to make me feel bright and energetic.

Fruit

Peaches and nectarines in the UK are too often rock solid and tasteless. When I go to Italy I live on fruit – I lose weight, my skin plumps up and after a few weeks I look like 52 instead of 347.  Same with veggies. I’ll never forget the little Lancashire lass in Perugia a few years ago, “Mum, what is this? Whatever it is I’m going to eat it for the rest of my life.” She was about ten and it was a peach. Yes, you can live a decade in the UK without ever having had a peach that isn’t like a lump of damp wood.

Politeness

Italians are on the whole very polite. I have never struggled with bags in an Italian railway station or had an asthma attack in any Italian city without someone (often a handsome young man!) rush to my aid. One day when I am super-rich (!) I shall institute an award for all the lovely young men and women police officers who have been kind to me over and above the call of common decency.

Church bells and Roadside Shrines

I love the romance of shrines. You see them everywhere in Italy, mostly to the Madonna but sometimes to other saints, dotted about in city streets and country roads, set into the walls of houses, nestling in alcoves and colonnades, and generally presiding over all aspects of life. Italy is a much less observantly Catholic country than it was when I was young but as my generation is still fairly devout the shrines will be around for a while yet. When I’m old and nonna-like I hope I can still hobble along to this one in the Corso Porta Borsari in Verona.

Aperitivo

I love finishing work and finding a bar (and hopefully friends) to enjoy a spritz or two and a few olives or crisps to fill in the time before a typically late Italian dinner. The idea of aperitivo (apéritif) is to refresh the spirit with fellowship and ‘open’ the stomach to prepare it to digest food which is why the drinks – Aperol, Campari, Vermouth, Prosecco – are based on bitter herbs, the ones that get your gastric juices running. In some cities now you find apericena which is mash up of aperitivo and ‘cena’ which means dinner, in other words, a drink with a little buffet rather than a simple dish of olives. I’m personally not so keen on this, I don’t see the point of taking the edge off your appetite before dinner and I’m cynical enough to think the bars are just charging me extra for my drink to help them use up the leftovers from whatever they served at lunch. Still, I see a lot of people enjoying it and, perhaps, for some it makes things generally more affordable if they don’t have to buy dinner every night but can still enjoy this lovely evening ritual.

Today has been all work except for an early morning walk and one espresso. Just one espresso. I can’t believe I’m back in Italy and the first thing that happened was a headache that is only going to get worse if I feed it caffeine.

Piazza Erbe Verona (Italy is a land full of beauty – and cute little dogs)

In the early afternoon when it was bright although only around 12c I went to the Caffe Vergnano near the Basilica San Zeno. It’s the same company as the Caffe Vergnano 1882 at Charing Cross in London but the decor is traditional, almost homely, not chic. I sat inside because the weather was a bit chilly but brave Germans were chatting at the open air tables.

But I am here in my happy place and I feel invigorated and inspired even if in a couple of weeks’ time I’ll have to return to grey, dreich, damp Scotland.  Here I can draw and design and make plans that will help me get Izzi Mishka accessories finally off the ground in 2018.

Tomorrow I’ll see a friend who has promised me a pure silk saree she says will remind me of gelaterie. I don’t need much reminding about gelato, I really don’t, but I’m looking forward to it all the same.

Or Breakfast With Gussie Finknottle

(a condensed version of something from my old blog)

To be fair Gussie Finknottle* has no more to do with this post than the fact I had my breakfast sitting on the edge of a small pond watching newts appear and disappear. While I was there and Gussie, Augustus, and Gus were popping up to the surface catching bugs for their own breakfast (at least that’s what I assume they were doing although they may have been trying to get to my cheese on toast) I started thinking about my 80/20 purchasing rule.

80/20 Purchasing Rule

I tried for a long time to be ethically perfect. I am by nature a perfectionist and I  struggle with being able to call anything being good enough but the world is complicated and I’m not strong enough to overcome every ruse of every loveless, avaricious big business out there yet I still have to act morally and live sanely.  The 80/20 rule was my solution.

It works like this. The values on the heart above are important to me – fair trade, cruelty free, recycling, etc – and so I make sure that 80% of everything I buy ticks one (and preferably several) of these values. The other 20% can be from anywhere.

Thoughts on ethical perfectionism, 80/20 rule.

So far the 80/20 rule has worked for me. It’s not difficult to be cruelty-free nowadays although it can be harder to buy clothes and other things from countries with fair and enforced labour laws it’s still very possible with only a little research and vigilance. I’m still flexible though because I realise that not everything I eat can be organic, that I can’t get a lot of things secondhand (larger sizes are always harder to find), and that something I know is made by a women’s cooperative in Nigeria might be using chemical dyes. What I used to forget when I was ultra meticulous about the provenance of everything is that an awful job is better than no job. People working in horrific conditions don’t have alternatives because if they did they would take them and there wouldn’t be a problem. I’m all for making manufacturers see that we want decent practices by putting my money towards fair trade purchases wherever possible but I have also come to realise that the women working in the sweatshops want change not close down.

The reality is that I think I do better than 80% most of the time. This is partly because I am a creature of habit and once I find something I like I stick to it and, partly, because by taking off the pressure to be perfect I’ve given myself the freedom to relax and rationalise instead of being caught up in a paralysing state of guilt.

Bird By Bird

Anne Lamott in ‘Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life,’ said, “Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy.  Just take it bird by bird.’”

That’s what I’m trying to do. I want the world to be a better place and I want a clean conscience but I’m one woman with financial limitations so instead of doing everything I’m taking it bird by bird (or newt by newt). It might not be organic but it’s enabling someone feed her children. It might not be local but it’s fair trade. It isn’t from a micro business but it’s keeping people in work. It might go on my credit card but once it’s paid off I’ll have it for twenty years. It’s not perfect but it works.

 

(Today’s breakfast: bread from an organic bakery in Glasgow courtesy of Roomie, Isle of Mull cheddar, tomatoes from my friend’s greenhouse, olives from the counter in Morrisons, fair trade coffee, charity shop cup and saucer).

And Gussie, Augustus, and Gus agree. I’m glad I had breakfast with them. Newts are very good listeners and ours are obviously very with it so never let anyone tell you that just because you live at the bottom of a pond you can’t have an informed and valuable opinion about the things that matter.

*Gussie Fink-Nottle is a regular character in the ‘Jeeves & Wooster’ stories by P G Wodehouse and, as you can guess now, Gussie is obsessed with newts. He’s actually an early literary appearance of the modern nerd: weedy, socially inept, and able to bore everyone else to tears with his pet subject in nought to ninety.  When I was a teenager I thought I could probably get him as a boyfriend.

(Cisano, Lake Garda, at dusk)

For many women doing what we want can be unnerving. It’s like crossing a road except we’re not looking left and right and left again we’re looking for a child, or a husband, or a patient, or a student… anyone who might need us before we can step forward. Girls are trained to put other people first and professions like motherhood (it is one) or nursing or secretarying hone that training to the point that even when there’s no-one else for a fifty mile radius we still struggle with feelings of selfishness if we do what we like. If that’s you then pretend there’s a Lollipop Lady in front of you holding out a big STOP lolly – call it cognitive behavioural therapy – and say to her, “Fancy a cuppa?” and you can tell her anything you like over that cuppa because she’s another woman so she’s interested and she’s also a figment of your imagination so she won’t tell your sister or cast it all up later. The first step to doing what you want is to have space to daydream, to let your mind wander, and to wander along with it because how else will you know what you really want to do if you don’t dream?

I practised mild aversion therapy on myself. I made a cup of coffee or even, yes, a gin and tonic, and forced myself to sit in the garden or at a window with a view. No thinking. No planning. Just sitting. Then gradually when I got used to having a bit of space and no parent or boss or client appeared I began to think it might be alright to get up and do something. Just for me. That’s how I started making rings and hats. One day sitting in the do-nothing chair watching the jostle and bustle at the bird feeder I began to feel antsy. Surely there was someone I needed to phone? Or ironing to do. I should really tidy the kitchen cupboards before the visitors arrived. What if they needed some brown rice flour in the middle of the night and saw the state of them? I would be mortified. So I grabbed the button box and organised the buttons into piles on the table because it was totally unnecessary and I found a few black and silver glass buttons I remembered from childhood. I had some 14g sterling silver wire so off I went and made a ring that gets an awful lot of compliments.

You can do what you want and the world won’t end.

Unless what you want is to sneak into Mr Putin’s or Mr Trump’s office and press a red button.

(don’t wait till you’re this old to enjoy the flowers)

I believe absolutely in happiness despite age or size or singleness. I read an interview a while back with eighty-four year old Joyce Carpati, one of Advanced Style’s leading ladies, and she said she never baulks at telling anyone her age because ageing is a privilege denied to many and that was a thunderbolt for me. I had had a decade of a demanding job and almost a lifetime of bending myself into a pretzel to accommodate other people ending in the mother and auntie of breakdowns. At 50 my physical health was broken, my mental health was borderline, and I felt too old and exhausted to do anything. I even felt unworthy of the opportunity to do anything. I was waiting to die and Joyce saved my life.

My Right to Happiness Has Not Been Confiscated

I believe in travelling alone, wearing beautiful clothes, and making “age appropriate” what’s appropriate for you at the age you are now. And the size you are. And the state of health you’re in. It doesn’t matter if you have greying hair, or are a size 8 or 16 or 26, or are over 40 or 60 or 80, or if your partner died or left or just never came along; your Right to Happiness has not been confiscated. As we get older it can be too easy to give in and start thinking “it’s my age” or “it’s too late now” or “I wish I’d done it when I was thirty” and so on. All these thoughts are poisonous and will fill your soul with toxic sludge if you indulge them.


(wedding flowers in Seton Chapel, East Lothian, last summer)