Lies, Lies and More Lies

Photo by Külli Kittus on Unsplash

“Such an honourable man, and so honest…” 

The heroine cracks into a laughter just as I am pouring hot water onto Nescafè Gold powder inside my favourite mug. What will happen now? But it’s already five to two and no time left to indulge in further listening. I switch the podcast off, grab my silenced mobile and mug and get back to my desk. When I cook or have lunch I usually tune in to Radio24 news feed but for a change today I have picked up an audio drama. Fact is Supermario has saved Italy today – he has just sworn in – and everybody’s happy now, the bad thing’s gone away. “Such an honourable man, and so honest…” I find myself wondering and pondering on the endless hide & seek game imagination plays with reality.

For sure, these days I am quite busy at any possible level. Since we have got trapped in the amber of pandemia I have joined the global herds of those who work online. I teach Italian as a foreign language and except for J. who is an American teacher who plans to learn Italian to apply for her Italian citizenship, all my students are Ukrainians. A few of the youngest need the language to apply for Italian universities, most of the elder – except for D. who is a businessman who owns his chain of jewelery shops across the country, N. who describes herself as a latinist and T. who is a bass opera singer – most of them are studying the language for sheer escapism and out of their love for anything Italian.

The task of effectively communicating my language and culture to so many different learners both thrills and challenges me. It certainly forces me to reconsider the way I look at my cultural heritage. Other two of my students take private lessons. The youngest one is six-year-old. I teach her only face-to-face three days a week, actually on daily basis over the past winter holidays, including on the Orthodox Christmas day. She lives in a secluded estate in Koncha-Zaspa, a historic neighbourhood in the Holosiivsky Raion. The area is known for being the place where Ukraine’s political elite live. Located in the Southern part of the city, in the 1920s the territory was the first state preserve in the Ukrainian SSR. A driver comes to pick me up at a midway point between there and my place.

D. is actually already fluent and my task is to play the language guardian and teach her reading and writing, alongside her home schooling process in Ukrainian. Apparently she has learned Italian in two months’ time over her last summer holidays spent in Southern Italy. There, on daily basis, two dedicated teachers alternated in engaging her with la dolce lingua, here back home, cartoon watching has kept her Italian alive, till the arrival of Pani Lucia. In fact, D. is the only one who speaks Italian in her household – “with no accent!” – excitedly informs me her mom who had learned that from her Italian friends who spoke to D. over the phone. Kids her age are sponges, their sinapsis creating immediate connections by the minute, not like mine more and more engaged in their trench warfare against the ghosts of permanent oblivion.

In a way, D. teaches me something too. One day in the garden we were building our snowman and she proved quite skilful. As I congratulated she revealed her secret: “when I was  little my dad taught me how to build them”. Another time, before New Year, we were picking up dry leaves from the ground to decorate a yolka, a christmas tree, already equipped with elegant electric festoons. All along a squirrel had been perching on a branch above our heads, biting nuts and  monitoring our delicate manouvers.  I made her notice that and there she goes, “I know! He is always looking for me!”. It was ages since I felt so light inside, a simple being in a quiet wood, the very place where the tiny mouse dares to venture against all odds, finally succeeding in taming the Gruffalo. D. keeps asking me to read the Italian version of that story again and again, and each time her renewed final surprise takes me by surprise too.

Other minor scenes also stay with me. Some weeks after new year, her parents had flown to Italy and I had arrived a bit earlier than usual. She protested that no, Pani Lucia, we could not start our lesson yet, as busy as she still was overseeing the dismantling of the gigantic yolka placed at the base of the large staircase in the main lobby. I conceded that she continued to supervise the operations for few more minutes and so we went back there following the upstream growing sound of a singing nightingale, its cage placed in a corner of the large lobby. There, two silent service ladies in white cotton gloves were busy unplucking from the yolka – one by one – large red and green blown glass spheres. The whole floor around the tree was scattered with open immaculate cardboard boxes filled with polystyrene: the winter season decoration campaign was officially over and all its delicate armaments were being retrieved back into their peaceful arsenal. We only stayed for a few minutes there but the scene stays with me: her lightly jumping from side to side – she almost dancing – amid the Murano ammunitions, high-pichted notes from a wooden cage filling up the scented air.

Two o’clock, I have got to go now, my online lesson with my other private student is starting. I meet V. offline once a week and twice online. She is thirteen and unlike D. she started from scratch and now, after her thirtieth-something lesson, she has started to articulate basic sentences: I let her be, above all grab what she can from our lessons which she seems to love. In fact it was out of her love for Adriano Celentano that she decided to learn Italian. She knows all his songs by heart and despite I have been proposing her Jovanotti and other more recent singers, she persists. For her birthday, amid a number of presents she had received, she showed me her favourite one: a life-size silhouette of Adriano Celentano handing out a red rose in his half-romantic smile. Last week she came to my house for a free lesson where I taught her how to prepare Carneval sweets which afterwards she would bring home. “Lies, lies and more lies! Lies are so yummy!” Yes, these Carneval sweets we call bugie, lies in English. 

Now, really, I have to go.


Ticket in Her Pocket

Slow train to Russia,

the ticket is in her pocket.

Ballerina life,

on tip of toes,

passing days.

For how much longer?

She doesn’t care.

The ticket is in her pocket,

theirs, mine.

She doesn’t care,

Her master never left her behind,


He actually shows her the way,




The day will come 

and a dog will bite her ankles,

yours, mine.

The ticket is in her pocket.

Why does he insist in visiting her dreams?

Never stopping surprising her,

listening to her,

smiling at her,

and in love again she awakes.

Has that ever happened to you?

The ticket is in her pocket,

return tickets never sell,

one way only,

that makes her smile.

Slow train to Russia,

all thoughts packed up

in her super light bag

endless landscapes crammed inside,

technicolor memories

and no need to get off.

Egregio Canonico Walter

Egregio Canonico Walter,

La raggiungo nel silenzio della pagina scritta, fin dentro l’opera che da mezzo secolo La vede appassionato e lucido osservatore di una Roma di fine millennio. Benvenuto nel nostro eterno presente, Lei che seppe vedere cose che i Suoi contemporanei mai, Lei che ben sa che cosa intendiamo oggi per pagina scritta: non più soltanto il cartaceo ma anche il digitale che sempre più spesso compulsiamo sui nostri e-reader, supporti elettronici di pochi grammi di peso, capaci di gestire con analogo click l’ennesimo romanzo inutile o la poesia che può salvarci la giornata se non la vita.

A ben guardare, coi piedi quasi conficcati nel terzo decennio del nuovo millennio, questo presente non è troppo dissimile da quello che esplorò Lei, non fosse che per la differenza prodotta da un fenomeno singolare che è già monito di “come sarà presto il mondo senza noi umani in plancia di comando”. Mi riferisco all’avvento dello smartphone quattordici anni fa. Senza clamore quel diabolico (in senso etimologico) aggeggio ha finito per assegnare nuove priorità alle nostre esistenze, sin da subito, nella più quieta e indifferente quotidianità, impossessandosi delle anime nostre e ancora di più di quelle dei più giovani.

Egregio Walter, abbia pazienza, rimetto la barra del timone in rotta e punto dritta in boa: son qui per proporLe un incontro a Roma per giovedì 24 giugno 2021, alle 20,30 in Piazza Navona. Osserverà che la data prescelta non è casuale marcando l’anniversario del Suo ritorno nella Città Santa in quel giorno degli anni Novanta. Quanto al locale Da Filippetto, “il ristorante degli ecclesiastici di passaggio a Roma”, forse non esiste più ma troveremo un luogo di analogo spessore. Come ben sa, in Italia – e a Roma più che mai, tutto cambia perché nulla cambi, semmai diventando più caricaturale e grottesco. Considerazioni logistiche a parte, forte rimane la convinzione che quella serata romana ci consentirà di celebrare la nascita di un’intesa.

Ora mi sembra di vederli, i Suoi accigliati occhi nordici tornare a posarsi con circospetta cautela, ma anche con trattenuta curiosità, sulle righe qui sopra. Insinuandomi nella manciata di minuti restanti a disposizione prima che Lei proceda alla meticolosa riduzione in brandelli della presente, scompiglio la Sua flemma elvetica con quel pizzico di italica malizia che pur mi scorre nelle vene.

Mi chiamo A. e, come Lei con la Sua Lotte, anch’io col mio compagno condivido una lunga stringa di giorni di profonda comunione spirituale. Ed è a lui che devo il mio primo incontro con Roma senza Papa, il giorno che condividemmo oltre alla vita anche i nostri libri. Magari potessimo rimanere coetanei per sempre. Perché sì: primavera più, primavera meno, i nostri attuali cinquanta e qualcosa corrispondono ai Suoi eterni cinquanta dell’incipit del romanzo. Anche un curioso parallelismo temporale mi lega a Lei: mentre in quei fatidici Anni Novanta Lei torna sulla scena romana come adulto, la sottoscritta vi fa ritorno come studentessa di lingue alla Sapienza. Non solo: anche in età infantile vi ho vissuto e proprio quando Lei vi era giunto per la prima volta nei panni di giovane aiuto-minutante.

Come la Sua Lotte, sicura di giudicarLa marito fedele persino nei sogni, anche il mio P. può a buona ragione considerarmi compagna leale e affidabile. Ciò non impedisce che, negli anni della maturità, io ami spingermi alla scoperta di nuovi amici dentro le pagine di un romanzo. E questo sarebbe Lei per me: un compagno di bicchiere per brindare alla vita. Così, quella sera di giugno mi piacerebbe proporLe un recioto: “dolce senza niente di blando, ansi su un fondo sapido, robusto, con toni persino gravi. Colore, rubino scuro, o forse amaranto. Uno dei più squisiti scacciapensieri che un uomo (e una donna, aggiunge ora la sottoscritta) civile si possa concedere.” Perché, come Lei annota, “dal cattolicesimo al vino c’è un nesso ecologico, di habitat, ovvio anche se nessuno lo ha mai studiato, e ce n’è un altro liturgico-sacrale” e un terzo ancora: “l’animo cattolico è spontaneo nei luoghi dove il vino, più che una bevanda, è un conforto necessario, una ragione vitale. (Vitis, vita).”

Quando vivevamo ancora in Italia, nei fine settimana lasciavamo la grande città di pianura per rifugiarci in una casa ai piedi del Monte Rosa dove non c’erano né televisore né internet. Nelle stagioni propizie salivamo i sentieri di montagna coi nostri figli allora ancora creature senza smartphone, vaccinate contro il virus della bambinocrazia. La montagna ci nutriva l’anima: il suo respiro silenzioso ci guidava su per i sentieri, qualcosa che anche Lei deve aver sperimentato sin da bambino.

Davvero scrivere plasma le coscienze: dopo che del mio amore per la montagna Le ho fatto cenno, sento necessario passare dall’urbano Lei al montanaro tu, certa che apprezzerai. Tu e io parliamo: come te, Walter, nel corso del tempo anch’io mi sono accostata allo studio di più lingue sebbene non tutte le abbia portate ai tuoi livelli avanzati di conoscenza… né sono riuscita, come tu hai saputo fare con grande autodisciplina, a valorizzarne l’uso in modo professionale: mi limito a servirmene come chiavi di accesso all’’altro’, nulla più.

Soprattutto, come per te, anche per me che ora vivo all’estero, l’Italia è il sole e la tua Roma la mia Italia di oggi. Tu scrivi “la bonomia, a Roma, è ricca, e perciò espansiva. (…) Rusticucci simpatizza, solidarizza, mi dedica quella cordialità più insinuante che consiste nel fingersi partecipi alla malasorte del prossimo.” Ebbene oggi in Italia Rusticucci si sono chiamati nel tempo Berlusconi, Renzi, Di Maio, Conte. Sì, noi italiani siamo proprio così e in tanti decenni i difetti dell’Italia hanno subito continue involuzioni: insieme al tifo dissennato regnano ancora la sporcizia, il chiasso e la pessima manutenzione delle strade. Per non parlare della bambinocrazia, dei quali effetti tu già ci mettevi in guardia e il cui frutto maturo sembra essere il “bullismo”, fenomeno aberrante che distrugge i delicati riti di passaggio per tanti giovani d’oggi.

Non solo: avevi ragione anche su un altro punto. L’entrata in Europa, ha retrocesso l’Italia a ‘Sud’, svalutando la sua economia e la sua tecnologia alla stregua di “relitti anti-economici di un passato autarchico”, tanto che da sempre più parti si sente parlare di hôtelizzazione dell’intero Paese, perché “da voi, solo il sole!” mentre il benessere economico nazionale si mantiene a livelli europei grazie al “mignottismo”.

Ecco, Walter carissimo, il mio invito è un esperimento umano. L’auspicio è che un incontro ideale tra persone di buona volontà che ancora credono nell’esistenza del Diavolo possa avvenire, anche soltanto per una sera di inizio estate. In seguito ci sarebbe tanto da ricordare, soprattutto da parte mia. Ti terrò aggiornato.

Con affetto,


PS: Ora Roma dispone di due papi: l’uno, gesuita e nell’esercizio delle sue funzioni, è impegnato a ripudiare la romanità fastosa mentre la dimensione festosa, essendo sudamericano di origini piemontesi, la tiene ancora in debita considerazione; come sostieni tu, resta da vedere se ci riuscirà: “città, e razza, qui sono felicemente refrattarie”. L’altro, ormai ex Papa, si è ritirato ai castelli romani – 30 minuti da Zagarolo – in stato claustrale, è come te, di madrelingua tedesca.

Checkpoint Childhood

In my grandparents’ garden there was and still is, now diminished in size by my fiftyfive-year-old glance, an artificial hill called La montagnola. Towering trees patrol the surrounding gardens while thick bushes keep secret the path that spirals up along minimal flanks and leads to a clearing the size of a rocking horses carousel. Up there would we lay down in lazy summertime afternoons, bird singing and insect humming in our ears. Cast beyond the tree crowns, our glances could meet clouds playing hide & seek with sun or get stranded. An exercise I most liked was keeping my eyes wide shut and imagining myself dead. Wasn’t falling asleep a daily exercise in dying?

La montagnola had existed long before us kids as well as our grandparents. It is part of the estate they had bought in the early Thirties, together with a garden – its monumental weeping mulberry, orderly and colourful flower beds, neat gravel sidewalks, round goldfish tank whose wrought iron fence would later try to protect its dwellers from our raids.

My grandparents were country people. They both sprang from small landowner families, mostly uneducated farmers. Their catholic imprinting shaped their life vision, developing in them a keen sense of resilience and self-denial. My grandpa Gino, the eldest of five siblings, was the only one who receive higher education to obtain an agronomist diploma. It did not take long before he got hired as administrator by landed gentry residing in Rome and Milan and possessing estates in the Marches. Farm production cycles established my grandparents’ family agenda. Their life rhythms soon tuned in with rural cycles: wheat harvesting, threshing, plowing, wine harvesting along with the silkworm breeding activity she had inherited. In time land ownership and proper education would become a priority in their family project, assuring their two girls – my aunt and my mother – economic ease and cultural equipment for a better life. Harvest after harvest, savings had been put aside till opportunity had arisen and investments made both in land and higher education, because “money makes us rich but education makes us noble”, read a ceramic plate hanging on my grandmother’s dining room, for anyone to know.

Nonna Augusta had attended formal education till somewhere near to a middle school diploma. Since a very young age she had loved reading and writing poetry. After a lifetime spent jotting down verses, at seventy-five she indulged in having a selection of her poems self-published. How many times visiting them already as an old couple, would we see nonno Gino in his snow-white apron meticulously setting the table while smiling to us “hush… the poetess is composing”. To this day, her poems collected in I silenzi del cuore (Silences of the heart) keep their healing power. Nonno Gino‘s memory also stays with me. As his employers grew older, new generations stepped in but many of them lacked sense of commitment and ethics. Those were la dolce vita days. My grandfather’s advice became more and more crucial for most of his younger employers. In retrospect, I can see him as a typical representative of the emerging middle class: purposeful and vigilant, with his mixture of popular wisdom and professionalism, he had made his small contribution to the so-called Italian economic miracle.

Back in the Seventies we were just kids busy in their clandestine fishing at the goldfish pond, creating our complicated parallel worlds beneath the mulberry cathedral or just playing hide & seek across all nooks and corners of the big garden.  A suspicion that things did prove more complicated than we assumed must have flashed on us the day our grand-grandma Olimpia passed away. We sensed that an action was needed and we came up with the idea of an impromptu funeral to be held in the big room on the ground floor of the old house. Keeping a central corridor in the middle, chairs were arranged like pews facing the altar/ dining table. There, Lillo solemny bestowed on us a funeral service in memory of nonna Pimpa, with my brother – older than Livio but less ambitious – playing the altar boy. Curiously enough did we later learned that the very room we had staged our religious rite in, had actually served as an official temporary place of worship after the big earthquake in 1930 had hit the nearby parish church: a white stone plaque sporting the Holy See coat of arms placed onto the house external wall keeps memory to these days.

We were not living in the same house. Our three cousins stayed with our grandparents in the old house. The three of us – our youngest brother would arrive many years later – spent their holidays in the new building, a three-storey house built on an adjoining plot of land. La Montagnola marked a no-man’s land between the two gardens. In fact, the place that we most valued was la grotta. To us the dark and damp grotto at the very foundations of the hill proved the most mysterious and thrilling part of the whole garden. That silent barrel vault space that in very old days had served as cellar and storage room, was kept off limits from us all – adults and children – by a heavy rusted padlock tightened to iron gratings. In fact, once did we venture inside there in candlelight accompanied by our cousins’ father.

Zio Elvio had a limp lag and curiosity for anything local and historical, no wonder he was a history teacher. He spent long hours collecting old keys, stamps and any kind of exotic items. He was also very creative and loved experimenting with sculpture but even more with drawing. He created series of countryside o seaside landscapes especially with crayons. The last time I saw him in his studio he was ninety-two. He was still as curious as ever and his ritual of allowing you to pick up and take away one or two pieces amid his miniature landscapes was still in place. I reckon now the magic of those moments, with him so silently proud of sharing fragments of his imaginary world. Since we were very little he had been entertaining us all with stories he would make up or read, or playing us songs on his mangiadischi – a portable 45 rpm record player -, like Enzo Jannacci’s Vengo anchio! or Cochi e Renato’s  La vita l’è bella.

The grotto had left in our nostrils a sniff of humidity and a sense of sweet gratefulness for our adult guide. Meantime, our father had always been up in the sky if not in heaven. As hard as I try to find him at any point in those long summertime days spent in my granparents’ garden, I just cannot: he would always be somewhere else – flying in the sky, travelling abroad on a mission, sailing to Croatia with friends, riding his flamboyant motorbike. Summer days would pile up with sunny mornings spent mostly at the beach which was located just five minutes’ walk across the street, and afternoons spent playing around the two neighbouring gardens. We would move back and forth between the old house and the new one via il cancelletto, a small green iron gateway marking the border between two sovereignties as much as educational visions. It was a checkpoint of sorts where universal family rules applied: it kept closed during siesta time, with each family expecting their kids either to take a nap or read Topolino or books, or just get bored for the sake of it. Truth is many breaches daily occurred at the cancelletto, with boys often venturing across each other’s zones, and us girls preferring idle chatting by the gate. 

At official playtime a number of different games kept us busy – we most liked to play the grand hotel, the bar, organise theatre shows, arrange bazars. In fact, set aside the before-mentioned totally self-run funeral service, all such games required a degree of planning and an active contribution from adults: in a way or another, sooner or later, all of them – except for our flying father – had contributed or at least showed up. Adults’ life was indeed a major source of inspiration for most of our creative games. Like the time we created a performance using the grotto gate as a backdrop, with us wearing our parents’ apparel. My born-actress sister Lalla co-starred with born-actor cousin Lillo whose nickname up today is Bruce Willis. And here comes the memo to write about lingerie, because not only was I the playwright but also the prop master and from my mom’s drawer I had the chance to pick up one of her fanciest transparent babydoll ever, for my sister to wear in the opening scene.

The production process had kept us busy for a whole weekend, also due to the continuous hysterical scenes from my cousin Giovanna who could not get along with the idea that she – despite her being the cutest of us three – was not fit for the role. We had to work quite hard with my eldest brother, the best ever problem solver for all technical aspects, but the small crew finally made it. I cannot tell for sure how many years have passed by since that Sunday afternoon but I can still flavour the thrill and the sense of gratefulness we had when our spectators finally began to flock in, sharp on time, complying with the advertising poster Lorenzo, the youngest and the most intellectual of us all, had drawn.  After having duly paid their tickets, spectators silently took their seats on the heavy and uncomfortable iron garden chairs. In fact, they turned out to be only three of them – nonna Augusta, nonno Gino and zio Elvio but their final applause convinced us that everything had been worth while.

Unhappy Genes

Her high-cheekboned beauty does not immunize her from feeling just as transparent as any other mate in the line. A quarter past seven and there she stands silent and haughty in this Kyiv summer afternoon light, waiting for her marshrutka. Poor people stand unnoticed on the curbs of the world, she has learnt that long ago as a five-year old would-be violinist clutching Baba’s warm hand in freezing winter afternoons, the small instrument case a carapace for her tiny shoulders.

Her frowned grey eyes sparkle into the melting sun as the yellow minibus pulls up. She gets on board, earphones on – old style ones, nothing like the wireless kind she cannot afford -, Johan Sebastian Bach keeping her company. The eight hrivnas in her hand are gently handed over to the driver who briskly fits them into his rectangular hand-made wooden box. She carefully fits her violin case into the tiny space between her seat and the bus side window. The driver steers into the traffic flow and there the usual parade comes up.

Along the avenue sidewalks Aroma Kava points pop up with their reassuring white, red & blue logo, passersby come and go in their working day pace, an overconfident Favorit billboard takes perfect care of a new building site, a stout babushka presides over her tiny flower kiosk armed with her short broom, untamed kids skim back and forth below a soviet-time tank monument embellished with withered patriotic wreaths. As always what she is more drawn to are the zupinka teeming with single men and women of different ages waiting for their yellow minibus at the end of yet another ordinary day. Bach knows better and the Goldberg Variations give these people a purpose, turn them into her heroes.

True, poor people wait a lot and equal to a silent invisible army to those who ride their fast cars across town, but a superior mathematical order oversees and regulates everybody’s lives, none excluded, each destiny enacted according to a pattern, only with shared sun coming from above and an individual light springing from somewhere inside. That light she totally lacks and it’s not her fault. She has always wondered why she cannot smile. In fact, she is definitely too young to have gone through any of the hardships her parents, grandparents and ancestors had, yet her mind seems to keep record of all the bad her folk have been exposed to in the course of time. All forms of annihilation inflicted on the skin of her nation – pogroms, the Kulaki repression, the scourge of the Holodomor, Baba Yar genocide, any other past soviet mischief – you name them – must have locked down the genes of smiling deep inside the Ukrainian blood. 

“Mom, what’s the matter here in Ukraine, why nobody ever smiles or talk cheerfully on the street?” was my son’s first question when we landed in Kyiv. 

Back to Irina. She has just lifted up her chin to stare at the brand new roof up of a glass-paneled skyscraper being raised on the opposite side of the avenue. She bets they will name it after yet another big American city, people here need very little to dream about America. Up there wind is making clouds almost as restless as her mind. Traffic jam in the rush hour, still plenty of time to indulge in her usual labyrinth of thoughts.

Unaccompanied Cello suite n.1 in G Major. Tomorrow she will be twenty. Will he be wishing her something like “buon compleanno, amore“? Alas, the coronavirus pandemic has cut any hope for her to meet him up again in the flesh any time soon. Will he remember their unspoken mutual bond? What do six months ago equal to in the mind of a young Italian artist? All the couples she has known have never seemed to survive to long distance relationships. In the course of time all of them have split up. What if Giovanni were different?

She is fighting to dispel anxiety and procrastinates the time for feeling hopeless. The thing is she is still too naive to just feel confident and rely only her physical beauty. She actually does not want to: she feels different from all the others, but how different? All she does know right now is how badly she is missing everything in him: his warm eyes, his stern voice asking delicate questions about her childhood, his elegant hands. Will he ever again be coming to welcome her at any train station in the world, will their violins ever play again in the same quintet?

She tilts down her head to check out her phone, the screen has just lightened up. One unread message from an Italian number. An urgent question is surfacing now: which – today – is the exact number of times she has been taking this marshrutka since her very first one with Baba Virochka? Bach suggests that she finds out that number out and in search for the answer she cast a glance to the outside landscape now locked into darkness. The sun has totally decamped, silhouettes of dozing passengers survive onto the marshrutka side windows. Her mirrored image looks different: haughty, on the point of turning and reflecting back the smile that has just flourished on her petal lips.

One of These Things First

I could have been your pillar, could have been your door

I could have stayed beside you, could have stayed for more.

Nick Drake

“LOOK AT YOU”, I hear him saying to my head tilted to one side, “where is your boldness, where is your stamina, where is YOU?” I wish he hadn’t asked me that because I am feeling like a corpse. One glass of wine too many and here I am, unable to articulate an answer. I choose to shut my eyes and take a deep breath.  He is still sitting in front of me behind our scented candles, waiting for my reply but our conversation has turned into a burst bubble. And there IT comes to me to save me once again. Approaching mid air, soon hovering over our dining table – a totally mesmerizing object – suddenly snapping open as if dutifully obliging me.

I am a lucky woman, my imagination always coming to lift me up when needed. More, its appearance in my life has made me the artist they say I am, despite my self-sabotaging attempts. It is a bliss that smooths down things when they get matted. The first time it saved me was the summer my mom got cancer and had to go through major surgery, he had shut me out from his life – at least temporarily -, and my workroom was so full of crap, a much worse version of Sibyl’s cave. Till then I had never really trusted my imagination, always too eager to repel any of its shy assaults.

Call it a minor epiphany or just the effects of the sunlight on an Italian solitary beach, whatever, it proved to be a great experience. Fact is I longed for my share of a smile, that kind of heat that reaches deep into your bones. So it was that I saw him slowly approaching under a heavy sun rain, beaming with his red golf bag which at a closer look turned out to be a bunch of umbrellas hanging on his right shoulder.

He gently crouched down under my shade whispering: “sun is for free, smile is for free and for just ten euros this red umbrella will always shelter you – rain, lonelyness, fear – no matter what. It has magic powers and it will serve you honestly. It will also help feed my six kids back home. In Senegal I used to be a poor school teacher, here I am teaching humour to sad rich people.” Secrets of a little red umbrella and the smile that came along with it. That object colonized my imagination and then my canvases, superimposing infinite backdrops and mazes: it was a statement, IT WAS ME.

“At your age, you should know better, shouldn’t you?” He has more to suggest now and I do agree with him and I do appreciate his observation. I even feel thankful, that’s why I am paying tribute to him with my warmest available smile. In fact, since I first met him up at my hometown train station twenty-something years back, he has gained access to a number of my inner rooms. In fact, my easiness in agreeing with him is a very recent personal achievement, along with my starting to reward him with heartfelt smiles instead of the old regular set of sour or – at best – blank glances. And isn’t that just one more of those silent clicks that contributes to shape us up into updated versions of our previous selves? Or is it just growing old as a couple? Truth is that since I chose to rely on his sharpness of mind instead of blaming him for the way his messages were being conveyed, I have grown into a better self. Also, my suppling by the day does not make me miss so much the harsh girl I used to be. 

I observe him now: he is rewarding me in turn with his ernest smile. He is waiting for my next step, though, keen to detect any actual progress on my side, shrewd enough to dribble any of my narcissistic verbal diversifications, committed to coach me in the art of treasuring the day, ANY DAY. Till I can finally see it: tomorrow I will be back at my easel, ready to pick up my brush and complete this last baffling watercolour still life: a red umbrella floating over our dining table.