Sorrow

I always complain.

In general, I tend to complain a lot. I came up with the understanding, or rather, the best way of justifying myself by saying that the feeling of sadness – preferably referred to as sorrow, melancholy, grief, is the most noble feeling, and that any worthy piece of art has been created by troubled souls.

Misery, is another synonym for it.

Not that I like making my boyfriend assisting at the too-many episodes of me sobbing profoundly after the lady at the cobbler shop had the unfortunate role of informing me that my leather boots could not be repaired. But at the same time, I don’t know how to prevent this from happening.

And besides raising an important issue with this little iconic scene, that is hormones are real for however much we try to avoid talking about them, or worse, suppressing their functions with pills – it also reminds me of the many times I have been coming up with the harsh conclusion of how difficult I find to live in a different country, i.e. Belgium.

Like here and here.

It came out in those posts, and during the conversations with people who more or less share  my point of view, that it’s been (it is!) very difficult for me to adjust to the behavior and personality usually to be found in Belgians. Like when they don’t let you get out the carriage before getting on the train; when they would pay taxes just because “it’s fair” (I am Italian, you should have a much more solid argument than that); when they never say “hi” and “goodbye” in social situations with limited space, like doctors’ waiting rooms, or elevators. When I raised the last point to a lady here, she admitted she took the habit of saluting after living in Panama. The first times she saw people doing that her reaction was to ask herself whether they actually just knew each other.

This whole strange sense of individuality, sometimes selfishness, together with a very clear perspective of what is the common value, always startles me.

Kind of French, but yet colder: almost Dutch, but less loud. My friends and family in Italy would always refer to me as the one that moved “to the north”. Mostly justified by the lower temperatures and bigger clouds, by which people are effected consequently Despite this parallel being exquisitely synaesthetic, it never really satisfied me the description of Belgians – or Germans, Norwegians, Danish – just being “colder”.

But I know that would feel more at ease hanging out with an Argentinian who was born on the other side of the Ocean, rather than with a Belgian. Don’t get me wrong here: I just feel that we would understand each other better, and not only because Argentina is full of Italians – there are so many here too, as Belgians love eating spaghetti bolognaise.

Some nights ago I attended a Belgian wedding. It’s not the first one I’ve seen here, either as a guest or a server – my boyfriend manages an Irish pub and there have been a few there already. And yet, it’s still strange to me that people choose to have their wedding reception in a pub surrounded by strangers; that they would choose burgers as their dinner; that the thing would last maybe 2 hours and a couple handshakes; or that the bride and the groom wouldn’t get utterly drunk, or smashed, as my boyfriend would say.

And yet, that night something more happened.

The longer I saw that couple – her gorgeous embroidered dress, the shy smile on the face of him – the guests politely asking for orange juice rather than the cava they were offered, the more I saw them all smiling, chatting, joking around with their kids, taking pictures and making some games I could not understand entirely as I still don’t master the language enough – who am I kidding, I don’t have it at all – I noticed that each one of them was connected to the other, they were all living there, that moment, and nobody, and I mean nobody was interacting with a screen and the very distorted image of themselves, the people not there, and the whole world it offers.

I hadn’t fully realized this until I was tidying up the table – I rightfully was too busy before that – and my thoughts went to the approaching wedding me and my boyfriend are going to in Italy, in September, of my cousin. I thought about the very close relatives of my family, especially the ladies, even my mother, flooding their outlets on the fabricated-world online with the best representation their cameras are able to give of their lives. I’ve seen them doing that plenty already; during holidays, dinners at restaurant; times spent together. I haven’t seen many Belgians instead having their meals with their faces stuck to their phones. And I don’t know from where they take all the social confidence that it requires these days, but oh God if I love that.

And if it’s true that Belgians and Italians are so desperately different, the question now is who’s right on what here?

I don’t think I can give this question an answer – nor do I want to, but I am glad that I can see a bit clearer sometimes, and appreciate the cues my surrounding is giving me in the midst of what I consider being a sad moment of my life. Or I should say, a sorrowful one.

 

Yours forever,

Hungerness

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Far is Italy – connecting to Virginia Woolf

On January 25th of one hundred thirty six years ago Virginia Woolf was born. So many years; even if she would have not left in that river, we would still celebrate her memory today.

I truly appreciated Woolf’s works only in my college years, when a professor made us read Mrs Dalloway for a contemporary literature class. During lectures, he would sit on a spinny chair in front of his desk, his sleeves rolled up. He had an ankles conditions or so, and he found comfortable to keep his knees tight and his feet apart on opposite wheels, strolling around while lecturing. He would read a passage out loud from the tiny book squeezed in his rough-looking hands; we would listen with bewildered faces. Truly, he was a big, US man and his deep voice was slightly troubled by some occasional smoking. But he could make the prose of Woolf gently and perfectly unravel from his lips.

In that time I was still living in Rome, my hometown: however, by attending a US university, by having to commute to the other side of town each day to go to classes, by having such a different lifestyle from the one I had until high school, I felt a bit of a stranger in my own city.

Then, I really moved to a foreign country. I possibly forgot about that professor, about that book for a while – I left it in the boot of my car in Rome. I was surrounded now by people whose language I did not understand fully, whose customs and social norms were so different from what I was used to. I was maybe too busy trying to familiarize myself with the astonishing quantities of dip sauces on the fridge shelves of supermarkets. But one day, one of those days when I wandered invisibly through the alleys of this cold city, unable to catch the sight of those around me – they might be noticing me, anyway? I found myself thinking

“Far is Italy”

I actually spelled it clearly in my mind. It did not look like something I made up: it was clearly a quotation. But where did that come from? Spinny chairs, ankle conditions, Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway. I went back home and looked online for the passage of the book, it was not easy, as Lucrezia is not one of the main characters. Finally, when I found it, it was as marvelously written as I remembered it; but this time it felt so much closer.

I hope everyone of you had the occasion to read the book. It is about one lady, Clarissa, who prepares dinner for a party she is hosting at night. The day serves to provide flashbacks of the most crucial events of her recent life, and to give insight into the other characters, more or less close, to Clarissa. I consider this novel to be the biggest inspiration for the book I’ve written, which you will see out there soon

Lucrezia, or Rezia, is an Italian lady who had moved to England because of her husband Septimus, who eventually turned insane. In this passage, the two are strolling around Regent’s Park.

Rezia is truly unhappy. She dislikes and does not understand the people and country she lives in at that moment, she misses Italy, the sun and her family. She suffers in silence; inside she screams, she bursts in desperation, but outside, she looks as any other lady walking with her husband in the park. Despite her discretion, she wonders how nobody could notice her suffering.

True, there is a large dose of self commiseration in this passage; you could picture her noticing with a smirk the wedding ring sliding down her slim finger, then looking up, trying to see if anybody is noticing the same detail. But at the same time, you should understand the society back in the day – how easily she could just stand up and move back to Italy for her own happiness?

But how much easier is it to blame circumstances rather than your own behaviour? This is what I think now. This is the question I am posing myself in trying to internalize the process of adaptation, rather than enduring it.

Following the passage, which, commiserative or not, it is just shockingly beautiful.

“Septimus!” said Rezia. He started violently. People must notice.
“I am going to walk to the fountain and back,” she said.
For she could stand it no longer. Dr. Holmes might say there was nothing the matter. Far rather would she that he were dead! She could not sit beside him when he stared so and did not see her and made everything terrible; sky and tree, children playing, dragging carts, blowing whistles, falling down; all were terrible. And he would not kill himself; and she could tell no one. “Septimus has been working too hard”— that was all she could say to her own mother. To love makes one solitary, she thought. She could tell nobody, not even Septimus now, and looking back, she saw him sitting in his shabby overcoat alone, on the seat, hunched up, staring. And it was cowardly for a man to say he would kill himself, but Septimus had fought; he was brave; he was not Septimus now. She put on her lace collar. She put on her new hat and he never noticed; and he was happy without her. Nothing could make her happy without him! Nothing! He was selfish. So men are. For he was not ill. Dr. Holmes said there was nothing the matter with him. She spread her hand before her. Look! Her wedding ring slipped — she had grown so thin. It was she who suffered — but she had nobody to tell.
Far was Italy and the white houses and the room where her sisters sat making hats, and the streets crowded every evening with people walking, laughing out loud, not half alive like people here, huddled up in Bath chairs, looking at a few ugly flowers stuck in pots!
“For you should see the Milan gardens,” she said aloud. But to whom?
There was nobody. Her words faded. So a rocket fades. Its sparks, having grazed their way into the night, surrender to it, dark descends, pours over the outlines of houses and towers; bleak hillsides soften and fall in. But though they are gone, the night is full of them; robbed of colour, blank of windows, they exist more ponderously, give out what the frank daylight fails to transmit — the trouble and suspense of things conglomerated there in the darkness; huddled together in the darkness; reft of the relief which dawn brings when, washing the walls white and grey, spotting each window-pane, lifting the mist from the fields, showing the red-brown cows peacefully grazing, all is once more decked out to the eye; exists again. I am alone; I am alone! she cried, by the fountain in Regent’s Park (staring at the Indian and his cross), as perhaps at midnight, when all boundaries are lost, the country reverts to its ancient shape, as the Romans saw it, lying cloudy, when they landed, and the hills had no names and rivers wound they knew not where — such was her darkness; when suddenly, as if a shelf were shot forth and she stood on it, she said how she was his wife, married years ago in Milan, his wife, and would never, never tell that he was mad! Turning, the shelf fell; down, down she dropped. For he was gone, she thought — gone, as he threatened, to kill himself — to throw himself under a cart! But no; there he was; still sitting alone on the seat, in his shabby overcoat, his legs crossed, staring, talking aloud.

Lots of love,

Hungerness