To Camille, there were two types of people: those who sat slovenly on the sunny side of the bench and those who squeezed under the shade of the tree.
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.
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.
Despite those around her see her crouching over her laptop with frowned forehead and bitten lower lip, she sometimes stops her focus on writing to wonder over e-commerce websites, filling up shopping carts she wouldn’t buy.
He should have verified of being out of her field vision, before exulting with a old-fashioned galop in the middle of the street.
She grabbed the end of the skirt and exclaimed “This is really pretty indeed”, whispering as she folded the hem and noticing the loose stitches in the inside.
They were sitting next to each other and both staring the screen of her phone: and now that he got closer to her, he noticed clumps of a yellowish glue at the base of her eyelashes.
I took advantage of many writing techniques to express myself with: thanks to another blogger, I experimented years ago with the “word of the day” routine that you can still see now in the english section. The newsletter of an online dictionary gave me a daily erudite definition for “something that is lacking flavor, zest, animation, or spirit”. Or, as they put it, “vapid”.
Later on, a friend suggested -rather, shared his writing experience with me- to limit my thoughts on the notebook to one page. I thanked him and lasted half hour, as I really cannot contain my thoughts to just one page on all but the rarest of occasions.
Still, I persevere: whenever it comes to writing, I gladly challenge myself. I guess that since I’ve never been a professional writer it is exciting to undertake tasks as seriously as if I was paid for it.
Then, I discovered fridge magnets. Like four years ago, I was at my friends’ shared flat in Rome. It was late at night and we already had too much vodka: an ordinary college thursday night. It was the first time for me at their place. The dim cold neon bulbs above the steel shelves illuminated a watermelon that had been filled up with vodka. It was not summer yet. But the Bangla shop owner at the end of the streets did not care, and neither did we.
On the fridge, some words were stuck on it. Magnetised. Somehow unprompted; there were roses and red in a verse. It was a poem with no rhyme: but utterly beautiful.
I asked – Who wrote this? My friends shrugged their shoulders. “The previous renter” was the reply. They said it in Italian, so I knew it was a lady. I imagined her as a woman in her thirties, not as beautiful anymore as she had blossomed years before; before monetary restrictions and that bastard with whom she spent 5 years too many of her life and caused her a smoking addiction that made her cough every night before going to bed. Despite this, she was still beautiful. She knew where to find beauty: in red roses. It was not pathetic. It was quintessential.
Two years later, I was in a different house – mine – for the first time ever the bills quoted my first name, in front of a fridge my savings had bought, in a country I still try to settle in. Strolling in the streets of the city, in the process of discovery – my waitress position only kept me busy in the evenings, and sometimes in the mornings as recovery from the hangover. There was this shop selling world maps to scratch and solar powered statuettes of the Queen saluting or bulldogs nodding.
I peeked inside. There is no such thing like solecitous shop assistants in Belgium, and that woman’s eyes stuck on my moves revealed her fear of me stealing something. So when I found myself in front of that red box, despite it costing 20 euros and my still not having received my first month’s salary, I could not help but buy it. I was happy: I justified my presence to the woman and I could fill the surface of my new fridge that I believed looked so empty.
My first creation was something involving the only rude terms I could find in those magnets. What I would usually do then is spread the words – all, some – randomly on my kitchen table and pick those that in that moment sounded good together. These creations would not usually come up in any great grammar or sintax, or they would refer to stuff my boyfriend is not really pleased about. But every time I reassure him. Its not me who’s writing. Its a girl that never existed, created in the imagination of those drinking watermelon soaked in vodka.
Below is my latest creation. I recently have gone for dialogues. I feel that they can tell the double – how a person feels and how she or he looks like.
Sometimes I still pause and find it excitingly absurd – to place art so close to where I store chicken thighs.