Thursday, 20 August 2020

A Friend is someone who likes you

There is a nice little story told of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He started playing the piano when he was three years old. One day, his father asked him what he was doing and he replied, 'Looking for little notes which like each other.' A great definition of musical harmony which also tells us about us. A friend is someone who likes you, it's as simple as that. How wonderful is that feeling when you meet a friend who likes you, that special moment of excited anticipation when you both pull up a chair and order your coffee and lean in to listen to each other's news and celebrate each other's joys and commiserate each other's disappointments and hardships. I am sure I am not alone in feeling that most of what I learned about friendship started way back in very early childhood. At first my friends were my family, mum dad and brother, then cousins neighbours and school friends. Whenever I got hurt or disappointed by a friend my mother would say 'if you want to have a friend you have got to be a friend', she was a constant source of inspiration. I longed to be like her, I thought it must be wonderful to be a grown up and never feel hurt or left out. 'Think about how they feel' she would say, and I always tried. My father had a different approach to friends, 'God protect me from my friends, because I know my enemies, ' he would boom. 'If you can count the number of friends on one hand you are very lucky'. I would be perplexed by this, I had loads of friends, a whole class full. 'Ah' he would say 'Everybody's friend is nobody's friend.' It's easy to confuse affection for approval. Sometimes we crave someone's friendship, at some stages in life we are more needy than others, more alone. Once our parents have gone the only people who will really love us unconditionally. It's a terrible moment, one cutting the rope tying you to an anchor.

Prova prova prova prova

Thursday, 30 July 2020

Finding a daughter, Finding a family

 It was market day in the lively Mediterranean town and the Bar Marché was crowded. Alessandro waited in the shade of the beautiful plane tree until he saw a family getting ready to leave. He swooped in and called to Anna who was at a nearby stall holding up a pair of minute shorts and grinning at him as he rolled his eyes and slumped down in the recently vacated seat. She quickly paid for the shorts and rushed to join him, she gave him a quick hug and sat down.

'Well done for getting this table. It's so busy, I can't believe it, in this heat, but wow, what a great market, look at all the things I've bought.?

She pulled out what looked like a whole wardrobe of summer clothes from her bag. Bright colours to suit her golden skin and glossy dark hair. Everything looked very skimpy and he bit his tongue to stop himself from ruining her obvious pleasure in her purchases.
Alessandro saw the waiter studying him and knew what he was thinking straight away.
An  older man, a sugar daddy for a pretty young girl.
Up until a few months ago he would have been right, but the attractive young woman sitting next to him was his daughter this time, not his latest conquest.

Earlier in the year in the spring, Alessandro had had a wake up call, a slight heart attack.
The doctor had told him not to worry. He just needed to make some life style changes. Exercise  more, give up smoking and eat more healthily.
He was frightened though. He had never thought about his health before. He had sailed through life without so much as a cold.
He loved fine wines and Michelin starred restaurants.
Now to be told that he had  to slow down was a bit of a shock.
He had started to reflect on his life, on what really mattered to him. He had pleaded with his ex-wife Francesca to help him mend the rift that had appeared when he walked out on them both when Anna was only seven years old.

The waiter came to take their orders, giving Alessandro a sly glance. Anna beamed up at the waiter,

'I would like a tonic water please with lots of ice and lemon. What about you papà? No alcohol, remember what the doctor said.'

Alessandro relaxed back in his seat at the way she had said papà. A warm sensation came over him and he grinned at the waiter.

'I will have the same as my daughter, thanks'

The waiter moved away looking a bit chastened and Alessandro put his hand on his daughter's arm. She turned to him and looked serious,

'Papà, thank you for bringing me on this trip. It's wonderful to have a father. Mamma's new husband tries hard and he is very kind but, well, he's not you. You know I think it's important that you know, mamma has never said a bad word against you, ever.'

Alessandro turned away so she wouldn't see the tears that were threatening to fall. A lump came to his throat. Anna was still talking,

'It was me that didn't want to see you, I thought what sort of man leaves his daughter? I thought you didn't love me. I thought you didn't love mamma. '

She stopped and it sounded like she was struggling with tears too.

'Anyway', she went on, brightening and clearing her throat as their drinks arrived,

' I am so glad she persuaded me to let you back in my life'

Anna lofted up her drink and looked her father in the eyes,

'Salute papà'

Hope and joy were in his voice as he replied with feeling,

'Salute, indeed, my dear daughter,'

As he watched her gulp back her drink he thought of why he had fallen in love with Francesca. They both had the same enthusiasm, passion and joyful attitude to life.
He asked himself, not for the first time, why it hadn't lasted.

 Francesca had a new husband now and two small boys, any bitterness had healed now.
 Anna was studying Archeology at the University in Rome. It was Francesca who had suggested a trip together. She had said that driving along together in a car was the best way to have a conversation that could become emotional.
 Alessandro had planned a route going from Rome round to Arles, Orange, Nimes and the Pont du Gard. They had stopped at the small town of Frèjus for the night and  had been busy learning about its Roman history.

Where they were sitting in the market place had once been by the sea, a Roman port. Last night they had been to a show at the Arena . They had both laughed so much at the Toro Piscine and wandered what the Ancient Romans would have thought of that.

He had never enjoyed female company so much. They had so much to say to each other, he found everything Anna said fascinating. They were interested in all the same things. She hung on his every word as he told her all he knew about the Romans.  Today they had seen the columns of the forum and been round a museum with a floor map showing the Roman port. Everything was protected and displayed with loving care.

Anna  nudged him,

'You look faraway papà. I was asking you what you thought of me applying to study here or maybe better in Italy where we have so much art?'

 Alessandro was thoughtful as he  reflected on all the treasures in Italy. Something like eighty per cent of the World's Art treasures were supposedly to be found there. No wonder Italians sometimes seemed complacent. They were surrounded every day by all this beauty. they couldn't dig a hole without finding some hidden treasure .Just to build a car park near his apartment had taken years, with all the bureaucracy involved when the workmen had found some old Roman toilet thing. The pizzeria round the corner from his office had a Roman bath carefully restored and displayed under a glass floor. . It was probably just as well that the French had the Mona Lisa. The queues to get in the Uffizi or the Gallerie Vaticane were long enough as it was.

Some young men walked past the table and glanced at Anna. He recognized the look, it was one he had often given a young girl and he knew what the young men were thinking and felt a burst of anger

Alessandro had always been a womanizer, he couldn't help it. One woman alone had never been enough. He had always been drawn to a short skirt or a cleavage. He loved being close to a woman's softness and scent, but in the morning he liked to wake up alone.
The only woman he had really loved was Francesca, but even she had worn him down. All that nagging and the rules. No smoking in the house, no outdoor shoes in the bedrooms. All the questions when he was late. It had seemed better just to walk away.

He hadn't realized he was giving up so much, giving up a family.
 He sighed, Anna was still talking.
Anna was telling him about her Tesi di Laurea . She had thought of a title and just needed her Professor's approval.

She put her hand on his arm, an enraptured look on her face,

'Guess what papà? It's going to be inspired by our trip.'

He looked at her lovely  face and' a strange sensation came over him.

  It's all going to be alright, papa,'she looked into his eyes.'You're going to be fine'.

He put his arm round her and drew her close breathing in the perfume of her freshly washed hair. He had loved doing that when she was a little girl.

 He thought of all the bath times and bedtime stories he had missed. He thought of the family he had lost and now found again. He took out some notes and put them on the table for the waiter.
He stood up and held out his hand to Anna, a feeling of deep gratitude came over him, he had been given a second chance.

Sunday, 21 June 2020

It's not what you say it's the way that you say it

Yesterday I was talking to  a friend about babies and learning languages. I am not a natural linguist. Even my own native tongue was a bit of a struggle and my parents sent me to elocution lessons where I learnt to say things like

Knobbly knees, knobble knees,
Bend a little, if you please,
Whether knees are thin or fat,
They should bend as much as that,
So knobbly knees, knobbly knees,
Bend a little if you please.

I could keep my parents entertained for hours repeating such rhymes, we all got our moneys' worth from those elocution lessons.

How useless I was at languages was brought home to me with a bang when I started secondary school. We had been on holiday to France, camping, the summer before I started secondary school. My father whizzed us round France  getting by with a few phrases. We arrived at aa hotel, 'un chambre', we wanted to leave a restaurant, 'l'addition' and so on, My brother and I gazed at him in awe as he shrugged his shoulders, smiled and immediately everyone knew what he wanted to say. We learned a lot about the art of communication from hi. 'It's not what you say, it's the way that you say it,' was one of his most often repeated phrases. Sometimes he would use the dog to illustrate his point. In a cross voice he would say' you are a beautiful dog', as if by magic she would skulk into her basket, looking chastened. Then he would say' you horrible smelly dog' and she would bounce out of her basket and run round the kitchen and look at us in adoration.

My first French lesson at secondary school then. The teacher asked us to write down all the French we knew. Eagerly and confidently I wrote;

San Fairy Anne (Ca ne fait rien)
Kel er ay teel. (Quelle heure est-il?'

After all, these were some of the phrases I had heard all summer. They sounded good when my father said them.
Imagine my horror when I saw how they were actually spelled.

I have spent most of my life in a country where I do not use my mother tongue, my native language on a daily basis. Most of the English mother tongue speakers I know do not live in England, our English is stuck in a time warp. We do not naturally say things like, '24/7 or furlough, or I'll go for the tuna in breadcrumbs with a sliver of parmesan and a side dish of rocket salad. We were brought up with scampi and chips, gammon steak and smoked haddock for tea, boiled egg with soldiers and peaches from a tin.

Back to my friend and the bi lingual brain. I haven't got one. I speak old fashioned English and Italian with an English accent and still make mistakes which cause laughter.

In the last forty years mixed marriages over Europe have become very commonplace. It's not rare at all to have two parents both speaking a different native tongue and living in a country that neither of them were born in. Their children could easily grow up speaking three of four languages quite effortlessly.

What effect does this have on the human brain' Does it make a difference or not? Is it a good thing to have one mother tongue and then learn other languages? Does it matter?
As in all things it's good to be light hearted but not superficial.

I have come a long way from what my friend was telling me.
She told me about the Chinese alphabet which is based on imagery rather than sounds and the Japanese alphabet and the difference in the brain.

I must have switched off then because I got a bit worried about my own brain and the humiliation of writing 'San Fairy Anne' came back to me and even after all these years it makes me feel such a failure, or as my dad said often in France when people looked at him in puzzlement, 'Jazz we stupide' 'Je suis stupid'.

However does it matter? As my dad  said 'it's the way you say it not what you say.' Communication is what's important.