Thursday, 19 May 2011

Age ain’t nothing but a number.

For the lucky few at least who never seem to look their age. At the moment, I’m placing myself in that category, although it may just come back to haunt me at some point. When I’m a suitable cadidate for ‘Ten years younger’, then you can all laugh at me. I can justify it without the use of male flattery, which I enjoy, but don’t take too deeply on board. At 23, I went to buy a lottery ticket and was refused. Last year at 29 years of age, I went to a family planning clinic and was told I could come for appointments in the teenager’s clinic. Some teenagers I’ve seen look very old. At least on the surface I appear young, but I rely upon regular hair dying for my grey hairs, and a little of bit of concealer for my 4 eye wrinkles. In order to conserve this look, I should follow the ‘Nicole Kidman School of Smiling’, which is not smiling very much at all. I don’t think I could deny myself the pleasure. There is also the question of my dodgy left knee.

I know for certain that I’m getting older when I hear everyone else complain about getting older. Plus, I can’t ignore the fact when most of my friends are now a two-for-one package. That is, a visit to see them often includes their husbands. This might be OK in another world I’ve mingled in. In fact, as all my female friends’ bellies have swelled, visiting friends is a 3-4-1 package these days. I have to recall my duties as big sister and try not to get freaked out by baby spew on my dry-clean-only clothes, and large baby’s heads. Soon enough they’ll be teenagers, and then I’ll be certain I’m old. I had rather thought I would have been married to Morten Harket by now. I don’t remember if my childhood plans included babies, but then I was innocent and I just wanted to sing A-ha songs. This was perhaps my only example of good taste as a child, and thankfully it’s still true now. Bros and Michael J. Fox were also on my childhood dream list; my only excuse is that it was the 80’s. I even had dungarees and a perm at one stage, for that I can partially blame my mother.

It’s not very rock ‘n’ roll, but I actually want to be old before kicking the bucket. I don’t want any more than a casual cool glance from the undertaker. There’s nothing more pointless than a pretty corpse, little good will come of “such a shame”. I’d rather, “well she’s had a few knocks”, then my spirit would be able to chuckle with “and then some more!” Of course, who doesn’t want to age like Brad Pitt, or Elizabeth Hurley? Susan Sarandon and Sigourney Weaver aren’t doing so badly either, but that’s Hollywood, and even the ladies without enhancements haven’t had a tough life. I have much better examples from real life to follow.

So far, I’ve learnt’ that most Italians tell you what they like in reverse order starting with what they don’t like. I’ve met two upstanding ladies in the last few months that are a breath of fresh air. One is 62 and goes sailing and takes a number of classes. The other has just turned 40 and is only just beginning her voyages. She has so much energy she reminds me of a pinball. She’s always laughing and smiling about something when you see her. In Russia, I knew a lady of 65, she took two steps at a time on the stairs and had boyfriends twenty years her junior. She used to take me to the best restaurants and we’d get drunk together in Keivskaya shopping centre at 2pm. She also had the brave habit of pretending to be an ignorant tourist to distract police men from bullying Kazakstanis. I’d settle for any portion of their attitude to life. This is the key; age is an attitude not a number. If you’re the kind of person who complains all the time, negativity attracts the addition of years and becomes moulded onto your appearance. When you meet me, I’m very rarely frowning; I guess most teenagers have such facial expressions permanently etched. I’ve not given up on doing things for the first time and I hope that I never will. I don’t have the opinion that everything about me is fully formed. I wouldn’t like to be eighteen again, but I’m still dancing in the street from time to time, so at least I feel eighteen.

Final call

After one of the best weeks in the UK, I wasn’t looking forward to the return, especially via Stansted airport with Ryanair. Long gone is the idea of travelling in style. The pretty pictures of the late Elizabeth Taylor in a white dress on board a plane, are a thing of the past. Although a frequent traveller, I’ve been grounded lately. I completed related to George Clooney’s character in ‘Up in the Air’ when I watched the montage of the airport security area. I’m always prepared, no high heels, unless they slip off, no jewellery, belts etc. Therefore, why was I running to the gate when they gave the final call? I dodged fellow travellers in the same way a motorbike curves round stationary traffic. I should have known better, for any decent airline, you should run, but not for Ryanair. Besides, why was I such a hurry to leave the UK to return to Italy? Only to discover there was still a mass of people, like flies locked in, butting the window desperate to be free. It’s only been 13 weeks and I’ve forgotten ‘Europe budget airlines’ favourite trick. I could have kicked myself.

I might have given the impression that I don’t enjoy the UK; it’s become the place I like to go back to, it’s almost becoming a holiday destination. I’m originally a small town hick, or rather village hick. I’ve experienced a number of town/village sizes, I once lived in a place so small, the school bus was the only way in – and out. If I missed that, I had to walk 3 miles to school; hence, I don’t understand the Italian aversion to walking. I learnt the non-human facts of life via the numerous dairy farms I was surrounded by. I recall having to explain the cow and bull’s activity to my four-year brother, and I wrote stupid poems. A friend of mine, her parents rented out terraced cottages to foreigners in the summer. It was really difficult to think of things to do in the nearest town three miles away. When some Germans asked me what there was to do, and I replied, “the war museum”; I innocently couldn’t understand the nature of their stern reply “no, we would not like to visit the war museum”, for a couple of years. I haven’t seen that friend in years. The last thing I heard was that she makes pasties, but that’s what happens in small towns if you grow up and stay there.

The other issue, for good and bad, is that everyone knows you. I could never find the means to get into trouble, even if I’d felt like rebelling. I’m currently in what I would class as a medium sized town. It has elements of modern day life, the shops and some venues for entertainment, bound with the watchful small town mentality. I can’t go anywhere without greeting someone I know, which is wonderful, except first thing in the morning. I’m not so full of “buon giorno” until after I’ve been for a swim. If I ever wanted to date someone, better be sure about it, and a night out will not be without reports the next day. I’ve come to love the flexibility and anonymity big cities afford, even if it this often equates to higher crimes rates. Though I didn’t find this a problem in Tokyo, I walked through the park in Kichijoji at 3am without any fear.

I knew once I landed in London, I felt much more at ease, even whilst boarding the tube with two cases. Even on Easter Sunday, London has something to offer. I spent the last day sauntering through Oxford Street with a friend, followed by a visit to the Globe and exhibition at the Tate. The area by St Pauls has always been my favourite place to walk around. The first time I visited London, I was 17 visiting with some older friends the Notting hill carnival. For the large part, we walked around and as we were all teetotal(!), drank lemonade in Tiger Tiger. Though I was impressed to have been allowed entrance, I’ve never looked my age. It’s funny to reflect, I thought I was really mature during my first weekend in London; in reality I was still a pipsqueak. A few years later, when I worked there, I became accustomed to city life, with every opportunity available fully grasped. Considering my usual lack spatial awareness, I can’t differentiate my left from my right; tube/metro maps have never fazed me. They are just a system of codes and colours in my mind. Even though I eventually begin to take city life for granted, after spending some time back in Hicksville, I’m certain, I’m a city girl.


I feel like I’ve sold out. An English girl in Italy is a fairly typical path, but for me, it’s like Bjork singing duets with West Life. At least I didn’t follow anyone to Italy. However, spring has now arrived, and I’m glad I was the cricket who worked all winter, in order to play all summer. Though living in Italy is not without a price to pay, and a painful one at that. Keeping my pale skin is more than an aesthetic choice; it’s a thoroughly sensible one.

Most British people go to sunny places and lay out their milk-white skin to cook, like sausages under a grill; they are surprised to later discover their red faces. I stopped doing that many years ago; I learnt my lesson the hard way. After a day at the beach, realising I was burned, I desperately tried to find a place which sold yogurts. There were only a few shops open on that Sunday evening, so instead of natural yogurt, I bought some Ski yogurt, probably strawberry. It wasn’t very useful and not much fun to wash off. It’s not very sexy either.

I’m also too impatient these days to lie down all day at the beach with the intent of cooking myself. I managed to survive most of the Japanese hot weather without any problems with thanks to my trusty umbrella. If I had gone without it on a hot day, Japanese girls would have stared at me. But I think the fashion police would arrest me if I did the same in Italy.

The only time I get caught out is when I’m too occupied to notice. I rode my bike all around Kamakura near Tokyo and I knew by the time I’d reached the Daibutsu, (a giant statue of Buddha which has survived many natural disasters) that I was going to suffer for the next week. The same thing happened this week; I came across a cemetery with thousands of tombs, and I spent much of the day there. It reminded me of Buenos Aires, without the tourists and without a few famous guests.
I’m normally wearing a reasonable amount of clothes at the time; therefore the effect is like a matchstick. A white body with a red head, with all of the heat to equal a match stick when struck.

The Italian Job

In the advertised Italian dream everyone is beautiful and earns a great salary. Every day I walk past several vineyards and catch the eye of several Italian men as I walk to work. After a stress free day at work, I skip home to my beautiful, crumbling villa. I make pasta sauce with the plumpest tomatoes from the tomotoes growing on the terrace. I wait for my boyfriend to come home and we make passionate love on the table before I can serve him his evening meal. We eat dinner in our rustic kitchen by candlelight. We fall asleep exhausted after drinking wine from the local vineyard, in our bed fitted with dandelion white sheets. We dose off to the sound of sloping rain against the roof of the villa. Apparently….

Again, friends and family will probably assume I’m on holiday, that I’m in a place of untouched charm. Luckily, I didn’t come to Italy with for a Shirley Valentine mission of passion, but for work. I’m easily able to dispel the myths of the lifestyle they think I’m leading.

It’s true that every nationality has its own stereotypes, it’s a little unfair and sometimes unjustified, but stereotypes exist for a reason. For British men, it’s the up-tight bumbling twit or the lager lout. Italian men can be categorised as Lothario or lazy-worker. Compared to British men, Italians seem to offer more options. The comments from my female colleagues suggest it’s easier to be distant with Italian men. Especially if you don’t like doing the all housework, and cooking, which is possibly the experience of women world-wide. However, there’s the additional chore of doing it to suit the requirements of the head matriarch.

If you want to have sex this evening, you might be waiting a long time. The men spend hours standing on street corners talking to their friends. or sitting in the bar. By the time they’ve arrived home to the freshly made tomato sauce and pasta, you’re already asleep. Then after a few months, they’ve given up trying to be your boyfriend. Especially after the current girlfriend has taken over the mother’s role; the boy tries to chase the next girl. Statistically, Italian couples have the least amount of sex per week. Norwegians topped that pole, my next position will be in Oslo, I don’t mind the cold, and if there’s a good reason to stay indoors…….I’ve always thought it’s because Italians spend so much time talking about it, and promising to do it, that they never actually get round to it. By the time they’ve come close to dating the girl, she’s grown bored and she find someone else to flirt with. There’s the occasional exception to the rule, like the use of ‘the’ for the Ukraine.

If you would like something done today, tomorrow, next week, don’t count on it. I’ll never understand the southern European mentality of tomorrow, next week, and next month. Mr G. Reaper could be driving a green Matiz, and he doesn’t pay attention to calendars. Then there’s the Italian deficit. That’s the gap between the salary an Italian man states he earns, and what he really earns.

Well there’s the good, the bad and the truth. I can verify that Italian men are good dancers. I’ve found a great dance school and oddly, there are more men than women. Also as the youngest girl there, by some thirty years, I’m never without a partner. It’s probably the only thing I’m not left waiting for…