Saturday, 9 November 2019

Another brick in the wall

Today the local newspaper had a four-page spread on the fall of the Berlin wall thirty years today. I found it very moving and could feel tears welling in my eyes as I drank my cappuccino. The Wall fell just as I was finishing school. We had just finished studying the Cold War in modern history. It was all terribly relevant. I don't remember watching any of the footage on television though. I think I was too immersed in my last exams to look up and breathe that moment in history. I love looking at the pictures though. That eighties hair and those knitted jumpers.  I think people are forgetting how sad that wall was. How divisions don't heal, they only hinder.

After my cappuccino, I went down the hill to collect a dead kitten. I had seen it by the road yesterday and put it up safely on a ledge but I knew in my heart no one was going to come and collect her. So I brought her home and held her in my arms for a while. I wanted her fur to feel loved even if she was gone. We then slow-danced to a James Blunt song. I figured his mournful warblings would be enough to make any creature happy they had moved on. ( Not really -I love that man and his mournful warblings.) Then I took my little baby down and buried her with Dude. It was raining heavily and everything felt very somber but I like the idea of the two of them being together.

Pirate watched, unmoved, from the stone stairs. I think she was pondering her next meal.

Friday, 1 November 2019

The Day of the Dead

November 1st.  The Day of the Dead here in Italy. People visit the graves of their loved ones although this year I noticed a lot making the pilgrimage in the previous days because I suspect they wanted to make the most of a long weekend and jet off somewhere exotic. Well, maybe not jet but at least do something fun. Unlike myself, poverty keeps me housebound but the olives are ripe for the picking so I have spent some time in the garden in the shadow of Dude's grave. This will be my last harvest here. I feel nothing in particular about this fact.

Friday, 25 October 2019


Happy 6th GOTCHA day ❤️­čś║to my shadow, my chatterbox, my rascal, my girl. I still remember the day with vivid clarity: grabbing you from beside the mosque tombstone: losing you behind my wardrobe when you tried to wriggle away: taking you to the vet where they said the infected eye would have to go” but don’t worry, they do ok on the streets with one.” I knew at that moment you would never see a street again.
Change is being foisted upon us and I know not where we will be this time next year but I do know we will be together, my beloved little Pirate ­čĆ┤‍☠️

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Nature's Supermarket

Look at this amazing fresh produce I was given today. I even got to pick it myself. So much more satisfying than trawling down supermarket aisles looking at bland tomatoes and perfectly shaped aubergine.

The farm actually belonged to a friend of one of my students and they were so welcoming and excited to have a foreigner in their midst. I was the truly excited one though. I love moments like this.

Now I am at home listening to the Brexit vote - what a comedown!!

Friday, 18 October 2019


The other evening there was a spectacular storm out west.; probably rolling in from the Tyrrhenian sea. Pirate watched it on a chair by the door. She divided her eye between watching the wild weather and stopping Dalmazio, the neighbor's cat, from getting inside. She is a model in multi-tasking.

I love it when these storms blanket the sky and it will definitely be something I miss when I move homes. Generally, I am quite at peace with the coming change but I suspect some of this may be because it is still a few months ago. I know I
will never have a home with this view again but I also know it means I won't have to worry about huge gardening bills and this is something to celebrate.

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Plumed Italians

Yesterday's dusk was spectacular. The sky and land sort of melted into each other in hues of pink, orange, gold, and green which would look truly ghastly in a painting but nature always has a way of merging colours perfectly. I found it very soothing.

Then when I got up this morning, after a restless night of fret and mosquitoes, the sun was blazing and everywhere looked so verdant and joyful.

I decided I should go for a walk. Do one of my epic country strolls which I have stopped doing of late for a myriad of reasons.

I wonder if you can see Pirate?
But then I heard a tooting in the street  - the Pied Piper perhaps - and was met by a plume of Italian soldiers marching, playing instruments, singing, even running as they sang and tooted. It was magnificent. For a bunch of basically hired-to-kill folk they just seemed so light and carefree. I'm not sure what the occasion was but I think it might have been to do with the new mayor of the town.

The whole thing made me happy, not sad. I have had many changes thrust upon me in recent months and a lot of them almost make me want to choke but this little interlude almost lifted my soles from the pavement - O for a plumed hat of my own.

I didn't do the walk but I think this was as therapeutic and the hills will be there as they have always been...and always will.

Saturday, 21 September 2019


Today I went on a short train ride to the nearby town of Montelupo. This little borgo is famous for its ceramics which is fortuitous because that is why I visited it. I was on a mission, you see. I wanted to get some sort of garden ornament to lay on my Dude's grave.

I have a lot of regrets about not cremating him ( I even rang the crematorium to see if they were into exhumation at all. Apparently not - until after five years have passed. I don't really understand why but after a few eye dribbles, I thanked them for their time.) I also regret where I buried him. I wish I had put him up against the shady wall where I buried an unknown cat some time ago. But on the day he passed, I just wasn't thinking straight. 
Now, however, I have decided I want to leave something permanent on his spot. Well, not permanent I suppose - nothing is that really ( except plastic maybe ) - but my apartment has been sold and I must move which means that on some very grey, wintry day next January I am going to have to walk out of my garden one last time and leave my beloved boy behind.
I try to think of me not leaving him there; that he is really with me all the time. I also try to tell myself  (in a contradictory sort of way ) that this is where he would want to be; that he was born in these hills and despite his short but greatly-loved life he belonged back in these hills. I want to leave an ornament on his grave so the new owners who come are aware that he is there. Of course, they may just take it away but they will know in their bones that the rumpled earth below them is sacred. This is the only way I think  I can find at least a semblance of peace.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

The Street

I had planned to write a lovely, witty account of my trip around Albania and how that week I had felt happier than I have in a long time.  But then two days after I got back I found my beloved Dude dead in the garden and my world collapsed. So I can't write about anything. I just feel very sad and I miss him just so terribly, it is hard to enjoy anything.

I did, however, write something a while ago which has just been published online. It is called 'The Street' and it is a flash fiction story about Kazanci Yokusu where I lived in Istanbul. Completely fictional of course - but ti was such a wonderful little world.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

The Hobra Files Part 1: Albania

So I  finally saved enough money for a little holiday to Albania. I have been excited about it for weeks. Telling my Albanian friend, whom I often see on the local bus, how I can't wait. He always just seems to smile and then pull a slightly worried expression like he hopes my excitement is warranted.  He need not have worried - Albania was brilliant.

Of course, I had my usual anxiety just before I left. Mainly about leaving the cats but I also knew I needed this escape. I needed to look at Italy from 12000ft. To get some distance. To wake up the Joanna who feels like she has died inside.

Artwork on an electricity box in downtown Tirana
I knew I was getting closer to Albania when I arrived at the check-in which was redolent of hairy sweat and cigarettes. And the plane trip, which was like one of those mad middle eastern flights I used to take where the people are in aisles before the plane has even landed, confirmed my adventure was leaving the sterile confines of western Europe. Actually, the descent into Albania was quite steep because of the surrounding mountains and all I could hear was the desperate cry of the flight attendants: "Signore seduti" as this young man started bundling his child towards an exit with the plane still at a 75-degree angle. I think I would probably get the trophy for best passenger actually because I was the only one with her seat belt still on when the plane stopped.

I took the bus into the city. No taxis for this budget queen and strode purposefully off in completely the wrong direction. I can't read maps, it is official. Even when I draw them. The hostel I was staying at was only about 30 metres from the bus drop-off but I managed a goodly hour and a half wandering around Skandenberg Square asking, among others, a very dapper policeman (no clue), a talented crepe-maker (some clue) and finally a handsome waiter ( most clue) where the street was I was looking for. It made me glad I was traveling alone because that sort of lost wandering doesn't bother me. I know I will eventually get there but often I find people get into panics and don't appreciate the wrong turns. It simply means I get to start talking with the locals almost immediately and this is always a joy.

I checked into my hostel. No one else was there which I was kind of relieved about. I don't really relish sharing a room with strangers but budget queens must make do as best they can. Then I went out walking, eating grilled cheese, and drinking a very generous wineglass-serving of wine.

Sigh. It felt good to feel alive again.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Safe Space Stories

 It is interesting when you see photos of yourself taken unawares. Perhaps they are the truest glimpse of how you were feeling at that moment. A guide, if you will, of whether something is working for you or not. The two pictures I have attached are from the second of two writing workshops I attended recently and I look so engaged and happy in them I almost don't recognize myself.

The first workshop had happened two weeks before these pictures. I wasn't going to go as I have an ambivalent relationship with these things. I don't feel you necessarily learn to be a better writer from these meetings but they can be useful if you need a reminder of why you love to write. Mainly I went because these past months have been so consumed by teenage monsters (whom I spend waaaaaay to much time preparing for)  that by the end of the week I realize I have not spent a single minute creating or feeling whole.  So I went to the first one hoping that I would at least put something on paper, and I wasn't disappointed. In fact, at the end, this woman came up to me and said "You should be writing" which made me feel very cherished.

Anyway, then the facilitator of the course announced there would be a second workshop. I knew that this would not be possible for me. The workshops cost 20 euro a pop and the first one had been an SOS to myself but there was no way I could afford another one, especially so close. So I explained I couldn't come in very general terms ( it is embarrassing to admit you cannot afford something) and a day later I received mail from the facilitator offering to waiver my fee because he felt my writing voice and my feedback was vital to the group's success. Part of me wanted to say no because I find it hard to accept a free lunch but then another part said: "Go on Joanna,  people offer things because they want to." So I went, and from these pictures, I can see I was very happy. I even came out of it with a new story idea about a man who keeps a bag full of planets in his back pocket.

Two days later I received a manuscript rejection from an agent in America which made me feel very sad. Bubble short-lived, I guess. 

Sunday, 31 March 2019

What A Wonderful World

When I got into ESL, I deliberately chose adults rather than teenagers or children. Not because I didn't like the latter groups but because I didn't want the disciplinary nature of those jobs. If I had wanted to be a school teacher, I would have trained as that instead. I mean, even school teachers are paid better than ESL. Sadly though, because of the dire working situation in Italy, I find myself in a teenage horror show at present. Some classes are ok but some make me miserable although I try not to let them get to me after the class has ended. I simply don't get paid enough to let the Alessandros and Eduoardos infiltrate my free time - especially since I have no holiday pay anyway.

I have one class at my local school which I refer to (with increasing love) as THE ANIMALS. To be honest, they don't upset me so much because a lot of them have never met an English speaker before but some of these classes are wild. It doesn't help that the average class has 20 plus students of different age and English levels so mostly I am trying to find common ground. A couple of weeks ago I had an epiphany at the front ( when I was staring at the board too afraid to look around at the mayhem) and I decided that as long as the kids stayed in the room and weren't wandering the corridors like crazed zombies AND no one bled or died  -then it was a win.

But this week I think I really did win. I decided to do Israel "IZ" Kamakawiwo╩╗ole's Somewhere Over The Rainbow. The lyrics are simple and his diction is perfect - how could you not love it.

Anyway, as I first played the song I saw the students laughing at him - he is rather large - but this hadn't even occurred to me as an issue and I thought: " oh no, I'm gonna lose them before we even start." And it made me sad. Such a beautiful man. But the students continued watching and listening. They began asking questions about the urn with his ashes as it was scattered over the sea and I could see them becoming engaged. So we did a number of different activities so we could learn all the lyrics and understand what they mean and then we sang it all together. But it was after the break I knew I had won because a number of the students came into the room singing the song and bringing in their friends from other classes and asking to watch it again.

I miss teaching adults. I am better with them. But this was a lovely moment.

Monday, 25 March 2019


Today I spent the afternoon in the green hills outside Florence teaching “have to/don’t have to” to some extremely soporific fourteen-year-olds. To be fair, I was borderline comatose as well, I even tried plying them and myself with espresso - and yes, they actually have such machines for the kids in these schools - but to no avail. The beginning of spring really brings out the nap in everyone.

Anyway at one point as I was leaning out of the classroom window, I heard a couple of birds chirping between some branches. And for a sliver of time, I found myself back on Solothurnerstrasse. Lying in bed, listening to the morning sparrows. Half aware of the silvery dawn light and the quietness I had found inside myself. 
I miss that quietness. That feeling of peace and breathless joy. 
As soon as I jolted back into the present, I had this deep yearning to back there all those spring time's ago ... 
when I realized I had just been.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Bee back

It's almost April. How can this be(e)?
How many stories have I missed telling? How many moments have escaped me?
Today is sunny, finally. I can feel my hands beginning to thaw. Perhaps that's why I have not written. Frozen hands. I like this excuse, I think I will adopt it and bring it home.
The bees are out humming so I best go and join them.
Welcome back to me. I hope I stick around.