Skiing in a time of Global Warming

Skiing in a time of Global Warming

I am just back from a week spent over Christmas in Passo Tonale, one of the highest skiing resort villages in the Adamello region of Italy, a mountain pass with a glacier stretching up to the dizzy heights of 3,600 metres. It was a wonderful holiday with plenty of skiing even though the temperatures on some days reached 8 degrees in the sun, with nighttime temperatures barely dipping below zero.

Snow-making machines worked day and night on the pistes which turned blue with ice patches by night, transforming to snow, then slush by mid afternoon. Several pathways leading skiers from one piste to another melted during the week, necessitating a long ski downhill to lower chairlifts carrying skiers over brown grassland, green firs and grey tarmac roads up to higher climes.  We gondola’d up to the glacier, negotiating the black piste down through clouds of ice chippings that cut our faces raw; snow-makers operating at high latitude.

The children frowned when they saw the brown grass strips between icbrowne and snow patches, the artificial nursery and red slopes in the valley covered with a fake, white carpet. ‘We hate global warming’ they yelled, mouths turning down.  Instead, living in denial, I tell myself this is only a blip, that the unseasonably warm December weather across Europe with clear skies and sunshine, is something of an anomaly, even as I know it is not true.  If anything shows us that it is too hot, it is the mountain weather, with glaciers receding, snowfall less plentiful and the increasing use of snow-makers.

signI lament the decisions the world made in 2016; the Trump takeover that threatens the Paris Agreement, even as I hope that the Agreement will hold, and will make a difference.  China, Brazil and India continue to grow apace, demanding air conditioners, increasing their electricity, gas and oil consumption to European levels, even as I know I am a European hypocrite.  For I presently rent a large house that requires high gas consumption for heating, (it is not insulated), I drive my car every day, and I take holidays on airplanes.  I hope for a miracle,  a grand invention to reverse this climate trend, even as I know there are none, especially in the face of ‘the economy, stupid’.

My New Year Resolution then, is to try harder, to take more trains, to recycle, reuse and stop buying plastic items (bags, bottles, packaging, cutlery and plates) forever, to lobby for environmentally friendly proposals in my work place and my children’s school.  In my own small way, I will try to make a difference.  Imagine if everyone did?

thumbnail_disobedient_cover%20draft%206My book ‘The Disobedient Wife’ was published with Cinnamon Press in 2015.

Check it out here

 

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The Lake: Peaceful, Melancholic, a Reflection of Ourselves

The Lake: Peaceful, Melancholic, a Reflection of Ourselves

This week my parents visited, and we made many long walks through valleys of oak woods and along rolling hill ridges, following scenic parts of the Francigena Pilgrimage near my home, a long, difficult route that starts at Canterbury Cathedral in the UK, taking the traveler pilgrim via France and Switzerland all the way to the Vatican in Rome.  I was struck by how difficult the path is to follow now, with trees blown down across pathways, faded signs and rushing streams to cross using makeshift bridges of rotted branches.  This pilgrimage is not as popular as the Way of St James to Santiago de Compostela, lacking facilities and forcing pilgrims to camp in the open, a true challenge for the devout. After these walks we drove to the nearby Lake Bracciano.

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Lake Bracciano: A Painting by Me. (c) Annika Milisic-Stanley

Mother loves the lake, named after a castle-topped town; a deep, blue volcanic crater lake teeming with perch, eels and pike.  Kingfishers give us flashes of shiny emerald feather and white herons search the shore for worms and tiddlers.  The lake shined azure blue today, last week golden under a strong sun, or pastel peach through cloud reflections, the edges melting into hazy hills and a lazy sky.  Every new costume evokes a painting I have painted, or a mood I have felt. The sight of the gently lapping water is always cathartic, comforting my eyes, a symbolic eyewash. lake

Yet, for some, the lake is melancholic in the eerie quiet and calm, mirror-like surface.  On windy days, white caps smash in onto black sand, dragging out the driftwood and human detritus, spewing back lake grasses that dry, brittle and white, a pale dunes of thatch.  People swim near the shore, frightened of the depths in the centre, imagining limits at the very edge of endurance, deep enough to outdo life.  I wonder about this when I see her, lady lake, metaphor for all the ways we take an innocent thing and transform it with the psyche, our memories and preconceptions.  This human disability that stops us from shutting down our inner self to simply let the lake be.

Have a good week!

The Disobedient Wife is my debut novel, published with Cinnamon Press in 2015, winner of best book 2014, and RBRT Contemporary Fiction 2016 prizes.

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Poetry – A Misunderstood Medium.

Poetry – A Misunderstood Medium.

Last night I drove into Rome to go to the Keats Shelley Museum in Piazza de Spagna (Spanish Steps) to listen to a fellow Cinnamon Press author, Will Kemp, read from his new book, out in October 2016: ‘The Painters Who Studied Clouds’.

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I was not sure what to expect.  My love of Keats aside, I tend to view poetry as the pretentious intellectual’s realm, imagining reams of stuffy, patronizing academics with nicotine-stained teeth pontificating into straggly beards while adoring students gaze on in adoration.  Either that or I picture an elderly, bow-tied, cordoroy-clad gent with wandering hands and a love of plus fours and spotted dick (a throwback from his school days at Harrow or Rugby).

Will Kemp dispelled these stereotypes, appealing to his audience to embrace poetry (once again,) as part of popular culture.  ‘If it is not accessible, I don’t want to write it.’ he said.  ‘Poetry should not be hard work, either to write, nor to listen to.’  By this, of course, he is not demeaning the craft, nor the effort he makes to write his poems – by his own admission – with a full time job, he jots down notes but only manages to submerge himself on holiday, thus taking ten years to write a collection.  elvis-presleyNo, what he meant is that poetry should entertain, educate and inspire without alienating the audience, and for inspiration, he drew on popular culture itself – sport, Greek mythology, Elvis Presley.   His muses are Bill Collins and Carol Ann Duffy.

Before his arrival, I exchanged emails with him, offering to help garner support for his event with online reminders, posters, and gather the Rome Anglo-Expat community together as a fellow author at Cinnamon Press.  He kindly read my book, The Disobedient Wife, and to our mutual relief, enjoyed it, writing ;

“I find it difficult to lie or be nice when it comes to writing: so much of it is so plain dull or boring, and yet as writers we owe each other the truth. As with Aufidius watching Coriolanus (“O mother, mother? What have you done?” Viii) “I was mov’d withal” by your book which sustained my interest throughout. 

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“I loved the way you handled perspective: we start off with a type of limited omniscience, ie Nargis’s view plus Harriet’s journal, but then get selective views from others (most noticeably Poulod’s view of “That black-eyed bitch and her little bastards”)…  this seemed to me a bold move and masterfully handled, since such secondary perspectives cannot be introduced too early (lest they might/would throw the reader) or too late (lest the plot is weakened by the extra dimension they bring to bear on the final outcome)…”

And:
“It is impossible not to like the central character with her world weary view and plain realism, and to feel for her… (sic).  I loved the way you juxtaposed her (polite) words with her (contrary/ real) thoughts eg. to Poulod’s mother re: the latter’s business idea: “Alright, I will think about it”.  I would rather have a fat, red cockroach as a business partner than this idiot.”
So… back to the reading.  I certainly I did not expect this dapper, cheery man with a flowery shirt and a faint Yorkshire accent to begin with a “Man’s Poem” about James Bond.  I did not expect the wry humour in the prose, the phases spun together with deceptive simplicity, as though finished in a day.  His poems reminded me of abstract paintings, another misunderstood art form that is extremely hard to do well and nearly impossible to teach.  It takes years of dedicated practice, or as he said, an electric energy of spontaneous creation that rarely works so well as dedicated graft.
 romanticsAs his final reading came to a close, we all left the comfortable, chestnut and rosewood library used by the Western World’s most famous Romantics, to go to a bar for drinks and talk to midnight.
From now on, poetry will be my second best friend, the first being, of course, the wonderful novel.
Will’s anthology will be available in October to buy.  To pre-order ‘The Painters Who Studied Clouds’, click here

 

 

 

 

The Cultural Identity of a Character

credit: www.blackwomenhaveitgoingon.wordpress.com
credit: http://www.blackwomenhaveitgoingon.wordpress.com Annette Harrison

I am working on my second novel now, with a working title: Refugee Queen.

This book is set in Eastern Africa and Europe (the UK and Italy) and centres on the journey of survival/ coming of age of a multi-ethnic refugee girl.  As with the first, it is an international novel, set in several countries.  It’s more ambitious than The Disobedient Wife as I change setting and characters frequently.  She escapes civil war, then sexual bondage to a pimp in Nairobi.  Later she has to survive life in the camp, a refugee ‘haven’ where her life is in danger.  She is another survivor who prevails; the kind of person I love to write about.

As with the first book, I had to think long and hard about the nationality of the person with which the protagonist has her main relationship.  In the Disobedient Wife, I chose to make the husband of my British Expatriate character Belgian.  Partly because I adore the french language, but also because I wanted him to have certain turns of phrase and personality traits suitable to the misogyny of an older husband with a trophy wife: A masculine, sexy Poirot, if you will.

In this second book, I was initially attracted to the idea that the main love interest for the girl should be a fellow exile:  Rootless and unable to return to his country, either through fear or because of a deep sense of mistrust in his homeland.  I imagined him as an Iranian Communist, a person with a deep sense of lacking, who misses the sights and smells of a childhood gone forever because the Iran of the 1960s and 70s has ceased to be.

I wrote the passages of their courtship but realised the idea of an Iranian man in a position of authority, however well traveled and educated, falling in love with a woman like her, was rare to the point of unrealistic (or vice versa).  I searched my memory to think of a single example of a Persian-African couple in my many years abroad.  I do not why it is so rare, whether it is cultural barriers or not.  I work with West African men and Afghan/ Pakistani/ Iranian men at a refugee centre in Rome.  They rarely mix as friends, even though they have much in common:  English/ Italian as a communicating language; religion (many of the West Africans are Muslim); and, their present situation and living conditions as migrants in Italy.  Even with so many things in common, disagreements and misunderstandings are a daily reality and we employ ‘peacemakers’ to negotiate the cultural divide.  I noticed this in the classroom too, as clear as a bass relief.  Yet Iran does, in fact, have an African origin community of Afro-Iranians, the descendants of Zanj slaves brought to Persia to do domestic labour from Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique.  I could not think of a single example of such a couple from all my years working in the region however, so it simply made no sense to me.  Write what you know, or at least, what you have experienced.

Instead, I have made him a Southern Italian, with an Iranian, Communist revolutionary ex-wife.  I think that many Italian men in authority would risk all for love, they are romantic, they like to bend the rules, as though they are only there for the bending.  So no, he is not himself an exile, nor does he suffer the great Lack that I described, but it is enough that he understands the dilemma of exile, rather as I do, married to a Bosnian for nearly twenty years.  An Italian-Rwandan marriage makes perfect sense in my mind.  Most Italian men adore beautiful dark women and treat them reverently, like living Goddesses, though of course, this can take the form of sexual harassment at times, especially as there are many trafficked Nigerian girls lining the streets of Rome’s outskirts.  I know many happy interracial couples here and I see examples before me every day.

Perhaps it is a cop out, to accept the negative aspects of a reality many would rather gloss over and then to change my characters to fit.  Making realistic decisions about ‘my people’ is important to me as a writer though.  They are mine to make as they are my creation, but still, I agonize over the detail.  I have no political motives with my writing, I just want a good story.  The way I figure it, someone else with greater knowledge than mine can explore the Iranian-African love affair.  I need it to make sense, to have continuity, and though the characters are all figments of an overactive imagination, my readers need to believe in them as much as I do.

For more on being a black girl in Rome, check out this fantastic short film by Pizzoli Media: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AznUhel2LqQ&feature=youtu.be