Monday 20 May 2013

London has no radishes

Sometimes wires get crossed.

In the days of manual switchboards, no doubt wires were crossed with comic and compromising consequences.  But for all our digital sophistication we are not immune from ad hoc communication muddle.

Take my dinner party the other night: Cristian was talking about the nature of London society.  When he came to a point he couldn’t express in English he spoke to me in Italian.  The longer I live outside Italy the more I forget, but feeling an obligation to translate rather than interpret, I pronounced enigmatically to the table: “London has no radishes”.   The rest of the party stared blankly.  “Radishes?” one guest finally asked.  “I think so” I said with diminishing confidence.  “Seriously, radishes?” another guest challenged.  Assessing collective bemusement, Cristian spoke to me further in Italian, fleshing out his idea.  “OH” I said as the penny dropped.  “He means ROOTS not radishes… he’s saying many people who live in London have moved from elsewhere and therefore don’t have roots in London”. 

When I told Cristian in Italian I’d mistaken radicio for radicchio, and then to further complicate matters had confused Italian chicory for ravanello (the correct translation for radish)… he laughed the loudest.  Just goes to show what a difference one little leaf or one little ‘ch’ can make!

Frankly that was double-crossed wires; the reason for which might have been troppo vino.

Clearly my brain is overloaded after recently completing an intensive course in the UK’s favoured Project Management methodology: Prince 2.   The day before this dinner party I spent almost entirely on the sofa – study, classes, and daily 6am bootcamps having caught up with me.  (Ok, yes, and one late night celebrating.)  So when my friend Kate rang to say she was approaching my house in the car and suggested picking me up to take me back to her house for dinner, then to a movie, after which she would drop me back home… it was the most tranquil Saturday-night-out I could imagine.  So I agreed to come down stairs and “await my chariot” while making no effort whatsoever to change clothes or spruce myself up.  Kate’s family greeted me warmly and it was a delightful evening with three-year-old Scarlett saying at regular intervals “I love you Julie”.   Can’t beat that for adorable.

After dinner Kate and I ventured to the cinema; door to door in a car, which after leaving various cars behind in Australia and Italy and travelling in London now on foot or public transport, was a luxury.  As we stood in a queue to collect the tickets Kate had pre-booked, she mentioned she didn’t remember much about Part 2.  I recounted the near-to-final scene when Robert Downey Jr is up on the Tower Bridge scaffolding talking to his nemesis and love-interest, the pretty actress, Rachel McAdams, who is glamorously dressed in period costume complete with bows and bustle etc.  Kate’s expression told me she was none the wiser and a teenage girl behind us in the queue squinted at me oddly.  Yet as the southern English often look at me strangely for doing things like chatting to strangers on trains, I thought nothing more about it. 

We grabbed the tickets quickly and moved into the cinema as the feature was about to start.  My first thought as we chose a seat was “why isn’t it full on a Saturday night when the series is so popular?”  Soon we’re into it anyway and Mr Downey is in usual good form.  He’s such a fabulous actor.  Sexy too.  After some minutes, though, it occurs to me he isn’t very English.  And where is Dr Watson I wonder?  Not to worry, he’ll turn up.  Then again, isn’t this out of period?  The costumes and setting appear modern, probably American.  And when did Gwyneth Paltrow join the cast?  About ten minutes into the film I’m thinking: “what the hell are those metal suits and robots all about?”  Only after these questions have pushed their way through my foggy, exhausted brain does it dawn on me that my wires are entirely crossed.  This is not Sherlock Holmes 3.  This is Iron Man 3.  Drrr. 

Between giggles and sighs of recognition I whisper to Kate: “I am a complete idiot (or words to that effect)… when I heard you say Robert Downey Jr and Part 3 my mind jumped to the series I know and I didn’t register another thing about it.  I’ve never seen Iron Man before. I thought we were coming to Sherlock Holmes and have been expecting Jude Law.”

Kate says she was surprised I’d been so keen to see a boy’s movie, when it hadn’t been what she’d have expected me to like… adding “that’s why you were talking about Tower Bridge and bustles…”.  Too funny.

This gave us both quite a laugh, of course, and as it turns out crossed wires are sometimes advantageous – a ‘don’t have to think’ movie exactly what the Dr ordered and I thoroughly enjoyed Iron Man 3.

(I only hope my concentration in the final exam last Friday was significantly more refined; for I have to wait some weeks to receive the results.)

Then today I jumped online to check out the stats for my blogs.  Being busy I hadn’t looked for a couple of weeks, so was interested to find lots of readers from new countries on   “Very nice” I thought.  “Though how did people in Pakistan, Argentina, Brazil, Hungary, India and Romania find me all of a sudden?”   Readership had also gone up noticeably in Russia and Sweden.   

I was about to put it down to random luck and log off, when I saw traffic had been coming via something called ‘top blog stories’.   “How lovely… someone must have recommended or ‘liked’ my blog on another site”.  I felt chuffed.  So of course I clicked on the link to find out what they’d said about my writing.  Well, talk about crossed- wires… I found myself on a porn site. 

It wasn’t overly explicit but it was definitely dodgy.  “How the hell did that happen?”  I wondered.  So I exited and typed the URL again, checking to see if I’d made a mistake.  Sure enough, I found myself on another porn site.  Or at least the opening page had different images.

“What the &*^#?  What does it mean?”  

Suddenly fears about my blog or, worse, my laptop, being hacked… sent me scurrying quickly away.  I’ll have to seek answers from someone with superior IT knowledge, and until then leave it well alone.

Meanwhile it’s ironic my last post on ‘There’s Always a Story’ called Holiday of Obligation talked about Jesus.  For if people from those countries confused  with another site then they too got more than they bargained for!

So maybe I’ll have the last laugh.  Time will tell.  I’m amused anyway about crossed wires and pondering the many scenarios (and movie scripts) which have and could be constructed around such confusion. 

All it takes to start is a radish.



Thursday 9 May 2013

Holiday of Obligation

It would seem I’m a hopeless evangelist. 

“Just as well” you might say.  Yet God (or the Bible) did tell us not to hide our light under a bushel.  I think, however, that I grew up believing ‘light’ equated with ‘talent’… so I’ve done my best to stand in a spotlight. 

Seriously, though, I had to laugh yesterday when one of my closest friends said “Mullins, what’s a Holiday of Obligation?”   I’d been referring to the Feast of the Ascension… you know, when Our Lord went back to Heaven…  and falling on May 9th in 2013 it also happens to be my sister Alison’s birthday.  No doubt revealing the depth of my Irish heritage, I had said to my friend, Hayley, something like “I can’t come out drinking tomorrow until after Mass because it’s a Holy Day of Obligation”.  Actually I’m not sure if, strictly speaking, it is anymore as they keep changing the rules, but it seems an important day to go to church – celebrating Jesus and His job well done and all that.

Now apart from “what’s a Holiday of Obligation” giving me good reason to laugh, it got me thinking.  Is that perhaps what the church actually means?  Are we supposed to stop and have a holiday from our cares and woes and concentrate on more uplifting things?  Well, you can say what you like about Italian politics (there’s a lot to say) and the Vatican (ditto) but it’s hard to find a country with as many lovely, unexpected holidays as there are in Italy.  In the UK we hang out for the May Day holiday for six months of a long winter.  There is another public holiday coming up soon but then it’s ages before we get another.  It’s all work, work, work, for those in employment – the Goldilocks balance of “just right”… as in “just enough work”… hard to find. 

But in Italy – oh, it’s wonderful.  There’s a holiday and festival every week.  Think of any Saint you can name and they will be the Patron of some town in Italy for which there must be an annual holiday (at least in that location).  Add to that list the towns and Saints you’ve never heard of so the list goes on and on.  Then add regular ‘Holidays of Obligation’… which believers and non-believers seize as a natural right… special church calendar events like Corpus Christi… and ad-hoc celebrations like VE Day, commemoration of the unification of Italy under King Vittorio Emanuele in 1860, the Medici did this or that day, the victory of this or that battle, and self-styled holidays after a big football win… and it makes running a business in Italy fairly challenging.  Everyone else loves it; as unsurprisingly most fall in the nine warmest months of the year.  All that fabulous food and wine to taste in each little town… all those medieval festivals where people dress up and I can pretend I’m at the theatre… and sunshine and blue skies and the colours and smells of Italy which in Tuscany and Umbria are as rich as it gets… and you can see why I fell in love with it. 

Then when I made a good friend in Alessandro, he had a great appetite for country festivals so we’d go together which really enhanced the fun – sometimes even up hill and over dale on a motor bike, with me hanging on for dear life and squeezing him around the waist to slow down which really annoyed him (apparently annoys any Italian alpha male behind any kind of steering-wheel).

Lovely memories; things I definitely plan to do again and again if all goes to plan. 

Meanwhile, in whatever country you live, I think Holy Days and Holidays of Obligation are a fine thing.  They are both about relaxing, about getting down to the nuts and bolts, about remembering (and celebrating) what is important to you, what is important to the community and your place in it.  And those questions are important for the secular and the sacred.  They nourish us for the next stage.

Nevertheless it would appear I am a lousy evangelist if I haven’t told my great friend about the importance of Jesus’ Ascension.   She says I talk to God a lot… out loud apparently, something like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof… yes, sorry, there is always a theatrical reference… but I think that just means I’m eccentric (hopefully in a good way).  Maybe it means I’m crazy too but I don’t think it gives me brownie points for ‘not hiding my light under a bushel’. 

So to that end I’ll just say: I am Catholic.  But when it comes down to it I am far less attached to being Catholic or Protestant, Methodist or Evangelical, Roman or Orthodox than I am simply to being Christian.  At the Royal Opera House last night watching Verdi’s Don Carlo I was horrified at the antics (and blood-bath) the King of Spain got up to in the name of ‘Defender of the Faith’.  And don’t get me started on the Spanish Inquisition.  In Ireland recently I was as deeply moved by stories of persecution of Catholics as I was by tales of dreadful Protestant suffering.  Most of it was/is politics and has little to do with Jesus.  Indeed so often our claims to ‘God on our side’ are a dreadful distortion.  For if God is God isn’t He on everyone’s side – the ultimate fair judge?!

Anyway I think Jesus is the kind of guy, purely looked at in His own right, that anyone would be happy to know.  I happen to also believe He was the Son of God, that He loves us more than we can imagine, and that he came to earth to save us before ‘ascending’ to Heaven to get the party ready for when we return to Him. 

I just wish we wouldn’t fight about all the other stuff that goes on around Him.  He’s big enough to be shared – even bigger than the most charismatic, popular, wise and loving person you've ever met – it’s we mortals who get all hot and bothered about ‘who knows Him best’... ‘who understands His purpose best’.  

So: happy Feast of the Ascension Jesus!  I’m relying on that invitation to Heaven.  There are people I need to see, and as much as I like warm temperatures I’m not keen on saunas.  Have a wonderful Holiday of Obligation everyone.