It is 1:57am, in the wee hours of Sunday morning. In less than an hour ago, I was studying. Wait, let’s go back a bit further. A little over an hour ago, my friend Kelly in Melbourne sent me an sms. One sentence that gave me a kick – something along the lines of ‘waiting for the next blog post,’ and more so, a stronger kick, was from something along the lines of being inspired to collate and commence her own creative project.
So here I am, a part of the cycle that ebbs and flows from friend to friend, between relatives, partners, colleagues, acquaintances and people who pass each other on the street. That creative force that gets passed on like a baton – no, actually there is no comparison to anything concrete, it’s much more complex than that.
So, prior to receiving the sms from Kelly I was with Giuseppe and his friend Francesco, who was driving us back from a neighbouring town called Legnago. I was sitting in the back seat next to a few shopping bag; Giuseppe and Franceso babbling a concoction of Italian and dialect in the front seat.
I pulled out two copies of L’Alchemista from my shiny red handbag, separating the books based on the little black smudgy mark on one of the book jackets. I placed the marked one in a shopping bag and opened the spotless copy to the blank first page.
“Per Teresa,” I wrote, “Da Michelle xxoo”. I read it aloud to Giuseppe, making sure my Italian was correct, though I was 99.9 percent sure that it was. I had mentioned The Alchemist to Giuseppe’s mum … just one of my recent rants and affirmations about this book. Though Teresa had picked up my English copy, looked it over thoughtfully and asked me about it, without my intervention. The result: An Italian version of the book, with “Per Teresa, Da Michelle xxoo” written on the first page.
The other copy is for me, to read a story I know well in English, in Italian; a good place to start.
We bought the copies in Legnago, (pronounced Len – niar – go,) a town some twenty minutes drive from our home. This town was mentioned once already to us this week… that we should go and shop there, so when Francesco suggested it for the second time it seemed like the perfect way to spend the day.
A town picturesque in an organized way, clean and straight – well I saw it this way because I was constantly scanning for vertical surface areas to sticky-tape flyers about my English Tutoring and Gep’s PC repairs – and found only one. This isolated area had a ‘Vietato…’ something or other sign, meaning ‘Do not post advertisements or anything here…’ but since there were four or so other posters we thought we’d chance it.
Every other shop window, wall and street-light was pristine, senza (‘without’) posters, flyers, stickers or anything that looked remotely out of place. The only surface area that seemed unruly and crooked was the footpaths – paved stone that seemed older than the nearby buildings, ( I asked Giuseppe as one of my heels slanted abruptly and I temporarily lost my footing, “How old are these footpaths?” pondering at least two hundred whilst Giuseppe answered, “Very old…”)
As we approached a small, sectioned-off area of ruins, (old paved bridges over pebbles, painting an image of water passing through here once upon a time,) music – drums to be more precise, filled the atmosphere and we automatically moved closer to it.
There was a merry-go-round, white with gold trim and horses and the odd tea-cup moving round and round to a different tune. Enchanting.
We walked past it.
A small crowd gathered and clapped to the rhythm as some street performers danced and played percussion. As we moved closer still, it appeared to be more than a street performance, as I viewed posters, (no not on walls or shop windows of course, but fastened to temporary stands,) and a trestle table with pamphlets and information.
The posters said, loud and strong, “NO-ONE IN THIS COUNTRY IS A ‘STRANIERI”.
Of course, this particular statement was completely in Italian, but that is how I read it. The only word that I cannot translate is STRANIERI.
Because I hate that word.
This word is used for migrants in Italy. Therefore, I am a stranieri… though I haven’t heard anyone call me that.
A week or two ago, Giuseppe, Valentino and I were taking a walk through the park at the lake near our house. We walked casually past a cluster of men, no more than three or four, sitting at a bench. It seemed like they were drinking alcohol, their voices boisterous and slouches exaggerated.
They called out to us with friendly greetings. Giuseppe answered politely before one of them added the question, in Italian: “Are you from Morocco?” Giuseppe and I exchanged blank expressions and Giuseppe answered, “No…” his new expression with a hint of annoyance as he had more of an idea of where this was leading.
The cluster man’s reply was in Italian, but my mind’s instant translator voiced something along the lines of “Good, it’s about time there’s some Italians around here…”
And with additional scrutiny, my expression now appalled and my stomach churning, the reply sounded to me something like “I hate people from Morocco.”
This was the extreme comment among many that I’ve heard since arriving here… extreme, most probably because it was alcohol-fuelled; but that doesn’t tone it down or make it anything less than it is.
And so, I listened to the poster in the centre of Legnago and I smiled and my heart swelled and smiled too. It forgot all about the insensitive, ignorant, insulting comments and instead, started dreaming up ideas and inspirations.
I thought about it in the car as I closed L’Alchemista and clicked the lid back on my pen.
“Do you remember exactly what it said on that poster, word for word?” I asked Giuseppe, who replied no but he nodded and listened well as I told him how I want to help.
Because now I know how to help myself not be bothered by any thoughtless remark.
We all live in different rooms, different homes – different houses. Every family has different traditions, rules, qualities and quirks. We all live in different streets. Every town is different to the next. Every region is different. Italy is different. The world is different.
If unity via sameness is what some people need, then so be it. We are all stranieri. Strano. Strange.