I saw you

Time is always walking here and there. Never running, never stopping; just carrying on, really.

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Trees loom overhead, and we walk under a sunny sky, laughing. The vibrant colours dim now as the days pass. Memory blurs and fades. I reach out to feel the warmth of a human hand only to find the misty presence of a ticking clock, where you once filled that transparent void.



“I’m a wanderer at heart,” she said furtively, hands covering a wicked little laugh.

At the age of 71, Rosalee confessed to me that she’s kind of waiting for her (dear) husband to kick the bucket so she can spend her time travelling instead of holding down the fort.

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“I know what you mean,” I confessed. Not really about waiting for my beloved to die, but definitely about the travel bug. There is a whole little underground of women out there who are afraid to admit that they enjoy travelling alone, without constraints of any kind, alone to enjoy their own company.

“I went to Milan last week,” a middle aged friend confessed to me at the grocery store recently. “I mean, I could do what I wanted, eat where I wanted, linger where I wanted. It was such a change from having to accommodate everyone else….but please don’t tell anyone I said that. I love my family.”

Oh, I wouldn’t dare.

Of course she loves her family. The alternative of being entirely alone doesn’t appeal to any of us, really, but freedom does. I can relate to that.

I’ve got a collection of names of women from this podunk region who secretly travel … alone. If you lived here, you’d know why they have to be underground about it, and why their travels are always told in whispers and covert glances.

The world is not as tolerant as some would like to think, alas.

Glitter-covered mud

I woke up this morning to a message on my iPhone. Thérèse had lost her fight with cancer during the night, and was finally free of her pain. I went to get my coffee in a numb fog, remembering vaguely her friendly smile and endless, soggy kisses on Sunday mornings. I felt ashamed. I hadn’t gone to see her at the hospital, and her friendly warmth would not descend upon me in its quirky, almost overbearing way next week at church.

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 11.48.17 AMTwo hours later my phone beeped again, but this time it was a friend who’s brother-in-law had been found dead in his apartment. I was seated at a table bedecked with Christmas decorations, women chatting and laughing all around me, but I felt suddenly as in a vortex of gaiety, while others sat quietly in pain.

I turned the key, shrugging off my woollen wrap as I walked into my office just an hour after that, the reality of my own life strikingly present as I scrolled the 2015 calendar of events at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala. I needed to write an email to the organiser about which opera I wanted to attend, which event would most interest my readers. The gorgeous theatre and A-list program flashed across the screen in stark contrast to the rainy mud outside; glitz and glitter sprinkled over so much pain.

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I made my choice and sent the email, grateful for the connection and excited about the prospects, and yet…

Today I might rather be Charlotte Salomon than Poppea, singing a mournful song as I paint stories that are all too real.

The prince is calling

I just finished interviewing my second prince.

His secretary phoned me just before two o’clock to be sure I was ready, and I conference called him at three. The children had been lectured and begged to please not knock on the door during the interview, to please not start bickering in the hall, to please stay as quiet as church mice, and to man the front door.

You’d be surprised how tricky the front door can be. You get all settled into your chair, the children on their best behaviour (crossing their fingers for you upstairs), the phone in their pocket lest it ring, and the interview gets underway.

You’re prepared, asking relevant questions at appropriate times, following up comments with intuitive observations. You’re killing it. Just 20 minutes more and you’ll be out of the woods with a fine little recording that will pave your way to editorial excellence. Then the doorbell rings. It’s your neighbour in his overalls.

You don’t answer it since – well – you’ve got the prince on the line. You carry on.

The neighbour, who by now has realised that you’re not going to answer, waddles around to your office window, which looks out on the front street. On normal days, the view is ultra convenient, not to mention friendly, but you’d forgotten to pull the blinds, and now he sees you sitting perfectly still at your desk, ignoring him.

He moves around to look at your computer screen and sees that you’re talking to a man. He knocks on the window, and waves a letter in your face. You keep your gaze fixed on the prince, and try to not lose your train of thought – and hope he will go away. Thank goodness for the recording because by now you can’t hear a word he’s saying!

Finally, after staring (confused) at the side of your face for a very long time, your neighbour goes away. He rings the doorbell one last time, and gets fielded by your well-schooled children while you conclude the interview.

Life is like that. At least mine is. The serious focus of work melts and pools with the absurd normalcy of life. The complex loveliness of an olio existence. I’ll pad over to my neighbour’s house in the morning with an orange to make amends.

Little joys and Rap-sody

I am not difficult to please. Small things thrill me, and probably always will. Like when I scroll through my Contacts List to call my kids and see the names and personal numbers of princes flash by. Or when while cooking up a plate of omelettes for lunch, I answer my cell phone (crunched between shoulder and ear) and hear, “Hello, is this Francesca? This is BBC Radio 3 calling”. I will never cease to be amazed.

The little jigs and rap-dances I do in the kitchen with my daughter (who had her own victory today when “the cute boy” at school opened the door for her) are the stuff that joy is made of.

A woman lifetimes older than I once told me that the moments most precious to her were the smallest victories that brought the greatest thrill. We’re all in it together. I think it should show.

So for the little girl who saw handsome eyes smile into hers today at school, here’s a little dance. For the mom who’s been called by a major international radio station, voilà a little jig. For everyone out there who has had some small triumph today that brought elation rather than heartache, I’m rapping with my wooden spoon to that lovely, human song, and it’s just for you.

Quiet streets

The streets were oddly quiet near Piazza Venezia as I opened heavy doors into Santa Maria in Campitelli. Sounds of early music, intense and passionate, wrapped their warm fingers around my ears, and I sat beside singers whose voices pull and labour as the sweet, motionless motion of divine love.

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Where art begins

A few days ago I flew back to Rome and checked into the sweet little B&B where they know my name, and welcome me as a friend. Originally, I had planned the trip around a dangling airline ticket left over from that time I missed my plane and was forced to buy a new round trip ticket home. My four days very well could have been a mini-vacation, but by the time I had packed my bags to leave Switzerland, I had an intense feast of tours and meetings lined up, not the least of which was the gorgeous Farani Sartoria Teatrale in Rome’s crusty Trastevere district.

How I love Roma.

Just a short walk from the B&B, I entered the huge but unassuming doors to the workshop. Giuty, the costume maker I met in Torino a few months back, welcomed me with outstretched hands. I was late (address confusion) and the opera singer Raffaele Pe had just had a fitting.

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Farani has designed for some major films, such as the 1976 Fellini film, Casanova.DSC_0085

Giuty had pulled out key costumes for the tour, below Fellini’s The Clowns (1970).



And a costume worn by Richard Burton in Casanova.


At the visual starting point for luscious film, theatre and opera productions – seeing all that splendour reduced to its most basic and accessible form awakened something inside me. Great art starts with a drawing. Greatness in general begins with a thought in your own crusty district. And step by step, meticulously, it becomes something bigger than life.

And if I can apply that on days when I fear that my own work or life pale in comparison to others, if I can just concentrate, draw one line, pick one fabric, stitch one stitch every day, then my own life opera could be so grand.