My mother is the only Italian I know of who travelled to Sweden in order to learn English (I’ll have to explain why in another post). That was back in 1950 and it was no mean feat for a 24 year-old unmarried woman to travel on her own all the way from Rome to Stockholm. The route went something like this: Rome-Florence-Milan-Paris-Berlin-Copenhagen by train, and, after taking the boat and once in Sweden, yet another train to Stockholm. She ended up marrying my father, having me, becoming my father’s widow and,when I was five years old, re-marrying, to a Scotsman this time — who was living in Chittagong, East Pakistan, while they were courting, and who moved to Karachi, West Pakistan, when they got married in 1961. My stepfather’s job also brought the family to Iran, Bangladesh, the Lebanon and Cyprus and back to Pakistan. A lot of relocating, some of which was due to local political turmoil. My mother, whose name is Agnese by the way, and who is now pushing 87, has had a very interesting life but, as with many an interesting life, it was not without complication and tragedy even.
All this to say that she is a tough old bird, with a fiery spark in her beautiful eyes and outlook, a person who can always hold her own. We all love her Italianissimo accent, the kind of Italian accent that often got its leg pulled in old Hollywood movies, and she has that Italian ‘flair’ and outspokenness that used to ruffle expat English memsahibs back in the days when the The British Women’s Institute (in Karachi, if you must know) really didn’t know what to make of her simply because she WAS Italian. Her opening line, very often, saw her embroiled in an intellectual throwing-the-gauntlet discussion ushered in by the phrase, “You can say what you want, but …” — and this when nobody else had even had a chance to form an opinion, one way or the other. “He is notta normal” was another staple summoning up of a person’s character. The one phrase that has stuck out as being THE most Agnese-defining, however, is the coy, “Do you vant me to be diplomatic or sinceeer?”. Many an unwary bystander has fallen prey to this apparently innocent question, and we who have witnessed her employ this stock phrase like a snake charmer’s flute are only too aware that it doesn’t really matter what a person would prefer (i.e. her being tactful or upfront) — she is going to tell it as it is, and that’s that.
There will be more tales of “Do you vant me to be diplomatic or sinceer” … but for now, I just want to drive the point home that I am my mother’s daughter. And that I am just not very good at lying. I can indeed be ‘diplomatic’ when push comes to shove, and I like to think that the art of discretion doesn’t entirely elude me, but … as Sir Walter Scott so rightly observed in his Marmion poem in 1808: “Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive”.
It is thus with great pleasure and great gratitude that I would like to thank Mikaela Bandini for inviting me to take part in a cultural tourist venture called “Adriamuse” (http://www.amitie.it/adriamuse/index1.htm) for which she was in charge of the digital marketing. I joined a troupe of film-makers, photographers, sketchers, and fellow food bloggers for a five-day on the road trip that took us to Forlimpopoli, Dozza, Salimberto, Cervia, Cesenatico, Parma, Felino, Langhirano, Cozzano. Only, this was ‘On the Road’ Emilia Romagna Style ! with food and wine and balsamic vinegar and parmesan and prosciutto and ice cream and folklore and tradition and museums invading our senses and our souls.
A far cry from Kerouac’s Beat Generation? Perhaps not. As John Clellon Holmes, fellow Beat Generation author and friend of Kerouac’s wrote* in 1952, “How to live seems much more crucial than why.” Our journey was likewise not unspiritual: the impressions we sought to understand and capture transcended mere reportage and resonated willy nilly with each individual’s idea of belief and belonging; this had the welcome effect of strengthening the group’s bonding despite four languages being spoken at the same time. The language of Travel does that to people, as Mikaela knows full well.
Mikaela is a powerhouse of inventiveness and practical realisations, herself always on the road but somehow energetically managing to drive fast-paced and far-reaching projects as well as raise a family. It is Mikaela who is behind http://www.urbanitaly.com, http://www.viaggidiarchitettura.it and cantforget.it. Hailing from South Africa and living in Matera in southern Italy, there is somehow much about Mikaela that reminds me of my mother. Do you vant me diplomatic or sinceer? Mikaela is all about style, travel and living … and we all stand to benefit from such qualities. Thank you Mikaela!
* “This is the Beat Generation”. The New York Times Sunday Magazine. (November 19, 1952)