“Why didn’t you join me in sleeping? It was quite fun!” (Maggie, 3rd of August 8:50 am, asking why I’d gotten up early)
I woke up yesterday morning thinking about the effects of lingering in a place full of sunshine and courtesy and general good humour.
I see my husband had similarly-induced thoughts, though not exactly along the same lines.
The first effects of my presence here are that I am gradually starting to relax, which makes me realise that I actually was still feeling vaguely under threat all the time, not the obvious one I knew about of always fearing I’d be doing or saying the wrong thing, but a subtler threat that if anything goes wrong, the kind of culture I was in will do nothing beyond the essential or the law-provided to help you.
Here, in Italy, in the March region specifically [one of the kindest regions, people- wise, Piemonte is a whole different pair of sleeves (literal translation of obscure but effective Italian saying) for example] you get the feeling that if anything does go wrong, actually, you’ll find that most people will do what they can to help you.
In some areas of Italy where I have lived (Brianza, Piemonte, in very different ways and for different reasons) this wasn’t true for me as I didn’t belong there (yet I had the feeling of possible help, from my own family and friends mainly, as long as I lived within a certain distance). But here, somehow, I feel the curiosity of the people (we do look foreign, my son D. feels he is constantly stared at, and won’t believe me when I tell him it must be because he’s cute) but I also have a pervading feeling of “It’s all ok, and if it shouldn’t be, we will help out”.
I’m not sure how to convey the warmth of that feeling to anybody who lives outside of it and cannot recognise it. I suppose some might feel it when they go visit their parents, or when they are having an especially nice evening out with friends they still relate to and know they are there to stay. Those who travel might feel it, physically, when the sun shines really hot after days and days of rain and gloom, and they feel renewed, filled with light and optimism.
When you’re in it, in this glow, whether you feel it in the presence of good friends, of good weather or good, healthy population, a population that SPEAKS to you when you are waiting at a hairdresser, or engages with your child, or that stops stock still over the whole beach and starts looking around for a lost child, not a single one of them thinking “someone else fill find her”, when you feel it, you wonder: “Why would anyone live anywhere else? Why would anybody live in any other way? How can you not strive and search and fight to have it, this glow, on a constant basis? Why, when you find out that that man who looks 65 is actually 85 and you KNOW that he is that way because of where he lives, because of that constant glow?”
The answer is that you forget, you dismiss, you reduce it to, when you feel it, “a nice day out”, “an evening that worked out nicely”.
My dear friend who popped over for a visit answered “because I am in Cambridge and that’s where you must come back to”. And it’s true. My friends have always been the source of that glow. A moment of complicity and complete understanding with my husband produces that glow. A long long walk with my dog does it, a gaze at my beautiful cats is a short but unfailingly effective burst.
It is never constant, not outside of a warm region. It is bits and bobs, here and there.
You feel it when you get that warmth bursting within you that says “I feel at home”. I am aware that my sources of that glow are more frequent that many people’s, once someone very dear to me said “But you go back to someone who LOVES you”. I did deliberately set my whole life out to get just that, it was a long journey and at no small cost. I fought and keep fighting for it every day.
And love in itself is not enough. Love is overrated. Love has to be conveyed so that you feel that glow, otherwise there are countless, infinite other ways to love that are glowless. Love needs to be, HAS to be, warmth.
Most relationships (and I mean it, MOST) are based on a momentary glow that might have lasted a day, a night, that comes back at certain moments, it might have lasted a holiday, a few years… The point is, most relationships are based on a temporary glow, and then countless other reasons for calling it love and companionship are found.
In some cases, some relationships called friendships, are based on a past glow that was so lasting and profound and deep and meaningful that you feel it every time you think of that person, and every time you are together. That can work. Although, have you noticed that with some friends you get to the point you are just not feeling it anymore? That’s when you know that something has shifted inside one another, and the glow is gone, or repudiated, or hid, or put aside.
Sometimes the memory of the glow that used to be is so strong, that the mere idea that you may not be able to produce that glow with that person ever again is so devastating and tragic that you put it out of your head, you refuse to think about it, to discuss it. You ignore its lack.
Sometimes, you just take it for granted. You say to yourself “Ah but we had it once why trouble yourself with it now? We don’t need it anymore, right?”. Wrong.
I have heard people, supposed wise people, telling me that I am an enthusiast, and am always searching for that high. I am, basically, constantly wanting to be falling in love. With a man, with a friend, with a landscape, with an idea, with a new pet.
Because of my lack of certainty about anything, I have even taken on board these suggestions, and tried to work them out and make myself be happy and “content with what I’ve got”, which seems to be the general idea of where wisdom (and happiness) lies.
But in my first few days here and feeling that glow around me feed me, slowly, with the occasional superburst given by a chat with my dad, a visiting cousin or dear friend, I say to myself “why on earth would anybody live differently?”. I say NO, I wasn’t wrong, I was always right.
One MUST strive for that glow in their life, that constant, enduring, everreaching, definite, sensational glow. Sensational because you feel it, in your every sense. NEVER accept, never make do, never compromise unless the compromise produces that glow, that warmth that comes from peace.
Only people who have known what it is to feel that glow constantly pervade them feel the cold clenching of their heart when they perceive its lack in the place where it used to be.
I have lived within cultures that were a hundred times stronger than this one, here in Italy. There aren’t many places in the world where this glow is indeed constant, and where it can almost be taken for granted, where you can feel the earth protecting you. England, with all its perks and privileges such as coolness, a great sense of humour and many other great things about it, does not possess a constant source of this glow.
England is fundamentally a cold, uncaring place, inhabited by people who are capable of great love and loyalty. If you’re lucky, you come across them. If not, well, you’re left to the wolves.
An African young man came up to me on the beach, carrying nothing, selling nothing. He said, “Signora: ho fame.” (Madam: I’m hungry.). He just stated it, clearly, a little forcibly, but no question, no begging, just a mere statement of fact.
My initial instinct, as usual when it’s young people and I am aware of drugs and alcohol and the refusal to take on any job and well, lots of stuff where you know that giving any money will cause them to spend it on alcohol or drugs, was to respond to the phrase “I need money”. So my initial response, to my own later shock and horror, was “Me too”. The man walked away, quite simply, and went to make his statement to other people. I was left with the continuation of my automatic response: “I too am without money, I also am using it only for food, I also struggle… and so on.”
But he’d gone. Then my brain started to function. The man didn’t say he wanted money. He said he was hungry. I know what it’s like to be on a beach full of holidaying people, and be really hungry.
I called the man’s attention, took him over to the bar, let him pick what he wanted (“Do you want another one for later?” He refused, “Just that one”, he said), went and got him a bottle of water, then told him about Caritas where he might find a meal a day, and the goodly friar who married my husband and me. He thanked me, ate, and we parted ways. But that wasn’t what gave me a buzz, after I contemplated the horrible mistake I had almost made. What gave me a buzz was that I saw him walking away with a swagger and a skip.