Small State Blues

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No visual element could be a better match for the feeling I’m trying to convey than a screenshot from that scene in Dagur Kári’s film Nói Albínói, where the main character and a girl break into a museum at night. They stop to stare at a world map hanging from the wall, and he says: “Look at Iceland. It’s like a spit”.

While that quote refers to a sense of geographic and social isolation, and I don’t live in such a remote place, I see a similarity between that and the state of mind of those living in a small country that no one takes seriously, and of which many people go as far as questioning the existence.

I couldn’t find a decent picture of that scene, but I found other images that talk to me. Here’s to my life in the Banana Republic.

SMALL STATE BLUES

Once on O’Connell I was asked by a passerby
why I was wasting my time in that shithole.
He should have seen where I come from.
My way home is marked by
a mountain that looks like a ship
that won’t sail anywhere
for it’s stuck in the past.

Before you start the climb
a sing at the base of it reads:
“INSTRUCTIONS FOR LIVING –
Sell your vote to a feckless politician
and secure a job in the public administration.
Then despise me,
because I’m left behind”.

You say our rulers have ruined the country,
and ask: don’t they care for the kids?
Oh, they certainly do.
They’ve already robbed enough
to keep their children and grandchildren
and even their offspring
mollycoddled and spoiled.

I won’t expose the flag on Foundation Day
to pretend that I’m faithful to some evil pact.
Their patriotic blabber stinks like cadaver breath.
And indeed they’re trying to revive a corpse,
because this place they call homeland
has no future.

No one cares for a spit in the ocean.
You’d better buy yourself
a one way ticket
to anywhere.

This Hideous Hair

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I have never had problems accepting my own body. I was OK with it, even as a teenager. There is only one feature I’ve never been pleased with: my hair.

Hair is important in our appearance, because it frames our face. Bad hair can make a pretty face look insignificant. if the face is just passable, it will make it look ugly. Hair that’s not looked after will give others the idea of a lazy, slovenly person. But sometimes, care is not enough. If you have exceptionally thin hair and suffer from seborrheic dermatitis, like me, washing your hair everyday might not be a good idea. It will crackle with static electricity if you wash it too often, especially on the lenghts, while roots will turn greasy again in a matter of hours. Also, thin hair tends to look flat, and wavy hair will curl at the slightest hint of humidity in the air. On the other hand, if you try to tame it by using conditioner or gel or anything of the sort, it will perhaps gain some volume and stay straight where you need it to be straight, but again, this will give greasiness a boost.

A combination of impossible hair type and my inability to follow styling tips properly lead me to a decision I’d never thought I’d take: I resolved to go to the hairdresser once a week. This was months ago, when I still had faith in hairdresser as a category of skilled artisans. I lasted the entire winter, but then I gave up again. I’m disappointed and fed up.

There was a time when you went to the hairdresser to have your hair done, and they did just that. In the end, you paid for the service and left, with a brand new style to show off in the evening. You had to endure some gossip and was forced to take part in the small talk for the sake of politeness, but that was fine even with a grumpy person like me. I held on, thinking about the final outcome that would have made me look good.

Today, the hairdresser became a hair stylist. It is not about cutting or styling hair any more. Everytime I sit on that chair, I find myself in a whirlwind of unwanted pseudomedical tips, pushy marketing which aims at selling me expensive but uneffective products supposed to make my seborrhea disappear (I’ve tried dozens of those lotions, wasted my money and still have the dandruff), invitations to courses and conferences with a trichologist or some specialist in alternative medicine or omeopathy, and the usual annoying tampering question: “Do you want an anti-dandruff shampoo? A fragile hair shampoo? A wahatever shampoo?” while my head is being washed, and I keep saying “No, I’ll just go for a regular one”, but they keep insisting and in the end they even want to sell me a bottle to take home.

I really don’t get it. Why do they have to charge me separately for the shampoo or conditioner or hairspray used during the session, when I’ve already payed for the washing and styling? As if you could wash someone’s hair without a cleaning agent! And in 99% of cases they need at least a bit of spray or wax or whatever for the finishing touches, so why charge for that? It should be included, as it has always been! I don’t pay an extra fee for salt or oil when I go to the restaurant!

Their real business is not the service they offer anymore. The main source of income is probably selling those products. I guess they also get provisions on them. They’re often so absorbed by their marketing and self-promotion that they get distracted and do a sloppy job. Sometimes they take too many bookings at the same time to squeeze even more money and the result is that I go home after several hours, late for my appointments, with a messy head and a brain full of rubbish underneath. As a conclusion, I spent a lot of money, wasted too much time, suffered psycological pressure and I’m not even happy with the result. Where is my hairdo?

I’ve changed numberless hair salons over the years. Will I ever find an “old school” hairdresser who remembers what her job is about?

 

Written in response to Writing 101, Day Nineteen: Don’t Stop the Rockin’

Lost Things that Haunt Me: that Key

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On my way back from work yesterday I stopped to buy some office supplies. Before entering the shop I stretched my arm to lock the car, and clumsily dropped the key. I held my breath: the key was balancing dangerously on a steel grating.

I kneeled down very carefully to pick it up. That was a narrow escape: I was a few inches away from losing the key to my car and being left without means of transport. Stuck for hours in a stationery store. Every office clerk dream  – or nightmare?

Nothing has happened. However, I’d like to congratulate the genius who first conceived and designed parking lots on ventilation gratings. What was he thinking? Is this what they teach at Construction Engineering?

I dread losing things. It has little to do with economic value. Be it either something that can’t be replaced, something that has been stolen or not given back, or something you need right now, it is a stressful experience.

 

Written in response to Writing 101, Day Sixteen: Serial Killer III

Let’s All Go Bilingual

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Two years ago I attended evening school to learn something I’d actually be entitled to teach. I have a degree in Foreign Languages, but German was not my major. After many years of not using it, I had forgotten almost everything. That’s what happens with languages: they rust. So, going to a beginner’s class to refresh my memory seemed a good idea.

It turned out to be a good way of practising, and also good fun. The other participants were as motivated as me, and receptive. In the end, some of us considered taking the class again if advanced class was to be activated the next year. Did they plan level 2? Forget it. They canceled German altogether. They called every course off except for English and Russian. The latter is because we get buses of Russian tourists coming here on a shopping holiday. Don’t ask me why they travel such a long way to a visit few crappy shops or an ugly “outlet” selling faulty items from last year’s clothing collections in a nondescript industrial estate: I have no clue.

What was the problem with that German class? Lack of interest? They’ll never know, since they didn’t even allow people to apply. Actually we called the school to complain, so now they know. Lack of money? Teachers can’t be paid? They could raise fees. They were so low because the evening school is financed by the State: even if doubled, they’d still be relatively cheap. And so what, you may ask: courses are cancelled every day. But there’s something illogical in doing this now and here. I can’t understand what the government is trying to do.

A short time before I sat in my old high school desk again with other challenge loving adults, the Republic of Bananas suddenly woke up one morning to find itself outdated, pathetic, a bad place for investing and an undesirable business partner. Most importantly, it was under embargo by its bigger neighbour. So, it decided to bypass it and deal directly with other countries. In order to do that, the ruling class announced its will to turn it into a bilingual country.

There are many countries in the world that have their own indigenous language plus an official language, i.e. English or French; but they’re normally ex-colonies, or have a minority among its population that speaks another language. The Republic of Bananas is none of the above: completely mono-lingual, mono-race and mono-brain, and independent since the eve of time. However, the delirious dream of bilingualism must become true – and which better way than cancelling language classes?

Now, such an ambition sounds ridiculous for a country whose heads of state are so blatantly ignorant that they are ashamed to speak in public. Twice a year state TV airs their speech to the nation, but their accent is so strong, their grammar so poor and their presentation skills so non-existent, that it has to be read by a voice over while a static photo of them is shown in the background. Local speakers, though having a decent pronunciation because they took elocution lessons, read like schoolboys delivering a poem; but still, it’s a progress. Most members of establishment, when interviewed, speak a mix of standard language and dialect, and they don’t even realize they’re making a fool of themselves.

In this exciting cultural environment, reactions to me taking a German class (from people who don’t know I already speak it) went from: “German is useless in business! you only use English!”, to: “Why do you even want to learn German?”- as if I had said I was going to open a funeral home.

It doesn’t matter that compulsory learning of the English language starting from elementary school was introduced in the Republic of Bananas since the mid-eighties –  which means that every citizen under 40 can already speak English, and shouldn’t need more courses. It doesn’t matter that people become polyglot when they use the second language everyday, at least when talking to outsiders, and not when it’s only used in official documents.

It doesn’t matter that the purpose of this modernization through “bilingualism” was to ease communication and procedures and circumvent import-export bureaucracy so that we can do business with foreign countries in general, and not the UK and USA only. It doesn’t matter that Germany is the only country in the Eurozone to maintain a strong economy in spite of the crisis. It doesn’t matter we have a huge unemployment and that would be the place to relocate to for many of us. All Germans are nazis anyway. And we don’t want to speak like Ratzinger, don’t we?

However, the Republic of Bananas will soon start being neglected by Russian tourist who finally realized designer bags they bought here were all counterfeit, as it appears from a recent article on a local paper, reporting feedback comments posted on Yandex. I expect more classes to be canceled next year.

 

Written in response to Writing 101, Day Fifteen: Your Voice Will Find You

Lost Things that Haunt Me: that Book

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Jacqueline. Dull, annoying Jacqueline. Do you remember me? I’m that girl from University. We took several classes together. Do you still have my art book?

Not that I need it anymore: of course, I passed the Contemporary Art exam many years ago. Don’t think I’ll let you get away with it, though. It’s a matter of principle: when someone lends you something, you’re supposed to give it back. I’ve asked you several times, tried to get in touch by phone and e-mail, until I eventually gave up.

What did you do with it? You certainly don’t plan on re-reading it. Boring types like you can’t be sincerely interested in Surrealist painting. You’re more likely to be using it to level a table. I reckon you keep it in a room with all the other stuff you’ve borrowed over the years. Do you save them as trophies? I bet you can’t even remember where they came from. In your carelessness you’ve probably lost them. In the worst case, you’re a calculating person and have sold them. Anything could be expected from a fair-weather friend of your sort.

It’s not just you: I’m disappointed with my student experience in general. During those five years I didn’t make many friends among our colleagues. The few who tried to approach me did it for utilitarian reasons: they needed notes, books, information. They were eager to listen to my account of my latest exam, and find out which questions were asked, but instantly shrank into their shell whenever I ventured to ask if they wanted to join some live music event or a night out in town or even just an innocent coffee on the way back from class.

I don’t know what it’s like in other campuses, but this one didn’t provide me with a stimulating environment. Each student was a monad, focused on himself. Maybe it’s the Italian education system that is faulty, probably because it doesn’t teach people to co-operate. Each student is left to himself.

However, I found friends elsewhere. They were locals and outsiders in their 30s who had been living there for years, doing…what? Some were officially students, but their enrolment dated back to a decade before, and they were using University as an excuse for their alternative lifestyle. They had an aura of decadence around them, but were not all junkies: some were – and are – actually brilliant people who achieved something in life. They were all part of a music scene that existed in that town, although already in decline at the time of my arrival. I fit in. I had found people with similar interests, who were creative and thought outside the box. Unfortunately, those friendships were fragile and didn’t last long: they were drinking and smoking weed, I was sober. All the time. I can’t relate to people who behave like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Also, in the first 4 years there were my roommates from my hometown. When I asked you to join us for a dinner at our place, you too suddenly lost your bubbliness and replied in a manner I would never had expected from a sticky person like you. You thanked, and said you didn’t go to student apartments, because you found them so depressing.

Excuse me? Shared houses are all but sad. In fact, that’s where the fun happens! Your room at a dingy business hotel that you rented on a lump sum, a housing solution that could only be explained with the fact that at 30-ish you were still too lazy or helpless or spoiled to tidy up, clean and cook by yourself: THAT is depressing.

By the way, what were you doing in that town? In a country where youngsters tend to stay as close as possible to their parental home, why did you have to move so far to go to college? Why, when you lived in the industrial north which doesn’t certainly suffer from shortage of good schools? If at least you were aiming at the renowned Alma Mater of Bologna, that could justify it: same if you were graduating in something that couldn’t be learned in other places. But, Foreign Languages at Second Rate University – I don’t get it.

Or maybe I do. What were you hiding? Is there any particular reason why you imposed yourself that self-exile? Were you ashamed of being slightly older than other students? It’s ridiculous, you didn’t qualify as a mature student!

Or was it simply that everyone hated and avoided you because you are an ugly, whimpering, sticky, annoying, long-winded, self-centered only child who doesn’t return borrowed items?

Anyway, you can keep that book. I don’t want things that have been used by other people. It disgusts me.