Mental Paella

Living in Italy, before, during and after Covid

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Of Masks and Marriage

Been thinking about last week’s “mask bullying” incidents, wondering why, especially that walking around a nearby town (bigger than mine, almost “a city”) NO ONE told me anything about the face shield, ever (I go there at least twice a week).

So, is it the “small town mentality”?

But then again, I’ve been wearing the face shield since May, I go everywhere on foot in my little town, and nobody told me anything before, the aggressive policing started only this last week….

Then, I thought, maybe beside the reasons I mentioned in my former post, there is the “misery-must-have-company” syndrome?

If they are suffering and uncomfortable with the mask, then HOW DARE ANYONE wear something comfortable that doesn’t induce suffering?

Which brought to mind some aunts in Egypt who, a VERY long time ago, kept badgering me that I “had to” get married….

They had absolutely MISERABLE lives. Fighting with their spouses daily, living in a TOXIC environment (never physical violence, but a mental/psychological /emotional one) seemingly hating each other’s guts, picking on each other every single day for decades, hating their lives, yet, lo and behold, they went on and on nagging me to get married…..

I had always wondered WHY ON EARTH?!

Anyone with such an experience would warn others to think twice/thrice/ten times before getting into that…

Anyone sane, thinking, balanced and with a healthy conscience, that is…

I thought that the best case scenario was:

having learned that from their mother, who learned it from her mother, who, in turn, learned it from her mother, hence somewhere in the late 1800’s, they believed their duty as the older generation was to regurgitate what they had learned to the new generation…..

At the other end of the spectrum, the worst case scenario:

having had WRETCHED married lives, they wanted everybody else to have the same fate, following the mechanism whereby people try to perpetuate the abuse they’ve been through, instead of seeing to it that it doesn’t happen to anyone else…

Or, the somewhere-in-between case scenario:

That they need to believe that one doesn’t have much of a choice (which is what they believed when they got into their marriages, and STAYED IN THEM, despite the misery).

If someone comes along and provides an example that THERE IS SUCH A THING AS CHOICE, they’d be faced with the unbearable realization that they, too, could have exercised choice and had a different life..

hence their need to see to it that no such example exists, filling their world with people who acted like just them,

in order to feel good about themselves…

So what’s that got to do with traditional versus non-traditional masks?

It could be coming from the same place:

At best: everyone must wear what everyone is wearing, nothing can be different.

At worst: if they can’t breathe properly and are terribly uncomfortable, everyone should be like them, no one should DARE make themselves comfortable if they themselves aren’t…

Middle ground: they don’t want to see there is a possible variant, in this case, it involves two things:

1- Innovation/creativity: to MAKE AN EFFORT to seek or create something else that is relatively more comfortable

2- Character, courage, and if you’ll excuse my French, balls: to wear something different without “fearing” being told off or pushed around because it’s not the same like everybody else…

Easier to follow the crowd and tell off others who don’t….

Again, this is not about me wanting to stand out, this is about me bending over backwards for months trying to find something that would work around my asthma….

This is also not about me belittling those who wear traditional masks, but about having a bone to pick with those who intercept me on the street because my format isn’t like theirs, actively trying to badger/bully/police/discipline me out of the SMALLNESS of their minds ……

As for my aunts in Egypt, there was a “happy end” to the years-long-nagging, though not of the type they envisioned:

after years of barking at them to leave me alone, I wisened up and realized that sometimes humour is the best response:

I told them I am willing to get married INSTANTLY if they find someone with these specifications:

1- He had to be Vietnamese

(I wanted children who are half almond-eyes, half not, children of such a mix look so exotic, and one of the MAIN reasons my Egyptian aunts were nagging me was because of “children”, and the “but you MUST have children/you can’t possibly live without having children” bit. I told them that those exotic children are the only ones I want to have….)

2- He had to be a cook by profession

(I adore Vietnamese cuisine, it is poetry on a plate)

3- He had to be a resident of New Zealand

(I was obsessed with NZ and wanted to immigrate there back then)

4- He had to be a certified reflexologist

(a good session of reflexology is the mother-of-all-treats)

So, a Vietnamese cook resident of New Zealand with a reflexology certification… that’s all I’m asking for

After that, whenever any of those good souls would open their mouths about marriage, I’d say “well, I told you I’m in, it is you who won’t find me the guy I’m willing to marry”…..

THAT put an end to the nagging,

and put a long-lasting smile on my face…

I doubt I’ll find such a story to shoo away the “your-mask-must-be-like-my-mask-or-else” souls….

But I’ll keep trying, maybe some stardust will fall inside my head and I’d come up with a story that does the job….

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The self-appointed Covid police

In the height of the “first wave” of Covid, last March and April, when the number of cases was ten times more than now and the disease was more lethal, I had invented a mask that looks like the “burqaa” face cover, as I am asthmatic and the ordinary mask suffocated me and induced an attack. The mask I invented wasn’t wrapped around my chin, but went all the way to my chest and was open below, allowing me space to breathe. NO ONE objected or said anything to me then, as my nose and mouth were covered.

Then, I discovered face shields, and started wearing them. I’ve been wearing them everywhere I went from the beginning of May until this day. No one objected, until this last week, when, seven months later, for some reason, many self-appointed Covid police sprouted in my town and started badgering me:

I’d be walking down a street, metres away from ANYONE, when someone would come up to me and tell me off saying it’s not enough to wear a face shield, and I should wear a mask! Mind you, the transparent front reaches all the way to my chest, way below the neck. The first few times, I explained myself, saying that I was asthmatic, that even a hospital allowed me to enter like that because of my condition (true) that this was protection enough because there is no way in HEAVEN that the virus would go all the way down and jump back up, etc. etc. They would tut-tut me with disapproval and I’d walk away FUMING.

Why this week? After literally nearly 7 months of wearing it EVERYWHERE without problems? Why in the middle of a SEMI-lockdown, that is not as bad as the first one, when I had worn it without objections?


Whatever new instinct of policing got into them after seven months?

The truth is, I am better covered than those with a mask because my eyes are covered as well. The plastic covers my face from ear to ear and reaches to my chest, there’s NO WAY the virus would make somersaults and find its way in and out. WHAT IS IT THEN?

My personal opinion is that it is “different” from what they are used to. It MUST BE A COMMERCIALLY BOUGHT MASK, BETTER STILL, IF IT’S IN THAT LIGHT BLUE COLOUR, LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE. Then, they feel “safe”. Anything else and they feel threatened. Also this week, I was in a cafe, wearing my “burqaa-like” self-made mask, and a woman told me it wasn’t a real mask, I nearly told her to f**** off and go call the police if she doesn’t like it! I made that burqaa-like thing so long that it reaches from my nose all the way to mid-chest, where the bloody hell would the virus enter or leave???

But, it’s NOT the one they’re used to, it’s not the one you BUY. It doesn’t “look like what everybody is wearing” so it must be wrong..

And, it’s NOT that I want “to be different”, it is that my asthma wreaks havoc with the mask and suffocates me within minutes, so I have to find a way around the traditional mask format to be able to breathe..

What makes this weirder is that I still see a lot of people walking around with their masks off, lowered to their necks, but covering nothing! They are mostly men. I don’t want to sound paranoid to say it could also be a man-woman thing, however, given that NO BODY EVER goes up to a man who has his mask off his face and says “put your mask on” but, instead, come at me just because my face covering is different, then, maybe it’s not paranoia at all, but that the man-woman thing is DEFINITELY a factor…like a national geographic documentary where alpha males are feared and given a very wide berth, while everybody else is game, especially those conceived of as “weak” animal-kingdom-logic-wise…

Today, after the fourth incident of badgering in one week (and the first time I was badgered in seven months), I snapped. When a man told me off as I was walking, unlike the other times when I stood there explaining and defending myself, I told him that what might apply in his home does NOT apply on the street with strangers, I am NOT obliged to defend myself to him or be “approved” by him, so I’m not explaining myself. I walked away with him pissed off, not sure if because of my words, or if because I didn’t “bow to his authority” and acknowledged that, unless he “approved”, I was “guilty as charged”…. or both.

Even though this time I vented, I was still fuming anyway.

Hopefully, next time someone throws their weight on me, I’ll put them in their place WITHOUT feeling angry… (not sure it is possible, but maybe it will come with practice..)

It’s NOT that I am disrespecting the regulations. I have my face covered as is required. It is JUST that I wear a DIFFERENT thing because of my severe asthma. I shall NO LONGER explain myself to every pathetic soul who imagines he/she has the right to police others. It’s not just their out of line behaviour, it is their STUPIDITY, because in both cases (face shield or burqaa-like thing) I am fully covered. It’s that sick conformist instinct that: if you’re not following the EXACT official format, you must be “wrong” and so you must be “disciplined”. Plus, it is also COWARDICE, because they would never DARE go up to a male (alpha or not) and tell him off, even when he’s not wearing a mask at all.

Next time anyone pulls that sh** on me, I’ll point out a male who isn’t wearing a mask (they are all over town) and say, “how come you badger ME but don’t have the balls to go tell THEM anything?” then, I’ll add an extra pinch of something “strong” (depending on my mood). But, unless it’s a policeman in uniform, I shall NO LONGER EXPLAIN MYSELF TO ANY OF THOSE STUPID, COWARDLY, BULLYING D***HEADS!

In the meantime, I am inventing new mask formats to enable to breathe, in case we go on for years like this… I expect “protests” from stupid little people (Reich’s “little man”is still alive and well, 70 or 80 years on…). Only now I shall prepare for them, and I shall RELISH putting them in their place. The one I’m working on now is made with special thick wire that is shaped like a dog’s muzzle (laugh to your heart’s content) that I’ll put under the fabric of a mask (that WON’T be a bloody commercial mask, but one that I make out of double fabric). Still working on it. But, it will “look like a mask” only it will have a bubble in the front to keep the fabric away from my nose and mouth so I can breathe. I expect the same self-appointed police to badger me, but this time around, they’ll have it coming.

May fangs grow from my anger…

Let them try again….

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Lockdown, Bach and peacock

And so, the lockdown I had predicted in the last post happened… only where I live (the Veneto region) and for the moment, we’re on “semi-lockdown”… Cafes and restaurants close at 6pm, we have a curfew from 10pm to 5am (which makes little sense since restaurants/bars are closed anyway and it’s winter so who would be out at 11 pm and doing what? Ah well…) most shops are closed on the weekend, and, there is no walking around city centres (don’t remember if it’s just weekends or all week, I live in a small town, so the town centre is of a size you could probably cover in one hop- if you’re fit, that is)… anyone who’s been to Italy would have seen the “afternoon walk” in city centres, where people walk back and forth along a main street, over and over again….that’s one bit the logic of which I never quite understood.. many years ago, I asked an American about it, and he said it was some form of “preening show”…

For now, the situation is not as dreadful as the March-April lockdown, however, what with the renewed body count on the news and putting the “covid-19 profile picture” (that bloody ball with red thorn-like spikes all around it) as a backdrop to most news broadcasts is getting on my nerves.

As to Bach, if anyone is reading this, check out “Bach/Siloti, prelude in B minor”… it is sublime….

Some pianists play it too fast, I prefer the slower version. Sometimes I listen to it 10 times in a row. Sometimes 20.

Or Bach’s “Air on a G-string”… a “pandemic balm” ..if ever there is one

I have always liked Bach, but the pandemic brought about a renewed and heightened appreciation of his music…

To think I have lived and studied for years in his hometown (Leipzig)….

I have to crank up the volume though, all the way to the maximum, because I have new neighbours, who, oh-so-generously make me part of their lives at least 15 hours a day….

Like it was not enough to have “donkey-man” upstairs spending his life in the balcony braying at the phone for hours on end… now I have a family with two small children, a dog, and very loud parents below me, who, when not running back and forth across the apartment for hours, take turns to self-express at the top of their voices… seemingly spending their entire day in the room right below my bedroom….

After years of blissful quiet, I am sandwiched inside an ongoing circus..

While I almost got used to lockdowns, what saddens me most is that I can’t visit my family in the UK. I had wanted so much to spend Christmas with them, but they seem to be worse off than we are, and travel, while not banned, is not allowed except for utter necessity. I doubt that, at this moment in time, the need to spend Christmas with family would qualify….

And now, onto merrier, more colourful things:

This morning, as I was heading for the last meeting of a knitting group I had joined (last because of the “pandemic anxiety”), walking along a small nearly deserted street, a few metres ahead I saw a HUGE bird flapping its wings flying from somewhere above down onto the street….

I thought “WHAT ON EARTH is this?!”

When “this” landed, I realized it was a peacock!

Smack in the middle of a street in my little town….

Needless to say, I did what any self-respecting Android owner would do and took many pictures (that I’ll post soon, though the quality is scarce as my phone camera is very basic). I sat there watching it prance around, looking for crumbs to eat in the corner of the sidewalk. Soon, I was joined by the traffic warden (or rather, “fines warden”, for her job is to walk around giving fines) who started taking pictures too….

Tomorrow, I’ll go back with some bread in case it shows up again, though I have a feeling it won’t … come to think of it, this is the first time in my entire life that I see a peacock fly and land right in front of me on a street…

Semi-lockdown notwithstanding, we still have a margin of freedom, where we can walk around, and be on the receiving end of surprise gifts from unknown places..

such as a peacock flying down out of the blue and landing in front of us…

At least that….

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The shadow of “the second wave”

It seems like we’re heading for a new lockdown..

While there is a rise in the number of cases, the severity and figures are not comparable to March/April, at the peak of the pandemic.

However, the government decided, two days ago, to take new and severe measures:

1- A state of emergency is declared till January 31st (whatever that means, but, having lived through endless states of emergency in the third world, it brings back bad memories)

2- People are required to wear masks on the streets, again, and not just inside shops/in crowded places, as has been the case for 5 months.

3- The government urged people to wear masks at home too, then, realizing the IDIOCY of it, modified the request to wearing them when any visitors come, be they relatives or friends.

4- The government keeps repeating “we want to avoid another lockdown”.

And here’s what I think as to numbers 3 & 4:

As to # 3: we all know by now that the transmission of Covid is not only through “droplets”, but also through touching the same surfaces as a Covid-infected person, or a Covid-carrier, so, while they were probably advised by some experts that demanding families wear masks was PURELY IDIOTIC (it didn’t even happen at the peak of the pandemic), wearing a mask when visiting people is NOT going to protect them much, because if they touch the same surfaces they would transmit the disease (if they had it). So, I don’t know what they believe they’re doing there, or how they’ll enforce/check it, for that matter.

As to #4: the ongoing repetition of “we don’t want to have to enforce another lockdown” is, pretty much, as significant as a man telling a woman at the onset of a relationship “I don’t want to hurt you”.

Having said that, in light of the events of the last two days, and going to a student of mine to find her mother and the entire family wearing masks and asking me to do the same (while giving me a glass of water, us sitting at the same table and touching the same surfaces), or hearing about a teacher who was about to get fined by a policeman (a minimum of 400 euros) because she wasn’t wearing her mask on the street the very next morning after the new regulations (announced late at night, which she could easily have not heard), I feel simply and plainly depressed…

Surely this can’t be happening again??

While, this time around I am prepared (the first time, I was in complete isolation for nearly two months before, no work, no people, no friends, nothing, just “house arrest”) I just feel oppressed by it all nonetheless, by the apparently never-ending cycle of Covid, by the fact that our lives will go on being shackled for who knows how long…

A friend of mine consoled me by saying they should find a vaccine by April.

Not so sure about that, after all, at the peak of the pandemic (March/April in Italy) news circulated about a vaccine possibly being found by September.

Well, we’re in October, and nobody is even talking about a vaccine on the news any more…..

And so, I feel in the absolute dumps..

At the first lockdown, we were hit with it at midnight, effective the day after, not giving us any time at all to take care of any business/errands that would be frozen during a lockdown. Midnight is the favourite time to announce new laws here. So, I feel this could happen any night now..

And I’m torn between following the news and boycotting them, with a “screw this” attitude…. but, I don’t want to find myself leaving my house only to find the police lunge on me for not following some new law that was announced late at night…

Just like a man telling a woman “I don’t want to hurt you” is actually saying “I will hurt you, but now that I told you this, I covered my a** and if you complain later, I’ll tell you ‘but I warned you, and you chose to stay'” (subtext: you’re the one to hurt yourself, not me) what the government is actually saying is that they would probably enforce a lockdown (subtext: because people behaved badly and weren’t careful….)

It is in the air, as thick, dark, over-our-heads clouds before the rain..

It is not whether we’ll have another lockdown,

it is when..

Apparently, we’re not getting our lives back in any foreseeable future…

And the only thing I can think of in my small bubble of a life is to seek shelter in one of my personal sources of consolation:

making lists….

1- Lists of what I’ll do to prepare for a new lockdown..

2- Lists of what I’ll do during the lockdown…

Assuming I’d have enough time to do the first,

and that I’d survive the second…

But, looking on the bright side:

tomorrow I’m going to the city street market to buy enough fabric to carry me through a few months of lockdown-sewing…


Lockdown memories

Here, at this bus stop, I spent my first moments of freedom after 55 days of lockdown, when they eased the regulations and some coffee shops reopened, but only for takeaway service.

There is a newsagent-with-a-coffee-shop behind it, where I used to pick up a cappuccino, then sit at the bus stop and savour it, making it last as long as possible.

There were no buses and hardly any people. Sometimes it rained, but I stayed there as long as possible anyway, telling myself that I should keep the habits of the lockdown even after it ends, because every small thing meant so much, like drinking a cup of coffee at a bus stop under the rain..

One of the lockdown habits I kept is not going to coffee shops any more, whereas before, I used to go daily, working at a table, always in a corner, preparing lessons, reading, writing, knitting…

After the long silence of the lockdown, coffee shops seem torturously loud…

Nowadays I drink my daily cappuccino in my balcony, watching birds and pigeons eat and drink in its corner (more about them later).

In the rare times that I go to a coffee shop, I go to that one behind the bus stop in the picture,

just to remember that the freedom I have now is hanging by a thread,

just to remember that the simplest of moments can feel like a treasure..

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The sewing cure

In the last few weeks, I went back to sewing. Having started to learn some ten years ago, and stopped 9 1/2 years out of them, I have very little experience…

In 2010, I bought a basic Singer sewing machine that was on sale in a supermarket. It turned out to be a superb purchase. A friend helped me navigate it and get started, and I made two pieces, and dreamed of continuing till I learned how to make “everything”…

Then I lost my father, and my life froze for a number of years..

I couldn’t do any of the things I liked before, even reading. I used to be the type of reader who had books under and over the bed..

I stopped sewing for some 8 years, and the sewing machine stayed in its box, untouched.

Two years ago, I went back to sew a few things for my mother, and managed to get them done even though I was improvising… my mother loved them…

When I lost my mother last year, I didn’t stop the sewing, somehow it felt like an invisible connection of a type I cannot put into words…

When Covid happened, I didn’t have enough fabric at home and all the shops were closed for two months, so I just dreamed about when they’d open and made up designs in my head, as well as made patterns out of the little fabric I had… I actually hate the patterns of sewing magazines, and prefer to make my own by tracing clothes that fit me…

During the lockdown, I didn’t want to try and use the sewing machine as I was afraid that, after not having used it for years, it would not function any more and I wouldn’t be able to get it repaired during the lockdown… I couldn’t risk a potential disappointment when I was already on the edge…

I did, however, have a few lovely pieces of satin in several pastel colors, bought in Egypt, so I cut five or six pieces, tracing my own clothes, to use as patterns for “later”…

When shops re-opened (4th of May), I was at the door of the fabric store at 9 am…

Ever since, I’ve been going on fabric sprees pretty much once a week, at that shop, at street markets, you name it.

In case we have another lockdown, this time around,  I must have enough supplies to keep me going for months..

Here’s the thing:

The lockdown unraveled me in the same way September 11th did

(I was there on 9/11 and saw everything, maybe one day I’ll write about it here)..

While the type of trauma was different, it was trauma nonetheless…

during the lockdown and the first month to month and a half, when we were not allowed out except for groceries, it was a slow, extended, simmering type of trauma..

especially for me

unlike others who lived in families, I lived alone, I lost my job, we weren’t allowed to see friends, everybody was afraid, we weren’t allowed anywhere, except for groceries, we’d be fined if found going for a walk, even if it was down a completely deserted street…

During the lockdown, I couldn’t do what I normally liked to do, because I didn’t know if there would be a future to begin with..

with every body count on the news, I thought, “tomorrow, this could be me..”

and nobody would even find out about me because everyone was locked up, so I’d just rot at home, or, “at best”, die alone in a hospital, like so many others…

Trying not to panic, this, however, unraveled me,

maybe in a more subtle way than September 11th, but akin in essence:

feeling many brain functions immobilized/ unable to think of tomorrow/ realizing that life as we know it is there no more, and that, any minute, it could ALL end…

While we have come out of the lockdown and can go anywhere, including travel around the country, that something that had come undone inside me still lingered on…

along with the realization that it could happen again,

whether Covid-19, or something else, there is no guarantee any more that

“life will go on”

despite the end of the lockdown, its scars make the background of daily life..


when I went back to sewing some weeks ago, this changed…

Sewing created an invisible shield around me that kept that memory at bay..

grounding me at a time when I desperately needed grounding..

and with each piece of fabric I stitched,  my unravelled parts started coming back together…

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He’s back

Donkey-voice is back…. I thought he was mellowed by my greeting on the stairs… I thought the formula of the scary folk tales of our childhood was valid…

As usual, I thought wrong…

Back sharing the gifts of his vocal chords with the rest of humanity from the stage of his balcony…

The only difference is, as soon as he does that, I turn up my TV at max volume and within a minute, he stops….

at least he’s learning…

but maybe that, too, won’t last

I guess I must go back to singing opera after all….

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Could it be over?

Two days ago, I crossed paths with donkey-voiced man on the stairs..

automatically, I greeted him, he mumbled something back.. it seemed more out of surprise than ill-intention.. more like he was thinking “are you really saying good morning to me?”

I was closer to the door than he was so I asked him if he was going out so I’d leave it open… I don’t even remember what he said..

Then, the noise stopped

That day, and all of yesterday, there was no braying at the top of his voice in the balcony..

Could it last? Was that all it took?!?

I remembered a sentence in an Egyptian folktale we used to hear as children,

where the wicked witch told the hero-on-a-quest after he had just greeted her:

“if it hadn’t been for your greeting before your speaking,

I’d have eaten your flesh before your bones”

(not that any creature could eat your bones before your flesh…)

maybe that’s all it takes….

maybe not…

humans seem to have a weak memory

time will tell

(and, by the way, those folktales were really scary, I would never tell them to a child …)

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Sisyphus and the bullfight

How many times did you find yourself like Sisyphus, constantly making a huge effort

only for it to be derailed, and you have to pick up the pieces, and start all over again,

and again, and again…?

Sisyphus was punished “for his trickery”, he had the grace of a reason…

No such luck for the rest of us…

Like the bullfight…

however resilient, brave, strong the bull is,

he shall be killed anyway,

no one ever said, “he’s so brave, he’s so strong, let him live”…

Like the bull…

however resilient, brave, strong,

we shall not be spared

and by spared, I mean to live without recurring pain

I mean the agony, entrapment, betrayal of a ruthless game

we weren’t asked if we wanted to play

the relentless spears aimed at us,

until we drop

like the bull, we can rise and fight again, and again, and again

none of that will make it stop

all it would ever do

would be

to prolong the show



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When I break the lines in some of my posts, I don’t mean, AT ALL, that this is poetry!!

The ONLY reason I do that is because often I want to stop a line and start another at specific words, so I break lines to make that happen!

It is just a way of shaping the writing which I happen to like..