Mental Paella

Living in Italy, before, during and after Covid


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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Virginia Woolf was right

Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size.”

Said Virginia Woolf in “A Room of One’s Own”…

91 years later, her words are still spot on…

Maybe the only things that have changed are:

1- Women today are more conscious of such an expectation of their role towards the men in their lives (and that’s NOT just the “significant other”, but ANY MALE AT ALL, whether partner, friend, relative, co-worker, or any male…).

2- In some cases, women cash in on that expectation through an emotional intelligence that may sometimes be “well-intentioned” and, others, plain devious.

3- Some women are resentful of that expectation, and EVEN EXPECT some attention in return, not at all to be seen as “twice their natural size”, but JUST THEIR NATURAL SIZE, NOT HALF OF IT, NOT A QUARTER OF IT, NOT 10% OF IT….

It’s a bit like the “manspreading” way of sitting in a bus/metro/otherwise, whereby men spread out their legs right and left taking half the seats next to them, BUT ONLY IF THERE ARE WOMEN SITTING THERE, forcing the women to SHRINK and take up half a space, while they take up its double….

One thing hasn’t changed, though:

Women who DO NOT PLAY THAT ROLE are “punished”,

if not overtly, then covertly, indirectly, passive-aggressively, you name it, maybe just simply by being ignored, marginalized, ostracized, rendered invisible…

Why am I saying this? Because I had experienced that moment lately, when one’s tolerance, excuses-made-for-others, and choosing to forget negativity cannot continue any more and the pattern explodes in one big UGLY picture…

In a way, I am extremely lucky, because I have ONE EXAMPLE IN MY LIFE of a male friend who is not configured that way. Even though it is but one, it is enough to counteract the pattern, past and present, of “figurative manspreading”..

It creates some balance and helps me not lose faith…

A short while back I was talking to a male friend on the phone, and, as happens always with him, the entire call was about him, Him and HIM. At some point towards the end, he said “how about you?” BUT, he didn’t wait for me to answer, he answered himself, “you’re OK, right?” and without waiting for me to answer, he went on talking about something else: himself, Himself, HIMSELF…..

And here’s the thing with most male friends, IF they EVER “ask about me”, this situation above is the ONLY format in which they do it: they ASK AND ANSWER FOR ME,  otherwise, normally, they NEVER ask… they could be old friends I haven’t seen for years and we reconnect, STILL, THE ENTIRE TIME, they just speak about the ONLY THING that really matters: themselves, without asking, AT ANY TIME, about me….


A far cry from women friends, who ASK AND WAIT AND LISTEN AND TAKE THE TIME.

Not that there aren’t sometimes be communication problems with women friends (I’ll speak about them in another post), but,



It’s NOT  that I don’t want to listen to my male friends’ problems, but, after YEARS AND YEARS of seeing that, with most of them, every encounter and phone call is ONLY about them, I’m sick and tired and feel used in a subtle insidious manner…

It’s as if, in life-as-their-brains-comprehend-it, there is simply NO ROOM except for one person, and that has to be them…

While my old self would have been confrontational and would have wanted to “tell it as it is”, my current self realizes that that is a waste of voice, time and oxygen, if they had it in them to understand, they’d have known that, in life, THERE IS, ACTUALLY, ROOM FOR OTHER PEOPLE…

So, rather than nurture the illusion that explaining could help, I’ll just opt out of most such “communication”, claim I’m busy, or simply just make myself unavailable.. if they treat me as if the only visible part of me allowed is the part mirroring them and I, as a person, am invisible, I shall go ahead and make that invisibility concrete..

Such men “friends” have got to go seek their “mirror” elsewhere…

I will no longer give them any space at all, but would either keep it for my women friends, who understand that communication is a two way street, , and that ONE male friend who isn’t configured like them,

or, I’d spend my time sewing….

which is infinitely more rewarding and FAIR,

MY “ROLE” yields concrete results, results that testify that I exist…

because when your sole role is being a mirror to someone, YOU DON’T EXIST…

The sad thing is, such men do not see how impoverished their world is, on the contrary, they think that, as long as they’re “the constant star of the show”, as long as those around them “reflect their figure at twice its natural size”, that’s the best of all possible worlds……

What to do?

As said, row the boat far far away from them,

stick to women friends,

and with that one male friend who has, luckily for me, escaped the “formula”….

Besides sewing, of course….


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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, all this changed…

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

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

And with each pieces of fabric I stitch, parts of my unraveled self come 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..


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Lockdown escape 1

IMG_1732Back then when we were on lockdown and weren’t allowed to leave our town for 55 days, when all coffee shops (and shops in general, but for supermarkets and pharmacies) were closed, I would come to this corner for consolation.

It is the parking lot of a supermarket in the town by the lake. The supermarket had a coffee vending machine just inside the entrance (one of only two coffee vending machines in a 30 km radius, all others were sealed due to the pandemic).

I would come here once a week, buy a coffee, sit on those stones and sip to my heart’s content, delighting in the fact that I could drink a coffee “outside”..

This is one of three escape corners I took refuge in during the isolation of the lockdown, all of them were off-limits, officially speaking..

Back then, they were my lifeline to sanity…

Every time I went there, my heart would be leaping with joy…

I’d take forever to finish my cup of coffee, sometimes going for more to prolong the bliss..

One day, things didn’t go as expected..

After I got the coffee and sat on the ground in the usual spot, out of the sheer blue sky,

I found myself sobbing, sobbing, and sobbing…

I couldn’t make myself stop..


I was always looking forward to that moment,

where was THAT coming from???

Then I remembered words I had heard a very, very long time ago…

from a political activist & student (Egypt) who spent his university years in and out of prison, constantly humiliated, threatened and tortured..

We were sitting in a coffee shop, and he told me he couldn’t listen to music any more..

Since I was studying music back then, I asked why…

He said it reminded him of what it meant to be fully human and he didn’t want to remember because it was too painful to reconcile with his actual life….

I was speechless, I couldn’t identify, but his words remained engraved on my mind…

That day in the parking lot with the coffee,  something cracked open..

unlike him, it wasn’t about listening to music or savouring the arts, but about a very ordinary act,

drinking coffee while sitting on the ground outdoors..

and yet, that very ordinary act reminded me of what was once normal, and that memory was too painful to reconcile with living under a lockdown with no end in sight…

I knew exactly what he meant then…


The consolation the escapade used to offer me turned into its opposite


When running away from danger, you can’t stop and look back,

you have to keep on running until you reach safety,

only then can you afford to stop, look back, take stock, and collapse,

I told myself, I’ll never come back

until the chase is no more


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The lake in May (3)

I never understood why clouds stop over mountain tops like a hat… someone gave me a scientific explanation of the phenomenon once in the past in Gibraltar, as that always happened over its rock. I forgot his explanation though.. Back then, there was always this cloud over the rock and it never moved.  I used to think the Brits did it on purpose, holding clouds in place somehow, out of homesickness…

The same phenomenon can be seen over “Monte Baldo” by the lake, and unlike the clouds of Gibraltar that looked like a hat, here they always look like a volcano in eruption..