FIRST TEST DRIVE: short escape from a city on PM syndrome.

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The older son, sitting on the sand, diligently studies Algebra with the aid of an abacus made of little rocks
Milano, Montemarcello, Fontanellato – 13/14 July 2015

Milan makes it till Friday exhausted, compressed by a ball of heat and humidity that swells and swells and never finds relief. The average level of histeria in the city reaches a worrying degree, in some sort of premenstrual collective syndrome. Public transport is reduced to a bivouac shelter of unfriendly racist people who moan (key words imposed by the local news: machete, scabies, malaria, heat. Probably the same conversation topics between the boats in the Amazon river), the streets packed with compulsive horn honkers. The relief will come over the weekend, under the shape of abundant precipitations: perfect time to run away with the kids and test the van far from the city. On Saturday they release the results on Matia´s high school, when you pick him up at 13 he is a little bit upset, he has to do maths in September and he won´t count on your help since you got stuck somewhere around the 2 digits divisions. You point towards that small and narrow portion of earth between Ligure, Emilia and Tuscany, where the sun should be shining.

IMG_2285Two and a half hours later the Bear Volkswagen climbs up promontory Caprione with no efforts. You abandone it near the beginning of the footpath to the beach: 700 big steps made of stone and wood overcome the difference in altitude between the town and the beach. The route winds its way covered by a wood of Aleppo pine trees and holm oaks, and the kids walk through it with not even much complains. Actually as soon as the color blue appears at the end of the woods they twitch like crickets along the path. The last hundred steps you carry Maia on your shoulders (your knees will be thankful for the whole week) and you reach the most beautiful beach of Ligure, a stripe of black pebbles speckled with rocks. In the back you can see the mediterranean scrub climbing up the cliffs. The sea is rough, and delivers foamy waves, the girls shriek happily as they get overwhelmed, Mitia floats along with the water flow. It won´t be easy, at August, without this big-happy-blue-puddle called Mediterraneo…

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“Who cooks, washes the dishes”, what the fuck of a rule is it?

You spend the night in a semi-abandoned campsite, a large grassy open area divided by rows of poplar trees. You make dinner for all and when the night comes down you take the kids to bed: the hike to the beach has defeated the descendants. Before you go to sleep you smoke a cigarette, thinking about the endless “to-do list”, which has become the life of many people now: but how can you survive when everything is priority?? What we usually do, more or less on purpose, is to start with the most threatening tasks, those that scream the most. We silence them and scroll down the list, getting closer to the most pleasant tasks, which are waiting for us confident and cheerful at the bottom. But there you are, someone starts shouting again in the back and we hurry to pacify it; the beautiful things can still wait a little bit. We don´t realize that by doing this we are contributing to a perverse mechanism by which those who shout the most will feel legitimate by our promptness to keep doing it, while the gentle ones who await with patience will slowly slip away. It seems grotesque, but maybe we should really strive to do first the nice stuff. Force ourselves to cut first the left finger nails, as some would say.

On Sunday morning the weather is different: the sky is hidden behind low clouds and a very light rain is washing the clothes of those who dare going out of the van. You quickly prepare breakfast, pack everything up and you all leave again. On board the Bear kicks off the game “I have nausea”. In order to seat on the front all three creatures report imaginary symptoms of carsickness. At the end wins Maia, who after being convoluted with the iphone´s playlist (an endless ping pong between this and this until exhaustion), falls asleep. The other two are snoring for a while. Nice companions , you think, in reality you are happy that you can get the control of the music back. Outside, the humid wooded hills of Lunigiana unwind.

IMG_2228At Parma West the sudden downturn wakes everybody up. “Where are we?“ yawns the older brother. “I´m taking you to a special place. Do you like labyrinths?” you answer while following the state road through yellow wheat fields towards Fontanellato. Don’t you get upset, mr FMR (for sure he is often reading you), but at first sight the complex of the Labyrinth della Masone pays back the abuse of the brick: the Esselunga effect is around the corner (maybe Caprotti could also try to dare more…). Once you enter thought, the labyrinth is marvelous, a forest of bamboo grows wild and essential up to hiding the sky. The house-museum is a surprise, holder of curious and perturbing works (you see the room with the vanitas close to the edge of splatter), fun and pleasant to follow. IMG_2259Then the exhibition about Ligabue, well: between leopard tonsils and self-portraits (in short, the usual repertoire) pops up in the room a delirious battle between Russians, bears, reindeers and wolves that seems Hugo Pratt (even Rasputin is there!). And finally the exhibition about the publications of FMR, all in strict Bodoni, including this one that you would like to hide under Maia´s t-shirt before walking confident towards the exit (“my daughter wears an orthopedic corset, you know Oh yeah, now they do them all like this, square, they work better”). You get out just on time to catch buckets of rain in the 100 m between you and the car. At Lodi it feels like October, at Melegnano barrier, like November.

Back in the city, you catch Milan under the covers with a cup of hot tea and biscuits, happily padded with Moment® Rosa: finally, it´s raining.

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An Apulian break: Weddings are always beautiful, if they are not yours. Signorina E.V.

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“Miss E.V., couldn’t life be an eternal wedding party? Someone else’s one, obviously”

Lecce, Barletta, Selva di Fasano, Cisternino – 28th May/1st june

If making a virtue out of necessity is maybe just an illusory compromise, it´s still something that you are able to do quite well. Taking advantage of an Ryanair special deal (taking a plane with three kids is like having three wives, from the financial point of view) you book the flights to Apulia, where you will leave the kids for a few days with their maternal grandfather and cousins so that you can go to a wedding.

In the airport takes place a micro-drama, maybe a small alarm bell ring, still a reminder that you have to pay more attention in the future. Emma, the 11 years old daughter, is always scared of flying and whenever she has to do it, she struggles to contain the anxiety. As you reach the gate she insists on queueing up straight away, but you don’t want to think about queuing for nothing as the seats are already assigned. Therefore you let her go in a bad way so that you can seat down and stuff yourself with gummies together with your other two kids, while you wait for the crowd to clear out. After ten minutes you raise your eyes from the newspaper and you see her over there, in the middle of all the overweight tourists. She is quietly weeping. Please note: Emma NEVER cries. Only when she is truly harmed or when she is very, very, very sad. Obviously this small kind of anxiety that you ignore or that rather annoys you is a pain bigger than you thought: now you reach your daughter immediately, apologize slowly and hug her. Sit next to her during the take-off, when she is hiding her head between her arms, and hold her tight. There´s a special empathy that has always linked you and her (in the memory of an ugly adventure you once wrote this for her): you will need to take particular sensitivity with her during your trip this summer, you can´t afford carelessness. You know very well that inexplicable melancholy hidden behind the brightness of her eyes: from all the aspects of your nature that you could pass to her, this is the last one you would have wanted to.

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pickup sounds like BRODDGROOROGRREBRRODDOGRREERR ORROGGHRRblblblblblblblblblbl

At Brindisi Casale you meet your ex-father-in-law, who you don´t see since when, 4, 5 years? Since you have separated from his daughter, I would say. You can´t avoid to feel uncomfortable (you couldn´t either in less suspicious time anyway), but luckily the kids don´t seem to notice: they meet the “cousins”, who in reality are uncles of the same age… complicate stuff about way too extended families. The farm where they live in the countryside is occupied by dogs, cats, goats, rabbits and millions of black, fat, glossy ants. Maia, your youngest daughter, goes crazy with joy. You leave them there and hit the road: your ex-pseudo-father-in-law has lent you an EMBARRASSING pickup Nissan really redneck style (or like those the ISIS have, points out Mitia, the oldest of the three). No MP3 player, you are forced to digest the local radio schedule: at some point they play Thunderstruck, but unfortunately is not this version.

It´s nice to watch the sea of olive trees pass by from the window, while you drive with the sunset through the legendary Apulian section of the SS16, with its endless deviations for the misterious Cumblanare and its usual splattered animals on the side of the road; once arrived to Barletta you offer to the public the spectacular match Pickup Vs. Old City. No one dies so you´ve won, I would say.

The next morning you take the chance to see the De Nittis Museum, an Apulian Impressionist painter who sent to hell his fellow citizens and travelled all around Europe finding love and fortune in Paris: basically the stereotype of an Erasmus student ante litteram. Shame that the most beautiful painting was lent to Milan for the Expo. Even this far has come the annoying Expo.

And then the wedding. Well, the wedding is Apulian, and therefore: generous, elegant, smiley. The groom is the brother of a friend of yours, signorina E.V., who is also with her partner. Signorina E.V. is a special girl, whom you know and hang out with since long time ago. You both have lost and then re-found each other, and now she is officially one of your favorite persons: those who are able to gain a surprising and true affection. The life of signorina E.V. has been fragmented by shocks, some of them really strong, and still she is that funny character with an imagination two meters ahead of reality: you can’t avoid to feel complete sympathy for her. Dear E.V., you definitely deserve more from Life: however, remember that bitterness is a waste of energy. Cultivate those things that make you feel beautiful and remember that you can fix any trouble, whenever you think it´s worth it: for instance if you forget the physiological solution for the contact lenses, you can always prepare it yourself, right?

IMG_2066The next day you take again the ISIS´s pickup and you stroll along Itria Valley. There´s no one around and there’s no hurry as well: everything is marvelous, stopping here and there to admire olive trees contorted like Laocoonte statues, you arrive to Santa Maria in Barsento church, with such a simple and harmonious architecture that comes close to perfection. It´s funny to think that when you were a child any trip with your father including a visit to any church was received with a constellation of bad words from you and your brother. You stay overnight in Cisternino in a refurbished trullo, property of a very kind friend/client, and the next day you pick up the kids in Salento. The weather is misty and is not too hot but you kidnap the three of them and, no matter what, you throw them into the water until sunset: you have to make the most of the sea now, because the beaches you will find on your way to Rovaniemi will not be as sweet as the Apulian ones. “There will be no planes to take on our August trip”, you whisper to Emma while the 737-800 Raynair is taxiing along the runway facing the sea “Only a big van. Same petrol-consuming though, damn it”.

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Gracias! to lovely Vanessa, proud Galician girl who translated this from the original post!