Tuesday, 31 May 2011

My trashy romance (3)

Julia’s house, set in a small garden among sweet chestnut trees on the side of a valley through which a fast and permanently icy stream ran, was not the traditional cottage she had for years envisaged whenever she thought of this part of Italy. Instead, that sort of characteristic Tuscan villa was where her landlords lived, while her house was a far more modest cottage their family had built in the 1970s. Looking at the Carlucci family villa when she first arrived, Julia was at pains to understand why anyone living there would want or even need a guest cottage at all — spread over three storeys with a huge basement, it had so many very beautiful rooms. But as she got to know her landlady, Carlotta, and the eldest son, Ernesto, she eventually learned that her own little house had been built for the family to live in while the big house was being restored, a project that had taken several years … and to Julia, unimaginable sums. Once the villa was ready, in all its creamy timber, golden-veined marble, frescoed, gilded and terracotta splendour, the small house had been left empty for a while, then leased as holiday accommodation, or opened up to university friends of Ernesto and his siblings. Eventually, after several summers of student revelry and general abandon, Carlotta reclaimed it and did it up, ostensibly as a comfortable retreat for her friends who preferred to stay close but independently, but really thinking that once any of her children slowed down enough to show any interest in giving up big-city life and taking over the big house, the little one would one day become her own dower cottage.

Julia had loved it from the moment she’d opened the door and walked in that late winter afternoon. There were two connecting bedrooms and a bathroom off the kitchen end of the big open-plan living area, and a bigger bedroom and bathroom at the other end. The two smaller bedrooms joined the main part of the house at a right angle, and outside, in the corner of this L-shape, a courtyard had been paved and planted. The living room and the main bedroom opened to this courtyard with wide French doors that let in plenty of light. Walls were roughly plastered and washed creamy-white, windows were hung with plain linen curtains on big wooden rings, furnishings were simple — it was perfect.

As she swung her little Fiat into the drive by the front door, James woke up and rubbed his face with two enormous hands.

“This I where I live,” Julia said.

“But what am I … ?”

“I figured it’d be easier for you to stay a night here and then tomorrow we can find you somewhere else to stay.”

“But I …”

She opened her car door. “Got any better ideas? You’ll never get accommodation round here right now — the Paleo is bigger than Ben Hur.”

James got out of the car and staggered slightly as he straightened. “It’s food poisoning,” he told her.

“In Sienna?” Julia was incredulous.

“Yes, in Sienna. Must have been a dodgy prawn … umph … in the risotto … ugh.” He made a dreadful swallowing sound and Julia thought she’d better get him inside quick and close to a loo.

“You don’t look too crash hot. Come in and lie down and we can talk later.”

He made no argument when Julia led him into her room, showed him the bathroom, gave him a towel and left him to it.

It was far easier to let him have her room, the main bedroom. One of the two smaller rooms at the other end of the house was now her studio, and she could easily sleep in the other adjoining one, out of James Connor’s way, out of earshot, and with access to her work. And the phone and her computer. And the kettle.

Mentally thanking Carlotta for ensuring the house had good plumbing and a workable kitchen, Julia put on the kettle for tea and started unpacking her shopping and then, mug of tea in hand, the package from the post office. Fresh new brushes, fresh new tubes of watercolour paints, a box of teabags, a bar of her favourite chocolate, and a quick hello-and-goodbye note from her sister in Bristol, the source of all these goods.

It wasn’t until she’d wandered outside into the courtyard that she remembered the letter from Massimo, and his and his gallery’s interest, and her stomach gave another little jump up to meet her heart.

It had been a hot day and the early evening air was still and warm, so Julia was doubly glad she had no need to cook tonight, not fancying the idea of food smells wafting though to her poor guest — and recalling how he’d blanched at the very mention of that killer risotto. No, this was her night up at the big house playing Scrabble with Carlotta. The two of them had quite a routine, with a light dinner on the terrace and a couple of good games. The older woman adored Julia's company and though Julia’s Italian was pretty good, she insisted they spoke and played in English.

Julia had just played “tic” when Carlotta turned it into “quixotic” and leant back in her chair triumphantly.

“So, come on Julia, what news from Sienna? Oh my God! That sounds so, Shakespearean doesn’t it?” She laughed and pushed back the sleeves of her linen shirt and crossed her legs, nudging Julia's leg playfully with an elegantly sandalled foot.

“Come on, have you heard yet from that gallery … um, what is it called?”
“Martinelli, and yes, I had a letter today.”

Carlotta jumped forward in her chair. “And do they like you?”

“Well …”

“Come on, what did they say? Honestly, Julia, this is like making mud from a stone.” Carlotta had an endearing habit of mangling her English clich├ęs.

“You mean like getting blood from a stone!”

“No matter – just as hard. What did they say?”

“Well, they said they liked my work …”

“Told you!”

“And Massimo wrote the letter himself, and …”

“They said thanks for showing them and they’d speak to me again soon …”

“Oh no!”

“… about the possibility of an exhibition there next spring!”

Carlotta ran on the spot in her chair and reached for the wine bottle to top up their glasses.

“My dear girl, I’m excited to bits for you — I knew it! I just knew it!”

Carlotta topped up their wine glasses.

“You’ll have to work hard, won’t you? How many paintings will you need?”
“Well, I’ve got about a dozen finished at the house right now, though I think I just sold one of those online this week, so I’m about halfway there,” Julia said.

“I’ll find out when I ring Massimo, but for the space, I reckon I’ll need at least twenty, so I’m aiming to paint about twenty-four or twenty-five so I can choose the best ones to show.”

“That’s more than one a month, you know.”
“I do know! I have a couple on the go at the moment, and it will all work out. I’ll get there.”
“Of course you will. Your turn, you know.”

It wasn't until they were clearing away the tiles of their second game that Julia remembered to tell Carlotta about James Connor.

“You mean to say you kidnapped the poor man?” Carlotta asked in amazement after Julia recounted the whole story.

“Well not exactly, I was just trying to help him out. It’s the only thing I could think of.”
“Oh that hotel, what’s it called? I know the one you mean, right behind the main square, yes. How intolerable.”
“So I thought I’d better let him stay until he’s well enough …”

Carlotta sighed. “But what if he’s a …”

“Look, it’s okay — I can lock my bedroom door and I’ll keep the car keys close tonight!” Julia was only half-serious, but Carlotta was not.

“I won’t sleep tonight now for worrying about you down there. It’s such a pity Ernesto is away this week.”
“It will be fine, don’t worry. If you could have seen the state he was in when we got to the house, you’d understand that he is far too weak and ill to do anything right now other than sleep.”

“I’ll call by tomorrow to look him over.”

“No, he’s so sick he may not even get out of bed tomorrow. I’ll ring you.”
“Well don’t forget — if I don’t hear from you by 10am, I’m coming down.”

When Julia made up her bed that night, no light showed from the other end of the house and there was not a sound from the obviously sleeping James Connor. She put her car keys on the bedside table, locked the door and with her mind fully on the work ahead of her got into bed to thumb through one of her many sketchbooks, knowing she would have to stick to a tight schedule in the coming months.

It was the smell of coffee that woke her the next morning, and noises in the kitchen. A much less rumpled James Connor was in the kitchen looking for cups, his hair damp from the shower, clean shirt and jeans in evidence.

“Good morning. Sugar and milk?” he asked, as watched her padding through into the kitchen.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

My trashy romance (2)

Part 1 is here.

Julia had reasonable Italian and easily picked up the words for "disgusting" and "drunk" from a well-heeled couple leaving the hotel lobby, but as she peered in, stunned by the kerfuffle in such a neighbourhood, it quickly became apparent that drunkenness was not the problem here. The concierge and a colleague she assumed to be the maitre d' were haranguing a third man, who was doubled over in a chair across from the desk. From the state of his face and his rumpled linen shirt and jeans, Julia could understand why the couple who had just left must have thought he was drunk. But what she couldn't understand was the hostility of the hotel staff.
There was a sudden angry roar from the man as the concierge attempted to grab him by the arm and pull him from the chair, and the man stood up, pale, with big dark rings round his eyes.
Julia walked in further.
"For heaven's sake — I can't believe you're treating me this way," the man bellowed, shaking himself free.
Julia was stunned to hear English.
"All I need is another night in my room ..."

"But Signor, we are so very sorry," whined the maitre d', wringing his hands and looking about. Catching sight of Julia, he determined to placate this angry guest quickly and calm the scene before any more inquisitive onlookers gathered.
"It is the Paleo, you understand? We are fully booked ... your room ..."
"But goddammit, I'm sick!"
"I understand Signor, permit us to get you to hospital ..."
"I don't need hospital, I've seen a doctor; I just need sleep."
"May I suggest our sister hotel a Firenze?"
"Jesus, I'm not fit to travel — look at me!"
"It's just not possible, Signor ... !"
"I've never been treated so bbb ..." The Englishman retched with a shudder and put his hand to his mouth, at which point both the concierge and the maitre d' ran in panicky circles looking for suitable containers — not that the superb hotel decor ran to anything modern and plastic.
With great effort, the guest staggered off towards the lift at the back of the lobby and, Julia presumed, the men's room.
"Ah Signora, buon giorno ..." In the temporary lull, the concierge now turned his attention towards Julia and flashed her a weary but practised smile. "Have you a reservation?"
"No." Julia shot a wry glance at her plastic supermarket bag and post office parcel. Unlikely she'd ever be checking into such a hotel any time soon. She spoke in English.
"I was just passing and heard the commotion."
"Er, yes? And?"
"Your guest says he is unwell — why can't you let him stay another night?"
The smile dropped and the tone was icy. "And this concerns La Signora because ...?"
"Well, I ..."
"The Paleo starts in a little under a week, Signora, and the hotel has been booked for months in readiness. We do not have a room for the Signor, not even a cupboard. Not even a couch."
"But you must know somewhere he could stay, surely?"
"Aren't you in the slightest concerned about him?"
The maitre d' inhaled sniffily in a facial manoeuvre that involved both eyebrows, pivoted on his heel and returned to his desk, conversation over.
Julia picked up her stuff and was about to walk off when the guest reappeared in the lobby, looking, as her mother would have said, like Death warmed up. He had a suitcase and a big leather messenger bag across his body.
"Call me a cab."
Out of the blue, Julia called out, "Come with me. I'll try to find you somewhere to recuperate."
Watched with relief by the concierge and the maitre d', the big man walked towards her, too sick to argue, though his eyes softened with gratitude as he looked at her.
"Try not to speak, you'll need your energy to get to my car," Julia ordered, wondering what in the world she had got herself into - where would she take him? It was true, the entire town was in Paleo fever. Even in the village where she was living, a good eight kilometres away, every pension and hotel room was taken.
"Can you manage?" He was unable to walk very fast, and by the time they had reached the next corner, he sat heavily on some church steps.
"I'm sorry ..." he started, but Julia shooshed him.
"Look, you stay here a mo," she said, putting down her parcels and pulling her hair back from her face. "Look after all my stuff, and I'll go and get my car. It's parked outside the walls, about five minutes away from here, and I'll try to drive as close as I can to here."
He nodded but said nothing.
"Now stay here, okay? Don't wander off, or I'll never find you."
He looked up at her and she caught the ghost of a smile. "I'm unlikely to get anywhere," he said. "I'll be right here."
She had gone just a few steps when she flew back to his side. "My name is Julia, Julia Yates."
"Connor. James Connor." He took her outstretched hand in a warm, firm grip.
"Don't move, okay?"

Fifteen minutes later, Julia was driving gingerly towards her village with James Connor beside her, the back seat crammed with her packages and his luggage. She had not even thought about where to take him, or about how she would find him somewhere else to stay, but just drove towards her house as if on autopilot.

"How are you doing?" she asked as she swung off the main road and into a narrow lane.
"Been better — I can't thank you enough ... but where are you taking me exactly?"
Julia realised with a jolt that he hadn't a clue where the crazy lady was going.
"Oh god, sorry — I just thought you'd better stay at my place tonight and then when you feel up to it tomorrow, we can hunt round for somewhere else — is that okay?"
He nodded, closed his eyes, and rested his head against the cool of the car window.

* Who is this James Connor and what is he doing in Sienna?
* Who is this Julia Yates and what is she doing in Sienna? How old is she, what does she look like and how attractive is she?
* Has she never heard of Stranger Danger?
Find out in part three ...

Friday, 27 May 2011

Close proximity to best practice

My best friend Shelley sent me the above list this morning, and I have quite a few words to add to it.
I find some wild clangers in my job. For example, the prominent TV news reporter who, working for us many years ago, once interviewed a man who had turned 100 and in her report called him a "spritely centurion". Wrong on both counts!
So I'll start my list with the word she thought she had — the word that all young reporters tend to imagine to be the one-word-fits-all when they're writing about old people: sprightly. I can't bear to write about it, I hate it so much.
Young reporters also like to refer to women in terms of their offspring, and generations of offspring, rather than as individuals with skills, personality, character, talents, and entire lives of their own. So if I get the chance, wherever it is irrelevant, I will change "Swanbourne mother-of-two Bronte Smith" to Bronte Smith, of Swanbourne.
We had a great story recently about a 54-year-old athlete and wave-ski champion who was about to go to the world championships in Europe, and the reporter called her a "paddling granny". And the 68-year-old sub-editor (a bloke) had called her that in the heading as well.
I have my work cut out for me.
And our beautiful, logical language is under constant attack by the perpetrators of bureaucratic bullshit-speak (outcomes, stakeholders, best-practice, results-based, key performance indicators, mission statements, and so on ad nauseam), the worst of whom are teachers, local government office staff, and police officers, followed by government workers, "communication consultants" and "media consultants".
Anyway — here are some others I can think of, in no particular order.
Corporate (especially in job titles)
Currently (redundant in 90% of cases when qualifying a verb in the present tense).
Close proximity (which means close closeness). Oh, and approximate means nearly, so more approximate means nearer, not the opposite.
Enormity (has nothing to do with size, just as noisome has nothing to do with sound)
Impact as a verb (I'm retching)
Core, as in core values, core message (see bureaucratic bullshit-speak above)
Synergy, and synergistic
Icon and iconic
Gifted, when gave will do!
Going forward
Moot, mooted (have you ever heard this word spoken?)
Post-modern (when it is clear the speaker has no effing idea what this means. No effing idea at all. As in, "That's very post-modern of you!")
Plumped (instead of chosen!)
Youth (instead of teenager. Have you ever called a young person a youth? Or even worse, a juvenile?)
Further instead of farther when you mean distance.
Further when you mean more.
Feisty — usually how a young buck reporter describes an older woman who has all her own teeth and won't put up with any crap.
New (as in, "The man is building a new house". Let's see the bugger build an old one!)
Suffered ( "she suffered a fall", "she suffered a fracture to her arm", she "suffered from cancer". And then "the 50-year-old diabetes sufferer ..." Vomit.)
Participate (instead of take part).
Analog, and the even sadder analogue (I imagine people think this is somehow the correct, non-American spelling!), when what is really meant is "non-digital". This has come about because many, many years ago, my children, our first widespread encounter with things digital was watches. The traditional style of watch, with hands and numbers 1 to 12, is called an analog watch because the movement of its hands round its its 360-degree face is analagous to the passing of time in minutes and hours. So the dunderheads have decided this means non-digital.
The phrase, "tributes are pouring in for ... ", which is how TV and radio news wallies always start reports of famous or worthy people's deaths. I've often wished some enterprising photographer or news video-type person could get us footage of "tributes pouring in". I'd so like to see what they look like. I've never seen any, have you?
And when there has been a death in a small town, we learn "The small community of Woop-Woop is in mourning today ..." Presumably they'll all feel better when the tributes start pouring in.
Utilise (use, please)
Signage (signs will do)

No doubt I'll think of more. What words, phrases and cliches drive you nuts?

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

My trashy romance (1)

Julia couldn't suppress feeling smug as she walked across the piazza and settled at a table set for one under a big canvas umbrella. Depositing her shopping bag on the cobblestones and securing her handbag to the chair, she summoned a waiter, ordered lunch and leaned back to drink in the view over the low terrace wall. The restaurant was perched on a high piazza on the edge of the ancient town, which was itself perched on top of a hill. From here, the view swept across a deep green valley to houses and gardens on the other side, the brick and terracotta of the houses and old garden walls interspersed with bamboo stakes, rows of vegetables, and vines. So much terracotta, she thought, and so many trees — so unlike home ...
Julia did not often stop for lunch when she was in Sienna. Her visits were usually far more perfunctory — but this time, as well as a tidy parcel of art supplies, her box at the post office had contained a letter from Rome, and the news this letter contained was worth at least an icy glass of wine in this beautiful corner of the city, if not a whole indulgent lunch for one.

Once lunch had arrived, she allowed herself to re-read the letter, taking in once more, as if for the first time, the heavy notepaper subtly embossed with the gallery's name and logo in one top corner, the polite greeting and, at the bottom of the single page, the single word scrawled boldly in blue-black ink (so much more tasteful than blue or black on its own!): Massimo. And above and beyond the thrill of realising — all over again — that the gallery owner, whom she had met only once, had signed this very important letter to her with his Christian name, was the ultimate thrill of the letter's content: The directors were so very happy to have met La Signora when she was in Rome last week, and to admire her work, and they would very much like to talk again to La Signora about — Julia took a big gulp of wine as she re-read this bit — the possibility of an exhibition next spring, and could La Signora kindly telephone Massimo — not Signor Martinelli, but Massimo — to arrange another meeting at her convenience?
With a celebratory "Woo hoo!" and a raised glass to dear old Massimo that drew curious glances from other diners, Julia smiled widely but unapologetically, stuffed the letter back into its envelope and her bag and tucked in to her veal.
After lunch, having checked the letter was safe in her bag (she did not want to admit to herself that really she was confirming its existence), Julia picked up her shopping and headed through the town towards her car, wishing she had worn more sensible shoes for walking over cobbles, but knowing there must have been a good reason she had decided to wear heels for this trip into town today.
She approached the big square at the centre of the old town, but her way into it was barred by temporary barricades. A small army of workers had blocked off all access into the square and everywhere people were running about carting equipment from small trucks: hundreds of straw bales, flags, bunting, PA systems, electrical boards, lights and tools. Early evidence of the imminent Paleo, Julia realised — the world-famous bareback horse race that has been held in the square every summer for centuries. She turned away from the noise and frenetic activity and headed down a side street, hoping it would wind its way back in the direction she wanted. This was a very beautiful part of the town, with tiny and narrow streets lined with medieval houses all pressed close together, their large wooden doors pulled shut and giving no indication of the buildings' splendid interiors. Just ahead, a smart awning indicated the entrance to a tiny hotel and Julia slowed as she approached, unaware whether it was her keenness to inspect the hotel's bijou lobby or the noise of the row that was clearly going on inside that caused her eventually to stop and stare.

* What's happening in the hotel lobby?
* Is Julia already just a teensy bit in love with Massimo?
* Is Massimo married?
* Can vampires speak Italian?
Read the next instalment to find out ...

Friday, 20 May 2011

My Friday

Taken by my very talented son Will just a few minutes ago.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011


Another blanket on the bed, the occasional rain shower, soup in the fridge. Projects on the go, books in the Kindle, Adele on the iPod, Chris Lilley on the telly tonight. Lovely!

Monday, 16 May 2011

Good choice

She has a box of toys at our house, with dollies, teddies, Lego, and all sorts of rattly, noisy and shaky things — the works.
But right now, the thing she seems to like best of all is my Liberty fabrics. If she goes with me into the room where I sew, she ignores all the other many and fabulous fabrics and goes straight for the Liberty, which I keep in one of those thick plastic bags, the sturdy rectangular ones, with a zip on three sides, the sort you buy bedlinen in. The one she is sitting in.
She takes the pieces out one at a time, inspects them and arranges them about her, then she drapes them over her head before returning them to the bag.
Some people reckon this is just dressing up and that she will be crazy about clothes.
But I think she might be into sewing one day (if I have anything to do with it).

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

South again

We had another wonderful weekend down south, where there has been almost as little rain as we have had here in the city.
In between card games (for 20 years, we've been playing the ancient French game of tarot), I did a spot of knitting (a beanie for my best friend Laura's son), and we managed a few beach walks, a run into town for cream buns from the bakery, and a ramble in the bush.
Despite the long dry, the ground was sprinkled with a few patches of green, and my best friends Rachel and Thierry very excitedly spotted this minuscule autumn-flowering orchid.
I was very happy when one of our native bees landed on one of them, showing clearly how tiny these delicate flowers are.There was also the cutest little pinky-brown toadstool ...
On the same path there's this majestic old coastal gum, with massive low-spreading branches. It must be hundreds of years old.Back to work this arvo!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011


Have you ever seen such a beautiful tulip?
Yesterday was the first of several appointments my mother had at the eye hospital, to have her other eye fixed, and so we called in to see my best friends Wayne and Shelley, who live about 200m from the clinic.
They spoiled us with morning tea in their beautiful garden, setting the table in the sunshine with a vase of the most wonderful pink and cream roses, sweet peas and these tulips.Between cups of tea, fancy biscuits, old English china and chat, we breathed in lungfuls of sweet pea perfume and were amazed by the wonder of these divine tulips, with their double row of petals all frilled with deep pinking.Then Mum and I were off for a stroll up and down Rokeby Road and a spot of lunch. A fab day!

:: Added later (after a day at work): I asked for tulip ID help from Jane Brocket who, as well as being a blogging legend, is an enthusiastic and knowledgeable tulip grower. She kindly emailed me and told me it was a
double-fringed tulip, called Queensland.
Such a pity we can't grow such beauties here in Perth!