Writing as it’s meant to be

Not all stories are meant to be stories. 

Some can just be a fact, a fun fact, a fact of the day. And as a matter of fact, not all stories are meant to have a moral or a clever catchy ending. My professor at the Master’s used to say that, when writing a story, the subject can be whatever – like your grandma cooking spaghetti – as long as you can make that subject a something that people can universally feel.

Also, to bear in mind: never start with the title! A story (or a fact) is like a sugar container: you need to turn it upside down to get sweetness out of it. Simply put, always start from the end! If you know where you’re aiming, you can better develop a story and be consistent with what you’re willing to share. It’ll be easier then to assign a nice and coherent title to that article.

“How do you write stories?”

Can’t say. I’m not good at writing.

“Whatever. Just say something and don’t screw this up.”

Very kind…

Ok, fine. How do I do…? Usually standing in the tube while struggling to find a good spot to type on my iPad. Oh sorry, maybe the question was different. You mean, is there a style that I follow? 

Ehm…do you understand what I write? Well, If you do, that is my style. 

“What’s the first step of writing?” 

For me, analysis. Complex scientific experiments are conducted on people and objects everyday. Then I measure results and extract accurate stats from…

Nah!… I look around. I look at the details that surround me: I separate the morning sleepy expressions from the actual feelings, isolate them and try to interpret. (I have nothing else to do while on the tube, thus this is good entertainment.)

Speaking of tips for writing – and assuming that I’m entitled to give any – get some more hereafter.

Please don’t get too emotional! Of course you need to feel something while writing – you don’t want a set of cold words mechanically assembled together, do you?! And if you don’t feel them in the first place, others won’t either. Just be smart when you do! Don’t get too sentimentally attached to your articles and don’t only be tragic or melodramatic. Go wider!

A universal feeling is not hard to find. Let’s be banal: love, sadness, pride, fear, or the Incubus playing Drive in my earphones in this moment. The description just follows straight, as long as it’s clear and, above all, sincere. Don’t be too articulate: don’t use words and hermetic sentences that only specific elites of people can decode and understand. It’s useless. Make it easy!

A feeling must be a part of a bigger thing, a bigger happening, a bigger situation. For everyone. As big as it might be, go capture that something, that detail that not everybody will notice: that will be your gimmick. Then stop the description and detour the story with a groundbreaking plot twist! Try to get at least one to give the story an unexpected direction, a direction that will impress the reader. That new direction will be your resolution: the moment when you let people empathize. A process that I like to call Personification.

So, along with what previously said, how would you describe your love for something or somebody? Start searching for the most adjacent words/adjectives to love. Found some? Swell! Now go dig in your personal love experiences and come up with a good match. Do they collide or align? Either way, you’ll have an interesting match for the story.

“Ok Jim, so give an example.”

What…? Like…now?! 

“Yeah, here you’re acting like some kind of writer with your tips and tricks. So what?”

Bu..but I told you I’m not good at writing.

“And what’s your point then? Do you feel satisfied playing the intellectual? Are you freaking out or what, man? Show some balls!”

Ok, ok, ok, chill out…

Let’s give this a try then. How would I do…?

For instance, I love writing. I really do. It’s the only way for me to express all the things that I couldn’t say face to face, all the inner thoughts, all the secrets that I have carefully been hiding. Not kidding, it’s real love.

Now how would I describe love.

Love. Adjacent words (for me): magnetic, spell, coincidence, addiction, mind, gravity, shocking, instinct, safeguarding, fearing, forgive, survive. 

How do I match them.

—–

She. The most beautiful and magnetic creature I’ve ever seen. Her perfume, her scent, her body, her skin. Me enchanted by an inflammable spell; my fingers designing her shapes. We were there and–no! the world didn’t stop but started spinning faster. The terrestrial axis would incline to make that wonderful coincidence happen. We had just run out of Ferrero Rochers when the dawn illuminated that room. The infinite in a so small range of space. The eternity in a so small range of time. Addiction: craving for those lips. Before, during, after. Her mind: that complicated and escape-less Alice-in-Wonderland’s maze. That unbeatable Rubik’s cube with no matching colours. 

A sense of heavy gravity, that lightly pushes upwards. 

Staring at her – walking, moving, talking – was a damn shocking experience. I would have never lost her tracks: I would follow that sugary big-eyed puppet in all her movements and gestures.

The fact is though, that nobody wants to suffer, nor would I. And it’s known that after the most serious illnesses, heartbreaks are the most painful diseases. 

Although I can’t love.

One day, long before I met her, my feelings were transformed into a rational instinct. My heart still pumped blood but my veins were obstructed by all the let-downs and cheating that my dearest and beloved people had reserved for me. And the more you stay away from relationships, the more inert you become. You whither. And then it’s only about safeguarding yourself. Nothing else exists but an unstable personality that only alcohol can balance.

At some point you are alone and…and – hell I never thought I’d say this – but when you ask questions to yourself, when you make it look like an interview, when you fake everything as you’d only want some love from the ones that turned on you…it means you’re fucking lonely!… And loneliness fucking kills!

All stands up though: until you start fearing, until you realise that you don’t want to grow up. And not for yourself no, but for the only 2 people you care about–you’re scared they would grow old. 

Fear? Step up, take a cold shower and be a man: you need to forgive yourself! You understand me?! FORGIVE YOURSELF YOU STUPID IDIOT!

Look at me, shit, LOOK AT ME: will you die or survive for her? ANSWER!…

—–

See, despite the descriptive sentences above, this is not to be called a story. This is just a fact, a detail, a something that happened one day.

And as a matter of fact, it didn’t last. A story would have its time, its places, its characters, its development. This one instead is just a random mix of everything. It doesn’t have a moral and there’s no clever catchy ending.

It’s a fact: as not all stories are meant to be stories.

I really love writing. And honestly…oh, fuck it!…I have loved that girl.

“And why the hell didn’t you tell her?”

I told you, I’m not good at saying things face to face.

“So, why didn’t you write it down?”

…I did screw up: I’m not good at writing.

Jim
The Britalian Post

One thousand and one Arabian nights

In December 2011, my family, my aunt’s and various members of my extended family, decided to spend the week till Xmas eve in Sharm-el-Sheik. A hot December was new to me and someway odd, though it was worth experiencing. 

I had never been in Egypt and that was an opportunity to visit a small part of it, at least–sincerely said, not that I went nuts for Sharm (nor would I even go today), it’s such a touristy area.

Let’s cut this short. 

The resort was fantastic. From the bar at the main entrance, you could see it stretching over for hundreds meters till it crumbled into a wide quiet beach. Pools, restaurants and bars all over – the latter were the ones we would attend the most. (Hey I’m not the only good drinker in the family, what did you think?)

We also took many trips to visit historical spots and characteristic towns, hidden beaches and the coral reef, the dreary and lifeless desert and posh casinos.

Mmm…For me, thumbs down!…

It just was not what I was expecting. Not that I believe in cliches but, what about the land of the 40 thieves? What about its magic and mysterious appeal? And the mythical characters of the bedtime stories? All ruins of a forgotten era buried under thick layers of golden western ashes. The leftovers of a population knelt to a new dominion: the green touch of a European Midas.

This acknowledged, instead of going to the sea, lying under the sun, enjoying the transparent water, I would sit in the hall and study for an exam – indeed, me! My parents definitely couldn’t believe it. At the time my focus was more into my studies and my band. We were launching an EP for Xmas and an album was due to go live asap on the new year. The Xmassy mini EP consisted of 3 songs: acoustic versions of 2 songs included in the album and a guitar-and-voice track. Cool stuff!

That aside, can’t find any other reasons to my lonesome behaviour. Either Xmas puts that mode on or I’m a kind of weirdo. I second that!

All in all, even if Sharm had no charm, the time in there was pleasant. The company was fun and the trips on the coach turned into pure comedy. 

Few days after, still before Xmas, I turned 24. On the night of my birthday – the midnight of the 22nd – we stopped at a bar straight out of the resort to open a bottle of champagne. Suddenly, all the people that worked in there, gathered around me and started singing some Arabic song. That was droll! Must say: people there still got a thing. 

And from that moment onwards, I started learning that many individuals had thrilling stories to tell, unique tales of a culture so different from mine. Our guide, in fact, would tell us of mysteries, legends, ancient uses and habits that Europeans can only admire: stories of Bedouins, of the desert’s bandits, of magic arts and connections with the afterlife, of glory and fallen kingdoms. Fascinating!

How can you not think of Aladdin? How can you not think of a flying carpet, of a magic lamp and a feisty Genie that grants all your wishes? 

I can’t say whether such things really happened in a time back then. Yet, something magnificent can simply be true.

Assuming that not all feelings can be explained in words, let me try to describe one specific night. 

A different world, a different sky, a different moon.

That moonlight. That absurd shimmering effusion radiated some enchantment and magnetism that would make one night last a thousand. It was in the air: medieval folklore and legendary myths could have arisen from the sand to interrupt the silence. No surprise.

I was by myself sitting on a short wall under a palm out of my bungalow, and although I was wearing earphones, the placid music couldn’t distract me from that huge and blazing moon – closer than ever – that along with a lucid dark blue sky were wallpapering the weird veil of secrecy that had wrapped the resort. The atmosphere was surreal.

I swear to my life that the finest European night will never be as beautiful.

Fast forward to the present day.

We often go have dinner at one of the Turkish/Arabian restaurants that give onto Harringay Green Lanes, which is only 5 mins walking from my place. 

Who is “we”? Bruna and I! Do you remember my cousin? Yep, now she also has a name. 

Anyway, the food in there has very high standards and I undoubtedly rate it 5 stars, as well as the impeccable service. One of the waiters always puts on an extra large smile to greet us and we are always treated with utmost kindness. 

Time after time, this guy started inviting us in for a mint tea and some sweets on the house–in fact, he seemed to enjoy our company. We would talk a lot. We learned about his glorious story, his difficult roaming to London, his tumultuous past, his 70-hour-a-week shifts. Nonetheless, he looked always extremely energetic and unstoppable with his can-do attitude and hard-working ethic. His appearance was more of a fit stylish European fellow: a boy of manners, smart-dressed, and in a great shape. His robust look, captivating tone of voice and fierce personality, were solid traits of his esoteric background, features of centuries of enthralling roots. He was special: he was a vivid and intriguing untold mystery.

Once, he asked us to spend a night out together and got in touch a few times to make arrangements. Unfortunately, due to various commitments, advance-planned stuff, or just being awfully tired, weekdays (the only days he was available) are not always a good moment for us to hang out. Thus, although he had asked us out several times, the night never happened. 

We stopped going to the restaurant for a while.

Going a bit off-topic. You got to know that seldom London devours people from the inside. It’s not just the long commuting, or the intensive days of work, or the unstable housing conditions. It’s the sempiternal need for rushing, the feeling of being always in the wrong spot, the lack of long lasting relationships and people you can trust; it’s the chaos, the insecurity of what will happen the next day. And all consumes you till you grow bags under the eyes, expressive wrinkles, and some hair come grey. London makes you stronger on the outside but weaker on the inside, by acting like a slow spreading cancer.

(In this moment, while I’m writing, I’m standing at the bus stop with hundreds of people in the hope that the 341 won’t be too late. History repeats itself. And I seriously need a beer!)

Back to the story. 

Few months later, we went back to the restaurant for my dad’s birthday (my parents had come to town for a week). Ali was there: all done up and smiling as usual. Only one thing had changed: his look. His eyelids were heavy, his cheeks limp, his mouth shivering. His movements were slow and his speaking almost nonsense. He told us he had started a second job – that ended him having half a day off – because he was in need of some extra money. 

His words had no more confidence whatsoever but got liquefied into an unconscious flow of tired thoughts that he would randomly throw up. 

The mysterious Arabian guy – the guy with the enchanting background and the majestic past – gave the way to a common cold European London fellow, a somebody that has been corrupted by a forced material lifestyle to survive in a different world. He was now equal, he was no exception. The unforgettable Arabian nights, the legends, the eastern wind, by now only belonged to a faraway land. 

Ali wanted only one night, just one single night. But we were way too blind… As blind as London made us.

Ali was alone. 

Ali is alone. 

But Ali is strong and won’t quit. 

Sometimes I walk by the restaurant and look inside through the big windows, and can’t stop thinking of that night.

It was too late.

In the real world, the Midas’ touch is no legend, and his body began to rust. His infinite roaming had finally stopped and he was granted a special night that would last a thousand. 

Where is he now?

Ali is now in the stories of one thousand and one Arabian nights.

(Goodbye Ali).

Jim
The Britalian Post

The musical

One of the first musicals I ever saw was We will rock you: a future-set story where music is prohibited and human beings are under the control of a dictator that seeks to transform them into drudges prone to passive obedience. Kind of.

Unwilling to undergo this form of dictatorial power are rebel gangs fighting with authorities to bring music back. The musical is shaped on the music from Queen as well as the characters that take their names and personalities from the songs. 

I saw We will rock you with my parents in January 2003 at the Dominion Theatre – guess where? – in London (same place, a younger Jim). Clear in my mind I remember the excitement, the surprise, the music played live, the comedy acts, the actors’ great voices, and a deep melancholy for the songs–Queen were my first idols when I was only 4. The show ended with Bohemian Rhapsody, that is not only one of the best and most heartfelt songs ever but a real national anthem.

On the song’s last solo – and everyone had already been challenged emotionally by the grandeur that they were attending – you can barely imagine how it felt when Brian May in flesh and bones showed up on stage to do the solo himself. A totally unexpected surprise that made the audience literally jump off of their chairs and loudly cheer to the top-notch rockstar.

We were standing in the last row – as no more seats were available when we bought our last minute tickets – and the epiphany left us speechless: few meters away was the member of one of the most outstanding bands in the history, a band that my dad and I have always so badly loved. The show, the songs, his presence on stage, all deeply touched me and I’m not afraid to say that thick tears started watering my hopeful 15-yr-old face.

The show tremendously inspired me: I no longer wanted to be among an unknown audience. I wanted to stand out and be a star myself. 

I was very young.

See, I’ve always had a thing for musicals: for the way they make life seem so much more alive, for the pure representation of love, for the characters’ unbeatable courage, for the wise lines, for the glorious endings. 

I’ve always wanted to be an actor and play an active role in a real life musical. And in my mind I actually have. I’ve often dreamt of being in a perfect romantic late springtime setting – like a bench on a path surrounded by dim lampposts in a lonely but fancy park – sitting with that one girl you like. And make her night special by suddenly standing up, dancing and singing on that super cool music coming from nowhere. Nice, uh?!

I’ve also miserably tried with music in the endeavour to become a rockstar, and for a while I really felt like one. I would have sacrificed my life, my sleep, my studies, my affections, my everything, to pursue the dream and be an active presence on stage. And it was definitely worth it, I don’t regret a minute of that time. But this is another story…

So not long ago, I was in Edinburgh for a weekend escape with my cousin. That would be my birthday present from her side. Edinburgh was so cold that we thought we would soon start icing but the weather didn’t stop us from taking part in all the activities the city has to offer. Hence on the Friday we joined a pub-crawling event. 80 people, 7 pubs, cheap drinks. Heaven! I still have confused memories except for the stunning Spanish girl that I discovered to be so freaking beautiful only the day after on Facebook while going through a horrible hangover that totally knocked me out. (Shame on me.)

At the 5th pub, we would entertain ourselves mostly with two funny French girls, both students I reckon. While clinking glasses, the girls told us they would leave in 2 days for a journey through the Scottish Islands. And leading us into temptation, we were asked to join.

The night was over and we managed to get to the hotel safe and sound–obviously we had first stopped to eat a huge burrito at about 3ish in the morning. Did you doubt it?

The night after (our last night in Edinburgh), before going to the appointment with the Ghost Bus Tour, we had a beer at this rustic open-area bar on Princes Street. Live acoustic chill-out music was playing on the background while the wind was visibly dragging us away. Luckily, hot lamps were slowly warming our chats. 

Our chats…

I guess I don’t need to be specific but…ok I will. 

We’re cousins, right. We have more or less the same blood flowing in our veins. We’ve grown up together, we’ve been facing London together, we’ve learned each other’s thoughts, secrets, fears, behaviour, flavours, types. Some may simply call it family; I will call it: love far beyond terrestrial love. (Yeah…sometimes love can go beyond love. How crazy…)

And we don’t necessarily need words to communicate. A mutual look and she brought it up. What? The girls’ invite of course. 

Now hang on, hang on a sec. Stop all your current thoughts and ask yourself: what would I quit everything for? Does it need to be something extremely vital or I’m brave enough to challenge my life? 

Tough one!

That’s what we asked each other – and in the meantime that melancholic music was boosting an ideal musical-style moment when you opt for the challenge and leave everything behind. “It’s done! Decision taken.”

A mellow mutual smile.

In the real world though, what happens when we walk away from this very place and the music disappears in the distance placing a full stop to this musical we’re looking to play? 

Was music the only key to everything? (…funk me!)

I really wish we never considered this possibility. In that moment, job duties, career, commitments and responsibilities came up to interfere. 

We didn’t go. 

We spent our last great day in Edinburgh and went back to our regular life in London.

What had happened to the young people that were once supposed to be stars? That were once meant to stand out and take up on stage?

We had grown up. 

Once again we were no actors in the musical. We were only attending its grandeur.

Jim
The Britalian Post

A spaghetti incident

Pasta. 

A handy, quick, happy and satisfying solution to feeding hungry guests. The genius of a clever inventor, the melody of a hit song, a company for the lonely evenings when you’re drowning in intense movies and glasses of red wine. A superstar of supermarkets, a natural and delicious body integrator, the icing on the cake, the… icing on the cake?!

Ok I’ve got this wrong, lets start over again.

Ehm…yes…

Pasta.

The nights we’ve spent together have always been so sweet. Well, some have. Me, the movies, and you in huge servings. Parmesan on top and bread aside to clean the plate afterwards. That’s the Italian trick!

Since advertising is by now invading most of the TV broadcasting, I’m obliged to watch hundreds of boring never ending commercials. One in particular has come to my attention: a pasta sauce named “Pormio”, a proper Italian sauce as the advertisement claims. A happy puppet family is portrayed having dinner altogether in a countryside setting or so, while speaking a horrible English squeezed in a strong and tacky Italian accent. An old fashioned family in an old fashioned kitchen – and one of the puppets (the farmer, the father…who knows?!) even had bushy moustaches and a single eyebrow!!! Terrible…

First of all, I would never buy that purple disgusting sauce in my whole life. Secondly, may the gods strike me with lightening if my family and I have ever been waving hands up in the air while speaking out loud or wearing white dirty tank tops. Is it really how people portray Italians?

YES!!!

…Ok, fine.

So that night, I started doing some zapping till I saw a program I do really like: Impossible kitchens USA.

Gordon Irvine was heading to an Italian restaurant in New Jersey with the intent of resolving the issues it was experiencing. Since he is renowned chef, I couldn’t wait to learn some new recipes while he was coaching the cook on the culinary specialties of our country. And the confusion begins right here: chicken parmesan (I don’t even know what it is), linguine with chicken, pizza with pineapple, ossobuco with shrimp, risotto with mushrooms and chicken. Wow…Seriously?! I believe I don’t need to tell you that these dishes are all but Italian culinary specialties. The worst though was a very simple dish: spaghetti with meatballs. Ok it’s a specialty in southern Italy and we love it, but that one looked hideous! 

Now, I know a thing or two about pasta and when the camera went past the dish, I could see it was horrendously overcooked. Plus the sauce was brownish and sticky, and the meatballs were…I can’t even describe.

Fair enough. Other countries have been creative with our food and it’s alright, maybe something good also came out. Those creativities have eventually become the rule about Italian food abroad till they’ve given birth to stereotypes.

Perhaps, that’s why that Friday evening after work, at the pub right around the corner, an amusing Spanish girl I had just met appeared to be pleased to get to know an Italian guy. She would then politely introduce me to her colleagues highlighting my “fabulous origins” (in her words) – for once, that was utterly flattering. Under all possible circumstances that were making me enjoy the night, the whole setting disgracefully turned gloomy when one of those guys started laughing at me, saying repeatedly that he couldn’t find his wallet–yes, a “funny” reference to the fact that I’m Neapolitan, very funny indeed. And I eventually realised that all that politeness and the appreciation I received were just acts of a wider performance they had set up to mock me.

(Between us, they could have saved the effort).

No, I didn’t lose my temper nor I’d give him a punch on the face, which I should have done. I put on a last fake and pitiful smile before wearing my headphones and walking away.

You know, I could feel discriminated, if it’s to be called discrimination. I could say they were racist, though we didn’t belong to different races. I could say a lot of things but all would mean victimising myself and letting them win.

At the end of the day, as for pasta sauce advertisements, food mis-creativity, and recipes mystifications, I’ll take it very easy and simply call it a spaghetti incident.

Jim
The Britalian Post

Another stop goes by

One who lives in London must be prepared to spend most of the daily life travelling throughout the city. An average journey can take up to an hour and a half, so you happen to listen to artists’ complete discographies, read entire books and magazines, watch movies in HD – even countdown the days of your life! – or simply have long chats with your fellow commuters. 

Many of my journeys are spent in company of my cousin on the 341 bus route from Islington up to North London. That one is actually a pretty fast journey, a journey during which we are half of the time starving to death while the other half is dedicated to guilty feelings. Why? Obviously for the amount of food we have swallowed, not to mention the alcohol waterfalls. No objections, we are a very funny couple.

Now, as many may know, an automated bus speaker calls all the stops on the route, so that you’re always aware of when you need to get off. Also, in the very middle of the bus, and on the front wind screen on the upper deck, a screen indicates the stops as you’re approaching them along with the current hour. And that’s the salvation! 

Why is that?

When you’re not an English native, although your comprehension quickly gets to be good, rather than the speaking that requires more and more practice, you will not be totally familiar with the language and words can easily sneak out of your listening.

So here we are, sitting at the first seats at the entering doors, no screen. The voice calls the next stop and here’s what we hear:

Br/$#%y!@”3d Road

Puzzled expressions on our faces! Both witlessly disoriented: Br/$#…WHAT?!

(Yes, so lost in translation… See the connection with the blog’s title?! No, no, just in case some of you haven’t noticed.)

Therefore, more than often, the name of the stops that end with Road or Street seem to us to have quite the same sound. It’s like stops didn’t have a name but only a stuttering pronunciation – at least that’s what my cousin and I agreed to make life easier and feel less ignorant. So every time we hear the name of a stop or anything else we can’t clearly figure out, we just think: Br/$#%y!@”3d Road.

Honestly, took us a few weeks to catch the real name – we didn’t get it by ourselves and just saw it on the screen if you’re wondering. 

Eager to know what that actually is?! The stop is called Brownswood Road. 

I know what you folks are thinking but please bear with us poor immigrants.

And there we are, spending the time of our life in that bus talking about our daily fun and tragic facts, our love affairs gone bad, rumours from and about friends, the impossible dreams, the houses we’ll never be likely to afford in London, the travel we should be planning and, mainly, the body shape we’ll never get into.

Then stops went by as well as our journey.

And like a fictional flashback, I recall that girl. My companion of journeys on the Piccadilly line, my desk mate, an unknown foreign colleague that turned to be a friend. My friend, my chappette. And months later, in her effort to remain part of the tight team we created and hardly maintained against all odds–to still be a partner of the mutual complicity we built–she was just sent away without hesitation. For a mistake. For she was a human being. For not giving up. 

She disappeared in a finger snap and we didn’t even get to say goodbye. 

Time went by, she went by, and people quickly forgot. 

Our good morning coffees, our Paris, our tube pictures, our last tear drops, all vanished in feeble and concealed memories so that today I’m almost sure this all might have happened in my mind. And I keep asking myself..How’s she doing? Is she still loved? What’s her name? 

…Is she real?

Oh… Perhaps I just made her up. Perhaps she never existed and she’s just another stop that went by.

Jim
The Britalian Post