Coma, what coma?

It all started with an email entitled ‘worried’ from my mother.
No one had heard anything from my father for two days. “He’s not answering the door, or the phone,” she wrote. “The lady who lives below him hasn’t heard anything at all. And he’s locked the door with the key from the inside, so the cleaning lady can’t get in either.”
My parents split up when I was two years old, and although when my mother moved back to Italy a few years ago some old romantics (including me) thought they might rekindle their relationship, they live three and a half hours apart by car. But whenever there is a crisis, my mother hot-foots it up there from her home close to Rome, ever loyal and always heroic.
I had spoken to my father a few days before the email, and he had asked me to get Quentin Tarantino’s email address. “I have an idea for a film for him, about Fellini,” he told me. Being a dutiful daughter I had found his agent’s email address and sent it to him, I had not heard back. This is not unusual, my father corresponds as and when he feels like it. In fact he does most things as and when he feels like it, including answering his doorbell.
The day after the email my mother called to tell me that my aunt and uncle were on their way to my father’s flat and that she would be joining them as soon as she could get there. “I fear the worst,” she said.
I spent some extremely sombre hours imagining that my father had fallen over and hit his head and was lying somewhere in the apartment suffering, dying or even dead. I kept thinking about all the things I still want to talk to him about, and how I had been planning to see him in April.
Eventually the news came through that the fire brigade had broken into the flat through a window. It is a first-floor apartment in the main square of Novafeltria, a small town in northern Italy, and the gathered crowd enjoyed the drama enormously. They had found my father in bed apparently in a coma. He was carted off to hospital where my mother arrived soon after and sent me a text. “Benedetto in fine form,” it read. “Call us.”
I was utterly amazed. How could he go from coma to fine form in a matter of hours?
“What happened?” I asked him when I called. “Are you all right?”
“Of course I’m all right,” he told me. “I’m not in a coma, it’s everyone else that’s in a coma.”
He then spoke to his granddaughter, Olivia. “I couldn’t understand a word he said,” she told me, handing the phone back. “But he’s talking, and that’s the main thing.”
I’ll second that. He is being discharged in a couple of days, to give them time to fix the window.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2013

New Year, new name….

One of the results of making friends with my aunt again is that I am back in the will. I hasten to add that I am only back in the will because she tried to leave her money to my children, bypassing me, but was told they would have to pay inheritance tax. Now my aunt may hate me, but she hates the tax man even more. So back in the will I am.

On one condition; that I add the name Benedetti to mine.

I have always rather liked the name Benedetti and so have no objections to doing this. In fact I have for many years felt not only cheated of my birthright (inheritance from my grandfather which my father blew), but also my roots and Italian family. So it was in cheery spirits that I sat down in front of my laptop to rectify the mishaps of my parents on the deedpoll website.

It suddenly occurred to me as I sat there filling in my new name that I have also always felt rather cheated when it came to my christian name. I only have one. Everyone else I know has at least two, if not three. Some spoilt brats even have four. But I have only ever had Helena. How mean was that?

Never one to let a bargain go I thought ‘why not add another Christian name while I’m here?’ I mean it still costs the same and I may never have the chance again.

Now all that was left to decide was the name. I did not ponder for long. Emily briefly crossed my mind, after my heroine Emily Bronte. Alice is another favourite. But the name that hit me, stronger than any, was that of my favourite (ageing) ballet dancer come literary wife come writer come party girl: the audacious and glorious Zelda Fitzgerald.

So I am now Helena Zelda Benedetti Frith Powell. And not at all eccentric. Now where did I put my pointe shoes….?

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2010

My last day in Rome

Today was our last day in Rome. It has been a glorious seven days of walking (miles and miles of walking), museums, churches, cobbled streets and pasta (industrial quantities of pasta).

There have been many highlights. For example, the exhibition of Roman paintings where Leo and Bea spent hours copying the ancient images into little notebooks Piera bought them followed by dinner with Bea alone in our apartment one evening when Olivia was with my mother and Leo slept. I have rarely seen her so happy and animated. We ate cheese and bread and she ate sweetcorn and peas. It was most definitely our cheapest meal here but one of the nicest.

Bea’s first sighting of a prostitute (they skulk in the woods close to my mother’s house which makes it sound like a dodgy place but actually it’s not, it is a quite heavenly spot in the Umbrian countryside) was also one of the more memorable moments. When we explained to her what a prostitute does she said: “How silly, why don’t they just sell hats instead?”

Every day we have seen or experienced something special. Around every corner is something beautiful like a plant lit up or a fountain in a courtyard. Walking home just now we saw a tram covered in small light bulbs making its way up the hill lighting up the sky like a vast Christmas tree on rails. Rome is full of the most wonderful colours, sights, smells and hidden treasures. Even the air smells sweet.

We have visited at least one museum a day and I have loved it. For the first time ever I have really enjoyed wandering around looking at paintings. Maybe a year away has made me appreciate art and culture a little more.

Today we saw Benedetto, my father, who celebrated his 85th birthday two days ago. He gave me some good advice: Nulla dies sine linea. Happily he also told me what it means: Not a day without writing.


“Write anything, but write, even two lines” he said. “At the time you will think it is nothing but at the end of the year you will have a masterpiece.”

I realised that with my blog I more or less follow his advice although possibly not daily. I’m not sure about the masterpiece theory but I get the general idea.
As for the lowlights, well the worst thing will be leaving Rome and my family when we all head off for Florence tomorrow. Happily though my father is heading up that way too so we may see him again.

Another lowlight has been the Internet at the otherwise lovely Hotel Lord Byron where we moved after our little apartment (described in detail by Bea below). It is run by some crap company called Smartnet (should be called dimnet) and never works despite costing 20 euros for an hour. So if this blog is posted a few days late, blame them. When I am ruler of the world no hotel will be allowed to call itself five-star without having free functioning wireless.

And then finally to the loo seats, or rather the lack of them. Where are all the loo seats in Rome? Is there some huge black-market for second-hand loo seats I wonder? Is this how Romans supplement their income? And just how does one steal a loo seat without being caught? It is a mystery. In my view they should all be selling hats instead, much more profitable, and less menacing for us all.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2009

My first day in Rome by Bea

I love it here it’s great .
Today we are arriving in rome by train it’ gonna take us an hour to get there so wev’e arrived and we went to the taxi station and got a taxi from our appartement and we thought that it would be wonderful but when we get there daddy doesn’t like it that much.
I think in my mind I hate it it’s horrible we have to sleep here ….But now I got used to it .it’s a little bit big and it’s got a kitchen and we sleep there in the kitchen on a bed sofa it folds into a bed .Mummy and daddy’s room is a proper room with a big bed for two and a desk a draw a mirror a CD player |I don’t know if it works that well and 3 chairs one big one and 2 little ones from the kitchen witch we call our room mine and leo’s there’s a little door to the dressing room and another little door to the bathroom .And another door to Mummy’s and Daddy’s room it’s good the appartement but we share it with an old lady but it’s fine daddy’s says that she passes to much and we can hear her through our transparent door but we have curtains on them and then shutters we have that on both doors .Then we went out to lunch with one of daddy’s friend I ate penne with tomato sauce then we went to Fontana de trevi and mummy took 2 photos of me and leo then we went to get and Ice cream I had chocolate mouse and melted chocolate in a pot with a spoon leo had nutella in a cone and mummy and daddy shared one they had a cone to they shared an armond and vanilla .

bea spanish steps

Then we went to piazza de spagna and we went on every single step on the way down we counted them they have 120 steps in total it took two minutes to count them and then we took another taxi and went home to the appartement but before that we went down stairs to go to the super market and got a little bit of food for the kitchen then we arrived back me and Leo unpacked the shopping and mummy went out to get her hair done and we stayed in the house colouring then mummy came home and said the hair dresses aren’t open on Monday’s now we are going out for dinner.

bea trevi

By:Beatrice wright 9 years old
Date :30:09
Time :8:45

Back in the family fold

We are in Rome, which I have decided is my favourite city. “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Rupert told the children as we landed. “It took two days.”

“That long?” said Leo. He’s obviously got too used to Abu Dhabi.

The day before yesterday the unimaginable happened. My aunt, who has not spoken to me since Ciao Bella came out, asked to meet us at Piazza di Spagna at midday. When I spoke to her it was like nothing had happened. Like she had never been upset by the memoir and we had been in constant touch over the past four years and not totally silent with any necessary messages passing through my long-suffering mother.

I slept badly the night before we met. I was nervous. I planned all our outfits (well maybe not Rupert’s). The morning of the meeting we spent in Trastevere discovering some hidden museums with real gems like frescoes by Raphael. Then we went to the botanical gardens. As we were leaving Leo spotted a fountain. “Take a picture of me,” he demanded. I did as he asked and watched in horror as he fell in.

So now we had half an hour to get him a new outfit (including new shoes) and get to Piazza di Spanga for the important reunion.
We raced to find a taxi and asked to be dropped off on Via del Corso where there is a Zara. Fifty euros later we were rushing towards the piazza when I suddenly remembered I was wearing trainers.

My aunt would probably not speak to me for another four years if she saw me wearing trainers away from a tennis court. Happily Rome is stuffed full of shoe shops. It took me about three minutes from spotting a fetching pair of suede boots in a window to running onwards to our meeting wearing them.

I got to Piazza di Spagna at 12.10, 10 minutes late. You can always rely on my aunt to be even later, so thankfully she was none the wiser.

I am happy to report that it all went even better than I expected. Maybe there is a lecture she is storing up for me but so far all I have had is praise for the wonderful children and affection. My uncle Bertrand is as lovely as he always was and the children are mad about them both. We had the most glorious time going to an exhibition of Roman paintings and today she took the children to the Roman Forum.

It is lovely to be back and I think I finally know where we will move to once our Arabian adventure is over. But I will keep Leo away from the fountains.

Leo and Bea today on the Spanish Steps waiting for Piera

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2009

Running in the rain

This morning I went for a run around the lake, not the whole way round, it is 18 kilometres, but for about 15 minutes. Suddenly it started pouring with rain. My instinct was to shriek and call a taxi. But then I thought; rain, there’s a novelty, let’s see what it’s like. And you know what? It was heavenly. I had the same feeling I sometimes have on a sunny evening wandering through a green field. It was really lovely soft warm rain that moisturised my body and soul. I am not sure after however many years we will spend in the desert, I will ever complain about the rain again. Which is almost genetically impossible for someone brought up in England.

Last night at dinner Leo announed he wants to be a “popular singer”. I wonder if it is possible for someone who calls it that to ever make it, but feel sure his rendition of ‘the lion sleeps tonight’ will help him enormously. The girls are so grown up and beautiful after their Roman holiday – they are speaking Italian and seem so much bigger than the boy. Olivia is in love with Europe and calls Abu Dhabi “the onion, because it makes me cry”. Bea is at her happiest with her favourite people in the world Norrie and Mary. My mother has been staying with them and today we take her back to Geneva and her flight to Rome. After a month with the ferals she is looking forward to sleeping for several days.


Unlike our last holiday, I fear we will not be losing weight. Here at the dreamy Chalet du Lac we have breakfast then a three-course lunch followed by a three-course dinner, all washed down with fine wines. We stay here until Friday before heading back home to the Languedoc. Although it doesn’t really feel like home any more. It will be interesting to see what we think of it and whether Olivia changes her mind about the onion. I hope so, because we are quite happy there.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2009

A sobering revelation

I have given up drinking. Not in the way I normally give up, for a few hours every New Year, but this will be my ninth alcohol-free evening. It all started when Rupert was told by a personal trainer that he had to stop for a couple of weeks.
“I’ll do it too,” I said, ever the supportive wife.
Nine days later I am, well, hooked. I feel great. I am sleeping better, have lost a kilo and my skin is clearer (less red-faced some might say). It has been a total revelation. I can’t believe I have spent so many years thinking I can’t manage without a drink. Because I can actually manage better.
Having said that I am looking forward to a glass of wine once I get to France. There is a time and a place for everything and the time and the place for a glass of wine is at the hotel by the lake I have been dreaming about for weeks.


Feral update – last night they went to see Madame Butterfly. Olivia loved it, especially the love scene during which she stood up to get a better look. Bea sat through the first act and slept through the rest. They had a great time in Venice and are now in Rimini with estranged aunt and uncle in my grandmother’s old house. I love the idea of them there looking at the view I used to look at when I was just a few years older than them. I am longing to hear what they think of the Italian family.
On Sunday they go to my mother’s so I will get the verdict then but so far the combination of opera and shopping is keeping them occupied. When they’re not asleep that is.
Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2009

Life without the ferals

As I write the girls are in a Gondola in Venice. My aunt has declared them “very elegant” and says they have a “frenetic timetable”. They are having a lovely time and Olivia can now say ‘che bello mare blu’ which will come in very useful. Or rather more useful than her father’s only phrase in German which is ‘the houses over there are covered with snow’. Especially if you live in Abu Dhabi.

Life in Abu Dhabi without the ‘ferals’ as the girls have been nicknamed by friends in England is extremely quiet. Leonardo always was an easy child. I find as long as you are willing to play cricket, tennis, catch or football with him he is perfectly happy with life. Yesterday I got slightly fed up with immitating Flintoff so recruited his friend Miranda to join us. This is a picture of them going to camp together this morning.


I am so happy the girls are having a nice time. I am less happy that I hear all their news second hand (my aunt no longer speaks to me because of my memoir Ciao Bella). But I am relieved that she has seen their elegant, rather than their feral, side…..

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2009

The Grand Tour

As I write the girls are on their way to Lake Como with my uncle and aunt. They flew at 2.30 am from Abu Dhabi and landed in Milan this morning. Olivia said she was tired (possibly the first time she has ever admitted it) whereas Bea was totally overjoyed with the “beautiful houses and colours”.

It was scary seeing them go although the Etihad lady who took care of them couldn’t have been nicer. And half an hour after we saw them walk through security we had a text message saying: ‘Dear Mr and Mrs Wright your lovely girls have boarded the plane and are now in the care of the aircraft staff.’ Amazing. Rupert replied saying thank you and he got one back saying ‘happy to be of service.’ Here is a picture of them at the airport before they left.

But back to Italy….after Lake Como, the girls are going to Venice, then Rimini then Rome where they will stay with my mother. We won’t see them again until we are reunited by another lake in the Savoie. I will really miss them but I think they will have a magnificent time and they are lucky to be away from this heat. As well as seeing things in Italy (like Lake Como) that I haven’t even seen yet.

I think Bea’s artistic streak is already waking up, while her sister sleeps.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2009

First meeting with a policeman

I have often thought that a place can be defined by its police force. The English bobby, for example, is a thoroughly good bloke who can be relied on to be fair and trustworthy. This is my image of England. The German is rather bossy and neatly dressed. The Italian is too busy drinking his Espresso to worry about what you’re up to, although I do remember once in Rimini seeing an Italian traffic officer approach a woman who seemed to have fallen asleep at the lights.

“Signora,” he said. “We only have three colours.”

Yesterday I met my first policeman here in Abu Dhabi. His name is Ahmed and he was there to witness my first car incident here. I say incident because you could hardly call it an accident. I had to stop to avoid hitting someone and another car drove into the back of me.

I immediately texted several friends, all of whom responded with the question “is the Volvo OK?”

The Volvo is fine, it is a sturdy old thing, and the other car, some cheap Toyota, was much the worse for wear. Added to which any damage incurred will be paid by the other driver’s insurance as it was “100 per cent his fault” Ahmed told me.


I am a bit scared of policemen. I think it might stem from the fact that my mother, throughout my life, whenever she sees one shouts “oh help, a policeman!” as if his sole purpose in life is to arrest her.

But happily Ahmed was charming and extremely civilised. And totally uninterested in arresting me. He even pretended to be surprised when I told him how old I am.

It was possibly the fact that I was able to give him half my phone number in Arabic that won him over…

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2009