Ciao bello….

I was slightly surprised that my aunt was up so early. It was half past eight and normally she doesn’t surface until around ten. I had been up since seven watching the Chelsea game from the night before, which I missed as I was in the hospital with my father.
I had stayed for several hours, talking to him about everything from Bach to my children and football. He was, as my aunt had warned me, “closer to death than to life”. There were flashes of him, but mostly he just lay there, breathing heavily, eyes closed, moaning and now and again yelling “Ostia!” 523931_466908883349736_884495519_n

So I chatted on. I told him at one stage that he’d been a wonderful father, and he opened his eyes almost in shock. I suppose the fact that I didn’t see him between the ages of two and 12 might preclude him from the category of ‘really good dad’. Also his method of fathering would not meet with universal approval. To him the most important thing was that I could speak five languages and quote Dante, he didn’t really care if I ate my greens or had casual sex.
Next door to my father in another bed was a man my aunt called “il mostro“. It is true he was not attractive. He didn’t say much, but now and again shouted out “mamma” to which his ever-present and ever-patient wife would respond: “No I’m not your mother, I’m your wife.” She repeated this sentence with the same regularity that she repeated one other. “Let’s hope Napoli won.” I felt terribly sorry for my father. Not only was he bed-ridden and in pain, but he had a couple of Naples fans next door, one uglier than the other. I could just imagine the abuse they would have received if he had been able to speak.
“This isn’t real,” I told him. “You’re not here. You’re at La Scala, we’re about to see Don Giovanni and at the moment you’re reciting Dante to some beautiful unsuspecting woman. ‘Nessun maggior dolore che ricordarsi del tempo felice nella miseria….'” There I had to stop, because even though he has recited this canto to me thousands of times, I couldn’t remember any more. I felt I had let him down. “You’ll have to finish it,” I told him. He looked at me and clutched my hand. “Let’s hope Napoli won,” said the monster’s wife.
When my aunt knocked on my door yesterday morning I was still in my underwear. I had got distracted after the football by the Australian Open. She was fully dressed. I was about to ask her a question I had been thinking about all morning. Could we take some nail scissors and cut my father’s eyebrows? They were really unwieldy. And as I know he likes to shave them off and send them to his enemies I figured we could pop them straight into an envelope and put them under il mostro‘s pillow. I didn’t mention the eyebrow stuff, partly because this is a joke he shares with my children and she would not have understood, but mainly because I didn’t have the chance to open my mouth before she hugged me and said “He’s dead. He waited to see you and then he died. If you want to know what love means, it is that.”24598_101777316529563_3127801_n
To be honest I still don’t really know how his death will affect me, because even though I have met countless people who keep telling me they’re sorry, and I’ve been to the funeral parlour and I’ve met the doctor who treated him and I’ve even seen his body, it just doesn’t seem real that he’s gone. Forever. That’s it. Finito Benito as my father would say. To me he just doesn’t seem to be gone if that makes sense.
He is now lying in state like Stalin (whom he once played in a film). Unlike the other dead there who all have pictures of themselves aged about 80, my father has adopted the columnist’s trick of using a picture from about 50 years ago. So instead of looking like some old codger, he looks like a cross between a young Richard Burton and a less gay Burt Lancaster.24238_108594169181211_1327112_n

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friends and relations are invited to come and pay their respects until tomorrow when he is driven to the crematorium in Ravenna. When the funeral director told my aunt that was where it was she told him that Benedetto would be so pleased, because it was the capital of the Western Roman Empire from 402 to 476. The funeral director nodded and looked sympathetic.
“Take a card,” he said, I suspect in an effort to change the subject.
“I’d prefer not to,” said my aunt.
I am on my way to England where I have the difficult task of breaking the news to the children. The girls especially were really close to him, they loved his zany ways and crazy imagination. No one could make them laugh like he could. I’m just so happy they all saw him as I want to remember him, sitting on a rock in a beautiful garden close to Rome reciting Dante.
In life as in death my father did as he wanted. I believe he decided when to die, and I guess that makes it easier to bear.
He has one last act of rebellion too. We forgot to bring his underwear. So although he is dressed in his Sunday best, he’ll be heading to the crematorium commando.
He wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

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

My father is on facebook

Normally this would not be anything special, but he happens to be of a certain age which I’m sure he will disinherit me if I write. Suffice to say he is closer to 100 than 50. Much closer. I am extremely proud of him and proud to be listed as his daughter (Facebook very kindly informed me via an update that I am his daughter). Not only is he Internet-savvy but, he helpfully informed me when I was laid out with my bad back, he has never had any back problems at all. And neither has my mother.

Anyway, next time you log in, check out him and his very elegant photo; he is called Benedetto Benedetti.

Meanwhile I have been in touch with three old boyfriends all called Tim in the space of a week. Two of whom I have seen here. I was sent to interview one in Dubai a few days ago, he has become a best-selling writer. The other one is in the oil business and passing through. The third one wrote to me on facebook with some very sad news about his wife (see post further down).

What does this say about me? That I am obsessed with the name Tim? That I have very little imagination when it comes to men?

And I wonder when the fourth one will pitch up? Or maybe there are other Tims lurking that I have forgotten about….

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2010

First love…

As I said, Bea and Olivia could not join Facebook because they are too young. Instead they joined the BBC’s social networking site for kids. This is Bea’s bio, which was sent to me as I had to approve it before it went live:

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my name is bea and i love singging and i love dancing i love watching tele but not all the time i love playing lots of games i have 2 sisters and 2 brothers my little brother is called leonardo and hes five years old he loves spiderman then my oldest sister she is called jullia and she is 15 years old my other oldest sister is 10 she is named olivia then i have my oldest brother named hugo he is 16 years old i live at abu dhabi at 25 strret little 8 street i love shopping my secret is that i love a boy in france he has black hair and he’s like me

It was the last sentence that broke my heart. I asked Olivia if it is the boy I suspect it is, the one she has always loved, a little cutie called Julien who was in her class and is the son of the local woodman (who is also quite cute).

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“Yes,” she said. “She sometimes thinks she sees him in the street and then she thinks ‘oh he’s here in Abu Dhabi’ but it’s never him.”

I haven’t talked to Bea about it, Olivia says I’m not meant to know.

I feel terrible dragging her away from her first love and even more terrible that I had no idea she even thought about him any more.
Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2009

If you go into the woods today….

We are home. I spent much of our last day skulking in the woods while my estranged aunt visited the children. As usual, she was two hours late, so by the time she finally arrived my planned “walk” had turned into a mini-marathon, it was pitch-dark outside and I was wearing sunglasses. Now here’s a dilemma; in that situation do you ditch the glasses and rely on myopic vision to get you home or do you keep the glasses and wait for the moon to come out?

As I walked around the woods I was reminded of one of the highlights of our trip, a walk Bea and I had together. We were wandering along hand-in-hand chatting when we suddenly heard a gun-shot.

“I hope he doesn’t shoot us,” said Bea. “I’ll tell him, dear Mr shooter, we are only here visiting my grandmother who lives over there, please don’t kill us. After all I’m only a little girl, I’m only seven years old, and my mummy, well she’s not THAT old.”

As you can imagine, we were spared.

After a week away with my children I have learnt some new things about them. One is that they’re better when they’re not all together. Alone they are actually very easy. A joy in fact.

Olivia didn’t cease to amaze me during the week with how clever she is, as well as clumsy. It seems her brain works faster than her body. Bea is quite the most talented linguist I have ever met. She picked up Italian like other people pick up flu. Leo is a sweet, caring little boy, something you don’t see much of when he is trying to keep up, or fighting, with his sisters.

Travelling with them was a bit like travelling with film stars. Everywhere they went they were noticed and people were totally intrigued by them. Piera, the estranged aunt, was so enamoured she has invited them to stay with her in Italy. One at a time. She’s obviously not as daft as I thought……

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008

Euro complete star

My journey home was marvellous. We got on the Eurostar at the newly revamped St Pancras Station. When the train stopped I thought we were in Ashford in Kent or at best Lille. Turns out we were at the Gare du Nord.

Here at home it is a winter wonderland. The lawn is white and the rivers frozen. I am also frozen as am too posh (or maybe too poor) to have any central heating. Leonardo has developed an alarming habit of waking at 5am. “Talk to me mummy,” he shouts in my ear. So for fear of waking the others I bring him downstairs where the temperatures are hovering around zero.

Top CatWhile he watches Scooby-Doo wrapped in several blankets, I work. I wonder who else watches children’s TV at what would be 4am UK time? Other insomniac children I suppose. Top Cat was on this morning, which takes me back. Amazing (and rather comforting) that children’s TV is so consistent. But is that hapless cop ever going to get the better of him? My aunt always said that if you haven’t achieved anything by the time you’re forty you never will. So I guess he’s way past his sell-by date.

Talking of my aunt, you may remember she is not speaking to me since the publication of Ciao Bella. I am taking the children to Italy after Christmas to stay with my mother. My aunt has asked to see them but demanded I go out. I am of course contrite and already planning my vanishing act. Rupert is less so. His first reaction was that I should tell her to get lost. When I refused to he gave Olivia a message for her.

“Tell her she’s a silly old trout and that the truth hurts,” he said. I’m sure Olivia won’t pass it on. But there’s a small, rebellious part of me that hopes she will. How are we getting to Rome? Train of course. I just hope Leo sleeps on. We don’t get to Rome until after 9.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2007

Heathcliff’s verdict

DevonMy mother has lived in Devon for almost twenty years but moves to Italy in September. I am sad not to have a reason to come here any more. Despite the dreadful weather (the sun has been out for a total of seven minutes during the last four days which I believe is a record for August, normally it just rains non-stop) I love it here.

I love the countryside, the people, the sheeps (as the children call them), the cows and the fact that everything is so green. I love the little winding roads, the mossy woods, the small streams and the hedgerows.

One of the best things about the trip has been walking around the lanes with the children. Leo has become addicted to blackberries and there is nothing quite as romantic for a girl brought up in England as the sight of her blond son stuffing blackberries in his mouth. On a par with the blueberries in Sweden. What is it with me and dark-coloured berries?

The other evening, when the sun was briefly visible, we lay in a field on our plastic macs and gazed at the view. There were green rolling hills and three large oak trees in a field that looked as if they’d been there for hundreds of years and probably will for hundreds of years to come.

As I drove back from my daily trip to M&S this morning I realised that this would probably be the last time I ever do that drive which made me very sad. Unless of course the Tiverton Film Festival becomes a reality and they make Ciao Bella into a film which has its premiere here. I wonder which is more likely?

My mother had a leaving party last night. It was a great do with lots of food, music and good friends. Leo summed it up so well as we fell into bed around midnight. “They were so nice, the peoples,” he said. I think my mother will miss them, but maybe some of them will find their way to Umbria to visit.

Meanwhile my friendly spy has revealed what Heathcliff thought of me after seeing me again twenty years on. He thinks I am a very nice person (don’t you just hate that?) but he doesn’t fancy me. The reason? “She’s too thin.” I like him more than ever.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2007

The Happy Couple?

Rupert's fatherThe children have become very interested in who is related to whom and how it all works. Bea and Manon have been told that although they look and act like twins, they actually aren’t.

“Yes we are,” Bea told me this morning. “We have the same pink leotard for gym.”

Olivia has been pondering the brother and sister thing for a couple of days and has finally come to terms with the fact that she is inextricably linked to Bea and Leo, however angry it makes her.

My mother“But what if Grandpa and Mormor (my mother) got married?” she asked her father. “Would that mean that you and mummy would be brother and sister?”

An interesting idea, but knowing my mother and my father-in-law I’d say it’s highly unlikely. He doesn’t share her passion for Che Guevara and she doesn’t know one end of a golf club from another.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2007

Still published, still damned

It was the Duke of Wellington who said: “Publish and be damned.” He was responding to a blackmail threat from Harriette Wilson, the famous courtesan, who was about to publish her memoirs which included details of her lovers.

An article of mine is due to appear in tomorrow’s You Magazine about how my aunt is refusing to speak to me since she read my memoir, Ciao Bella (see publish and be damned blog).

I have tried reconciliation. I wrote her a groveling letter to which I’ve had no response. My father even went to Rome to try to make the peace but got nowhere.

“If you insist on talking about it I shall leave the restaurant,” she said. He tells me she is considering legal action.

It’s not like I used to speak to my aunt every day, or see her very often. But ever since it happened I have had this horrible feeling inside that I get if I think someone doesn’t like me. I used to have it a lot when I was a little girl. I was always so desperate to please and be loved that I was incredibly polite and nice; I would do anything to avoid that feeling of non-approval.

I remember when I was about eight years old in the village we lived there were two girls who had been best friends before I arrived called Alison and Penny. The dynamics were so that we couldn’t all be friends together for some reason. I had to choose between the two. But I was so desperate not to upset either of them I would pretend to be friends with both and often get caught out. It was like having an affair.

I now get that same feeling it if I get a nasty letter about one of my articles or someone posts a dreadful Amazon review of one of my books; although working for the British press I have developed a slightly tougher skin than I had as a little girl.

And of course I don’t go around worrying about my aunt all day long; I have other things to worry about like my hair extensions and what to wear to my book signing this afternoon.

But if I wake up in the middle of the night, it’s often the first thing I think about and I feel just like a little girl longing for approval again.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2007