A wedding

Monday, 18 February, 2019

We were invited to a wedding. It was out of the blue almost. But it happened.

Krish has a friend he met online, Avi. He lives in Leicester, he’s visited us once, and he makes long phone calls to one or the other of us pretty regularly. He’s a great guy, a real pleasure to know and chat to. Genuine, polite and curious. Avi says things that surprise you – that’s because he is so honest about how he feels. This happily includes good things about you – he speaks openly about his feelings around you and what you have to say.  It’s quite refreshing.

Avi looked after his mum, who had Alzheimers, for years. His dad also had health issues. Avi’s life was completely tied up with that and he couldn’t ever do much outside the house. Then his mum died. His dad decided to take Avi on a trip of a lifetime to his own birthplace in India. Avi would call us to say how much he wanted to leave, how bad things were in India. Then when it was almost time for him to come back to the UK, his dad became ill and was put into hospital. Avi’s return was postponed while his dad went from serious to recovering, back to serious. The government stepped in and told Avi he’d overstayed his visa and sent him back to the UK to reapply. As soon as his new application was granted, back he went. While on his stopover on the way back to India, he got word his dad had just died. It broke my heart that had he been granted passage one day earlier, he would have been there.

His parents had wanted him to marry but every woman he met didn’t make the grade. With both parents now gone, Avi became more determined. Not too many months later, he called to say ‘I’m getting married.’ That’s a weird feeling. I knew our friendship would change, I knew his life would change, I wondered how it would be since it was an arranged marriage and he barely knew his fiancee.

A few months went by and I didn’t expect to be invited to the wedding but one day he called us to ask if we would be there. It felt like a great honour. Of course the day came – we had booked a hotel to take in the two days of celebration that we were invited to. The photos will tell the story!

Arriving at the wedding hall
Arriving at the wedding hall, I was startled by the glittery dresses and the gathering crowd to welcome the couple. I suddenly felt very under-dressed but excited. People passed me, all saying hello, and good morning. Very nice! Suddenly someone greeted me and it was Avi dressed in gold, walking into the hall It started to feel real.

A very grand hall with lots of sparkly dresses
A very grand hall with lots of sparkly dresses and smart suits. I realised I was the only white person in the room. A strange feeling. We sat at tables and Avi had arrived to show us over to a reserved table on ‘the boy’s side.’
First there was the civil ceremony
First there was the civil ceremony. Avi and Farrah exchanged rings and vows. The bride’s dress was red and gold.

Some narrative. I’ve never been to a Muslim wedding. There were hundreds of people. The women and children were dressed up very elaborately. Very often families dressed alike – the women in identical dresses and the men in matching colours – sometimes just a tie that matched the women’s dresses. There was heavy make up and jewellery. There was a lot of hugging.

The stage was arranged with thrones, and a sofa – white satin and gold. When the Nikah happened (the religious ceremony) the bride went up to a balcony at the far end of the hall and sat there with an attendant. The imam and Avi and close family members formed a circle of chairs down on the hall floor around them, but only the men. Chanting – not sounding too far from Hebrew – began, followed by a sermon or teaching of sorts, about marriage. When the bride came back, Avi and Farrah sat together on the stage and people came up to visit, take photos,  and deliver gifts. This was often boxes filled with clothing, shoes, jewellery… it was very showy. The whole thing was fascinating and once again I felt privileged to be there.

And of course there was food.

Menu and food
We had a printed menu. The food was delicious and plentiful. Everyone at the table was concerned it was too spicy for me. No!

People went up to the stage, while the queues formed and onlookers faced the stage, watching all the action
People went up to the stage, while the queues formed and onlookers faced the stage, watching all the action

Mendhi - all beautiful, showing off the gorgeous rings too
Mendhi – beautiful work, enhanced by jewellery and sparkly dresses
So under-dressed!
So under-dressed!
Like a king and queen at the coronation
Like a king and queen at the coronation

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Festivities and Hackney Festive Light Switch On!

Sunday, 2nd December, 2018

If November was dark and rainy, December is starting off very mild and even sunny sometimes. And it’s getting pretty Christmassy!

On upper Well Street, the florists are bringing out their Christmas best
At St Paul's church, the yellowed leaves are a nice mix with the trees on the tree lot.
At St Paul’s church, the yellowed leaves are a nice mix with the trees on the tree lot.
And this Turkish kebab place is accidentally festive!
And this Turkish kebab place on Kingsland Road is accidentally festive!

Check these daylight hours, though! By 3pm twilight creeps in and between 4 and 4:30 it’s just like night time. Yesterday I was thinking that, if I were working, it would be properly dark by the time I headed home. I’m not sure if other years have been so dark but they must have been. There’s just more cloud this year…?

Is it really December?
Is it really December?

However, December has lots of promise. I started jotting things down on one of my quickly drawn up calendars – I like to do this on paper and revise it almost daily. And this week there will be two workshops (one a serious mental health one, and one a fun Christmassy one) two family visits and there’s company coming over for dinner, if Susanne doesn’t succumb to her threatening cold. And Hackney is having a Festive Lights event, marking the first night of Chanukah and turning on the lights of the Christmas tree. I love lights and candles so I’m in!

Hackney's invitation!
Hackney’s invitation!

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Suzy’s documentary – women in music, women in the world

Saturday, 17 November, 2018

This is a serious post! (I know!)

I’d never met my cousin Terry’s daughter, Suzy. We’ve chatted a few times on Facebook. I’ve seen she’s been in London (she lives in York) and also Toronto this year but she’s a quiet, private sort of person, and not really who you’d expect to be a musician – or a filmmaker for that matter. But she’s made a documentary film and it was showing as part of the Doc’n Roll Festival at the Genesis cinema.

So, which band is your boyfriend in? is a documentary exploring gender in the UK’s DIY and underground music scenes. That’s how it’s described. And after the documentary there’d be a Q&A with Suzy. I asked if she wanted to meet and, yes….and so we did. Suzy, her husband Simon, and me.

Waiting for the film to start
Waiting for the film to start

We had a nice chat, ate some awful Pieminster pie – mine was chicken and mushroom (mostly sauce and sliced mushroom). We talked about family and about how nervous she felt about the size of the audience and being interviewed afterwards. She described the film as ‘rough’ but fueled by her obsession with music. Obsessions are interesting but I’d call hers a passion. With her shy personality, it would have to be for her to get up on stage and perform – she plays trumpet, unusual for a female she said.

So the documentary. She’s interviewed maybe a dozen people who identify as female’ in music. Most are musicians, with a journalist, a sound engineer and a road manager in the mix. I think I have that right. The interviews are edited and spliced into segments, each telling the story of why and how these various women have chosen their craft and what it feels like to be non-male in a male-dominated industry.

A nervous, studious Suzy, with Simon, watching the film
A nervous, studious Suzy, with Simon, watching the film

I enjoyed it, some bits more than others. Surprisingly, it wasn’t just about prejudice and I was even more surprised to hear very little about harassment. I wondered if this was because the musicians didn’t talk about it or simply didn’t really experience it. Although Suzy mentioned it, the #metoo spectre wasn’t really present. If I can pin Suzy down, I’d like to ask her.

Another surprising, but not new, thing I noticed was how casual the women are. There’s no real dress up, as if they’ve arrived on the stage wearing whatever they usually wear or were wearing that day. Is this a generational thing, or is it more? Interesting since it takes away the sexual nature of the stage performer, often seen as the object of desire for audience members. So for this reason I would like to have known more about their attitudes and experiences around harassment.

Talking about my own experiences as a woman in this man’s world is something I reserve for all-female audiences or sympathetic mixed or male ones. I absolutely believe that women are seen as being less. Less valuable, less important, less powerful, less worthy of attention. And that, although we’ve come a long way, we have so much further to go. There are biological reasons for the prevailing attitudes . But it’s how those things are viewed and treated that make things so annoyingly difficult. It’s a case of women being told to fit into the male-oriented world and somehow not that we all need to fit together regardless of gender. We each have much to offer but we can’t do that if we’re seen to not fit the mould, and that mould is decidedly male.

Briefly about the #metoo movement. Me too! Way too many times. In the workplace, while dating, just by walking along, sitting in a room, by being. Most of us are products of our environment, and upbringing. In a rape prevention workshop, the leader told us that when he asked a room of women could they gouge a man’s eyeballs if he attacked, almost all of them said no. We’re taught to be ‘nice girls,’ desirable, sweet, and compliant. Saying no is not on the table. Sometimes saying yes or staying silent is really an unspoken no. How does this work? That’s the trick. But no is more than just what’s spoken, there’s body language, and other visual and physical clues that only a sensitive and caring person would pick up and act on. So, without talking specifically about my personal experiences – some horrific but many just disturbing – that’s how I feel. No debate.

So back to Suzy’s documentary. I enjoyed it a lot. These were strong people, passionate about what they were doing, honest and earnest in their interviews. Interesting people, some of whom I could happily sit and chat to for hours. Talented people. It didn’t feel rough – it felt real.

Q&A – the confident Suzy, in her element (music!)

And her Q&A was good, nothing to have been scared about. She did amazingly well, sounded expert and confident, only becoming timid and worried after it was all over. She sounded and looked like family.

© Suzy Harrison

I thought that maybe we could do this precisely because we’re all unreasonable people and progress depends on our changing the world to fit us. Not the other way around. I want to believe that. I must believe that.

— Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace), Halt and Catch Fire, Season 1: FUD

Magic and Halloween in Turin

Wednesday, 31 October, 2018

This would be my third Halloween in Torino. The first one I was too tired to go out but Krish and Adrianna did and came back telling me tales of candles, lights, costumes… apparently, Torino was mad for Halloween. The second, last year, I went out too and saw many people in costume wandering about the streets and squares. So this year I was prepared but also curious.

Why is Torino so obsessed with Halloween?

While I was doing research about this, I got sidetracked. Were it not pouring with rain every day and so close to the day I had to pack up and leave, I’d have made this a larger, more elaborate, project – to go visit and photograph all the things that make up this history, part fact, part legend.

The research is a bit overwhelming, to be honest. You need only Google Turin and magic to see the sites which will give you more information. I’ll try to get the main points down. (Edit: I’ve also read this  blog entry that slams the whole thing. Decide for yourself. Personally, I’m not unhappy because, as I’ve said above, this is part legend and an entertaining one it is.)

The reasons for Turin’s recognition are rooted in the legend of the founding of the city, born after Zeus had hurled Phaeton, Prince of Egypt, in the river Po. H landed where is now the Fountain of the Four Seasons, located on the banks of the river in  Valentino Park. So was founded an Egyptian Turin and Egypt is where magic is said to have begun.

Historians tell us that the Savoy family were always interested in alchemy and the art flourished in Turin. There are said to have been three alchemic caves below the city and the alchemists told Cristina (Maria Cristina of France, the daughter of Henri IV and wife of Vittorio Amedeo I of Savoy who ruled after her husband died) where they were. She never betrayed their secret.  Some say they are below the Palazzo Madama, while others locate them in the park of the palace itself. They’ve actually never been found.

Then it seems there are magic triangles. Three points on the map where major cities of magic are located. Torino is in both. The white magic triangle is  Prague, Lyon and Turin. The black magic triangle is San Francisco, London and Turin. Turin is the city that has both – of great significance in the world of magic. The statues that mark the points in Turin are for the white, the statues of Castor and Pollux at Piazza Castello, and for the black the Caduti del Frejus n Piazza Statuto, These statues stare at each other across the distance and each has a pentagram on its head.

This explains the mysterious Grotto di Merlinho magic shop is in Piazza Statuto! It’s never been open when I’ve walked by but it’s always intrigued me. (And that’s when I discovered how many magic shops there are in Torino.) Many feel that under the statue – topped by who some believe is Lucifer – is a portal to hell. This is probably connected with the fact that the tunnel that linked Italy to France was there – as well as the entrances to the Alchemic caves. But more about those in a bit.

At the beautiful round Gran Madre church The Holy Grail is said to be buried, pointed at by the gaze of ‘Faith’ holding a chalice.  This and the Shroud, then. The plot thickens…maybe.

I also read about the Palazzo Trucchi di Levaldigi  (40 Via Milano) also known as Palazzo del Diavolo, the devil’s palace. The legend says that an apprentice wizard tried to summon Satan here and was turned into its ornate creepy door with the devil’s face as a knocker.  There are mysterious deaths and ghosts here, they say.  The building is now a bank, and it has the highest turnover of night guards in the city. The Torinesi believe in magic. The door is magnificent, with many carvings – the knocker slightly disappointing, not as large as the legend! 

Turin has attracted many philosophers, magicians, and authors – Nostradamus, Apollonius of Tyana,  Bartolomeo Bosco, Nietzsche… and now me! If I return to Turin, some magical exploration is necessary!

But, anyway, it’s time to move on to the present day Halloween in Turin! And if you want to read more:  The New York Times and The Washington Post have articles. Just click!
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Shroud of Turin and Gran Balon!

Sunday, 30 September, 2018 24C

But first, another culinary note. Yesterday we decided it was time to give our local enoteca (wine shop with cafe) a chance. We pass it all the time but have never gone in.  I ordered russian salad (skipping the two pasta choices) and milanese. Krish had penne with ragu and also the milanese. The pranzo (lunch) deal is 12 Euros each.

Pranzo menu
Pranzo menu
Monochromatic lunch - Russian salad, Milanese with Cauliflower Gratin
My monochromatic lunch – Russian salad, Milanese with Cauliflower Gratin

It’s OK. We may go again. Simple food, friendly service, a no-brainer since it’s across the road. However, again we’re struck with how ordinary and unmemorable the food is, especially when I throw two salads together later in the day for dinner. Would the Italians think my food too complicated, too much going on? It’s also worth mentioning that there were six or seven people sitting on a larger table across from us. They seemed to be ordering everything on the menu and sharing the huge platters. Despite the overflowoing banquet, they swallow it all in record time and leave, empty plates everywhere!

My dinner. Asparagus with Chicken, Two salads - Pesto Potato salad, Beet with goat cheese and arugula
My dinner. Asparagus with Chicken, Two salads – Pesto Potato salad, Beet with goat cheese and arugula

I’m not a huge fan of churches unless they are rustic and unique. I don’t typically enjoy opulence or artistic piety. But then the Cattedrale di San Giovanni Battista (Cathedral of St John the Baptist, aka Torino Duomo) was supposed to be open for 3 Euros. Last year the Duomo was covered in scaffolding but this year construction is finished. It’s a beautiful and intricate dome atop an otherwise plain looking rectangle of a church. The looming campanile (bell tower) dates from 1470 and the church was built during 1491–98 . It would be unremarkable if it didn’t contain the chapel of the Holy Shroud, which was added in 1668–94.

The Campanile on the left, the domes of the Duomo to the right
The Campanile on the left, the domes of the Duomo to the right
Steps to the cathedral
Steps to the cathedral
Looking towards the altar
Looking towards the altar
Lighting my usual candle to Mum and Dad (centre fourth row down)
Lighting my usual candle to Mum and Dad (centre fourth row down)
Looking up to the smaller dome
Looking up to the smaller dome

There’s nothing to make me linger in here – the usual memorial statues and plaques, pews, banks of candles, an organ… but the altar is quite stunning, overlooked by a very large window, where I could see people looking down to where we were, and that’s where I need to head. Walking around, though, I couldn’t find a way in so supposed it was a separate entry – it was.

But this big window intrigued me, looking down on us. I need to get behind there!
But this big window intrigued me, looking down on us. I need to get behind there!

Before wandering outside, I saw a small crowd of people and hoped I could get in behind the window there but, no, this was the spot for the shroud. It’s displayed only once every 25 years unless the Pope is in town so I wouldn’t get to see it, but there’s an area for it and there was lot of genuflecting and crossing and muttered prayer – and the most candles! – going on in front of that thing. I stayed for a little while to read the prayer, translated in several languages. And then I left.

The Chapel of the Holy Shroud
The Chapel of the Holy Shroud

It seems the entrance to the cathedral museum is around the side so I went in there too. On the way in there are some pretty solid ruins, and I was told there are more inside. In the foyer, a very short and elderly lady with a badly curved spine wanted to talk to me but she couldn’t speak English so I was directed to another behind the counter. There was nothing about a 3 Euro entry but apparently I can come here any time for 3.50 so I decided that I would wait. Today it’s packed.

Ruins inside the Cathedral museum
Ruins inside the Cathedral museum

Continue reading “Shroud of Turin and Gran Balon!”