Tag Archives: refugees


18 June 2017


This week we returned for our favorite Tuscan island. Twelve days of simplicity and beauty. Twelve days without even having to decide what to eat; la mamma cooking 3 meals a day without ever once repeating a dish. Every dish sourced from the family’s organic garden and animals on the property or from their farm on the mainland. And perhaps most wonderful of all, twelve days without news and without touching money.

The days were spent climbing up and down 300 stone steps to either of the two coves where, between meals, we read and swam, and did a bit of writing before climbing the steps up to yet another delicious meal. In the evenings, if we wished, we would join the other guests – anywhere from a dozen to twenty – on the patio where we would all look dreamily out to sea when not commenting on our good fortune to be in such a place of love and peace. Once in a while some of us would venture into philosophical talks that focused on non-aggression.

One evening a woman from Puglia serenaded us with Italian folk songs, accompanying herself on the guitar. At one point, seeing that one of the workers had joined us, a young Spanish woman who spoke not a word of Italian, she sang an old Spanish folk song for, her voice graveled with soul, the young woman weeping as I held her hand.

Twelve days, spent with strangers, mainly Italians, but also a couple of Germans and Scandinavians; all of us proving that it is possible to live in peace and harmony. The German couple had spent their honeymoon there and now, 25 years later, had chosen to return for their anniversary. Somehow the proprietors remembered the meal they had served them all those years ago and served it again at dinner the night of the anniversary. We watched as tears streamed down the wife’s face, the husband smiling so tenderly. And then more tears, when the staff, singing all the way, marched from the kitchen carrying an enormous chocolate cake to the couple’s table.

So, why, oh why, did I check the news upon returning home, finding among all the dismal articles of political and corporate corruption and greed, the horrendous news of the Grenfell Tower inferno in London?

When my daughter was deathly ill last year, I became addicted in the darkest moments, when all was beyond my control, to a digital game on my iPhone. The game, Cubes 1010, consists of a grid made of 10 x 10 squares outside of which 3 shapes at a time appear; L-shaped, oblong, linear, cubes, each with its own color. The object is to keep slotting them into the grid in order to eliminate completed vertical and horizontal lines. It’s called a puzzle, but that’s a con. In fact it’s unsolvable. It’s actually an unwinnable game in which you keep score against yourself. I have deleted the app from my phone many times, but after a few months, when not wanting to face something or the other, I find myself sucked back into it again. As I was this past week, after letting myself get sucked back into the news.

I hold dual citizenship in England and America, two countries that make me glad I now live in Italy. While far from perfect, and currently suffering a crop-damaging drought, nonetheless its citizens daily rescue fleeing refugees from the sea. My homeland, England, while of course still having many admirable “native” citizens, is also a country whose values have drastically changed over the last couple of decades. Those of us who watched Absolutely Fabulous back in the 90’s may have found it hilarious then, but actually it was a horrendous depiction of the vacuous,narcissistic greed of the newly rich: A class of people that has grown enormously in London, which is now one of the wealthiest cities in the world.

I was born at the end of WWII. The first 4 years of my life we lived on rationed food. I remember seeing streets of bombed out houses, partial rooms dangling mid-air, peeling wallpaper a fluttering dream. I was probably 10 before war stories – in print, on film, or overheard in grown-ups’ conversations – ceased to be a regular topic. Stories of cities bombed for 5 years; stories of people returning from work to find their whole street, families and neighbours gone. Stories of how the King and Queen refused to leave Buckingham Palace but instead remained there in solidarity with their people. Photos of the Royal couple walking through the rubble; the common folk dancing in the streets; the British spirit a finger in the eye of the enemy.

After WWI council houses started being built, somewhat uniform but with local design variations, all adhered to local authority building standards. They called them “Homes fit for heroes,” and more than a million of them were built between 1914 and 1938. I had several school friends who lived in these houses, which, on the inside looked much like the house my parents owned: clean, orderly, wallpapered, fireplaces, new appliances etc. They looked like this:

Now they look like this:

Grenfell Tower was an example of what today’s council housing looks like. “Managed” by a private sector company on behalf of the local council, it stood between the 2 richest boroughs in London. Don’t you just feel for all those filthy rich fuckers who had to “put up” with such an eyesore in their midst? Not to worry. The local council and management company agreed some couple of years ago to resurface it so it would look nicer. Never mind that its tenants were still, after years, complaining of leaks, faulty wiring, rodent infestation etc. But hey, as long as it looked good when you got in your fucking BMW a block away, off to make another million in the financial district, or have your interior designer come over and renovate the kitchen you just renovated 2 years, who gives a shit?

I know, I know, some level of this inequality has always existed. But aren’t we supposed to be evolving? I mean really evolving, on the spiritual level? What the fuck? Twenty-four floors of immigrants, some having escaped horrors in their homelands, trying to better themselves. Working minimum wage jobs and going to college and then, like disposable waste, incinerated as a result of flammable cladding used to beautify the exterior.

Yesterday I spent an hour losing game after game of Cubes 1010. Each time I started again I thought maybe if I could just do it right I could keep fitting all those shapes and sizes into the grid until, what…? Until the rules of the game changed and instead of elimination I would finally be able to house diversity into a completed grid where every shape and size and colour would finally slot together in harmony?

If I was 10 years younger and living in London I’d house a couple of the now homeless. Instead I’ll resort to sending money. I won’t be playing Cubes 1010 anymore. Better to tend my garden and redouble my daily effort to praise beauty and be grateful for all the love in my life. Better to spend my time trying to be a little kinder to loved ones and strangers alike.





28th August, 2016


There’s a sense of freedom one associates with summer, starting in childhood when the last bell of the school term heralded weeks of play, not to mention liberation from school uniform and all the pressure of learning. If one was lucky there might be a family holiday complete with an ice cream every day. But mainly it was day after endless day of play during which one learned all that can never be taught

Now, summer feels tired. The garden is tired, the farmers are tired and so are we. An ongoing heat wave imprisons us for hours in the cool of our stone house – for which we are grateful – and one feels cheated. More than that, there is an underlying threat of violence; the violence of nature. Whether it is Zika courtesy of a mosquito, or Lyme’s Disease via a tick, or the ground opening up beneath one’s feet.


On Wednesday morning we woke up to the news that an earthquake had disappeared people and towns and history and beauty, some 70 miles from us. The whole country has been sad for days. As if we didn’t already feel sad and frightened from all the global politics and terrorism, mother nature drives it home with an earthquake. Suddenly we feel betrayed by the one thing we foolishly believe will always be a source of comfort and, yes, freedom.

Summer, for many of us, equals nature; swimming in ponds and seas, riding bikes or ponies along lanes, throwing a Frisbee in the park, listening to the last birdsong of the evening floating through the bedroom window as we drift into sleep. That nature can obliterate us in the night, without forewarning, is to be reminded that nature can be a mean mother.

We had appointments and errands in Siena on Wednesday. Even on the hottest day it’s narrow medieval streets provide shade. But on this day the shade provided no solace. A shadow has been cast upon the land. There is something about this tragedy that carries the inevitable with it. Italy is basically a long, narrow peninsula whose spine is weak, flanked as it is by 2 major fault lines making it the most seismic prone country in Europe. We live outside the earthquake zone and because we are on elevated ground outside of the village, we are also outside of the flood zone. The village however, is not and has suffered 2 major floods in the last 4 years, the first of which knocked out 2 bridges and upheaved roads, the waters rushing through the streets and up through shops and houses to a level of 4 feet. As I’ve said before, there is no such thing as safety.

Yet just as crisis carries the possibility of opportunity, so tragedy provides the opportunity to express kindness and generosity. Our town, along with almost every other one in this country, mobilized a donation center immediately. Ours is a small , working class town struggling to survive its bankrupt government. Yet there we all were on Thursday and Friday, lining up with our bags of clothes and blankets, toiletries and cleaning supplies. Young and old working side by side; organizing, boxing, labeling, many of us weeping. On Saturday volunteers trucked the supplies directly to the victims.



Every nation, when a crisis hits it, likes to think it is the most generous, the most courageous, the most organized. It’s a shame we have to claim national ownership of such human attributes. Whether it is impoverished Greeks helping refugees out of boats or refugees helping Italian victims of an earthquake, we are all capable of stepping up to the plate. As much as Mother Nature takes, she also gives. For we, after all, are nature too; each of us struggling to make it through another day, another heat wave, another random act of violence.

Who knows why some of us have an easier time of it than others? Who knows why this rosebush is dying from the heat.

dying rose

While 3 feet away, this tiny thing clings to a stone wall, optimistically growing roots that have no hope of reaching earth. Perhaps it’s investing in the future should the day arrive that a strong wind displaces it, carrying it back to the earth.