Happy and peaceful Easter 

Our mini Easter basket with painted eggs mainly in red but also made some blue, green and yellow ones which are hiding underneath. And some chocolate gianduia ones and a dark chocolate bunny in  woolly jumper of white chocolate to share with my parents. 

We just finished watching mass on tv. 

May there be a peaceful and joyful Easter for everyone! 

😚😚😚

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Labours of love

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This is hopefully not a soppy story (though there were some real tears at the end ;-))! But because it really feels like a dream, almost as if it happened to somebody else, I feel the need to capture it for my own memory in years to come.

So, before I get to what people may actually be interested in reading, impressions of the play, acting, etc, I’ve decided to share with you the journey that took me there last weekend.

The Crucible experience was such an unusual and emotional ‘entry’ point into a new fandom I always doubted if anything could live up to it. While any material is interesting I think we probably all have our natural preferences towards one medium or another, TV, stage work, audiobooks, etc. (But we all need the lot to actually complete the picture!) For me it is probably live theatre and audiobooks before other things. The why’s are probably better left to another times, but it’s probably due to emotional immediacy, impact.

So I was really glad the wait for more stage work ended sooner than I expected. What I didn’t think about of course is that, unlike TV or film projects where we have a lot of advance warning, theatre projects are almost on the hoof. Well, for me, not him! It’s not like I haven’t contemplated trips across the pond ever before… I have done it again and again, for Jonas Kaufmann’s Siegmund, for his Werther, not for his Tosca but certainly for his Parsifal (which in hindsight I should have thought about harder and definitely done!).  Contemplated, calculated and always discarded and that is for things I had considerable more notice about than just 6 months. There always have been the priorities of visiting home twice a year at least, commitments here, tickets to travel and see things elsewhere. Nothing until now was so tempting I literally couldn’t resist planning for real or at least trying for it.

But while I was balancing at the edge looking down I didn’t consider friendly shoves which really got the ball rolling (jholland ;-)). Friends enveloped me in their generous ticketing plans even though I couldn’t even commit to being able to come! I had initially thought that I’ll figure out if I can even afford a flight at all before I would start buying tickets J But of course that’s not how ticket sales work. Regardless of anything else I knew my only chance was to push the potential date as far out as I could to give myself a chance to gather the budget for it.

Thus began a journey of more than anything else wishful thinking and dreaming and taking small steps towards a goal that to me seemed as impossible as going to the moon…

Some priorities cannot be ignored and I had to sort out this year’s Christmas trip first before I began any planning for a trip across the Atlantic.

And then in the midst of trying to plot my milestones on the path to possibilities… Brexit happened!

And it would turn out to be more than just a complication. One of the many requirements for my trip was obtaining a visa. This meant not just extensive paperwork, but also in person interviews at authorities. Which would require me to have a passport to go along to these things and get a visa on…

But, I’d suddenly become a EU citizen in a country wanting to leave the EU. Where nothing was guaranteed anymore, where my status, work contracts, my very daily life would depend on likely changes in law and the whims of governments who suddenly didn’t care how long you had been a tax paying and working person here.

So once again any plans for fun had to take a significant back seat to real life. And instead of thinking visas and trips I had to think legal status, residency, permanency or looking at potentially packing my bags. Since after initial panic and doubts packing bags was not the option for me I had to knuckle down to the serious business of exploring law, legal avenues of residency, steps it requires, paperwork, fees etc. My life is here now and it sort of becomes clearest when most in question I guess. You end up looking at your life and making decisions you didn’t think you’d have to make. I’ve always before thought in terms of opportunities, things I would like to do, thinks I can do, thinks certain work would allow me to do, steps forward if you will. Suddenly it all became literally about survival, securing the roof over my head and most importantly my job, which had only 2 months before been totally unsure. It has been the most unsettling of years to have to deal with likely redundancy and when that was barely resolved to how your whole life thrown in the air.

I therefore can’t put down not taking any holidays to a master-plan around a trip.  Truth is there is just not enough time or budget around trips home for holidays worth they name. The trip to Scotland 2 years ago being my small 10 day rebellion against this trend J But with all this anxiety going on, holiday dreams were parked away. ‘THE’ trip wouldn’t count as one as even when I first looked at it I knew the maximum I would be able to do if at all would be a very short weekend.

So summer passed wading through the murky waters of bureaucracy while being constantly freaked out by the news which only promised more uncertainty. The increased workload at work since the job reshuffle also meant I complained much less about the ‘save for THE trip’ measures  😉 I usually work all summer with no breaks – fits in well with the holidays of my colleagues with kids – and spend evenings going to the Proms concerts at the Royal Albert Hall or the occasional weekend day get away trip to opera at Glyndebourne outside Lewes.

This summer there was only 1 concert with Rossini’s Semiramide at the very end of the Proms because I really desperately craved good music. And nothing else, no eating out escapades either which are also easier to cut if you don’t go out to performances in the first place.

Work trips away from London also helped keep me from temptations J

But, at the end of August there was finally the most important step in making ‘THE trip’ possible. I booked a flight! Except, excited as I was, I booked two flights since the agency website had a major hick up and didn’t give me the confirmation the first time round. It took them 2 weeks to refund me for the error and they charged a shameless fee for doing it! GR!! That could have been ticket money. Or funds for any of the other pots screaming to be filled J

Not only that, but while doing research on all the options and prices I watched preferred routes/times disappear beyond the limits of affordability and was forced to hurry booking and choose options which would only bring me in time for performance if there was absolutely no flight delay, no snow, no fog, no excessive traffic even. And that not only on the way there, but also on the way back where I would have to leg it from theatre to airport, quite literally. All that at a time when the duration of the play was not yet confirmed and I was praying to all theatre God the performance would come in at under 3h. Yes, I agree with all of you that smells of crazy! I have actually done stuff like that before: from airport to theatre and then sometimes even back to airport/train station and even at a running pace… BUT not across the ocean. I was treating L-NY like L-Wien or worse L-Paris, conscious that it would very likely be nothing like that. Worst case scenario – I would miss out on performances either on the way in or on the way out, or OMG both L (And guess what the single point and purpose of a crazy weekend trip across miles of water was after all?! The dream about a week in Ny to explore its attractions had long since been canned).

By September I had finally gotten my residency paperwork together, filled out, nicely organised and sent it off. At which point it dawned me that I had a major problem. My passport, needed for the Visa, needed for ‘THE trip’ was also needed at the Home Office for residency procedures… Ooops.

Then  a few weeks later HO advised they had received the stuff and it would take… 6 months. OOOOPS!! Ok, understandable – mountains to process from all those like me, feeling the same anxiety and not wanting to move away 😉 Fair enough. But in terms of ‘THE trip’ maaaaajor OOOOPPPSSS!!!

I knew I had to get down to scheduling the in person interview because slots go fast and you need to get yours in their diary at least 1 month in advance before the date it will happen. So in October I filled in that lot of paperwork, which turned out to be 80% as extensive as the one I had just done and sent it online and with the confirmation uploaded required photos and finally scheduled an interview early in November.

The calendar became my ticking clock!

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Wishes are very important! 🙂

But hang on… all there was for ‘THE trip’ was a flight!!!! So, erring on the side of optimism in a climate of generalised anxiety I extended grubby hands to hold on to the tickets so generously offered to me!! And finally put the money where my mouth was wagging 😉 Preciouusssssss…miiiiiinnneeeee.  And also eagerly accepted the even more generous offer of hotel room sharing! I call you lovely person – my enabler J :-*** You made me both crazier and provided the life line and the silver lining to the year that was all but nice.

September – for those who don’t live their year like some of my tickets&shows –obsessed friends and me by the ‘booking’ rounds rather than the 4 seasons – is the time when all venues (operas, concert venues especially but also theatres) go into booking for the next 4-6 months and sometimes beyond. It was Winter bookings at ROH, Spring bookings at the Wigmore and so on. My yearly ROH membership also expired. And nothing got renewed, nothing new got booked. For the first time in literally years my always at 20+ upcoming performances in my ROH (includes ballet) scheduled started dwindling. And make no mistake they do remind you and call you (like on the telephone) when you don’t book. Same happened in the December booking round and I am now down to 2 remaining tickets until May 2017. Well, the tickets end in Jan 2017… the bookings covered all the way to May 2017. And in the case of the Wigmore, all the rest of the season to summer 2017.

This may sounds like a lot but I had to be. I book very early because I book the cheapest tickets. Years of practice 😉 and trying out have optimised where I sit in the houses so I can go more often and pay as little as possible. We’re talking 6-18 for ballet and opera J Or 10-25 or such for theatre.

Thanks to local theatres still running day-ticket schemes we were still able to go along and see Kenneth Branagh in the Entertainer for £15 in front row, Platanov at the National for £15 in day tickets and the Red Barn with Mark Strong at the National for £10 J A very satisfying result of much more careful and more seldom eating out. Work overload also encouraged some returning of existing opera tickets (from bookings in spring).

So I decided to go crazy and buy those additional theatre tickets for ‘THE trip’. The ones I would likely not make or have to leave early. So I thought: let’s hope there are still some left and let’s get cheap one given the risk. Right. Cheap ones? 1 price for all. Ok…. Oh, what the hell since it is all in or nothing, let’s be crazy…-er. So, now I had filled every waking moment with a ticket: arrival later afternoon +play, get up jet lagged likely and play ..x2, sleep v little, get up pack+play – run to airport. Makes perfect sense.

Except excitement hit again (and no, I have never ever in my entire life booked a flight twice before and also not ever in years of bookings and hundreds of tickets purchased made this mistake before): instead of Friday and Sunday since Saturday was sorted I booked Friday+Saturday… and took 2 weeks to realise my mistake! Non-refundable tickets- great! Email, explain, look like a numpty – ask politely for change? Told to call, figure out international call, pay yet more booking fees but finally able to exchange wrong Saturday for correct Sunday ticket. Phew, all done.

WAIT. Not quite… minor detail. Upcoming interview for visa at embassy. And no passport. Yes, NO PASSPORT! Home Office had not been heard of again and neither had they responded to my begging letter attached to the paperwork to please return my passport as soon as possible.

(There was also the slowly approaching Christmas trip to my parents whose only child I am and who would not be please to not see me if I wasn’t able to fly due to lack of passport).

My lovely enabler also surprisingly helped with my impeding panic attack by asking the question which had not even occurred to me: can you ask documents back formally? I just assumed I couldn’t as the proceedings were of significance and should take precedence over other fun plans. Turns out we found a way (un-helpfully not described or linked where you make your application, hmpf!).

But the visa interview was nevertheless approaching so, before I processed the request of document return, I decided to push it out a bit while I still could to give the passport an extra chance to make it back to me. So I figured – flight on the 2nd, interview on the 29th (which was the only later date available) should be ok, 2 days in between. Good thinking you say. Well…. You’ll see.

Document return request sent off and lo and behold Home Office kindly delivers like clockwork! 2 Days before my initial interview date passport arrives! We are talking 20 November now, ‘THE trip’ is in 10 days. Imagine me looking at the calendar each day before passport came… growing white by the second!

Since it is here I finally announce to all my friends at a delayed birthday dinner I am going! And also try to pull back said interview to it’s original date.  But while one can delay pulling forward seems to not be an option.

I also managed to catch the ‘office cold’ in the last few days and was trying to manage that as best as I could and it seemed to be mostly in control, thankfully.

It’s now the morning of the 29th of November. And I am still keeping the suspense going for my lovely enabler because in theory without a visa everything can go to pots. I assume – wrongly – this is a 1 on 1 interview and I’ll be out of there waltzing away with a visa in 30 min. Not so much.

4 Hours later world end happens. After all proceedings and 2 interviews at the end of the interview when I am told my visa is granted I innocently ask if I can pick up my passport the morning after? An the very polite officer says that would be impossible! They have to proceed to further standard security checks which take and average of 7 days. 7 days. 7 DAYS!!!!! But.. my flight is this Friday morning… in 2 days!!!  She looks at the details but shakes her head and said : it’s impossible. I’ll try to put a note on the file but it needs to go through the process. She asked me if I still wanted the visa and I said yes although at this stage I was in a trance.

I am really lucky I didn’t get run over by a bus or a car on my way back to the office that day. It felt as if it was happening to somebody else. Thankfully by a lucky coincidence our own Guylty was in town with work that night so I got to unload some of the frustration on poor Guylty! And we had some relaxing fun J And found a way to solve my main worry: that the tickets would be unused and those seats would be empty in the theatre! I really didn’t want that and I wished for people to be able to use them and enjoy them. And thus 3 more enablers joined the party (lovely Daphne, nycpat and armitagebesotted)! Over the next day the 6 of us figured out together the best way to distribute the tickets among those who would definitely be there so that at least some fun would come out of the whole mess.

To make things even funnier the next day I had a long meeting in the office with one Mr.. Armitage! (I could not make this up!) And my email was full of reminders from the Roundabout about upcoming performances and the RA also send me emails that day! (Royal Academy but it’s RA on the emails).

Thursday luchtime (2 days later), in a quick breather from the monthly reporting I wished everyone fun over the weekend and confirmed that it was a no go as I had had no new at all and as suspected checks had taken as long as they said they would.

Thursday 3pm – I get an email notification from the embassy saying the passport had been released to the delivery firm!!!! The pick up office is on the other side of London from my work and they close at 5pm! And I had not finished the monthly reporting! In fact, we had an unusual number of errors and problems with the files so we were much delayed! I did my utmost to not think about the f***g passport and work, work, work and 4.10pm I managed to email the file and 4.15pm I was running out of the office to the tube leaving word that I might be back in work tomorrow morning but a very grumpy me or I might not be in at all as per my holiday request long approved.

Thursday 4.55pm I run out of breath into the delivery office and the nice man looks at my pick up number and says: oh, it is not on our system yet, we don’t have it. Sometimes they send the notifications early. I have to be honest and say I hadn’t actually raised my hopes at this point because I just didn’t believe it could happen anymore. I explained to him I had gotten the email and the flight was tomorrow but I guess I just had bad luck. An then he says: oh, when is your flight tomorrow??? Me: 11am. He: oh well, it is still possible! Me: what? No, just forget it I understand it is not going to happen now. He: well, people are in the office from 7,30am so you could come in early and see if it is in the morning delivery and figure out if you can make it to airport. You could try , he says, I recon you have a good chance.

I just got back on tube and came across London and got home and just sat here on the sofa for about 1h not knowing what the hell to do. All advice says for US flights be there 3h in advance.. Just so that I don’t say I haven’t looked I check TFL to find out what public transport takes.. 50 min with like 3 tubes and 1 train. Hm.. I end up calling a taxi company I use and ask them how long it would take from the City all the way to Heathrow. They say usually less than 1h but 1 h if traffic bad (you think? 8am in London through town center…).

I’m unpacked, un-prepared, exhausted and just numb. It’s around 8pm. What to do? I lean on the people whom I’ve dragged into this misery, my enables. I email the gang and relate the happenings and my dilemma. Everyone jumps up and tells me to throw my knickers in a suitcase and get my backside to the delivery office first thing in the morning! And they say what I couldn’t even think of anymore: that I would always wonder if it could have been but I wasn’t there to pick the darn passport up! So I finally get into gear and start running round the place like a mad women, finding the print outs of tickets, checking in for the flight, throwing clothes in a suitcase, finding my travel sickness tablets, looking for the passport to put in handbag.. oh wait, right, I don’t have THAT Continue packing, get showered and finally 1am decide to figure out how I would get myself from JFK to hotel should I happen to fly! Oh and book a taxi from that delivery office before 8am to take me to airport. And then go to bed.

7,30 next morning after some sleep and standing on one leg in packed tube to City. Walk into the delivery office only to be told they haven’t scanned the passports in yet, need to wait for them to be done, likely 8am. 15 min later my taxi arrives and I have to explain to the driver he has to wait because I don’t actually know where I am going that morning.

7.55am 2nd December 2016 – Man says: here it is! It was the first one! I grab it and start running to the further way parked taxi saying: Heathrow T3, we’re going! Now!!!

Needless to say I spent the 1h trip to airport constantly putting passport in handbag and taking ot back out and gaping at the visa and repeating that in between texting everyone and emailing everyone like mad (though none could read it in the middle of the night in US!!!). Telling my London friends that after all and last minute I was running towards a flight and my US lovely room mate that she would be sharing after all!

Made it leisurely through airport and security, on flight and arrived some 8 h later at JFK… sick as  a dog!!!!!

But that’s the next chapter of ‘THE trip’ J

Much love to all you 6 people who kept me sane and had a high contribution in actually dragging me across the pond when I had effectively given up! And also thanks to both Home Office and US embassy who were both nearly the death of me but also saved the day when it mattered!

I don’t regret a thing and although maybe I would change things I stand by every decision I made and which brought me here, well, there J It was all possible out of love J Love of theatre which moved me to a point where I wanted to go, love from friends who helped make it possible and lent so much support, love that’s been going strong for 2 years and which made me think the impossible could be possible and which made me wish for something wonderful in an absolutely shitty year until recently. Love which inspires dreams and wishes and which reminds me that we need these in our lives where we deal with reality. We need the little bit of crazy and love to reminds us of the things that make us very happy.

Childhood goodbye

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It’s really not a good year this one… too much change and none good, too much loss. Too much growing up too.

I feel today i’ve lost my last connection to childhood. My auntie, my grandma’s aunt passed away peacefully in her sleep during the night.

Two weeks ago i found this year’s perfect birthday card for her, she was going to turn 94 at the end of August. She loved getting them and generally getting letters from me. She always told me when we spoke she was proud of me and that i was a good granddaughter and that my grandma and granddad would say the same. Nobody else remembered telling me that as often as she did..

She didn’t have an easy life but she lived to see her granddaughter grow up and play with her 3 great-grandchildren. We’ve lived apart for many years now but i grew up with her, she was more like my second grandma than my aunt.

My childhood memories are all tied to my grandparents and by that i mean my grandad, my gran and her sister, my aunt, Tusi Loluti. There was also their brother, uncle Didor. He had his own family but i do remember him, always well dressed and groomed and my auntie and grandma always told me what a good dancer he was 🙂 I have very few memories of daily life from that time with my parents because in fact it was my grandparents who raised me. We all lived together in a house, the 3 of them, my parents and i. My parents both worked, especially dad really long hours, so my days were spent around my grandparents, the garden and especially the kitchen. The kitchen was in an attached building, outside at the back of the garden.

We had a plum tree at the back of the garden, a few vines, rose bushes and a big apricot tree. I remember the old wood and coal stove in the kitchen with the big and tiny pots on top and the smells of cooking. My auntie used to heat up her lunch before going to work in one of these tiny pots, of which we still have a few at home and i remember sitting next to her and she always shared her food with me, always tasted better from those tiny pots 🙂

I remember Christmas time approaching with the 2 of them spending hours in the kitchen baking the most amazing stuff. My mum still has the old small notebook with yellowed pages with the receipes of lifetimes, most of which only have lists of ingredients, no instructions. Because they all knew how to make them. I copied one year all the ones i could remember for myself. Each of them had their own specialty, the share of receipes they knew best.

And i remember my auntie keeping the house ultra tidy. We had the sitting room where you would only sit when guest came, with everything in its place 🙂 And the old painted white cupboard where they kept the plates with the nicely arranged hills of neatly cut and stacked cakes 🙂 And i remember them both alternatively telling me off and telling me to go to sleep in my bed and not keep waking up and asking for another glass of water, my trick to try and stay up just a bit longer.

I remember the juicy apricots every couple of years when the tree nearly broke with their weight and the massive tin bowl where they would be kept and taken to the kitchen to make amazing jam. Still my favourite today! And i was allowed to do some stirring standing on a small wooden chair.

I remember their washing and the smell of starch in the plastic buckets where my grandad’s shirts where being starched and helping to collect the frozen shirts off the lines outside in winter and their stiffness. The smell of the starch as we brought them back in to thaw in the kitchen.

And  i remember both their voices 🙂 My grandad’s too but mostly them, my grandad was not very chatty and he was always fetching things, fixing thing, going to cue up to buy things while they sorted the household.

They are the best and happiest memories of my life.

My mum has a cousin, my auntie’s daughter. They too grew up together in the same house i did years later. She married an Englishman and moved to the UK before i was born but it would b years before my auntie moved to join them, it was only after my cousin was born.

I know leaving a communist country for the West was a very hard process, but i don’t remember much of that… She moved to the UK, we had to leave the house behind as it was going to be torn down by the communists and ended up living in a block of flats. I was about 11 when we moved but it’s not what i associate with childhood. Childhood was the house, the garden, the kitchen, the grandparents.  My auntie and family moved to the US after a short while and they have been there since.

Soon after both my grandparents passed away, none of them got to see me finish school.

But even if far away my auntie was still there, to ask about recipes, to remember the house, the garden, my grandparents by.

I wish i had seen her again these last few years  not just spoken to her. She and my grand used different words, a mix of languages,a different tone than my parents or i. I wish she was still around to tell me to be more tidy and put things where they belong 🙂

I don’t know what i think about life and passing… I’d like to think she is now with her sister and my grandpa and she can tell them about me finishing school, going to uni, about where i live and work, about baking their recipes.. about how i miss making apricot jam with them.