The Culture Diaries – Catherine McNamara

October 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

Catherine McNamara grew up in Sydney and moved to Paris to study French, and ended up in Ghana running a bar. She is the author of ‘The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy'(soon to be released by Indigo Dreams Publishing UK) and wrote the children’s book ‘Nii Kwei’s Day’. After many years in West Africa she now lives in northern Italy where she complains about the government, translates for a WWI Eco-museum and skis fanatically. She has great collections of African sculpture and Italian heels. 



Monday 17th
I do love Mondays. I am not afraid of the pre-dawn alarm.Kids are driven off to the bus stop, the lads depart and the house is mine.
I ignore the kitchen mess and read a Grace Paley story, thenthree more. I think, Golly girl, you haveso much to learn.
All morning I send off book launch enquiries to independentbookshops in London. As I am publishing my debut novel with an indie press Ihave to be my own media machine. Have dress/heels, will sell myself. A bitdifficult doing it from Italy and not being able to suss things out.
I hook up with my publisher and then my editor: we are onour last-last run through the novel text. Little wordy tug-o-wars, gluey bits.
I write a blog entry about women being squashed by artisticmale partners and how some of us squirm away. I refer to Picasso and FrançoiseGilot. Okay, extreme example, but I’ve had my own head done in too. Does thepiece work? I leave it there and rush to the pool. Given all the running talk inevitablyaccompanying a Murakami release I’ll put my 5p in about swimming: it cleanses,stretches, enlivens the cells and circulation. Today I am on my own except for apregnant lady with a ring. I am very glad I am not pregnant.
Novel corrections, followed by piano practice until mydaughter tells me to STOP. So what else to do except start moving my unhappycacti indoors?
A lovely rush to the end of the day: Ether Books like mystories! Grace Paley is here offering her astute and measured congratulations.
Tuesday 18th
The first ice on the windscreen in the morning and the cactiare looking very snug inside. I can’t find my ice scraper after all that sweatyweather so I use one of my DJ son’s dubstep CDs littering the car. Soon we’llbe heading off to ski on weekend mornings with a scraped five inch square ofdriving vision until the heating kicks in. I love high altitudes but I live onthe Veneto plains.
In the morning I do some blog follow-ups, put my book cover onmy Facebook page, reply to emails, graze about. I read a good article aboutthree types of creative genius with Chopin, who died at 39, being in the firstcategory of those-who-die. Thankfully there is a third group of people who workup to a level of brilliance in their later lives. Shameless, I am hanging ontothis. I am very aware I am not a young emerging writer anymore, just emerging.
I eat chocolate and go downstairs and play Chopin. My pianoteacher, who is a tetchy Argentine conductor, wants me to learn the rest of mypieces by memory. He’s right though, the release in not being tied to the page,it’s like flying.
For lunch there’s just me and my eldest, the one studyingMandarin in Venice. We have a glass of red wine and my tortellini are full ofscrunched-up butter-soaked sage leaves that look like dead flies. Later, it’s timeto bring out serious winter covers and catch an old Law-and-Order episode whilefolding clothes in the attic.
Wednesday 19th
Muggy, warmish and wet with a sharp cough. The sky is looseand it’s time to bring in the last summer cushions. To think I was in sandalsuntil two weeks ago. The hunters are out under the grapevines but I don’t getshot today either, silly buggers with brainless dogs.
This morning I write up my blurbs for my submission forEther and am thrilled when they say they will publish all eight. I cannot believe!The stories are nearly all set on the cusp between European and African ways ofthinking – ever since I studied Lenin’s Theory of Imperialism at university I’vebeen set on this course.
I feel like celebrating but I am too lazy to drive intotown. I think I’ll order a crisp Friday afternoon thanks, for a few drinking hoursat Sartea – my favourite bar. No luck yet with my book launch enquiries although friendsand fellow writers have been helpful. It is starting to look like an intimatebookshop bash in town here with a follow-up at said bar, utilising theorganisational skills of my DJ mate Grinta.
I cook pumpkin risotto and a rich tarte au citron tocelebrate mildly, before heading off to make out with Scarlatti.
Thursday 20th
Now it’s official. I’m up as an author on the Ether Bookssite. Of course my picture is pretty dorky and they’ve put McNamara quite closeto Paul McCartney. The thrill of it. I join the Ether writer community and putmy flashy African barbershop photo on sideways. Whatta goose. I was a manicAfrican art collector once. I had a gallery in Africa. Weird, I also didAfrican independence movements at uni and remember the first words of ourdreamy prof, from Isak Dinesen’s autobiography: I had a farm in Africa… I went to Dinesen’s house once in Kenya andmy fascination dissolved. The whole colonial thing was still so tangible.  
Thursday is also piano lesson afternoon and I play my firstpiece, a Chopin waltz, better than I expected, from memory. No tension in Carlos’face, I can relax! Molto bene (myheart shivers) he says. You are a personwho must play everything without music, here you are playing from the heart.The Scarlatti too comes off well. Ah, Isee the fingers are working, they are working.
My heart feels warm and light.
Friday 21st
After yesterday’s headiness I don’t feel like doing a thing.Just coasting. I reread my book chapters, finding little irks, as many as I canbefore lunch with a mate in town. But then Paola has me google-map Sydneyharbour and my place there on my iPad. Astonishing how I can smell the saltfrom a seagull’s eye view and feel the tide. Growing discomfort, is what thewhole exile thing makes me feel with age.
We talk about doing the book launch here in Vicenza, in thatcool bookshop near the piazza. Okay so it’s written in English but the novel isset in Italy, and at least I will raise a crowd. Then some music and red wine.She thinks it’s a good idea. I’d rather spend my funds on printing up mypostcards and posters. Then it’s England, I guess, to offer myself to bookclubs and whoever will have me. And plenty of reviews and interviews online.
Saturday 22nd
At least the sun and wind have come through. My editor is inmy (virtual) hair and I am happy to get on with it. I continue going backwardsthrough my chapters. Mostly I like what I read, thank goodness, it is smoothand the tone is consistent. There is one nasty glitch which disturbs however soI sit there and work it!
Freaking cold of a sudden, and my eldest makes me ahamburger. I realise it is an age since I have eaten meat. We talk about ourcraving for Lebanese food and our favourite places from the past, especiallythe old Lebanon Club in Accra where he grew up.
That evening we see Melancholia, unfortunately dubbed inItalian, which I loved. The music, the slowness, the rumbling of the collidingplanet. I have had dreams like that. My arty friends try to pooh-pooh it but Ithink it is wonderful and resounding.
I pick up my youngest and meet an interesting Italian/NewYorker mother of a mixed child like me. We stand talking for ages under one ofVicenza’s old arcades. She says all the ‘big people’ were not there at work inthe Twin Towers on that day and mybrain is ticking all the way home.
Sunday 23rd
Sunny autumn mornings are for reading anddelights! Then a trip to the food market and cooking for adolescent returneeswith homework, and hungry friends who arrive from town. We eat very bitterpomegranates from the tree and collect the walnuts I’ve left on the ground.Then drink ourselves silly on Rosi’s Marzemino wine while MG throws a pizza orfive into the oven.
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