Daily Archives: September 22, 2014

Writing 101: A Character-Building Experience


Who’s the most interesting person (or people) you’ve met this year?

Today, write a post focusing on one — or more — of the people that have recently entered your life, and tell us how your narratives intersected. 

Today’s twist: Turn your post into a character study.

This year has been so full of new experiences and new people that I hardly know where to start. From moving in with my new partner to travelling with him to Europe, to returning to an almost completed new house and moving in, etc etc. Many and varied are the people I have met not least the tradesmen who have populated our lives for the past year. Builders – two here every day except weekends, plumbers one at a time but often here; electricians sometimes two sometimes only one; roofers; heating installers; equipment installers etc.

My partner’s family have played a large part in my life this year. His father in law who will be 99 in a week’s time and for whom we are throwing a party; his son, partner and their two delightful little girls, his sister and her grown children, his brother and family and his brother-in-law.

The family in Lake Como Italy who welcomed me, a complete stranger into their lives and their homes making me an instant member of their family – mother, father, 2 grown children with their own families.

And my own family have played a large part too.  My four grandsons who are growing up and making their own mark in the world.  They are my joy and delight.

But in this post I am going to concentrate on just one of the people whom I have met this year….

We arrived in Milan after a long flight from Hong Kong to be met by these two smiling Italians. I had never met them and was slightly apprehensive as they had been longtime friends with my partner and his late wife. But I didn’t have to worry. They immediately welcomed me, both to Italy and their family.

Paolo is a large bluff Sardinian. He is highly educated, has worked in many parts of the world and speaks several languages including French, German and some English.

His sparkling eyes tells you immediately that he is ready for some fun, or mischief as his wife puts it. He is quick to laugh, ready with a funny story from sometime/somewhere in his life and ever ready to help whether it be his wife or another member of the family, either extended or close, who needs help. He has a white close-cropped beard, trimmed by his wife who also trims his hair so he is always tidily, if slightly eccentrically presented.

He has an obsession with clothes and watches. He has been collecting watches for years – he says he started collecting as soon as he could afford to do so and now has some 200 plus watches. And he is always looking for more. When we were in Spain he would keep calling me to “Judi quick look watches”.

He has more clothes than his wife. Each time we stopped anywhere in Spain he bought a shirt.  We all went to Freiburg, Germany to visit his wife’s mother, and while she was visiting her on her own and we had an hour or so to fill in, he took us to his favourite department store where he bought two more shirts. And what bright coloured shirts they were. I should add one can always see Paolo in a crowd. He is big and has on these wild coloured shirts; easy to spot.  Incidentally, he couldn’t convince my partner to buy a similar shirt.

His voice is as big as he is. One day in the supermarket he couldn’t see his wife and called her. Movement in the huge supermarket came to a standstill while everyone looked to see who was calling and who he was calling.  Incidentally, from the time they first met and living in different countries, he called her Cherie and still does.

He is a coffee-aholic. 10.30am and everything stops for Paolo’s espresso which he drinks in one gulp while standing up at the counter and then he is ready to go. Not for him the leisurely coffee culture we are used to in New Zealand. Here coffee time is a social time when we meet friends for a catch-up; there it is a matter of swallowing the coffee, not wasting any time.  In deference to us, they occasionally sat down for coffee but as is usual in many parts of Italy if you take a seat it costs more. But coffee is a political thing in Italy – the price is incredibly low and we looked on in amazement as four coffees cost only 5 Euros or the equivalent of $NZ7.80. This wouldn’t buy you two cups of coffee in NZ.

“We do not live by coffee alone; order a danish.” Judith Baxter

He is a diabetic who has to inject himself regularly and he makes a joke of this while seriously following the doctor’s instructions. He loves “sweeties” but can no longer eat them. This doesn’t stop him from encouraging us to buy and eat them. Many times when we were with him he would see a shop selling cakes or sweets and call my attention to it. In Freiburg, there is a shop that sells the most amazing selection of chocolate that I have come across. Paolo stood at the window pointing out those that appealed to him and suggesting I buy some to taste.

He is a photographer of note and hauls his photographic equipment around with him even though he has a bad back and something wrong with a leg, both of which make walking difficult for him. This doesn’t stop him from entering into the spirit of things. The Alhambra set on a hillside with many steps left him physically tired but happy, as did Toledo. Just occasionally he would need to sit down but after very few minutes he was up again ready for whatever was planned.

He is an atrocious driver and so his wife does most of the driving,  But he is a loud backseat driver, giving her instructions even though she knows where she is going, and yelling at drivers who don’t respect the road laws or those drivers he thinks are “idiota”.

During our sojourn in Europe, we used their home in Lake Como as a base, taking off for a couple of weeks and then coming back to spend time with my new Italian friends, then going off again and returning once again.   We enjoyed time with them in their home, in Germany, Spain and Switzerland. It would be fair to say they enhanced a holiday of a lifetime.  So thank you, Paolo and Marion, for putting up with us.