Monday, April 26, 2010

Bon Hair, Bad Hair

Good Hair (U.S., 2009) directed by Jeff Stilson; produced by Chris Rock, 96 minutes

This obsession with hair is an interesting phenomenon within the black community. Some wag once said that black women obsess over their hair the way white women obsess over their weight. This doc seems to confirm this observation. This is not so much a film review as it is the story of my curly hair and my search for "good hair".

Fun and a bit provocative, Rock catalogues the various ways black girls and women deal with their nappy hair: chemical relaxers, weaves sewn on to scalps with real human hair (mostly from hair sacrificed by women at temples in India - which was disturbing to learn), chemical perms. Oy ... The expense, the hazards of strong chemicals, the time involved (hours and hours), the emotional stress, all in search of "good hair" - Western hair, straight hair.

I casually remarked to R one time that some black girls hate to go swimming because of ruining their hair. R saw this as racist and scoffed at the statement. But I assured him, with all the work it takes to care for, and maintain, your curly hair, the last thing you want is to ruin your perm, weave, relaxed hair in a pool full of chlorine or lake water.

This whole "good hair" thing hits at the heart of dis-ease we feel about nappy and curly hair in Western society. Women strive endlessly for "good hair" and we want "good hair" because we know we will be judged by our looks and especially our hair, our "crowning glory" as the poet Maya Angelou describes it in the film. Even world class poets know that ...

As the bearer of a curly head of hair, I know that I have tried to tame, control, relax, manipulate every strand and have done so since birth. Sometimes successfully ... I am obsessed with it.

I have been fighting with my hair since back in the day when my mother would sit me in front of the TV before school started and hack away, pulling and struggling through my tangled curls early in the morning to get me ready for the day. My straight haired mother thought the best thing to do was to  put my long curly hair into a little bun on the top of my head (complete with old lady style hair net to control it) and then take the long strands at the back and curl them into cannoli thick strands at the bottom. It was just as strange looking as it sounds.

Now that would make you popular in the land of silken haired blonde Marcia and Jan Bradys in grade school.

My mother, fed up with struggling with it when I was ten, lied to me once and told me that if I cut it short, it would grow back straight. Obviously the woman was desperate and I was dim-witted enough to be believe her.

Then, I had an epiphany in my mid teens, since I had thick "black" hair I would wear it in an afro which got bigger and bigger as my teenage alienation deepened. It would elicit stares, nasty remarks and really unpleasant encounters with strangers who did not like it at all. It seemed to really threaten people and authority. This lasted for about two years and divided people - some liked it, others hated it. Everyone had an opinion about it and were very free in dispensing their opinions.

Try walking around my east end Hamilton neighborhood with that head of hair or confronting a house full of Sicilian relations at family occasions.  

Then, feeling spiteful and angry because a boyfriend had shaved his head without telling me or consulting me (and who also happened to love my afro), I cut it all off in my last year of highschool and had to deal with it short and curly.

I never really felt comfortable with my hair until my early 30s where I just chose a more relaxed style, pulled back away from my face, that worked with my troublesome curls and long hair. But eventually this got tedious for me.

One day several years ago, I was threatening to do something silly with my hair when my stylist suggested that I let one of them straighten it and see how I felt about it. Wow, what a difference. And the reaction of people around me was quite striking. They seemed to liked it, they really liked it. 

Let me qualify that - the people very close to me did not - husband, child, mother. They did not like it at all. Every time I would return from the hairdresser with straight hair I would be greeted with this: "Oh ... your hair ... it looks ... nice." (N.B. "Nice" is the husband's code word for "I don't like it but I really don't know what to say.") He really has not come to terms with it. People are very proprietorial about your hair I find.

But I like the diversity, I like the change. I like slipping into different identities and personas. I can't prove this but I think that people treat me differently when my hair is straight or curly. It's a little like one of the interviewees in the film said (semi-jokingly): "If your hair is relaxed, this makes white people more relaxed towards you." 

You feel me?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

How to Date a Brown Boy

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (Penguin Group, 2007) 340 pages

This novel is a dazzling mixture of the profane and the eloquent, ostensibly about the life of "ghetto nerd" Oscar De Leon and the fuku (family curse) which hangs over his mother's family, the Cabrals, and who aspires to be the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien. But it is much more: a history of the Dominican Republic under the dictator Trujillo's reign (the ominous historical figure of Trujillo plays a significant role in the book and the life of the Cabrals); a coming of age story; a shrewd-eyed analysis of male-female relations in Latin culture.

The characters are so familiar to me as a Sicilian that despite the extensive use of Spanish, I would swear these could be characters from my mother's village in Sicily. There is something so charming and disarming in Diaz's storytelling that I am instantly immersed in his fictional world. It's strange and nasty and vivid and utterly unlike anything I have ever read before.

At first, I found his extensive footnotes intrusive (they reminded me of David Foster Wallace - insert shudder here) but I soon appreciated the background it provided in the context of the story. Diaz claims that he was not influenced by Wallace but another writer. The spec lit references threw me a bit as well - they are extensive and often unexplained. It's such a foreign world for me as a reader but it came together in an odd and refreshing way.

The story is told through the viewpoint of a number of characters: Oscar, his sister Lola, their mother Beli, Lola's friend Yunior.

Oscar is a collection of neurotic teenage obsessions: girls and sex, his enormous weight, his writing, the sci fi and speculative fiction canon. Except for the first obsession, he appears an unassimilated and strange quantity growing up in Paterson, NJ. A Latino without machismo, all brain and unfulfilled libido with nowhere to go ...

Lola, sexy and pretty and very much like her mother Beli, chafes under the yoke of trying to be the perfect Dominican daughter and so rebels in various ways: goth, punk, runaway, prodigal daughter. These passages are convincingly written. Lola strikes a strident and rebellious chord in me as a bit of a teenage nightmare myself. 

Beli too suffers a tortured history which likely has driven her more than a little mad and which she unsparingly inflicts on her two children - orphaned by the machinations of Trujillo's henchman; shuffled from one parasitic family member to another until the age of nine; she is finally adopted by her father's cousin La Inca. She becomes enamored with, and impregnated by, a big time gangster with familial ties to Trujillo. When her pregnancy is discovered, she is beaten within an inch of her life, miraculously recovers and then is ferreted away by La Inca to the American paradise of New Jersey. The fate of Beli's parents Abelard and Socorro are no less complex and disturbing.

The teenage Oscar follows sister Lola to Rutgers University in New Jersey (Diaz' real alma mater) hoping for redemption from geekhood, from virginity, from his overwhelming braininess which overshadows everything in his psyche. This never happens. He returns to New Jersey with his virginity intact and takes up teaching back at Don Bosco Tech, the all boys Catholic high school he attended to observe the geeks that he still resembles tortured by the "cool" kids.

Yunior, while involved with Lola, attempts to mold Oscar into a more "manly" specimen at Rutgers so that it might alleviate his girl problems but Oscar, whom I would define as always romantically "fighting out of his weight class" habitually picks girls who would never consent to be with him. This drives him to despair.

Eventually, he returns to the DR for a summer to meet his fate. It involves, as one can imagine, a woman, older, more seasoned and attached to a very dangerous individual. Hence, we finally learn the meaning of the word "brief" in the title.

Yunior mourns Oscar's fate, vows to change his life, marries, settles down. Months later Yunior receives a package containing an "unfinished space opera" written by Oscar and a directive that a second package will soon arrive which will "cure" the fuku which has afflicted the family. Yunior waits but the package never arrives.

Throughout, Diaz weaves the history of the DR and the murderous excesses of Trujillo - the murder of political dissidents such as the Mirabal sisters, the secret police, manipulations to cease the property and wealth of citizens that Trujillo coveted and the women that he wished to seduce - which recreates a world which we, in the West, know little of.
Post-script: Great lecture/question session with Diaz here, held at Google headquarters a few years ago. Also... some intriguing fiction entitled "How To Date A Brown Girl (black girl, white girl, or halfie)" in The New Yorker here.

Friday, April 16, 2010

It's Edith's War and Our War Too

Edith's War by Andrew Smith (Axiom Publishing Co., 2010) 380 pages

In Edith's War, Andrew Smith sensitively and deftly shifts from the present day somewhat strained relationship of two brothers named Will and Shamus Maguire traveling in Venice to the secret history of their mother Edith during WWII when countless Italians, some born in England, were interned as enemy aliens. I was lucky enough to read this book in manuscript form before it was published.

The Liverpool born brothers could not be more different. The eldest Will is taciturn, cold and unsociable. Shamus, a few years younger and now living in Canada, is gentler, sensitive but obviously a bit cowed by his older brother's volatile personality.

Shamus is still mourning the death of his partner Luke. Will is divorced and seems embittered by his life. Both men seem emotionally adrift. They spend the day reminiscing (and bickering), taking in Venice and awaiting their mother Edith's visit. Family life was an emotionally stilted and unpleasant memory for Will. Shamus has a less angry recollection but is still intrigued by the speculation of the true relationship between his parents Edith and Joe (whom both brothers refer to by their first names).

The two generations are bound together by their connection to Italy and it turns out Edith's romantic past is much more complicated than they know.

Far from being the cold, prim fish that the brothers presume Edith to be, she has had a tumultuous emotional and romantic history in Britain during WWII while husband Joe was off to war and she was pregnant with her first child Will. While Edith lived with her mother-in-law and brother-in-law she became friendly with the Baccanello family next door.

Anna and Gianni Baccanello have three sons Carlo, Paolo and Domenico and a close relationship with the Maguires. There is a sweet and understated attraction between Edith and the eldest son Carlo who lives with his wheelchair bound wife Isobel.

This attraction becomes more intense when all the Baccanello men are interned as aliens and possible threats to security by Churchill's orders once Mussolini declares war on England in 1940. This reflects a true historical event that few in the West know about (I certainly did not). Edith, intelligent but politically apathetic, is galvanized into aiding her neighbors when the the men are interned and then ordered to be transported overseas for indefinite incarceration on The Arandora Star.

On July 2, 1940 the ship, which held nearly1,200 German and Italian internees, was torpedoed by a German submarine U-47, and 800 men were killed or drowned. Carlo survives this harrowing experience as does the youngest son but other family members do not.

Even though Carlo survives, his ordeal is not over as he is then shipped to an internment camp at Woolfall Heath. Some historical detail about the camp from "Wartime camps in Huyton", BBC Liverpool:
The camp, first occupied in May, 1940, was formed around several streets of new, empty council houses and flats and then made secure with high barbed wire fencing. Twelve internees were allocated to each house, but overcrowding resulted in many sleeping in tents. Initially the camp was only meant to hold the internees until they could be shipped to the Isle of Man. However, largely in response to the torpedoing of the transport ship 'The Arandora Star', with the loss of nearly 700 people, the deportations ended. 
Brave, resourceful Edith stands up for the Baccanellos against British authorities and struggles largely in vain - even combating her bigoted brother-in-law and the suspicion of neighbors and friends in their small village. But she makes a fateful choice which will link her to the Baccanellos forever.

It reminds me that we often lose sight of what our parents were before they became our parents - their acts of courage, their youthful passions and sometimes transgressions. They were (are) as passionate and hopeful as any of us.

In the present day, the Maguire brothers bicker and piece together bits of forgotten family history in Venice. They meet an enigmatic stranger named Armando Belli who captivates Will. He carries a cigarette case which intrigues Will and triggers a long buried memory about the presence of Carlo Baccanello in his early life. Without saying too much to spoil the plot, a secret resides in Edith which we learn of only at the very end.

The scenes set in WWII are compelling and meticulously recreate the atmosphere of fear and paranoia which plague the two families under siege by both the German bombardment and English racism and xenophobia. 

This book is politically relevant today as it reminds us that the perceived enemies within our midst are often the pawns of horrific historical circumstances beyond their control. And before we assume that this is a phenomenon confined to other nations, let's remember that the exact same situation happened with Japanese-Canadians during WWII. My own mother-in-law, who was a child younger than my daughter, and her whole family, were interned at Lemon Creek. Closer to our own time, think of the Muslim-Canadians wrongly accused and incarcerated today. We are doomed to repeat these mistakes unless we are vigilant. And this book helps us remember that.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The (Not So) Nice Italian Girls celebrate Poetry Month

Celebrate Poetry Month with 
The (Not So) Nice Italian Girls
at the Spadina Road Branch,
Toronto Public Library
10 Spadina Rd. (north of Bloor)
Thursday April 15, 2010

Desi Di Nardo has had many publications in international journals and anthologies including The Literary Review of Canada, The Globe and Mail, Descant, and The National Post. Her work has been performed at the National Arts Centre, featured on Toronto's transit system, displayed in the Official Residences of Canada, and printed on Starbucks cups. Desi has worked as a literacy facilitator at the June Callwood Centre, English professor at George Brown College, and currently is the writer-in-residence at St. Joseph's College. She is the author of The Plural of Some Things published by Guernica Editions. Poems from her book have been translated and reviewed in La Rivista di Studi Italiani.

Gianna Patriarca, a graduate of York University was born in the region of Lazio, Italy and came to Canada as a child. Gianna has published six books of poetry and one children’s book. Her first collection Italian Women and Other Tragedies was runner-up to the Milton Acorn People’s Poetry Award and in 2009 was translated into Italian and launched at the university of Bologna and Naples. My Etruscan Face was short listed for the Bressani Literary Award in 2009. Her work has been extensively anthologized and has been adapted for Canada Stage theater and for CBC radio drama. Her work has been featured in numerous documentaries including Enigmatico, Pier 21, The Italian/Canadians and Three Women which will have its release on OMNI in 2010. Gianna’s books appear on the course list of Canadian, American and Italian universities. She is currently working on a new collection of poems entitled Too Much Love and continues to work on her novel The Sicilian’s Bride. She lives in Toronto.

Giovanna Riccio was born in Calabria, Italy and grew up in Toronto where she studied philosophy at the University of Toronto. Her poems have appeared in journals, magazines and newspapers, including the Eyetalian, Poetry Canada Review, CV2, Tickleace, and Italian-Canadiana. Giovanna completed her first manuscript, Strong Bread, earlier this year and is in the process of getting it published. Her dramatic monologue, Vittorio, will be published by Lyricalmyrical Press in the spring. She has recently retired from teaching and is working on a new book of poetry.

And as emcee ...
Michelle Alfano is a Toronto writer and a Co-Editor with Descant. Her short story “Opera”, on which her novella Made Up Of Arias (Blaurock Press, 2008) is based, was a finalist for a Journey Prize anthology. Her fiction and non-fiction work has been widely published in Canada in major literary publications, and has also appeared in the U.S. She will be featured in a forthcoming documentary on the passengers, and the children of the passengers, of the Saturnia, an immigrant ship which transported thousands of Italian-born immigrants to Canada in the 1950s and 60s and which will be featured on OMNI-TV.

Friday, April 9, 2010

L'Etranger in Beirut

De Niro's Game by Rawi Hage (House of Anansi Press Inc, 2006) 276 pages

I love discovering new worlds through new writers. In this instance, I had never read a fictional story set in Beirut, Lebanon during the civil war of the 1980s. Very simplistically put, that war involved warring factions between Christian and Muslim Lebanese but began to include other nations and groups such as the Palestinians, Syrians and Israelis. For a more nuanced, detailed history please see here.

Two Christian Lebanese teenagers named Bassam and George (the latter nicknamed De Niro) live in a nightmare world of internecine fighting in Beirut. They drift aimlessly from scams to rip off the casino that George works in, to trying to seduce girls, clubbing and drinking to excess and devising ways to escape their lives.

Bassam has more than a passing resemblance to Albert Camus' character Meursault in L'Etranger. To cite a few similarities:  the apathy and lack of emotional engagement; the death of each one's mother; the chaotic violence in which they find themselves embroiled; and, ironically, their involvement with the death of another man whom they had no intention of harming initially. Hage cleverly inverts the ethnciity of his main character: Camus' Meursault is a French-Algerian living in Algiers among Arabs; Hage's Bassam is a Lebanese Christian Arab seemingly obsessed with French culture who ultimately ends up in Paris. Although Hage does not strictly adhere to the L'Etranger plot, he certainly conjures up the sense of menace and ennui which permeates this forerunner.

Cyril Connelly's description of Mersault in the introduction to the English language version of the novel aptly describes Bassam too:
Meursault represents the neo-pagan, a reversion to Mediterranean man as once he was in Corinth or Carthage or Alexandria or Tarshish, as he is today in Casablanca or Southern California. He is sensual and well-meaning, profoundly in love with life, whose least pleasures, from a bathe to a yawn, afford him complete and silent gratification. He lives without anxiety in a continuous present and has no need to think or to express himself ...
In De Niro's Game, relatives disappear; abandoned ravenous dogs roam the streets; the city's infrastructure has dissolved; and killings occur randomly and frequently. Bassam is seemingly, and strangely, unmoved by all of it.

One of the more disturbingly vivid scenes involves the night that some men decide to eliminate the roaming dogs who threaten the citizenry, described by the narrator as the "battle of the hundred dogs". Sometimes Hage's prose becomes a surreal and rich fantasy which transforms the scene before the narrator Bassam's eyes:
They are killing dogs! The words of the Christians flew from one balcony to another. Two jeeps carrying seven militiamen surrounded the dogs ... An Afghani hound bitch was executed for treason, while in Paris her beloved owner was on all fours on a silk bedsheet ... A cocker spaniel was pursued by a fat fighter, while his mommy was buying filet mignon in the Champs Élysées  for an evening of wine and debauchery ... The chihuahua was ... finally shot at closer range, under a car, while his mother in Venice, discussed the origin of silk in a chic salon over espresso.
Later, Nabila, George's aunt, bitterly compares the men to dogs, presumably in their viciousness towards each other but also in their vulnerability as the prime victims of the violence that surrounds them for the men are struck down like dogs in the street.

This is a world where the average citizen, armed to the teeth, may pull up to a crowded gas station, take out a gun, shoot a few rounds to drive away the other customers and then fill up his gas tank and then speed away. Or when someone is rushed to emergency and his friends find that he is not getting the medical attention he needs quickly enough, they, again, will pull out a gun, shoot up the hospital and medical people rush in to care for the man.

George acquires a gun and new friends whom Bassam is uneasy with. George also joins the Christian militia and starts dealing drugs. He goes on mysterious "training" sessions in Israel.

The boys become estranged. George wants to remain and fight the Muslims; Bassam merely wants to escape. Paradise, which eludes him, he names Roma, some vague European destination where all will be well.    

Love and passion are equally complicated where all eyes are upon the young girls to vouchsafe their virginity. Rana, Bassam's object of desire, "sat with her legs crossed, protecting her virginity from predators' eyes, tongues, and crooked teeth". They both (but more especially Rana) must be discreet in their interactions.
She was waiting for the housewives to fold up their ropes and their long tongues that entered every door, wrapped around every pillow, slithered like serpents in beds, and stretched under every young skirt to assess menstrual flows and hymens.

Bassam's already fragile world begins to disintegrate ... Both George and Rana eventually appear untrustworthy to Bassam. Bassam's mother dies in a bomb attack. A far off uncle offers Bassam $1,000 to leave Beirut. Singled out and tortured for an unsolved murder by the militia, Bassam tries to make an escape by stowing away on a ship to Marseilles with the aid of George's aunt. The promised land proves tricky and dangerous. He is immediately set upon by skinheads when he lands whom he is only able to fend off because he is armed with a gun.

With only the name of George's father in hand (a European diplomat whom neither Bassam or George have ever met) he contacts the family in Paris. Claude, George's father, is by now dead but the family wants to know more about George so Bassam is invited to Paris.

Perhaps as a show of Bassam's increased mental fragility, he imagines himself variously as one of Napoleon's soldiers; as a revolutionary during the Terror killing aristocrats; as an anti-Vichy resistance fighter (such was Camus); and, vaguely associating himself as the character of Meursault in Camus' L'Etranger. Hage's terrifyingly poetic imagination leaps to the fore here. Bassam half hallucinates the last fifth of the novel and we are never entirely certain whether he is mad. The reference to Meursault begins to makes sense ... Bassam shows little emotion whether it is at his mother's funeral or Rana's infidelity or the turbulent events that take place in Paris.

He becomes obsessed with Rhea, George's beautiful half sister, who is trying to help him. In a series of spectacular screw-ups, he alienates Rhea and some sinister individuals who surround Rhea. Bassam cannot seem to let go of the violence which has formed him in Beirut.

Hage's language throughout is lush and highly visual. Comparisons to Hemingway, despite the prestigious blurb on the jacket, are shallow and inappropriate. He sometimes suffers from a surfeit of rich language utilizing six or seven metaphors in certain passages where perhaps two will do such as in this section where Bassam is being tortured and listens to the sound of boots retreating and coming towards him: 
... like waves that splash on misty shores, like black veils that eclipse the sun ... like the sound of blasting drums ... like lollypop drips on your chin, like the smell of plastic erasers ...
There is a certain awkwardness and ring of insincerity here (a rare misstep in this novel) - the sounds of your torturers' boots remind you of "lollypops" dripping on your chin? This tears me from the narrative and the illusion of this tortured young man is destroyed for me.

Still the ending is spectacular and it is a worthwhile, fascinating read.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Rabbit on the Roof

Maybe the passing of my aunt A. has prompted this Easter memory. Maybe we are becoming nostalgic in our old age ...

When we were young, the two Alfano families (including my dad's oldest brother's family) and the Mattelianos (my mother's eldest sister's family) would have these marathon Easter celebrations at one of our three houses. There were three huge family get-togethers annually: Christmas, New Years and Easter. The families rotated hosting and cooking for the holiday.

We would start with lunch or dinner on Easter Sunday and then everyone would stay over, staying up as late as we could and then have breakfast, lunch and dinner together the next day. Six adults and seven kids ... ai yi yi the old school Italians knew how to party.

It was a sit down dinner for thirteen on the Sunday. I can't even fathom how we did this in our small house on Cannon Street in Hamilton. No paper plates, no plastic cutlery, no store bought dishes only homemade food. A table set for thirteen with our best dishes and cutlery and unfathomable quantities of food ... stracciatella soup, the obligatory pasta dish, lamb or rabbit and sometimes chicken, plentiful side dishes of vegetables, mounds of fruit - melon, grapes, fic d'india - endless desserts including cannoli from Sam's Queenston Bakery and homemade cookies ...

Another tradition: My father would bring home a cute little lamb or rabbit around Easter. It lived in our basement and my brother and I named it and played with it and petted it and then ... you guessed it! Little Fluffy or Sparky, or whomever, would end up on the dinner table three days later. Of course, horrified, we kids could never partake (at least I could not). Today, it still rankles a bit and I have never, ever been able to eat rabbit.

During the festivities, the kids played cards (Scopa), listened to Italian pop songs like Cuore Matto by Little Tony and Canadian pop songs, videotaped each other mugging with these monstrously large video cameras, gorged on Easter chocolate and food, ragged on each other. The cousins were all born within six years of each other with the exception of my sister F, the youngest - twelve years younger than the eldest.

Oh yes, another "fun" game  ... and the eldest male cousin would make us play "king". He chose his queen (invariably lovely cousin A. with the long, luxurious dark hair) and we, his humble servants, would bring him food which he graciously accepted and ate. All of us. We never questioned the hierarchy or his orders nor staged a rebellion. We just did it. And, odd as it sounds, we loved it and vied for the privilege of bringing the food and being allowed to sit beside him on the couch.

If the weather was good we played on the enormous driveway in front of our house on the corner lot under the legs of the giant billboard which sat in front of our house in the east end near Ivor Wynne stadium. We raced maniacally in endless circles around the property. We played basketball. There was a short fence which we used as a ladder to go up on the garage beside the house which faced Belview Ave. to survey the neighborhood in all its spring glory. This memory is bathed in the endless sunlight of an early April day.

And the merriment continued unabated until my late teens.

Flash forward a few decades and now I have a child of my own. Our traditions are more humble. My kingdom of three: R, J and myself. When J was little we baked Easter cookies adorned with pink bunnies and sky blue eggs. I created baskets filled with chocolate eggs, a stuffed toy and gold tin foil wrapped bunnies.

Early Sunday morning I would rise and create a chocolate egg trail from J's room to some hidden location in the house where she would find her Easter basket. Sometimes I would deliberately lead her astray and she would end up in the middle bedroom or a closet before she found the treasure. When we had cats it was harder because the cats would bat the chocolate around and destroy the trail before J woke. It was a race against time - get up before J but not too early so the cats would get to the chocolate. (The then kitten Sugar once tore through the bottom of the Lindt chocolate bunny R had bought for me and chewed its toes off much to R's consternation and horror - I thought it was funny.)

One Easter morning J couldn't sleep and ran up into our bedroom on the third floor and crept in between R and I around dawn, she was perhaps five or six ...

"Sleep J, sleep!" I begged. It was so early, I was so tired ... she and I never slept very well.

She looked up towards the roof, her eyes got big. "But mommy, I hear the Easter bunny on the roof!" she said with wonder. "I can hear him!"

"But you can't see him or he won't leave the chocolate ..." I said. She tried to contain her excitement but couldn't sleep. We lay in bed and talked about what he would bring. After a suitable interval, we crept downstairs following the chocolate trail and she found her basket hidden under a bed or in a closet.

What can I say? The Easter bunny's a pro - the chocolate was exceptionally good that year.

Easter morning Post-Script: Woke J with a trail of chocolate eggs which lead from her bed to her Easter gifts in our bedroom. Of course, being a newly minted teenage she moaned that she did not want to get up - I'm so tired! - but I told her it would be worth it as she received a new DVD copy of New Moon.