Fly High!

Maria Grazia has one of the most informative and prolific blogs I’ve subscribed to and her capacity and enthusiasm has always captivated me. As well as being erudite, she has a great sense of humour coupled with a love of her fellow man. In other words she seems a bit of a paragon and I wanted to find out more about her. I asked her if I could interview her and she was coy at first, but I finally prevailed. Here’s what we chatted about:

The woman we all know as MG!

  1. All those of us who know of Fly High know that you are a teacher. Can you explain what it is that you teach and what age of student you instruct?

I consider myself very lucky. I love to say I AM a teacher and that I don’t simply WORK AS a teacher. I mean, I love my job so much, I feel I couldn’t do anything else. I was born a teacher. I teach Italian teenagers –  aged 14 / 19 – English as a foreign language,  as well as English literature . I’ve been doing that for more than 20 years now. 

2. Do you think the students appreciate the quality of the literature you teach or do you think that such appreciation comes later in life?

That’s a difficult question. Very few teenagers like reading or classic literature. Then reading literature in a foreign language is even less appealing to lazy teens.  But when even one of them come to like a  classic novel/author because of my lessons, I feel gratified and happy. Not an easy task, indeed. What I try to do is to support my lessons and readings with Power Point slides, clips from movies and series, audio recordings, my blog Learnonline ( . The codes my students are more familiar with.

3. Your involvement with students must give you a view on the relevance of the classics. What do you think the future of such literature is in a proliferating global society?

I can assure you,  students  are really involved in classic tales when you introduce them in a way they can imagine themselves in the protagonists’ shoes or  recognize something of themselves in those fictional characters. So they can find them relevant to their own personal experience. This is the power of the classics: you feel mankind has never actually changed and recognize that closeness of the present to the past. For instance, if I introduce Robinson Crusoe saying: “Imagine your father has planned every bit of your future life. For instance, what you have to study at university and  what your job will be soon after finishing, what will your reaction be? Imagine that your greatest wish is, instead,  to travel all over the world in search for adventures? What would you do ? Obey to your father? Or leave home immediately?”

Or, well, if introducing Mrs Gaskell’s North and South, I say: “What if your father comes and tells you to pack up and move to another place, to leave all you have always known,  because he’s made up his mind you all have to move somewhere else? How would you feel arriving at the new place? No friends, no familiar places nor faces, completely different habits and suddenly poor?”

The lesson becomes soon animated and that old story is not that old any longer. If you add little clips from one or two different film versions of the novel, the result is that they are very curious to know more about that story. So you see, I’m not actually very academic in my approach to literature. From text to context or viceversa, doesn’t matter to me. What counts is the human approach. Metaphors and sound devices can wait. Maybe if the students decide to go on studying literature and humanities at university, which sometimes happens.

So, what is the relevance of literature in our modern globalized world? I really don’t know. I feel humanity can’t be better without that inheritance. So, I only try to imagine myself as one of the human beings Bradbury describes at the end of Fahrenheit 451: I have to save one book from the past (many, actually) and pass it to the generations to come. That book is only in my mind. So my task is unique and incommensurable. What will be of our world without that treasure? Those are our roots to be steadily fasten to the earth and our wings to fly high towards freedom.

4. Fly High reviews both mainstream and independent titles. There’s a prevalent view that both types of publishing are contributing to the dumbing-down of the marketplace, what is your view?

As you know, I actually read everything, from very challenging classic volumes to essays, to chick lit and modernization of classics. I think there’s a difference between reading for pleasure and reading to learn something about yourself and mankind. That’s the difference I make while reading: just for pleasure or for my personal enrichment. And I’ve got different scales, rating systems. If I read for pleasure, it must be a page turner, if it is for personal enrichment it should be extremely well written and full of food for thought.

5. You also have a strong penchant for period drama in both film and TV. If you could name one favourite (I know how hard that will be) which is it and why?

Well, it is not difficult, actually. For very personal reasons, my favourite period drama is BBC North and South. It is so special because it has radically changed my life. For many reasons. So many new things started after watching it…  I started collecting DVDs, surfing the Net, blogging about my interests, I’ve met new treasurable friends in real life and all over the world through the Net, I’ve read much more, travelled much more…

Gaskell was one of my favourite Victorian writers since I read her Mary Barton, then  I discovered North and South and found it such an interesting, complex, typically British Victorian novel. I wanted images to make my classes more appealing to my students – the fights between employers and employees can sound everything but  exciting to a teenager – and I bought that DVD without suspecting what was going to happen. You can’t imagine how much my life has changed from that moment on!

However, if I can add a couple of titles, I also loved Poldark immensely,  when I was very young,  and Daniel Deronda was my favourite Victorian novel/period drama before Gaskell’s North and South.

6. How did you first come to blogging and why the name?

I actually started with LEARNONLINE (November 2008), which I’ve mentioned before in my first answer. It’s  a blog meant to help my students. I still regularly post notes, videos, exercises, power point presentations and other materials there. Then,  second came FLY HIGH! , my personal blog, where I write about books, movies, TV, period films/drama, art, theatre,  journeys and trips, school and … Richard Armitage. Why Fly High? Because it is something I usually say to my students. Our lives must aim high, our look must always be directed far and upward. You can’t reach important  goals if you aim low and stare at the ground.

Since many of my posts on Fly High were dedicated to Jane Austen, her work, adaptations of her novels and other Austen-related topics – which means I’m also a fond Janeite –  I decided to create a separate blog,  especially Austen-dedicated, so third came MY JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB!

Blogging is my favourite hobby now, a very engaging, enriching, enthralling activity I’ve almost become addicted to!

7. I’ve never seen anyone quite so prolific on a blog, both in terms of reading, watching and reviewing and I wonder how you fit it all into a professional and a private life?

Did you hear from my husband and sons? Did they complain my laptop is always at hand and on,  somewhere in the house? That’s actually what happens. But I really try to do my best and cope with every and each one of my many tasks and pleasures. The result is… I sleep very little! Five hours per night, usually. But I wouldn’t renounce any one of the things I do! I never watch TV, I read in any free moment I can find (at school too), I watch films and period dramas while ironing for hours, I write interviews, blogposts and reviews when my family is fast asleep or early in the morning. I correct tests, prepare my lessons, do the housework, make the meals, drive my younger son where he needs to go and fetch my husband at the bus station when he comes back from work, do the shopping, receive visitors and answer phone calls, make visits and calls … I’m not wonder woman, but I’d love to be. I’m sure I’d feel less tired!

8. I discovered you via RA. I had watched him in Robin Hood but not really become aware of him until almost the beginning of the second series and I can remember googling him and discovering Fly High. RA Friday was a delight. Was it hard to conclude the series?

Richard Armitage, that is, Mr Thornton aka the hero of North and South. Now, maybe, the picture is complete,  it is clear to everybody HE is the reason why I started familiarizing with the Net and blogging. I had never felt such an interest for a person in the movie business before, but after watching him as Mr T, I started googling and found a site full of articles and news. I was hit by the  messages this very down-to-earth, beloved-by-many,  talented man had sent to his fan base. Those interviews, articles and messages conquered me. More than any photoshopped shot of his gorgeous face and piercing blue-eyes.

I realized what all the fuss was about only watching Robin Hood and Richard as Gisborne ( series 2  first, because it was on at that moment). There, he was actually sexy and dangerously attractive. I was fascinated by what he said, by the man/actor trying to give that baddie a background, hope for redemption, depth and roundness. Believe it or not, I’d listen to that man speaking about his work and his characters for hours and be satisfied with that. I’ve never written to him, nor do I want to meet him.  I don’t dream of *** (add whatever word you’d like to read there! ) him, touching him, stalking him, living with him, escaping with him or  marrying him (no, not only because I’m already married)

Why did I stop with the RA Fridays? To have to write something with a fixed deadline had started giving me anxiety. And I definitely want blogging and following Richard Armitage’s career to be pleasurable activities in my life. When that started being stressful, I decided I had to stop. I’ll write about Richard, anytime I have something to say. No deadlines. No anxiety. It may happen even more often than once a week, now.

9. One of the things I appreciate about your blog is the way you have been able to blend quality reviewing of film, TV and books with a soupcon of fan-dom and without ever lowering the tone of the blog. How hard is it to achieve that balance?

Hard? Not hard at all. To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of anyone and being considered one would make me feel… uncomfortable. Isn’t there any other noun to define my interest in the man mentioned above? I try to avoid being too fannish.

I’ve always been so sensible and matter-of-fact, reasonable and even rational that I tend to be more like “black self” than “red self”.  Do you remember them?

MG, in closing, I would just like to say that you have introduced me to some excellent authors, some wonderful TV series, and films that I probably would never have countenanced otherwise. So thank you for that and thank you for talking with us. Mesmered wishes Fly High the very best for the future.

You’re welcome each time you want to borrow from my DVD collection. As you noticed, living one in Tasmania and the other in Italy has not been a problem so far.

Thank you so much for this interview! It’s been a great pleasure and honour to talk with you and your readers, Lady Mesmered.