...a story about migrating to Italy

Thursday, December 2, 2010

He would make people laugh through tears with his funny stories and jokes and make people fear for their lives with his angry glare.

Well here I am several months after my last relevant post, relevant to the name of this blog that is... but right now I'm not here to make observations and reflections about living in Italy. Though there is much to say about that. Like in my most recent poem, if any of you happened to read on Facebook: 'It's all good'. And it is.
But right now I am here to think and reflect about my father. Which I guess my last post reflected, in my little memory lane trip via the Augie March song 'Asleep in Perfection' in a sort of build up to where we are now with this post.
Dead people sort of get that invisible title. With all of our faults, worst mistakes, quirks and eccentricities, when we die, those who loved us or even liked us, remember us as some perfect soul. Even those who didn't particularly like us much in life, remember us for all of our positive aspects, even if those who disliked us had the smallest ounce of general respect and good manners.
But I'm rambling. I'm not up at almost midnight on a school night to write a polished piece or even something remotely inventive. I'm not even going to do a spellcheck.
I just need to empty my head and tell the internet blogging world thankyou for providing an avenue to vent and bare all. Because that's all I can remember wanting to do ten years ago. Well, it's almost the 3rd of December so it was 9 years, 11 months and 19 days ago, I think. I was never really good at math but please don't tell my student's parents that.
I felt the need to tell any person who asked even the vaguest question the story of how my father slipped away. I didn't want to spare any gruesome, sorrowful or heartbreaking detail. I would imagine people's reactions. But I rarely did tell the story. A few details seemed to overwhelm people with deep hurt, sadness and a level of uncomfortable and awkward that I would rather not inflict. So, most of the time I would reply with a few vague comments, a brave face and a positive attitude.
I was standing in our backyard, between the veranda step and the lawn, eyes fixed on my mother as she stood at the driveway facing our labrador Charlie. He was gazing at her, clearly confused and somewhat saddened as she sobbed to him that Frank wasn't coming back. He waited at the gate every day for weeks, ears pricking up and a hopeful expression every time a car drove up, only to sink back to the ground moments later with his head on his paws.
I opened the front to door to find my Uncle Peter, his Uncle Peter, only four years his senior and more like a brother, the first words he said to me was "He loved you so much" followed by a big hug and the first tears I'd ever seen him shed.
I thought of my cousin Vince back at the hospital, I could hear him but I was staring at the flowers my Aunty Carmen brought as Vince was slowly saying "Fuck. Fuck. Not him too. Fuck."
I remember the women who came to our house that I had never met before in my life, who sat in our loungeroom for an hour talking about death, one about her son who died in his twenties, his picture hung around her neck in a wallet size open locket.
I remember sitting on the footpath infront of our house in my long black skirts and, however ironically black, hippy shirts, smoking Cartier and my friends sitting beside me as I stared at my toenails and suggested to them that I should paint them purple, before my mum and sisters called me inside to ask me to write a poem to go in the funeral card.
I remember my cousin Lucy telling me about a song that made her and her sister sad everytime they heard it, before realising that it was because it was playing in the limousine between the church and the cemetary. The song was 'I hope you dance' by Leanne Womack and Lucy later bought me the CD single. The songwriter wrote it for her children. I really like the line "I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean... and when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance."
I remember my Aunty Shirley writing in the newspaper "He's ain't heavy, he's my brother" and Nonno writing that he lost the jewel in his crown. I remember seeing my Aunty Grace crying a lot for the first time in the funeral parlour, at the viewing.
I remember my big sisters tucking my hair behind my ears and giving me glasses of water.
I remember my friend Priscilla taking me for a drive and telling me to scream as loud as I possibly could. I told her I couldn't. I remember Jon and Anna and Tania there, like permanent fixtures on that footpath infront of our house.
I remember opening my Dad's wardrobe and pushing my face against his jackets and shirts before quickly closing the doors against the back of my head to keep as much of his smell trapped inside as I could, as I breathed it in.
I remember the hairs standing up on my arm whenever I sat in the loungeroom and wishing, willing him to appear even though the thought scares the shit out of me.
I remember my older cousin Vince looking down as the coffin was lowered into the ground as he said "Bye Frank".
I remember my Dad.
But not as much as I would like. I feel like the memories are fading and it scares me. It has been almost ten years. It will be ten years on the 12th of December, 5.30am-ish to be almost exact.
I can't remember his smell. I can hear his voice if I think really hard, though it echoes and rises and falls and I just can't seem to grasp it. It doesn't seem fair to have to go to so much effort. I can picture his face. But I can't recall every detail, the exact shape of his nose, his chin, every line, every crease, where exactly the ginger and the black and the white of his beard started and stopped and were his eyes really brown with a dark blue outline or did I just imagine it and were his teeth really thirty-a-day smoker yellow or were they not that bad and was his voice nasally at times, especially when he laughed and it seems almost not likely that he still had great biceps for a 50 something who didn't work out although I suppose he lifted car transmissions every day for most of his life, and did his fingernails always have grease under them from working on cars, because he was a bit of a neat freak or did I make that up. He wore blue a lot. And brown.
He used to laugh at his own jokes. He had a whole repetoire of bad jokes as most fathers do. Every New Years Eve, all of the family would say to him, "New year, time to get some new jokes". He fixed everyone's car. He invented things. He was a great storyteller, complete with accurate voice immitations to expression and gestures so he would have everyone in the room locked in. He really liked Christmas and he used to dress up as Santa for us and the cousins. He hated public crowds and waiting in lines. When he was annoyed, he would breath through his nose loudly like a horse. He loved movies and would watch his favourites on repeat. He most admired Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, Bogart and Brando to name a few. He loved music, mostly 50s and 60s Rock and Roll and Country. He cooked a mean fritata with salami. If he made a trip to the deli, it meant he would come home with a big bag of fresh cured meats, cheese, olives and bread to share for lunch. If he went to buy something like an appliance or a tool, it had to be the best brand. He never bought himself clothes and we had to threaten him several times before he threw out his old haggered brown cardigan. He was a collector of philosophies and affirmations of peace within yourself, courage and reality as he saw it. He called himself a pessimist, ("A pessimist is a well informed optimist," he would say when I called him negative,) but I think he was just a realist. He was optimistic without being foolish. He was cautious and thought things through. He was both patient and impatient. He was both placid and hot-tempered. He was a jokester, a prankster, an actor and an artist. He would make people laugh through tears with his funny stories and jokes and make people fear for their lives with his angry glare.
He called me 'Mickey' and often said it in a sobbing Sylvester Stallone voice to mimick the scene in Rocky 3. He was Frank, frank... true to his name. He always told it like it is, he never lied and he never stole. When he was young he went to school every day, he did his homework, when he was older he went to work every day and got the job done. He always kept his word. He taught us manners, respect and self-worth.
Perfection? No, don't be ridiculous. He was real and he is real because he will always be my father. I get it, we only hold on to the positives because the positives breath air into us.
I suppose now after all of that, I think I can almost recall his smell. Cigarettes, and I mean the hardcore 16mg cigarettes, old clothes, engine oil and a vague scent of Old Spice and fragrant soap. I think that's as close as I'm going to get.

Love you Dad. Rest in peace. When I think about it, I really do hope there is a heaven and then I hope that you're up there with Uncle Peter, laughing your nasally laughs together and making Nonna smile. Oh and maybe kicking back with Brando on occasion, too. Mimick a few voices and quote your favourites.
Ciao for now.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Asleep in Perfection – A Memory Lane Moment, 29/07/2010

Asleep in Perfection – A Memory Lane Moment, 29/07/2010

It’s a wondrous thing, how one particular song can cause a surge of memories, sometimes simply because it was a song that you listened to a lot at a particular stage in your life.
I was on the train home from work, Mantova to Cerea, with my MP3 player earphones wedged into my ears, primarily to drown out the terrible music blaring from another commuter’s cell phone.
‘Asleep in Perfection’ by Augie March started to play…
This song, this very MP3 file that I was listening to, was sent to me in 1999 via the internet, through the old ICQ chat program, (does anyone use that anymore? It’s like msn…) by a friend from Uni, first Uni… back in the good ol’ days of Latrobe.
This friend introduced me to a lot of new music – The Cure, Augie March, Joy Division – yes, he was I suppose what I like to call a ‘Classic Goth’, of the Goths that were before any of the ‘Emo’s’ that plagued the genre a decade or so later.
We went to a Goth club once, called ‘Abyss’, one of the best clubs I’ve ever been to – I loved to watch the crowd in all their glorious style, their hand-sewn or hand-picked, fished from various Op Shops and matched with expensive stylized garments inspired and blended from various eras of Gothic, Baroque and Victorian – they were then referred to as the ‘Classical’ or ‘Elegant’ Goths, then you had your ‘Bondage’ and ‘Punk’ Goths, names purely given for the amount of spikes, chains and PVC they wore, combining black with splashes of hot pink or red. It was truly a visual feast for any appreciator of interesting and original style.
It was from that night onwards that my wardrobe began to transform into a mass of black attire – I fell in love with the Goth image, adhering more to the ‘Classical’ Gothic look; even though my clothing was always much less subdued than some of the more extreme Goths, and I never wore the extreme Gothic make up – just ivory foundation and dark yet subtle, (in comparison) eye makeup.
At Latrobe University, we would hang out in the main square, during our long, drawn out two to three hour breaks, (typical for an Arts Degree,) and talk about music, movies and the like. Friends from other classes would come and go and we would linger, until the close of Uni that year and, upon the realization that my friend would never return to finish the course as he had completed little to no assignments, (even though he was capable of doing very well,) we exchanged contact details and arranged to meet up over the summer.
Over the next few months our friendship became this strange, indifferent interaction where we would hang out at his house, listening to music, watching MTV and barely talking, as we were both painfully shy at the time. Then I would go home. He would never offer me any food or drink, even if I stayed there all day, yet he would comment on the loud noises rumbling from my belly with an odd tone in his voice. Albeit, an odd friendship. Albeit – that’s a word I learnt from him also, as we shared all of the same classes at Uni and this word came up in one of his stories that we work shopped in the class ‘Writing Your Life’. It seemed a rare occasion to have both chosen the exact same subjects within the hundreds to choose from in an Arts Degree, which is how we began talking, (however sporadically,) in the first place.
Though, now looking back, perhaps there was reason to our strange, virtually wordless interaction. Both of our parents – his mother, my father – were very sick …and had little time left.
We were numb.
Our long, drawn out silences were not so awkward. Perhaps because we shared something – that there were no words to articulate how we were feeling. And sometimes when the weight of it all overwhelms you… talking, even small chit chat, seems useless and unnecessary in light of things to come.
His mother died on my 20th birthday and my father followed ten months and eleven days later.
I went to his mother’s funeral. He explained it was too painful for him to then come to my father’s funeral months later. “Not another funeral of a parent...” He said.
We lived an hour’s drive away from each other and shared the same dislike for phone conversations; so keeping in touch, especially at the time, was becoming taxing. Our friendship lulled and came to a close soon after, of its own momentum.
Life, as it was, shifted – like pulling a block out from the bottom of a child’s toy block tower. That’s how it is. A cliché’ phrase: “World crumbles…” but it does truly and then you have to rebuild.
Although, for the first year of Dad not being there, I was not rebuilding. I don’t think anyone was. I stood back from the collapsed tower and turned my back on it. ‘Dad must be here somewhere...’ It seemed impossible for someone to just disappear.
I had been living in my sister’s apartment with my other sister, up until he passed. Then, I moved back into my parent’s house… my mother’s house.
For the first few weeks of being back at home, my double bed mattress lay on the floor. I don’t know why, I can’t remember the reason. Maybe no-one could get it together to bring the base over.
My belongings remained in boxes lining the walls. I lit candles and incense and heard my father’s footsteps down the corridor. I smoked cigarettes and the occasional mix of green with tobacco from broken cigarettes, stuffed into a little pipe that my sister bought for my father from Thailand the year before.
I stayed up until sunrise and only slept one or two hours in the morning, eyes stinging from utter exhaustion. Every time I closed my eyes, I dreamt of my Dad: sometimes young and healthy, other times thin and frail. Sometimes lying in his hospital bed, other times in his coffin; sometimes I dreamt of decaying bones and once I dreamt that Dad was right there in the room with me, but he was a mere cloud of dark grey smoke and I cried as I tried to clutch and hold on to it as it spread thin in the air and disappeared.
That’s why (, I told myself) I ‘smoked’. Not every day and hardly a pinch, but enough to make the nightmares go away and allow me to achieve a few hours of sleep.
Some two months after he died, I turned 21 and had a small gathering of friends and family at home. My family bought me a new computer with internet, my first home connection.
It became my new vice. I stayed up all night and only exited my room during the day to use the bathroom and for meals in the kitchen, though I often brought my plate back into my bedroom to eat. I scanned chat rooms and talked about death. Everyone had a sad story to share. I found comfort in that.
Soon it was March – time to start my third and final year of my Arts Degree. Time to stop ‘smoking’ – knowing that my brain is my one tool to do something with my life – I didn’t want to jeopardize that any longer.
I recommenced my part time job at Toyworld and a kind work colleague gave me a C.D of relaxing, soothing music with subliminal sleep messages. I started buying herbal Valerian (sleep) tablets and drank peppermint and other herbal teas.
The nightmares became less frequent, slowly transforming into mere dreams – no longer horrific. Though they usually contained a plotline as follows: [“Dad’s alive, he didn’t really die!” Enter Dad, glowing, with a healthy smile. Conclude the dream with Dad getting sick and dying – for a second time. ]
Not pleasant, but eventually I got used to them. They lessened over time, slowly to once a week, then once a month – until now I might have that dream once or twice a year.
And now… I look at Valentino and I see glimpses of my father. I feel like I have a little piece of him back forever.
Asleep in Perfection.
The song has since finished, on to the third or fourth song on shuffle, as I sit here and write. I examine my MP3 Player for a moment, considering skipping back to listen to Asleep in Perfection once more. I hesitate, and let it rest on my lap again as Led Zeppelin plays. I stare out of the window, smiling, the sun warming the window glass, as the train rushes me home.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


16th of June 2010
The other day, as Giuseppe, Valentino and I were getting ready to leave for our daily bike ride, I was perched on my bike, one foot on the ground and one foot on a pedal, waiting at the electronic gates of our yard for Giuseppe to ready Valentino in the toddler seat of his bike.
Laika, one of our dogs, appeared from between the rubbish bins behind our shop. Laika has been with the family for seven years, since she was a pup. She is a mix of breeds: black wavy fur and in my opinion, has the face of a Labrador, with soulful eyes and gentle expressions.
The first time I saw Laika was a photo that Giuseppe sent me over the internet, before we had met. She was sitting, curled up in a blue bucket and looked very cute indeed. Giuseppe spoke of her often, telling me all about her gentle nature and how she quickly learnt how to stay within the yard when the gates were open or not enter the house even though his parents often leave the back door to the shop wide open all day, to access the bins and storage rooms.
Our decision to bring our dog Lupa, the Jack Russell terrier, from Australia was largely based on the fact that Laika is extremely gentle and intelligent. The idea that Lupa would learn the rules of the house quickly by having Laika as her ‘mentor’ helped to convince us that we were making the right decision.
And it was. Lupa seems to have matured a year within a few months and she found a friend in Laika.
They would walk daily through Valle, the local nature park, with Giuseppe’s brother Ettore and Laika would almost always return drenched from a swim in the lake and rivers.
Coming out from in between the bins, she seemed to stumble and I noticed one of her back feed was not flat on the ground, as she ambled awkwardly and slumped down again to rest. She had withstood being hit by a car about six weeks ago, but this affected her front leg which was now almost healed.
She had been to the vet again a few days ago for an eye infection, but this also seemed irrelevant to her present condition. I pointed out her weary state to Giuseppe, who grimaced and shook his head. “I don’t know” he sighed, “Poor Laikina”. And we reluctantly wheeled out of the yard and the gates closed behind us.


“Laika è morta” Ettore lit a cigarette and stared at the empty yard as we pedaled back up the driveway and halted to a stop.
“Where is she?” I asked quietly. We stored the bikes away.
“I don’t want to ask,” Giuseppe answered, and we went inside.
We passed Lupa on the way in, who, despite her earlier successful lessons from Laika, attempted to come inside the house a handful of times that night.

We supposed she was looking for her friend.

R.I.P Laika

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

20 Short, Zen and 20 and a Train Ride.

20 Short.
What a terrible day. I spent my day with a bunch of five year olds who made me almost want to cry. They didn't listen to a word I said, bar a few of the more introverted children, who sometimes listened and sometimes went along with the crowd.
This week I am relieving a teacher from the other campus of the Montessori school I am now employed at. Next month, I will start my own class of roughly thirteen children at the Nido campus, aged 18 months, together with another teacher who speaks fluent Italian.
But today, I have not gained much confidence for my ability to manage a classroom. There were children running in and out of the classroom, hitting each other and overall not doing what they were supposed to. Other teachers sympathised "It's Monday, they are always unsettled," "They don't know you," and other words of consolation. But by the end of my school day, at 1pm, I was inconsolable. I started off for the bustop in a huff.
However, I failed to calcuate train and bus times, this location being different from last week when I was helping out at my future work location, and I wound up at Mantova train station with a three and a half hour wait for my one and a half hour train ride home.
Now verging on tears, exhausted from my 5am start and my seemingly failed attempt at teaching, I called Giuseppe. I plonked my guitar and satchel down on the steps of Mantova station and sat down to wait for Giuseppe's forty minute to an hour commute in heavy traffic.
I counted the coins that we scraped together from his mother's car. He drove me to Cerea station this morning in her car rather than his because she needed her car parked at the front of the shop later that morning to do the vegetable and fruit pickup. Four Euro and 60 cents. Or centessimi. However you spell it.
I approached the girl at the bar while scanning the cigarettes on the shelves behind her. I was relieved to find a familiar brand at an affordable price: Peter Styvo's for 3.80 Euro. But I am an ex-smoker, purely on a post-smoking, nervous binge. Therefore, I also required a lighter. Which cost 1 Euro. Through broken Italian peppered with 'Thank you's' and 'sorry's, I managed to communicate what I wanted before realising I was 0.20 cents short. She waved me away, smiling as she took my coins, leaving the smokes and lighter on the counter as she turned away. Perhaps sensing my aura of 'I'm having a crappy day', she let me off. Finally, a plus for today, but it kind of cancels itself out, because I shouldn't be smoking.
Why is it, that when a negative occurs, I reach for another negative?
That’s all I have to say about today. I’m tired and extremely pissed.

Zen and 20.
Shutup Michelle. What was I complaining about? I am lucky to have work, we’re in an economic crisis here!
I had simply forgotten how to gain respect from a class – because realistically, I haven’t had the experience since April 2009. That’s over a year of being away from a classroom. Of course there are rust spots.
This morning, I walked into the classroom determined, strong and calm... determined to make an improvement – in my classroom management skills, in my composure and my rapport with the students.
I achieved the above by reminding myself of the same fact twice, each with different perspectives.
1. They are only five years old – so they need affection, they need to feel safe and loved.
2. And – they are only five years old – yet they are still capable of being disobedient... 'furbo' in Italian; therefore they need clear, defined boundaries...
And then it comes full circle – they need strong boundaries in order to feel safe and loved.
When a teacher feels angry (and I feel that I can fairly generalise here) it’s because they are more so angry at themselves, rather than at the students.
Yesterday I felt angry at myself, angry for not being able to do my job properly, thus feeling almost hopeless. It’s those nagging questions: “Why can’t I manage them?”, “Why can’t I get them to listen to me?” and so on.
It takes time and bundles of patience, a level of patience parallel to the level of mind power and beyond required to break a pile of bricks with your head.
When this level of patience is achieved, it’s like achieving a kind of zen. You enter a special, protective dome where it seems that no amount disobedience or mischief can penetrate your fortress of calm. It’s awesome.
And so, today I am Michelle, Master of calm, the tranquil teacher, an achiever of improving rapport with my students. Because students sense your zen.
Today, all twelve students completed at least one or more Montessori activity. They achieved solitary work and also working collaboratively – fair and peaceful play.
At 10.20am, the classroom was then transformed back into a clean, orderly room and then a perfect circle of children seated on the floor formed, as if by some sort of magic or divine intervention.
I got the guitar out and every child sang in harmony and every child listened enthusiastically during the reading of ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’. They ate biscuits and listened while I played ‘Better Man,’ (Robbie Williams,) on the guitar, singing my own adaptation: “...I’m doin’, all I can, to be a better person...”
We changed into our ‘outside shoes’ and went to play. Three students needed to sit out for five minutes because of earlier mishaps, (hitting, interrupting and throwing water.) Two protested but remained nonetheless, one I had to cuddle as he cried, “Voglio giocare, voglio giocare!” (I want to play!) but I held him and we talked about how hitting is wrong and he said tomorrow, ‘domani’, he will not hit anyone. After lunch, he did hit another child, but so lightly a tap on the forearm that the other child simply furrowed their brow and walked away. Hence, a big improvement, since he did not even enter my classroom yesterday until after lunch – today I even got some smiles.
We ate lunch and the children started to call be my first name, instead of yesterday’s ‘teacher, maestra!’
I then explained that I had to leave early or I miss the last train home. I told them I was very happy – we had such a good day – and I am looking forward to seeing them tomorrow.
They applauded.

Tutto Posto.

P.S.: I paid back the girl at the bar 0.20 cents.

Train Ride.
Fields of poppies and lavender. Rice fields – stretches of water with tiny green stalks peeking out breathing air; acres of corn, peas – ploughed and sewn. Tractors. Tractor makeshift roads of two lines of trodden down grass, dirt and muddy tracks. Irrigation channels bordering, travelling up, down and across from lakes and rivers. Green. So much green. Red. Purple. Symmetry – lines of growing buds. The ground creeps forward under the buds, moving with the train, the oblique perspective. More poppies. Fields of. Lining the streets. Lavender. More green. Grass, green, lush between lines of trees – fir, willow, oak. Red. Green. Flowing water. Poppies. Streets. Street lights. Houses. Trees. More houses.
Giuseppe and Valentino, waving from the platform.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The San Marchese Sicilian Working Driving Australian in Bovolone, Verona

Firstly, I'd like to thank all who have been reading this. Is that OK, to start a blog with a thank you? Is there a blogger code?

It's almost midnight and I'm wide awake. Today, I set about trying to make myself super tired so that I would sleep well tonight.
I woke up at ten though. I intended to wake earlier. Oh well. I woke up, brought Valentino down to change his nappy and Giuseppe made cafè lattès. We had breakfast together and after, I made scones. From my mother's recipe. Then I peeled and sliced three eggplants, salted them and set them aside. Then I chopped up a kilo of beef, marinated it and refridgerated it. Then we had lunch. After lunch, I started making the pasta sauce. Long story short, tonight we had dinner with the whole family and I was the cook. We ate penne with beef napoli sauce, almost like my nonna Lucia used to make. Penne with pieces of beef in the pasta sauce reminds me of Thursday night dinners at my Nonna's house when I was small. We went every week until I was maybe ten years old.
I also made melanzane parmigana. I've never attempted to make it before, and I didn't work from a recipe. So, it was far from what my nonna Nella used to make... when she made it I nicknamed it 'Heaven in a dish'. Nonetheless, it all turned out pretty good. A combination of San Marchese, (nonna Lucia, my father's mother,) Sicilian, (nonna Nella, my mother's mother,) and good ol' English/Aussie scones with whipped cream and jam, (mum's recipe.) A nice triptych of dishes that, in a way, kind of make up who I am.
Now I am the Australian living in Verona... Bovolone, to be precise, as quaint and friendly as any small town. People know who I am. It's pretty much how I imagined it. People wave, say ciao and ask me how I like Italy. I reply 'si si, bene, mi piace,' or something to that effect.
Tomorrow, I will start my new job, my first work in Italy. How appropriate that it will be at a Montessori school, a school that was born here, some 100 years ago or so. I like the fact that I will be the English teacher, the English speaker, yet I will inevitably learn more Italian because perhaps one or two teachers speak English there, but their English is very limited. Giuseppe told me to call him if I get stuck in translation. I told him to install an English-Italian dictionary on my phone. I don't think he got around to it yet, so it will be an interesting day.
The school is approximately fifty minutes drive away or atleast two modes of transport. The first step to transporting my way there though would be to somehow get to the next town, Cerea, because the train does not pass through here, nor does a bus go from here to there. I suggested that I bike ride to Cerea... but everyone dramatically replied 'No!' (That doesn't need to be translated, it's the same word, only with an 'o' sound like in 'dog'...) Apparently, a bike ride to Cerea is very dangerous, as there is only one, narrow, winding road that cars hoon down. I wonder if there is a direct translation for 'hoon'? There better be, because I love that word. 'Hoon' ...and 'lout' is also a favourite.
So, Giuseppe will drive me tomorrow for my first day. When I finish work, he'll pick me up and then I will commence learning to drive in Italy. I have to get used to three main aspects: driving on the right side of the road, driving manual and coping with the general hoon-like way the majority of people seem to drive here. My father would always say 'Watch out for the dickheads on the road'. He would be pressing his lips tightly together and breathing loudly through his nose with the thought of any of us, (my sisters and I,) driving anywhere outside a 15km radius of home. It's as if home radiated some sort of invisible protective dome and anything beyond it's boundaries was fraught with perils.
Oh and the signs are white or blue here, no Melbourne greeness. Traffic lights are half of the Melbourne traffic light population, as they are situated only on one side of an intersection. Sometimes you have to slightly turn your head to check the colour. And there aren't any give-way signs, they are for the most part, painted on the road, just a big upside down triangle, white outline.
I've been driving for twelve years. I'm sure I can handle it. Though I was looking forward to a bike ride every day, a purposeful one. When exercise becomes a part of travel, you hardly think of it as exercise. And a daily train ride. I love the train. I have read the most books in the least amount of time during times in my life when I have caught the train daily.
Well, I better sign off, I have only about six hours to get some sleep. Wish me luck! Notte!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


This isn't really a proper post. I don't know how to start.
I have a list building up on things I want to write about.
Such as:
1.The time I stayed awake all night making melanzane in the jar with Giuseppe's mum, Teresa. It's a long process, a very southern method of salting the melanzane (eggplant,) letting it sit in vinegar and then finally layering it in jars with olive oil, garlic and oregano. The salting and the vinegar is four hours waiting time each, plus an hour each time for preparation, depending on how much you make. I made it once alone and Teresa was interested in learning how to make it. So, I found myself at 3am in the industrial kitchen with Teresa, the aroma of vinegar and garlic weighing heavily in the air as we patted slices of melanzane with paper towels. And we talked. A lot. My Italian, however improved, is still at basic level but I got by with animated expressions, gestures and a great deal of theatrical storytelling. We learnt a lot about each other.
2. Nella, my sister, came to stay with us for a week and ended up staying for two weeks because of an Icelandic volcano. I felt very strange with her being here - stoked, wrapped to see her, (for people living out of Australia, stoked and wrapped means really happy,) but it was like a George Costanza 'worlds collide'... because up until when she arrived, being here felt like a dream. Post Nell, it really hit me how far away I really am, more so... and how long it may be until we see each other again. Even if I only stay in Italy until the end of this year, it's still longer than we have ever stayed apart. Prior to this, it was a seven month stretch when she travelled through South East Asia. But then I think about when Lucia, my oldest sister, lived in Florence for three years. The time seemed to go by so quickly and Skype and the like always makes the world seem that bit smaller.
3. Valentino turned one year old on May 2nd. One year. He's really not a baby anymore. Here comes toddler time, already. He's been through eating solids, growing first teeth, walking - what's next... potty training? Talking? He says Mama, Papa, almost distinctively... and a word 'yowie' which I think is his way of saying 'I'm having lots of fun right now!'. Sometimes he seems to be speaking in a sort of Star Wars dialect. I really don't see how he can get any cuter but he seems to be increasing in cuteness every day. Sometimes we have to count back from twenty just to compose ourselves when he is just too wonderful. How did we make such a boy? We often ask each other. My dear friend Anna reminded me of a question she once asked me, a few years ago: "Who are you most inspired by?" And my reply was "I haven't met them yet.." When she approached me with a follow-up question, (which she almost always does, the natural journo that she is,) I expressed something along the lines of that my future child will be my inspiration. That's the best thing I've ever said.

I'm trying to make a pact with myself to stop whinging and moping. I know we all have to whinge and mope to a degree, probably a small dose is somewhat healthy for venting purposes, like a car with exhaust, but I am attempting to kick my arse if I do it excessively. Born in the year of the goat, I am prone to excess. Makes sense.

I've been playing video games. When I get into that mode, parts of my brain go into standby. But I think because they've been working overtime, they need to rest a little. Even when in standby, they are collating, analysing, doing stuff, (the part of my brain that holds the word I needed is in standby so I had to use 'stuff'.) When I go into gamer mode, it's because my brain is sorting stuff out. It needs extra resources to do so.
My point being, I have a lot of things that I want to do, but I just can't function well enough lately to do them. And I know why. When we arrived here, I made a big, long list for myself and set on a road steep and winding. Get a job teaching at an English school, tutor English at home, write a novel, co-pilot a creative project, learn Italian, learn to cook, become an athlete, learn tennis and write a blog. See Italy. On top of trying to maintain a small world by sending text messages, emails and calling in any spare moment. On top of being a mum.
That's first. And whether we stay here or not, if I don't learn Italian properly then our time here seems... well I did always say that I could only learn a second language by living it. In other words, bisogno parlare Italiano con Giuseppe ogni giorno. Perchè adesso, parla solo inglese con lui, e poi, non impari tanto.
It's all OK, tutto posto... I have to reshuffle.
Stand by.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Bike Ride

When we arrived, the trees were bare and the ground was muddy. Though the trees stand bleak and bare, the winter sun shines through the skeletal branches and everything seems to glow softly and subtlety, as if the world were candlelit. Tiny beads of frost catch fragments of sunlight, reflecting on the muddy brown and grey foliage scattered around, and the fog circles the scenery in the distance.
We walked many times through Vale, the biggest park in Bovolone, lined with tall oaks, bordered by the irrigation river and farmlands, complete with a lake in the centre, housing cute brown ducks and majestic white swans and nearby, a sectioned off farmyard with goats, chickens and horses. There is a restaurant and bar at the entrance of the park, joined by paths leading in and around and out to the crops and orchards further and further out along the river.
Then, it all went whooshing by. The skeletal trees blurred and tiny buds appeared. White blossoms sprouted, fell and coated the muddy ground. Green blades of grass shot up through the mud amongst the blossoms. Hundreds and then thousands of different shades of green leaves appeared and the longest stretch of straight path transformed into a great, green hall. The fields, ploughed and prepared with symmetric curves and patterns in the rich brown soil, boasted tiny green plants of next season’s produce.
I clasped the handlebars tightly, my forefinger poised, ready to hit the brake. The ground held muddy memories and deep, dried tyre tracks cut into the road made for a bumpy ride. A quick glance to my left and I smiled, my heart skipping a beat as the image of Giuseppe and Valentino rode into view, Valentino strapped in safely to the toddler seat behind Giuseppe’s bike’s handlebars. Valentino giggled, thrilled to be on a bike ride again, and perhaps more thrilled to see mum riding beside him and Papa’.
The world is green, growing and new; over and over again.
The fresh morning air rushed past my face, waking me up. And to think that prior to this, I was afraid to get back on the bike.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


“…if it’s dark or light, just write…” wrote a great teacher and writer once. I’m sure he said it on more than one occasion too, as I sat amongst fellow writers and friends, scribbling notes and exchanging writing – the best school experience I have ever had… more than that… it’s up there with my best experiences.
I remember when I made the decision to start the Professional Writing and Editing course. I had been in a sort of limbo, a Arts graduate working in an employment agency as front desk operations. Why? Who the hell knows. I had been working at a book store in the city prior to this, one of my dream jobs for sure, but my quest to save money, which was never accomplished, steered me away from the book store as my boss there offered me a casual, un-stable working week of three days, sometimes two. Following this, when applying for jobs at the agency, the agency offered me a job at the agency. Indeed.
A great experience – I make it a point not to regret anything… though I really did loathe that job. The people were great, my boss was wonderfully bright and eccentric in an ‘elegant hippy’ way, (i.e.: “I grow organic vegetables, eat tofu and wear Prada” type). She told me a dozen colourful stories about her many adventures and interesting people in her life.
I believe that we had a love-hate relationship… no, not love-hate, those words are too strong… it was specifically more a ‘like a lot/ extremely annoyed’ by me relationship. I seem to have that affect on people sometimes.
She was amused by my, in her opinion, seemingly exaggerated calm composure. She would crane her neck around the doorframe of her office to glance at me, then chuckle, as I seemed to her to be extremely serene in an otherwise stressful environment.
Weeks went by, months passed and my calm became her aggravation. “I don’t see a sense of urgency in you when we are really busy!” she would say through gritted teeth, flicking her manic, red, Einstein-like short hair that seemed to become more static as the stress levels rose.
I would shrug and reply, meeting her gaze, “I know I don’t look it, but I am stressing on the inside.”
Then her eyebrows would arch dramatically, her eyes bulging and lips disappearing as she would wheel around on her heels and breeze back to her office, hands up in silent dismissal.
A few times she said something to me along the lines of, “You have a strong ability to focus on one thing, shut out everything around you and perfect what you are focusing on… unfortunately it’s not appropriate for this job,” she would sigh and then say, paced like a train slowing at the station, “You – just – can’t – multi-task.”
A few more months passed and she was hovering as I stood at the fax machine, feeding client’s resume’s through. The air was leaden with annoyance, uncomfortable silence and a slither of sadness so I blurted out, “I think I better resign,” before she could say I have to let you go.
“What will you do?” she asked with a soft voice and I knew we were back in like again.
“I’m going to do a course in Professional Writing and Editing,” I answered. I dialed the fax number and waited, staring at the blinking light.
When I looked up again, her hand was on her heart and her chin dipped down with a sort of sentimental air, “I think that would be wonderful…” she breathed, “...You have to be good to your soul.”
That was eight years ago. Well, eight years this December, to be unnecessarily precise. Looking back, I did do the Professional Writing and Editing course and that makes me feel really happy. Within it, I wrote stories, poetry and met like-minded writers who I shared and work-shopped words with, attended poetry readings and performances and even formed a poetry group with three friends. We hosted weekly workshops and performance practice, competed against other Melbournians and performed on TV. When our time was coming to a close, we were throwing around ideas and formats for our own anthology of poetry, a published work to commemorate our group effort and time together. Alas, it sort of evaporated before it turned into hardcopy and that was that.
Wow, that was a nice little trip down memory lane. I think it was Simon, from the above mentioned group and my then housemate, that once called me ‘Memory Lane Girl,’ when I spent an entire afternoon ploughing through mountains of semi-scrunched and crinkled papers of letters and poems, a decade old at the time. O-oh… this means I am trying to re-establish myself somehow. What? Where did that come from? I still feel dizzy, though everyone here keeps telling me that it’s really, really normal to feel dizzy here a lot in the Spring. No-one can give me the medical or scientific reason for this though. I am so used to every fact or theory being backed up with one. I miss my family.
Now I am… far. Far, far away, but for the internet connection that keeps me in touch in it's distant, out of touch way. And if there wasn’t the internet - well I wouldn’t be here. What’s that, a paradox? Now I can blame my ridiculously bad, at times, memory for… erhm… dare I say ‘big word’ meanings… on the fact that I am learning Italian on a daily basis and hear nothing but Italian – bar Giuseppe’s dialogue… parallel to this I am also being corrected by Giuseppe on my English grammar lately. Scary.
Ancora, mi sento male, perchè ancora sento mondo girrato…hmm come se dicè…’dizzy’….boh? E mi manchà mia familià tantissimo, e anchè miei amici perché quando Giuseppe andato lavoro, sono posso parla con Mamma Teresa, perche lei parlato con me piano piano e ho capito bene. Ma altro tutti personi parlato troppp veloce e anche più dialeto quello Italiano…. È troppo difficile per me. E anchè, quando Giuseppe lavore e Valentino dormito o vado passeggiato con Nonna, mi sento solo e più triste questi giorni. Stare solo. Voglio lavoro, voglio scrivere, voglio insegnare, voglio parlare Italiano bene, voglio sento comè donna, come mammà, comè adulta… ma non qui, e non adesso perché vivano come piccola ragazza – ancora… non lava miei vestiti, non polito nostra casa, non lavoro, non hai amici qui, non mi sembrare fare tutti decisione per mio figlio… sento inutile, e poì… sento tristè. Tempo, adesso sento veloce, troppo veloce, non ho tanto tempo, e sembra finire niente.
… but at least I can write in Italian! It may be very badly written Italian… but not bad for two months of informal learning – from knowing next to nothing, bar a collection of nouns, to being able to write the above paragraph. I am sure Giuseppe will laugh, (lovingly,) when he reads my errors. And I will smile because I remember all too well when I was laughing at him… and he had warned me then.
One of my best friends asked me last year, or was it the year before last? … if we are defined by our careers. She was researching, gathering information for an article. I replied ‘no’… we are defined by the people close to us. A career simply enhances who we are - but people are our core.
Now I sit at this Italian keyboard and 'just write'. The street outside is busy with traffic, motorino’s, small cars and big trucks. There is blue sky and subtly warm, Spring sunshine outside, but inside the air is cold from last night’s chill.
I hope I’m not misunderstood… my partner and my son are my core and they, if I may re-use a re-used phrase, they light up my life. Yes, like The Carpenters. Exactly how they sung it.
But today, I am tristè… because there are several other people who are an essential part of the above mentioned core. And today I feel very, very far away from them. In addition to this, I am also feeling very un-enhanced. In a word… ‘blah’.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Warm sun, Blue sky and Patatine Fritte.

Valentino rocked jovially back and forth in his seat, his sunhat casting shade on his tiny neck as he clasped the handlebars of his trainer bike. Giuseppe guided him down the footpath and I walked beside him, the brilliant blue sky a bonus backdrop to this scene - starring my two boys, father and son... and me, quasi cinematographer, snapping away with my new phone, trying to capture every moment.
We stopped at a café, which is typically known as a ‘bar,’ (and every bar or food outlet serves alcohol because there is no required liquor licence, yet I’ve observed that most people typically order coffee more often than alcohol...) Anyway, we stopped at a bar and ordered a delicious-looking fruit tart with glazed strawberries, two caffé macchiato’s, and a pizzetta. Here in Italy, you have to say caffé when ordering a coffee. If you order a ‘latté’, you will get a cup of milk, following a strange look from the barista upon your request. A pizzetta is a tiny pizza no bigger than the palm of your hand. Remember what I said in an earlier post: ‘etta’ = ‘small’.
This bar is renowned for its pastries, known as the best in town, made in-house and, to top it off, made fresh every Sunday. We timed it right.
Valentino decided to start pushing chairs around the bar, annoyed, because he was no longer travelling on the bike. So we sculled our coffees and reunited him and the bike, as he kicked the pedals that spun freely, his legs too short for his feet to reach them.
Giuseppe marvelled at my impressed noises, something like ‘Ooh!’ and simultaneous camera clicks as we passed landmarks and scenes so common to him in the town that he grew up in. He smiled warmly as the sun warmed our heads and the afternoon ticked on and seemed like two afternoons in one, because today the clocks changed for Daylight Savings.
He stopped and watched each scene that I captured, explaining it in detail like my own personal tour guide. We passed an old shed, build a mere metre from the train track at an intersection and he told me about the little old man who used to wait in there, his job was to let down the railway crossing gates manually.
Giuseppe bought some patatine fritte = hot chips, at a stall in the piazza. They sold patatine, panini, (bread rolls,) bibita, (soft drinks - or ‘soda’ for those living outside of Australia,) and a selection of beer. There were a few people sitting at the stall, (which looked a bit like a Kebab trailer back in Melbourne,) having a drink or eating patatine fritte, served in tiny white plastic containers with two wooden skewers, which I observed one woman using to skew the chips and eat them one by one.
We walked towards the fountain to find a bench to sit at. Two boys chased each other round and round the fountain – which was at least two car lengths wide. One boy had a small bike with trainer wheels and the other carried a toy robot. Valentino was impressed.
Vale and I walked alongside the fountain as Giuseppe picked a bench and sat, eating patatine. Valentino walked as I held his left hand and he giggled and shrieked, trying to get closer to the boys. He almost broke into a run. The only way I could get him to turn around and head back to Giuseppe, was to wait until the boys completed one lap around the fountain so they would pass us, continuing on in Giuseppe’s direction.
I sat down on the bench as Giuseppe stood, lifting Valentino up high as he squirmed, twisting and turning like a little cat, trying to catch sight of the boys again. So Giuseppe placed Vale back down to standing position, held his hand and walked him towards the fountain once again, Valentino pointing and shrieking with joy.
The bench was wooden and the wood was warm from the sun, I could feel it through my clothes, warming my back. I smiled – the sky was certainly brilliant, certainly blue. When some things in life don’t seem definite, there are always certainties to marvel at, certainties that make you warm; make you smile.
I crunched the guilt-free patatine, tasting the salt on my lips, the oil and the burst of flavour told me that this potato was growing in the earth not very long ago. Guilt-free, because it’s patatine... oh but I don’t mean to say it wasn’t deep-fried, or that it wasn’t potato, in all its high-carb glory. Patatine are, simply put, simply wonderful and there is something more wonderful about eating hot chips whilst warming yourself like a reptile in the sunshine, under a brilliant blue sky, in the company of those you hold dear, amongst others who are also out to soak up the sun and enjoy a relaxing, leisurely Sunday afternoon.
I had flashbacks of sitting at a park bench, under a brilliant blue sky in good company, vibrant green grass surrounding, with a white paper parcel of hot chips and potato cakes, or with beach towels and hot sand beneath us, or unravelling greasy white paper in the centre of the kitchen table, as others prepared the surrounds by equipping the table with bottles of tomato sauce, white vinegar and salt.
People know patatine, hot chips... however many different names they may be known by... if I may, I must state – other cities in the world... if they have restaurants and bars and fast food then there has got to be potato cut in strips and deep fried to perfection, and therefore there has got to be other people in other time zones sitting in the sun and sharing hot chips right now. And you can bet that they are enjoying a leisurely afternoon in good company.


“How long are you staying in Italy for?” Almost everyone that Giuseppe and I spoke to asked us this question.
Indefinite. Indefinite stay. Possible work opportunities… not yet definite.
Definite accommodation... Though when do we acquire our own accommodation? Well that all depends on possible work opportunities becoming definite work.
Hence, (I love this word,) our indefinite stay.
Though in Melbourne, we have definite work – definite work that we definitely love. We have definite accommodation… and the possibility of acquiring our own accommodation… after maybe two or more years of work and solid savings.
Here in Italy, the day that we have secured jobs is the day that we move into ‘the apartment’, or at least make ‘near future’ plans to.
This is definitely a big juicy hook for me. Our own private living space. Rented, yet because it’s ‘in the family’, it is rented with the freedom of renovating whenever and whatever we wish… which was our sole reason for not wanting to rent anymore when we were in Melbourne. Giuseppe was about to implode with all of the ideas and visions of restructuring and modifying our rented home that we weren’t permitted to tamper with in the slightest, of course.
A home away from home… can I manage that? Home is where the heart is. Too true. Of course my heart is stretched across oceans and land mass, to Melbourne, Sydney and the US and back to Italy; connections with the hearts of my family and friends I hold dear.
But of course, my heart of hearts is wherever my Giuseppe and Valentino are. We could live on an island, alone us three and though our hearts would suffer from strained connections to the important people in our lives, we would be together and everything would be OK.
Here, it is all OK – tutto posto – but I must admit, there are times when the indefinite circumstances unnerve me somewhat. It never used to. I used to quite happily coast from place to place, not with a ‘ten year plan’ or even a ‘five year…’ I suppose I sectioned my life into study: ‘Now I’m doing this course’, and so on until I landed into the education world from the teaching perspective and fell in love.
But the indefinite scares me now. Not a great deal, but it does… it does when I look at Valentino and wonder about how I can do the best for him.
Giuseppe’s work opportunities kept him busy almost every day a few weeks ago, but recently have seemed to lull. No-one has called for my private tutoring classes, despite a handful of my tear-off phone numbers disappearing from my flyers. I haven’t applied for work at more schools, because I just haven’t found the time. Not properly motivated? Perhaps. But I hold fast to the truth that applying for work, when executed properly, is a full-time job that I just can’t commit to as a full-time mum. That’s where the course I’m undertaking somewhat saves me. It is something definite – I know I will receive a diploma at the end and my hard work will not have been in vain. It’s tangible, concrete. When I feel like I am not being productive – and Valentino is either sleeping or out for a walk with Nonna Teresa or Zia Elena – I can sit down and study for an hour or two and feel productive. I can study in the middle of the night and feel the progression; that I am moving forward, towards something definite.
But how can I demand that things be definite? What is ever definite? And if, for arguments sake, things were definite – then what? What is life but a quest for something definite, something concrete that helps us to tick off our abstract checklists of wants and needs.
When the boxes are all checked, a tick in each – then what? Do we sit on our hands? Or is it an indefinite list… when we check one box at the top, another box appears at the bottom.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


It is 1:57am, in the wee hours of Sunday morning. In less than an hour ago, I was studying. Wait, let’s go back a bit further. A little over an hour ago, my friend Kelly in Melbourne sent me an sms. One sentence that gave me a kick – something along the lines of ‘waiting for the next blog post,’ and more so, a stronger kick, was from something along the lines of being inspired to collate and commence her own creative project.
So here I am, a part of the cycle that ebbs and flows from friend to friend, between relatives, partners, colleagues, acquaintances and people who pass each other on the street. That creative force that gets passed on like a baton – no, actually there is no comparison to anything concrete, it’s much more complex than that.
So, prior to receiving the sms from Kelly I was with Giuseppe and his friend Francesco, who was driving us back from a neighbouring town called Legnago. I was sitting in the back seat next to a few shopping bag; Giuseppe and Franceso babbling a concoction of Italian and dialect in the front seat.
I pulled out two copies of L’Alchemista from my shiny red handbag, separating the books based on the little black smudgy mark on one of the book jackets. I placed the marked one in a shopping bag and opened the spotless copy to the blank first page.
“Per Teresa,” I wrote, “Da Michelle xxoo”. I read it aloud to Giuseppe, making sure my Italian was correct, though I was 99.9 percent sure that it was. I had mentioned The Alchemist to Giuseppe’s mum … just one of my recent rants and affirmations about this book. Though Teresa had picked up my English copy, looked it over thoughtfully and asked me about it, without my intervention. The result: An Italian version of the book, with “Per Teresa, Da Michelle xxoo” written on the first page.
The other copy is for me, to read a story I know well in English, in Italian; a good place to start.
We bought the copies in Legnago, (pronounced Len – niar – go,) a town some twenty minutes drive from our home. This town was mentioned once already to us this week… that we should go and shop there, so when Francesco suggested it for the second time it seemed like the perfect way to spend the day.
A town picturesque in an organized way, clean and straight – well I saw it this way because I was constantly scanning for vertical surface areas to sticky-tape flyers about my English Tutoring and Gep’s PC repairs – and found only one. This isolated area had a ‘Vietato…’ something or other sign, meaning ‘Do not post advertisements or anything here…’ but since there were four or so other posters we thought we’d chance it.
Every other shop window, wall and street-light was pristine, senza (‘without’) posters, flyers, stickers or anything that looked remotely out of place. The only surface area that seemed unruly and crooked was the footpaths – paved stone that seemed older than the nearby buildings, ( I asked Giuseppe as one of my heels slanted abruptly and I temporarily lost my footing, “How old are these footpaths?” pondering at least two hundred whilst Giuseppe answered, “Very old…”)
As we approached a small, sectioned-off area of ruins, (old paved bridges over pebbles, painting an image of water passing through here once upon a time,) music – drums to be more precise, filled the atmosphere and we automatically moved closer to it.
There was a merry-go-round, white with gold trim and horses and the odd tea-cup moving round and round to a different tune. Enchanting.
We walked past it.
A small crowd gathered and clapped to the rhythm as some street performers danced and played percussion. As we moved closer still, it appeared to be more than a street performance, as I viewed posters, (no not on walls or shop windows of course, but fastened to temporary stands,) and a trestle table with pamphlets and information.
The posters said, loud and strong, “NO-ONE IN THIS COUNTRY IS A ‘STRANIERI”.
Of course, this particular statement was completely in Italian, but that is how I read it. The only word that I cannot translate is STRANIERI.
Because I hate that word.
This word is used for migrants in Italy. Therefore, I am a stranieri… though I haven’t heard anyone call me that.
A week or two ago, Giuseppe, Valentino and I were taking a walk through the park at the lake near our house. We walked casually past a cluster of men, no more than three or four, sitting at a bench. It seemed like they were drinking alcohol, their voices boisterous and slouches exaggerated.
They called out to us with friendly greetings. Giuseppe answered politely before one of them added the question, in Italian: “Are you from Morocco?” Giuseppe and I exchanged blank expressions and Giuseppe answered, “No…” his new expression with a hint of annoyance as he had more of an idea of where this was leading.
The cluster man’s reply was in Italian, but my mind’s instant translator voiced something along the lines of “Good, it’s about time there’s some Italians around here…”
And with additional scrutiny, my expression now appalled and my stomach churning, the reply sounded to me something like “I hate people from Morocco.”
This was the extreme comment among many that I’ve heard since arriving here… extreme, most probably because it was alcohol-fuelled; but that doesn’t tone it down or make it anything less than it is.
And so, I listened to the poster in the centre of Legnago and I smiled and my heart swelled and smiled too. It forgot all about the insensitive, ignorant, insulting comments and instead, started dreaming up ideas and inspirations.
I thought about it in the car as I closed L’Alchemista and clicked the lid back on my pen.
“Do you remember exactly what it said on that poster, word for word?” I asked Giuseppe, who replied no but he nodded and listened well as I told him how I want to help.
Because now I know how to help myself not be bothered by any thoughtless remark.
We all live in different rooms, different homes – different houses. Every family has different traditions, rules, qualities and quirks. We all live in different streets. Every town is different to the next. Every region is different. Italy is different. The world is different.
If unity via sameness is what some people need, then so be it. We are all stranieri. Strano. Strange.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Under the weather, On top of the language.

I just noticed something, whilst I was sitting in the kitchen, sitting on the two-seater sofa with my feet up on a chair, a wooly scarf, (black,)doubled around my neck, trackies (black,)and my favourite black robe with the hoodie, (in Italian: 'cappuccio' one of the first words Giuseppe taught me).
Giuseppe's nonna Rita was washing the dishes and asked me how I was feeling. Was she speaking dialect and I actually understood? I was told she only knows how to speak in dialect... Anyway, we then launched into a conversation [kon-ver-sey-shuhn,] about the weather, the seasons and the obvious comparisons between Melbourne and Verona.
And I noticed something... in my speech. I heard it. It was an accent. A tone. A characteristic. For the first time, I sounded like a native. I'm not sure exactly why. Perhaps it was the elongated and that escaped my mouth (which is the 'e' sound like in 'egg', but make it sound for at least a minute...)Was it my relaxed approach to conversing with an elder, a woman who has never crossed Italy's borders, learnt one word of English or even learnt Italian but rather, speaks the rich, characterised native tongue of Veneto and to a finer point, the slightly adapted version of the town of Bovolone.
Piano piano, slowly slowly, I will get there. Patience and courage.

I just called out to Giuseppe to ask his Nonna if she had actually ever visited another country, to make sure that my above statement was correct.
She replied, "Sardegna," and I smiled from the other room. Sardegna, otherwise known as 'Sardinia,' is an island off the west coast of Italy. Like Tassie, perhaps?
Today, I am still feeling under the weather and it's beginning to really irritate me. If I was well today, I would be heading to Verona to distribute the next four CVs I have prepared, bi-lingual and meticulously in folders with colours.
The good news is - three people have taken numbers from my English tutor flyers. Not pretend takers, but people that Giuseppe's mum actually had conversations with. (I had taken a few numbers from each flyer prior to this. It's the trick, 'trucco'...)
Just waiting on their calls. Perhaps the snow has given everyone either the sniffles or simply the 'I'll do it tomorrow' air.
Also, I decided to undertake another Diploma because, I don't know, because I am a psycho who is addicted to studying? Oh well, I simply love it! I am going to do an online course, (online being most suitable for working around Valentino,) a TESOL Advanced Diploma in teaching English as a second language. It's 250 hours of study, that includes approximately 75 hours for a thesis. I've always really wanted to write a thesis.
This course is useful for here and everywhere to teach. It's not the basic course, but a course for teachers. It’s going to open up my work opportunities here and everywhere, ten-fold. It will also enhance my teaching role/s at Dallas Primary School, in Melbourne, my home of homes and my school of schools.
The door bell rang just this minute and some ESL workbooks in a parcel arrived for me. For my English private tuition students. If they ever call.
If not, it doesn’t matter. Now I can focus on advancing my craft... whilst I kick back and develop my own second language.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Giuseppe tip-toed quietly passed the cot... (Or is it past the cot? Hmm... And I want to teach English to adults. Hmm... I'm pretty sure it's 'past'... someone please correct me if I'm wrong.)
He thought that Valentino was still asleep in his cot, (a rare occasion of late as Valentino has been cuddling up to us during the night, he had a fever the other night and hasn't been feeling the best. I haven't felt the best either. Yes, according to my previous post or two, it was probably stress that inevitably took a toll on my physical health. That, coupled with winter's last attempts to suddenly frost up the town, even though last week there was warm sun and blue sky and everyone started to say 'primavera' is surely well on its way. So I went for a walk two days ago, too cocky without my super warm duck-down lined jacket. Now, all sniffly and with a sore throat, the story continues...)
"Bella, wake up," Giuseppe whispered, before glancing at the empty cot and back to me in the semi-darkness, with Valentino draped across me, having his morning latté.
Giuseppe smiled and spun round, a few strides to the window and he unveiled it, swiftly and dramatically as if he were exhibiting a masterpiece on fresh eyes.
And it was, truly.
Many slithers of pure white, soft ice floated down and rested gently on rooftops of houses and cars. The great, tall fir tree across the road looked frosted... and it was, truly.
And yes, I was truly taken by this scene. You see, it is the first snow I have seen, in motion as it falls - since I was six years old and it snowed on that freak winter day in Melbourne, 1986. And that snow fell so lightly and it was over much too quickly. I have never been to 'the snow' in Victoria, Australia. You will never see me on a pair of skis unless it is snowing in a place even less likely than Melbourne. You know what I mean.
The first time I saw snow-covered ground was two years ago, San Giorgio, right here in Veneto, about forty minutes away from where I now sit and type.
But to see the snow fall, is altogether an entirely different scene. It is peaceful. I can't think of any other way to describe it other than simply - peace.
I carried Valentino to the window and he pressed his face to the cold glass, eyes wide. We group-hugged, us three and I couldn't imagine being anywhere more precious.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

I have stopped plucking my eyebrows.

I have stopped plucking my eyebrows. Just thought I’d put that out there. Not for any reason other than I intend to grow them out. That and my tweezers are terribly blunt and I hate them. I had good tweezers, great ones, but lost them for the seventeenth time and they became history.
I started plucking my eyebrows when I was fifteen, not for any reason other than I thought that was what grown up women did. My eyebrows, in their original form, were actually pretty damn good. My mother used to call them ‘brush-strokes’. These days, I can’t tell where they are even supposed to start. I messed that up years ago when the short, pencil-thin era bombarded a majority of faces, circa ’97.
My point is, though I have stopped plucking my eyebrows, it is to grow them out into a more natural form. When they are complete, they will look good and my face will look different… perhaps more like how I am supposed to look.
But in the meantime, I look like an un-groomed slob. So be it.
I once said that anyone could tell if I am going through a bad patch – if I stop plucking my eyebrows; i.e.: stop caring.
Am I going through a bad patch? I don’t know…
A few days ago I was brimming with happiness; the world was full of opportunities and every possibility.
Yesterday and to a lesser extent, today… the happiness isn’t brimming. It seems to be only half full. I think yesterday, it was half empty. That’s a good sign. Perhaps I hit the bottom rung yesterday and now I’m on the way back up. Seems like it.
Why did I hit the bottom rung? Was it that terrible job interview? Surely I wouldn’t let some bombastic tool get the better of me? Or would I?
Did I expect things to come so easily? That I would just head to my first job interview, walk out with a smile and a secured job, earn lots of money and live happily ever after?
Was it ever that easy? No. No way. When I completed my Education Diploma, I applied for thirty jobs. THIRTY. I went to three interviews. One interview I walked out of feeling like a moronic simpleton. The other two interviews resulted in job offers. I can do it. I just need to find my balls again, so to speak. You know what I mean.
Everything takes time, effort and a lot of courage. Be prepared to be knocked down. If you lose your grasp and scale down the ladder, don’t think that there isn’t a way to get back up again. There’s always a way.
An important aspect is, don’t cower, don’t cover your face. Bare all. You know where you are at, even if others don’t understand you at face value.
You know who you are.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Parole Nuove = New Words

insieme = together
panolino = nappy
scrittrice = writer
laurea = degree
maestra laureata = professional teacher
paura = scared
bagnetto = little bath/ baby bath
calzini = little socks...that's what I really like about Italian. The words can change according to the size of the subject. 'Etto' or 'ini' or 'ina' tacked on to the end of a word mean small. 'Ona', 'oni', etc. are for larger subjects. For example, sometimes Giuseppe calls me 'Mammina' which is 'little mother', which I love because my great-grandmother was permanently called Mammina and she was a gorgeous, sweet-natured lady. I never knew her, but my family always tell me fond recollections of her.
I learnt 'insieme' from a discussion with Giuseppe's mum, Teresa. We are living 'insieme' and it's great, but we all know that everyone needs their privacy and each family unit should keep separate dwellings. Fantastic that we share this understanding. There is a possibility we could move into the apartment next door. Finding an apartment with cheap rent in Italy is like finding a square cut record of The Red Hot Chili Peppers hit 'Taste the Pain' signed by Flea, the bass player and 'Happy Bday' scrawled beneath his signature. Oh wait a minute... I have a square cut record of The Red Hot Chili Peppers hit 'Taste the Pain' signed by Flea, the bass player and 'Happy Bday' scrawled beneath his signature. And so the universe unfolds and reveals that anything is possible. My dear cousin Vince bought me that record. And so yet again, family pulls through and gives you support, opportunities - what you need.
'Paura'... I asked how to say 'scared' in Italian because I don't like to cut Valentino's nails, I am thoroughly frightened to, because he is so flinchy and never sits still. Teresa chuckled and cut his nails for me, whilst calling out to me from the other room how I don't need to be afraid.
Sometimes it overwhelms me, the feeling of protectiveness over my son. The feeling that I could die if he were ever badly hurt. Now I understand my father a lot more, how he used to fret, overly concerned and on edge if my sisters and I were to be in any situation other than 100% safe. I get it. I also get how I am supposed to work hard at it, to control and subdue the intensity of these feelings; to not let them overwhelm me. If I truly want to protect my son, I will do so without panic and without the extra layers of cotton wool.
I asked my sister Lucia about her extended stay in Italy. She lived in Florence for three years. I asked her 'when did it stop feeling like you were on holiday, and start to feel like you actually lived there?' She replied 'When I started working'.
So, within a week of being here in Italy, I started my quest to find work. Not only for the 'I'm living here' feeling, but, of course, also for the pride of working and to help support my family.
I created my European CV and emailed it together with my own detailed CV. All in English, for now, as I am only applying for work at English schools. It had only been a few days and I had started to fret, leaping into self-doubt and all of that rubbish that I spiral into when I succumb to negative thoughts; beginning to think that I wouldn't get any replies or opportunities to work. Totally unnecessary... because today, I have an interview at an English school in Verona.
It's a new day... with each new day there are new words, new strengths and new opportunities.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Opera 25-02-10

The tall, austere cabinet lines the wall with ornate dark-wood carvings of vines and fruit. Evening light streams through the white curtain from the grey cloud covering and the wet world outside.
Boisterous voices, melodic and chimed like chrystal wrap around a double bass, violins and timpani drums. Opera, from Arena in Verona city, recorded and played from a mere disc spinning in the CD player.
He nestles his face into my neck as my hand wraps around his. I side-step in time to the music, spin and twirl in an attempt to mimic a timeless ballroom waltz.
He is peaceful, content and smiles when I spin us around and around in fast motion.
When each song ends, he rocks back and forth impatiently, longing for the next track to start and to move to the rhythm once again.
My son, my son. I cradle his head with my free hand. It is perfectly round, reminds me of my father. I smirk as I recall my father boasting about how his head was perfectly round; he would boast with a cheesy, jovial grin.
My son, my son. He smells like... my son. A smell I never knew yet know so well like he has always been with us.
He has grown so much in the past few weeks. I have learnt to call him "Mio Uomino" = 'My little man". He is a little man.
He smiles and shrieks with delight as I spin him around and let him arch back dramatically to match the tone of the opera. I lift him up above my head and then bring him down swiftly until his feet almost touch the floor, then lift him back up to my arms. He holds my hand and rests his other hand on my shoulder, ready to dance. His Nonna Tina in Australia taught him this.
We dance cheek to cheek and I can feel his cheek rise as he smiles. It is so soft. Suddenly my mind races to the future. I imagine dancing with him one day when I am older and he closer to my age now.
So proud, as I am now.
My son.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Siamo Arrivati - Health check, happiness check: tutto posto 20-02-10

I am sitting at the desk, listening to the rhythmic hum of cars, trucks and motorino's gliding by. Ten feet away, my son is having his mid-morning nap, cuddling up to his Hungry Caterpillar toy and wrapped warmly in sheets, blankets and soft padding woven inbetween the bars of his cot. Incoherent chatter wafts from downstairs along aromas of homemade pasta, cakes, roasted vegetables, chicken and freshly sliced deli meats.
Doors are opened and closed, many shuffling footsteps sound and clink-clanks of utensils on pots and pans during cooking and washing.
On the 10th of February 2010 my son, my partner and I got on a plane bound for Italia. About a week ago we arrived here in Bovolone, a town with a population of 15,000 that resides just 20 minutes drive south of Verona.
Bovolone is as old as most towns in Italy and like most towns in the world, has strong characteristics of its own.
Warm amber coloured paint coats atleast one in 10 buildings. People say 'Va Bon' instead of 'Va Bene'. The furniture, 'i mobili' hand-crafted here in Bovolone is imported all over the world, as its fine sculpted artistic quality can stand proud beside any precious antique pieces.
The handful of times I've gone for a stroll down the main street, which we live on, I am met with many friendly faces, smiles and greetings. 'Foto' they say, amongst other dialect words I can't decipher, noddng and grinning away and I understand that they recognise me from the photo that Giuseppe's parents have displayed in their shop.
Giuseppe's family are well known in the town as they run the local 'Gastronomia'... hmm I'm not sure if that's spelt right. No it's not a stomach illness but Gastronomia means a shop boasting delicious nutricious freshly cooked and prepared food. People come to their shop from as far as Milano, (two hours drive away,) to purhase a package of gnocchi, homemade salami, or the crispiest chicken schnitzels (cottolette)you can find.
Living in the same building as a Gastonomia - dangerous, you may think? Perhaps. I told Giuseppe's mum to lock up the shop at night incase I am so inclined to do a midnight raid. However, that being said, since arriving in Italy, I have been to the gym four times, gone on a handful of hour long walks and played tennis, (or tried to play something that somewhat resembles tennis... patience please while I learn...)
Have I eaten an entire tray of crispy cottolette? (chicken shnitzels.) Nope. I restrict myself to one a day alongside a mountain of spinach and or salad and other cooked vegetables. The veges are always there, always ready to eat. I've been drinking water. Half a glass of wine a day, if any.
It suddenly all seems easy again, like it was before my weight increased by a third during pregnancy. The gym is 25 metres away from home. Tennis courts are 10 minutes walk away. The main street is interesting to walk along, always bustling with people going to and from a variety of shops.
Valentino has taken to bike rides, (the trainer bike that we control with a handle at the back,) and enjoys getting outdoors as much as I do. He is now eating chicken, ham, (prosciutto cotto,) cheese, polenta, (corn meal cooked to perfection,) and loves chewing on fresh bread rolls. He is basking in the admiration of everyone around him, from family to strangers at the shops: 'Ma, che bello!'. He waves at them and does high five or 'batte cinque' and laughs and smiles. He stands without wobble now and moves fluidly around furniture, steady on his feet. He seems to have aged a month in a week.
Giuseppe has started working already, fixing PCs. It didn't take long for the town people to hunt him down as soon as they realised he was back. He is already renowned here for his skills as an IT Technician.
There are schools in Verona where I don't need to know Italian well, I can teach English to adults and get by on my limited Italian. I just have to translate my CV and start researching for opportunities.
Today we are going to catch up with Giuseppe's best friends Marzena and Raffaello, (brother and sister,) and Raffaello's wife Karolina. Looking forward to it.
Will keep you posted.
Here, it's all OK = tutto posto.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I'm starting to pack...

OK firstly, I have NO idea what to pack! I want my books... which I have never counted so I'm about to do a sort of 'guess how many jelly beans in the jar' guess and say that perhaps I have 356 books. Nice number, one for each day. It costs approx. $150 to send a 20kg package that will arrive in three months. It costs $400 if you want it to arrive in one month.
So I'll start with 3, perhaps. One will be 'Eat right for your blood type,' because I'm sort of following that guide with some cheating involved. Cheating = I had some lemon and ginger tea when according to this book, I'm not supposed to have ginger.
I should bring my all time favourite novel, 'Wuthering Heights' by Emily Bronte. The book that eluded me into thinking that a handsome brute with the most extreme selfishness and behaviour problems is romantic. OK I won't bring it.
My astrology books? Giuseppe has already been read all his pages, as he sat quietly as a perfect gentleman and nodded and smiled, probably for the first time elated that he didn't understand some words. Not many other people that I'm going to instantly know in Italy speak or understand English.
I would usually pack something in my carry-on luggage to read on the plane. Though with Valentino, I don't think there'll be much reading time. There isn't any reading time at home, why would there be any reading time on the plane?
I have too much stuff. In the last ten years, I have not moved very far... still, I have moved ten times, back and forth. That and the fact that I am not very good with organising material stuff, I have accumulated boxes upon boxes of miscellaneous junk.
Now... I am going to leave it all behind, tucked away in corners of built-in robes and stacked neatly in the garage of my mother's house. If I don't feel the need to see or use any of it in 5 years, then I will have it thrown away and anything that may be useful to others can go to the Salvo's.
I have one box clearly labelled 'Sentimental Stuff,' or something to that effect, that has an odd assortment of letters, photos, drawings, old school diaries, trinkets, etc. that I just can't discard.
It makes me think of the character in the movie 'Amelie,' the man that she returns the metal box full of his trinkets and memories to. And it's true what he says - one day you are older and all of your memories can fit in one box... so you better be making the most of the time you have left before you end up in a box yourself.
And now we are going to live in Italy for who knows how long? We will send some of Valentino's toys, (especially toys that were gifts,) and I am simply going to re-order his collection of books in Italy because it will be cheaper that way. We have two nephews in Italy, the youngest is three years old so all of his clothes, toys, his cot, pram and anything else we may possibly need is there waiting for us.
I know what to do about packing. I will pack like we are going on an extended holiday, because that is all it may be, we don't have certaintly yet. I don't need all of my books. I'm not going to require any of the miscellaneous junk. I don't need to pack my life into a box. I certanily can't pack my family and friends into a box. People are my life. And Giuseppe and Valentino are my core.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Farfelle hanno comincato... (The butterflies have started...)

Two hours ago I was sitting in Brunetti's, Carlton, (very Italian,) sipping my soy latte (not very Italian,) and enjoying good company with mio amore Giuseppe, his parents Fernando and Teresa and my sister Lucia.
If you sit in the first, more restaurant-type left side of Brunetti's, (Oh I am so rusty with my word flow,) there are enlarged, beautiful black and white photos decorating the walls. One photo is of a man baking bread in the street, round crusty baked bread the size of car wheels. He is lifting one of the loaves on a giant shovel that you see being used in the wood-fire oven pizza restaurants. Another is of two elderly women straining freshly-cooked spagetti in an old-style kitchen. My gaze shifted back and forth between these images and the tranquil faces of Giuseppe's parents as I listened to their words and tried my best to understand them.
Tonight, it started. I thought it started a few days ago, but I can see now that was a false start. The realisation, that this time next month I will be LIVING in Italy has started to grow in my belly and the farfalle (butterflies) are beginning to flit about. Is flit a word? Who cares - I need to learn it in Italian before I start focusing too heavily on polishing my English. I'll ask Giuseppe... OK he said "I am not a butterflies expert" and then started listing five or more different ways I could say 'flit' or 'fly' about. Volare is 'to fly'. Like the song: VOLARE, O-OH! Ugh. Is flit a word? If anyone can help me out I'd appreciate it very much.

A part of Italy comes to Melbourne

Today I got my Visa for Italy and we received Valentino's Italian passport! A weight has been lifted off my shoulders - this was the most stressful aspect of it all. Not to say that it has been overly stressful. But paperwork and organising documents is not my preferred passtime - is it anyone's? Hermes from Futurama comes to mind.
On Saturday morning, Giuseppe's parents arrived. They have come straight from winter in northern Italy to Melbourne's scorching January heatwave. They actually prefer the heat here though - in the north of Italy it is extremely humid; probably more like the north of Australia.
I feel bad because we haven't taken them anywhere too exciting yet - but the heat and their jetlag coupled with Italian siestas limit big day trips at the moment and Valentino limits big nights out. Siesta? Wait I'll consult Giuseppe for Italian term rather than Spanish... 'pausa' - ah, like a pause in your day.
'Voglio una pausa' = I want to take a break.
Yes since Giuseppe's parents have arrived, I've been practising Italian more - since they don't speak a word of English. I even did 'spesa' (grocery shopping,) with his mum today and we got by with my limited Italian speaking skills.
I've just realised it has been so long since I sat down to write creativly - that I am very rusty and the words don't flow like they used to. That and the fact that for the past few years I have been both teaching ESL (English as a second language,) and supporting my partner to learn English. This has resulted in my vocabulary being condensed to basic words, eliminating phrases and needless complex language.
Anyway - I was actually writing this yesterday but Valentino woke up and I had to slam my notebook shut and run. Luckily, when I turned on my PC just now this page was still up and I could save my work. If I am going to get back into my writing, these are the things I need to be flexible about. Let's hope I warm up soon and de-rust and dust off my fluency and vocab.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


I have always been, in a sense, 'The Italian Friend,' or colleague. Even though I was born and raised in Australia. My father was also born in Australia and raised here. He never saw Italy. My mother was born in Italy, but migrated here when she was six years old. That was in 1952.
Nonetheless, I am 'The Italian' living in Melbourne.

I was the girl at school who had melanzane sandwiches (eggplant parmigiana.) I talked about my Nonna rather than a Nana or Gran. I spoke of my Papa` and Mamma and Zias and Zios (uncles and aunts). Friendly discussions among the older generation of the family sounded like heated arguements. At Easter I ate crostoli and at Christmas I ate panetone. I wasn't allowed to sleep over my best friends house until 15 years of age. A boyfriend had to come in and meet my father, discuss cars over an espresso or beer and await approval from him. At weddings we danced the tarantella and the duck dance. These things are pretty typical for an Italian family living in Melbourne.

Today, I have a family of my own. My partner Giuseppe and our 8 month old son Valentino.
Valentino was born in Melbourne. Giuseppe was born in Verona, Italy.
We are about to leave Australia for Italy.
Soon I will be 'The Australian' living in Verona.