...a story about migrating to Italy

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.