...a story about migrating to Italy

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.