...a story about migrating to Italy

Friday, November 25, 2011

Excerpt from: ~BEING FRANK~ Written by Michelle Napolitano { A WORK IN PROGRESS }

In the foyer, the Christmas tree warmed the atmosphere with its Christmas lights and the soothing scent of pine. I sat next to it and memories poured over me, of our lounge room when I would curl up under the tree and stare up at the branches. The lights and decorations twinkled as I gazed at them, eagerly awaiting the morning; searching for the presents marked with my name. The warm summer night breeze drifted softly through the screen door, and the trees swayed gently outside in the balmy night air. Projections of Christmas Eve flickered in my mind: Santa in red flares and a red, felt overcoat; striding through the group of kids sitting cross-legged on the lounge-room floor. His white beard was not nearly as fluffy as the Santa at the shops – it was quite flat, like a white, wooly blanket. His nose was round and porous with feint scaring on the bridge. When he talked and chuckled, as he called out each gift receiver's name, his teeth looked long and broad, just like Nonna's teeth. One Christmas Eve, Santa stayed for a beer with my Uncles and Aunties. I called out for my father to come and meet Santa – but, as usual, my father was in the toilet with bad stomach pains and possibly 'the runs,' and so he couldn't come out. He was going to miss out on seeing Santa – again. My cousin Lucy and I approached Santa. Lucy, Shirley's daughter, is two years younger than me and stood about 6 inches shorter, with dark blonde hair cut into a dead-straight long fringe and jaw-length bob –identical to my dark brown bob at the time. Her cheeks were freckled and her lips always looked like she was wearing dark pink lipstick. We had short discussions with Santa previously, within the last few years. Well, not so much discussions – they were more like interrogations. The information collected so far was: 1. Santa parked his sleigh on the roof . 2. His reindeers stayed on the roof with the sleigh and did not want to be seen. (Sometimes they were shy and sometimes they were invisible). 3. Santa visited everyone's house in the world on Christmas Eve as well as deliver presents during the night – these great tasks were achieved by pure magic. 4. Even though he parked on the roof, he always arrived through my parent's bedroom door and into the lounge-room. If Christmas Eve was held at my Auntie's house, or Nonno and Nonna's, he would arrive through their bedroom door. This was an unquestioned, accepted fact. This Christmas Eve, Lucy and I were eager to find out why Santa was wearing brown slippers – 'Grosby' brand, just like my father's. Santa paused and stole a few side glances at the other adults at the dining room table. There was a wooden bowl brimming with beer nuts, a wooden platter shaped into a leaf holding an assortment of nuts, dried fruit and pretzels, two ashtrays and several glasses of beer and lemon squash set around their circle. It was the adults table. The kids sprawled over the lounge-room couches, carpet and into the hall; amongst baskets of chips, Barbeque Shapes and plastic cups of soft drink. Santa opened his mouth before any sound came out. "Well, my boots get pretty muddy…so Frank gave me a lend of his slippers, so I don't get mud all over the carpet." Lucy nodded in agreement and I smiled, overjoyed that my Dad had spoken to Santa and even gone so far as to lend him his slippers. Santa rapped his fingertips on the table top. He must have been fixing the sleigh today, because his fingernails had grease under them. Second to that, he was wearing a gold wedding ring… "Santa, why are you wearing my Dad's wedding ring?" I asked. Santa smiled. "He gave me his ring, just to hold it for him while he isn't feeling well." Lucy smiled and nodded. I frowned. I stared at Santa's hand, Dad's ring, his grease-stained finger nails, his strange-looking jacket and flat beard, his nose, his mouth. It may have been the 80s, but it certainly did look out of place for Santa to be smoking Camel cigarettes. This was no Santa. I understood that I shouldn't share this new knowledge with my little cousin Lucy, as she gazed in awe at this pretend Father Christmas. I suddenly realized that every adult knew, my sisters knew and all of my cousins who were older than me knew that this man in red flares and brown slippers was Frank Napolitano; otherwise currently known by my cousins as 'Zio Frank' or 'Zizi Frankie' and known by my sisters and I as 'Papá'. And that mysterious looking plastic bag that Nonna brought to every Christmas Eve was indeed her home-made creation for Santa to wear. At this point, this did not mean that Santa Claus, the man himself, did not exist. It simply made more sense to me that it was impossible for him to visit everyone, so fathers around the world dressed up as him to share the load; and the real Santa stuck to delivering presents for Christmas morning. For every Christmas Eve with my family, it had been my Dad dressed as Santa all along. I was so happy: the two bearers of presents and funny jokes had suddenly been fused into a grinning, brown-slipper king.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I'm On A Mountain

[Inspired by: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7yfISlGLNU and facing my fear of walking to the utmost peak of a mountain]

Best read whilst listening to:
The Lonely Island ‘I’m on a Boat’

Dedicated to Samantha, Diarmaid, Mirco and Giuseppe.
Thank you motherfuckers
10/08/2011 – 11/08/2011

I'm On A Mountain
Lyrics by
Artist(Band):The Lonely Island ‘I’m on a Boat’…
Lyrics adapted by: Michelle Napolitano

[Intro (T-Pain)]
(Smelly) Aww shit
Hiking boots ready it's about to go down (yeah, smelly)
Everybody in the place hit the fuckin trail (yeah, smelly)
The chair-lift’s not a fuckin option
We climbin’ this, let's go

[Chorus (T-Pain)]
I'm on a mountain (I'm on a mountain)
I'm on a mountain (I'm on a mountain)
Everybody look at me cause I'm climbin up a mountain (climbin up a mountain)
I'm on a mountain (I'm on a mountain)
I'm on a mountain
Take a good hard look at the motherfuckin mountain (mountain, yeah)

[The Lonely Island (T-Pain)]
We’re on a mountain motherfucker take a look at us
Straight walking up a mountain in the fuckin clouds
Bustin ‘thousand feet, sai? ‘cos the Android’s countin
You can't stop me motherfucker cause I'm on a mountain

Take a picture, trick (trick) I'm on a mountain, bitch (bitch)
We drinkin some German beer, cause it's so crisp (crisp)
I got my hiking sticks, and my hiking stuff
Eatin’ lollies, so my blood sugar doesn’t drop

I'm walkin on a trail, doin skids and shit
This gravel’s rollin and it’s fuckin up my shins
Ain't Sound ‘o Music, this is real as it gets
I'm on a mountain motherfucker, don't you ever forget
I'm on a mountain and, it's fuckin high and
I got a beanie and my sunnies and backpack
I'm the king of the world, on a mountain like a pro
If you're on safe land, then you're sho' not me-oh
{Get the fuck up, this mountain is real}

Fuck level-land, I'm on a mountain, motherfucker (motherfucker)
Fuck paths, I walk rocks, motherfucker (motherfucker)
I'm on the peak with my friends-yo, motherfucker (yeah)
The mountain people say ‘buongiorno’, motherfucker

Hey ma, if you could see me now (see me now)
Arms spread wide on the high peak now (high peak now)
Gonna climb this mountain to the moon somehow (moon somehow)
Like Samantha said: … ‘trust-me-you’re-not gonna-fall…’

Yeah, never thought I'd be on a mountain
It’s from the Latin word mon-ta-an-us (yeah)
Hima-lay-a-a-an, Look at me, oh (don’t be fifone!)
Never thought I'd see the day
With a big mountain fuckin my way
Believe me when I say, I hugged a Diarmaid

I'm on a mountain
I'm on a mountain
Everybody look at me cause im climbin up a mountain
I'm on a mountain
I'm on a mountain
Take a good hard look at the motherfuckin mountain

Sme-sme-Smelly, Smelly
Yeah yeah yeahhh


I'm On A Boat (Original) Lyrics
Artist(Band):The Lonely Island

[Intro (T-Pain)]
(Shawty) Aww shit
Get your towels ready it's about to go down (yeah, shawty)
Everybody in the place hit the fuckin deck (yeah, shawty)
But stay on your motherfuckin toes
We runnin this, let's go

[Chorus (T-Pain)]
I'm on a boat (I'm on a boat)
I'm on a boat (I'm on a boat)
Everybody look at me cause I'm sailin on a boat (sailin on a boat)
I'm on a boat (I'm on a boat)
I'm on a boat
Take a good hard look at the motherfuckin boat (boat, yeah)

[The Lonely Island (T-Pain)]
I'm on a boat motherfucker take a look at me
Straight floatin on a boat on the deep blue sea
Bustin five knots, wind whippin at my coat
You can't stop me motherfucker cause I'm on a boat

Take a picture, trick (trick) I'm on a boat, bitch (bitch)
We drinking Santana champ, cause it's so crisp (crisp)
I got my swim trunks, and my flippie-floppies
I'm flippin burgers, you at Kinko's straight flippin copies

I'm ridin on a dolphin, doin flips and shit
This dolphin's splashin, gettin e'rybody all wet
But this ain't Seaworld, this is real as it gets
I'm on a boat motherfucker, don't you ever forget

I'm on a boat and, it's goin fast and
I got a nautical themed pashmina afghan
I'm the king of the world, on a boat like Leo
If you're on the shore, then you're sho' not me-oh
{Get the fuck up, this boat is real}

Fuck land, I'm on a boat, motherfucker (motherfucker)
Fuck trees, I climb buoys, motherfucker (motherfucker)
I'm on the deck with my boys, motherfucker (yeah)
The boat engine make noise, motherfucker

Hey ma, if you could see me now (see me now)
Arms spread wide on the starboard bow (starboard bow)
Gonna fly this boat to the moon somehow (moon somehow)
Like Kevin Garnett, anything is possible

Yeah, never thought I'd be on a boat
It's a big blue watery road (yeah)
Poseidon, Look at me, oh (all hands on deck)
Never thought I'd see the day
When a big boat comin my way
Believe me when I say, I fucked a mermaid

I'm on a boat
I'm on a boat
Everybody look at me cause im sailin on a boat
I'm on a boat
I'm on a boat
Take a good hard look at the motherfuckin boat

Sha-sha-shorty, shorty
Yeah yeah yeahhh

Saturday, February 5, 2011


Valentino is speaking English and Italian and even some Veronese dialect. He is always smiling – and this of course brings me great joy. He has positive influences around him and lots of learning opportunities – such as naming and handling the fresh fruit and vegetables in the family Gastronomia (deli), watching the exchange of money and goods, interacting with his four, nine and fourteen year old cousins, his sixty something grandparents and his eighty something great-grandmother.
He eats freshly harvested and prepared wholesome foods, as lots of the fresh produce comes from local farms and all of the dishes are prepared by his nonni, zia or the women who work at the shop, who he has also grown to be quite fond of.
He has enjoyed getting to know my work colleagues because, not only are they great people but also I’m sure it pleases him to have people other than mum and dad to speak in English with. Although, he has been teaching his Nonna English. She has learnt ‘sit down,’ ‘more,’ ‘milk,’ ‘outside,’ ‘green,’ ‘red,’ ‘car,’ and numbers 1-10 from her 19 month old grandson.
When Giuseppe and I are both working she takes him out walking through the town. Passersby greet him by name and he waves and smiles and says ‘Ciao’.
He is so wonderful, sometimes I can’t believe it. Giuseppe and I gaze at him like he is an angel, look at each other and ask “But, how did we make such a wonderful boy?”
On weekends we play in his room, which is set up with little shelves of puzzles and activities, a box of musical instruments, a bookshelf and a standard, must-have large cardboard box made into a house – what child can resist.
For downtime, we read books; watch Dora, Bob or Little Einsteins. He helps us clean the apartment by putting dirty clothes in the laundry basket or washing machine, carrying his nappy bags to the front door and putting rubbish in the bin. He is also getting better at packing up his toys independently.
Now, working full-time and being physically away from him for 12 hours every week day, my time with him is more precious than ever. I love him so much and feel a sense of pride I have not known before – that we are doing such a great job raising him. I couldn’t do it without the Napolitano’s and the Rossignoli’s support.
If only our families could truly merge – see each other regularly, have dinners and bbqs and gatherings…
I told Giuseppe 3 years ago to invent a teleporter. He hasn’t even drawn up the blue prints for it.
It’s hard having your heart in two places. But my heart of hearts is with my love and my son.

Don't expect me to write about riding on a Vespa

Soon it will be my birthday. My 31st Birthday. I am now well and truly into my ‘30’s.
Hi. It’s mid-January. If I were in Australia in this moment, I would be experiencing the hot summer, (or lack thereof… possibly it is overcast and raining right now…) and it would be the summer holidays. As a teacher off school I would be spending time with other teachers or students who share the same holidays, as everyone would have returned to work shortly after New Year’s Day unless they had scheduled time off. We would be heading to the beach or enjoying the cool summer breeze out at a beer garden, or even kicking back in the backyard – the garden… here in Italy if you have a house with a large garden, you are most probably rich and your house and property are referred to as a ‘villa’.
I live in an apartment on the first floor. I have a balcony. It’s winter now. The snow has ceased, there wasn’t much of it this year, it has stayed up in the mountains and only fell near and around home on a few days. Now there is a lot of ‘nebbia’ (fog) – a lot. Some ice and still settling at 0 degrees Celsius or a little more on most days.
I’m looking forward to spring. I miss the bike rides through Valle, the nature park near our house. The track has twists and turns and forks into little passageways beneath green leafy canopies. I want to hang plant pots all along our balcony railings and have green leafy creeping plants cascade down the bars and wrap around them. Maybe some flowers; but I do prefer lots of green.
This post, if I dare discuss it mid-creation, is about living in Italy – truly. I am feeling less and less like a traveler, an outsider or a migrant – a ‘stranieri’. Apart from not having any proper and competent skill with the language – I feel like I have achieved a nice level of comfort here. I have created another comfort zone for myself. And it is here in Bovolone, province of Verona, and the city of Verona itself, especially now that I work there every week day. I’ve made friends through work, who have all been a great support and I feel, after the post- newborn phase of a seemingly disappearing social life due to both the huge and wonderful responsibilities of being a new parent and also people assuming that you can’t socialize at all if you have a baby; now I feel I that have regained and rebuilt ‘Michelle’ and enjoy socializing with like-minded and very likeable people. I enjoy my job and don’t recall ever settling in quite so well into new employment as I have at my present post. It’s been four months now, but I do believe I was feeling near to 100% comfortable within my first month. The people I work with make all the difference.
Ho imparato piu’ Italiano, e ho capito meglio. Gramatica, e parlare – non ‘e molto bene… ahah anch’e scrivere. Spero, imparare meglio. ‘E difficile’, perhce’ ho lavora a scoula internatzionale, e parla Inglese tutto giorno. Ma imparato un po’ Italiano perche’ parla Italino ogni giorno con la altra maestra di mia classe, (lei e una maestra di Italiano per miei studenti) e anche’ ho provato parlare con i miei studenti in Italiano qualche volte, perche’ qualche di loro non capiscono Inglese bene. Gli altri studenti conoscono Inglese e Italiano bene, auitanno me con mia grammatica – insegnanno me!
So, I’m not doing too badly. I know what I just wrote is not fantastic, but it’s a huge improvement from when I first arrived in Italy.
I think that one of the hardest obstacles when relocating is accepting the culture. This is an obstacle that, as an Italian (born and raised in Australia in an Italian family, with the language, food and culture) I did not expect to be facing any culture shocks.
Oh how I was mistaken.
Granted, we all love to watch movies and read books about Italy – to be swept away by the romance, the architecture, the history, the energy, the loud, verbose, melodic Italians preparing spaghetti as a family with fifty cousins running around and the grandmothers and mothers chopping tomatoes and basil, drinking red wine, the men drinking grappa and all of the family eating and laughing and dancing and singing together. Shall we take it even further? Driving vespas, FIAT 500s and Ferraris, drinking espressos and smoking long white cigarettes, debating passionately or quietly playing cards.
There is a scene in an Australian movie about an Italian family living in Sydney, where they have the annual ‘tomato day’ – when the family gets together and makes a year supply of tomato based pasta sauce, bottle it and distribute it to each house in the extended family. It rings true. My family always had ‘tomato day’. Though we didn’t play Italian 45” records and dance with joy like the scene in this movie… I don’t remember being present at a tomato day but I’m sure it involved my grandfather being annoyed for one reason or another and criticizing another family member’s technique of something or other. But I’m straying from the point.
Yes, Italy has been shown through rose-coloured, romantic, charming specs through film and literature. It is truly mesmerizing… when you’re on vacation here. Living, as it is anywhere, is just that… living. And, I think it’s safe to say that a lot of the stereotypes… for example, the cute old men sitting on rickety old chairs on the sidewalk in front of the bakery playing cards and arguing and the people singing old Italian folk songs at the bar are indeed in existence but they exist either in the past or in the south of Italy.
I’m certainly not living in any Sofia Loren movie. It is sort of quiet here. I went to a bar with work friends and we were ‘shh-d’. In a bar. On a Friday night. The quiet Veronese patrons looked up from their library-quiet tables and glared at us for being a tad loud and the bartender apparently told us to be quiet. I was too tipsy and therefore unaware but I blinked in disbelief when I was informed later.
I don’t mean to disappoint you and it’s opinion really, but that’s just my take on the general atmosphere here. There are still stereotypes and expectations in existence. Coffee. You can get a good coffee anywhere – even the train station has a Lavazza machine. Pizza. Oh my, what splendid, mouth-watering pizza. Thin, fluffy lighter-than-air bases so you can eat a whole pizza and not feel like you would sink to the bottom of the ocean. Simple, no fuss toppings. FRESH ham, not that horrid processed little stick-like strings of what is referred to as ‘ham’ in some places. Fresh ingredients in most places, especially when you eat at restaurants and more so, Trattoria’s outside of Verona and in the towns, as each town is surrounded by farmland and therefore, more than likely the ingredients of whatever you are eating was still growing or living no more than a day before.
The general standard of food in Italy is very high, as the expectations of Italy and it’s relationship with food reigns on with force. Even in the schools, the children eat a three course meal (the third course being fruit and once a week, a piece of cake,) beginning with a pasta dish followed by a nice balance of meat and vegetables. There is always bread on the table and natural water. The children can sometimes have seconds and other times thirds and eating well is always encouraged. I don’t see any weight problems – the children look fit and healthy. Yes they sit down and eat for forty minutes straight, but most of them play a sport and in addition to that… eating a balanced meal encourages less snacking and considerably less junk food. The local shops sell bread rolls with salami, at worst. There might be the odd ‘patatine fritte’ (hot chips) stand, kind of akin to the kebab vans parked around Melbourne. The difference is, instead of being able to buy a giant kebab that has greater mass than your stomach itself, the patatine are small, thin and served in a little container no wider or longer than your hand and no higher than your thumb. Small servings… and most of the food available is nutritious and wholesome enough to be satisfying in small amounts. Chalk it up to a history of excellent and quality cuisine.
School here is blackboards, chalk and dictatorial style teaching, lines of desks and writing, copying and writing some more. I learnt early on that I can’t change the way it is, nor dare I try to completely change the atmosphere of my own classroom. It’s not so much a matter of resigning to it – but merely because if I have the children grow accustomed to a 21st century learning space, then they will suffer greatly when faced with new classrooms in elementary, depending on the teaching style and especially when they reach high school. So, I’ve achieved a nice comfortable balance of both worlds. I have three boxes of hands-on activities (some brought and some made) consisting of one English box, one maths box and one games box. When each lesson is finished and the required amount of writing is completed in their books, then they are free to choose from a subject appropriate box.
The wonderful thing is, they willingly take out a packet of alphabet letters or counters and spell words or count. I see them work independently, in pairs or as a group and form new strategies and games without any input from me. They take on new learning opportunities such as these even in their playtime, when it is too wet or cold to play outdoors.
They thoroughly enjoy our classroom and I feel that together we have achieved a ‘learning is fun’ atmosphere. Every week day I wake at 6am, shower, dress, scull a large caffe latte, take five minutes to put on my coat, scarf, hat and gloves and one minute to walk to Bovolone train station to catch the train that heads for Verona. Two stops and I arrive at Verona Porta Nuova train station and then it’s a twenty minute walk to school. I like walking through the station every morning, past platforms that have trains bound for Bologna, Venezia and Milano, that I can be in and around cities that I used to only experience through photos and movies.
I walk amongst a crowd of teenagers along a street with much too narrow paths and a narrow space between the line of trees and brick wall that turns an almost two-way path into barely a one-way on a rainy day as you run the risk of locking umbrellas like stag antlers. I have moments of feeling like a part of the crowd, as if, I dare say and please don’t cringe too much… sometimes I feel as if I’ve always been here. Me in my scarf, beanie and winter coat, listening to Red Hot Chili Peppers ‘One Hot Minute’ an album from my sixteenth year… I am whisked away to my teenage years and then it occurs to me: ‘I AM youthful’.
Seriously. I feel young and I don’t think that’s going to change. I have absolutely no fear of turning 31 or 32 or 52. It’s all good. I feel happy, at peace and there is nowhere else I’d rather be right now. Of course, I miss my family and friends in Melbourne very, very much. But missing won’t keep in me Melbourne right now. Melbourne is comfortable, easy and secure. I know the streets and love it all. Here, yes I have found some comfort… but it’s not easy. There are still moments of apprehension, doubt and uncertainty. For sure, I had all these feelings at times in Melbourne, it’s not Pleasantville or some kind of Utopian paradise. It’s still as any mode of life. But living in Italy is something I’ve always wanted to do and I’m doing it. Teaching in another country is something I’ve always wanted to do and despite all the odd contrasts and eccentricities, it has been a great experience adapting and getting to know a completely different system.
I could sit here and list all of the negatives but I’m not going to. It will just make me feel tired.
Instead, I’m going to sit and ponder now, without boring you by putting it in print, of all the things that I have learnt that I will take back to Melbourne, whenever that may be…
Vediamo – we’ll see.
It’s not downhill after 30 as I guess is the age old notion that I feel my generation is breaking out of and 30 is the new 20, is it not? It’s a road that keeps going and the way it goes all depends on how you drive and which turns you make.
And choose to remain calm most of the time, if not all.
Ciao for now!