Life in the world’s most liveable city

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City life

For those who haven’t heard, Melbourne has been voted the World’s Most Liveable city by the Economist, for the fourth year in a row.
I wasn’t going to write about it as, in the past few days, it has been everywhere and perhaps everything has been said. In fact, it is impossible not to have an opinion. Today I was thinking about my life here and, I have to admit, I do feel pretty lucky. Melbourne is definitely a very liveable city.

Life in Melbourne is easy. People are generally happy and, on the surface, very friendly. It is not unusual to have a conversation with a total stranger when I walk the dog and shop assistants are, mostly, very helpful and polite. The streets are clean, they feel safe and the traffic is not bad if you compare it to the rest of the world. When you walk around you don’t see much poverty, there are very few beggars and the buildings are well looked after. There are good schools, good hospitals and good all around services.

Inner city street

Inner city street

My favourite thing about Melbourne is the strong sense of community. Even thought it is a very big city I have found that suburbs can have their own individual “village” feel. I guess in my case it started when I had children. In Italy people don’t tend to move a lot and they have  families nearby to provide the support they need. Here a lot of people, like me, has no family around. This is where play groups, kindergartens and schools offer an opportunity to create your own support network. Over the years I have had the previlege to experience the community getting together to support people in need and I have found it extremely powerful and reassuring.

Melbourne nights

Melbourne nights

I live inner city, in a middle class suburb, where people have enough money to own their houses and do big renovations. The local state schools are full of parents wanting to help, they organise fund raising and help with maths and reading. Our kids have access to a lot of resources that kids in poorer, outer suburbs can only dream of. We have a good public transport system, we can get to the city by tram, train and even bus. But Melbourne still doesn’t have a train that goes to the airport and a lot of outer suburbs have to rely on cars to move around.

I have access to good doctors and never have to wait for more then a week if I need to see a specialist. I work for an organisation who supports women who are trying to sort out their life. One of the women I work with has been trying to access some drug and alcohol counselling for the past few months. She is desperately trying to get her life together. The waiting list for rehab is almost a year. The only counsellor we could find can see her every second week, if she is lucky to get a spot, there is no way of booking an appointment. More fundings have been cut.

I doubt she feels like she is living in the world’s most liveable city.

Life in Melbourne is easy. I sometimes feel like I live under a glass bell, everything is beautiful and safe in my world but when I walk outside I realise that, perhaps, there is a dark side even in the world’s most liveable city.

 

 

 

 

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The language of others

For years I struggled with my accent and the fact that I would never, really, linguistically belong here. If I had to make a formal phone call I would practice what I had to say, worried that the person on the other end might not understand my accent or that I would make a mistake. When I met someone new I always felt a little bit of apprehension about the way I talked, nervous about not being clear enough or sounding a bit “funny”.

Finally I accepted that my accent was here to stay and told myself that I never have a problem when people speak italian with a foreign accent. On the contrary, I love the fact that they made an effort to learn and often the accent makes them sound a lot more interesting. I told myself that if I felt this way possibly some people would feel the same about my accent and I stopped worrying.

Nevertheless there are still a lot of occasions in which this language tricks me and I find myself wondering if I will always completely master some of its subtleties and stop sounding weird, funny, cute or simply incompetent!

One of my biggest problem has been mastering the dreaded “H” at the beginning of words. In italian we don’t have words starting with “H” and when we do, it is silent. It sounds strange but generally I don’t actually hear the “H” at the beginning of a word. To me “armless” sounds just the same as “harmless” and this is why, when my dear friend Christian pointed out that I wrote in one of my posts about my “armless friend” it took me a while to understand what his problem was! Then I had to laugh, particularly when I realised that I never new “harmless” had an “H” and, being a word I use regularly, I wonder what people have made about all my “armless” statements over the years!

ghostbuster-logoBesides the pronunciation problems I often bump into other small obstacles. They are often in the form of “misunderstood words or sayings”. I hear them, I like them and I make them mine. The problem is that what I hear is sometimes not what has been said. Only recently, chatting with Julia in the car, I used what I always thought was a great word “the booze buster”. In my mind this has always been the police bus that checks if you have been drinking. I imagined it had something to do with the Ghost Busters and loved the humour in it. Police busting those drink drivers! Obviously I have managed to hide my mistake for years and was only when Julia started laughing at something that I thought wasn’t at all funny I had to come to terms with the fact that…there are no “booze busters” but only very boring “booze buses”.

There are many of these incidents but for now I just want to share the joy I felt a few weeks ago when, during an aqua aerobics class, jumping at the sound of Abba in the pool, I heard the lovely Martine behind me singing “wanna do”. A kindred soul who, like me before her, had no idea that the song was actually “Waterloo”!

I guess my family and friends have stopped correcting me (but not laughing at me!), and they just accept that this is the way I speak so the fact that I am now writing this blog in english hopefully will help me modify some of these awkward slip-ups!

I have thought about having someone else proof-reading my posts and editing when necessary, as very tactfully suggested by Christian, but I came to the conclusion that what I write here is who I am and, although I will try not to make too many grammatical mistakes, I will have to accept that this blog has an accent and a lot of “misunderstood” words. However please feel free to come forward and let me know if anything I wrote sounded funny or out of context, it was possibly one of those “Hs” gone missing! 

Old stones and new perspectives

Old, dark and beautiful

Old stones, in Italy

I love old stones. I love the history in old stones. I love the smell and the feel of old stones. When I go back to Italy I walk in the old, narrow streets and try to soak in all that oldness, an overdose of history!

I forgot when this love started but I do tend to believe that it must have something to do with my moving to a country where everything is new.

Little by little those stones that had appeared simply “old” when I lived there, acquired a new charm, became the staff of dreams! I dreamed of an old house built of old stones, dark and possibly damp! I felt that I needed a place where I could escape all this light, this clean and modern environment where I ended up living. I pined for oldness. It became one of those many things I simply couldn’t live without and I added it to my list of regrets and reasons to be unhappy.

Years later it came to me that I needed to look at what I had, not what I had left behind. This is not to say that I had to forget what I had left behind but simply accept that, for the moment, I had to be happy without old stones!

Old furnitures and things

Old furnitures and things

With my new found attitude I looked around me and realised that there is history, oldness and plenty of dampness in Australia. On a sunny autumn day we went for a drive in the country and arrived in Maldon, not exactly a medieval village, but a lovely gold rush town, founded in 1854. As old as it gets in these parts of the world.

Maldon looks a bit like a town in a Western movie, big open roads opposed to the narrow streets of my dreams but I love the fact that time seems to have stopped here. There are lots or tiny miners cottages and even some beautiful mansions but none of them have big extensions and big glass windows.

So now I have my beautiful piece of history. Our little miner’s cottage was built in 1867, in timber not in stone but there are stories in its walls and I believe the people who lived here over the years have left something of themselves. Everything in the cottage is second hand, either donated by generous friends or brought at local and city op shops. Objects and furnitures that bring more stories to our little home.

Old keys, collected by my mum

Old keys, collected by my mum

Our cottage is a mixture of us and all the people who lived here before us. Often, when friends come to stay, they bring old things they found in their back shed or even in their parent’s. Everything finds the right place and it immediately belongs. Or I like to think it does! My mum, in Italy, is always on the lookout for little treasures, like old keys (easy to post in the mail!), and I love the fact that I have my grandfather camera hanging on the wall, next to a globe bought at the Salvation Army down the road. This cottage is becoming full of our stories too. I had to compromise a bit and swap timber for stones but I am getting used to the smell of it, the feel of it, to its warmth. It won’t replace the old stones, but it doesn’t need to. Next time I’m in Europe I know where to go to get my regular refill!

In Australia, at last!

Moving on

Moving on

At the beginning of the year I started visiting the guests of a nursing home. They are all italians and I go there once a week to read to them and chat.

For the first few months the residents lived in a small home where the staff was mostly italian and the food was only italian. Whenever I walked in I was enveloped by a comforting smell and it was like walking into my grandmother’s house. It wasn’t a fancy place, the furniture was old fashioned and all the tables had tablecloths on. The home was in a quite pocket of an inner city suburb, not far from where I live.

Most of the residents came to Australia after the war. They travelled by boat, some of them with their families, others by themselves, many are women who did the long trip with their small children. They all left loved ones, familiar places and everything they knew to come to the other side of the world. They didn’t know anything about the country that would be their home but they were brave and adventurous and when they tell me the story of their trip they laugh and make it sound easy, as if it wasn’t a big deal.

I can’t even imagine what they must have felt. Most of them had never been outside their home town, most of them had never even thought there was a world outside their home town. They arrived and started their new life, settled in their new houses, had children, met the neighbours, found a job. They created a community where they were comfortable and they could spend the rest of their life in.

A few years ago they moved to the nursing home. One last move, they thought. It was scary but they soon felt at home, their families are nearby and they drop in all the time, they made new friends and decorated their rooms with the memories of a life time.

Then the news came that the home was closing down. The residents would be moved to a new place. A brand new building, five storey high, not far but on a busy road.

The weeks before the move were very hard. The atmosphere had changed, often I met with only a handful of residents as the rest preferred to sit in their rooms, thinking, praying, crying. There was a lot of sadness and fear of the unknown. The biggest worries were to do with food. Not enough, not good enough, not italian enough!

But the day came and their new adventure began.

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With some of my nonnini

This time the home was not an “all italian” place and they were not happy. And, as predicted, the food was a big big problem. Sandwiches for lunch??? No oil or salt on the vegetables?? Tasteless meat drowned in salty gravy?? This was all too hard to digest!

Of course they took it all in their stride. They are such resilient, wonderful people, they couldn’t let another change get in their way. We  laugh a lot about australians and their cuisine, or lack of. It has become our favourite pastime, forget about the news of the world!

They are adjusting to life in their new home and, after 50 years, they are finally in Australia!