Once a country girl, always a country girl!

Although I escaped from my small, l provincial town as soon as I could, in the past few years I have become nostalgic for all those country town things I ran away from! I blame it on middle age and I have decided that it’s easier to embrace it, then deny it. I convinced my reluctant family to buy a holiday house in a small country town and three years ago we

Friends and music

Friends and music

became the owner of a cute, little miners cottage in Maldon. The day we took possession of our cottage the neighbours came to say hello over the fence. I immediately liked them. Two lovely ladies, Sandy and Leslie, retired school teachers, who welcomed us and filled us in with some local knowledge. While I was talking to them my friend Susan, who leaves only 30 minutes away, came to visit and when Sandy and Leslie saw her they recognised her immediately, they used to be Susan’s high school teachers! I knew instantly that this was my kind of town. Connections, networking, people who knows other people business and yes, a bit of healthy gossip as well!!

A few weeks ago, with Sofia away and Julia old enough (and very willing!) to be left alone, Nigel and I went to the house, him for the week-end and me for the week. A blissful week of country life!

My china cups and plates

My china cups and plates

In my bucolic dreams, I see our little cottage filled with friends dropping in and out, endless cups of tea (I only drink tea in Maldon, I have my beautiful china cups bought on ebay and lots of cute tea pots!), evenings by the fire and meals shared in our cosy kitchen. I see myself becoming part of the community, people saying hello in the street, neighbours stopping by and endless hours spent to potter and watch dvds of tv series I missed out on.

I am happy to say that my week in Maldon was exactly like my dream! When Nigel left on sunday my friend Carol arrived. We live on different sides of the city and we rarely see each other so having three days to spend with her was a real treat. Being English, Carol appreciates the importance of “oldness” and we both immersed ourselves in the old world charm of the town and the house. We read our books in the garden, chatted, sewed (well, Carol did shorten some jeans for me and she taught me how to use the machine so, when she left, I made a cushion’s cover!) and, of IMG_2206course, drank tea from my lovely cups! In order to follow my dream about being part of the community we attended a yoga class at the Maldon Neighbourhood Centre. The class was in an old church and there were only five other women. When we walked out we started chatting and I found out that one of the women was an Italian teacher at the community centre! A lovely australian lady with a passion for Italy and the italian language. We exchanged phone numbers and she dropped in a few days later for a chat and…a cup of tea! We talked about the possibility of me going to some of her classes and about organising italian movie nights and spaghettate with her more advanced students!

Yoga class

Yoga class

I caught up with Susan in a nearby town and had lunch in a cafe’ I had heard it was owned by an italian man. And so I met Luca, from Biella, not far from where I am from. We talked and talked like I can only do when I meet a fellow italian! Fast and loud, sharing personal details of our lives in a far away country, becoming instant friends and, promising, of course, to meet for dinner soon!

My network is growing very fast, I feel more and more part of this community and I love every minute of it! When Carol leaves, my neighbour Leslie calls me over our shared fence and she invites me for dinner that evening. And so I find myself eating a beautiful meal of asian fish and old fashion Eton mess, hearing all about life Maldon, a life I feel like I can relate to, a country life.

Eton Mess

On thursday I wake up realising I still haven’t finished watching the first series of Offspring and I only have a day to go! Where is the time gone? So I have breakfast in front of the tv and leave a couple of episodes for my last night. Then I wander into town for a massage, after all this is my dream week and I always have a massage in my dreams! My other neighbour, Maree, knocks at my door before dinner, she has bought an old piece of material in France, to make a curtain but the piece does not fit any of her windows, would I like to have it? An old piece of linen from France can certainly find a place on one of our windows, or door.

I leave on friday afternoon and, as always, I am already planning my next trip. As I drive home I think of my week and all the weeks to come and I feel extremely lucky and privileged to have the ongoing opportunity to be a country girl again.

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Time to travel solo!

Sofia, like her sister before her, started her intercontinental travelling very early in her life. The first time she flew to Italy she was three months old and since then she has always been an excellent flyer but a reluctant traveller.

Giochi con il cuginetto

Giochi con il cuginetto

Unlike the rest of her family, she is not interested in visiting new places, she likes Melbourne and Vallecrosia. Home. Over the years she has been happy to stay at my parents’ house while we explored bits of Europe. During our last beach holiday in Queensland she never came to the beach, a beautiful tropical paradise, because it was not Bordighera’s beach, the only beach she likes!

Sof has always known what she wanted and has never been shy to express it! From the moment she could talk she made it clear that she had two homes, her one in Melbourne and her nonni’s in Italy so it didn’t come as a surprise when, at age 12, she announced that at 15 she would go to Vallecrosia with her friend Abby, for a month of the summer holiday. We barely acknowledged her statement, expecting that in three years time she would have changed her mind but we should have known better. Last year, at not quite 15, her and Abby went to spend a month at my parents’ house and had a wonderful time.

Fare i pelati con la nonna

Fare i pelati con la nonna

On Monday Sofia left for Italy again. This time she will be there for three months. This time she went by herself. She is going to school and spending time with her  italian family.

In the weeks before her departure I went through a lot of emotions and different thoughts came to my mind. I have felt incredibly happy that she has such a strong sense of belonging to my home town and my family. When asked what was her favourite thing about going to Italy she said it was her family and spending time with them. Although I have a small family we are very close. I grew up with my beloved auntie just down the street, my grandparents an everlasting presence in the first years of my life, my brother and cousin always available for a new game or a fight. We lived in a small town and were in and out of each others houses all the time. I took all this for granted but Sofia doesn’t. Her childhood in Melbourne has been very different from mine and she certainly has enjoyed every minute of growing up in a big city, with all the opportunity that this has given her. But at the same time she has been able to grow up experiencing a different lifestyle and gaining a different perspective.

Coccole con zio Bigi

Coccole con zio Bigi

While I acknowledge that my childhood in Vallecrosia was pretty idillic, I struggle to see the positives about been a teenager there and I guess this is why I left as soon as I could! But Sofia, at 15, seems to love all the things I wanted to escape from! She loves the saturday night disco, the same disco my mum used to go and I managed to avoid, looking for more “alternative” entertainment! She loves the passion the youths have for trends and brand names printed on t-shirts, making everyone look boringly similar. I was a hippy in the ’80…no wonder I had to leave! She loves the stylish boys, all charm and  good looks who can’t have a conversation that doesn’t involve calcio. Needless to say, I never managed to charm any of those young, beautiful boys and this is why I still resent them and blame them of shallowness! I admit it, Sofia is right when she says I didn’t fit in because I was a loser and I guess I should be grateful she didn’t inherit my wallflower skills!

Shopping a Milano

Beside dancing and picking up boys, Sofia will have to do some learning as well. She will be going to school three days a week to practice her spoken italian and for a few hours a week she will work with a private teacher to master the mysteries of the italian grammar. As next year she will start her VCE (final exams) and she has chosen italian and french as two of her subjects, she is having some french tutoring as well. France is just around the corner after all!

On monday night we took Sofia to the airport and handed her over to the Qantas hostess who would take her across to her plane. There were no tears and, strangely enough, it felt very natural. I remember when the girls were little and we used to talk about the time they would go to Italy by themselves. When I packed huge bags with every possible snack and change of clothes before undertake that never ending flight, I felt like that time will never come. Little did I know, that moment was just around the corner. I don’t miss those interminable flights with toddlers in tow and when I said goodbye to Sofia I felt just a tinge of apprehension about the long flight ahead (well, perhaps a bit more then “a tinge”!).

Buon viaggio, tesoro!

Sofia has arrived safely and she is home. For the next few months I won’t have to pick up her mess around the house and wash her clothes, I will be able to see her and talk to her on Skype but not have to put up with her grumpy moods. I will miss her cuddles and smile in the morning (well…her “good” mornings!) but  I know that she is with people who love her and will look after her just as well as I would. 

I look forward to hear her stories and, perhaps, learn a few tricks about fitting in better. Who knows, I might even join her on the dance floor one day, but she doesn’t have to know this quite yet!

I am Italian again!

My italian passport expired years ago and I have never found the courage, time and patience to renew it.

We all know how italian bureaucracy can be a tad complex at times, therefore a trip to the Italian Consulate in Melbourne could potentially become a bureaucratic nightmare.

But where there is bureaucracy, there is a way to avoid it and, as all good italians, for years I had found a way to do so and still keep my passport up to date. I had “conoscescenze“, a friend who worked at the consulate and sorted out all my italian citizenship needs. Then, unfortunately, he was posted somewhere else and, with him, I lost all my privileges. My passport has being lying dormant since 2007.

There is no practical reason for me and my daughters to have an italian passport, we can easily travel with our australian ones but I like the idea of being able to go to Europe as a european and, this year, I decided I was going to renew our passports.

The first step is to make an appointment. I knew it might take a few months so, knowing that Julia will go to Europe next July for a gap year, I was very organised and went to make our appointments a few weeks ago, in August. There are option for single citizenship and double citizenship and the website kindly state that there might be a few months waiting for people with the double citizenship. First appointment …august 2015…in one year time!

I tried to call to ask if she could have an earlier appointment as she was planning to leave in July next year. But at the Italian Consulate they don’t answer phone calls. I emailed but I received an auto reply stating that the Italian Consulate doesn’t reply to emails. The appointment is the only way in!

A friend, italian of course, told me: no problem, just pretend to have only one citizenship. I followed her advise and yesterday I went to my appointment.

I did feel a bit nervous as, in my many years down under, I have become very good at respecting rules but I did feel entitled to be heard and I walked confidently to the counter. No one asked me about my double citizenship and before I knew it I was given some forms to fill and I was in! IMG_2168

The man across the desk was friendly but I immediately felt guilty and told him my secret. I had lied, I did have an australian passport but my daughter…He didn’t let me go any further and assured me there was no problem. He explained that as people with a double citizenship can use the australian passport to travel, they give priority to the single citizenship ones. It made perfect sense.

I had my old passport, I had my driving licence, I had my photos and my money (no credit card accepted!). I ticked all the boxes. Or so I thought. What I did not have was my husband’s permission. I haven’t asked my husbands permission for anything since…I guess I never did! Luckily I wasn’t the only one to find this a bit ridiculous, the kind man smiled and blamed our homeland bureaucracy and we laughed amicably and knowingly. He told me Nigel could print the form from their website, sign it and email it to me now. At my strange request for his permission to get my passport Nigel did not ask any question but I did hear him giggle quietly on the other end. He knew better then to make any comment. Needless to say, he did give me his permission and I came out with my brand, new passport!

Walking back to my car I thought about my morning. It hadn’t been as frustrating or time consuming as I thought it would be. I thought about the strange and apparently meaningless request, the rules that are there to be broken and the formal but conspiratorial attitude of the men working there. I had spent a morning in Italy, without even living the country!

Getting closer, when you are far

When I first left home and Italy I was 20 years old. A friend and I decided to go and spend some time in Paris. My mum was supportive of my decision but, like me, I don’t think she realised I would never come back to live home again. I think she thought I was going on an extended holiday, a little bit of adventure before settling down. In those first few years of my living abroad we didn’t speak or see each other much. I called her regularly but our lives were so different if was very hard to find something to say.

My mum at her happiest, in her garden, with her precious nipotine

My mum at her happiest, in her garden, with her precious nipotine

My mum hates to travel, she loves her home, her garden and her cooking. It must have been very hard for her to accept that her only daughter had no intention of settling down. On the contrary I kept travelling from place to place, living in grotty flats, doing all sort of casual jobs and having absolutely no plans for her future.

When I introduced her to Nigel she had been so worried that I was never going to find anyone who would marry me, that she loved him at first sight! Even if he was a tall, Jewish, Australian boy, wearing thai farmers’ pants and did not speak a word of Italian! I guess she knew by then that I would never go back to live in Italy and the idea that at least I would not move around so much appealed to her. Even if I was going to live in Australia.

Although she does not like to travel she has come to Melbourne many times over the years. She complains about the long trip (but who doesn’t!) and the life style here but she has made the effort and I do appreciate it as it hasn’t been easy for her.

We have had our ups and downs and she wasn’t always accepting of my decision to move and, for years, she found ways of making me feel guilty about having “abandoned” her and I resented her for doing that.

But at the moment our relationship is flourishing and I am thanking Skype for that! It took a while to convince my parents that there was a way to talk and see each other on the computer. They don’t like changes and technology scares them. But once they understood how Skype worked they never looked back.

Selfie!

Selfie con mamma!

My mum and I speak at least twice a week. Often it’s just a quick exchange, a little bit of gossip that she knows I would like to hear or something about the girls. She shows me the beautiful mushrooms she picked in the woods and I show her my bread just out of the oven. Skype has brought a new dimension to our conversations, now is almost like a “dropping in”. I can see what she is wearing and understand immediately how the weather is in Vallecrosia. She can see my new haircut and notice if I have a new top. She can comment on the girls too long hair and too short skirts and, although she is on the other side of the world, they can still experience this delightful aspect of an italian nonna!

I know it won’t always be this easy, my parents are still young and at the moment chatting on Skype is a wonderful way to feel part of their life but once their health will start to deteriorate it will not be enough. For now though, I enjoy this new found closeness with my mum, our laughs and our gossiping on line have become a pleasant part of our week and I am sure we are both cherishing our time together. I often wonder if we could have been this close if I lived next door to her but this, I guess, I will never know!

 

My journey through school – first step, primary school

Here we start!

Here we start!

Julia is about to close a big chapter of her life, her last year of school is almost over. As we are getting closer to the end, I find myself thinking about these years and my journey through the Australian school system. A journey not always easy and at times foreign and unfamiliar but, ultimately, a journey that left me feeling very positive about my daughter’s education.

My journey started at playgroup, when Julia was barely one year old and the conversation between mothers went to what school to choose and…waiting lists! It was one of those “fish out of water” moments that often happens in the life of us migrants and I sat there feeling confused and slightly inadequate.

This is the first big difference between the Italian and the Australian school system. Particularly at a secondary level, parents often choose to send their children to a private school.  Paying to get an education sounded weird enough to me, but paying to be on a waiting list from the age of one was just beyond belief! I decided that day that I was never sending my daughter to a private school and started my “public school” campaign with Nigel who soon turned the corner and became the first in his family to send his children to a public high school!

Area 2

Area 2

Julia’s primary school was local and a bit alternative, it looked like fun and at the age of five, fun seemed pretty important.

I was used to a very different environment and approach. Classrooms, desks with set places, teachers behind a desk, books and daily homework. Spensley Street Primary school had no classrooms but “areas”, desks were used only for special projects, kids usually sat on the floor, no text books and absolutely no homework. Of course I had my moments of discouragement, asking myself if in this environment my daughter was ever going to learn to read, let alone doing anything else vaguely academic. She certainly loved going to school, where she dressed up, talked about her favourite teddy bear in front of a group of attentive pupils and painted fabulous pictures with her fingers. When I asked the teacher when she was going to start reading, she was now in grade 2, the teacher told me not to worry, she was taking all the right steps in that direction and she would get there in her own time. I must admit I wasn’t reassured, seen that some of her friends where going through the first Harry Potter book while Julia had absolutely no interest in putting more then three words together!

Different ways of learning, using floor or desks!

Different ways of learning, using floor or desks!

Needless to say I was wrong and, yes, the teacher was right. She took her time but Julia did learn to read and developed a passion for books and learning in general.

The way of learning is certainly very different to what I was used to. In primary school there are no specific subjects, no history or geography and even maths seemed to be taught in a very “practical” way. I never heard my girls reciting the times tables like I used to do, but somehow they appear to have learned them. There isn’t much memorising involved in the australian system, the learning is done in a more “organic” way, kids are getting there through their own path. It does sound like a lovely way to learn and still I spent years worrying about my girls path to learning. Could they actually become responsible adults without having learned the structure of the Greek city-states???

End of primary school assembly

End of primary school assembly

As we are approaching the end of her school years I am very pleased with what Spensley St Primary school taught Julia. The move to high school went smoothly and she took with her the skills she learned to help her settle in a more structured environment. High school has been another journey, but I will have to write about that some other time!