Of memories, destiny and special places

In the summer of 1989 I was working in a bar on the beach in Italy, feeling a bit restless and wondering what to do next. The past 4 years had been nomadic and quite bohemian and I had loved every moment. Could I keep it up? Was it time to settle and start my life as an adult? I was 24 years old. My trusted companion G., who had followed me on many adventures, had fallen in love and moved to London and I was on my own. What to do?

A phone call came from an american boy I knew, one of those musicians I had met in my time in Paris, someone I wasn’t very close too but he was nice enough. He told me he was in Nice and was going to Thailand for a while. Did I want to go?

Although travelling to Asia had always appealed to me, thinking back I don’t know what pushed me to accept the offer to travel with an almost stranger to a wild and mysterious country. I had some money saved from my summer job and nowhere else to go. I guess this is how I made my decision and bought the ticket.

While I write and wander back to that time another question comes to my mind: Why did D. ask me to go? He was travelling with other musician friends so he did not need the company. I could think he possibly fancied me, but in the week we spent together, often sharing rooms, he never made a pass. And there was never any sexual tension between us.

Our little group left Rome and after a day in the Karachi’s airport hotel (very cheap flight, I guess!) we landed in Bangkok.

In those days I was an avid journal writer and many treasured memories are thoroughly annotated in my little books. So I know exactly when we arrived in Bangkok, on the 28th October 1989. I loved it: “everything is magic, the smiles of the people, the children’s waves, the smells, the incense sticks on house doors, the flowers. Like in a dream…” I write, with the enthusiasm and innocence of youth 😉

I wasn’t too impressed by the travellers in Khao San Road but I had to conclude that I was one of them, after all.

I certainly did have a very romantic nature and while I keep on reading my diary I spot this line: “Will I find the one that I am looking for?” I do not remember that my trip to Thailand was a quest for “the one”, but there we go…I am putting the pieces together 😉 Luckily I have written everything down!

IMG_3096

Here I am, happy and at home in Thailand!

Things between me and the musicians did not work out. I realised very quickly that we wanted different things from the experience and I decided I had to leave their destructive company. We had been in Thailand for one week and were now in Chang Mai. I considered my options.Was it time to go home?

While wondering the streets of Chang Mai, feeling a little bit lost and possibly looking it, I make a new friend. He is catching the night bus to Nong Khai, on the Laos border. He has an appointment to meet the love of his life, a girl he met for a couple of hours in some airport. He kindly invites me to travel with him there. I have never heard of “Laos” but it sounds exotic and I am a sucker for a good love story. I am off east!

IMG_3097

The mighty Mekong

Nong Khai 05.11.89 “I have arrived in the place I was looking for” I write. I might not have found “the one” but it’s a pretty good start! “The river is running slowly and quietly, I like to sit on one of the big bamboo chairs and watch it. I like the music in the background as I look to the other side. I like to think that life goes on and I have decided to take a break”. I had arrived at Mut Mee Guest House. The river is the mighty Mekong and the other side is Laos, so close and yet so far!

I was now officially a solo traveler. My Dutch friend had caught up with his sicilian beauty and they had gone off to start their life together and I felt ready to begin my own adventure. Mut Mee became my home. I travelled around Thailand and South East Asia, but, in the year I spent there, I always went back. Mut Mee was the place I was looking for. I made life long friends, ate lots of banana pancakes and pad thai, watched the Mekong and swam in it, worked and relaxed, smoked a few joints and drank the local whiskey, fell in love a couple of times and, finally, I met “the one I was looking for”. At the end of April of 1990 Nigel arrived at Mut Mee and the rest is history!

IMG_3082

27 March 1990

Why this trip down memory lane now? Well, tomorrow we are going back to Thailand and on Wednesday we will be in Mut Mee. I was there for my 25th birthday and on Friday I’ll be celebrating my 50th!

My life took a different turn in Mut Mee and it will always be a special place. I look forward to share it with our girls, they exist because of Mut Mee 🙂 I look forward to meet my old friends and have my beautiful neighbours with me on such an occasion. I look forward to create new memories!

 

 

Advertisements

Immigrant or expat?

I have always called myself an immigrant. For some reason being an “immigrant” in my eyes had a lot more depth then being an “expat”. Moving to another country as an “expat” felt like a less temporary decision and therefore, a lighter one. Being an “immigrant” gave me the right to carry my suitcase full of sorrows but also provided me a hint of extra courage. By being an “immigrant” I could identify with those first arrivals, coming off boats after days of travelling, carrying all their belongings and looking for a better future. The fact that I arrived with a backpack and after a 24 hours plane journey had little impact on the romantic view I had of myself.

When I started my support group on Meet Up I thought about what term to use: expat or immigrant. I finally decided to use “expat” for a purely “commercial” reason: I wanted to target people who did carry their sorrows but … in a luxury case! Expats who, potentially, could pay for my services as a counsellor. Unlike immigrants who possibly were struggling to make ends meet.

I admit I felt uneasy about my choice of word. In a way I felt I betrayed what I believed and created a group for people I did not relate too, people I could not identify with. I spent some time pondering on this issue and I decided that “labels” were never a good thing. It was best to leave it and take it for what it was, a meaningless word. In fact I thought of bringing the subject up with the group and use it as a topic to discuss in the future.

Then today this article comes up on my Facebook page and it forces me to look at that uneasy feel again and reflect on the fact that sometimes “labels” carry a lot more meaning that we give them credit for. More food for thought.

 

Cultural drinking

My first encounter with a group of rowdy Australians was on the ferry from Ancona to Patras in 1987. In those days my knowledge of Australian culture was inexistent and the three days spent on the deck of the ferry opened my eyes to a world of a group culture I admired and feared. Unruly games, unintelligible jokes, exuberant songs all topped with lots and lots of beer and other alcoholic concoctions. My friend and I watched from the outside but we found ourselves being drawn to this wild, new world and before we new it, we were in it. A gentle soul took us under his wing and became our educator, explaining to us, in very simple english, how Australians loved groups and drinking.

Since I started this blog I have being wanting to write about the drinking culture in Australia. The different approach to drinking definitely classifies as one of the more obvious cultural differences between Italy and Australia but I have been concerned about sounding too critical or condescending in expressing my views.

My family (and possibly my friends too) roll their eyes whenever the subject comes up and I have to admit that I have a tendency to rant about it for a little too long. So this is why I approach this subject with a bit of apprehension and I hope I will do it justice.

That ferry trip came to my mind this morning and it forced me to see the matter with different eyes. The eyes of a 22 years old, discovering a brand new world, where drinking beer meant, beside vomiting off the deck for hours and snogging strangers, a shared experience and an undeniable, if a bit superficial, sense of belonging.

Australians love to identify themselves with their passion for drinking. When I say that I don’t drink people look confused and sometimes disappointed. I used to feel the need to justify myself but lately I just let them draw their own conclusions. I might be a recovering alcoholic or an extremist teetotaller (please grant me the use of this word, ever since I’ve heard it I have been wanting to put it in a written sentence, I wouldn’t dare to pronounce  it though 😉 ), whatever they think I hope it will envelop me in an air of mystery!

The first time Nigel came to Italy we went out to a bar with a group of friends and ordered a beer. Yes…that was it…one beer. Nigel sat patiently waiting for the next round but it never came. We don’t do “rounds” in Italy.

My mum finds this love a beer quite endearing and she never fails to buy a couple of bottles whenever Nigel’s visit. I guess is her way of making him feel at home!

Last year Julia turned 18 and the first thing she did was going to the bottle shop to buy a bottle of champagne. She wanted to have the thrill of buying alcohol legally! She was a bit disappointed because she wasn’t asked for her id.

Growing up in a country where there was never any prohibition I struggle to understand her excitement. We did get drunk at parties but we didn’t have to sneak alcohol hidden in paper bags. 

Drinking is part of every celebration at the end of high school, being the celebration in the morning, afternoon or evening and after exams there is a whole week of “schoolies” when kids go away to a party and, of course, drink.

The first week of university, orientation week, is spent going to barbecues and drinking, on campus, while subscribing to different clubs where you will be able to get, amongst other things, cheap drinks.

I remember women talking dreamily about the glass of wine they will drink when they got home after our morning playgroup meetings and parents laughing amiably at their children’s 18th birthday speeches, while they talked about the great achievement of finally being able to get thrashed in pubs.

It is not uncommon to see people walking with big slabs of beer on their way to a barbecue or a picnic in the park.

From the age of 16 kids find ways to have fake IDs so they can go to pubs and clubs. Most parents know it and give their blessing. I’d like to think that some of these kids want to go to pubs and clubs to listen to bands and dance, not drink. But they can’t do it legally. 

As a 22 years old, Australians and their drinking culture might have had a certain appeal but as an adult I fail to comprehend a society that put such strong rules on drinking for minors while accepting, and on occasions even glorifying, drinking in adults. 

I conclude by saying that this is not a post about “in Italy is better because we do things different”, in fact I am not sure that, having a very different approach to alcohol, the situation is actually better in Italy. In fact I hear the problem of youth drinking is growing.