A beautiful Sunday in Melbourne/ Una meravigliosa domenica a Melbourne

Today the sun was shining and the air was crisp, perfect day to go and explore Melbourne, I thought! My idea was welcomed by the entire family and within a few minutes we were in the heart of the city. I sometimes forget what a vibrant and beautiful city Melbourne is. “You look like a tourist”, Julia said. I am a european snob and I realise that I don’t appreciate Melbourne as I should. So why not look at it through the eyes of a tourist? We had yum cha in China Town and then walked up Swanston St. I looked up at the buildings, old churches and modern skyscrapers, creating a charming contrast against the blue sky. Flower beds around the town hall added colour and life to the grey of the street. Today is Refugee Day and the city was celebrating. Wonderful to see and be part of it! We headed to Federation Square, so quintessentially australian and buzzing with life. We looked at some pictures of Australian painters in the Ian Potter Gallery and I stopped in front of an image of a pioneer woman. Her face is sad and thoughtful. How hard it must have been for her, in this far away and inhospitable land. I thought of her and of the refugees. I thought of me and how easy it was to get here, how lucky I am.

Oggi era una splendida giornata d’inverno. Il sole splendente e l’aria frizzante, ideale per esplorare Melbourne! La mia idea e’ stata ben accolta da tutta la famiglia e in pochi minuti eravamo nel cuore della città. Tendo a dimenticare che città vivace e meravigliosa e’ Melbourne. “Sembri una turista!” Mi ha detto Julia. Sono una snob europea e mi rendo conto che spesso non apprezzo Melbourne come dovrei. Così decido di guardarmi intorno con gli occhi di una turista. Abbiamo mangiato ad un ristorante in China Town e poi abbiamo risalito Swanston St. Guardavo gli edifici, vecchie chiese e grattacieli moderni, creano un piacevole contrasto contro il blu del cielo. Aiuole fiorite vicino al municipio aggiungono colore al grigio della strada. Oggi e la Giornata del Rifugiato e la città era in festa. Meraviglioso essere parte di questi festeggiamenti. Abbiamo continuato fino a Federation Square, così essenzialmente australiana e piena di vita. Abbiamo guardato qualche quadro nella Galleria Ian Potter e mi sono fermata davanti all’immagine di una donna pioniera, il volto triste e pensieroso. Quanto doveva essere difficile per lei in questa terra lontana e inospitale. Ho pensato a lei e ai rifugiati. Ho pensato a me e a com’e’ stato facile arrivare qui. Ho pensato a quanto sono fortunata. 

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Discovering Melbourne, one basketball court at the time

I am not a keen driver and I don’t like sport. In particular I don’t like driving at night and sitting in cold (or very hot) venues watching people chasing a ball. How did I find myself spending all my friday nights driving around unknown outer suburbs, searching for basketball courts?

It is well known that Australians love their sports so it did not come as a surprise when my little Australian girl at the age of 8 decided to join her first basketball team. At first it all seemed pretty simple. Nigel loves his sport and he was going to look after this activity, enjoying every minute of it. For me going to the games was optional. I did sporadically attend and I loved watching my little one chasing a ball and occasionally catching it. I had no particular interest in the rules of the game although I was well aware that the aim of the game was to throw the ball in the basket. The extent of my technical knowledge ended there and I liked it that way.

Basketball champions! Their smiles makes it all worth it!

Basketball champions!

When Sofia started as well my attendance grew, but not my knowledge or my enthusiasm for the game itself. If my daughters were on the court I would try to watch but when they were on the bench I didn’t hesitate to find a welcome distraction in chatting and dreaming.

All this happened on Saturday, mainly in local courts and even though, sometimes, we had to drive further away, Nigel was always at the wheel and I did not have to pay any attention to the road. I just sat back and listen to the music.

All this changed when both girls decided to play representative basketball. I had heard of this friday night competition, where venues could be as far as Geelong (another city…on the other side of the bay…over one hour away…) but I never dwelled on it. After all my girls had some italian blood and I was confident their passion for sport wouldn’t extend to friday nights nightmarish crossing of town competitions.

As it often sometimes happens, I was wrong. They did want to play, they loved basketball, they wanted more and more. It was very simple, I had to be a good mother and step out of my comfort zone, I had to drive to unknown places at night. My basketball honey moon period was over, it was time to get serious.

Although I consider myself a pretty adaptable human being, it did take me a few seasons to adapt to my new condition but then, all of a sudden, last year, I found myself looking forward to the beginning of the season. At first I dismissed the feeling. What was I thinking? Long dark roads, wrong turns, panicked phone calls, cold stadiums…did I forget all that? But the closer we got the more excited I became.

Sof had grown into an excellent navigator, and the gps in my phone helped a lot. We still occasionally got lost, but we always allowed plenty of time for unwanted detours and, generally, we arrived to the games on time. In fact I almost enjoyed the challenge of getting somewhere far and obscure. I had learned to dress appropriately to face the arctic temperatures of some courts and to appreciate the coolness of the rare air conditioned ones, in the hot summer nights.

Once again, once I stopped fighting, I had adjusted!

What I did was look at the wider picture. Let’s face it, basketball was never going to do it! I had to dig a little deeper to be able to find pleasure in the experience.

Because Melbourne is so vast, every suburb has a distinctive character. I have enjoyed getting to a basketball court and finding myself in a different world.

On the road again. Week-end bb tournament, finally a bit of day driving!

On the road again. Week-end bb tournament, finally a bit of day driving!

Driving east, through tree lined boulevards and big victorian mansions I walk through the door and find myself surrounded by blond, tall people, wearing classy casual clothes and drinking bottled water.  A true middle class, white, Anglo-Saxon environment and it is here that I really feel like a foreigner.

Crossing the West Gate bridge we drive through big empty roads, bordered by dark factories and smoke spitting chimneys. The west is the industrial part of Melbourne and even if, somewhere out there, I know there are lovely sandy beaches, I don’t see them and I am left with the awkward feeling of being a long way from home. The stadiums are somehow more cheerful, people are louder and more boisterous. I spot ugg boots and tracksuit pants and I smell hot dogs and chips. I feel hungry and on some occasions, I surrender to temptation!

When we head north I feel more at home as I have spent most of my Melbourne life around here. The roads are familiar and I generally know where I am going, which is certainly a bonus. I like the multicultural feel in the stadiums, the accents and the diversity that makes this world less alien to me.

I analyse and observe people, I embrace different worlds, I experience stadium’s cuisine and I develop my driving skills. No wonder I haven’t had time to grasp the rules of the game and learn to score. There is more to my friday nights then basketball!

 

 

Nanny state – Stato tata

In Australia si vive bene. La vita e’ tranquilla, ci si sente sicuri e c’e’ spazio per tutti. Questo e’ risaputo. Ma forse non tutti sanno che parte di questa sicurezza e tranquillità ci viene “imposta” con una serie di regole e regolamenti, leggi e divieti che a volte hanno davvero dell’esagerato e, in alcuni casi, del ridicolo!

E’ opera del “Nanny State”, lo “Stato Tata”, che si prende cura dei suoi cittadini come fossero bambini irresponsabili, avvolgendoli nella bambagia e proteggendoli contro ogni pericolo, attuale o eventuale.

L’Australia e’ l’unico paese, insieme alla Nuova Zelanda, in cui e’ obbligatorio mettere il casco per andare in bicicletta. Anche solo per andare nel negozio in fondo alla strada, con la mia biciclettina da città, con la spesa nel cestino e velocità di poco superiore alla camminata, devo mettermi il casco. Da buona italiana ho provato a ignorare la legge. Fermata dalla polizia e rimproverata per la mia irresponsabilità! Le mie figlie mi avevano già sgridato e mi hanno detto che me lo meritavo. Niente multa per questa volta, ma la prossima volta $57!

Per questo il servizio di Bike Sharing in uso in tutte le città europee e’ fallito a Melbourne. Non molti turisti viaggiano con il casco nella valigia!

Pedoni: marciapiede chiuso, usare l'altro marciapiede

Pedoni: marciapiede chiuso, usare l’altro marciapiede

Da un paio di giorni stanno sostituendo le tubature del gas nella nostra via. Questa mattina il marciapiede davanti a casa era chiuso per questi lavori e un segnale suggeriva ai pedoni di usare il marciapiede dall’altra parte della strada. Io dovevo fare circa 50 metri, la strada e’ molto tranquilla e ho pensato di non attraversare ma passare al lato del marciapiede. C’erano ben due persone incaricate a fermare i pedoni “ribelli”! Una signora in divisa e’ venuta gentilmente a dirmi che dovevo passare sull’altro marciapiede e poi attraversare al semaforo! Nel caso non mi fosse ancora chiaro il concetto, al semaforo c’era un altro lavorante pronto a dirigermi sulla retta via! Tornata a casa ho raccontato a mia figlia che mi ha guardato stupita e mi ha detto: Ma se quella e’ la regola!

Ha ragione ed e’ proprio qui che io, dopo anni di vita a Melbourne, mi sento ancora un pesce fuor d’acqua. Perché le regole sono fatte per essere infrante…o no?

No, qui no. Le regole sono seguite ed e’ forse anche per questo che l’Australia rimane per tanti un paese di sogno. Ma a volte mi dico se in questo modo i cittadini/bambini impareranno mai a prendersi le proprie responsabilità? Se lo stato decide continuamente cosa e’ meglio per noi quando avremo la possibilità di fare quegli errori che aiutano a crescere?

 

 

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.

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!

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!