For Paris, my heart is aching.

IMG_2176Paris is in my heart. It has been there for so long, I hardly remember a time when it wasn’t. I walked off the train in Gare de Lyon, I was 19 years old, carrying a big pack on my back, I felt strong and free. Finally stepping in the world, Paris caught me in its embrace and never let me go.

I went back after a couple of years, planning to stay forever, even though, at 21, forever is never very long. It was a bitter winter but I learned to love the cold. Our one room studio was dark and small, but I can only remember light and space. And then there were the people. New people appearing in my life, turning into friends, becoming important, opening my eyes, while Paris watched and smiled.

Whenever I go back to Europe, I make sure I can step off the train in Gare de Lyon and every time I feel 19 again, excited and full of hope. I am back, happiness in my heart.

On Thursday I’ll be flying To Paris, arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport. Sofia will be spending a month in Paris, in “my” Paris and I hope it will take over her heart, become that place where it all started. I want her to have a memorable time and come home with her own Paris’ stories. As the date draws closer, I have been getting very excited.

IMG_2659And then it all changed. It started when I read a friend posting on Facebook, to someone living in Paris, “Are you ok?”. In the past few years I have become suspicious of such harmless enquiry. I immediately think: something has happened. But I don’t like this new way of being, this fear that creeps up and makes me look for bad news. I ignored my uneasiness. It was Sofia who told me and I could not ignore it anymore. It was Paris, again.

I feel heavy and confused. I want to know, but I don’t want to know. I want my girls safe by my side, but I want to let them go. I want to be in Paris, but I don’t want to be there.

My girls are starting their life in the world, they are leaving the nest, spreading their wings. I am cherishing every moment of their new found independence, even the fear in seeing them go. But then this happen and is so real, so close, so ultimate and I am questioning everything.

We have to wait and see. It’s all so raw and there is no need to make a decision quite yet.

I am not worried about terrorist attacks. Since 9/11 I am so used to worry, every time I catch a plane, every time I am in a busy street or at a big event. But the worry doesn’t worry me anymore. It’s just part of me and I accept it a move on. I have decided that I am not stopping what I love doing, I have become quite fatalistic and I know I can’t escape when my time will come.

Arriving in a city in mourning, leaving Sofia surrounded by sorrow and pain and not being there to hold her and guide her through it. These are my concerns. I feel that I should be more concerned about her physical safety, that I shouldn’t impose my fatalistic view of the life on her.

My heart is aching, for Paris and for humanity.

Vientiane: Then and Now

A few months ago Paola offered me and the rest of the Expatclic team the opportunity to take part in one of her travel writing workshop. I like to write and I love to travel so I took her up on her generous offer and started on this exciting journey. The aim of the course was to write a travel article to enter in a writing competition. I have never entered a writing competition and I have to admit that the concept was, and is, a bit scary. In an effort to get out of my comfort zone I took on the challenge I loved every step of the process.

Before starting with the writing we had to do some reading. Although I have always been an avid reader, I never paid much attention to the different styles. Under Paola’s attentive direction I learned how to read critically and started to see the difference between show and tell. 

Then came the second, more challenging part, writing my story!

Having just got back from Thailand and Laos, where I hadn’t been for 25 years, I chose to write about Vientiane, using a “before and after” angle. 

I immediately realised, with Paola’s discreet prompts, that I used too many words. No surprise there, I have been told once or twice that I am a tad verbose! I had to start cutting down and dig in the meander of my mind for interesting a descriptive words, in English of course!

This was just the beginning of learning to write in a new style, putting myself in the reader’s mind, all the while staying true to myself.

Then there was the memory part that, for a nostalgic like me, is always ridden with emotions. I looked at old photos, read old diaries, searched deeply for special moments and wrote about them.

Well, there is a lot more I could write about the process of writing, but this was to be only an introduction to my big announcement and I am already approaching the 400 words!

I am very excited to announce that, with Paola’s wonderful advice and support, I managed to write an article that made it to the top ten in the I Must Be Off! Travel Essay Contest. The winners will be announced on September 30 but for now my story has been published and this is so much more that I expected. 

Here is “Vientiane: Then and Now”.

Please go and have a read and tell me what you think. Any hits and comments on the website will help my story towards the Readers’ Choice award, even negative comments count, so please be honest!

Then...

Then…

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…and now!

Our made up wedding

IMG_4202When Nigel and I decided to get married, in my mind I knew exactly what I wanted: a beautiful summer day, lovely little church in my dad’s village, service with meaningful words in both english and italian, family and friends from all over the worlds gathered around us, music, good food…simple and effective!

Of course in those pre-internet days organising intercontinental weddings had its challenges and my dream wedding was perhaps less simple then I expected.

I decided to overcome the first obstacle by choosing to have the reception at my parents farm and letting my mother organise the perfect wedding lunch, involving all the cooks in the village, all somehow related to our family! It was going to be a small affair so I knew it shouldn’t have been too stressful and I trusted her with food!

My task was to find a way to organise the ceremony and this, as it happens, was not very straightforward.

Getting married in a garden, a boat, a beach was a concept totally foreign to me, until I arrived in Melbourne, where all this was possible! The option of having a celebrant to marry you wherever you like was wonderful and, before I knew it, I started fantasising!I I had in mind the lovely little church in the country but somewhere dear to me was going to be just as magic. Vallecrosia’s Comune was not that place and I new it.

IMG_4203But Nigel is jewish and the idea of the little church soon became obsolete.

In the absence of emails I had to resort to the good, old phone. I called the priest from my parents’ parish. I explained in very few words (in those days talking to Italy cost 1 dollar per minute, I had to be brief!) our situation and Don Agostino was almost as excited as I was, he loved the idea of performing an interfaith marriage! He told me that, to be married in a church Nigel would need to sign a form declaring he would bring up his children as catholic. No signature, no church! Don Agostino reassured me that it was just a formality and our children could have been brought up however we wanted. I am sure the bishop wouldn’t have approved but his relaxed approach worked for me and I knew instantly that he was the right person for the job!

Nigel, on the other hand, was outraged by the priest’s lack of integrity and he adamantly refused to sign any such declaration. A different cultural approach: Italian completely relaxed, and even a little thrilled, about breaking the rules, Australian shocked by such suggestion!

On my second call I told the priest that Nigel would not sign and he congratulated me for having chosen such a righteous man.

Nothing could dishearten us and we went on to the second option: somewhere just as magic!

We decided that we could have the ceremony in my parents farm, where we were going to have the wedding reception. Don Agostino loved the idea, at this stage he was really getting into the groove, and he told me that, as a formality (another one!)he had to speak to the bishop but he was sure it wouldn’t have been a problem.

IMG_4181This time it was the bishop to be outraged by such proposal! Don Agostino and I were not discouraged and he came up with an idea: he would perform the wedding wherever we wanted, we could write our own service and we could go to the local town hall to sign the papers.

And this is what we did. My mum organised the food, my auntie the flowers, my cousin the music and my uncle the photographs. A true family affair! Don Agostino ran the service and he promised he would not mention Jesus! He was true to his word, even though the jewish part of the family did not speak italian. We wrote our own vows and our friends and family read meaningful poems and psalms, in italian and english. At the end of the ceremony we stepped on a glass, like in all good jewish wedding. And we were married!

In fact we weren’t. We ate delicious food, spent time with people we love, cried and laughed, danced all night. A truly perfect wedding day but at the end of it we weren’t really married. For that we had to wait a few more days when, with a couple of witnesses, we went up to the soulless Comune di Vallecrosia where we signed our papers.

It might not have been that simple, but it certainly was effective! It was a special day and, most of all, it was completely our. IMG_4204

 

 

 

 

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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

 

 

Passeggiate nostalgiche / Nostalgic walks

Gallery

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Una delle cose che amo di più del vivere lontano e’ passeggiare ed osservare tutte quelle cose che se vivessi sul posto probabilmente ignorerei. Così durante il mio soggiorno ho passeggiato, assaporato, fotografato e riscoperto piccoli angoli. Palme, serre, pietre … Continue reading