Burocrazia australiana

Town Hall - Comune

Town Hall – Comune

Per parcheggiare davanti a casa ho bisogno di un permesso ma da quando ho cambiato macchina, cioe’ circa tre anni, non l’ho ancora rifatto. Oggi, dopo due multe, mi sono finalmente decisa.

Ma perche’ aspettare tre anni e due multe? Pigrizia. Non ho altra scusa.

Sono cresciuta in Italia dove le parole “burocrazia”, “comune”, “permesso” portano alla mente ore di coda in uffici surriscaldati, impiegati svogliati e strafottenti e interminabili moduli da riempire. Nonostante siano anni che non frequento uffici comunali italiani, mi capita spesso di ascoltare le lamentele di amici e parenti e mi pare di capire che le cose non siano cambiate molto.

La burocrazia australiana e’ un sogno e andare a fare un permesso di parcheggio non fa che rallegrare la tua giornata!

A mezzogiorno arrivo in comune, entro e mi trovo davanti una bella signora con i capelli rosso fuoco e una ricrescita di due dita. Mi accoglie con un sorriso smagliante e un “Hello darling!”. Ha le braccia ricoperte di tatuaggi all’henné sbiaditi e un modo di fare affabile e disinvolto. Senza accorgermene mi ritrovo a raccontargli delle mie multe e della mia pigrizia. Lei mi rassicura dicendo di non preoccuparmi, si occupera’ di tutto!

Mi chiede la prova di residenza e le passo con orgoglio la bolletta della luce. Mi sento organizzatissima! Ma quando mi chiede la prova che la macchina mi appartiene il documento che le ho portato non e’ quello giusto. La guardo delusa ma mi rendo conto dal suo sorriso che risolvera’ questo problema in quattro e quattr’otto. Sono in ottime mani, mi dico!

Il mio bel Parking Permit nuovo di zecca!

Il mio bel Parking Permit nuovo di zecca!

Mi suggerisce di andare dalla polizia, proprio dietro l’angolo, e di compilare un modulo per dichiarare che la macchina e’ mia. Due minuti dopo sono in commissariato dove un giovane poliziotto mi consegna il modulo e mi rassicura che sono abituati, non avere i documenti giusti e’ apparentemente una cosa molto comune. Non posso fare a meno di notare che ha un orologio di Topolino. Ovviamente non e’ sua intenzione essere troppo intimidatorio!

Torno all’ufficio dove dopo pochi minuti ho il mio permesso. Pago 32 dollari, “Take care, dal!” mi dice la signora. Il tutto si e’ svolto in meno di mezz’ora. Esco con un sorriso sulle labbra e la sensazione di vivere nel paese dei balocchi!

Quando in Australia si andava in nave – Storie di donne migranti

Un paio d’anni fa’ ho trovato un annuncio sul giornale locale: cercasi persona interessata a leggere in italiano ai residenti di una casa di riposo. 

Dopo aver letto per anni libri italiani alle mie bambine, temevo davvero che la mia carriera di lettrice “a voce alta” fosse finita. Invece no! Ogni lunedì ci ritroviamo nel nostro salottino/biblioteca, comodamente sedute, con scialletti e copertine e ci abbandoniamo a storie di guerra e tradimento, amori e passioni, drammi e tragedie!

Queste meravigliose signore, oltre ad essere splendide ed attente ascoltatrici, hanno valigie si storie da raccontare e, puntualmente, riesco a strappare qualche ricordo. Ed e’ da qui che sorge l’idea di raccogliere questi ricordi e trascriverli. Ne parlo con la mia amica Claudia, fondatrice di Expatclic, e mi propone di scrivere un articolo per il sito.

Le mie signore sono subito entusiaste di partecipare al mio progetto ed ecco qui il risultato: QUANDO IN AUSTRALIA SI ANDAVA IN NAVE – STORIE DI DONNE MIGRANTI

Buona lettura!

 

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!

 

 

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!

 

 

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The evolution of language

I am following a very interesting conversation about bilingual children on the Facebook page of Expactclic (a wonderful resource for all expat women and, possibly, men too!) and, as it often happens, it made me realise how much my perspective has changed over the years.

The discussion was started by an italian mother living abroad and wondering (and worrying a bit also) about how her daughter’s italian language and culture will develop and grow.

I remember all too well how I used to be concerned about the exact same issues and went from feelings of helplessness, about not being able to do anything about it, to guilt, for not trying to do something about it.

I knew that, inevitably, my girls were going to be Australian and english was going to be their primary language and I tried to accept this. At the same time I saw parents (with better parenting skills then mine, obviously!)who spent time after school doing italian grammar and I couldn’t help feeling inadequate and a touch guilty.

Nevertheless I did nothing about it. My girls kept talking to me in italian but I never sat down with them trying to teach them the beauty of the subjunctive or the meaning of adverbs and other little grammatical treasures.

I thought of them growing up without knowing the existence of Dante and Manzoni but never mentioned to them the existence of the Divina Commedia and I Promessi Sposi.

I guess I just wanted them the same experiences I had growing up but obviously wasn’t prepared to bring Dante back into my life and sharing it with them!

Was it laziness or was it simply not important enough for me? I imagine it was a bit of both and ultimately they grew up very well and they are caring and intelligent human beings. They can talk to their family and friends in Italy and everyone is thrilled with how they have  mastered the language. They talk in Italian to me and I love that we have this “special” language that is just ours.

I guess I’ve just stopped worrying. I am not sure when this happened exactly, when I left behind helplessness and guilt and started to see my daughters for what they are, individuals with their own experiences and stories.

They didn’t grow up in Italy in the ’70’s and therefore they did not have to sit to analyse sentences and learn poems by heart. But I’ve managed to pass on what is important to me, a sense of belonging to a small town on the other side of the world and the ability to communicate in my mother tongue.

The other day we were in the car chatting and Sofia told me: “E’ ficcato dentro properly? Puoi check?” (Is it in properly, can you check?). I promptly “checked” without thinking twice to what she had just said but I was surprised to hear Julia laugh. All of a sudden the weirdness of the sentence dawned on Sof and I and we all started laughing.

Speaking two languages we always tend to choose what it’s easier, I am aware of doing the same with the girls and with my italian friends, and such mixed sentences are all too common. In this case I think that “ficcato” could be seen as a bit of a slang word, a word that only someone who has grown up speaking italian would use and together with properly conjugated verbs and english words it made for a very complex sentence 😉

Julia wrote it down and I had to share it with you, now it will become immortal!

Dante is possibly turning in his grave but this is a different era and a different country after all!

 

Pubblica ammenda

L’altro giorno, mentre scrivevo questo post e, in seguito, discutevo animatamente con il mio australian marito sull’esagerato intervento dello Stato riguardo l’uso obbligatorio dei caschi  in bicicletta, dall’altra parte del mondo, la mia mamma pedalava pian piano verso casa.

La mia mamma non e’ una ciclista e usa la bici come la userei io, se non dovessi mettere il casco. Piccoli giri nel quartiere, lenti e tranquilli, una pedalata dopo l’altra senza mai cambiar marcia, pensando a cosa cucinare per cena.

Inforca la rotonda che la condurrà direttamente nel cancello di casa ma, un’autista distratta e con il sole negli occhi non si ferma a darle la precedenza e la povera mamma finisce in ospedale con trauma cranico e due costole rotte. Avesse avuto il casco se la sarebbe cavata con un paio di costole rotte e, possibilmente, meno paura.

Ebbene si, ho sbagliato. Prima di tutto ho dovuto dire a Nigel che ha ragione…i caschi sono importanti ed e’ una scelta responsabile dello stato imporli ai suoi cittadini. Mi e’ costato parecchio ma l’ho fatto! E poi ho pensato di informarvi, anche se mi costa fatica, ma penso sia giusto fare una specie di pubblica ammenda.

Nanny State? Yes, please 😉

 

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?

 

 

Passeggiate nostalgiche / Nostalgic walks

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This gallery contains 22 photos.

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