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!

 

 

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A lot more then grief – losing someone special when you are far

A year ago we were getting ready to go home for Christmas and plans for lunch, dinner and other celebrations were well on their way. I spent hours discussing menus and logistic with my mum and my auntie Anna and I enjoyed the dynamics and little squabbles between the two of them. This is certainly one of the best aspects of living on the other side of the world, things that would be annoying if you were there all the time, become quite endearing!

My Auntie Anna is my dad younger sister and she was only 18 when I was born, the first baby in the family. I immediately became her little doll. We have always had a special bond, she lived very close to us and I spent a lot of time with her while I was growing up. When I was six my cousin was born and perhaps I was a little bit jealous of his intrusion, but she had a lot of love to give and she never made me feel like I was missing out. In fact I embraced my new role as the older cousin and, consequently, Luca and I are incredibly close.

My mum is an only child and my auntie became the sister she never had. Although incredibly different, they shared everything and helped and supported each others throughout the years.

We were due to fly on the 28th of November and I was excited.

On the morning of the 26th I woke up early and I felt uneasy. I am always nervous before a flight and I can’t help becoming extremely tragic minded! I looked at my phone and saw a message from my mum. I couldn’t read properly and I searched around for my glasses but I knew something was wrong. My mum does not send me messages at night, she has mastered the time difference beautifully! It only took a second to get my glasses but I had already started to shake and Nigel woke up to my sobs. My auntie had had a stroke and died.

Ever since I moved here I have been waiting for that call. In my dark moments I picture different scenarios and circumstances. What would I do? How would I feel? It was 6 am on the 26th of November and it was happening. I had lost one of the most important persons in my life and I was on the other side of the world.

It took me only a few minutes to accept that it was real and that I had to act quickly. I called home and someone, I only realise now that I don’t even know who I spoke to, told me that she went for her evening walk and died, looking at the sunset, without even noticing. She just kneeled down and she was gone. She was 67 years old.

I knew I had to be there for the funeral, to say goodbye, and my family knew it too. Although in Italy funerals are often held the day after the death, they promised me they would wait for me. I changed my flight and Sofia told me she had to come with me. I will always be grateful to her for being with me all the way. We flew in the evening and we arrived the morning of the funeral.

In all my conjectures I had never envisioned that there could be something positive coming out of the tragedy. Although I still feel her loss, what happened in the days that followed my auntie sudden departure has left me with a lot more then just grief.

It took only moments for Nigel to step into action and call the airlines to change our tickets, I felt confident he was in control and I did not need to worry about anything. The flight was easy and I cherished the time spent with Sofia. I am not sure why I was surprised that she chose to come with me, I’ve always known how much she loved her Zia Anna but at the time it felt like the biggest present she could give me. When we arrived my brother and my cousin’s son, Lorenzo, where waiting for us at the airport. I had never felt happier to be home, even though it was for such a sad occasion. We all felt the same, we were sharing the same pain and it made me feel lighter.

I had told Sofia about italian funerals, how, unlike in Australia, we go and see the person to say goodbye and it was probably going to be very heavy, dark, sad and emotional. I was quite worried myself. But as soon as I got to the hospital all my worries disappeared. It was sad and emotional but there was no heaviness or darkness. There were hugs and tears, kisses and smiles. The sun was shining and I felt like everyone one there was somehow part of our lives. And there was my beautiful zia Anna sleeping serene, surrounded by love, lots and lots of love. Sofia arrived soon after with Lorenzo and it looked like she belonged there. She was completely at ease, with death, with love, with family.

A year has past and I am about to fly home again. I will be there for a special anniversary, to spend some time with friends and family, to pick up Sofia and possibly to visit some museums and churches! Of course I am still worried about getting that call or that text but I am also confident that I am not alone and I will be there when I need to be there.

Link alla versione italiana Perdere una persona cara quando si e’ lontani 

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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.