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…

IMG_3505

…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

 

 

 

 

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.