Internet friendships

A couple of months ago I watched a movie (Trust) about a young girl who was seduced and raped by an older man she met on the internet. He pretended to be young and slowly made his way into her life, by the time the girl met him in person and realised that he was middle aged, she was too dependent on him to do anything about it.

From Hawaii, Torino and Melbourne we meet in Riccione, with Claudia and Maura.

From Hawaii, Torino and Melbourne we meet in Riccione, with Claudia and Maura.

Of course I felt compelled to talk to Sofia about the dangers of meeting people on the internet. Again! Sof looked at me with a disgruntled look and told me: the only one in this family who meets strangers on the internet is you. You need to be careful!

I dare say she is right. Since my arrival on the big wide web I have met a lot of people and with a few of them I have become good friends. I have been very lucky so far and none of the one I met in real life has turned out to be some kind of creep and after a few emails, sitting and chatting in front of a coffee has felt as natural as if we had always known each other.

It all started when the girls were little and I felt the need to compare my experiences as a mother here, with italian mothers .  I had a solid support network in Melbourne, lots of friends with small children to share the day to day progress of our offsprings and the joy and sorrows of motherhood. So it wasn’t loneliness that pushed me to look on the internet. By joying parenting forum and reading how women in Italy lived such an important time of their life, I found a deeper way to stay connected and keep a stronger sense of belonging. I soon found out that big community weren’t for me and I began one on one correspondence with those women I felt closer to. Needles to say, we found a lot more to talk about then dirty nappies and sleepless nights!

With Carmela, after months of intense correspondence we finally meet!

With Carmela, after months of intense correspondence we finally meet!

I met Carmela who, being married to a muslim man, provided a great opportunity to discuss the relationship with our husbands’s different religious beliefs (Nigel being jewish). Claudia, who was at the time living in Hawaii and had two boys almost the same age as my girls, it was with her that I “chatted” for the first time and I remember spending a New Year’s Eve with her and Angela, in Canada, on icq, well before Skype existed! I met Maura, whom with her five children always finds time to come and see me whenever I am in Italy and Luisa, on the other side of the Ocean, in California, which I know I will meet one day.

These friendships developed through long emails, before Facebook and Skype allowed that instant contact that now we take for granted, and I believe that what we shared in those first few years, in our respective countries, has provided us with memories just as powerful as if we lived in the same town. Whenever our paths cross, virtually or physically, I am filled with the joy and recollection that I get when I meet old friends and I treasure their presence in my life.

Sometimes we cross that bridge, with Elena in Melbourne

Sometimes we cross that bridge, with Elena in Melbourne

Over the years I have kept meeting Italian people on the internet, depending on what phase I am going through in my life. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, a few years ago, I found enormous value in reading blogs of Italian women who where experiencing the same and recently I have had the pleasure of meeting Claudia, who supported me with her professional coaching when I needed a little direction.

Elena is one of my closest friends in Melbourne. We live on different sides of “the bridge” which is almost like living in different countries and we catch up regularly on Skype. We met online a few years ago and after a couple of emails and text messages we decided to have lunch (or was it coffee?) in the city. Sofia was not happy about my unnecessary risk taking. How did I know that Elena was who she said she was? I promised her I would meet her in a public place and I would run if she tried anything untoward. Luckily Elena turned out to be quite harmless and, as Sofia had the chance to experience over the years, a lovely person.

I am aware that I have taken some risks and the internet can be a dangerous and treacherous place but I am also grateful that it has given me the opportunity to meet a lot of wonderful women which I hope will be in my life for ever.

 

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Long distance friendship across time

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Shopping in Freemantle

I met Fiona in 1990 in Kota Bharu, Malaysia. I walked into Mummy’s Youth Hostel, tired after a night bus trip, and there she was. I think we became friends the moment we introduced each other because from that very moment my life has never been without her.

Fiona worked at the hostel in exchange for bed and board, I was just passing through, not really sure of where I was going. We spent about a week together in Kota Bharu, eating at night’s markets and laughing a lot, then we went our separate ways.

I was looking for a photo of the two of us at that time but I could not find one. I was a bit surprised but then I remembered that in those days (yes, I am one of those “vintage” traveller, I have to accept the fact!) taking photos was not that easy. You actually had to carry a big, chunky camera with you and then, once you took your photos, you had to find a cheap place to have them developed and you had no idea of what you were going to get! No previews and no deleting the duds, sometimes you even had to wait for a few days and then you got your precious little parcel of memories.

I like to think that we knew we would have plenty of opportunities to take hundreds of photos of us over the years. And we did indeed!

Fiona and I have never lived in the same city but for a few months we both lived in Europe, her in France and me in Italy. This was as close as we ever were. It was then that we decided we should try and meet in different places, explore new parts of the world while we caught up. And we did. We met in Paris and London, in Bali and Perth, Singapore and Melbourne and we explored lots of different places together.

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Posing in Singapore

Over the years of our friendship Fiona lived in different countries and I met Nigel and moved to Melbourne. We often didn’t see each other for years but we wrote long letters, with pen and paper and stamps. Our stories were travelling around the world in white envelopes or aerograms (does anyone remember those?) occasionally we even sent tapes and I still remember the excitement at every delivery.

Then we moved from letters to faxes. I remember the day Nigel came home from work with Fiona’s first fax. She only wrote it the night before, almost instant, almost magic! But the problem with faxes was that the print would faint after a few years, I never really warmed to the idea that Fiona’s precious words would disappear. Luckily faxes were soon replaced by emails. Now this was a true step forward and it was instant and certainly magic!

In the last years our communication has evolved yet again and we don’t have to write anymore. We can Skype and Viber, new words meaning we can talk and even see each other while we have our coffee in our different countries.

Fiona is living in Singapore now, only seven hours flight from here and only two or three hours time difference. We are on the same side of the world and it is wonderful to have her so close.

When we meet we talk and talk, usually non stop, jumping from one story to the next without really making much sense. Our days together have always been joyful and our separation never sad.

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Singing in Melbourne

As a romantic teenager I read Illusions by Richard Bach and, although I am usually terribly at remembering quotes, one line of this book got stuck in my head: “Can miles truly separate you from your friends? If you want to be with someone you love aren’t you already there?”. My friendship with Fiona is summed up in this one quote. I never really miss her, because she is never really gone.