A beautiful Sunday in Melbourne/ Una meravigliosa domenica a Melbourne

Today the sun was shining and the air was crisp, perfect day to go and explore Melbourne, I thought! My idea was welcomed by the entire family and within a few minutes we were in the heart of the city. I sometimes forget what a vibrant and beautiful city Melbourne is. “You look like a tourist”, Julia said. I am a european snob and I realise that I don’t appreciate Melbourne as I should. So why not look at it through the eyes of a tourist? We had yum cha in China Town and then walked up Swanston St. I looked up at the buildings, old churches and modern skyscrapers, creating a charming contrast against the blue sky. Flower beds around the town hall added colour and life to the grey of the street. Today is Refugee Day and the city was celebrating. Wonderful to see and be part of it! We headed to Federation Square, so quintessentially australian and buzzing with life. We looked at some pictures of Australian painters in the Ian Potter Gallery and I stopped in front of an image of a pioneer woman. Her face is sad and thoughtful. How hard it must have been for her, in this far away and inhospitable land. I thought of her and of the refugees. I thought of me and how easy it was to get here, how lucky I am.

Oggi era una splendida giornata d’inverno. Il sole splendente e l’aria frizzante, ideale per esplorare Melbourne! La mia idea e’ stata ben accolta da tutta la famiglia e in pochi minuti eravamo nel cuore della città. Tendo a dimenticare che città vivace e meravigliosa e’ Melbourne. “Sembri una turista!” Mi ha detto Julia. Sono una snob europea e mi rendo conto che spesso non apprezzo Melbourne come dovrei. Così decido di guardarmi intorno con gli occhi di una turista. Abbiamo mangiato ad un ristorante in China Town e poi abbiamo risalito Swanston St. Guardavo gli edifici, vecchie chiese e grattacieli moderni, creano un piacevole contrasto contro il blu del cielo. Aiuole fiorite vicino al municipio aggiungono colore al grigio della strada. Oggi e la Giornata del Rifugiato e la città era in festa. Meraviglioso essere parte di questi festeggiamenti. Abbiamo continuato fino a Federation Square, così essenzialmente australiana e piena di vita. Abbiamo guardato qualche quadro nella Galleria Ian Potter e mi sono fermata davanti all’immagine di una donna pioniera, il volto triste e pensieroso. Quanto doveva essere difficile per lei in questa terra lontana e inospitale. Ho pensato a lei e ai rifugiati. Ho pensato a me e a com’e’ stato facile arrivare qui. Ho pensato a quanto sono fortunata. 

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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!

Passeggiate nostalgiche / Nostalgic walks

Gallery

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

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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Time to travel solo!

Sofia, like her sister before her, started her intercontinental travelling very early in her life. The first time she flew to Italy she was three months old and since then she has always been an excellent flyer but a reluctant traveller.

Giochi con il cuginetto

Giochi con il cuginetto

Unlike the rest of her family, she is not interested in visiting new places, she likes Melbourne and Vallecrosia. Home. Over the years she has been happy to stay at my parents’ house while we explored bits of Europe. During our last beach holiday in Queensland she never came to the beach, a beautiful tropical paradise, because it was not Bordighera’s beach, the only beach she likes!

Sof has always known what she wanted and has never been shy to express it! From the moment she could talk she made it clear that she had two homes, her one in Melbourne and her nonni’s in Italy so it didn’t come as a surprise when, at age 12, she announced that at 15 she would go to Vallecrosia with her friend Abby, for a month of the summer holiday. We barely acknowledged her statement, expecting that in three years time she would have changed her mind but we should have known better. Last year, at not quite 15, her and Abby went to spend a month at my parents’ house and had a wonderful time.

Fare i pelati con la nonna

Fare i pelati con la nonna

On Monday Sofia left for Italy again. This time she will be there for three months. This time she went by herself. She is going to school and spending time with her  italian family.

In the weeks before her departure I went through a lot of emotions and different thoughts came to my mind. I have felt incredibly happy that she has such a strong sense of belonging to my home town and my family. When asked what was her favourite thing about going to Italy she said it was her family and spending time with them. Although I have a small family we are very close. I grew up with my beloved auntie just down the street, my grandparents an everlasting presence in the first years of my life, my brother and cousin always available for a new game or a fight. We lived in a small town and were in and out of each others houses all the time. I took all this for granted but Sofia doesn’t. Her childhood in Melbourne has been very different from mine and she certainly has enjoyed every minute of growing up in a big city, with all the opportunity that this has given her. But at the same time she has been able to grow up experiencing a different lifestyle and gaining a different perspective.

Coccole con zio Bigi

Coccole con zio Bigi

While I acknowledge that my childhood in Vallecrosia was pretty idillic, I struggle to see the positives about been a teenager there and I guess this is why I left as soon as I could! But Sofia, at 15, seems to love all the things I wanted to escape from! She loves the saturday night disco, the same disco my mum used to go and I managed to avoid, looking for more “alternative” entertainment! She loves the passion the youths have for trends and brand names printed on t-shirts, making everyone look boringly similar. I was a hippy in the ’80…no wonder I had to leave! She loves the stylish boys, all charm and  good looks who can’t have a conversation that doesn’t involve calcio. Needless to say, I never managed to charm any of those young, beautiful boys and this is why I still resent them and blame them of shallowness! I admit it, Sofia is right when she says I didn’t fit in because I was a loser and I guess I should be grateful she didn’t inherit my wallflower skills!

Shopping a Milano

Beside dancing and picking up boys, Sofia will have to do some learning as well. She will be going to school three days a week to practice her spoken italian and for a few hours a week she will work with a private teacher to master the mysteries of the italian grammar. As next year she will start her VCE (final exams) and she has chosen italian and french as two of her subjects, she is having some french tutoring as well. France is just around the corner after all!

On monday night we took Sofia to the airport and handed her over to the Qantas hostess who would take her across to her plane. There were no tears and, strangely enough, it felt very natural. I remember when the girls were little and we used to talk about the time they would go to Italy by themselves. When I packed huge bags with every possible snack and change of clothes before undertake that never ending flight, I felt like that time will never come. Little did I know, that moment was just around the corner. I don’t miss those interminable flights with toddlers in tow and when I said goodbye to Sofia I felt just a tinge of apprehension about the long flight ahead (well, perhaps a bit more then “a tinge”!).

Buon viaggio, tesoro!

Sofia has arrived safely and she is home. For the next few months I won’t have to pick up her mess around the house and wash her clothes, I will be able to see her and talk to her on Skype but not have to put up with her grumpy moods. I will miss her cuddles and smile in the morning (well…her “good” mornings!) but  I know that she is with people who love her and will look after her just as well as I would. 

I look forward to hear her stories and, perhaps, learn a few tricks about fitting in better. Who knows, I might even join her on the dance floor one day, but she doesn’t have to know this quite yet!

Life in the world’s most liveable city

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City life

For those who haven’t heard, Melbourne has been voted the World’s Most Liveable city by the Economist, for the fourth year in a row.
I wasn’t going to write about it as, in the past few days, it has been everywhere and perhaps everything has been said. In fact, it is impossible not to have an opinion. Today I was thinking about my life here and, I have to admit, I do feel pretty lucky. Melbourne is definitely a very liveable city.

Life in Melbourne is easy. People are generally happy and, on the surface, very friendly. It is not unusual to have a conversation with a total stranger when I walk the dog and shop assistants are, mostly, very helpful and polite. The streets are clean, they feel safe and the traffic is not bad if you compare it to the rest of the world. When you walk around you don’t see much poverty, there are very few beggars and the buildings are well looked after. There are good schools, good hospitals and good all around services.

Inner city street

Inner city street

My favourite thing about Melbourne is the strong sense of community. Even thought it is a very big city I have found that suburbs can have their own individual “village” feel. I guess in my case it started when I had children. In Italy people don’t tend to move a lot and they have  families nearby to provide the support they need. Here a lot of people, like me, has no family around. This is where play groups, kindergartens and schools offer an opportunity to create your own support network. Over the years I have had the previlege to experience the community getting together to support people in need and I have found it extremely powerful and reassuring.

Melbourne nights

Melbourne nights

I live inner city, in a middle class suburb, where people have enough money to own their houses and do big renovations. The local state schools are full of parents wanting to help, they organise fund raising and help with maths and reading. Our kids have access to a lot of resources that kids in poorer, outer suburbs can only dream of. We have a good public transport system, we can get to the city by tram, train and even bus. But Melbourne still doesn’t have a train that goes to the airport and a lot of outer suburbs have to rely on cars to move around.

I have access to good doctors and never have to wait for more then a week if I need to see a specialist. I work for an organisation who supports women who are trying to sort out their life. One of the women I work with has been trying to access some drug and alcohol counselling for the past few months. She is desperately trying to get her life together. The waiting list for rehab is almost a year. The only counsellor we could find can see her every second week, if she is lucky to get a spot, there is no way of booking an appointment. More fundings have been cut.

I doubt she feels like she is living in the world’s most liveable city.

Life in Melbourne is easy. I sometimes feel like I live under a glass bell, everything is beautiful and safe in my world but when I walk outside I realise that, perhaps, there is a dark side even in the world’s most liveable city.

 

 

 

 

In Australia, at last!

Moving on

Moving on

At the beginning of the year I started visiting the guests of a nursing home. They are all italians and I go there once a week to read to them and chat.

For the first few months the residents lived in a small home where the staff was mostly italian and the food was only italian. Whenever I walked in I was enveloped by a comforting smell and it was like walking into my grandmother’s house. It wasn’t a fancy place, the furniture was old fashioned and all the tables had tablecloths on. The home was in a quite pocket of an inner city suburb, not far from where I live.

Most of the residents came to Australia after the war. They travelled by boat, some of them with their families, others by themselves, many are women who did the long trip with their small children. They all left loved ones, familiar places and everything they knew to come to the other side of the world. They didn’t know anything about the country that would be their home but they were brave and adventurous and when they tell me the story of their trip they laugh and make it sound easy, as if it wasn’t a big deal.

I can’t even imagine what they must have felt. Most of them had never been outside their home town, most of them had never even thought there was a world outside their home town. They arrived and started their new life, settled in their new houses, had children, met the neighbours, found a job. They created a community where they were comfortable and they could spend the rest of their life in.

A few years ago they moved to the nursing home. One last move, they thought. It was scary but they soon felt at home, their families are nearby and they drop in all the time, they made new friends and decorated their rooms with the memories of a life time.

Then the news came that the home was closing down. The residents would be moved to a new place. A brand new building, five storey high, not far but on a busy road.

The weeks before the move were very hard. The atmosphere had changed, often I met with only a handful of residents as the rest preferred to sit in their rooms, thinking, praying, crying. There was a lot of sadness and fear of the unknown. The biggest worries were to do with food. Not enough, not good enough, not italian enough!

But the day came and their new adventure began.

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With some of my nonnini

This time the home was not an “all italian” place and they were not happy. And, as predicted, the food was a big big problem. Sandwiches for lunch??? No oil or salt on the vegetables?? Tasteless meat drowned in salty gravy?? This was all too hard to digest!

Of course they took it all in their stride. They are such resilient, wonderful people, they couldn’t let another change get in their way. We  laugh a lot about australians and their cuisine, or lack of. It has become our favourite pastime, forget about the news of the world!

They are adjusting to life in their new home and, after 50 years, they are finally in Australia!