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!

 

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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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Celebriamo!

Ho finito le scuole superiori nel 1984, effettivamente e’ passato un po’ di tempo e forse la mia memoria vascilla, ma non ricordo nessun festeggiamento particolare, nessuna cerimonia per segnare questo traguardo. Quello che ricordo invece e’ la scena finale del film Grease e la felicita’ dei protagonisti nel celebrare la fine del loro percorso scolastico.

Julia ha finito la scuola  e la scorsa settimana e’ stata una serie di festeggiamenti, con pic nic nel parco e balli sui banchi (quasi come in Grease, mi piace pensare!), e si e’ conclusa venerdi sera con la cerimonia formale della “graduation”. Mi lamento spesso della mancanza di tradizioni in Australia ma questa abitudine di onorare la fine di un periodo significativo nella vita di ogni ragazzo mi ha piacevolmente sorpreso e riempito il cuore.

La cerimonia si e’ svolta nel comune di Melbourne e il luogo stesso gia’ conferiva una certa solennita’ ed importanza. Non sapevo assolutamente cosa aspettarmi e l’unica indicazione ricevuta da Julia era di prepararmi ad una serata noiosissima. La premessa non era dunque delle migliori!

Devo ammettere che negli ultimi giorni (o forse settimane!) mi sono ritrovata spesso sulla soglia delle lacrime e ho faticato a non abbandonarmi alla nostalgia. Ma sono arrivata a destinazione convinta di poter affrontare la situazione al meglio! La serata e’ cominciata con qualche chiacchiera tra genitori e ho subito notato, con sollievo, che non ero l’unica con gli occhi lucidi. Le mamme di lacrima facile esistono anche in Australia!

Melbourne Town Hall

Melbourne Town Hall

Musica, discorsi, premi vari, il riconoscimento degli sforzi degli studenti, in tutti i campi, dall’accademico, allo sport, al coinvolgimento sociale e, infine, la consegna a tutti i 250 ragazzi di un certificato. Effettivamente, guardando l’interminabile lista di nomi sul programma, l’idea di farmi un pisolino mi era passata per la mente! Invece mi sono persa ad osservare e apprezzare questi splendidi ragazzi, salire sul palco, sicuri, felici, pronti ad affrontare il mondo. La cosa che mi ha colpito di piu’ e’ stata la loro individualita’. Si parla spesso di come gli adolescenti tendano all’assimilazione, seguendo le mode del momento e cercando il piu’ possibile di essere parte del gruppo. Ma quello che mi e’ passato davanti, sul palco del Melbourne Town Hall, era una celebrazione della diversita’!

48 etnie differenti, i nomi nella lista facevano pensare a paesi esotici e lontani…Afendulis, Paraskevas, Khalil-Salib… e l’insegnante che li leggeva aveva un talento particolare per le lingue, la sua pronuncia a me e’ parsa impeccabile! Ma cio’ che mi ha colpito di piu’ e’ stato lo stile individuale di ogniuno dei ragazzi, dai tacchi a spillo, alle scarpe da ginnastica, dai vestiti lunghi, ai pantaloncini corti! Tutti perfettamente a loro agio, tutti assolutamente parte del gruppo.

E tutto questo celebrare si svolge prima degli esami, prima dei risultati finali, prima di aver raggiunto il traguardo! Ne parlavo con la mia amica Annamaria, anche lei reduce di una settimana di festeggiamenti della figlia, e ci chiedevamo il significato di questo “celebrare” prima della fine. Quasi come mettere il carro davanti ai buoi! La risposta mi e’ stata data dal capitano della scuola, una ragazzo molto eloquente e simpaticamente “nerd”, nel suo discorso finale. Anche lui, come noi, si era posto la stessa domanda ed era giunto alla conclusione che l’importante e’ il viaggio, non l’arrivo alla meta!

 

Getting closer, when you are far

When I first left home and Italy I was 20 years old. A friend and I decided to go and spend some time in Paris. My mum was supportive of my decision but, like me, I don’t think she realised I would never come back to live home again. I think she thought I was going on an extended holiday, a little bit of adventure before settling down. In those first few years of my living abroad we didn’t speak or see each other much. I called her regularly but our lives were so different if was very hard to find something to say.

My mum at her happiest, in her garden, with her precious nipotine

My mum at her happiest, in her garden, with her precious nipotine

My mum hates to travel, she loves her home, her garden and her cooking. It must have been very hard for her to accept that her only daughter had no intention of settling down. On the contrary I kept travelling from place to place, living in grotty flats, doing all sort of casual jobs and having absolutely no plans for her future.

When I introduced her to Nigel she had been so worried that I was never going to find anyone who would marry me, that she loved him at first sight! Even if he was a tall, Jewish, Australian boy, wearing thai farmers’ pants and did not speak a word of Italian! I guess she knew by then that I would never go back to live in Italy and the idea that at least I would not move around so much appealed to her. Even if I was going to live in Australia.

Although she does not like to travel she has come to Melbourne many times over the years. She complains about the long trip (but who doesn’t!) and the life style here but she has made the effort and I do appreciate it as it hasn’t been easy for her.

We have had our ups and downs and she wasn’t always accepting of my decision to move and, for years, she found ways of making me feel guilty about having “abandoned” her and I resented her for doing that.

But at the moment our relationship is flourishing and I am thanking Skype for that! It took a while to convince my parents that there was a way to talk and see each other on the computer. They don’t like changes and technology scares them. But once they understood how Skype worked they never looked back.

Selfie!

Selfie con mamma!

My mum and I speak at least twice a week. Often it’s just a quick exchange, a little bit of gossip that she knows I would like to hear or something about the girls. She shows me the beautiful mushrooms she picked in the woods and I show her my bread just out of the oven. Skype has brought a new dimension to our conversations, now is almost like a “dropping in”. I can see what she is wearing and understand immediately how the weather is in Vallecrosia. She can see my new haircut and notice if I have a new top. She can comment on the girls too long hair and too short skirts and, although she is on the other side of the world, they can still experience this delightful aspect of an italian nonna!

I know it won’t always be this easy, my parents are still young and at the moment chatting on Skype is a wonderful way to feel part of their life but once their health will start to deteriorate it will not be enough. For now though, I enjoy this new found closeness with my mum, our laughs and our gossiping on line have become a pleasant part of our week and I am sure we are both cherishing our time together. I often wonder if we could have been this close if I lived next door to her but this, I guess, I will never know!

 

My journey through school – first step, primary school

Here we start!

Here we start!

Julia is about to close a big chapter of her life, her last year of school is almost over. As we are getting closer to the end, I find myself thinking about these years and my journey through the Australian school system. A journey not always easy and at times foreign and unfamiliar but, ultimately, a journey that left me feeling very positive about my daughter’s education.

My journey started at playgroup, when Julia was barely one year old and the conversation between mothers went to what school to choose and…waiting lists! It was one of those “fish out of water” moments that often happens in the life of us migrants and I sat there feeling confused and slightly inadequate.

This is the first big difference between the Italian and the Australian school system. Particularly at a secondary level, parents often choose to send their children to a private school.  Paying to get an education sounded weird enough to me, but paying to be on a waiting list from the age of one was just beyond belief! I decided that day that I was never sending my daughter to a private school and started my “public school” campaign with Nigel who soon turned the corner and became the first in his family to send his children to a public high school!

Area 2

Area 2

Julia’s primary school was local and a bit alternative, it looked like fun and at the age of five, fun seemed pretty important.

I was used to a very different environment and approach. Classrooms, desks with set places, teachers behind a desk, books and daily homework. Spensley Street Primary school had no classrooms but “areas”, desks were used only for special projects, kids usually sat on the floor, no text books and absolutely no homework. Of course I had my moments of discouragement, asking myself if in this environment my daughter was ever going to learn to read, let alone doing anything else vaguely academic. She certainly loved going to school, where she dressed up, talked about her favourite teddy bear in front of a group of attentive pupils and painted fabulous pictures with her fingers. When I asked the teacher when she was going to start reading, she was now in grade 2, the teacher told me not to worry, she was taking all the right steps in that direction and she would get there in her own time. I must admit I wasn’t reassured, seen that some of her friends where going through the first Harry Potter book while Julia had absolutely no interest in putting more then three words together!

Different ways of learning, using floor or desks!

Different ways of learning, using floor or desks!

Needless to say I was wrong and, yes, the teacher was right. She took her time but Julia did learn to read and developed a passion for books and learning in general.

The way of learning is certainly very different to what I was used to. In primary school there are no specific subjects, no history or geography and even maths seemed to be taught in a very “practical” way. I never heard my girls reciting the times tables like I used to do, but somehow they appear to have learned them. There isn’t much memorising involved in the australian system, the learning is done in a more “organic” way, kids are getting there through their own path. It does sound like a lovely way to learn and still I spent years worrying about my girls path to learning. Could they actually become responsible adults without having learned the structure of the Greek city-states???

End of primary school assembly

End of primary school assembly

As we are approaching the end of her school years I am very pleased with what Spensley St Primary school taught Julia. The move to high school went smoothly and she took with her the skills she learned to help her settle in a more structured environment. High school has been another journey, but I will have to write about that some other time!

 

 

 

Am I a European snob?

A few weeks ago I went to see an exhibition of the London Royal Academy of Arts at the Bendigo Art Gallery. Bendigo is an historical town in central Victoria, it was one of the most significant town during the gold rush and there are lots of beautiful heritage buildings that testify the splendour of those early years. The art gallery is well respected and its exhibition are usually very popular and well attended.Unknown

I rarely go to art exhibitions and I am certainly no art critic but I do like some of the English masters and I decided to go and have a look.

The gallery was small and intimate, a few rooms full of people, even if it was only ten on a monday morning, looking with interest at the paintings. I joined the crowd and wandered around the gallery, immersing myself in the atmosphere. I looked at some of the work, I studied the beautiful images and found myself been drawn into the landscapes. I chatted with a lovely lady about the waves and the rough sea represented in one of the pictures. How Frank Cadogan Cowper: Vanity, 1907.real it looked and how you could almost feel engulfed by the water. I thought I was having a good time, enjoying my experience when all of a sudden I started to think: but where are the famous ones? This is certainly not to be compared to one of the european galleries!

And the magic was broken. I became judgemental and quite critical of the masterpieces on display. Only one Millais? I expected so much more. And a whole room dedicated to Australian painters? Why can’t we have more Europeans?

All this chattering in my head interfered with my enjoyment of the exhibition. I looked around a bit more and I left, feeling disappointed and not dwelling for a second on my terrible attitude.IMG_1050

The day after I spoke to a friend who had also been to the exhibition and I told her my thoughts. Her reply made me think: “You Europeans are spoilt, always expecting the Uffizi”. There is definitely some truth in her statement. I was enjoying the exhibition until my expectation changed and I started to compare it to Europe.

Am I spoilt or am I trying to cling on to something I feel I have lost? Or am I simply a European snob?

The block of the blog (Who am I and why am I here)

I want to be a blogger. I’ve wanted to be one the first time I heard about blogs. I love reading people’s stories and I love sharing my own stories. A blog is like sending emails to the world. It is just my kind of thing.

I walk around, living my life and constantly thinking of blog entries. I imagine putting little day-to-day experiences into written words and throwing them into the virtual ocean. A message in a bottle, someone somewhere might pick it up, sometime. I smile at the thought.

But I can’t do it. I have the block of the blog. In my mind it’s all very easy, as soon as I sit in front of the computer with the intention of writing my first blog entry, I freeze.

Why is that? How is it different from writing an email or telling a story to a friend? I will have to spend a bit of time analysing that, trying to come to the bottom of my block. And while I do this…I’ll write.

I like the thought of writing messages in a bottle. Perhaps no one will pick the bottle up and read my note. How does this make me feel? I write because I enjoy writing, I write for myself as in a diary but there is the extra attraction that someone might read what I write. And if no one does? The pleasure is in the writing and the sending it off. Yes, it feels right.

What about if someone picks it up and doesn’t like what I wrote? Rejection, judgement, criticism… it’s all a bit scary for me. Can I pick up the challenge and deal with these scary monsters? Can I feel the fear and do it anyway? I haven’t even read the book!

This time it takes me a bit longer to feel right with it. I want so much to have the ability to accept that not everyone one has to like what I write. But can I actually do it?

Could I use the blog as therapy? I am sure it has been done before.

Could I deal with my issues by writing and learning to accept rejection and judgement and what ever else will come up?

I could work on my blocks and on my blog, sounds like a win win situation.