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!

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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!

 

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.