Daily life in Melbourne from a traumatised, returned, Expatriate.
MOVED BY MOOMBA
Moomba is the name of a big, and quite old by our standards, end of summer festival. I am not sure why we have it or what it is linked to i.e. it is not an historic date. It is in my memory from when I was a child as a garish, whacky, nonsensical, almost forced to have fun event that somehow Melbourne felt it needed to have. Probably because every other city has one. I don’t know anything about the name either except that it is an Aboriginal word that I recently read means “up your bottom” and was given to an early white settler when he asked an indigenous dweller what the local language word was for friend (buddy, mate).
So our festival which was supposed to be about friendship, diversity and inclusion is actually an “up your bottom” festival. And I think that name is appropriate. It suits the slightly crazy, break out and have fun mood that the festival engenders. Its irreverence represents distinctive Australian humour, and it is particularly appropriate antidote to Melbourne’s seriousness, self-importance and sense of superiority to every other city in Australia, and now the world, since it was voted “most liveable city”.
As I grew older Moomba became something to avoid, particularly past teenage years and before you had a family, so I sort of lost touch with it. Plus I have lived away for almost twenty years. Last year when we first arrived back I vaguely noticed it and remarked to my Italian husband that maybe we should go to the parade as it is a bit of a Melbourne institution and something all people new to Melbourne should do.
This year my husband started asking questions about something called a Birdman Rally early last week. “Oh that, yeah where people design their own flying machines and then test them by running off the edge of the main bridge over the Yarra River.” My husband’s eyes lit up. I realised that it was probably something you don’t get to see much in Europe. Most of the Birdman Rally contestants end up face down in the muddy, freezing shallow waters after their contraptions, such as 10 metre span wings strapped to their arms or aeroplane style wings strapped to their bodies, begin to fall apart while they are still getting a run-up to the end of the bridge. But occasionally they manage a metre or so before heading straight down. Either way it is a spectacular and exciting event watching grown men run and jump off a bridge desperately flapping their fake wings, and one I recognised as uniquely aussie.
So we went to Moomba this year. For two full days. And loved it! The music, bands, rides, screaming (from people on the rides as well as most of the children), festival food, dancing, water-skiing displays, parades, costumes, demonstrations, crowds, singing and laughing were all greatly enjoyed. Set along the river and backing onto the beautiful Kings Domain it was the perfect venue for a festival. The sun shone, but not too harshly, the toilets were clean and plentiful and there was free drinking water. The crowds felt huge compared to the usual city crowds but coming from Rome they were no worse than the usual Sunday afternoon crowds of Roman citizens out walking in their city. We miss crowds quite a bit so for us it was a bit of a relief to be surrounded by people, jostled, wait in short queues and walk slowly alongside others in remembrance of what it is like to live in a non-Australian city.
On Saturday after the Birdman rally we came across the Greek, Lebanese and Turkish festival of culture and watched entranced as musicians and small dancers filled the stage at Federation Square with a variety of beautiful music. I closed my eyes and listened to the strains of Greek instruments and harmonising and pretended I was back in Santorini our Greek summer holiday destination for the past fifteen years. I felt cut off and sad for my former life that I missed so much and wondered how all the mostly elderly Greeks, Turks and Lebanese must feel.
Most of the dancing was done by children and although most of the audience looked happy and proud (I could tell by the clapping) I wondered why this was. Did it take a generation or two before you could get over the shock or sadness of the events that caused you to leave your homeland, or just the missing of your homeland, before you could begin to incorporate aspects of it in your new one or even face any of it? Listening to the music that had been so familiar to me for the past twenty years and that brought back such happy memories and sense of peace and belonging was tough. I knew I needed a Spanakopita immediately.
On Sunday we wandered over to the music tent after the parade. The music was familiar and so was the guy singing. Its Daryl Braithwaite a fellow listener told me. I quickly gave my husband a run down on the impact of Daryl Braithwaite for Melbourne teenagers growing up in the late seventies early eighties. This was massive! How lucky were we to stumble out of bed, peruse the parade and then languidly make our way over to hear someone I was sure neither of us would know and to find instead a Melbourne icon – a generation definer! (Not to diminish all his current and recent work that clearly makes him contemporary.)
I was not alone. Most of the other people in the tent had tinges of grey if not full grey heads (no Bieber hairstyles in sight), had flesh on their bodies, covered midriffs and sunhats on. Many were accompanied by toddlers in prams with bored expressions or older children who went “muuuuuuuum!” every time she loudly joined in the chorus. And there was Daryl without any fancy costumes or special effects, no gyrating pelvis or abdominal muscles on show. Just a black T-shirt and jeans, with a band, and just singing.
I was with my people. And we all knew the words. Now I was not a big fan of Sherbet way back when (I was and still am an ABBA fan) but when he sang “Howszat” I yelled out the words with the rest of the audience. I sang, I danced and I filled in the words when the band stopped singing and asked the audience to. And I felt like I had found a part of Melbourne that I had left long ago but that was still here. Daryl’s singing welcomed me back and connected me with long ago memories of an original homeland and showed me that my tribe is still here – older, greyer and often disguised by parenthood. I felt my heart begin to open again towards this city and felt that just maybe I could belong again. Just maybe there could be a place for me here again.
Outside the tent people lazed on the grass with no blankets (not done in Europe), members of the public lined up to have a go at swinging on a trapeze high above the ground for five minutes, sausages sizzled and kebabs were shaved. It was a sunny, happy, step-outside-the confine-of your 9-5-life-for-a-day feeling. Just as a festival should do. I saw Melbourne for a minute not as a serious, suit filled, work-oriented, dollar chasing, conforming city with everyone rushing over each other to get the next best opportunity to economically rationalise their existence in order to keep up with everyone else, but as a very ethnically diverse group of people that took time to sing, dance and celebrate. And I felt welcomed back home.
AUSTRALIA IS A MORNING COUNTRY
You know how some people are “morning” people? They have no trouble getting up and can think and operate before midday while others find it difficult to get into gear until the afternoon but can keep going until the wee hours? I think that goes for countries. Australia I have discovered is a “morning” country. It is full of people and places that are loudly operating by the early hours. I have discovered this because I have started work recently and my whole body has been thrown into confusion as I am expected to function at an hour much earlier than I would even have to wake up for my office job in Italy.
When I first arrived in Rome I would often try and get an early start and get to a shop by 9.00am, when they are supposed to open, to be waved sleepily away by a proprietor and told to go and get a coffee. That is if it was actually open. Often I would turn up and thge doors were just beginning to be unlocked. Shop assistants would give me dirty looks as their first port of call was usually the bar (cafe) before the customers. Likewise at the office, scheduling meetings before 10.00am is just seen as bad manners, arrival times prior to that were for breakfast to occur.
Everything is pushed forward a couple of hours in Australia, Melbourne at least, and I am having a hard time adjusting to it. Part of the reason I could stay away for 17 years and thrive is because I found a country that matched my body clock. I could still work, eat, socialise at 10.00pm when I was at my most energetic, offices, restaurants still open and people on the streets in abundance available for socialising. I could eat my largest meal in the middle of the day during my long lunch break when I needed most of my energy. I could wake at 8.00 or 9.00am and have a good coffee made by the Barrista downstairs who knew exactly my coffee order, and munch on a light, sweet pastry for my two second, standing-up breakfast and be on my way knowing that lunch wasn’t too far off and that I had eons of time at the end of the day to get everything done. Shops and offices not shutting until 8.00pm.
I say that my body is in confusion and here’s why. I have to get up and be somewhere before it is light. I barely get a lunch break so I have to force myself to eat a large breakfast during the time my body is usually sleeping, and I have to get it myself. I am expected to think and make decisions during a time when I would usually have been asleep in Italy. Because I don’t get long enough to have a three course sit down lunch I am hungry all afternoon and continually snack until I eat my dinner four hours earlier than I am used to and during the nicest part of the day (early evening) when I am usually shopping or sipping a cocktail. I then have to scurry home as the street lights are far and few between and its dark here, especially when all the restaurants and cafes are closing by 10.00pm to sit around for a few hours and try to amuse myself before going to bed and getting up in four hours.
WHY I NEVER FELT AUSTRALIAN BEFORE
The other day I watched the film “Mad Dog Morgan”, an Australian “classic” film about a free settler that falls foul of the law, and ends up being hunted like a dog and shot. The movie includes a violent male rape scene in jail while the jailors look on, prisoners being tortured with branding irons, butchering of animals, near starvation and misery while living in the Australian bush, degradation of Aboriginies, and finally a scene where the actor thinks he is being eaten alive by his dog.
Most of the characters, and the story, are about men. The women are portrayed either primly sitting at a piano, or serving alcohol with their breasts hanging out. I first saw that movie at school when I was 16, as part of my education; it was hallowed as a worthwhile piece of our history and culture. It upset me as much then as it did now.
I have also just finished ploughing through Capricornia, a novel which has always been described as an important Australian piece of literature. I decided in an act of nationalism that I would read it upon my return to Australia. It consisted of about a million pages of male drunkenness, rape of Aboriginal women, death by starvation or accidents due to drunkenness, misery, ruin, longing and poverty. This time in the desert rather than the bush. Again most of the characters, and the story, are about men. Aboriginal women are traded, tricked, abused and left. White women work in bars.
It made me remember why I never missed Australia, why I could stay away for 17 years without a longing for my country. As a young woman growing up in Melbourne I loved ballet, music, art, clothes, books, reading, museums and history. I had no capacity or interest in any kind of sport. It seemed to me that all the things I loved and wanted to do where done in other countries. It seemed to me that there was no place for who I was, as a female, or as an Australian. In Australia I felt out of place.
Many things about Australia traumatised me growing up. Our flora made me itchy and instantly asthmatic. I needed drugs and creams to go outside. (And I loved being outside.) Our history disgusted and alienated me. It seemed to be made up from a non stop parade of convicts, violence, lawlessness, suffering and testosterone. Nothing else was even part of the narrative. Our sporting culture bored me and ridiculed me because I wasn’t good at it. I didn’t want to be prim and sit in front of a piano all my life, or get my tits out and serve beer. And yet there didn’t seem to be much else on offer.
Today when I look back and reflect on those influences, how I felt at the time, how it alienated me from my country, how I felt that I couldn’t complain or I would be seen as something that wasn’t Australian (un-Australian?) or patriotic or proud of my country. I am angry, sad, and relieved. Angry that it was seen as OK to show a ballet loving sixteen year old brutal scenes of male rape in early Australian jails and women with their tits hanging out in the name of “history”, sad that it made me feel that only outside of Australia would I find my home, relieved that things have changed.
BIG DAY OUT
Woori Yallock is one of those Australian town names that would have my European friends falling about laughing. Until I told them that it was Aboriginal for “sacred kangaroo hunting ground” (it isn’t). Then they would sit up straight and have solemn looks on their faces. Like when I was writing to them about my surrounds here in my new Melbourne suburb and told them that there were fresh water crocs in the Elsternwick Park duck pond. No one queried it.
But Woori Yallock is also the place that we spent the day at, over Easter, as the launching pad (which is the name of the suburb next door), for our first bike ride along the Warburton Heritage bike and walking trail. You can join it at any place from Lilydale to Warburton. We arrived at lunch time to find the hamlet of Woori Yallock in complete Easter shut down. Except for the “Award winning Pies” Bakery.
Delirious with hunger we entered and I was back in my childhood. No soy chai lattes or Turkish pide with organic feta and sun dried tomatoes here. Just pies, sausage rolls, tea and apple slices. All the desserts of my youth, which had somehow disappeared in the inner city suburbs I now live in, were there. Home made vanilla slices, jam and cream sponge cakes, custard and neenish tarts, hedgehogs and jam tarts. As well as dozens of varieties of award winning pies. My Italian husband’s mouth was watering as we ordered our take away sauce to go with them.
We ate our pies on a bench in the sun at the car park entrance to the Warburton Heritage trail. There was even a sign on the track for the Bakery so we felt very clever that we had discovered it on our own.
Our bike ride took two hours in complete sunshine accompanied by loads of other cyclists and walkers. Along the way we saw sheep, ducks, cows, deer, ostriches, emus, horses and pink cockatoos. It’s like a zoo was my Italian husbands comment. Although we went out almost every weekend while living in Rome, and meandered through the local countryside, in 17 years I saw horses once, cows twice and heard what was probably a wild boar in the underbrush a few times. It was an amazing, free, relaxing, easy and incredibly entertaining day out.
THE TASTE OF HOME
Two things happened to me this week to make Transition easier. Firstly I ate a piece of Colombo. Not the Detective, the Italian Easter cake. It was free; they were giving it away at Brunetti’s Italian cafe in the city square. Obviously to promote it. I knew what it was immediately though, wrapped up in its plastic wrapper, in the shape of a dove. My eye then fell on the freebies. I was not their target customer which I think they could guess by the amount of pieces I heaped on my plate next to my cappuccino. It was perfect. Soft, sweet, light dough, more like a bread than a cake, dotted about with candied orange fruit peel, a couple of sultanas and then liberally sprinkled on top with small chunks of sugar and almonds. I was instantly transported back home, to Rome. The perfect taste of the bitter strong coffee, not overpowered with milk, contributed. Then a crow cried.
I was back in a different home. I looked around surprised. I saw a perfect blue autumn sky intersected by waving gum trees, the rigid and familiar lines of the Manchester Unity building and the undulating curves of the cupola on the Town Hall, Victorian architecture I think. Seagulls were gathering in front of me. I was in the centre of a capital city, yet one unlike any in Europe. One that was unmistakably Australian with its unique peacefulness on a Tuesday morning, its flora and fauna still making its mark, and its European connections well and truly rooted and coming through my senses to transport me to other places.
I realised that as much as I had missed Hot Cross Buns over the past 17 years (and I did), for me now, it is not Easter until I taste the Colombo. And then I know there is no going back. No coming back. Hot Cross Buns are never going to have the place in my life that they once did and I am a little sad for that. I didn’t know that leaving would change me so much and make me unable to return unchanged. And I know for the first time now that I will never fit entirely “back in”. That a core of me belongs over there and it will probably never let me go.
Luckily for me there is enough “over there” here. The second thing I did was follow up on a tip. I received it from a woman I sat next to on a plane from Athens to Rome in the middle of last year. I am usually crying on my annual trip home from Athens to Rome. It is the end of my holiday and the end of being with my other love, Greece. This year was worse than usual as I knew I was not only leaving it for a year but possibly many. We were returning to Australia for awhile. Usually I don’t talk to anyone on those trips due to the fact that I am crying. But she was crying too, so I felt that the playing ground was a little more even. She was crying because she was leaving Australia to go and have an adventure and live in Greece (via a short trip to Italy). I felt that we were changing places in the stratosphere.
The thing I was going to miss terribly when we returned to Melbourne, I explained to her during the flight, was the kind of Greek food we were used to on the Greek islands. Little Taverna’s run by families where the mother cooked simple family meals but just made them big enough for whole restaurants. The kind where everything was home made, including the dips, where nothing was frozen, including the sea food, and the vegetables were done in a local way, regionally based, sometimes island based recipes. You’re in luck she replied my mum has just opened such a place. Tell her I sent you. And so we did.
Six months later I am explaining to a Greek woman how I met her daughter on a plane and that all was OK. I needn’t have worried about the fate of my soul sister in opposite. She was already back and welcomed me with a laughing hug. (Gen Y, no staying power.) However she was not exaggerating in her description of the Taverna. Everything was home made, including the dips, everything tasted like it did in the islands. We went with Greek friends and even they were impressed.
I had roast goat with Greek lemon potatoes as only a Greek mama can do, light-as-air fried whitebait, and I ate eggplant (roasted) and feta (fried, and fresh with the local wild chickory – this was an off the menu dish and came as a result of my Greek friend describing it in Greek to my new Greek friend so I have no idea how it was cooked) till it came out my ears. Just as my Greek white wine haze couldn’t get any better, two older men started playing instruments at one end of the room, and then two patrons, also older Greek men, put down their glasses, got up and began dancing.
My GenY soul sister and I looked at each other and we were crying. We were both home.
Restaurant: Mezedakia. Level 1/15-18 Portman st, Oakleigh. 95697665 (Above the Oakliegh Market)
TOP 3 MYTHS AUSSIES HAVE ABOUT THEMSELVES.
I am tired of being told that my life as an Expatriate was not real one, that it was a bit of a fantasy. That now I am “back” I can settle down and begin living life in the real world, Australia. As if somehow all that occurs outside of Australia is unrecognisable and so different to daily life here. In Italy, where I passed most of my time as an Expatriate, I still had to get up every morning and be at work by 8.30am. I still had to do my shopping, cook, get my car fixed, deal with career highs and lows, look after sick friends, go to funerals, have pap smears, water my plants, visit new babies. Albeit sometimes in buildings that were hundreds of years old, and surrounded and reinforced by a myriad of wonderful things that make Italy so sweet to live in.
La Dolce vita was alive and well in my existence as an Expatriate. Going to Tuscany in the Spring, Positano in the early Summer (any later and its too crowded with tourists), Vino Novello in the Autumn, and skiing in the Winter. Not to mention the Greek islands for my holidays every year, and London whenever I ran out of marmalade. Well the fares are so cheap, it cost us more to have tea at the Ritz than it did to fly to London and back. Anyway back to the hard existence of the expatriate.
Realities are funny things. All of us fall foul to fantasies about what our lives are about and what they are not. There are a number of fantasies that I have noticed Australians hold individually and collectively about their lives, and the realities that they choose to live in. These are just a few I have noticed since returning five months ago.
1. The top end of Collins street looks nothing like Paris. Any part of Paris. If you half close your eyes on a cold, gray and rainy day, it could pass for London. In fact a lot of Melbourne city center could pass for London on such a day, while squinting. Our architecture is predominately and unmistakably British and colonial, not European.
2. “Over there” is not so different from here. Australia is not more advanced, or very different, from the rest of the world in standards, processes and procedures in the fields of Banking, IT, Medicine, Human Resource Management and scientific research just to name a few. My husband worked for many years for a multi-national IT company. He managed the internet services on Italian mobile phones for Italy’s biggest mobile phone company. Italians are one of the highest users of mobile phones in the world. At his first work interviewin Australia he was asked questions about details of particular computer configurations. The equivalent of asking a surgeon to recite the names of the all the bones in the foot. Its something that one can easily look up and not an indication of whether some one is a good surgeon. This practice was used however to check that he knew his stuff. He didn’t get the job, although they came looking for him afterwards when word got around about his skill.
3. The rest of the world knows nothing about us. When I first arrived in Italy over 17 years ago, I was desperate for news of Australia. I bought the International Herald Tribune every day for six years. It was the only international newspaper available in Europe and reported on each country in the world, as events occurred that were of world interest. In the six years (1994 – 2000) that I bought the newspaper, there were three articles on Australia, two of them were about the Sydney Olympics. Samoa had more articles written about it during that period.
During the Sydney Olympics a friend showed me a front page article of a national Japanese newspaper. It showed a Japanese athlete holding his gold medal while posing with John Howard. The caption read “Gold medal winner (name of athlete) standing with Olympic official”. During the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympic games the Italian commentator on national television stated that we were called Oz after the famous story of “The Wizard of Oz”.
COFFEES v TURTLES
I used to get annoyed that the rest of the world saw Australia as a big flora and fauna fun park. When I first went to live in Italy, 17 years ago, our advertising campaigns and pitches were basically that. I used to storm about the fact that we also were technically advanced in many industries, our education system was prized, and our arts and café culture – well! Now having lived, and travelled, and worked in most of Europe I can understand what most European visitors want to see and why…….. And that we are an incredible flora and fauna fun park. Any place can do good cafes. And why compete with the places that invented them?
The other day I read an article in the paper about a woman who hosted guests from a Northern European country. She kept referring them to Chapel st, Brunswick st, the lanes in Melbourne city, to see all the great cafes we have. She described herself as being at a loss to give them other places to go, and that they seemed slightly underwhelmed. It is hard when you live in a city to see it from the outside. I lIved in Rome for 17 years and there are places I would never bother to go, but all the visitors do. But I laughed as I read the article and thought about where my European friends would love to go, especially my Northern European friends.
To most of them Australia is a fascinating country of wide open spaces, mysterious animals that sound like myths, plants that they have never seen, beaches that are wider than their own countries, and a lack of chaos and peacefulness that only occurs in their dreams. They would see plants, animals, beaches, parks, gardens and rivers ten times each, per day, for every one café they would be forced to sit in while consuming their excellent coffee, before moving on to their next destination. Most of the places we think of as incredibly daggy, or just not that interesting, are those which are unique, rare, and therefore highly desirable from a European point of view.
For example the Botannical Gardens. I go there a lot since my return. It helps me think and is one of the places most unlike anything I have ever experienced abroad. It is truly an amazing experience. To wander for hours, in the middle of a big city, amidst tropical mini forests, desert “gardens”, lay on gigantic manicured lawns (although technically you are not supposed to do that), sit in sheltered pavilions, marvel at magnificent, tall gum trees, meander along aboriginal tracks, sit at the waters edge, and watch ducks, birds, fish and tortoises, is a unique treat.
Yesterday I stood by the water’s edge and watched half a dozen gigantic tortoises swirl around together, playing just under the surface of the water. They were hanging on to each others tails by their mouths and being carried along, while intermittently breaking the surface to come and look at me. They were joined by just as many eels. I hadn’t seen anything like this in 17 years. By the looks of rapture on the faces of the dozen or so tourists around me, neither had they.
While having the best cappuccino of your life in a Roman café overlooking the Colosseum, may be a world class experience, so was that.
THE AUSTRALIAN BALLET – Girls night out?
As a bribe to myself, and reward for leaving Rome and coming back to Melbourne, I shouted myself a season ticket to the Australian Ballet. I LOVE ballet, watching it, doing it, listening to it, reading about it. I am the ONLY 46 year old in the world I believe who is still taking ballet classes.
So it was with great excitement i went last night to see the Melbourne production of Madame Butterfly at the State Theatre in the Arts Centre of Melbourne. No expense spared, I had selected myself a seat right at the front of the huge theatre, in the centre of the row, and settled down to view a ballet from closer than I have ever seen it before.
I was initially apprehensive about going on my own, but having been a single world traveller for many years I am well and truly over the embarassment of doing stuff alone. Its not a reason to miss out on doing something I love I reckon. Besides which, by now I have figured out many tactics that deflect others from noticing that you are on your own at an event – spending time in the bathroom, texting/talking on the phone, striding purposefully through the crowd towards the bar.
I needn’t have worried. The place was FULL of women, mostly in large groups, I could have been part of any of them. It struck me as I watched gaggles of giggling women from 15 years old to those who needed assistance moving, that I had stumbled on a secret girls night out thing in Melbourne. I heard women greeting each other from across aisles as the first ballet of the season-ticket holders began. I heard others behind me introducing new comers to the established group, explaining that so and so had taken over so and so’s seat and that these seats had been held for years by this one particular girls group.
As I sunk into my plush red velvet seat, I remembered my girlie gang left behind in Rome, and felt terribly sad that we would not be doing our movie, dinner, spa day things again. Being an ex ex-pat is hard enough, having to make new friends etc. but being surrounded by everyone that already has theirs and has had them for years reminds me of what i have given up to come back. Its small things, intangible things like this, rather than the physical differences of being in a different place, that make it really hard to leave a life. Not a large percentage of the population uproot themselves mid life on a regular basis, and so as an ex ex-pat you are in the minority, and on your own alot. Luckily I have had lots of practice.
The State Theatre is rather impressive, very large, and extremely modern looking. (I am comparing it to many State Theatres in Europe, Eastern Europe and Russia remember). It has the usual plush, red velvet curtain and State or Australian motif decorating it. This design is beautiful and so Australian. It has the usual swirly, curly lines framing the curtain which finish in undulating Grecian women surrounding a shield, and the three leafed pointy clover insignia found all over Europe and the Western world. But no one else has a kangaroo that pops up out of all of that, like a stripper out of a birthday cake.
The ballet begins and it is mesmerising. When I first began seeing ballets in other countries I was surprised to discover that I found them technically inferior to what I had been used to. I put it down to national pride. But the experience has been repeated so many times. Each time I watch a ballet that is not Australian (and some from companies that are household names). I am not terribly patriotic, however there is one thing that we undoubtedly kick ass in and that is in our ballet. It is the best I have ever seen, and has retained a standard over a twenty year period (that i have kept count of).
The hairs on my body all stand on end, i feel shivers all over my body, and I am moved to tears often during the performance. The choreography is spectacular and so modern, daring, and HARD. This is one of the only benefits of still being a ballet lesson taker. I know how hard some of those moves are. Almost physically impossible in spite of the way they make it look. My ballet teacher says to me at every lesson “ballet is an illusion, what you are actually doing with your body is different from how it looks”. If she is referring to making the excruciatingly painful look pleasant and enjoyable then tonights performance is spot on.
The principal ballerina’s technique is so good she doesn’t appear human to me. She is the dance. I am lost in it, in their storytelling, in their movement, in the costume and the music (which is Puccinni so of course is wonderful). Because i spend alot of time just watching feet I miss out on costume, sets, and back up dancers. I try to be conscious of this and take them in as well. This ballet is unusual in that is has some spectacular pieces for men to dance. They are not just lifting the girls but actually have some great and long sets just on their own, and there are a number of them. Men’s ballet is spectacular. They can do different things from women dancers because of muscles etc. and these ones put on an athletic performance of incredibly high technical quality.
So I leave my first Australian ballet in a daze and on a high. Proud and drunk on the music and quality of the dancing. I get the feeling that for the others though, that surround me as we make our way out, it is just another night out. Just the usual ho-hum brilliant standard of ballet they are used to as entertainment on a Tuesday night. Sometimes being the odd one out is worth it.
How does one begin to leave such a place? (Especially as I’ve been blogging on about it so long and hard.) Why would i want to leave it? Well they are actually two separate questions.
The answer to the first one I belive is, methodically. I have tried to do it three times previously so I am quite an expert by now which is why i decided to do it differently this time. That is, with much thought, planning, and weekly (sometimes daily) reviews with myself, therapy sessions (truly) and monthly performance indicators which will give me an immediate reading of my willingness/readiness to go ahead. These monthly checkpoints also serve as “pull out points”. I basically have no “no point of return” prior to actually bording the plane. Even if I have already quit my job, told everyone, given notice on our apartment. Given that I have returned already three times in the past seventeen years at great financial and emotional cost I figure that any back down prior to departure is acceptable and easier……………..
But how does it even begin? i.e. whats the answer to the second question? Well its not easy, quick or simple to answer that as there wasn’t any over riding reason to leave, just a build up of little ones. All the same ones that apply to all ex-pats.
I will never be Italian and that means a certain perpetual struggle in daily life that is not present when I don’t have to be continually trying to understand things in a different language, make myself understood, and reign in the part of my personality that is aussie and understood only in context, while beefing up the sometimes alien part of my personality that makes me more acceptable and understandable to those around me.
In addition living in Rome is difficult. It is very crowded, constantly noisy, chaotic, bureacratic and requires a level of constant competition with your fellow Romans for access to anything – roads, supermarkets, restaurants, jobs, hospitals, doctors, handymen, taxies, public transport. Work is sporadic for many people, including me. Our rent payments come to 50% of my husbands income. Housing is as costly as New York or London and mortgages inflexible and lifelong.
Infrastructure and services are low and unreliable – banks loose your money, telecommunications services loose your requests to cut off the service or simply don’t answer the phone forcing you to pay months longer than you want, football matches mean that unofficially buses don’t run, most consumer transactions come with an option to pay less but “under the counter” so that the retailer doesn’t have to declare it. Add to this the lack of green space, beaches, parks, countryside and sky views, ageing parents, a husband that can’t wait to go, and a sense from both of us that life could be a bit more peaceful, prosperous and definitely easier on the other side of the world.
Now I have answered the second question so well, maybe there is no need to read on about how one leaves the Eternal city, maybe its obvious. But what is obvious to me is that this place is my home and has been for over sixteen years now. It is a beautiful, gorgeous city that I love. So leaving is quite hard and quite difficult to actually acheive in my case.
1. The first time I left (after spending a year and a half in Rome) I packed up my worldly posessions and went to London. I had nice aussie flat mates, a great, well paid job, and I lasted six weeks before returning to Rome.
2. The second time I left (after spending two and a half years in Rome), my flat mate gave me such a great goodbye party that she now has a criminal record in Italy and is no longer allowed, by law, to have another party in Italy, ever. And I took the train home. Yes I know I live in Melbourne.
It took a month to get from Rome to Hong Kong by train (after which i gave up and flew the rest of the way), including the Trans Siberian. I wanted to take the longest route possible. It should have been a sign. I lasted three months in Australia before I returned.
3. The last time I left (after 13 years in Rome), I lasted a year and two months but during that time had to have an emergency infusion and flew back for a three week period. When we arrived back in Rome after our 14 month stint in Australia (five years ago), our friends stated categorically that they would no longer be contributing to farewell gifts.
It could have been the fact that I was taking photos of them all at our Welcome Back party with the digital camera they had given us as a farewill gift.
Lets see how attempt number 4 goes………..