My Italian odyssey began when I bought a raffle ticket from a girlfriend at work. First prize was a return ticket to Athens. I won it. That was in 1992. I lived in Melbourne, Australia at the time.
The thing about winning an airline ticket is that you are then morally obligated to use it. Its not so much about the money, as eventually, most people can put away enough to get one. However when you have one that is free and dumped on you, you have to go, whether you want to or not.
I received several complimentary “prizes” at around the same time – a redundancy package from work, a separation from my husband and notice from my landlord to move out of my St.Kilda flat. I had also secretly always wanted to go to the Greek islands, since I was about eight.
And STILL I hesistated. I was a bit scared actually to go on my own. And quite sad from my marriage breakdown. However I figured that I might as well be scared and sad on a Greek island. So I went and planned to be away for about eight months maximum. I did actually consider just going for a weekend, to get it over with, and honestly I always allowed myself that option, to come back at any time. The fact that I felt like my life was in the toilet did however serve to keep me there under some fairly strenous conditions.
The first week was terrible. I fainted and threw up in public from food poisoning and severe dehydration, accidentally threw my VISA card into the hotel trash, realised that i could never carry the amount of weight in my backpack, and showed myself up as a thorough backpacking virgin on numerous occasions. I decided to give up. I had a friend in Turkey working as an undercover missionary and decided to go and stay with him for five months, hide in his house, and pretend to all that I had been travelling. The day before I was due to leave for Turkey, while still in the Greek islands, I met two girls from my home town Melbourne (St Kilda) who were also going. I stayed with my missionary friend three days and then spent the next five months with these girls, and various others, on a truly wonderful journey through Turkey and Greece.
I still go to Greece almost every year. I need to. It refreshes my soul. Both Greece and Turkey have something in the very landscape that touches me so deeply i feel alive in ways i never dreamed possible. I stay on the island of Santorini in the village of Oia. I don’t manage to get to Turkey quite so often these days but sometimes i hear a sound, or smell a smell, and a wave of longing so strong comes over me. I can only go so long without being there. Can one be addicted to landscape? sounds? in a place where one has never lived? Odd.
I am what is commonly known in Australia as a “Skip” or “Skippy”. That is, Anglo-Australian. In spite of Melbourne being the third largest Greek city in the world I can claim no Meditteranean blood or ancestors. No helpful Italian relatives, or language lurking in the background. Nothing to prepare me for what happened when i finally arrived in Rome, after reluctantly leaving Greece behind for the Winter. I fell in love. I fell in love in three days. Not with a man but with the city of Rome. And I have been in love with it ever since.
At first I kept thinking that eventually it would be over. That I would get sick of it and like all loves it would eventually wane. But it just got worse, and it has never waned. Then I thought, “when I stop noticing the Colosseum” I will go back. It still wows me everytime I see it. Sixteen years later. I have also tried to leave several times. Three to be exact. I tried to tell myself each time that it was time to come back to the real world and take up my duties as an Anglo-Saxon. Including one time when I decided I would take a train home to Melbourne. From Rome.
I got as far as Hong Kong. It took one month, cost a lot of money, I was in pretty bad shape upon arrival and most of my clothes smelt so badly they had to be burnt. There wasn’t much food between Rome and Hong Kong in the year I did this, so I was very hungry most of the time and lost a lot of weight. It was also Winter and therefore around 40 degrees below zero during most of the trip. I was also sore all over my body from sleeping in trains most nights. It wasn’t a pleasant journey but the longest one I could take to stall my arrival. It should have been a sign. I eventually flew the rest of the way from Hong Kong, hungry and beaten. It still took me ten hours to get home.
I was back in Rome two months later. So in the end I just gave up and gave in and decided to stay in Rome. And what a wonderful surrender it has been.
I got a teaching job at a University in Italy then with various United Nations organisations that do Humanitarian stuff from their Headquarters in Rome, and the odd bit of consulting for Australian Embassies throughout Europe, Africa and the Middle East. All of this kept me together with my love and gave me time and money to visit my other soul mates, Greece and Turkey, on a regular basis.
Of course now I have another soul mate. We married in 2002. On that day I felt I had won first prize again. I still do. He is from the deepest South of Italy. A place that was originally ruled and populated by the Greeks. We got married at the Registry office, right next to the ruins of a Greek temple.
We live quite close to the centre of Rome, in a neighbourhood that is not old by Rome standards but is very traditional. The picture on the heading of my blog is the view from my kitchen window. Most people speak the Roman dialect rather than Italian. Most families have lived here for generations and are related to each other, or have been friends for generations. It is closely knit and quite difficult for a foreigner to fit in. This suburb was purposebuilt in the 1920’s as an experiment in social housing for the poor. Architectural competitions were held at the time for the apartment blocks and civic buildings such as schools, theatres, community centres, so we have many examples of buildings from the great architects of the time. Ghandi even came to visit in 1920 to see how Italy were caring for and housing their poor.
As a result of its planning this suburb is like a little village in the midst of a busy city which built up around it. There are quiet streets, parks, and communal gardens, wide piazzas, flowing fountains, archways and staircases. It is difficult for people in my neighbourhood to understand why I want to live here. Mostly the traffic has been going the other way as people flee the stigma of social housing and poor suburbs. But I find it enchanting. It is cheap, close to the city, and has strong community values. It is also a Social Anthropologists heaven. All I have to do is sit at my local cafe for a coffee and listen and watch the life around me for endless material to write about, think about, or learn from.
I am a Social Science (in Social Anthropology) graduate with a Masters in Business. Social Anthropology is about how humans atribute meaning to their surroundings. Shared meaning is what we call “culture”. I advise, coach, and analyse organisations, and their management, on how to best maximise strategic processes and management of people to achieve organisational goals. This is a passion for me and I love doing this work and the kind of organisations I work with. But another big passion for me is writing. I have kept a journal since I was eleven years old and wrote my first story when I was seven. Writing helps me relax and keeps me sane. I need to write whenever I am overwhelmed or have new experiences. It empties me out and if I don’t do it, I have stories in my head that nag at me like children until I write them down and get them out.
I like being alone alot, lying down and day dreaming, watching TV, reading, writing, journaling, doing unserious yoga, walking, ballet, travel, and catching up with friends and family over meals. I don’t like cooking, shopping, or being around people all the time. My favourite author is Charlotte Bronte but I am not named after her.
I hope you enjoy my blog and stories about life here in the Eternal city!