Roman Life

The other day I was stopped on the street by a woman in a floor length, dark fur coat dripping with brooches.  Her ears hung low with sparkling baubles which matched those pinned to her fur hat.

Oh what beautiful earrings you are wearing!

Holding my shoulder, she reached out to touch my simple blue spheres.  She stood close to me and took me in from head to toe with a wide smile on her brightly painted lips, nodding in appreciation and then gasping,

and they match your eyes!

I must admit that I was a little chuffed that someone had appreciated and noticed my well put together outfit, as I usually spend quite a bit of time choosing the exact pair of earrings.  I looked at her outfit, knew I was with a kindred spirit, and knew what my task was.

Thank you.  I was just admiring your beautiful brooch, and how it exactly matches your scarf.

She beamed at me and stroked the gilt star shape she had pinned to her chest.

Well sometimes I am not sure about these things.  But I try to always look my best. I am eighty you know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Italian women are rarely shy with their age.  It was my cue to exclaim that she, ”carried it well”, the best compliment you can give a woman over 50.

Many of my friends from other countries tell me they feel invisible once they turn fifty.

Move to Italy

is always my answer.

Women here are never invisible and never not looked at.  The ages of the men may get older but they never stop looking.  I have lived here since I was 29.  I was not used to being looked at in the full-bodied, appraising, unapologetic, second nature way that Italian men and women look at each other.  I got sick of it sometimes but comforted myself with the fact that it would soon enough be over.  I am now 54.  It’s not over.  And not just because “I carry it well”.  I get looked at the same amount as when I was 29, only the age range of the lookers has changed.  They have aged as I have.  Although not always.  The response “I am old enough to be your mother” didn’t seem to be working so I now say “I am old enough for you to be my second child”.  But sometimes I don’t need to say that at all.

Yesterday I was crossing an intersection,  another woman, slightly older than me was coming in the opposite direction.  As she came closer she held her arms out in an appreciative gesture and said to me “che bella signora”, or “what a beautiful lady”.  I must admit that being called beautiful in the street by random strangers on your way to buy the groceries is something that always puts a spring in my 54-year-old step.  Italians don’t seem to think that only youth have a monopoly on beauty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which is why when I am 80 I fully plan to be wearing floor length (fake) fur coats, bright red lipstick, and as much jewellery as I can attach to myself without falling over.

If you like this blog maybe you would like my Memoir:

Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all Seasons, Melbourne Books, 2013

Available at all bookstores nationally within Australia, FAO Bookstore Rome, and via Amazon, Kobo and ibooks.

http://www.amazon.com/Roman-Daze-Bronte-Dee-Jackson/dp/192212933X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1389659611&sr=8-1&keywords=roman+daze

https://www.amazon.com/author/brontejackson

Click here for a free download of the Prologue and first chapter.

https://brontejackson.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/roman-daze-la-dolce-vita-for-all-seasons.pdf

 

What my dad knew about Italy

What my dad knew about Italy

would not fill a book.  However………..

When I first moved to Rome he began speaking to me in Italian …….

“Where’s the wheelbarrow?”, he would ask, when I phoned him.

“Is it in the elevator?”, and

“Hello, beautiful girl.”

These were the only three phrases he knew and it revealed his history of having worked with Italian labourers on building sites.  (He told me once that what Italians didn’t know about concrete wasn’t worth knowing.) As the Project Manager he needed to be able to ask them these questions  and many of them didn’t speak English.  He also heard them often trying to chat to women passing by.  I never knew my dad could speak Italian, or how much he liked it until I began living there, and he gleefully repeated all his known phrases to me every time we spoke.

My dad first encountered Italy as a young man on honeymoon in the early 1960’s.  He and my mother arrived by ship from Melbourne, Australia, along with hundreds of Italians returning home to look for brides and for family visits.  They docked at Naples.  Dad said he had never seen men cry until that moment.  He said the ship erupted with crying men, hours out of Naples, as soon as they could see land, and that the crying didn’t stop for hours until they docked and were met by crying mothers.  He was very impressed with how manly Italians could be and yet how much they could cry.

As an engineer my dad was very interested in buildings, art, furniture, design.  All the things Italy offered an abundance of.  He and my mother toured around the major cities, he documenting everything in slides – the Duomo in Milan, the Vatican in Rome, the canals of Venice and the Bay of Naples.  His love of design shows through in each of his photographs.

Several decades later when my dad and my step mother visited me once in Rome, we stopped in a piazza in front of the Pantheon, a beautiful, round Roman temple, right in the centre of the modern city of Rome.  We took a seat at an outdoor cafe.  The waiter arrived and my dad asked for a drink I had never heard of and couldn’t pronounce, even though I spoke fluent Italian and he didn’t.  The waiter responded in the affirmative and without a glance backwards took off and brought back what ended up being an alcoholic, cherry liquor in a tall glass with soda water, and a blob of vanilla ice-cream floating in it.   Something he’d remembered that he had drunk last time he was in Rome, in 1960.

He told me that one of the saddest days of his life was after that first trip when he and my mother arrived back in Australia, after spending over six years travelling and working in Europe and Asia  (during which time my brother and I were born in Malaysia).  He loved the influences of Europe and Italy, and felt Australia was very quiet and very far away when he first came back.  He was completely understanding of my need and desire to stay and live in Italy and encouraged me to stay as long as I liked.  He told me that he could walk around a piazza every day and not get bored but that once he had seen somewhere in Australia once it was enough for him.  It never entranced him the way a European city could.  I felt the same.

Growing up I remember Dad was very popular with his Italian employees, so much so that they gave him gifts of live birds, home-made salami’s and other incredibly smelly foodstuffs, cakes, eggs and tomatoes.  Once I came home from school to find mum in a bad mood and a strange Italian bloke in our back yard hammering together a cage for the doves he had brought over for my father.

“What are we going to do with those?”, she asked my father.  “We don’t know anything about birds!”

“It’s a sign of respect, darling.  He wants to give them to me.  I have to accept them.”

Dad provided a huge party for his builder’s labourers at Christmas with as much beer and food as they could eat.  He also gave them money from his own pocket when they needed it.  Once it was to pay the funeral costs of a labourer who had died at a work site he also worked at.  He loved the exuberant hugging and kissing and emotional displays he got included in as one of them.  He never lost his fascination for Italian men and their camaraderie from the moment he had that first experience on the ship with them.

He loved that my Italian husband Alfredo, called him Giovanni (Italian for John), and taught him even more words in Italian.

“How are you?  I’m good thanks, how are you? I speak Italian.  Do you speak Italian?”  He would repeat over and over, every time he saw my husband.  He plied Alfredo with dozens of questions every time he got the opportunity.

“What’s the name of the football team based in Turin?  Where is the city with the round, white houses?  What dialect do you speak?  How far is it from Bari to Brindisi? Do Italians eat much meat?”

He never lost his interest in or passion for history, geography and all things Italian, and treated Alfredo as though he was a living specimen of a culture he found endlessly entertaining and inspiring.  His daughter (me) who was actually a Social Anthropologist he never asked anything of.  I wondered if he knew anything about the depth of my knowledge and association with Italy, the country I had lived and worked in for 17 years.  I sent him postcards and wrote him emails with photos of everywhere I travelled, long before I met Alfredo.  One day he got out a huge Atlas to confirm a conversation we were having, just the two of us, about a certain part of Italy.  It fell open naturally at those pages and I saw inked in lines drawn all over Italy and other places I had visited.  He had traced my journeys and plotted them all on the maps in the Atlas, using the postcards and emails I had sent him.

He understood my need and desire to live there but when I was back in Melbourne, towards the end of his life, he often expressed anxiety at the thought of me returning.  Last year we were shopping for some dinning furniture and took him with us.  We were in an Italian furniture design shop whose headquarters was in the south of Italy, the region Alfredo is from.  As I touched the furniture I sighed and indicated how much I missed it.  He turned to Alfredo and said in a menacing but joking way “No, she is not allowed to go back now.”  My blood ran cold as the thought of disappointing him hit me.  Returning was always an option for me.

My dad passed away 1 month ago.  In those last days of palliative care, I sat and held his hand and looked in his eyes and told him I loved him and heard him say it back.  Whenever Alfredo spoke to him and called him Giovanni, he responded with a smile and tried to speak in Italian back.  I am glad I don’t have to disappoint my dad by returning to a country I love.  I am glad I am now free to go.  And I am glad I returned to Melbourne, to spend these last years with him.

I am glad I inherited his love and passion for travel, for history, for geography and for learning about new languages and cultures and I will always take him with me where ever I go.

Vale, Giovanni, Vale.

 

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‘La Crisi’ or why I love Italians

No one can miss the fact that there is a financial crisis in Italy.  “La Crisi” is spoken about on a daily basis and overheard in most street conversations.  Long after the rest of the world has stopped talking about it, Italy battles on, slowly sinking under the weight of ‘austerity measures’.

Friends of mine with young children, hunker down and hope to wait it out so that by the time their kids need jobs and to leave home, Italy will be prospering once again.

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Those with school or university leavers, say goodbye to theirs.  Young Italians, never big on a ‘gap year’ are fleeing the country in droves.  They go to Australia, UK, Germany and the US.  Many of them miss home, miss their country, are not looking for adventure, but their responses are all similar ‘What is there to do back home?  Sit at home and wait?  Do nothing with my life?’.  Many of them will never return and the loss of their skills, knowledge, university education and endeavour is signficant for Italy now and in the future.

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Daily life is affected by more than just the constant topic of conversation being about how hopeless everything seems and the absence of youth.  Shops and businesses are closing regularly, some of my favourite have already gone.  Jobs, always scarce in Italy, are even more so.  The last week of every month is very quiet as people stay at home due to the fact their household pay packet no longer stretches until the end of it.  Houses remain on the market, empty for years on end without selling, prices for everything have dropped, holidays are simpler and closer to home.

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But watching the morning news encourages and inspires me as I watch every day Italians innovate, struggle, embrace and respond in ever more creative ways to the constricts of their circumstances.  Three news stories have stood out for me over the past month that have made me so proud to call Italy one of my homes and have reminded me of the Italian spirit and tenaciousness in times of difficulty.

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1. A public school in the North of Italy was suffering so badly from government cuts, lack of funding to cover the amount of students requiring an education, and the inability of parents to contribute to buying school books or paying fees so the school could buy supplies, that they decided to produce their own.  The school produced their own text books by writing their own, downloading copy from the internet, printing and producing all the texts required to run the primary and secondary lessons.  Teachers and staff were gleely demonstrating their innovative approach and their self published texts.  Not a scrap of self pity, just shy pride at how they had managed to win against the odds.

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2.  There is one shop or chain of shops that are booming and opening up all over Italy.  Pawn shops and cash converters.  Where Italians used to queue outside shoe stores or designer clothing shops they now queue outside pawn shops.  Most Italians have a prodigous supply of precious jewellery – gold, silver and precious stones are collected from one’s baptism onwards and are seen as a sign of prestige and value on men and women.  But now items worth a couple of thousand euro are being sold for a couple of hundred.  These days three hundred euro can equal a weeks grocercies, petrol and bills for a family and is judged much more valuable than another peice of gold to be worn.  Jewellery can always be bought back once times get good again.

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3.  Yesterday a job was advertised in a hospital for a nurse.  More than three thousand people applied.   Young men and women turned up from all over Italy, travelling for up to a day to sit the entrance exam which constituted the application.  Special buses and excursions were arranged from the south of Italy to take applicants to the North of the country where the job was advertised.  The news report showed a jovial atmosphere of people greeting each other, laughing, and talking together while congregating outside the examination hall.

20130926_111910Viva Italia!

R.I.P. Marco Simoncelli

Italy is in mourning for one of its favourite and daredevil sons, Marco Simoncelli who  died on Sunday during a GP Motocross race in Sepang, Malaysia.  Marco was only 24 and already a world champion.  He had been racing and winning tournaments since he was nine years old.  A flamboyant, exurberant, yet gentle charactor he was well liked and appreciated in the racing scene and out of it.  A close friend, and of similar elk, to Valentino Rossi, the first place Italian motocross racing champion.

It was with a shocked silence and holding our breath on Sunday night that my husband and I waited to hear of how Marco was after seeing the horrific accident that took him off the field just two laps into the race.  His inert body left on the track immediately after the three bikes collided, and helmet that had bounced off were hard to take in.  Shortly after he had been taken off the field the red flags were waved and the race was cancelled.

Commentators were at a loss for words during the seemingly endless amount of time with no news and no racing going on while all of us were hoping against hope that there would be good news.  That his injuries were substantial no one could doubt, but in spite of it being such a dangerous sport, no one is ever prepared for the worst.

Our thoughts go out to his family, friends and colleagues.  A life lived with vigour, passion and joy.  RIP Marco x