Since Saturn Returned.

“If you’ve spent your twenties in a fog, coasting on your youthful charm, it becomes obvious that your foundation is too flimsy for the long haul. (…)The Saturn Return is a wake-up call, and this is why so many fear its sobering realities.”

That’s from astrology.com

It’s winter again. Though every season has its beauty, winter brings a dark and heavy energy. It seems that there are not enough hours in the day, and that’s because there aren’t, so why is the night so short, then?

I’m not depressed, It’s Saturn Return. That’s where Saturn floats back to wherever it was when you were born and shakes you senseless for a few years before you just get on with it again.

I am a textbook example of the first Saturn Return. The other day Salva told me about another something amazing an older friend of ours was doing and my first (private) thought was that he is just trying to sculpt himself into a perfect human before inevitable death. I had a kid in my mid twenties, but really made motherhood official with my second at 27. That was the year we moved to Australia. Then the year of 28 was just really dark and awful. It was because of money, illness, Saturn and winter, which just goes too hard, too long around here.

Winter brings stress, puffy eyes, racks of clothes damp for days. This year, it brought a bulldozed backyard full of mud and a lot of frustration.

I fold summer dresses and tiny cotton t-shirts into suitcases and they feel cool and damp in my hands. I close my eyes and imagine that warmth I feel every time I notice their bare little brown limbs after having kept them covered for a while, and try to remember exactly the way the air in the other hemisphere smells at this time of year.

Sweat, sunscreen, coffee, cigarettes, carbon monoxide from vespas left running.

A mouse runs over my foot. We’ve tried everything, from traps, to this contraption you plug into a powerpoint that emits a really high frequency noise. They live here, with us in this home. Filled with music and inscense and coloured flags, is this stupid house with its holes and damp corners. We are emptying it. Box after box, carloads out to our friend’s house to store our things.

Leaving again.

The door at the apartment in Valladolid was the deadlock kind, that would just slam locked behind you. We never locked ourselves out, though our neighbour Candy did once, and Salva helped her break back in, picking the lock with one of those soft plastic egg flips that are designed not to scratch tefal. In Melbourne, strangely, our front door closed the same way. So when I left that house, with the keys in my hand, I inhaled deeply and stared down the hall until the door slammed in my face, and suddenly there I was. The family in the car out the front, my body aching from scrubbing and my hands dry and cracked from jif. Conscious of the space where my boy was born down that echoing hall, oddly void of emotion about it all.

Just get out of here.

We just want to leave this home behind now too which is sad in a way.

Actually I have never wanted to leave a house so badly. There are memories here, and we chose it with such love. Now our backyard is a sea of mud and building material in which our house is a cold and lonely island. Now we just want to be out, with our belongings stored safely and nothing but our suitcases and the summer sun.

The days flick by and I imagine a snapshot of each one in my imaginary instagram feed. A video of myself in uggboots and a beanie, standing at the deli counter at the supermarket swaying to Will Smith’s ‘Gettin’ Jiggy wit it’ and laughing inside, because pop music is the true measure of age. Trying to avoid squeezing my eyes shut in panic as I open a bottle of champagne with clients after selling a painting.

What, this? I do this every day… twist… ‘pop’.

My real instagram feed is just as boring but in a different way.

In a few weeks it will be filled with beautiful scenes from the other side of the world. In a few weeks our boxes will be packed and our bodies will feel light. We’ll be working hard still, but in a different, better way. The way where you drink wine at lunch and write stories all night.

But every day until then counts and is just as beautiful, even if it’s shit.

That is something I´ve learned, since Saturn returned.

Winter

It was so cold today, and it was a work day, so I went to buy some soup at the health shop at lunch. Marrakech Carrot.

I waved at the woman in front of me at the counter. I’ve never had a hairdresser before, but here I’ve found one with a bright smile and purple pixie cut, and I will be forever loyal.
Winter. We are in it. It doesn’t get any darker than this. She said.

Only lighter from here on in, though. I said, and added, I’m coming to see you soon.

And I went on to explain how I would be leaving for three months in August for the other side of the world where we would leap into summer, and I would need her, through hair styling and long conversation, to help prepare my transformation into my summer self.
She told me she would look forward to it and we parted ways on the street as I walked back to work in the icy wind.

I’m putting aside all the boxes in the storeroom because I need them at home to pack up and store our belongings.

It will be strange to leave this green house. We are going away, but the landlords were going to move in anyway. They live interstate, and from there they directed the destruction of our backyard. Once a lovingly-crafted, buddhist oasis, it now boasts a shed that could house a small plane in my least favorite colorbond colour (dune). Somebody lovingly landscaped our yard, putting plants into the ground, imagining the day when the shrubs would unite and the garden would be lush. The grass is now mud and cement, and I try not to think of that person on their hands and knees.

It is a strange thing to make your home in someone else’s investment, and live with someone else’s choices,though it is strange to own land at all.

According to my father, Hemingway once said that everyone should own land to grow their own potatoes. The land is dormant now but when we come back in Spring it will be time to plant.

Happy Solstice.

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We buy what we can not make, make what we can not buy.

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Here’s a story about a tradesman that came to our house and went into fight or flight mode when finding goat remains strewn around our back yard.

When we were living in Seddon and I was about 7 or 8 months pregnant with Ravi, the brick wall in our back yard started falling down. So the real estate agent sent someone around to put up temporary wire fencing around that corner of the yard, and the grass started growing up behind it until it was as tall as then two-year-old Coco. That solution wasn’t really satisfactory.

The terrace house we were living in had been renovated with a glass french door looking out over the back yard. The brick wall, when standing, offered privacy from the lane. So as I set up my birth pool, I watched people walk or cycle by. When it came time to get in that pool, we lit candles, folded towels, and… ran outside to hang a large sheet over the fencing so that we didn’t end up on youtube. The backyard was completely north-facing and had the best soil in the world. It was our first real veggie garden, and we barely spent a cent on food over the warmer months, which is just as well, because living in Australia is extremely expensive.

We’ve always been thrifty, because we choose to work in really low-paid professions, but around that temporary fence time was when we started really scrimping and saving and buying only what we couldn’t make, or grow in the yard. I had all these dreams about what our new life in Australia would look like. A beautiful house and amazing veggie garden. Warm weather. Few expenses. Heaps of opportunities and free time. In that first year, one part of that dream came to fruition, and I guess we’re lucky it was the part that kept our bellies full.

Actually at that time, Salva’s band was just starting out, and we were also paying city rents, and living on Salva’s part-time research work. So Salva had decided to offer frame-drum workshops, teaching Melbournians the rhythms of southern Italy (like Pizzica), and it went really well. Only he realised as soon as he started to offer the classes that no-one owned the traditional tamburelli and that it would be impossible to import them from Italy since they are made with goat hide that would never be allowed through customs.

That is the story of how the man who finally came to remove his temporary fencing found it hung with goat hides.

I admit I wondered how our precious time could be better spent as we visited tanneries, halal butchers and djembe makers, searching for goat hides. I admit I became exasperated when Salva used the babies bath to soak one in lime.

Here we are though, a year on, and he’s made quite a few beautiful drums for people, and looking at Ravi play one the other day, I realized how much symbolism they hold.

They use a part of the animal that would normally be discarded. They are round like the full moon, representing female fertility and they are used in that earthy, sweaty dance ritual that is an antidote to poison. Now that we live in the country we’ve been gifted deer and other roadkill which will change the sound and identity of these beautiful handcrafted instruments. They take on a new meaning again.

But for Salva that meaning is clear. As he explained to the tradesman packing up his temporary fence, ‘we couldn’t buy them, and so we’re making them.’

He nodded, packed up his fence, and drove away.

Stories of a Catholic Education.

HAyley Zonta“Do you remember…” she giggled, and before she could even finish I started feeling the laughter bubbling up inside me. I guess this is partly because her laugh is so infectious, and partly because my history with this particular friend, who I´ve known since we were around eleven years old, is pretty much based on cracking each other up. Now we are mothers, nearly thirty, but our conversations have barely changed.

“…When we had that ‘girls’ meeting in the library and Mr. E talked to us about what colour bra we were allowed to wear under our uniforms?” 

I did keep laughing, but my face was screwed up in disbelief as I scanned my memory for that moment. It was there, I remembered the moment, but I couldn’t find any emotions filed away with it. My friend and I were part of the first group of girls admitted to an all-boys catholic school during it’s transition to co-education. Now, as I look back on that time, the transition was obviously a difficult one. The vice principal at some point found it necessary call a girls meeting in the library. The librarian was also there. She happened to be female, and was made ‘girls co-ordinator’. She had a stash of pads in her desk drawer, and if we came requesting them, she’d also write a note to get us out of P.E.  I made liberal use of both of these services. I was the type of girl, (and continue to be the type of woman), who for some reason has trouble managing the bleeding.

As I searched the inside of my brain these things came back to me. My skinny, 14 year old self in my awkward and extraordinarily ugly school uniform. We wore what the boys had always worn, white shirts and green ties, but instead of their grey slacks we were given knee-length skirts with grey opaque tights. The shirts had obviously been made with cheap material. When wet, they became completely transparent, and surprisingly, the only times I’ve experienced being drenched by a water fountain or once, an entire bucket of water, occurred whilst enrolled at that school.

Even dry the shirts were’t as opaque as the tights, which is why the meeting had been called.

Bras should be white, or skin-toned. First of all, we should all have been dressed exactly the same. Neatness and learning to follow the rules are the reasons for enforcing a uniform (not, as we were lead to believe, to eliminate the competition and elitism associated with free dress).

Secondly, though we might be settling into a new school, it was important that we realise that we, the young women, were directly responsible for the misbehavior of the boys who had been there for years. They were speaking up in class, making wolf calls across the quadrangle, hanging out of classroom windows because they were trying to impress us, you see.  That’s just the way boys are. If we took responsibility, things would improve, and we could start with our bras.

The bras that we were all so desperate to begin wearing at twelve and already sick of at fourteen, that by some miracle managed to survive second-wave feminism.

I can’t remember how I felt as that message was relayed to me, but as I reminisced I looked across the room at my friend, and laughed away with her. I do genuinely find the thing wildly funny despite being so sad. I thought about my four-year old daughter and the way school continues to come up in conversations that I just keep pushing aside.

I haven’t made up my mind whether she’ll be going to school at all, but if she does, I may have to join the Parent Committee to introduce a dress code policy:

Item 1.1 “Her underwear, her business”.

Forty

In August of 2008, I returned to Puglia. I’d visited before, but that summer of 2008 was when the place became a part of the family story. It was when I took on the role of daughter and sister-in-law, when I learned how to make orecchiette. In other words, 2008 was the year shit got real. My time in Alto Salento has brought me many frustrations, but I have only fond memories of that first year.

My mother-in-law kept kissing me and thanking me for making her son so happy. One evening S went out to play a gig and at the last minute there wasn’t space for me in the car. So I stayed home with her and she ordered a pizza. We ate it out on her balcony where the night was dark and quiet but the air seemed still impossibly warm. She kept giving me her homemade limoncello (of which she never personally drinks a drop) and believe me, those tiny glasses add up.

It would be a few more years before I really felt part of the family but I did start to get to know everyone that summer. One morning Salva and I were drinking coffee at the table while his mother bustled around the kitchen shaking her head about her eldest son. “Quarant’anni persi!” (forty wasted years) was just one of the insults she was muttering at Salva’s absent older brother. When I heard that, my eyes widened and I burst into laughter until we were all doubling over. It turned out the poor guy had just forgotten his keys.

I’ve been calling my brother-in-law quarant’anni persi since that day, but Salva has been talking about turning forty pretty much since we first laid eyes on each other. “You’re lucky to be so young…I’m nearly forty” he’d say when he was thirty-five, and I would tell him that he was not, he was still thirty-five (wasted) years old, and who cares anyway and could he please just talk about something interesting or shut up.

Suddenly we had two children and moved to Australia. Then one day he had a long tour booked with his band, I was organizing my own escape to my parents’  place at the beach and when booking return flights, I had to consider being home in time to celebrate him turning forty.

On his birthday we drove down to the beach where he gave a tarantella workshop to an entire primary school and they sang Happy Birthday to him in Italian. I watched him look out over the crystal water from the cliffs above, and tried to imagine what it feels like to turn forty. For someone who has been apprehensive about the day for the past five years, he looked pretty happy to me.

Then on the weekend we had a party. I had to work until 5pm but when I got home I looked around at the people in the room, kissed everyone, and fell on the couch exhausted.

The instruments came out for the third time that day, and as rhythm filled the room I looked around at where the sound was coming from. A friend from Valladolid who we’ve known since we first got together, was playing a fork and cheese grater. A new, local friend we’ve seen just a few times was sitting on the couch with one of Salva’s handmade frame-drums. Guitars were being played by many, including a friend from Venezuela. Emiliano, who is from Argentina was one of the first friends we met when we arrived two years ago. He plays in Salva’s band and he was there, playing my charango (as though it were easy).  Salva’s best friend was there. He is from Argentina too and they’ve known each other for nearly twenty years. Mito was improvising, singing in Portuguese and probably his native Cabo Verde Creole, it’s hard for me to tell. We met him and his beautiful family when we lived in Seddon and they have become close friends. A world renowned jazz accordionist from Salva’s hometown was there, and, it has to be said, was probably really raising the calibre of the whole thing. Then there was more singing, a sweet, clear voice that belongs to Letizia, who was sitting on the couch with a new dramatic haircut. She’s another friend from Italy we met in Melbourne.

Friends from so many different periods of his life, in one room, making music, celebrating forty (wasted) years.

That’s the thing about the man I live with. He brings all kinds of people together, and turns the whole mess into beautiful music.

That’s just one of the reasons why we love him.

Auguri, Amore.

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Being Bilingual II

Being Bilingual BlogTwo weeks at my parents’ house is a change of scenery. It’s so much warmer up there, lots of swimming and playing in the sand. It’s a classic beach holiday, and for my kids, also a holiday from bilingualism.

Do kids need a holiday from bilingualism? Probably not, but when we are here we speak in English all day and by the end of the two weeks I notice her speech improve. Actually these days she sounds like any other four year old. Apparently the words to “twinkle twinkle little star” still have her baffled, though.

I’ve written before about our relaxed approach to bilingualism. I have always spoken English with both children, it was especially important when we were living in Spain. Salva and I speak Italian together and that is our dominant language, the one we tend to use when in conversation all together. Our ‘method’ then, I guess, is somewhere between the one parent, one language, and the minority language at home approach, but as I’ve said before, Bilingualism is not something we are ‘doing’, it’s just something we are being.

Coco now understands the concept of language, and is aware that she speaks English and Italian. She chooses the appropriate language for the right person nearly every time. When someone asks her how to say something in her other language she can translate. When she is speaking to Salva or myself and doesn’t know a word in our parent language, she’ll often run to the other to ask for a translation. If we aren’t available, and she’s speaking to someone outside our family, she’ll just say she doesn’t know it in language one, but offer the word in language two with a shrug. She asks how to say things in Spanish, which she still hears often from friends. It’s all coming together.

I don’t worry about her speech anymore.

The little one, during his short time on this earth has managed to stamp out any inkling of a belief I ever had about parenting being a set of skills that could be applied to all children. He walked at nine months, though I begged him not to. Now, at 20 months, he talks, both Italian and English, and gives Spanish a go too. He doesn’t let the fact that he can only articulate 3 or 4 consonants stop him from trying every single word he hears, and that is the biggest difference between my two children that I’ve noted to date.

He calls Coco ‘Toto’ but changes his pronunciation of the O sound in English or Italian. He understands so much of what we say. He eavesdrops, and comes running into the room yelling “Nooooooo!!” if there is mention of me going to work or anywhere else.

He also knows how to lie. When S gets up with them in the morning and I catch up on a few hours of sleep, I’m usually awoken by Ravi banging on the door and yelling that the coffee is ready. Then I get up to find that it is not.

When I was beginning my journey into second language acquisition I was fascinated by bilingual children. Now I live with two of them, I still am.

Australia: 2 Years On.

Kang kang2In Valladolid there is a bar where on Friday nights, you pay a few extra Euros for your drink and they throw in a quick consultation with a fortune teller. Yep. She sets up in a corner with a black velvet curtain. When I sat down in front of her she gasped and told me I was radiating incredible spiritual energy, and I giggled because I’d had the better part of a gin tonic.

At that time I was longing to feel settled and create something permanent, and I asked her about finding our place in the world.

She told me that I would not find what I was looking for. She said she could tell I had something big in mind, but that I shouldn’t count on it being permanent, because apparently my spiritual energy can not be contained. I am destined to travel the world my whole life.

Toda la vida.

Just a few months prior I’d written a post about the decision we’d made to move to Australia. I didn’t tell her about it, because I was doing that thing where when you talk to these type of people you deliberately withhold information so that later you can exclaim, I didn’t even tell her but she just…. KNEW.

About one year later, we moved here, via Thailand. One year in Melbourne and one in Daylesford. As I sit here now in my Dad’s study with the kids sandy and sleeping in the next room, it’s been two years since they’ve been coming here. Two years that have been, for the most part, a blur.

We were told we were brave to pack up our things and move, with a two year old and a baby-in-belly. But to me it felt normal and natural and just something you do in life to keep things interesting. I felt like we were just giving it a try.

I gave birth again, and we had another wild child. I published a book, and together Salva and I have recorded another 3 cds. We have driven too many second-hand cars in the short time we’ve lived here. I’ve missed the days when my main mode of transport were my own legs. Coco went through a difficult transition from baby to big sister. I don’t have enough time to do my work.  We’ve dealt with illness. We have found friendships and also lost some in the short time we’ve been here. Salva and I are still bursting with love but we don’t see each other enough. Tony Abbott is our prime minister. There have been dark times.

Something shifted when we returned from Europe last year, though. We turned to each other and said that if things weren’t working here, there was no need to stay. We could leave whenever we wanted. And suddenly, as soon as we said that, the weather got warmer and I could dry our clothing in the air, on the line. The garden became lush and started filling our plates. Everywhere I looked in our small town there arose an opportunity to learn and grow. Work, friends, art, and more important things like gardening.

I began to look at Daylesford as a place I’m privileged to live and call my own for a time. I began to see that when we open our hearts to people that they find love for us too.

Today I sat in the sand as the kids chased the tide, in and out. Their Poppy standing at their side to pick them up when they fell. Their sun-kissed hair and honey toasted skin covering slight little frames. I experienced one of those moments where I wondered how we could have created such perfection.

They were the picture of health and happiness in that moment and I realised I was living exactly what I dreamed of when I wrote that post three years ago.

It is wonderful to write a blog, and remember.

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