I don't play that game anymore
Conversations with Grandad
The bicycle-policing-roadworker looks over at me. He’d finished smoking his last cigarette at 8.07am and was back on the job.
‘You know what should be illegal?’ he says. ‘Middle-aged men in lycra.’
I laugh agreeably despite pretty much wholeheartedly believing the opposite: that anyone – but especially middle-aged men – could benefit from some time on a bike, both physically and mentally; and in spite of the fact that they really do give me the shits when I’m stuck behind them in traffic.
‘Slow down, mate,’ he says as another whizzes by, this time already suit-clad. Navy blue.
I see the signs...
Whenever I could in those months I’d get a bus – with or without my friend Clare – and go *somewhere else* and that’s where the magic was, up and out of Florence, where shopkeepers didn’t roll their eyes and reply in English to our dodgy Italian and where I didn’t have to pretend I didn’t understand English to avoid American tour groups. (‘But today we’re supposed to be in Florence. This is Firenze – what have we got wrong?’)
Once we were out of the city people looked kindly on us speaking the language. Old men in suits in bars bought us espresso and joked they were going to marry us. We walked and walked and got sunburnt and talked about life and drank wine and then as the sun looked like it might disappear we made sure we were on our way back to Firenze.
My Grandad’s cousin Romy had grown up in Perth but in her 30s decided to move ‘back home’ to a place she’d never known as her own home, just that of her parents, in Sondrio, right on the border with Switzerland.
All the puzzle pieces had been there in the past, and had I touched on them all. It was like I’d been circling, dancing around the edges for years. But until now, the timing hadn’t been right to create the picture. But enough now, it’s time to make the leap and see what happens.
Not My Journey
‘It’s fine,’ I think.
Then I start using my phone too much. It’s just Instagram, you know. But you know, and I know, the difference between ‘it’s just Instagram’ and ‘it’s just Instagram and I’m numbing my brain by scrolling though garbage, wasting my time’. Or worse, I’m looking far too much and too often at what other people are doing, getting lost in intangible world where it’s far too easy to extrapolate and invent stories that are flat out wrong.
Some like it hot
‘Do you know how to make pasta?’ he asked, but I didn’t have to do the mental gymnastics to realise he meant ‘do you even know how to make pasta?’ He taught me to save the starchy water the pasta is cooked in, and add it back in to the sauce to help the pasta bind to it, making it creamier and more delicious. Looking back, that was the beginning of me truly healing my relationship with food. He would never let me give him credit for it and I would never try, but it was time and he was there. He showed me what it meant to live simply and fully, by example and in practice. He cooked - even just for himself - with integrity, with care and with joy. Less ingredients meant more.
One step at a time: the Via Francigena
Just a hint of chilli is nearly too much for my father-in-law. My mother-in-law though, is borderline obsessed with curry, especially the very fashionable turmeric, which has even made its way into some varieties of foccacia, giving it a bizarrely un-foccacia-like hue I’d call ‘highlighter yellow’. Last night at the dinner table my husband was dropping Tabasco directly on my tongue, so you know where I stand.
When I asked him exactly how you’d describe a ‘hot’ woman, ‘bella’ was his answer.
‘I expected something a bit more creative,’ I said.
The guy at the petrol station said ’Ciao bella’ to me after I gave him 10 euro for fuel. It’s not exactly…spicy.
Anyway the reason I asked him in the first place is because there was a bit of controversy in town this week.
The annual ‘Festa Pic’ – literal translation ‘Hot Party’ or ‘festival’, in its eleventh year, was on again.
And far from being about women, it’s about chilli.
Strip back in the kitchen: save more, think less, stress less, be healthier
It feels like a million years (ok, ok, maybe a couple of months), since we undertook our six-day trek on the Via Francigena. So much has happened in the past few months that sometimes I struggle to wrap my head around it, and when that head is spinning, I have to remember why: between moving continents for the third time in 18 months, getting married, having friends and family here, Nicola launching his business, grasping again how to live in another country, another culture, with another language, trying to still make a living and retain and build my independence here (and deciding to cut up my credit card), teaching my first yoga retreat, wrangling with health issues and visas and…yeah you get the idea.
One day I'll eat chocolate again
In the wise words of my husband: you won’t die from eating pasta. Or my year ten health teacher: bread and toast are fine – it’s what you put on them that counts. If you don’t take my word for it, or his, or hers, read the science at The Lancet. It’s legit their job to publish only reputable info. What has worked better for me than radically cutting things out, has been to take a longer-term approach and focus on whole foods, stacking your diet full of plants, and then seeing what else you have room for. Living in Italy, I see nearly zero obese people. We don’t eat much meat. Our protein sources are legumes, and dairy (PS, when I said we don’t eat much meat, I mean when I’m craving a steak, I go and visit Elena, the meanest lady butcher around, for a t-bone).
Eat the cake and other Italian food lessons
The reason I had to stop eating chocolate for a while? There were days I would eat a whole block. Or hide it in the pantry. Or have a block in my handbag. We laugh off ‘wine mums’ and ‘binging’ on a Friday night while we watch The Batchelor. Or The Batchelor in Paradise. I probably have the wrong show and the wrong day but I don’t have a TV, so I’m not that up in pop culture.
Either way - if you’re still reading after that confession, we normalise this sort of behaviour as if it were ok. It’s not. It’s not ok for our health and it’s not ok for our minds. And I reckon most of us know that, if we dig deep enough and are honest with ourselves. Binge is a pretty serious word, and alcoholism laughed off in memes isn’t funny.
I guess coming to Italy forced me to face my food fears head on. You can’t escape it here. Food, produce and cooking are as integral to life as sleeping and spending time with family and outdoors, some of the other big-ticket priorities. Having distance from the cacophony in Australia around what good eating actually means, plus watching my family here so well, without becoming overweight or obese, crystallised what I’d been grappling to understand for so long (and also what I’d been resisting, because I’m nothing if not totally stubborn and a bit resistant to change, or admitting I’ve got things wrong).
Friday night lights
At every corner, every junction, every decision, we choose to fight.
What if though, you did not need to be that woman? What if you didn’t need to be anything at all.
What if, wrapped in a blanket with a cup of tea and with just your beating heart, you were everything you needed?
People will say you hold the whole universe within you: but what if you didn’t even that?
Cake, yoga and chandeliers: my Edinburgh
‘Can you watch Giulio for a second?,’ his dad says. One of my best friends in Australia has a son born a day after him: they are both obsessed with climbing at the moment. I have a soft spot for Giulio too: he looks exactly like my sister did when she was little. He runs away from me, chasing the cat. I pick him up, put him on my hip and stop to look around. My mind flashes back to New Year's Eve, standing in this spot with sparklers, drinking prosecco from plastic cups. simultaneously wondering how I ended up here and knowing it’s exactly where I belong. My mind flashes back to New Year's Eve, standing in this spot with sparklers, drinking prosecco from plastic cups, wondering what the next 12 months would bring.
Venus and Mars, Australia and Italy, coming home
Just don't make the mistake of thinking you can jump like a ninja off the third tier of a bunk bed at midnight when you realise you've left some crucial item in your suitcase. You'll crash into a drunk German guy called Felix, probably (I did, anyway).
You are worthy
This swing between Italy and Australia that we’ve put ourselves on means at times we might not feel at home in any one place. But I reckon there’ll be times we feel completely at home in two places as well, and I hope that we can have the flexibility, compassion and generosity with one another, with our families, our friends, and our vastly different but equally breathtaking environments (hello, Western Australia and Tuscany!) to be fully appreciative and conscious of what we’ve been given, and what we have to give. And that’s a lot.
the English rose
You are worthy.
Of the highest respect.
The deepest trust.
Of oceans of contentment. Rivers of joy.
Of pure happiness.
Of peace in your soul.
the dawning stages
He got on the bus at Berwick. ‘Nice view, isn’t it?’ he said, as I was taking a picture going over the bridge. ‘They started building that bridge in 1611.’ For the next few hours, every time we neared a bridge, a castle, a town, a wall, even, Steve would give me a sort of potted history. His mother had been an abstract artist who had spent a lot of time in Italy. We talked about capitalism (he was anti: developers should be hung from lampposts, he said), Mussolini, Buddhism, Thatcher, North Korea, sea snakes, how to raise kids, and worm-eating toads. And we talked about Florence, liked I had yesterday with Ana, the Ecuadorian jeweller, and Brigit, the Canadian with the Irish passport.
Cinque Terre: Suspended between Sea and Sky
Peter rolls up in his landcruiser, red-faced, with Tahla the golden lab in the back. Lucky you called when you did, he says. We just got back in from a nine week stint in Cambodia. Had to get out of this bloody cold. The Italian gives me a sideways glance, as if to say ‘owning the Prevelly villas must be a pretty good gig if you get six weeks off a year in south-east Asia’. Yeah mate.
Nicola tells me with a degree of resignation that Vernazza, the fourth of the five spectacularly colourful villages spilling off the higgeldy-piggedly cliffs of the Ligurian coast (counting south-north), is routinely ranked as one of the most Instagrammed spots in the world. True to form, we see more than one pair of 20-somethings in designer rags lugging camera equipment, pouting, and strutting along the path from Monterosso, where we started our walk.
She nearly always drove, except when he did and her head would bang violently against the passenger window, the wheels nearly flying up off the ground on his side as they cornered too fast.