I was nearly at the top of the mountain pass I drive up to get to Lucca, when out of (seemingly) nowhere, I was headed for the barrier between the road and…the mountain. I managed to escape unscathed but for a scratch on my finger but it was a good reminder to breathe and just keep paying attention. Like any new skill, you need to just keep practising. You’ll see the Italians either on the phone or sending voice messages through WhatsApp (a national past-time second only to sweeping and watching soccer) while driving. Don’t do it: it’s illegal, and dangerous.Read More
Hi I’m Athanae. Welcome to my blog. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved forms of creative expression, including dance and writing. Growing up, I thought I’d be a ballerina…but somehow I ended up at law school instead (!) After a little bit of travel in Europe and a decade of working in the super high-pressure environments of journalism and federal politics I found myself completely disconnected from the person I knew I was as a kid - before I learned what I should be doing; before my perfectionist tendencies kicked in. By my late twenties, I was stressed to the max and suffering chronic illnesses, trying to work a full-time job, run a business (that’s another story), and keep the rest of my life going too. It was impossible. After many, many months of soul searching (that included some very bad drawings in my journal of what I wanted my life to look like…) and a village of family and friends supporting me I gently allowed myself to start coming back to the things I loved doing. I decided to take the first step by going back to movement, starting with training as a barre teacher (it’s kind of like ballet, right?) I subsequently trained to teach yoga and pilates too.
The next few years were tumultuous to say the least. Change isn’t easy: it requires hard decisions and commitment - and not everyone will come on the journey with you. But if you lead with your heart, you can’t go wrong.
I started learning my ‘first’ second language, Italian, when I was five. That set me on a path I’m still travelling today, with homes on two west coasts: Tuscany, and Western Australia. I work mainly as a freelance writer and yoga and pilates teacher - skills I can take with me wherever I go and can find a wifi connection.
I’ve been accused of oversharing my personal life (probably true…) but whenever I publish something heartfelt, or that I know is tapping into a bigger conversation, unmet need or unwanted feeling among the community of women I share my life with (both online and offline), the messages and responses I get tell me I’m doing the right thing. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that we need to take life less seriously anyway…so what’s a little vulnerability between me and all of you?
And let’s face it, if we tried to keep up with the fashion of beauty as it’s changed over centuries, we would have been plucking our hairlines in the Renaissance (yes, a high forehead was considered beautiful). In Jane Austen’s era it was all about the ‘stays’ – corsets that helped separate your boobs for the ‘heaving’ effect (and if you don’t believe me, believe the Jane Austen Centre…) A quick look at the last half century would see us doing everything from wearing Spanx to getting implants in our lips and bottoms, to starving ourselves to look like Kate Moss, drawing on that beauty spot that Cindy Crawford charted her career on, and in the past ten years, trying to match that whole so-athletic-but-still-sexy thing that’s all over the gram (you know exactly what I’m talking about). By the time we’re 80, who knows what mad aesthetic will prevail? But being pulled from pillar to post like this trying to anchor ourselves to the current trend is only not bad for our mental health, it’s not that great for our physical health or sense of self either.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
‘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.Read More
‘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.Read More
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.
And far from being about women, it’s about chilli.Read More
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.Read More
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).Read More
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.Read More
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).Read More
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?Read More
‘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.Read More
This day a year ago I boarded a sticky, crowded train in Vienna. We rattled through the night en route to Rome, but my stop was Florence. I didn't sleep.
Since our first hike in John Forrest National Park (‘she didn’t realise there’d be mud, but she did pretty well’ – he would say later), I thought there’d come a time where I would make this trip. For months it had been lingering in my mind. First as a sort of vague possibility while Nicola was on his 40,000+km odyssey around Australia: that quiet, vast, flat burnt land, full of snakes and sharks and spiders; concreted when he came back to Perth.
Tuscany was the first place my feet touched earth outside Australia (the airport at Rome, for the record, doesn’t count). This would be my third visit and, after all, non c'e due senza tre (there's no two without three).
I remember stepping onto the platform: I was overcome by the noise, the whizzing and whirring of people around me, looking up and seeing a green cross, lit up, signalling pharmacy. In the midst of chaos I had a strange and overwhelming sensation of being home. I was enchanted and soothed, fascinated and delighted, and I felt my feet root into the earth and my smile grow wide.
I was 16-and-a-half.
I never could have known that at double that age, just after my 33rd birthday, I would step onto that same platform to meet a man I’d known in person really, not very long at all, but who I’d been slowly dancing circles around for all that time. When I was 16 and sitting politely with my all-girl school group with our impeccably-groomed and super-organised teacher on the train to Viareggio, he was there too: long-haired and ripping up the backstreets on his scooter.
‘Are you sure?’ some of my friends said. What could I do except say ‘yes’? I didn't need to justify it.
I was leaving my job, my family, my friends; my security and my home.
What could I do though: not risk everything?
Play safe, play small, stay home? What would the point of any of it be if I did that?
I’d spent the better part of my life not listening to the little voice (you know the one). I’d done what I thought was right, what I thought might make me happy; I’d made some decisions that had set me apart from my peers, like quitting law, leaving journalism, starting a small business. But the safety net was always there. And I’d still ignored my gut instinct: the one that said be truly brave, then follow through; none of this matters anyway.
It was only when I lost everything that I started being honest about myself, to myself. And it took work. It still takes work. It’s like a fricking onion: you peel one layer of bullshit back, have an aha! moment, feel pretty good about yourself for five minutes then realise the next layer’s right there waiting for you to learn to let go of.
That I’d always wanted to live in Italy was true. That I met Nicola when I did was divinity.
You're supposed to sort your shit out then meet someone. You’re also supposed to be the hero of your own story. And don't get me wrong - I am. But like that wise man Thich Nhat Hahn said, no mud, no lotus, and I was definitely still standing in the mud (metaphorically, not just in John Forrest or Cape Le Grand National Park or anywhere else we went) when we crossed paths. But since then I've been hand-in-hand with a man who has been next to me all the while.
The girl seeking perfection, lacking self-compassion, expecting the world of myself; seeking out ways to berate myself for perceived failures while opting out of tapping into the ever-present joy in life (like focaccia), is mostly not present any more. She's fading out a bit, and that's a good thing.
It took a patient person to take my hand and stand with me. But every time I put myself on the line, he was there. If there is one thing underscoring our relationship, it's kindness and compassion. Especially when sometimes I think it would be better if we just used emojis to communicate, rather than words. As anyone who doesn't speak the same first language as their partner knows, the struggle is real! But it also means you learn (mostly) not to fuss or fight over semantics; rather to notice intentions and actions.
The Tuscany of previous visits, that first trip with school; then a return after university to go back to language school and live in Florence for a couple of months; that had been the warm up. This was the real thing.
It was the pace and rhythm of life that knocked me in the beginning. I felt like a pinball in a machine, banging and crashing from one corner to another. I was literally covered in bruises for the first few weeks because I kept misjudging the dimensions and furniture placement in our little place; or riding my pushbike into a fence (seriously), or, once I learned to ride the scooter, dropping it on my leg or foot because I hadn’t worked out how to use the stand properly. It was noisy! Everywhere! Frogs, dogs, kids, cars, radios, simple conversations that were so loud and enthusiastic I thought they were fights...I remember telling Nicola to stop yelling at me so many times in those first few weeks. I'm not yelling, I'm just talking, he'd say.
I didn’t understand how people could be so relaxed (hint: relax). I was confused about how to schedule my time (hint: stop scheduling). I wanted to know what the plan for the day was. Nobody thought about dinner until 7pm. This was flat out weird for me. I thought I’d ‘done the work’ to ‘let shit go’ in Australia: but this was like being hit over the head with a frying pan. I was dazed and baffled. My reactions were visceral, instinctive. Sometimes they were wild, sometimes they were poetic, sometimes they just came from a place of exhaustion or frustration.
All the while I was being supported and fed and welcomed and loved not just by Nicola's family but by everyone, everywhere. I had stepped instantly into a community of people who just said 'cool, you're here now. You're part of the gang.' All I had to do was learn to go with the flow. Anyone who knows me will appreciate the irony in that.
It took me ages to work out that it wasn’t that complicated at all. Things were pretty much what that seemed at face value. I know, right? Life was (and is) more honest, more simple, more community and family and socially-oriented. I’m melting right into it now. I’m learning how to be more of myself at the same time. I’m getting better at being peaceful. And that’s a good thing too. Nothing is rushed: every meal is communion, every coffee a moment to enjoy; every piece of work finished is celebrated and every conversation a genuine one. I am learning to express myself more, fight more, love more, feel more and be more.
I own close to nothing, compared with say five years ago. I don’t have a car. The food I eat is simple. Instead of constantly feeling a lack of enough and a paralysing fear that I would never do what I was meant to do; that I’d never fulfil my potential (whatever that means); that I couldn’t tick all the boxes and that there was always something lacking, something missing, something to be done, some chore or workout or project or other distraction to attend to, I have space.
It's the quiet and deliberate cultivation of a life that is of my creation. I'm going back to remembering what I wanted before I created the idea of the life I thought I should have. I have days in the mountains and days working and pottering around and I don’t always have a plan anymore. I have fun, I have laughter, I have adventures and an abundance of love.
And that’s everything.
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).Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More