The fertility of Sicily’s volcanic soil is well-known and thanks to the Sicilian habit of having a vegetable garden I’ve never been without fresh fruits and vegetables to prepare throughout the year, from eggplants, capsicums, chili peppers, basil and tomatoes in the summer to peas, potatoes, pumpkins and broad beans in the winter. There is always something fresh to sample in the Southern kitchen.
This year the seasons were quite late and the heat lasted well into October so we had a late yet bumper harvest of tomatoes, which has been both a blessing and a curse. It means we are still collecting fresh tomatoes for a salads and enjoying fresh pasta sauce, now in early November but to be honest we are a little tired of these darn tomatoes.
We made enough tomato preserve and bottled sauce to last two years, from peeled whole tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, we even roasted them as a side to barbecued meat and filled every-single glass bottle, jar and container we had in the house the last lot went into plastic water bottles and frozen in the freezer as we had no where else to put it.
Like most people of Italian descent I grew up peeling, boiling and bottled tomato sauce every summer and everyone has their own time-tested method and recipe.
In my part of Sicily it’s simple just wash, cut and clean the tomatoes, boil them up in suggestive cauldrons,
pass them through giant juicing machines which separates the pulp from the skin,
the clean bottles are filled and boiled to preserve the flavor of the summer.
There is nothing like the colour and taste of Sicilian tomatoes…
***Warning this post contains images of Italian toilets, bad double entendre and Australian slang***
I have never understood the reason behind the lack of public toilets in major Italian cities as you would think it is a common courtesy to keep lovely, clean toilets for tourists and visitors.
So what should anyone visiting do to find service rooms in an emergency? Well you can find toilets in shopping malls, at train stations, at ‘Autogrill’ stops on the Autostrada highways, occasionally you can sneak into a bar/café but you are generally obliged to buy something, if you are game you can pop into the town hall or into an office building where no one will say anything to you if you are quick and look as if you work there.
In more touristy areas you can find a clean toilet provided by the local tourist board, which you will have to pay for as there is someone there during office hours to clean it, but these are usually locked up after hours, weekends and public holidays so you are literally screwed if you need to use a toilet in these times!
Apparently it has not always been like this, my husband tells me in the bountiful 1980’s even every small town had clean public toilet service, but vandals and budget cuts put an end to this utopia.
Those few toilets you do find require a gas mask at the entrance, boy toilet paper and disinfectant hand wash it a must. I’m guessing most places have had the same frustrating problem with vandals as the toilets you do find around the place are filled with graffiti, usually proclamations of love and lust, everything from ‘Ti amo Angelina,’ to ‘per divertire chiama Tommy 333333999.’
Well I suppose if you have weak pelvic floor muscles, or you can’t simply tie a knot do as the Italians do and slip in between two parked cars, near trash dumpsters or some bushes and do as nature commands. You are not going to get arrested or fined as we are in Italy baby!
P.S: On researching this post (yes I did put some thought into this one), I came across a couple of useful posts about the toilet situation in Italy which will help you understand what you will come across. Here are some Italian Toilet Basics from Andi Brown at Once in a Lifetime travel and a how to flush tutorial by Alex Roe at Italy Chronicles.
One of the most inspiring expat blogs I’ve come across in Italy must be Mozzarella Mamma which is the creation of Trisha, an American journalist who has been living and working in Rome for the past two decades. She’s an inspiration simply because she has managed to juggle being a professional, bringing up three children, life in the eternal city and has become fluent with Italy on many different levels. It was a real pleasure to fling a few questions at Trisha via email, here’s our interview.
Do you consider yourself an expat and if so did you make a conscious decision to live the expat life and how did you end up living in Rome?
I do consider myself an expat. I didn’t make a conscious decision to lead an expat life. I met my Italian husband while we were both in graduate school at Columbia University in New York. We met in the US and married in the US and agreed that we would live the first five years of our marriage in Rome and then spend the next five in the US and try to go back and forth. We figured we both had pretty movable careers. I am a journalist, he is a professor economics. When I moved to Italy with my new husband it was a bit of a culture shock. It was only then that I began to grasp the whole Italian men and their Mamma business. In the end we have remained for 20 years living in Rome (near his Mamma) and only returning to the US for holidays. I would love to spend a few years in living in the US, but I have finally accepted that that is not going to happen.
How would you describe Italy to someone who has never visited? Are the people welcoming to foreigners?
Italy is a fabulous place filled with art and history, fantastic food, gorgeous cities (Florence, Venice, Ravello, Perugia etc etc). Italians are blessed with having both mountains and sea there is the Mediterranean and Adriatic coasts with magnificent beaches (Cinque Terre, Amalfi Coast, Sardinia, etc etc), and the spectacular Italian Alps. The Italian people are probably the best part they are friendly and welcoming eager to share their language, culture, history, food and their country with anyone who is interested.
Name five things I should see and do in Rome?
Well there are the standard tourists spots that one must see: The Coliseum, the Roman Forum, The Campidoglio. I love all the Roman piazzas Piazza Navona, Piazza del Popolo, Campo Dei Fiori, Santa Maria in Trastevere, the Trevi Fountain, The Spanish Steps.
I also am a huge fan of Caravaggio, so I would suggest hunting down the Caravaggio masterpieces in the Roman churches. Here are a couple of my blog posts on that:
Of course you can’t visit Rome without seeing the Vatican, and the Sistine Chapel. I suggest to peoplewhether or not they are Catholic that they try to catch the Pope’s Weekly audience on Wednesday’s or his Angelus from the window of the papal apartments on Sundays. It is fun to be a part of these events and to see the new Pope Francis.
What should I taste/eat in Rome?
Oh gosh, everything. I guess I would start with the coffee espresso, cappuccino, Caffe Latte, and of course have a cornetto with that. Moving on to lunch pasta in a Roman Trattoria, then an apertivo sitting outdoors at sunset watching the pinks, orange colors on the ancient Roman monuments. For dinner there are so many restaurants Rome’s Ghetto has some fabulous places. One of my favorite restaurants is a bit out of the way, is called Ristorante Caprera and it has fantastic fish dishes.
If I was coming to you to do this interview where would we meet and what would we be drinking?
We would meet at the Tree Bar a little restaurant/bar in a park near my home. I would be drinking a pro secco or an aperol spritz.
Do you suffer from (US/Italian) culture shock or do you find there is something common ground with your current adopted home?
I have suffered from much culture shock in Italy. I get frustrated at the insane traffic, the pharmacy, the food rigidity, the pressure on women to be beautiful and sexy, the constant need for bella figura. I will copy some blog posts of that below. I think the common ground is always humor. I laugh at myself, Italians laugh with me, not at me, and they are easily able to laugh at themselves.
Do you ever suffer from homesickness and how do you cope with it?
I miss my family in the US a lot, but I talk to them regularly on the phone and communicate on email on a daily basis. But there is no time for homesickness. I have a job, an Italian husband and 3 ItalianAmerican children plus a blog that occupy my every waking moment.
What do you think about the expat life? Why do you think so many people choose to be expats?
I am different from many expats in that I don’t lead an expat life, hanging out with other expats and doing American things. I am fully inserted with my Italian husband into an Italian lifestyle.
Did you have much of a problem with learning the language, what advice do you have for English speaking expats?
The great advantage in learning Italian is that Italian’s are so nice about it. They don’t care if you make mistakes, they are happy that you are trying. I have had a lot of difficulty with some aspects of the Italian language the subjunctive, the Lei formal tense, the imperative still I always muddle through.
What’s been the most rewarding/high point and then the most frustrating/low part of your time in Italy?
It has been very rewarding working as a journalist and covering events in Italy and the Vatican. The experience of traveling with Pope John Paul II, covering his death and funeral, traveling with Pope Benedict XVI, covering the election and the Papacy of Pope Francis has been extremely satisfying. In addition I have covered everything from Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi to immigrants arriving on the Italian island of Lampedusa and the Venice Film festival. I love all the news I get to cover. You can see from my blog that I often write about my experiences working in the field. I also have been given contracts with Italian television to serve as a political analyst during the US elections commenting on Italian TV explaining our the political system works in the US. It is satisfying to me to be able to explain US politics to Italians in their language.
You have been living in Italy for 16 years where you have worked as a journalist and brought up three children. How on earth have you managed that?
It is actually 20 years now, I came to Italy in November 1993. I don’t know how I’ve managed it. A couple of key things I’ve learned to drive in Italian traffic and don’t get upset when stupid jerks on mopeds yell and curse at me. I don’t let myself get cut off by people in fancy Mercedes of BMW’s my little Fiat is a fighter. I’ve learned to argue and gesticulate in Italian. My life is a big juggling act and I always have a lot of balls in the air they fall all the time, but I try to laugh, pick them up and start again.
Do you feel more American or Italian these days?
I always feel American and very proud to be so. Many people say I speak more like an Italian now (talk fast and gesticulate a lot) and tend to be more argumentative, and I tend to dress more like an Italian (no sneakers and sweats), but my heart and soul will always be American.
Since you are a journalist and write about events in Italy I simply have to ask you a few quick questions about current affairs in Italy, if you don’t mind:
A) What do you think of Renzi?
I like Renzi. He is young and ambitious and doing everything he can to bring Italy out of its economic crisis and I hope he succeeds. I did not like the way he stabbed his fellowparty member and former Prime Minister Enrico Letta in the back to get where he is, but perhaps that is they way Italian politics works (a tad Machiavellian).
B) How do you think Italy will manage to come out of the Economic crisis?
No clue. You can ask my husband that question. He is a professor of economics at the University of Rome Tor Vergata. His blog is www.gustavopiga.it
However, my gut reaction is that Italians always muddle through as I said above they have great food, an amazing cultural patrimony, and a gorgeous country. There is also a combination of the black market business and traditional Italian attitudes of family safety net that help keep the economy from sinking.
C) Do you think there is a solution for the refugee problem? And why do the Italian and international press exchange the word ‘migrant’ for ‘refugee’ so easily?
I have no idea what the solution for the “refugee” problem is, but I think the way it is being handled right now is not working. Italian Navy and Coast Guard ships are fishing hundreds of “migrants” in rickety old boats out of the Mediterranean every day (I get their videos sent to me every day in this period when the weather is good). I think the key is giving more aid and investment directly in the countries that the migrants are coming from. “Migrants” and “refugees” are different. Migrants are people who are coming usually for economic reasons, refugees for political reasons. I have seen hundreds of North Africans arrive who are mostly looking for work, and hundreds of Eritreans and Sudanese escaping from dangerous political situations. But among the North Africans some can be political refugees as well. It is impossible for a journalist or rescue workers to know in one boatload who is a migrant and who is a refugee that takes days of interviews to sort out.
I have also done a lot of blog posts on Lampedusa and the refugee situation.
Tell us about your book “Mozzarella Mamma: Deadlines, Diapers and the Dolce Vita,” how’s it coming along?
My book is now officially going nowhere. I’ve given up on it. Most of the best parts are already in my blog anyway. I’ve decided to dedicate myself to my blog and I will wait until I retire to write a book. However, if a publisher contacted me and offered to publish my book, I would rework it, but that is highly unlikely to happen and I do not have any free time to get into the act of trying to find an agent and get published, that in itself is a fulltime job.
What led you to the world of blogging?
I started my blog as a way to attract a publisher for my book, but as I said in the answer above I have now given up on the book and the blog has taken on a life of its own. I now consider my blog as a way to keep a diary of both my professional and personal interests and experiences this can all be eventual material for a new book.
How would you describe your blog, tell us about it …
Well, my blog is all over the map. It started out being funny tales about trying to be a working Mamma in Italy then it has evolved a bit into background descriptions of news stories I am covering. However, I think my best posts are the humorous accounts of trying to be a good Mamma and maintain the Bella Figura in Italy.
Have you ever had negative experiences with blogging? Tell us about it, how did you handle it?
I really have not had negative experiences with blogging, it has been all positive for me. I have had so many contacts with wonderful people from around the world Australia, India, Turkey, and the US to name a few. My blog has opened up a new world for me.
Actually there is one small negative aspect blog guilt. Once you start blogging you feel like you need to do it all the time and you start feeling guilty when you don’t post. Sometimes I am just too tired, or too wrapped up in personal things, or just don’t have anything to write about, but I still feel guilty for not posting. But there is also the reverse side of that, when I do a post that I feel is really good, the writing is sharp and the pictures are strong, it gives me enormous satisfaction.
What kind of blogger are you, is it about getting a zillion visitors or subscribers, selling your books or is it all therapy?
As I was saying above, I am not aiming for getting visitors or subscribers and am not aiming to sell books. It is not even therapy for me. I consider a diary of my life.
You have quite a good following on your blog, any advice for the rest of us?
I am not sure I have such a great following on my blog. My only advice to other bloggers would be try to enjoy it, do not give up, do not worry about who is following you or numbers of visitors or subscribers. One of the best parts of blogging is the friends you make enjoy the comments on your blog, respond to them all, and try to read other blogs and comment on them. I have a lot of fellow blogger friends who I have never met in person but I feel fond of them, I enjoy reading their blogs and commenting on them, and I am pleased when they comment on mine. It is hard though, for many people blogging is a fulltime job and they have more time to blog and comment on other people’s blogs for me it is an effort, but an effort that is worthwhile.
Books can take us places without leaving home, do you have a favorite travel book which you think best describes a particular place or the art of travel in a particular way for those who are unable to travel.
I am not really into travel books I do love historical fiction and biographies that take me to another time and place. I just finished reading “Catherine the Great” by Robert K. Massie which I loved. One of my favorite books is Louis De Bernieres’ “Birds Without Wings” which takes place in Turkey at the beginning of the 20th century. Another favorite about a childhood in Africa is Alessandra Fuller’s “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight.”
As far as books on Italy are concerned, here are some of my favorites: “The Agony and the Ecstasy” by Irving Stone, “Umbertina” by Helen Barolini, Naples’ 44 by Norman Lewis and Alexandra Lapierre’s “Artemisa,” Lynn Rodolico’s “Two Seas” and the Italian classic Luigi Barzini’s “The Italians.”
So what’s coming up on Mozzarella Mamma that we can look forward to …
Yikes, not so sure what is coming up on Mozzarella Mamma. I am going on the Papal plane to the Mideast with Pope Francis at the end of May and I will definitely blog about that. I am also doing some research of Livia, the wife of the Roman Emperor Augustus and will eventually blog about her. I am also contemplating a couple of silly posts, the first on dealing with my teenage (now 19yearold son) and the complicated questions of when the girlfriend sleeps over, and another one on Italian withthedoginthepark culture.
Have you discovered any other wonderful travel/expat or writing blogs that we should be reading?
Thanks so much to Trisha for taking a moment to answer my questions. I wanted to thank her for her blog apart from being an inspiration for me Mozzarella Mamma is a wonderful mix of observation, current affairs and culture shock with a pinch of humor and irony.
Trisha has the answer to one of the most difficult questions a female expat can ask. Mainly: ‘how does a woman adapt and change to meet the demands of one society while trying to maintain her core beliefs, values and cultural traditions? [Her] own answer to this question has always been, with good friends, humility and a sense of humor.’
Words to live by.
Much gratitude and good karma to you Mozzarella Mamma, I look forward to hearing more about your journey in ‘Bella Italia.’
Living in Italy for many years has made me fluent in many things. I negotiate the nuances of the Italian language, roll my ‘r’s’ with the best of them, I navigate my way around the kitchen with a respectable repertoire of Mediterranean dishes, I can steer my way through the traffic of any chaotic city, squeezing my car into to the tiniest parking space and double park without any sense of guilt, I understand the Italians desire to live their lives with a little insanity, rebellion and a whole lot of attitude. In short I’ve conquered the most important aspects of life here. However I still have a problem understanding the schizophrenic world of Italian politics.
My concept of politics has been formed by the moderate environment of Australian government, the main factions are dominated by the two conservative Liberal and Labor parties who overshadow other lesser significant groups such as the Democrats and the Greens. Voting in Oz means choosing between, the Liberals at the centre right and Labor in the centre left, who as time passes seem to become increasingly like one another. The antipodean political world is terribly monochrome when compared to the rainbow of Italian politics.
The politics of a country reflects its very nature. Australian politics is stable with a steady flow of different concerns which reflect a healthy, growing and relatively secure country. Politics in Australia is a safe and conservative, in contrast to Italy which struggles with the problems of an immense population, a convoluted legal system, high unemployment and administrative system stained with corruption and scandal.
Italy like any other overpopulated country is crippled by mindless red tape and so bending the rules has become part of its culture. An Italian won’t think twice about a little deceit to help things move along. Paying a little something extra to get a house plan approved is considered normal as months or even years of delays are common when going through normal planning procedures.
Italians are forced to put up with endless problems and in many cases the only way to get results is through active political action. Italy is weighed down by high unemployment and those who do work in the country’s industrial sectors are always in a precarious situation. This lack of stability has created large conglomerates of workers unions who regularly bring the country to a stop with transport strikes.
Electioneering in Italy boils down to creating a public image, voters do not necessarily vote for an established party or ideology but rather for a personality. The constant change of Italian politics has broken down traditional political philosophies so the only way people are able negotiate the complexities of Italy’s politics is to latch onto a figure head or personality.
The European parliament election this Sunday is really a test of the current turbulent political waters as Beppe Grillo’s Movimento Cinque Stelle has eliminated and splintered many major and small parties in the last national election. The five star movement came about as a protest to eliminate elements of corruption, conflict of interest violations in the established old school political landscape which dominated Italian politics. Everyone will be holding their breath to see if the older parties will be able to recover or if the new movement will be able to push through with its changes.
The current prime minister Matteo Renzi of the conservative leftist PD party, recently gave an interview to Time Magazine journalist Stephan Faris where he explained why Italy will never be a normal country, there is truth in Renzi’s words and he expresses the nature of the change needed in this country starting with these European elections.
Renzi says: Italy will never be a normal country. Because Italy is Italy. If we were a normal country, we wouldn’t have Rome. We wouldn’t have Florence. We wouldn’t have the marvel that is Venice. There is in the DNA of the Italians a bit of madness, which in the overwhelming majority of cases is positive. It is genius. It is talent. It’s the masterpieces of art. It’s the food, fashion, everything that makes Italy great in the world.
But then, we’re not a normal country because we have a complicated bureaucracy, a political system that’s appalling. We have twice as many parliamentarians as the United States. We pay some presidents of [administrative] regions more than the United States pays its president. We would like to make Italy a normal country from the point of view of the political system.
So where did Italy go wrong?
It fails in its convoluted public administration.
And in its politics. Italy has too many politicians.
Why? Because in these years Italy has been unable to change itself.
The UK changed its skin with Tony Blair. Germany changed skin first with [Gerhard] Schröder and then with [Angela] Merkel. The U.S. has changed its skin various times. But Italy remains attached to its old political conservatism. It has a political class that lives in the past and doesn’t want build the future. The past is their strength, but it risks ruining the country forever. It Italy continues to walk with their heads turned backwards, there can be no improvement.
Voting in Italy is not compulsory so the election’s have a low turn out as people are disillusioned by the political world. And with the economic crisis people in Italy are really suffering. So we simply need to hold your breath and wait to see the direction Italy will take…
Its normal to ask for a discount on expensive items particularly jewelry, designer items and white goods. Ask for it, demand it and you will get it!
2. Be careful with technology
GPS off the main roads and the autostrada has a tendency to take you off the beaten track onto old tracks and very much on the scenic route. So if you decide to trust a GPS have plenty of time on your hands and a full tank of gas.
3. If you ask for a coffee (caffe) you will get an espresso.
If you want a long black ask for a caffe Americano or stick to cappuccinos, who will be mildly warm and are strictly considered a breakfast drink and not usually ordered after eleven a.m. You will get a strange looks if you ask for a cappuccino in the afternoon!
4. Have a beer in the park
Alcohol laws are less stringent in Italy so you will be able to buy wine, beer and spirits in the local supermarkets and local cafes will also sell whatever your heart desires.
In restaurants you usually order wine in 1/4 liter, 1/2 liter or 1 liter jugs or bottles. House wines or ‘vino della casa’ are usually locally made, which is very economical and highly recommended.
5. Follow the rules of food.
If you are ordering in a restaurant Italians usually start with an antipasto plus a first course (primi) of pasta or a first course of pasta followed by a second course (secondi) of either meat/chicken or fish.
Any sides will have to be ordered separately.
Or if you are starving you can go the full hog: antipasti – primi – secondi followed by coffee or digestive liquors which will help you burn through all the calories.
This year I was fortunate enough to get to San Leone’s ‘festa’ at Longi (20th Feb) which I find is generally more traditional and particular then the one celebrated at Sinagra (even if I love them both!)
I liked the solemn religiosity and playfulness of Longi’s interpretation of this Saint’s celebration. Not only does the procession take the Saint’s statue around the town, it has him dancing to the time of the local brass band. Leone doesn’t move without musical accompaniment, here the catchphrase is ‘Viva Santu Leo … E musica!’
The face of San Leone is always the same yet the elaborate decoration gives Longi’s festa a more traditional feel, here he is decorated in flowers, monetary offerings, bells chiming, threaded wheat shafts, golden vestments and the local children adore him too. The procession lasts nearly the whole day from after the late morning church service until four o’clock in the afternoon when he is placed down in the square before the parish church to receive final offerings and salutes from the devout.
During the procession the warmth the locals have to their patron is palpable and it quite frankly gave me goosebumps. A saint’s day in a small town is a particularly special occasion everyone puts on their best face and there is a real sense of pride and religiosity through out the day, it is an exceptional Sicilian tradition.
For more details on San Leone and other Sicilian saints see my article on Times of Sicily.
You can tell it’s nearing Christmas as our house is littered with Pandoro and Panettone boxes as the consumption of Christmas sweets is well underway.
My young son refuses to let me throw a single one away as he has a hundred and one uses for them.
He turns them into helmets, masks, decorates them in hundreds of different ways he even tore one up and wrote me many coded messages on the pieces which he promptly stuck together in a panettone collage!
My favourite of his inventions is the Pandoro box tiger cage, which is below:
Here’s to a creative yuletide to all and a tidier New Year when all the sweets are done!
I’ve always been a coffee drinker. I started off with instant stuff, then graduated to frothy cappuccino, milky latte and now I live in Italy it’s one hundred percent hardcore espresso.
I briefly flirted with tea drinking in my youth, in the anglo saxon tradition of taking afternoon tea, so common in England loving Australia and I still enjoy the odd Earl Grey on a cold winters day.
But now I look down on pussy Nespresso drinkers as I stuff the coffee into my Moka percolator as it squeaks closed, barely closing with the overflowing grains above its rim.
I love the gurgling sound it makes as it boils and the odor of fresh coffee in the morning is heavenly.
I have learnt you never wash the coffee maker with soap or dishwashing liquid, just a rinse under the tap as the suds get into the filter and ruin the flavor. Instead it is important to use the percolator often as every batch of coffee instills it will added taste, often the most battered ancient coffee maker will be the source of an excellent coffee!
An espresso has become a quick cure for a headache, a nifty fix if you are feeling run down.
For me a coffee is well and truly short, no more watered down instant or milky latte, the last time I tried to have a Starbucks I nearly vomited. There is no home, I’ve become customised to the Italian habit of a quick short black, while standing at a bar.
But when is it too much?
I know when I have a coffee too late in the afternoon I’m going to be wide awake all night, but in the morning I’m lost without one or two home made ones. I’ve learnt a coffee at an Italian cafe is three times stronger, thanks to the stronger blend of coffee beans. So if I’m running late, no coffee at home and a quick one at the bar is enough for the whole day.
Sicilian’s have a lethal relationship with caffeine, at my in laws for example the percolator gets a formidable workout during the day, it’s on the stove top at least four times in the morning, again after lunch and is also offered to any guest who randomly arrives night or day.
Combined with the other light drug of choice in Italy, tobacco it creates a myriad of health problems, not to mention unsightly rotten teeth and bad breath.
I once read a short story about a man who did the rounds of his Sicilian relatives and politely ended up drinking ten coffees in a day (it was either that or ending up in a drunken stupor after ten Lemoncello, lemon based liquors, the other choice offering for visitors at Sicilian homes), the man in the story nearly had a caffeine induced heart attack!
As I write this post, wide awake well after midnight, I don’t think I’m going to have a heart attack, but I probably should cut down a little. For the sake of my beauty sleep!
I recently found an old diary of mine with a list of things I miss about my hometown Perth, Australia and concerns I had for myself as a new expat in a non english speaking country.
The list is nearly a decade old written when I first moved to Sicily and I am amazed at how naive it is, I certainly had a romanticized idea of Australia. Reading this list made me realise how homesickness is caused by an inability to let go, like all forms of depression or grief. Home is where I make it and it is contained within myself, it is no longer a place I write elegies for.
The main part of feeling homesick for me nowadays has to do with friends and family they are the main things I miss. I do my best to keep in touch thanks to blogging and social networks and if I feel particularly in need of hearing an Australian accent I surprise my friends with a phone call or Skype call.
In my diary entry I was being terribly honest and expressing real concerns about being an expat living in Italy so I thought I’d share.
Here is the full diary entry:
Coming back to my house in Sicily I write a list of the things I miss most about home in Perth, Australia.
● The expansive sky which makes up half the landscape, together with the flat stretch of the terrain, full of endless space and possibilities. This broadness in the landscape is echoed in the broad Australian accent, the relaxed life style and in the space to be yourself.
● The wild nature of the countryside, like an unconquered land: bare, sandy and endless in its vast and expansive nakedness.
● Listening to the radio in my car, the music I love.
● The books and bookshops I love to browse in.
● Sleepy Sunday afternoons listening to chamber music concerts followed by milky coffee in trendy cafés.
● Goofing around with my friends and my brother.
● The cooling sensation and freedom of walking bare foot in summer.
● The smell of summer mornings, crisp and cool. The smell of the baked earth which has cooled during the night like the aroma of an exotic new dish being roasted in the oven.
● The wild flowers, banksias, kangaroo paws, gum nuts, desert peas, wattle. The exciting alien Australian vegetation I have grown up with, which looks like something invented by a props master for a science fiction film from the nineteen sixties.
● The freedom of taking off in my car on wide easy streets, uncrowded by confusion and uninterrupted by traffic. The road which promises to distract you away from your problems by giving you the freedom you need in that uniquely expansive space which stretches out to the remote horizon.
● The flatness, the broad endless land. Seeing the Perth city lights in the distance, glowing in the night sky. The blue florescent incandescence from the tops of skyscrapers that mark the highest point in the C.B.D. They shine like halos of imaginary angels. In my memory the mirage of the city is so close, like reaching out for the end of the rainbow just out of grasp. Go a little faster, just around the corner and you will see the spectacular Xanadu, city of light, floating above the river, luminous in the dark sky like ghostly sepia shadows in old photos.
● I miss the freedom of feeling like myself. Here I am full of limitations because of my lack of control over the language, myself and this place.
● I miss the multicultural nature of Australia; eating Asian food, enjoying the freedom of having Greek, Italian, Spanish, Indian and African friends. Sicily is painfully mono-cultural with a threatening racist underbelly.
There are changes in me here. I am becoming more introverted, shy and I have no friends like me.
Here I have no tongue. I am learning half a language. In my head there is nothing but half sentences, half ideas, badly expressed. I cannot express myself as I am used to, something that I value with all that I am. It’s as if I’m losing half my identity.
My tongue is broken into small segments like a piece from the once uniform jigsaw of the one universal language represented in the Bible by the story of Babel. When man’s tower of pride tried to surpass heaven, the language shattered into fragments Failing in its endeavour to transcend god the edifice fell to the earth and the once united language became jumbled. Thus the tongues of the world were created, each piece of the tower smashing the languages and dispersing them throughout the globe.
I have a faded memory of this once universal language, yet when I try to speak it the holes in my memory are so great that I only recall small simple words which are insufficient to express the emotions, opinions and memories in my mind. This broken language I own is only enough to express my basic needs, trapping me within myself rather than sending me out into the world of words and expression.
One day, feeling homesick, I start to write, deciding the beginning of my story is the discovery of what Sicily is for me, of my place, or lack of place, within it. I want to write about what Sicily means to me, apart from the alienation, frustration, suffocation, guilt and my struggle with my desperate desire to go home.
Sicily is where part of my origins are, but it isn’t where I want to stay forever. It is a forgotten place, alien to me. My desire to explore it is strong, but I’m tired and ready to leave behind the past to create my own stories instead of hearing other people’s. I resolve to explore everything that I see here, even the ugliness and despair. There is the great beauty here but there is also great ugliness and danger in Sicily too.
Every time I’m back at home in Perth Western Australia I always discover endless possibilities and ideas so much so that I am beginning to believe it is the font of my creativity. Yet when I travel back to Sicily it is with a surreal sense of whimsy. I know how life in Sicily is but when I travel back from Australia it’s like I’ve forgotten everything and I’m making my maiden voyage .
Perhaps Sicily really is the island that robbed Ulysses of ten years on his journey home to Ithaca and I too am under the influence of the same ancient magic spell.
I am tantalised by the conversations of Italian jet setters at Dubai and Bangkok. Their smooth Italian dialogue seduces me and makes me wonder if I’ve been mistaken about Sicily. Whether I’ve missed something more valuable or elusive, a more profound element, like I need to descend deeper into its heart.
I wonder if I’ll find that Sicily has changed as I always find Australia in constant evolution, transforming itself into new suburbs and developments. I want Sicily to be more like Australia. I want to fit easier into its arms, rather than feeling so awkward, isolated and stifled.