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When I first arrived in Italy a year seemed like a gapingly big amount of time. And now, three months later, it seems like if I blink too fast it might be gone.
Three months! Ye Gods, how did that happen? I have spent the last three weeks staying with a wonderful Turkish girl in Palermo. I was planning on going Wwoofing much earlier than this, but I arranged to go after the New Year, which, when you think about it, makes a lot of sense actually.
So I spent my first Christmas away from my family.
We were invited by Senem’s boss’s to spend Christmas at their house which was wonderfully lovely of them and it was a simple affair. I made Moussaka and spiced chocolate brulee’s. We ate homemade bread, drank wine and talked. A friend of theirs, a stylish old turkish gentleman who spoke not a word of english arrived towards the end of the meal and we coaxed him into trying the aforementioned spiced chocolate dessert. He ate it with gusto and when he was asked if he liked it he motioned to his face and said, ‘Isnt it obvious?’
Made me feel happy.
It has struck me as humorous that I came half way around the world and still spent my Christmas without snow. But Christmas to me has, and always will be, about good food and nice company. It does not need to be an extravagant affair, only a enjoyable one.
And I will see snow eventually. Hopefully soon. That’s right folks, I have never seen snow.
On the penultimate day of the year there was a charity concert being held in a town 2 hours drive away and we spent the week trying to organize a lift. Everyone said maybe and perhaps and we will see how it goes. Friday arrived and everyone decided it was too far or they were busy or they had to stay home and wax their otters… so we said, fine, whatever, and caught a train 3 hours to the city which had the unlikely name of Barcelona PG. We henceforth reffered to it as ‘Fake Barcelona’. Not long after arriving it began to rain. So we danced in the rain. It rained on and off for the whole concert and we stuck it out like the adventurers of old, freezing and wet and dancing till our teeth were chattering. We finished at 1 am, dripping wet and cold to the bone but smiling. We arrived home at 5 am and fell promptly asleep. New Years was not fantastic (not bad, just not great) but I always seem to have a bad new years (no idea why) so I didnt mind.
Some of my other adventures from the last few weeks include; seeing the last King of Italy’s summer palace… Next to which there was a antique museum which had just opened a week before, curated by this nice looking gentlemen…
Being let inside a gorgeous old spanish Villa to explore and waltz secretly amongst the fading opulence..
Making Pizza in Senems ill equipped kitchen using a new recipe that I had never used before involved cooking the pizza in a frying pan with a no-knead dough. It turned out amazingly… Who woulda thunk it?
Dancing in the kitchen of some Transylvanian friends while drinking sangria after a ferocious game of Settlers of Catan…. And visiting the gorgeous castle-by-the-sea not far from Catania. It was a sad goodbye to these wonderful friends I have made in Sicily and if I have any say in the matter I will see them again. The saddest part of travelling is the continual good bye’s. But the memories and the moments make it all worthwhile…
You are a vicious and powerful beast.
Why did you make me sleep my whole first night of Rome away?
Do you hate me? Do you hate Rome? Are you just selfish, Jetlag?
*peers at the Jetlag beast with a quizzically raised eyebrow*
Well, I’ll make a you deal Mr. Lag. You leave me alone and I wont tell anyone how selfish you really are…
What do you mean they already know?
I awoke at some point in the evening, got up, had a shower, sat down for a moment to moisturize my legs then promptly fell straight back to sleep.
I awoke for a second time at about 5.30 on tuesday morning. Hot Damn! That is a lot of sleep!
About 13 hours.
I lay in my small bad and stare around at the room. It is bare. Very simple. This hostel is in an old nunnery. I think its about 400 years old. Just a baby, by Roman standards.
The walls are whitewashed and there are long blue curtains that fall from the high ceiling to the ground in stately folds. Everything is pristinely neat and quite austere.
I like it though. There is a stillness here, just a few streets away from the hustle and bustle of everything. I sort of feel like this would be the place to come and meditate if that was what you felt like.
I sneak out of the room and hop on the computer. Breakfast is not until 8 and everyone is sleeping like logs.
I talk to my friends back home, check my emails, have a shower. People begin to stir and walk sleepily into the breakfast room.
The breakfast is your standard hostel breakfast; continental. The bread though, is horrible. Its presliced and in individual sealed bags. I eat some yoghurt and begin talking to this older woman about the standard of bread. I say I wouldnt expect it from Italy. Before long we are talking about everything.
There is a fire in this woman. But also a tiredness. She tells me of how she just came back from a hostel in Iceland where it was very warm. Fresh food, little flowers, welcoming, like a home. She tells me of the corruption in Italy. She comes from L’ Aquila, a city that two years ago was rocked by an earthquake that killed many and left thousands homeless. But the city is so mired in corruption that you have to pay people to even get permission to rebuild your house. That they raised money to help the people, but the people saw nothing of it. And two years later there are still people living out of their homes.
She works for an organization called the International Womens Association that fights for the rights of women across the globe.
She is bold and brassy and educated. Half Italian and half english.
She writes articles that often dont get published because they come just a little too close to the truth. She has made a movie about Gandhi and Mandela and the anti-violent movement called ‘Together we lit up the sky.’
We decide to find some nice bread. So we walk and talk she teaches me a little Italian and I tell her about my childhood. She is off to a meeting but she shows me a bakery and we buy some biscuits and some nice (homemade!) bread and she shows me the Victor Emanuel Monument whichs she tells me conspiratorially the Italians called ‘The Wedding Cake’ because of its over the top frothiness.
We try to buy some cheese and the guy ignores us for a while, serving other costumers that come in after us and chatting to some men in uniforms until we actually have to get his attention.
He then puts far too much cheese in a bag and tries to charge us 20 euro. Bettina laughs at him, and then tells him in no uncertain terms that that is enough mozzarella for a family and that we wont pay and that he should be ashamed of himself. And with that we leave the store.
She explains that you still get this sometimes in Italy.. Men who will ignore you in favor of serving men and then try to treat you like a tourist. She apoligizes for her speach. I tell her that I find her attitude refreshing.
We have morning tea together even though she is running late. Because, in her words, ‘When you’ve misbehaved this badly, you may as well be late with style.’
I bid her goodbye and head out on the streets alone.
I get a little lost.
It is nice to get lost in Rome.
At least its nice when you’re not dragging your entire life worth of luggage with you.
When hunger strikes I find a place filled with Italians and order the Gnocchi with baby clams and a glass of white wine. They bring me a jug. Its a small jug, but a jug none-the -less.
The food is good. Really good. I mean seriously.. look at this…
Makes me want to eat it again. Pretty sure that sauce is just butter and garlic and wine. Mmmm.
I devour it all and then drink the wine cause I feel too akward to send it back and then head back to the hostel feeling a little silly.
I find some properly priced cheese from a polite fromagerie and also purchase some tomatoes and garlic from a fruit and vege store. (frutta e verdura)
I spent the evening having beers at a bar nearby with some ladies from the hostel. Two gals from the states, a lady from France and a woman from Canada who is originally from Russia. We talked and beered and listened to the people speak Italian and then we went looking for food. We found a place that was small and filled with ropes of garlic, bunches of chilli and bustling with locals.
Our choice was good. I tucked into pasta with cream, peas, mushroom and pancetta. Simple, well down and perfectly seasoned. Not to mention cheap.
The owner was a humerous guy who was very proud of his decorations. Near the end of the meal the chef came out, and, apon seeing Meradith drinking coffee WITH her soup he threw his hands in the air and yelled, “No! No! Caffe? E soup? No!” And he took her coffee away. Only once she had finished her soup did he bring her coffee back.
“Now..’ He says. ‘Caffe.” I hid my coffee and was glad he didnt notice.
We were all laughing and they braught us out giant rolled up pieces of card about 1/2 a metre each and proclaimed, “Bill.” With a huge grin.
In fact they were posters for the restaurant. And they gave us a discount . We all left laughing. I will be going back there, let me tell you.
My next few days are spent hanging out with Meredith and Meggie from the states. They are Wwoofing in Italy. We visited the catacombs of San Callisto and the Pantheon (serious OMG Factor – see below) and a the Cuppachin crypts (art made out of the bones of 4000 cupachin monks).
I spend a day with two awesome girls from australia where we TRY and see the inside of the Colluseum, but due to large rains in the city it is closed. Closed I tell you! We dont let this stop us from taking some rediculous photos before checking out the Ancient Roman Forum.
As you can see, we are behaving like serious adults..
We see some interesting pasta decorations outside of a restaurant and stop her for the best Gnochi I have had in a long time. The waiter is charming and the wine is good.
Rome is in my blood…
Listening to my michel thomas audio lessons and learning some Italian.. Im like a turtle, though.. Slow…
I awoke without a single butterfly in my stomache. Not even a flutter. My stomache, quite obviously, hadnt recieved the message from my brain that I was leaving the country.
I mean my brain has better messages to be sending. Keeping me running must be quite hectic. But I digress…
I checked and double checked to see that everything was packed and after a lovely cup of tea with Mum we took some photos to mark the occasion and then set off.. Four kilometeres later we stopped at the community centre so mum could tell everyone that I was leaving. And they all took photos and there was hugging and goodbyes flying left right and centre and everyone was telling me that I was going to come back from Italy twice the size I left and I was saying I dont care… I mean Italian chubb is the best kind of chubb, right?
We listened to Paul Simons on the way to the airport, singing along to ‘Diamonds on the soles of her shoes.’
Mum was stressing out. Repeating advice that she had been giving me for the last two weeks. I told her that I was the one who should be stressing. I could go overseas and Australia could be bombed and then where would I be? I dont think that helped the situation, to be honest.
At the airport the check-in lady was super nice and helped me re arrange my luggage so I could take another bag on carry on and save myself $440. What a doll.
The airport is quiet on a sunday. No yelling or enthusiastic hugs or screaming children. Just the sound of trolley wheels on tires and gentle enquiries.
My boyfriend daniel and my good friend Adam came to see me off.. which was amazing of them. Daniel gave me the latest George RR Marting to read on the plane. I thought previously that I would cry at the airport but I was still calm. I think my brain was in denial.
I mean I’m leaving my boyfriend, saying goodbye to my friends and departing the country for a year and still my stomach is calm, my brain is keeping itself busy, studiously ignoring the oncoming situation. Chef training is good for many things.
At the baggage check out I got taken into a side room where the guard apolagized profusely and said it was just procedure. A lady guard patted me down and they asked me where I was going. I said Italy and the guy asked me if I spoke Italian. When i said not yet he replied with ‘Too bad.. or you could stay with my family and they could cook for you in Tuscany.’
I flippantly replied that they could cook for me anyway… He laughed.
Then the guy who checked my passport said, ‘I was hoping I would get you. I wanted to tell you that you have a fantastic style.’ He enquired to what I did for a living and told me he thought I was a fashion designer. There you go. He told me to stay true to my ‘unique style’ and that the Italians would love me for it.
Its my red Dr Marten heels, I tell you, they entrance people.
My plane was late. By an hour. George, however, kept me entertained. For those of you into political fantasy you should most definately read George RR Martin. As long as you dont mind a bit of pillaging and general torture and whatnot. All that jazz.
I got a window seat! My luck is awesome! Australia is huge! No seriously, we flew over it for about 6 hours. And as you take off and everything shrinks to toys, and then ants it was surprising to see how square everything is. The farms stretch like a patchwork quilt as far as the eye can see. And then we flew over mountains that were so far below us (3000 metres, i think) that it looked like a crumpled velvet rug. Half an hour into the flight I was talking to my seat mate, an australian guy who was flying to Thailand. He told me of all the fantastic and crazy things he has eaten there. Most bugs, he says, are rubbish, but aphids are dang tasty. He was a laboror builder type who is almost at retiring age but nothing like you would expect from that description.. No meat and three vege for this fellow. He talked about Thai food till my mouth was watering. He visits 3 times and year and plans to retire there. His hobbies are golf and music and he refers to them as his two vices because of how much money he spends on them. He confided that he likes ramstein and I said that music was not age definitive and we talked about blues and jazz.
My feet got scary numb and I started thinking about deep vien thrombosis and walked around the plain lots. At about 6pm we emerged from a large cloud to the most entrancing fairyland. The most beautiful clouds I have ever seen. On my left jutted large cliffs of clouds, that seemed to be carved from marble and then gently puffed. At the base of this cloud cliffs was a pool of golden light. Little white puffy clouds floated just above the pool of light, their tops burnished by the shiny gold of the sun. They looked like glazed meringues. Below the glazed meringue clouds were heavy puffs of cloud that had sunk into the pool of honey colored light, suspended in a way that made the light look viscous almost, thick and so rich in golds and browns that I wanted to reach out of the plain and eat the clouds with a silver spoon. I bet it would have tasted delicious.
I slept and talked with my seat neighbour till we reached Bangkok.
Bangkok was nothing exciting. Easy in, easy out or something like that. Ahem.
On the second part of the flight it was night time and once again i was on the window side and got to discover the bad side of a window seat. As my feet started to go cold and numb i couldnt ask the couple who were occupying the other two sides to let me out as there were asleep. As was the rest of the plane. So i covered my legs with my large jacket and one at a time i put them up on the window seat. I dont think the attendants noticed that the charming australian girl was being all classy and putting her legs in the air while wearing a skirt. Long flight are not my cup of tea…
I arrived in Rome as dawn was breaking. I collected my luggage, all 36 kg of it and went to declare the knives in my suitcase. Before I could even say anything The Italian security guard waved me through checkout, winked at me and said. ‘No problemo. Ciao bella.’
Welcome to Italy.
My last two weeks in Brisbane was a wirldwind of socialization, relaxation, last minute shopping (sleeping bag, MP3 player, jeans, purple velvet corset – just the essentials…) and a rollercoaster of conflicting emotions.
Travel is exciting. Leaving your amazing friends seems like a bad decision when you are making burgers from scratch, having woodfired bbqs or drinking cider on the porch and talking late into the night…
My first night off i laid down for a nap and woke up 11 hours later. If you work for over two weeks without a day off your body will catch up with you eventually. And knock you out. And rest you up, weather you want to or not..
My going away party was a masquerade drinking and dancing bonanza and I still have the beautiful purple venetian mask packed in my suitcase with the intention to wear it to a real masquerade ball in Venice when I get there. Wish me luck.
My friend Sam and I planned a bbq in the park (well mostly him, to be honest) and it was a natural migration from the couches we slept on after after the party to the park and a fantastic afternoon. On our menu were Slamburgers (sams lamb burgers with mint and fetta), ambrosially good marinated Kangaroo, still bloody and and eaten with much gusto, vegetarian skewers in honey mustard marindade and sausages galore.
To work off the oncoming food coma we took to beating each other up with roleplay weapons and playing like giant children in the play ground and then collapsed onto the grass.
*A special note to be made to the most fantastically girly hand-in-hand skipping i have ever seen two men do in public. We laughed till our sides hurt.
I went out to dinner with my friend Celria to Urbane. Over the last year she has been my restaurant eating partner. She is as excited by devouring gourmet food as me, while most people just stare at me and gasp, “You spent how much on one meal?!”
This time we went to Urbane for the twelve course vegetarian degustation. Celria convinced her friend to join us and we nibbled our way through twelve courses of exquisitely presented art-on-a-plate. It was definately not the most delicious food I have ever eaten but it was never-the-less fascinating, exciting and deliciously indulgent. An experience.
There was a savory course that was a sweet egg shell made from a crispy candy filled with corn custard nestled in a bed of dark chocolate twigs. Damn! I love me some of those dark chocolate twigs.
To finish the whole thing off they brought a real bonzai tree out to the table with chocolate truffles hanging from the branches; it was totally adorable. I also had a glass of french white wine and I cant for the life of me remember what it was called. Which is sad. Because it was lovely. Urbane website, I shall check you out soon. Be warned.
For the last few years I have played board games every tues like their going out of fashion. So to sate our insatiable board game hunger we farewell’d our boardgame tradition off with a whole day off board games topped off with a night off eggplant adventures (Warm smoky Babaganoush with fresh sourdough bread followed by piping hot moussaka) to convince everyone that if you think you dont like eggplant you simply have never had it prepared awsomely enough. The masses were converted.
The boardgames continued. At around midnight, just to test the limits of everyones stomach capacity we gorged ourselves on sticky date pudding with runny cream. Weep with jelousy.
They say parting is such sweet sorrow and there is nothing like leaving everyone you know to remind you of the truth of this statement. Ill be back – but in the mean time I’ll miss you all like a gap in the mouth were a tooth used to be…
Here i am, once again, in the Gazebo. But some things have changed. The couches are still reminiscent of crackdens, the light is still lovely, the dog is not alas, hilariously nibbling on grass.
But what is different, really different from last time i posted, or from two days ago, infact, is that I am free.
I am no longer employed, with no plans for employment anywhere in the near future.
And while this is a lovely thought for most people; for someone who has been working in hospitality as long as I, it is hard to come to terms with. Yesterday i spent two hours waking up, thinking of work. Of things to be done. Of things to organize. Of things to tell my head chef.
But it is no longer necessary. Not for me. Thats their pie now. And let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, they are welcome to eat the whole thing.
As a gift of mad generosity i told my head chef to go on holiday before i left and this meant that i, after months of working 60 hour weeks, finished off by working 11 days in a row. Without a day off, and sometimes without a break. I wont bore you with the details, partially because they would stress you out and partially because i dont feel like thinking about it right now.
But suffice to say that it is over. I have my passport. My visa is in process (finally!) and today i have to book my ticket.
This is really scary. Suddenly it becomes a reality. A huge gaping reality, with me on a tiny little bridge above it, made of rope by some rope apprentice who has no idea what he is doing. I am leaving the country. By myself. I will be 15,000 km from anyone i know. Without any plans or grasp of the native language or anything…
But it is also exciting. Fuck yeah! I’m on a bridge! What gaping reality chasm? Italy! Rome! No more work! No more gorram hospitality! I can make new friends. Eat new food. Experience culture. Culture that has been around for thousands of years. Get insanely jelous of all the amazing European fashion.. Hot damn!
I am spending the next week and a half in brisbane seeing all my amazing friends and then my mum will pick me up and i will be staying for two weeks with her, seeing all my family and childhood friends before leaving on a jet plane, dont know when ill be back again… *cue music*
Today i have to fit everything i am taking into a suitcase and then get rid of everything else. My sister will be looking after my books, a good friend will be looking after my cookbooks and my mum will take my sexy frypans. And that will be that.
Now excuse me while i go try and choose what to fit into my suitcase… suitcase full of chocolate is acceptable, yes?