Since Saturn Returned.

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

That’s from astrology.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leaving again.

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

Just get out of here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Solstice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stories of a Catholic Education.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Item 1.1 “Her underwear, her business”.

Forty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Auguri, Amore.

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Being Bilingual II

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

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

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

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

I don’t worry about her speech anymore.

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

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

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

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

Australia: 2 Years On.

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

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

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

Toda la vida.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is wonderful to write a blog, and remember.

Visiting

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One evening I was showing a group of Australians around here, when one of them said: “Can you even imagine what that castle is like on the inside?” So, digging the keys from my pocket, I said “Let’s go have a look”, and you should have seen the look on their faces…

We were standing in the home town of Virgilio Marcianò, famous within Melbourne’s Italian and music communities, the owner of Marcianò Music in High St, Northcote.

My partner Salvatore had met him over the inside of a piano accordian, splayed out between them on a workbench. He had spoken warmly of him since then, but the rest of us met him for the first time last August at his Italian home in Corigliano D’otranto.

When he invited us to visit we drove down from our home in Ostuni. Virgilio’s son Stefano met us in the piazza before leading us to their property in his father’s 1960’s Fiat cinquecento. A driveway lined with tall greek columns did not lead to a house, but to a trullo, a shelter over an outside kitchen, and an enormous courtyard that could easily host a party with most of the village in attendance. As I got to know Virgilio that evening I realised that at some point, it probably had. The traditional whitewashed walls were decorated with spraypainted images of the taranta and an illuminated shop sign reading Marcianò Music. There was more than enough space for a band to play. That night though, there were just Virgilio, Stefano his girlfriend Clara and our family of four. The dark and empty courtyard was an ideal space for me to walk the baby off to sleep before we ate.

The meal was, of course, exquisite, as we drank red wine from glass tumblers and spoke about our family’s first year in Australia, our projects for the future, and Virgilio’s plans for his property. The dark space behind the trullo, he explained, was actually a flourishing vegetable garden that is tended by a gardener year round. The rest of the year, when there is work to do in Melbourne, on the other side of the world, the gardener works in the plot and gives away fresh produce to people in the village.

At the end of the evening our host retired to the trullo, where, he informed us, his son had been ‘made’ nearly 30 years prior. Stefano, unsuprised and only mildly amused by this detail, offered to accompany us back to the village where the rest of us would sleep that night. An apartment in the village with impossibly high ceilings was filled with beautiful remnants of a lifetime of music and migration. There were letters, pages of musical score, and an enlarged black and white photograph of Virgilio with Bob Hawke, the australian ex-prime minister who, it was explained the next day, can still skull a beer in about 15 seconds.

As we stood infront of the castle to which Virgilio had been entrusted the keys, we were warmly greeted by nearly everyone who passed. As someone with first hand experience of migration, I reflected on how successfully this family had maintained a sense of belonging in a town that is so far away from the rest of their life. How they managed to seamlessly re-insert themselves into a community that held absolutely no resentment about a family that appeared to have the best of both worlds. It seemed to me that positivity, generosity, and a genuine love of people will get you everywhere.

My family has it’s own story to tell. As we strapped our Australian/Italian children into our car with its Spanish plates, we said goodbye and made plans to meet up in Melbourne. As we drove away another detail caught my eye. There was a “No Room for Racism” sticker, a map of Australia over the colours of the Aboriginal flag, on the tailbar of that vintage cinquecento.

Originally published in Segmento Magazine, issue IV 

7 Days of Festival.

la foto 1-3 la foto 2-3 la foto 4On Wednesday I drove through the forest to the nearest train station in blinding afternoon sun. I collected Andy, one of my oldest friends, from the train and took him back to our house. We stopped at a supermarket on the way so he could buy some meat since his low FODMAP diet means that nearly everything we would normally serve was off limits. So he ate meat, leaves from the garden and a special 7 dollar loaf of bread that he bought in a vacuum pack. He was coming up for the LGBTI festival that is held annually in our town…and to say goodbye, since he would be going to live in New York after the weekend was over.

On the drive we spoke about the other times we’ve said goodbye. When I left the house we shared in Collingwood to move to Spain he spent the day at Uni thinking about the house that would be empty when he got home, and whether I’d have left a note. I did leave one, though I’d forgotten about it. It said: ‘I love you. X’, he reminded me, ‘and that was the most perfect thing I thought it could have possibly said’.

On Thursday, we went to an event at the town hall for International Women’s Day. We listened to a talk by Cate McGregor. She’s a beautiful and softly spoken woman, a cricket commentator, a journalist who is highly ranking in the Australian military, and also lived the first 56 of her 58 years as a man. She spoke of how as a woman she does not run where she once felt safe as a man. Of being ignored at board meetings once she began wearing earrings and a skirt. My eyes stung when she thanked the community for inviting her to speak at a conference for Women, and accepting her as one of us.

I sat in the hall amongst many familiar local faces and let her words wash over me, unable to stop my writer’s brain from cataloguing details. Her beautiful suit. I wondered how she felt the first time she went into a department store and bought herself the clothing she truly felt at home in. I wondered what she did with her hair as it was growing out. Her long, elegant hands on the lectern. Had she always used them this way?

There was time for questions at the end, but I didn’t ask.

On Friday Andy moved into the house he’d rented for the weekend with a group of his friends from the city. I took the kids to their bush kinder. In true Australian, sun-fearing style, I’m reprimanded nearly every week for bringing them without hats, too embarrassed to say that Ravi doesn’t even currently own one. It was raining on Friday, though, so I proudly marched them up to our meeting place in the cutest raincoats ever.

The kids played with their pots and pans while it rained into the parents’ cups of tea, as we sat around, chatting, using terms like binary gender. Then, in my head I was suddenly in much nicer weather, sitting on the beach in Ostuni a few years ago, chatting to a woman from Milan who seemed nice, until she said that she had no-problem-with-gays-unless-they-have-kids-because-it’s-not-fair-to-them.

Daylesford has the most rainbow families per capita in Australia. I know a few of them, and their children are always wearing hats.

On Saturday I saw Andy briefly in the morning at the gallery where I work. He introduced me to a friend of his who was friendly, American and interesting. They were on their way to chair a panel about rainbow families, and asked if I had anything to contribute in abstentia, since I had to work.

Tell them they should come to bush kinder. I said, thinking about the hats, but also that I really would like to see these families more integrated into our community. Later I met up with Andy again for an opening at the gallery. We sat in the sculpture garden drinking champagne, talking about the festival, talking about his departure, and the effect it was having on his closest friends. One of them, Saj, was boycotting the festival entirely. He’d sold all his tickets to the festival events and was just in the house, cooking Dahl. So on our way home from the exhibition I dropped in to taste some, (and so did Andy, who by this stage had given up on the FODMAP). Saj is sick of gay culture, he thinks festivals celebrating sexuality are stupid. He’s now concentrating on feminism, and he stands for full integration of the LGBTI community.

With no gay culture there is no gay pride, said Andy quietly, and I knew what he meant. People need to feel proud of who they are.

On Sunday Salva had an important gig in Melbourne, and we all went. But we were ready early to watch the pride parade in town before we left, and again, as I looked around, there were so many familiar faces though the town’s population must have doubled at least. The other day my friend from work told me that at one of these parades she’d seen a 15 year-old boy step up on a float and come out to his community. I nearly cried when she told me that, and I thought of school days with Andy who told no-one he was gay until we were adults. My emotional response returned as I stood amongst all the rainbow, on that Sunday morning in this country town.

On Monday I worked again. I was tired and not much happened. I thought about it all as I walked home from work. Life, kids, identity, new chapters. Our generation is constantly criticized for viewing life this way, but we really are all protagonists of our own beautiful life story, and yes, its soundtrack is whatever playlist is coming from our earphones at that time.

On Tuesday I woke up and felt my body physically relax as I stood at the sink and did some dishes in my undies. I didn’t have to shower or get dressed or be anywhere, and the kids were playing together in their tent. So I made another coffee and opened Facebook on my ipad. I use the feature that gives me special notifications from a handful of mostly far-away people about whom I just don’t want to miss a thing. It told me that Andy had updated his status. There was a general request to be contacted via the internet, since he’d get a new sim once settled in the States. And then he signed off, simply, excitedly.

I love you. X

Reflections on the Lake

There are a few seconds after the initial invigorating plunge into the cool water when I notice that the water around me is dark. I have no idea whether the bottom is inches or metres below my feet. And every time, my heart rate increases a bit until I force myself to dive under and breaststroke out into the middle of the lake. Every time the experience is like a baptism. As my head rises again above the water everything is washed away.

Goodbye, night-weaning. Goodbye, standing at the stove while a wailing child pulls my pants down in front of one of our house guests. Goodbye, accumulated tiredness of the past four years. Goodbye, someone else’s PhD.

I’m the only one in the water. Occasionally there are some elderly men who I guess swim year round and will probably live to be two hundred years old. Today it’s just me, and once in the middle of the lake I roll over and float on my back, and squint upwards into the sun. I watch the leaves move in the breeze and listen to the silence of the cool, dark water in my ears.

When I pull my head out again nature is deafening. The obnoxious screeching cockatoos and the hoarse black crows with their glossy feathers and piercing stare.

They really make a racquet at this time, in the early evening. The other day we were at a barbeque dinner at our friend’s house and our host threw a whole cucumber into the tree to scare them away. They didn’t move. They just kept on screeching from the safety of those high branches, pushing the conversation into a shout.

I love hearing them. If these birds with the wings and freedom to fly away choose to live here, I trust that it is a healthy choice for us too. Thank you, Cockatoos. For reminding me.

I’m also grateful that my 18 month old son, the one who likes to hang dangerously from my usually elastic-waisted pants, has lived in paradise for half of his life. He names four or five native birds. The child that disregards nearly all of my other warnings will drop a berry immediately if I tell him not to eat it, but knows to help himself to leaves and fruit from our garden. He and I took a long and crowded train trip to Melbourne last week, the duration of which I spent bouncing him around and pointing excitedly at things from the window, as people commented on our matching overalls and how lively and adorable he is.

He was restless until the urban sprawl became wide open fields. Then he watched for animals and flowers and different things, correcting me crossly when I confused the grazing livestock, and remaining awake until we arrived home a few hours after he usually would have been asleep.

This piece of earth, this lake, with the dandelions floating and glowing like glitter in the afternoon sun. This place continually shocks me with its beauty and reminds me that wherever we want to go, and whatever we want our life to look like, with the silence of the water in my ears, there really is very little to complain about now.

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The Female Voice.

homebirth-rally-9.s600x600The home-birthing thing was the beginning of my love affair with the concept of bodily autonomy.

Science is a beautiful thing. But something even more beautiful than science is freedom. The freedom to ignore science if one so wishes, and the freedom of information. Being able to type something into google to find things that people all over the world have written is nothing short of a miracle. (Of course, you should be careful about what you read on the internet, as one of my friends demonstrated once in a blog which I can only consider a bizarre and genius performance art piece).

Our brains help us filter information, decide what is our truth, whether there is any reason whatsoever to believe what we see in pixels before us. Both men and women, as human beings, are capable of doing this. Though there always seems to be something in the news about how dangerous it is when women think for themselves.

A lot of these issues are centered around birth control, pregnancy, birth, and raising children. There is no easier way to shame a woman into doing what everyone wants than by convincing her that she is making poor mothering decisions. These are the issues where people decide that the law should step in. And it has. Women have had forced cesarean sections in handcuffs. Had their children taken from them for home-birthing or using homeopathy. All sorts of people have said that vaccination should be mandatory.

The news recently reported that after threats of violence, American osteopath Sherri Tenpenny had cancelled her plans to come to Australia to spout her unscientific and dangerous anti-vaccination rhetoric. Women, who are apparently unable to think for themselves, could hear her and then exercise their right not to vaccinate their babies.

The news came to me via social media after the same platform had been used to ask me to sign numerous petitions pleading with Australian immigration to deny her visa. I know people who don’t vaccinate their kids. I thought long and hard before vaccinating mine. But this is not about vaccination. As someone who has immunised her children according to the current Australian schedule, I have to say, more than measles, whooping cough, vaccine injury, or even violent threats, silenced voices are what really terrify me. Silenced female voices.

Now, there was a little bit of confusion as to whether vaccination could be considered a gender issue, but luckily, yesterday slate.com published a headline that really cleared up any doubt about it (‘Don’t Blame Parents for Vaccine Resistance, Blame Mothers.’). Kathi Valeii on her blog also included a fun interactive quiz, where noted feminist or progressive activists had quotes about vaccination mixed in with the conservative woman-hater Dr. Amy’s opinions on birth autonomy. Indistinguishable.

If this wasn’t enough, my Facebook feed has recently filled with my Spanish friends protesting the release of new book called ‘Victims of Mothers’ Milk’ that advises mothers to wean their babies at four months to prevent them developing an Oedipus complex.

Then, again in my beloved Spain, where I became a mother, the College of Nurses released a statement called ‘The Doula Report’ that warns the women of Spain that Doulas are actually a cannibalistic cult, demonstrating a gross misunderstanding of cannibalism, placentophagy and, well… Doulas.

It is frustrating, infuriating, and painful to have something you passionately believe in ridiculed in an official and public forum.

Though it is actually a beautiful privilege to live this life as a woman, sometimes it feels like a burden.

A Child in my Life.

Coco BirthdayAt four years old, she’s either naked or dressed in her favorite navy dress with the star print. Her limbs are long, brown and perfect. Bony knees and rib cage. Wild hair curly hair that has grown at the rate of any normal person’s throughout the year but is still quite short considering I’ve never cut it.

A string of willow leaves wrapped around her head and trailing behind her. Maybe a pair of tap shoes.

She gives an involuntary shudder if she sees a bug and will step around that empty space for days after it’s gone.

She still lives in a world of her own. She has little interest in the concept of time and space. I try to teach her about tomorrow and next week. She teaches me that today is all that matters.

She is never happier than when traveling. Since we were walking around the streets of Salamanca just to fill in the hours, she has shown me how important it is to keep moving.

She loves hard and passionately. Defends her brother with her whole body. She is anger and joy mixed together in an ernest little package, with not much regard for authority and a growing confidence of her place in the world.

My daughter is so wild and free, and she challenges most things I once knew to be true.

Which in itself, is cause for celebration.

Memories of Birthing

COco bday

Tomorrow we celebrate 4 years of the most fascinating, unique person I know.

Today is my day, though. For sewing the last pieces of her birthday crown, stirring together the ingredients of a rich beetroot cake, while remembering the sauce I was stirring four years ago, as I prepared lasagne I wouldn’t eat until after she had been born.

I worked in the gallery today, and as I stood there in the quiet moments, the memories kept coming. Those funny moments that I don’t usually remember as a part of her official and many-times-told birth story.

Like how I walked for kilometres around the town in my ugg boots after my waters had broken. I’d grabbed my coat and stood at the door considering real shoes before deciding that ugg boots were acceptable footwear for someone about to give birth.

Or the way I felt as I breathed through those first wonderful surges, and kept putting off the call to the midwives… just wanting to live the secret a little bit longer. When I finally called Juanjo from a coffee shop, he said he’d begin the 2 hour drive just as soon as he finished his hamburger.

I always smile when I remember how we bought a mattress protector on the way home from town. We met a guy we knew at the supermarket and they asked when the baby was coming. Today! we laughed. His eyes widened.

As she crowned I had one of those out-of-body experiences where everything is seen from above. I can see the bedroom now as though it were a house plan. The birthing stool at the foot of the rectangular bed. Two men beside me; my partner, and my male midwife. Soft candlelight. Freezing winter air that my naked skin did not feel through the adrenaline. There was music playing, but all i could hear was the sound of footsteps from the attic upstairs. Our neighbor who came home at just the wrong time.

It is absolutely amazing to think that four years ago, our daughter, the one who made us parents, was not yet earthside. That the wild way she was to enter our world that night would be the beginning of it all.

Being a mother. Being her mother.

Wanted: Washing Partner.

Washing

Not long after we’d moved to Seddon one of our visitors commented that every little Victorian cottage on our street had an outdoor chair setting on the front veranda, but not one had anyone actually sitting in it. We Australians are an introverted, private people. We sit in our backyards, to avoid having to engage with anyone passing by, under tall fences that separate us from our neighbors.

In Morrocco people wash each other in public bathhouses, sharing this ritual of basic self-care and providing, for women especially, a safe space where everyone is naked and everyone is equal. In Asia women sit on low stools cooking food, washing clothes and performing other domestic duties together. In Italy people dress up on summer evenings and walk around the town after dinner. When they go to the beach they sit there in the sun all day, doing nothing. They just like being where everyone else is, and so do the Spanish. Bars are full of people every day of the week, and not just young, bar-going people. Elderly people, babies, and students.

Now, after not even a year in this small town, I can’t walk down the main street without stopping for a chat. I have a partner and two children, there are often extra people staying in our house for months at a time. I use Skype for my people who live far away. I am very rarely alone, in fact I crave it, and this blog represents for me, a moment to fill a blank page with clear thoughts that are uninterrupted and mine alone.

I do miss, though, taking the kids out at night, and knowing we won’t have to leave an expensive glass of wine on the table because the venue is not prepared for children. That we won’t be the only ones at the gig with two kids under three. It would be wonderful to be able to walk around the town after dark and bump into friends, instead of having to make a time to see them during the day.

It is no secret that I miss living in Spain.

In the Continuum Concept Jean Liedloff talks about the tribes in South America where the people consider work no worse than play, but that’s just it, isn’t it? When you live in a tribe, the lines are blurred and both work and play involve human company. I don’t mind showering on my own, but I only enjoy laundry when I do it with someone else.

Travel Story

Last week we were sitting inside with the blinds drawn, taking the day off due to extreme weather conditions. We used the air conditioning intermittently, while eating watermelon and popcorn, watching Hook, marveling at how they just don’t make em’ like they used to, and checking up on surrounding bush fires via the app on my phone.

So I didn’t really mind a few days of pouring rain, uggs and hoodies this week. In January. That’s Victoria for ya, but still our town attracts flocks of travelers. Vans and tents and 5 star spa treatments.

It was still cool today but not as wet, so I took the kids to the park as soon as we got ourselves together after morning rituals of espresso, then a second round, smoothies, clothing negotiations, and so on.

The air smelled amazing, damp and cool. The sky was grey. The bird calls were a thick polyphonic choral arrangement. They are what wake my kids in the morning, but a few people, evidently childless, slept in campervans in the car park.  More were just waking up.

A year ago we drove a station wagon 1,403kms from our place to my parents’. We parked in national parks and slept in the back, with Coco sandwiched between us, and four month-old Ravi a little starfish weight on my chest. We would wake up in some amazing places, make coffee on a little camping stove and spit toothpaste into bins.

Just like the middle aged couple, who, as they prepared for the day, watched us shuffle across the car park, as I took tiny steps to match the pace of the very short legs beside me. We were holding hands in a line, heading directly for the swings.

The people who live where I visit become for me, a part of the experience as I wonder about their lives and their daily routines.

But today we are home, and I watch the travelers drive away, wondering where they will wake up tomorrow.

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