Blog Archives

Travelling & the Gypsy Heart.

Ios

I was 13 the first time I travelled internationally.  It was 1971, Alitalia still flew out of Sydney and smoking was still allowed on planes.  People would dress up to fly and it was still a big deal.  We winged our way to Rome via Bombay, as it was called then, in a smoke-filled metal tube with no personal entertainment — and it was fabulous.  It was my parents’ first visit back to the country of their birth in 14 years and my first encounter with my Italian extended family.  I was hooked.

smoking-airplane

Travel has been one of the great joys of my life and if I’m not re-incarnated as a Travel Writer, I shall be bitterly disappointed.  Could there be any greater bliss than being paid to visit the far-flung corners of this glorious, diverse planet?  People dream about becoming wealthy so they can afford prestige cars, luxury homes, jewellery and clothes whereas I wistfully think I could live in a shack if only I could jet off to some new location whenever I wanted…. (School term permitting of course. Your daydreams have to be somewhat modified when there are other people to consider.)

This nostalgia springs from my girlfriend’s daughter having upped stakes for 12 months of travelling, as I did at 24. And for those 12 months I roamed the world like a true gypsy.  For 12 months I answered to no-one but myself.  No restraints, no responsibilities – just complete freedom to come, go, stay, eat, drink, take risks, learn, marvel, do whatever I wanted to do and be whoever I wanted to be.  I wouldn’t exchange the life I have now but if a time machine were ever invented, I know where I’d be going.  Plus, I was skinny.

Me on ship

Mirror, Mirror…

Reflections of a face that is sometimes not your own…

I watch your eyes like twin chameleons    change with shades of other lives.

The aquamarine of Grecian seas    when indolence was all there was

     and farmers wearing hats of straw     worked the beaches selling fruit

     to bodies baked to nutmeg brown.

The cloudy grey of Paris skies     when baguettes and brie went hand in hand

     with lazy walks along the Seine     and an angry young man

     whose Irish blood     could not disguise the poet’s heart.

You turn your head to catch the time

     and curse the need

     to run your life to dull routines

     when neon digits take the place

     of sunlight through a shuttered door.

(C) Daniela Scalcon

 “I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”   ― Mary Anne Radmacher

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Back to the Future: Me, 1972

girls-love-self-confidence_10-tips-for-teenage-boys

Oh—-my—-God.  I’m in the process of a MASSIVE clean-out of BIBLICAL proportions and I came across one of my English books from 1972.  So…. I’m 14 years old – the same age as my son is now – and have written a poem.  It’s a corker.  You will understand why when you read it but in its innocence, it also sadly underlines how far the world has come in these 40 years or so when sexting and oral sex by kids as young as 13 is neither uncommon nor infrequent.  With your indulgence, I present:

Beware of boys with wandering hands,

give them a good slap.

Beware of a boy with a long, dirty tongue,

he’s just a great big sap.

Beware of boys who take a mile

when all you’ve offered is but a smile.

You can put them in their place –

slow and steady wins the race.

Sure, go out and have some fun.

If it’s with a boy, there’s no harm done.

The nice ones brighten up your day.

They make you happy, content and gay.

But even so – be on your guard

’cause if you fall, you’ll fall hard.

boy kissing girl

But you know what?  At its core, it’s bloody good advice.  Have a great weekend everyone.

 

America on My Mind.

america

My ex-pat friend based in Los Angeles recently wrote a piece describing what she misses about Australian food and even though I’ve been back from Atlanta for 13 years, there are still things I miss about America; the things that always seem to come up in conversation with either my husband or other people and that make me quite nostalgic for the good ol’ U S of A. So, in no particular order:

SERVICE:  Great service.  All the time. Across the board.  Can you even imagine a land where …. service providers, repairmen, furniture deliverers and all others of their ilk give you a three-hour window and actually turn up IN THAT WINDOW?

…. Sales Assistants not only acknowledge you but ask “May I help you with something?” rather than “Are ya right?” which comes only after they’ve finished chatting to each other about what-evah,  then looking stunned to discover a customer actually in the store. (Is it so wrong to want to stab them in the eye with a coat hanger?)

…. whole cities have Department Stores that don’t consider staff an optional extra, unlike Sydney where they’re like the Yeti – lots of rumoured sightings but no confirmation of actual existence and

…. restaurants don’t mistake you for Linda Blair’s eye-bulging, head-swivelling possessed person because you’ve been trying for 20 futile minutes to catch a waiter’s eye for more water or the dessert menu or the bill. bad-customer-service

BUFFALO WINGS & HASH BROWNS: Americans can’t make coffee and Australians can’t make hash browns. It seems the fewer the ingredients, the more unpalatable you can make something.  Yes, you can get good coffee in America but it’s made by Australians so chances are, there are Americans in Australia turning out delicious hash browns but I’ve yet to come across them.  Who knew there was so much room for error mixing potatoes, egg and flour? So far, I’ve only tasted the ones that are either crisp enough to pass as cornflakes or so stodgy you could mortar bricks with them. In America, even the diviest of dives will present you with a perfectly cooked, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside jagged serve of potato goodness.

Same goes for Buffalo Wings – which, if you don’t already know – are actually chicken wings and are called what they are  in the US because they were invented in Buffalo, New York.  Don’t say you never learn anything from my ramblings.  Anyway… it’s the paprika that gives them that disturbing orange colour but what I wouldn’t give for a little Trekkie technology to be able to beam myself into Atlanta’s ‘Three Dollar Café’ for a plateful. You have a choice of mild, medium or losing feeling in the lower part of your face. All good.

chicken wings   homemadehashbrowns

TURNING RIGHT (our LEFT) ON RED: Everywhere.  Yes, we can do it here but only on 17 random intersections (OK, I made that number up) in random suburbs on roads that cover an urban area of roughly 12,000 square kilometres.  If you don’t know why Sydney-siders would give up their first-borns to the Roads and Traffic Authority for making this a blanket practice then you obviously don’t drive in Sydney.  But wait, there’s more.  It also gives people less of a chance to fiddle with their phones – which is what everyone does at red lights…admit it.

left turn on red                                          left turn on red                                       left turn on red

atlanta outlet

OUTLET MALLS: The Stepford Wives of retail.  (For those of you totally oblivious to the reference, you youngsters you, “The Stepford Wives” was a 1975 sci-fi movie in which all the wives living in a small town called Stepford, looked and behaved the same, you know, like the Eastern Suburbs here.   Ignore the Nicole Kidman 2004 re-make and watch the original.)  So what I’m saying is that every Outlet Mall looks almost the same.  You can probably pick them out from the air.  Rows and rows and rows of stores. But the savings are SERIOUS.  Even designer pieces can be slashed by 85%.  Sydney’s Birkenhead and DFO are less-than-pale imitations because when I see them touting HUGE SAVINGS because something has been reduced by 25%, I want to laugh hysterically and tell them to look up the word “clueless” in the dictionary.  I understand Australian retailers are working with a population of 23 million rather than 317,000 million, thus, incredibly less volume and competition but this won’t stop me from taking an empty suitcase to Honolulu in August when I hit the Waikele Premium Outlets running.

WHOLEFOODS & THE WAFFLE HOUSE: Wholefoods is a one-stop, pesticide and preservative-free nirvana for anyone organically inclined.  It aims to carry as many minimally processed foods as possible ranging over every food group but also stocks supermarket staples such as laundry supplies and cosmetics.  They have my undying love and gratitude because due to their range of organic baby food, I didn’t have to peel, puree or pulverise a single fruit or vegetable when my son was a baby. And when you’d finished your shopping, there was a pre-prepared food section with seating and a microwave for a quick bite before hauling everything home.  Again, the mitigating factor is population so it was only minimally more expensive than regular supermarkets.  Unfortunately that is far from the case here and I’m not that invested to pay the sometimes, exorbitant difference.

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At the other end of the scale is The Waffle House which would be what most people think of as a Greasy spoon, a colloquial term coined in the USA  for a small, cheap restaurant or diner that typically specialises in fried foods and can I say, Amen to that!  They are the most basic of eateries – an open kitchen, a counter , seating and a jukebox and the one I really, really miss.  Open 24 hours, my husband and I would usually stop there late at night on the way home from somewhere and within minutes of ordering, I would have been served my plate of perfectly cooked eggs, sunny-side up, hash browns and toast.  The menu is quite extensive and if you ever visit and see that iconic yellow sign, don’t judge a book by its cover – it’s the quintessential short-order experience. 

Unfortunately, the fact America is bat-crap crazy about guns constantly garners all the attention but I’m sure many of you have either visited or lived there and have brought home your own favourites.  I would love to hear about them.have-a-nice-day

Sometimes the Universe Knows Better.

Well, as one alcoholic said to the other, “It’s been a long time between drinks.” Since my last post in August, I’ve had lots of ideas and done absolutely nothing about them so I thought I had better redeem myself and get scribbling … so before I get to the point of the whole exercise, a little background information.

I was a bit of a smart chicky-babe at school and earned a scholarship to University with a view to becoming a teacher but after completing my Bachelor’s Degree, I just couldn’t do it. The thought of another year of lectures, study, research and assignments made me ill whereas the thought of travelling the world did not. Serious money needed raising because although I have always been quite happy to go camping and poop in the woods, the idea of schlepping all the way to Europe with my own bed sheet and having to share a hostel room with assorted party animals and snorers was not quite the dream trip I had in mind. So, after three years of tertiary education at one of the State’s finest universities, I put my degree to good use and went off to learn how to be a secretary – or PA (Personal Assistant) if one wants to be PC (politically correct) – which nobody was back then. A little over nine months later I could take shorthand at 120 words a minute (how useful would THAT have been during lectures…) and type…umm…very fast! And that, my dear readers, is how I ended up at Grace Bros and the reunion that sparked this post because not only was it my first job, it was where I fell truly, madly, deeply, deliriously, fiercely in love for the first time. secretary for post

To protect the not-so-innocent and for the sake of this post, let’s just call him Max. If someone had asked me to describe the complete opposite of what I found physically  attractive about a man, he would have been it – shortish, baldish and pretty ‘meh’ in the looks department but he would walk into my office and I would flush hot like a Bunsen burner turned too high. He was a Manager and I worked for his boss so we kept the relationship a secret until one of us left. People were dumbfounded when they found out. Hilarious really, considering we ‘worked back’ almost every night and the occasional Saturday morning so the chances of being caught not actually working, on my boss’s sofa, were reasonably high but it never happened. The secrecy drove me mad but I had to acknowledge the position he was in and his concern that telling our workmates might put our interactions under a scrutiny that neither of us would have welcomed. And my God – all the hedging and evading when people asked what you did over the weekend! “Ohh, you know, movies, seeing friends, usual stuff.” I had ‘vague’ down to an art form. Our subterfuge was so seamless, even when we both requested leave at the same time (to go to Queensland for Expo 88), no-one suspected anything. Honestly, I should have quite the secretarial scene then and there and become a spy. I would have put Mata Hari in the shade.

I’m ashamed to admit that I cannot remember the first time my husband told me he loved me (although I’m fairly certain it would have been over the phone as we were conducting a ‘geographically undesirable’ relationship between Australia and America when the ideas for Skype and FaceTime were, as my late Italian father would so colourfully explain, “ancora nelle palle di San Francesco”…. which delightfully translates to “still up in the balls of St Francis”.) but the scene of Max’s declaration is still as clear as the glorious Sydney summer day on which it was made. We had been lying by   the pool at his mother’s apartment. I was earning a little extra pocket-money by waitressing at a friend’s restaurant so needed to leave late afternoon to get home to shower and change. With the car in reverse, driver’s window down, he said goodbye with the usual “Drive carefully.” followed by the not-usual, “I love you”. To my credit, I did not lose control of the car or squeal or ask him to repeat himself and I have absolutely no recollection of how I responded but I can tell you my heart just about burst and we were heart-stoppingly happy. Three years later it was over and not because the relationship faltered or we stopped loving each other – but that is a post for another time.    crazy-true-love-bubbles-22795960

That was 25 years ago. Now, schedules permitting, we catch up at the annual Grace Bros reunion which is where I saw him last Friday night and it absolutely astounds me, as it has each time we have seen each other, how I can look into his eyes, listen to his voice…. and thank the gods of every nation on earth that we didn’t stay together. I believe it’s described in the vernacular as having “dodged a bullet”. And it’s not that he has changed – it’s just that now I see how incredibly unsuited we were for any long-term commitment. The things that drove me a little crazy when we were dating would have driven me completely demented over the long haul. Characteristics I glossed over when we were living apart would have turned into major obstacles when we were living together. Had we married, I seriously doubt it would have lasted. It does freak me out a little though to feel so dispassionate about this man that I loved so wholeheartedly, so intensely. How can you feel absolutely nothing but a little residual fondness for the person who was your first great, all-consuming love? Truth be told, part of me is a little sad that our encounters don’t have even the teensiest hint of the Mills and Boon about them – no catch of breath, no short, sharp pang of the heart. Not only are there no embers, the fire has been well and truly stomped on and covered over with several thousand kilos of earth.

Just goes to show that Soren Kierkegaard knew what he was talking about when he said   “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

Mementos and Me

Let me be clear – I am NOT a hoarder!  But I do keep a lot of ‘stuff’ for sentimental reasons which is probably what a lot of us do when we’re single and by “a lot of us”, I am generally talking about women.  “I’m always going to keep this coaster/postcard/pressed flower.”, said no man ever.   Movie tickets, concert tickets, love letters, scraps of paper, programmes – I’ve kept versions of them all.  When you are young and life is being lived at full speed,  every experience becomes a memory to be collected….to be then shoved away in boxes or drawers that are ultimately found by our children after we die, cleaning out our houses and muttering, “What is all this crap?”

Well my dear son, this ‘crap’ is evidence of a rather fabulously spent youth.  I recently found a paper bag full of concert and theatre ticket stubs, some faded and almost illegible but it was quite a stash.  Let’s not dwell on the fact I couldn’t remember half of them but that’s not the point is it? The point is, I went to them all, undoubtedly having a blast at some and probably hating others. They represented time shared with friends, dinners, drinks, dancing, suppers…and all the things I now loathe – loud music, crowds and not enough sleep!  God I had a good time. As a measure of how change comes to us all, I recently took my husband to a concert where the support act was not only deafening, their bass notes reverberated through the seats to such a degree I thought my spine was going to shatter.  We ended up waiting outside until they mercifully stopped playing!

At the risk of blowing my own horn, I was rather popular in my younger years and had the cards, flowers and gifts to prove it. One of my admirers wrote an essay about me in Year 12, another a song. Who would be mad enough to just toss these wonderful works of passion aside?  Well certainly not me.  I have them in an album with assorted and sundry notes, birthday cards  and Lord knows what else because I haven’t looked at it in centuries – but I know it’s there.  I’m not actually sure where ‘there’ is but I know I still have it because it would NEVER have crossed my mind to get rid of it no matter how many clean-outs I would have had.  In fact, it came with me to America, where I lived for 8 years and then returned with me, I’m fairly certain, in one of the boxes that had remained unopened all that time.  If I told my husband I have kept all the cards he gave me while we were courting, his first reaction would be, “You’re kidding – what for?”.  What for, indeed.  Because they are hard copies of that first flush of love, of secrets shared, of the growing certainty that this relationship was heading down a path not before travelled.  They are time capsules made out of paper and ink.

My first serious boyfriend (at age 18) gave me a small bundle as I was about to board a plane to join my parents on holiday in Italy.  There were six small, exquisite cards – one for each month we had been together and each with a simple, sweet message.  Even after 38 years, my heart constricts just a little when I think of them.  Grand gestures have their place but it is the small, unexpected intimacies that follow us from our past to our future.

And yet I find that collecting keepsakes, like many things in life, becomes somewhat of a paradox because we think all these mementos will keep the memories alive when, more often than not, they remind us of just how much we have forgotten.