The rOME cHRONICLES: all paths lead home…

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It doesn’t matter where you come from; a little bit or a lot of your heart will stay in your home country…
It’s exciting, living in a foreign country where the language is not your own, where things are different & new.
When one thinks of a life in Rome, they may think glamour…fun…but realising that home is so far away can take it’s toll…

If only for a brief moment the young lady wanted to be herself away from the scrutiny of eyes she did not know and those who judged her regardless. Was she from eastern Europe, a babysitter, a secretary or a rich man’s lover?

Only she knew the answers, only she knew who she was as the eyes and taunting faces questioned her and mocked. Some of the women perhaps, were even envious of her and that she’d left her country, family and friends to settle in a new one…she looked different this is true and she dressed differently too and of course she sounded different, Italian was not her mother tongue.

Why had she come here, why had she left her home so comfortable and secure? She had been to university, she was clever. Wasn’t she? Doubt filled her thoughts as the countless faces trudged passed her as she made her way home, hands laden with bags of groceries. Only servants trudged kilometres with bags in this city. They were heavy too and she’d had to park so far away.

She wanted to be home, in the confines of her appartment where the eyes could no longer see her and she could be herself.

All paths lead home…don’t they?

The rOME cHRONICLES: …It was almost a ballroom twirl…

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Moving to a new country always has it’s fair share of settling in dilemmas and ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ can impact on the way you fit in. Most of the time things are new and exciting and other times just plain daunting…Fitting in is the key to enjoying your new life…

Claudia always had perfectly peroxided hair and bright red lips; so much so that the red would seep into the creviced lines around her mouth. Years of smoking had taken it’s toll…
She slipped me the party invite as we passed each other on the stairs. Both of us rushing to be somewhere.

An invite to her daughter Angelica’s fifth birthday, to be held this Saturday afternoon in their apartment on the second floor.

My little girl would be delighted to learn that she had been invited. I probably wasn’t as excited. I knew how these Italian parties went. All the pomp and pageantry of a ball would be executed and the guests would diligently rise to the occasion in their finest attire. I knew I would have to rush out and buy my little one a gorgeous smocked dress with a velvet collar and sleeves so that she would blend in. It would set me back a few thousand lira (no such thing as ebay) but it would be money well spent so that she would ‘fit in’ and not ‘stand out’.

Saturday arrived quickly, Angelica answered the door in her black velvet dress with it’s ballooned sleeves and lace trim. She had a head band to match and so did my little girl.

Coordinated headbands were a must in Rome!

Angelica beamed as she embraced our arrival and welcomed us inside. My little girl handed over the cumbersome present with the crimson bow. Claudia was close behind in a full length red taffeta skirt. I remember the long full skirt matching her lipstick not her headband… Everything looked beautiful… Claudia had excelled herself; she must have worked into the wee hours of the morning to have managed it.

The apartment was brimming with children and parents. I noticed that highly polished silver adorned the white table clothed tables. Silver teapots, silver trays, silver cake tiers and silver cutlery; it shone elegantly as the light through the windows caught it’s attention.

The children were ushered into a separate room to be entertained by a clown. Laughing and clapping could be heard from outside the closed door as the clown wooed a tireless audience.

A maid dressed in her perfectly ironed maid’s uniform approached me and asked whether I would like a coffee or a tea. She gestured to the overflowing table and it’s wealth of foods. The detail to the miniature cupcakes was incredible! Shortly, a butler approached offering champagne glasses filled with the glorious bubbly stuff.

Finally, Erica, one of the mother’s I knew from school arrived. After having completed the ritual kiss to each cheek and formal hellos we both took a glass of champagne. My nerves began to settle as I relaxed into the cordiality of the child’s party.

Claudia flittered from guest to guest, I imagined she might do a twirl soon as her red taffeta skirt would definitely allow it, but no, interrupted by the chain of giggling children emanating from the bedroom I guessed the clown’s antics were over, which left no time for ballroom twirls. Claudia automatically switched to her motherly expertise, pouring drinks and filling party plates.

I sipped on my bubbles and surveyed my surroundings. My little one in her smocked dress and velvet sleeves and not to mention the matching headband had fit in and not stood out.

‘Mission accomplished’, I thought to myself as she turned to look at me grinning from ear to ear,silver cup in one hand and miniature cupcake in the other…

Needless to say, we were invited to many more parties on the second floor for grown-ups too.
Oh and Angelica and my little girl became bosom buddies…

The rOME cHRONICLES: Someone out there like you…the intrepid traveller

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Is it unconscionable to imagine walking in another’s shoes?
You know what it’s like when you are a tourist, lost and found all rolled into one. But have you ever thought about what it would be like to be someone else. Someone who is not your nationality does not speak your language or dress like you with the only commonality being the act of being a tourist.

It’s 6:30am local time. At the airport there are many like me. I spot a Japanese tourist, she’s just arrived, straight off the flight. Long flight, not so fresh, slept a little needed to sleep more though. She’s used to eating smelly rice for breakfast.

In Rome, they eat something sugary like an apricot jam filled croissant with a strong cappuccino. She will have to adjust to that. She loves Gucci and Prada so she’s dying to go shopping. She can’t speak Italian and her English is poor to fair at times. She has no idea how to get from Fiumicino aeroporto to the city centre where her abode for the next 5 days is. She is cautious as she surveys her surrounds. But she is so excited, she’s been planning this trip for months.

But the Japanese girl is not alone, there are more of her out there as well, well not exactly her, they may or may not be of her nationality or tongue and they might dress differently too. Some speak no Italian, some speak a little. Some speak no English and some a little of that too. They come in all shapes and sizes German, Swedish, American, and African and there are more too…

In fact, there are so many who take the same path I crossed and do what I did.

Travelling…to learn, to broaden our horizons, to grasp on to the unknown and to learn the art of adjustment because travelling means adjustment; like when you are washing jeans in a budget hotel hand basin with a cake of marsiglia soap (it had a hand washing diagram on the side of the box so you think it’s right) and then trying to dry them somehow and what about lying on your bed; using a handtowel as a placemat and a face washer as a serviette while you munch on a crusty bread roll filled with deli (alimentari) salami.

Good times, I wouldn’t give up the chance to do it all again…I wonder how the Japanese girl adapted and if she bought a Prada hand bag and ate a choc-filled cornetto for brekky?

Resemblance and resilience are the qualities possessed by most of us tourists and I must not forget… adventure…without it we wouldn’t travel the globe in search of it…

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The rOME cHRONICLES: …and so it goes the tale of ‘the Mouth of Truth’.

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A Roman with very broken English quietly explained the tale of the Mouth of Truth to me with a stern look of seriousness.I was mesmerised, not only because it was difficult to understand him so I clung to each word but also because the story was creepy…

…If you are to place your hand in La Bocca Della Verita’ and you are an untruthful sort of character who tells fibs or even petty white lies then the mouth will chew off your hand, I mean rip it off, bite off fingers one by one as blood trickles down the corners of the giant mouth. The Roman actually played out the biting of fingers with his own hand shoved unpolitely down his throat. It was an unusual scene.

But don’t laugh I actually fell for this… So, having heard the horrific tale from someone who lives in Rome, I was genuinely petrified when it came time for me to visit ‘la bocca’. A teenager, about three people ahead of me, plunged his hand into the cavernous hole. His smile quickly receded as he struggled to retrieve his hand. I gasped, as the onlookers laughed raucously. The teenager pulled out his hand, still wholly intact, waved it to the crowd and moved away.

I felt a little ill, ‘I don’t think I’ll have a turn, non posso…’ I backed into the line of eager tourists, whom with a sense of camaraderie stopped my regression.

‘Tu puoi’, my boyfriend urged me forward. The line forced me onwards.

Crazy thoughts invaded my head ‘Well, we’ve all lied before…but what if I was the unlucky one and my hand really did disappear…what if it was true and a bunch of people I didn’t know watched my hand get crushed,eaten and blood oozing…weeping…?’

I approached dubiously and with my eyes scrunched up tightly, I placed my right hand into the ominous mouth. I’m left handed and I needed that one if anything did happen.

The line of queue waiters stared intently at me and my hidden hand and my boyfriend waited patiently to the side…I managed a small breath…

I survived the ordeal and I still have two hands to show for it, I guess it really was only a tale…it had me going though…and thousands of other tourists too…

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The rOME cHRONICLES: From the Mouths of Babes in Pompeii

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‘Do you think that’s what he reeeeally looked like Mamma?’ My little girl asked quizzically peering through the cage-like wall separating us from the stone clad creatures inside.
‘Well, I think, before the volcano erupted, they were normal people going about their daily lives, looking relatively normal and…’ She stopped me before I could continue, ‘but they look so small’. She pushed her face into the cage so as to see more.
‘…there were children too in those days darling; they’re the small ones’. I pointed to the small cemented figure lying near what appeared to be it’s mother. ‘See, his or her hands are cupped up over it’s mouth and nose’.

She pulled a sad face. ‘Gosh, I feel really bad for them, it’s so horrible’. Her voice trembled a little as if she was going to cry. ‘Do you think they were watching TV when this all happened?’ She frowned as she proposed her innocent question.

A man standing behind us chuckled. ‘Only a kid would ask something like that’, his strong English accent echoed in the confines of our small prison.

‘Yes, from the mouths of babes’, I said as I hugged my little girl’s shoulders. She looked up at me waiting for a response to her very serious question. ‘How about you and I go and find daddy and we’ll talk about it on the way?’ I nudged her in the direction of the exit. The man smiled as he stepped out of our way.

Outside, the air was thick with dust. Pompeii was a huge dust pit with eroded buildings. It was beautiful. When I was in high school I’d studied Latin and had always wondered where Caecilius and his clan had come from. Standing before a frigadarium all of the questions I had asked in class were present in the 40 degree Celsius heat. Answers, answers written in every alfresco, piece of pottery, cracked tile or solidified figure.

Tourists love this place, backpacks strapped on, water bottles in hand. Hours spent happily trudging from one tumbled-down ruin to another. It was hard to imagine that this was once a bustling and thriving city and that a volcanic eruption would destroy it forever. How many lives were destroyed that day? History books quote numbers of deaths but what about the lives of those who knew the deceased, who lived in nearby towns? Many of their lives were destroyed too. Maybe there were families in different towns, fiancées and men working away from Pompeii.
I contemplated the ripple effect and wondered…

My little girl wondered about the TV and I wondered about the spread of loss.

Two girls, different generations and different ages with two different thoughts happening in the same place…Pompeii.

She still remembers it you know…

‘Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings’.
-Jane Austen

Could I be so bold as to tack on to the end of this blog my sheer excitement that Jane Austen has been decided upon as the first female to grace the ten pound note in Great Britain. It couldn’t have happened to a more audacious and outstanding woman. A long time coming…

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The rOME cHRONICLES: The tale of Italian boy meets blonde girl in a place called Rome

Just like Cinderella she kicked off a shoe around midnight. Although it wasn’t a glass slipper, instead a black clog that Paolo detested. She’d bought them when she lived in London. They were comfy, clompy and well ugly…

Paolo had enjoyed their evening together.
He’d wanted to kiss her lips almost instantly…

He prayed that showing her Rome-by-night would make her fall in love with him and his city. The Colosseum, the Foro Italico and Piazza di Spagna were particularly breathtaking beneath a moonlit sky. He watched her, taken in by the exquisite details of her face as she gazed at the beauty of his city’s favourite monuments. He studied her lips, the fall of her hair and her astounding blue eyes as she burst with contagious vitality. She was nothing like the Italian women he’d known. Most of them were still living at home at her age and hadn’t flown to the other side of the world in search of adventure. She was uncharacteristically like no one he had ever met.

She laughed and smiled a lot; not because she was acting silly but quite simply because she was happy…

He felt happy too, really happy and laughing as hard as her made his heart smile.

He had no idea how long she would stay, he knew she was a tourist and their days were numbered.

He’d have to turn on his charm to make her never want to leave…

As the clock in the Piazza struck twelve he knew she was his Cinderella.

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The rOME cHRONICLES: The tale of the pregnant pause in a Roman post office

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Being pregnant in your own country is hard enough, but it is amplified in a foreign country when your grasp on the language isn’t perfect…

She waited in her thin cotton dress with it’s shoe string straps, she was one of many in the serpent line and foreign tongues outnumbered her.
Her pregnancy was in its early stages and her bump was noticeable to her but not so much to others. Mostly because others were too busy with their own lives to be concerned with that of an Australian girl and and why should they concern themselves in her life anyway.
The line moved at a snail’s pace. She still hadn’t made it inside the door. The human serpent weaved around like the check- in at the airport. She began to fan herself with the bill she held in her hand, which was the purpose for standing in this line, to pay the telephone bill. The temperature started to rise as the sun reflected off the glass doors. She was feeling a bit light headed and imagined she probably should have eaten the rest of her croissant this morning.

Gradually, she made it in through the glass doors. There was no air conditioning and a stale overpowering stench filled the post office. People hovered close to each other. Personal space was not respected in Rome. She felt the man behind hers breath on her neck. It made her feel uneasy so she shuffled ahead, lightly touching the woman in front of her. The two cashiers were busy chatting. One was dragging on his cigarette and sipping his espresso in a minute plastic cup and the other, a woman in her forties, was in an in depth conversation with her customer.

The line moved ahead. She glanced at her watch. The office shut in less than an hour which meant she’d been in line for almost two hours. Her legs began to ache and perspiration trickled down the back of her knees. She was eighth in line now; she began to wave her bill frantically as beads of sweat coated her upper lip.

‘Signora, signora’, the cashier’s voice increased in volume as she stared right at her. “Venga, venga, lei e’ in attesa’. That’s when the uproar broke out. The cashier had very gently encouraged her to come forward because she was pregnant. Then the incoherent voices screamed tortuous words, ‘non e’ incinta, e’ la segretaria di qualcuno!’
An angry elderly man exploded, arms thrust in the air. Rudely, he told the other serpent line travellers that she was only someone’s secretary and wasn’t pregnant at all. He’d created an entire life story for her without knowing the details.They tut-tutted in chorus.

She had no secretarial skills…

She was just standing in a line like everyone else…and she was pregnant…

As she approached the cashier’s window her tiny frame showed the signs of defeat and exhaustion. Constricted by the thickening lump in her throat she seized an uninvited pregnant pause and then in poor Italian she spoke to the cashier. Embarrassed by the excitement all she wanted to do was to fly like a bird out of the confines of the hideous cage.

Bill paid; she left the post office to the snarls of evil faces she hoped she would never lay eyes on again…