Tag Archives: expat

Write now, despair later

Notes from my extremely glamorous life: Write now, eat radicchio later.

Over the past 18 months or so, I’ve been quite good about keeping a journal… except that I always write the most when nothing very interesting is happening. All the times that I would like to be able to look back at with a record of what I did and what I thought about it are blank. And then I come to write entries for this blog and I sit there and flick through my journal and think, “What have I even done this week?!”

Part of the problem is that I am a very lazy/reluctant writer, hence my need for a post-it note, WRITE NOW, DESPAIR LATER. (Full credit to my sister for that piece of motivation.) It works remarkably well, probaby because it doesn’t pretend that the feeling of “urgggh I don’t wanna write” will ever go away.

But anyway, not having any useful notes of what I did this week, I’m stuck writing about what I remember off the top of my head. Which I’m sure will give you a full indication of how extremely glamorous my expat life here is…

I went to the markets the other day, where I remembered I needed some olives. There are lots of stalls with olives at Porta Palazzo, but I decided to go to the one with the free samples and showmanship. This was a terrible decision from the point of view of efficiency — the stand is busy (because: free samples), even as you’re being served, the guy keeps turning aside to top up the sample plates and yell at passers-by that they should come and buy some olives, and then you end up buying more than you’d planned (again because: free samples). But I think I ate enough in the way of samples to make it worthwhile.

Part of the reason I needed olives was because I’d just bought a bag of radicchio and I wanted to be able to make my radicchio pasta, which is loosely based on a dish you sometimes get in restaurants here, but adjusted to my tastes (salty & bitter):

  • Put your pasta water on to boil and cook the pasta in the background while you make the radicchio “sauce”.
  • Chop the radicchio into small-ish pieces, a few centimetres squared, rinse and drain.
  • Heat oil in a pan, throw in the radicchio, add some of that stock that comes in jelly-like form in little plastic containers — as in, put a spoonful of that stuff in without adding any water.
  • Stir as needed, and once it’s starting to cook add chopped up olives (I like olives with chili).
  • Throw in some milk, let the liquid reduce a bit and/or add more liquid as needed. If you don’t have milk, use the pasta water.
  • Once the pasta’s cooked, drain it and stir it through.

Bam! You have dinner. I had this for dinner tonight; I probably eat it at least once a week in winter.

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Teapot and watercolour postcard

I bought a teapot and I am unreasonably excited by it.

I arrived in Italy nearly four years ago with a 60L backpack and a 30L daypack and a rather large handbag, all packed as full as I could manage.

At the time — especially with it on my back! — it seemed like a lot. I have minimalist tendencies, and I’d been thinning out my worldly possessions for a couple of years at that point. (It is not lost on me that I was in my mid-20s at the time and had barely accumulated any worldly possessions to start with.) What I was carrying was a decent fraction of everything I owned, the rest of it being in boxes tucked neatly under my parent’s spare single bed.

I’d thought about getting those boxes shipped. In the end, I didn’t, for much the same reason I’d been decluttering in the first place: my life involved a lot of moving around — from one sharehouse to another in Perth, then to Glasgow (and two apartments in one year there) and then to Italy — and moving stuff with me just seemed like hassle.

It was much simpler to approach every new place as a short-term venture, making do with what I could carry. I did a lot of laundry, since I only had a week’s worth of tshirts. I stuck to cooking foods that used the same few spices, so I wouldn’t have to throw away nearly-full packets of spices the next time I moved. I rented furnished places and sweet-talked my way into getting bed linen and kitchenware included so I wouldn’t have to buy any.

I’ll never be one of those minimalist lifestyle bloggers, but I have to say, there are advantages to living like that. If you do move frequently, you have a lot more flexibility. You save money, since your default answer to “should I buy that?” is “no”, and the cash stays in your pocket. You get creative at problem solving, and after a while it becomes second nature to realize things like the fact that you can use a roasting tray as a lid for a saucepan.

But… let’s go back to the start of this post. I arrived in Italy nearly four years ago. In that time, I’ve moved house once, but that’s still the two longest leases I’ve had since I left my parent’s house. I don’t need to live out of a backpack.

I only really grasped this a couple of months ago, and I’ve been on a mad acquisition spree since. Well, mad by my standards. I bought a rolling pin in December. I bought a teapot on the weekend (isn’t it pretty?) I made a New Year’s resolution to buy a second set of bedlinen so I could stop having to wash them first thing in the morning to get them dry by the evening. (That’s not even my lamest new year’s resolution.)

Ironically, I’m doing all this “recluttering” when I have a year left on my work contract and no idea what I’ll do or where I’ll go after that. But for the next 12 months, having some stuff is a great way to feel like I’ve got stability.

Art in Castello di Rivoli

Notes from my extremely glamorous life: Castello di Rivoli edition

Last week I had a stomach virus, the week before I had a flu. My goal for this week: do an actual five-day work week. (You mean I have another four entire days after this??)

Some other notes from my extremely glamorous not-at-all-moping-in-bed life:

  • I went with some friends to Castello di Rivoli on Saturday. I’ve been once before, I should go more often. It’s a Savoy palace! It’s got contemporary art! On a clear day, it has amazing views to the Alps but even on a cloudy day like Saturday it has views to Rivoli and down Corso Francia to Torino.
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    We were almost the only visitors there, and possibly the guards were a bit bored because they’d follow us from room to room, not even in a subtle way, just following. On the top floor there’s a viewing platform and we tried to get a group selfie with the scenery behind us — “Never mind, a guard will be along in a minute and we’ll get them to take a photo of us,” we joked.

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    Also, how fabulous is this ceiling?

  • I’m starting to vaguely plot and scheme some fun things to do in spring, which officially isn’t for ages but this winter has been so mild it’s felt like spring since about mid-December. Last spring was a bit crap, and listing fun things to do is my overplanner’s way of trying to make this one better. Ideas so far:
    • Do something “cultural” in Milan. I’m there semi-frequently for work, but all I ever see of Milan is Stazione Centrale, the subway, and the office. Pretty sure that, as a major city, it contains more than that.
    • Brunch! (Easter brunch?)
    • Start eating gelato again. I’ve only stopped because everywhere seems to be closed in January. (Yes, “eat gelato” is indeed something I resolve every time I decide to make resolutions.)

    Other suggestions?

  • These peanut butter oatmeal cookies are delicious. I had been limiting my use of oatmeal in baking because I was having trouble finding it in Torino, but a couple of months ago I got a tip-off to try the Chinese shops in Porta Palazzo. For whatever reason, they have 1kg boxes of Quaker oats for something like 3 euro. Yessssss. #expatlife
  • And I discovered a few weeks ago that some crazy people from New Zealand have a recipe for homemade golden syrup, which produces something not exactly the same as golden syrup you’d buy in Australia but ehh whatever it’s near enough. I am totally going to make Anzac biscuits one of these days.

Practical tips for future reference: To get to Castello di Rivoli from central Torino, take the metro to Paradiso then catch the #36 bus to the end of the line. From there, just keep walking uphill through the historical centre of Rivoli.

Busselton Jetty, Australia

‘Straya Day: a primer

Tomorrow is Australia Day, Australia’s creatively-named national holiday on the anniversary of the start of British colonization of Australia.

Actually, Australia Day is a multi-week event. It starts in early January, with Meat and Livestock Australia trolling vegetarians everywhere with an ad urging everyone to eat lamb on Australia Day and maybe also set a vegan’s coffee table on fire if you have the chance. That last bit is literally from this year’s ad, which I will admit gave me a decent chuckle when I saw it at 4 in the morning in Frankfurt airport a couple of weeks ago.

Having opened ceremonies with the traditional I’m a Vegan And I’m Rather Cross dance, we then move on to a rather more grim slanging match, in which various Aboriginal Australians point out that maybe having a national day celebrating the start of years of attacks on their people by Europeans is a bit, I dunno, in bad taste, and then various white Australians say things like “Can’t you, like, move on? It’s at least a couple of decades since we forcibly removed your children form you” and various other white Australians say things like “yeah nah Stan Grant totally makes a good point” and then continue with the status quo up to and including not even seriously entertaining the idea of picking a less contentious date for the national holiday.

Meanwhile, the Eff Off We’re Full Brigade stocks up on Australian flags to wear as capes and the Multicultural Inner City Squad mutters things about “National Dickhead Day” and people (like me!) write blog posts about How Australia Day Reveals the Divisions in Australian Society although fortunately we get countered by articles like this moving collection of stories from a range of Australians about how they came to Australia.

If you don’t live in Australia, then you get an extra bit of pre-26th tradition which is that somehow — regardless of whether you bring it up — a few days before the 26th your non-Australian friends find out that it’s nearly the Australian national holiday, and you get to have slightly awkward conversations explaining all of the above to people who really just wanted to know that it’s common to have a barbeque on Australia Day.

And then the 26th comes around and lots of alcohol is consumed and if you’re in Perth you get a decent fireworks show and that’s it for another year.

(Oh but you really must watch Stan Grant’s speech on racism in Australia, it’s a powerful piece of rhetoric and it went viral for good reason.)

Winter view of the Alps from Turin

Notes from my extremely glamorous life: back to Italy

I got back to Turin last Monday. Walked through my front door, put my bags down, and thought, I love my apartment.

Partly, I think, because it’s the first place I’ve lived by myself for more than a couple of months (which I enjoy a lot), but conversely because the space is touched the people who have spent time here. Looking around my kitchen now, I can see postcards from friends who have travelled onwards, a beer bottle with my name on it that was left over from a party and I can’t bring myself to put in recycling because umm hello it’s a beer bottle called “Zoe”, a tin of Taiwanese tea that a friend brought back from her trip home there one summer, a pair of rain boots sitting near the door left by a friend who moved away, which I still haven’t used because it still hasn’t rained yet this winter.


My trip back was uneventful in the way you want inter-continental travel to be, but I did get a full 24 hours in Kuala Lumpur in between flights so I got to do a bit of wandering around.

I arrived in the evening and stayed in a backpackers hostel. You know how all those “how to travel” articles carry on about “stay in hostels! you’ll meet people to hang out with!”? I always stay in hostels; I never meet people. But Back Home in KL seemed to magically be a hostel that was social but not a party hostel, and I spent the next day doing a hop on hop off bus tour with a girl I’d met at breakfast, who was from the Netherlands and on her way from New Zealand to India.

Traipsing around an unfamiliar city with a total stranger is definitely an experience I’d recommend — if nothing else it was fun to see where our perceptions converged (“ugh it’s so hot!” “yes!”) and diverged (her: “it’s so clean and orderly here!” me, having just flown in from Perth: “I guess…?” her: “well, I suppose I’m comparing it to Jakarta”)

I’m not totally convinced the hop on hop off bus was really worth the money, but it did take us past the KL Tower, which we went up and which was worth it just for the feeling of looking across the skyscrapers and highways as if we were playing a giant game of Sim City.

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Things I have explained about Australia in the past week:

  • yes, Random Guy in a Cafe, as far as I know, if you want a longer working holiday visa in Australia you have to work on a farm, but I’m really not an expert on these things and I do hope you manage to find someone better to ask…
  • yeah, Work Colleague, you are right to think that pretty much the whole of Australia has been on fire at some point this summer, except for the bits that flooded.
  • me: pass the chips
    friend: you don’t call them crisps?
    me: no, that’s the English
    friend: so then you call the other things ‘fries’ like the Americans?
    other friend, also Australian: nah, they’re also chips
    friend: …
    me: or if it’s not clear from context–
    both aussies, laughing: “hot chips”
William St, Perth

Australia: you fluent, then?

An observation that I present without comment (ok, I present it with amusement actually, because this cracks me up every time): everyone I talk to here, when I tell them that I live in Italy, replies with some variant on “Oh wow! You must be fluent in Italian then!”

Which I invariably respond to with awkward laughter because, well, fluent is not a word I’d use to describe my Italian usage. Unintentionally hilarious would be a better fit. Or maybe, vocabulary of a 4 year old.

The one exception  was when I went for a haircut yesterday, and the hairdresser said, “No way! You marry an Italian or something?” But she was herself from Naples so I think this falls under the heading of Italians Who Can’t Believe An Australian Would Move To Their Country, which should maybe be the subject of another post.

Notes from my extremely glamorous life, It’s Nearly Christmas edition

I keep getting “It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas” stuck in my head, except that line is literally the only line in the song that I know, and I’m not entirely sure of the melody.


 

I’m in Perth now. Overheard a guy telling his mates as I got off the plane yesterday, “It’s 38 degrees outside they reckon, if I were youse I’d take my jumper off now.” I can’t decide whether the heat is making it feel like Christmas. Certainly, the winter made it feel like Advent back in Torino, which it never used to. Am I shifting my cultural expectations? But I still can’t imagine it feeling properly like Christmas in the cold and dark.


 

You can tell I grew up Anglican because I think it’s perfectly reasonable to listen to an Advent carol that exhorts people to rejoice in a minor key, which, how is that even supposed to work?

 


 

Found myself in charge of decorations for a Christmas dinner last week. This is an odd choice of job for someone who used to live in a sharehouse where we celebrated Christmas by taking turns to wear the grinch hat — a Santa hat but black instead of red, and with “Bah Humbug” printed on the rim — and complain about the festive season.

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Totally buying myself one for next Christmas.

“Whatever, I’ll just buy some cheap tinsel, throw it around the room, call it done.”  Well, I’m sure somewhere in Turin sells tinsel, but I still haven’t worked out where it is. We ended up with bunting. Which, in the end, why not? It’s festive. At least I didn’t buy the bunting that said “happy birthday”.

Meanwhile, A. and A. thought the lack of a Christmas tree was too much, and painstakingly taped ribon to the walls in the shape of a tree. With branches. And a star on top. Yup, they’re getting the “organize decorations” job next year.


I decided to play up my Antipodean-ness (Antipodeanity?) and made a pavlova for that Christmas party. I am a terrible blogger and didn’t take a photo of it, but you’ll have to believe me that it was a popular success, and not just because there was only one other person there who knew how pavlova “should” be.

Feeling flushed with success, I made another pavlova today to take to a party tonight. I can hear the meringue base cracking under the weight of the cream and fruit. I’m 90% certain it will be served up as Eton Mess. Bad blogger or not, I’m not taking a photo of this one, either.

And that is why sensible people stick to Christmas desserts that don’t have engineering considerations.

Bridge over the River Po, Turin, Italy

A bridge day.

I wish I were writing about a day where I completed some kind of bridge-related challenge, like to visit every bridge (the water-crossing type) in Torino or learn to play bridge (the card game type). But I’m afraid this is more mundane.

Tomorrow is a public holiday here in Italy. As many Italian people have told me — with pride or shame depending on their temperament — the Italian tradition with Tuesday and Thursday public holidays is to take the Monday/Friday off too, to make a four-day weekend. Many people I speak to are surprised that this seems completely normal to me and that many people in Australia do the same thing. They seem to think it’s a uniquely Italian tradition, that shows how clever/lazy (again depending on the speaker’s temperament) the Italian people are.

But the Italians do have one advantage over the Australians, which is that they have a word for this: ponte, literally, “bridge”.

This year, I decided to take a bridge day myself. Well, I called it a “work from home day”, to try and keep the hard-working-Anglo-Saxon myth alive, and I did indeed do an entire half-hour of work. But my main goal for the day was actually to pay my garbage collection bill.

Last year, I discovered that everyone in Torino has this bill due on the same day, and my bank account is somehow set up so I can’t pay it online. Last year, I spent a good three hours at the post office on the day it was due, waiting for my turn to pay it along with all the pensioners who didn’t use online bill paying either. This year, I was going to be smart and pay a few days in advance, and my bridge day seemed like a good opportunity.

I got off to a good start, going to the local post office in the morning, with several hours to spare before it closed. It wasn’t too busy, which was a pleasant surprise, and I figured I’d even get some grocery shopping done before coming home for lunch.

Until  I discovered that my local post office, which looks exactly like a post office outside and in, down to the surly staff, and which offers various bill-paying services, is not a post office for the purpose of being able to pay one’s garbage collection bill.

“You’ll have to go to the office on via Bologna,” the lady at the counter told me.

After some lunch I decided to try again. Getting this bill paid was my one goal for the day, and even if I’d bought groceries and mopped the kitchen floor (for the first time in… ah, never mind) I’d still feel a bit like I’d wasted a day if I ended up having to miss more work to get this bill paid. So I headed to the central post office, which is one of the few that are open until the evening.

In the end, it was mostly painless. One hour in line (not bad!) and I kept myself amused by tallying the people who, among the fifty or so in the hall, weren’t wearing black, blue or grey coats:

  • The lady with the gorgeously structured cherry-red felt coat. I imagined if she were my friend I’d be calling her regularly for fashion advice.
  • The man with greying curly hair, in an olive green puffy jacket and complementary green-grey trainers.
  • The twenty-ish woman with her head shaved on one side who wore a zebra-print hoodie.
  • The small girl in a bright purple jacket and pink beanie, who toddled around and around the room, followed by her mother or father who were taking turns on toddler-chasing duty, until she wore herself out and fell asleep on her mum’s lap.

 

Apparently I do nothing with my free time but eat. I see nothing wrong with that.

My clothing choices the past couple of days have been determined entirely by “what options do I have that involve elastic waistbands”. Probably because since Thursday, I’ve done nothing but eat…

  • Thanksgiving. In this case, a Friendsgiving, or more accurately, a Bring-A-Friendsgiving, which ended up being 30 people. I have no idea how anyone puts on dinner for 30 people. I say this even after being a last-minute rope-in kitchen hand and seeing the process in person. In fact, I think I have even less of an idea now than I did before. As far as I can tell, it involves some awe-inspiring advance preparation, a great deal of teamwork on the night, and probably some miracles. (And, let’s face it, a good bit of running around like a headless chook.)
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    So. Much. Apple pie.

    Somehow in between all the running around, I managed to eat a vast quantity of turkey and stuffing and green bean casserole (green bean casserole 4EVA) and sweet potato casserole and apple pie and pumpkin pie. And then took leftovers home for Friday. Yessssss.

  • Bicerin for Saturday lunch. Bicerin is a traditional Torinese hot drink that borders on a dessert: a layer of espresso under a layer of thick drinking chocolate under a layer of cream. Traditionally, you don’t stir these layers together and the drink evolves as you go along, going from the milky top layer to the slightly sweet chocolate layer to the final kick of the espresso. It’s rich and warming and perfect for late November, but there’s probably a reason most people wouldn’t consider it to be a lunch in itself. I REGRET NOTHING.
  • Bagna Cauda. The Piedmontese dish you either love or you hate — the divisiveness coming from the fact that it’s a sauce made of garlic and anchovies, served with raw vegetables. I’m on team “love it”. 

    It’s a very traditional dish, so much so that the regional government of Piedmont has an info sheet about it (in Italian). The vegetable choices are also dictated by tradition, and it turns out that if you’re in a vegetable market holding a bag of celery and a bag of cardi and you’re buying a bag of jerusalem artichokes, the stallholder will chuckle and say, “I see you’re making bagna cauda.”

    In case you’re thinking Garlic and raw vegetables sounds healthy, I will also point out that we had five different desserts, which is my favourite side-effect of going to a group dinner with people who all feel they ought to bring something to share.

    (This weekend I learned the English for cardi is “cardoons”, but I refuse to believe that’s a real word and will continue borrowing the Italian. I know I have rolled my eyes in the past at people who insist on borrowing words when English ones exist, but come on. “Cardoon”?)

Sheep in Parco Coletta, Turin

Notes from my extremely glamorous life

  • I went for a walk yesterday afternoon, along the Dora up to Parco Colletta. The sheep are out grazing there at the moment. Apparently there’s an arrangement where local farmers can graze their sheep in the park, which seems to me like an arrangement that is both extremely practical and extremely delightful. The sheep were completely unperturbed by nearby picnickers making the most of another unseasonably warm day.
  • The unseasonably warm weather means it’s still well and truly gelato season, which meant that I got to introduce my visiting friend H. to the joys of La Romana. She was impressed. She also got an introduction to panettone, which is starting to appear in the shops as Christmas approaches. This was less impressive. (“A hot cross bun in giant form,” which is fair enough.)
  • I don’t get so many full-scale cultural surprises these days — even when Italian people do something I think is a bit odd, I can usually fit it into my mental picture of what Italian culture is like. But this week I had a proper woah no that’s crazy moment, this time involving German culture.You see, apparently in Germany it’s common to use two separate single duvets on a double bed, so each person gets one to themselves.

    I guess if you’re German this is perfectly reasonable practice. It certainly seemed that way to my German friend S., who had casually mentioned a friend of hers being surprised by a shared duvet in Italy.

    But I’m pretty sure I’m not the only non-German to be really taken aback by the idea. Actually, I know I’m not the only one, because poor S. got bombarded with responses ranging from “No come on, you’re pulling my leg” through to, “Can you even be actually married if you don’t share a duvet with your spouse?!” (Along with some Australian side discussion of, “Wait, do you actually call it a duvet?” “No, it’s a doona, obviously.” “Ok good.”)

    And then some googling revealed a comment from a German guy who pointed out that separate blankets allow you to fart in bed more discretely, and the conversation went downhill from there…