Tag Archives: expat

A perfect Perth winter day, in Torino

Winter barefoot walks FTW!
Photo credit: “Winter barefoot walks FTW!” by Simon Wright, via Flickr

Today was one of those Torino autumn days that felt like a perfect Perth winter day — blue skies, chilly in the morning, but warm enough under the midday sun eat lunch outside and not need a jacket. In Perth, I’d have gone for a walk on the beach on a day like today, and come away with wild hair from the buffeting wind. Here, I caught glimpses of the sun setting behind the mountains as I walked through the meadows in Parco Colletta, and got grass seeds stuck in my socks.

It occurs to me I haven’t been in Perth in winter for 5 years now, and on days like today that feels like a long time. I miss Perth. Not just the people, who I miss frequently (and do a terrible job of keeping in touch with!) But the geography, too. The open space and wide empty streets, single-storey houses on quater-acre blocks. The way the city is flat, until you notice the undulations of the sand dunes it’s built upon. The route from my old place to work, cycling through bushland just a couple of kilometres from the city centre. The Swan River, or rather, just “the river”, as if you needed any other rivers in the world.

And other days I miss Glasgow, and other days I miss the tiny wheat and sheep farming town I lived in as a kid, and other days I miss the months I spent in Florence. Probably one day I’ll be living somewhere else again, and missing Torino.

We were talking over dinner the other night about the idea of being “from” somewhere. Like, can you be from somewhere if your parents weren’t from there? In Australia, yes, but that’s not universal. And I was thinking afterwards about how I’d never thought about being from somewhere until I lived in Glasgow for a year and realized that Britishness was something I recognized if I squinted and held my head at a funny angle, but it wasn’t my culture, and the city was lively and Scotland was beautiful, but it wasn’t my place.

Because my culture is Australian, and my place is Perth.
“Nice to meet you, I’m Zoe, from Australia.”
“Oh? Where in Australia are you from?”
“Perth, it’s on the west coast.”
(That last statement delivered almost as a question, because I will never completely lose my Australian habit of upward inflection.)

Turin by night from Monte dei Cappuccini

Notes from my extremely glamorous life: way too much food edition

Late summer through autumn is when Piemonte goes into full-on food mode and I love it. I spent this afternoon with friends at Festival delle Sagre, a food festival in Asti, a town about an hour from Torino. It had been a cool and rainy morning and text messages flew back and forth about whether it would still be on, whether we should go. We couldn’t not go! It had been so much fun last year and if we didn’t go today, K. wouldn’t get a chance to go. We got word there would still be food stalls, and decided to go whatever the weather.

Around lunch time, as we were bundling into cars with our rain jackets and umbrellas, the sun came out, and stayed out all afternoon. (It’s raining again now.) It ended up being a warm late summer afternoon in Asti, filled with food and wine and conversation and laughter and a spin round on a ferris wheel. Me afterwards: “I’m glad A. and M. brought their kids, they gave us an excuse to go on the ferris wheel. Wait. We probably would have done it anyway, wouldn’t we.”

Things I have learned recently:

  1. Lugging home my work laptop on the weekend is truly useless. No matter how much I fully intend no really for reals to get some work done on Saturday morning, I will inevitably find something else to do. Like clean a kitchen.
  2. I say “a” kitchen because my procrastination is at a level where I will clean pretty much anyone’s kitchen rather than do work.
  3. Cleaning kitchens is more immediately satisfying than doing physics research.
  4. Having gelato in the afternoon is no barrier to going for granita at night. I’m about 80% certain at this point that I will eventually leave Italy with type II diabetes.
  5. Most alcohol makes my stomach churn unless I have unsociably tiny quantities. However, preliminary research suggests this is not true of sake. Further experimentation is required. Funding agencies: I’ll gladly take grants to study this. Call me.
  6. You will never go wrong by bringing a batch of cookies to a get-together. (cf my comments above about type II diabetes.)
  7. Turin is really pretty at night.


Remember how I was asking the other week for onion/garlic-free recipes? One suggestion (thanks CatherineRose!) was quiche, which I love in principle… but in practice I’m too lazy to make pastry for a base. Fortunately, this is a good cheat-y pseudo-quiche recipe, one of those ones where you basically throw flour and egg and some tasty things in a pie dish and pull out something reasonably quiche-like from the oven 40 minutes later.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a pie dish.

Fortunately, I do have several spring-form cake tins that are about the right size for the recipe.

Unfortunately, spring-form cake tins do not hold raw egg at all, as I discovered as I got raw egg all over my table cloth. No worries, I thought. I’ll just put this spring-form cake tin inside a larger spring-form cake tin and that will catch the drips. I put the pair of tins in the oven, and 30 seconds later was yelling something along the lines of “No f&#$ you, quiche!” as I watched the egg drip through the outer cake tin and onto the oven floor.

Fortunately it was at this point I finally realized I could scoop everything into a muffin tin that would hold the mixture perfectly to make a dozen mini-quiches. You know that “I meant to do that!” look that cats give when they know they’ve done something ridiculous? That was exactly my face at that moment.

Gran Madre and Superga at night

The other four seasons of the year.

It is currently pouring with rain and I’m wearing jeans and a cardigan, and I’m starting to lose faith in the traditional weather-based seasons here in Turin. (At least we had a summer here this year, unlike last year!) So I want to propse a new set of seasons, that aren’t about the weather. They’re the Living Abroad Seasons. There’s four of them, so that’s nice and traditional, although up-front disclaimer: they’re not equal in length, which jars against my need for symmetry, but oh well.

The current season is August, aka, Nothing Is Happening Here, Get Out of Town Season. Turin’s one of those Italian cities where everyone clears off to the mountains and/or the seaside for as much of August as possible. Shops close, there’s no traffic even in peak hour, the mailboxes in my apartment are piling up with uncollected letters. Normally I’d also be out of town for mid-August, but this year I somehow managed to arrange things so I arrived back in Turin on the 15th. Ghost town. It’s peaceful, in a way.

And August is a good break to psych up for People Arriving Season in September/October. People come back from holidays, either tanned (if they’re Italian) or sunburnt (if they’re like me). The university year starts, as do many fixed-term jobs, and new people arrive in town. I am every stereotype of an introvert, but I love meeting new people. (I just need a lie down in a dark room afterwards.) Finding out where people are from, why they’re here, noticing shared interests, it’s all great. People Arriving Season is my favourite Living Abroad Season.

The next season is the Long Season. Work. Socialize, in a more normal way now that not everyone is a new face. Slog through winter. Daydream of summer holidays. Christmas, New Years. Maybe travel somewhere fun over the Easter weekend. Become closer friends with people. Drift apart from others. Once the novelty of living away from where you grew up wears off, this is the season that looks like “real life”.

And then we get to Goodbye Season, in June-July. The university year ends, and so do those fixed-contract jobs, and over the course of a few weeks easily half of the new friends you made in September will have moved on to new things. It’s an exciting time, because people are going to do all sorts of interesting things and you get to be happy for them. But because I sort of snuck out of Perth when I left, I never really did the goodbye thing there (sorry everyone!) and I was in no way prepared for how exhausting Goodbye Season would be until I experienced it for myself. Constantly thinking, “will I ever see them again, I wonder?” is a bit of a downer, it turns out.

Sometimes I daydream of moving everyone I know and love to the same city — or inventing teleportation — so that I can keep all my friends nearby. And of course I could settle down somewhere and have a stable group of friends that I see every week for years and years. I know people who have based their lives around stability and it’s suiting them splendidly. But I suspect life isn’t as stable as it sometimes looks, and for now I’ll choose the highs and lows of instability.

Street art in Turin, Italy

Things I have witnessed since moving to Turin.

This afternoon, I’m leaving on a work trip to Lake Como (sometimes you have to make sacrifices for your career, you know?) so just a quick listicle type post for today.

Some of the more notable things I’ve seen in Turin:

  • The other day, 4 people in period costume were leaving Porta Nuova metro station the same time as me. One of the women was wearing a skirt with a bustle and she had to turn sideways to get through the fare gate. As I got to street level, I discovered they were part of a parade.
    Those skirts weren't designed with metro turnstiles in mind.

    Those skirts weren’t designed with metro turnstiles in mind.

    Continue reading

Torino Jazz Festival in Piazza San Carlo

Notes from my extremely glamorous life: it’s summer (and it’s still not Christmas)

A long lunch today. 19 of us including the kids, crammed round two tables put together to make one long one, talking and laughing and passing the wine around. A hot day; humid and still. We shift around, trying to position ourselves as best we can to get airflow from the fan. Then I realise why this scene feels familiar. It’s just like Christmas in Australia.

As J. pointed out, we even had cherries. Definitely Christmas. Continue reading

Adventures in bureaucracy: health insurance edition

One of the… fun… things about living in Italy is the regular adventures in bureaucracy. This week, it was my health insurance. Or rather, my tessera sanitaria, the card you carry around to prove that you have health insurance.

Tessera sanitaria.png

This one’s not mine, obviously! (“Tessera sanitaria” by DomenicoOwn work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)

Now, I’m sure that technically you don’t need the card. Certainly you don’t in an emergency. I spent half a week in hospital under the wrong name because they didn’t check my ID until I’d been there 5 days and had done multiple xrays, an ultrasound and received most of a course of antibiotics. I’d have conversations with nurses where they’d look at the name on my notes and ask “Oh, are you Albanian?”
“Uh, no…?”
“Your surname, it looks Albanian.”
“Oh, no, it’s just mis-spelt.”
And apparently this wasn’t any sort of problem.

Continue reading

Anzac day: it’s complicated.

Dawn service gnangarra 03.jpg

Dawn service gnangarra 03” by Photographs by Gnangarra…commons.wikimedia.org. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 au via Wikimedia Commons.

Yesterday was Anzac day, and like most Australian public holidays it’s interesting to explain to people here. It seems the explanation has to either be very short, or very long. Continue reading

Australia: sometimes I have no idea what to do.

Here’s a question I’ve been pondering this week, and I’d love input from other people living away from their “home” country: How involved are you in your home country’s politics? How involved should you be? I mean politics here in the broadest sense, not just elections and governments but social issues generally. How closely do you follow the news? Do you keep giving money to causes you supported previously? If you’re allowed to vote, do you? Should you?

What prompted all this was a friend here asking me how I felt about Australia’s refugee policies. For years now, governments from both sides of politics have had policies of mandatory offshore detention for anyone coming to Australia by boat. The stated goal of this is to undermine the business model of people smugglers, apparently by trying to make coming to Australia even less appealing than, y’know, for example, getting killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan. The detention camps are squalid and mental illness and sexual abuse are reportedly endemic. Whatever the solution is to people smugglers preying on the desperate, torturing the same desperate people is surely not it.

This sums it up.

This sums it up. (From the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre.)

So my answer to my friend’s question was: I am appallled. My country is literally trying to be more unattractive than the Iranian government, warlords in Afghanistan and human rights abusers in Sri Lanka. And just the other week, our Prime Minster said he felt no guilt “whatsoever” about the situation. (Oh, my blood pressure after I read that…)

So yeah, I’m angry. I’m also sad. And I feel guilty.

Guilty because this is being done in my name as an Australian, and what am I doing to stop it? Or even to register my disapproval?

Which brings me back to my opening question. What can I do? What should I do?

It’s tempting to say: not my problem, what happens in Australia now has nothing to do with me. Maybe I should even butt out, after all, do I want to become one of those meddling foreigners who has a vague connection to a country and therefore feels qualified to lecture it on how to conduct its affairs?

But that doesn’t sit right with me, to say “whew, glad I’ll never be a refugee” and to get on with more pressing concerns like, “what’s for lunch?” And anyway, I’ve been asked about Australian politics often enough that I don’t think people around me are going to let me shrug it off any time soon.

So, what to do?

Australia lets you stay on the electoral roll and vote for several years after you leave the country, and I did vote in the last federal election. But so did 94% of voters (and we all tutted about low turnout — that’s compulsory voting for you!) and we still wound up with a government that seemingly no-one is happy with at the moment.

I can write emails to politicians. Does that do anything? Here is the frustration of being abroad — I’ve heard that in-person visits are really the way to go if you want to be heard, but that option is out for me. I can post things on facebook — I can barely type that with a straight face, has anything in the world ever changed because someone posted something on facebook? (Besides your friend count, as people decide you’re “that person”?)

As a Christian, I do believe that I can pray. But I also believe God usually answers prayers through peoples’ actions rather than thunderbolt or angelic visitation, so sitting here piously praying without also doing what I can feels false to me. (Like the apostle James says: “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”)

Any better ideas? Thoughts about political involvement generally?

PS: I still miss Australia. I mean, look at this:


Dinner flash mob in Turin

3 things I’ve learned in Italy

Before I moved to Italy, I imagined that after a couple of years, I’d be fluent in the language (ha!), I’d have learned to cook lots of amazing dishes (I had takeaway pizza for tea tonight), I’d understand Italian politics (ehhhh… maybe it’s beyond understanding?) and I’d be riding around on a Vespa (obviously I’d never seen traffic here).

But I’m not completely wasting my time, and here are three things I’ve learned:

1. How to appreciate traditional food.

Not always, I admit. My pizza this evening was from the place downstairs from me that is run by a Chinese family and sells pizza and Chinese food. (An obvious combination, right?) Definitely not generations of a family from Naples, each son learning from his father how to prove the dough and mix the tomato paste.

But I think it’s fair to say that in Italy, “This is just how my grandmother made it!” is high praise for food. I’m only exaggerating a bit when I say that food from the next town over is crazy foreign food that you might eat once a year at a food festival. There are special foods for not just Christmas and Easter but a whole bunch of saints days, as well as the seasons, and the idea of eating something at the wrong time of year is inconceivable.

Traditional doesn't mean "no fun" - this was a dinner-eating flash mob back in summer.

Traditional doesn’t mean “no fun” – this was a dinner-eating flash mob where everyone wore white, that I happend across back in summer.

All of which is quite novel for me. I’ve never quite worked out how to answer, “What dishes are typical to where you grew up?” which in Italy is a perfectly good get-to-know-you question, but in Australia makes no sense. And when I go back to Australia, I love that there are Mexican and Indonesian and Vietnamese and Thai restaurants all within walking distance of my parent’s place. But I’ve become quite taken by the idea of having a well-defined cuisine, that you’ve cooked and eaten so long that you understand it perfectly.

(Note that I’ve learned to like this idea, sadly I’m a long way off from being able to cook…)

2. How to interact with small children.

Confession time: I’m not naturally a children person.

If you’re a friend of mine and you have kids: your children are wonderful and I legitimately like them.

But I have a hard time thinking of anything to say to people about their babies other than, “yup, that sure is a baby.” Toddlers mostly remind me of tiny drunk people. Supposedly if you’re a woman, your hormones are meant to make you want babies. All my hormones have ever made me want is carbohydrates.

Before I moved to Italy, I mostly just ignored children, which is easy enough to do; they’re generally pretty low to the ground. But I got here, and everyone is nuts about kids. People strike up conversations with toddlers in the supermarket. Teenage boys (!) coo at babies on the bus. No-one has a problem with kids being around, even in museums and restaurants.

So I suddenly found myself in this environment where interacting with peoples’ kids is just a thing you do, like greeting shopkeepers or using your umbrella if it’s even a tiny bit rainy. And it turns out it’s a skill you can develop. (Unlike the umbrella usage, which I’ve never got the hang of. Holding an umbrella up takes effort, why bother when it’s just drizzly?)

Also, toddlers really are like tiny drunk people: you can keep them entertained with the stupidest things and you’ll get bored long before they do.

3. How to wait.

I got a good lesson in this one earlier this week. I’d received a bill for garbage collection services, and Tuesday, the day before it was due I went to the post office to pay it. I would have gone earlier, but the week before, I didn’t get around to it, and the Monday was a public holiday.

Turns out, everyone in Torino got the bill at the same time. And it’s payable only at the post office.

So I get to the post office, and I’ve got ticket number 190. They’re currently serving number 103. At a rate of about 1 per minute.

Yes, I really did spend 90 minutes waiting to spend 1 minute paying a bill.

I won’t say I enjoyed the experience, but it certainly taught me patience.