My love for Italy, Bella Italia, is the longest love affair I’ve ever had and it’s not about to subside anytime soon. When I was invited by a lovely online friend Kelly from Italian at Heart blog to participate in a monthly blogging link up, I couldn’t say no. Now, I know, I need to get a bit better with time management as this should’ve been posted on the 7th… let’s just say I’m doing this in Italian time! Better late than never, right?
This month’s linkup theme is My Italian connection.
Many of you already know that both of my parents are Italian. Mum is from a little town called Lioni, in subregion called Avelino in the mountains inland from Naples. Dad is from Mestre, a town just outside of Venice. My surname, Bortoletto is from Treviso, not far from Mestre, and that’s where my Nonno (Dad’s dad) was born. You can read more about my family here.
Last year I travelled to all of those places with my mum and dad – an amazing experience to see where they came from. They left Italy as 10 – 11 year olds with my grandparents in the 1950s, travelling to Melbourne by sea in search of a better life. Both of my grandfathers went to Melbourne two years earlier to find work and set up a life with nothing more than a suitcase full of dreams (and a couple of shirts), leaving a young family behind in Italy. I can’t imagine what that must’ve been like. Especially back then when Italians were “wogs” and discriminated against by many in 1950s Australia.
About 20 years ago, I backpacked through Italy with a lovely Italian friend of mine Paula – a trip we named ‘The feast and famine tour’ because when we stayed with my relatives or her relatives, it was a feast, I mean we were fed until we couldn’t breathe. In between family visits, we ate little – to save money and give our digestive systems some time off, like a famine. During that trip, I met many of my great aunts and uncles and some cousins. It was a privilege to be able to do that and I’m so glad I did – one amazing thing was that despite my Nonna living in Australia for 40 years, my great aunts both cooked pasta the exact same way as my Nonna – the same sauce and everything.
My first time
My first time in Italy was in 1996, about 18 months before the feast and famine tour, and it immediately sparked my love for Italy. I’d always had a connection to Italy, I always felt Italian, I certainly looked Italian, but when I finally set foot in the Mother Country, my soul felt like it was home. And every time I go back to Italy, I feel like I’ve come home. Conversely, every time I fly out of Italy, I cry. Every time. I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve been to Italy (not bragging, just go at every opportunity I can) and I always feel the same way.
With those feelings in mind, I decided to go and live in Italy in 2007 (wow, over ten years ago!)
Living in Italy
I took seven months unpaid leave from work (a sabbatical) in 2007 and fulfilled a lifelong dream of living in Italy. For six months before the trip, I had an Italian tutor help me learn the language (a basic level but it got me by – thanks Chiara Kinder!) and off I went to Rome, my favourite Italian city. I love Rome for its importance, its history, its chaos and quirks, its food and fashion, the people and their passion – well, everything really.
My intention was to stay forever, find a job, set up a life and become a proper Roman. I found a job teaching English and I hated it with such passion that I barely lasted three weeks. At that particular school, I was teaching Italians to be parrots, not to comprehend English and I felt like a fraud. Plus I was paid 10 Euros per hour and it would take me over an hour by bus to get there from where I lived in Trastevere. For the measly amount I was earning, it was just not worth it, plus it was ruining my experience of living in Rome.
With no job, I had time and I was able to do whatever I wanted. I sat in cafes, I walked, I window shopped, I travelled a little and I started to blog. I was the second person I knew who had a blog (back then) and for me it was a really cool way to write about my experience living in Rome and share photos with family and friends – remember, not everyone had Facebook in 2007, in fact, I opened my Facebook account in Rome then. My biggest surprise came when other people started reading my blog, people I didn’t know (and here we are!).
I continued to look for a job but without perfect Italian, in fact, my Italian language skills were very basic (I could only speak in present tense and perfect past tense), working in PR or media was out of the question. I could’ve worked for an English speaking company but that would’ve meant living in Milan, something I wasn’t keen on.
Living in Italy is much different to holidaying in Italy. The challenge of dealing with utility companies, phone companies, banks, hell, I even had to allow half a day to go to the post office because I never knew if it would be straightforward or a bureaucratic nightmare – most often the latter. Don’t even get me started on the rigmarole of getting a codice fiscali (tax file number). It was exhausting. I decided to stay the seven months and go back to Austalia to resume my well-paid government job.
In my last week of living in Rome, I was offered a pretty good job working for a low-cost bus company that shuttled passengers from airports to city centres all over the world. It was paying decent money by Roman standards (still about 30 percent less than I was earning in Australia) but it meant I had to spend four days each week at Stansted Airport in England. Have you been to Stansted Airport? Back then, it was the shittiest, cruddiest airport ever – and because it serviced the low-cost airlines, it attracted low-cost passengers in their thousands. The thought of spending four days per week at Stansted Airport did not fill me with joy – it defeated the purpose of living in Rome. It was a tough decision and I was at a crossroads – should I stay or should I go?
In the sweltering July heat, seeing every second business close up shop for summer, I made peace with my lifelong dream of living in Italy. For me, everyday life in Australia was a better option and holidaying in Italy would be something I’d always do. Perhaps living there one day when I no longer needed to work.
My Italian connection now
Since that awesome experience living in Rome in 2007, I’ve returned to Italy many times. I’ve also taken up studying, a Diploma of Italian at the University of Western Australia. In semester one I got a High Distinction, yep, 94%, the highest mark of any subject I’ve ever achieved, ever. I’m eagerly waiting for results for semester two. I nerd out big time studying Italian and I love it. I have to thank my Greek sister-in-law Marnie because she enrolled first and when she told me she was going to study Italian at UWA, I thought to myself, “I just have to do this too because I can’t listen to her talk about her Italian studies without going crazy!”. It’s just one unit per semester, very part-time. We’ve got two more years to go. In July we’re going to Bergamo for a university exchange to study there for three weeks – I can’t WAIT!
Also, I’m on the lookout for Italian clients – any Italian companies that would like PR representation in Australia – ideal clients would be anything to do with motorsport, tourism (Italian Tourism Board!), travel industry, food and wine 😉
Do you have an Italian connection or are you an honorary Italian you love it so much? If you want to participate in Dolce Vita Bloggers monthly link up, click on the badge below (also on the right hand side column and be sure to check out the hosts’ blogs:
Grazie mille! Buona giornata xx