Tag Archives: Italy

Pink and Blue Benevolence


It’s raining in Yokohama.
I hang my transparent umbrella
on a hook near the door.
Water drops fall
and explode
on the carpet below.
I sit at my desk.
I turn on the red lamp
and look out
the window.

I peer in shop windows
in ancient Trastevere
where the sun pours in
at the ends of the streets
like rain falling
sideways soaking
the streets golden.
The buildings are tinted
with sun-variations,
butter yellow and
cantaloupe orange.

It’s not a memory.
I don’t remember walking.
I am walking.

I walk
through a small piazza
where two friends
with golden retrievers
on red leashes
greet each other
with kisses
on each cheek.
The dogs move closer,
stand so their bodies touch,
share a memory of open fields.

I walk past the restaurant
where we had dinner
was it two nights ago?
The waiters mock
the foreigner students,
send away those
without reservations.
Yet to us, they are
Kind the way that Romans are.

I pass the shop
where he purchased
the red ceramic bowl.
A Christmas gift.
The white haired shopkeeper
pushes her glasses
to the top of her head
just like I do.
She waves.
Come in.

I shake my head.
My inbox is too full.

We are at another restaurant
with white linen table cloths
and heavy utensils.
The man beside us
the patriarch
wears navy adidas pants
with three white stripes.
Three children devour their pasta
and make fun of each other.
They do both loudly.
Every few minutes
their mother says “taci”
and they are quiet
for as long as it takes
to remember
who they were teasing.
At the table on the other side
a young foreign couple
spends the evening
looking at their phones.
We order cacio e pepe,
mac and cheese for adults.
We wonder aloud if we could
make this at home.
Pecorino and pepper.
He says he thinks so.
He says he thinks
with some practice
he could get it.

From the safety
of street corner shrines
the Virgin Mary
regards us.
she is pink and blue
I believe
she is here for me,
my patron saint
of time travel.

In Yokohama
it is still raining.
My inbox is full.

Time is a circle.

Two days on the Adriatic Sea

At the end of March
I spent almost two days
with my friend Jacquie
at her house in Ripatransone, Italy
near the Adriatic Sea.

With one week of school left
and more tasks than time
I find myself returning
to the Adriatic
in my mind.

Who could blame me?

Jacquie Pender in Ripatransone, Italy

Welcome to the 15th issue of The Interiors Project.

My friend Jacquie Pender is a woman with many homes. She lives in Yokohama but has chosen to feature her home in the town of Ripatransone, Italy. Even though this town – with the name I still cannot pronounce – is on the other side of the world, Jacquie’s house in Italy is one of only four Interiors Project homes that I have visited including Ashley’s apartment and Jay and Jenny’s house in Bangkok plus our own apartment (which, frankly, isn’t much of a victory! :)) At the end of March, I visited Jacquie in Italy for just two days but I could have easily stayed for two weeks. I felt immediately at home and relaxed in Jacquie’s gorgeous home; Jacquie is a skilled and gracious hostess and her town of Ripatransone cast a magic spell over me and made me want to s-l-o-w r-i-g-h-t d-o-w-n. One of the highlights of my stay was going to the town bar for an aperitivo… when we were actually looking for the technician to fix Jacquie’s heat. As Jacquie said, “If you wait long enough, everyone always shows up.” And, sure enough, he did… looking for all the world like Clark Kent. I know that you will enjoy the time you spend in Jacquie’s beautiful corner of Italy.

I chose to focus on my home in Ripatransone in Italy, where I like to spend as much time as I can in between my work life, in Yokohama, Japan and visiting my family in Australia. Ripatransone is a small town sitting high on a hill between the Sibillini mountains and the Adriatic coast in central Italy. It’s in the beautiful region of Le Marche, not frequented a great deal by tourists from outside of Italy. As a result, it has retained its charm, warmth and culture; life continues to be “slow”.

My apartment is an old house (not sure how old) that was totally restored in 2005 and was converted into two apartments. It is on two levels and is about 116 square meters. One of my favorite parts of the house is my terrace, especially in the summer, watching the swallows, swirling and dancing in the thermals. It’s a lovely space to spend time with friends consuming the fresh local produce and vino! The changing landscape with views of the Adriatic, colors changing depending on the weather and beautiful red and orange sunrises on those jet lagged mornings when I am up early. Summer nights, sitting on the terrace listening to the various concerts being performed in the open air ampitheatre, operas, the children’s ballet concert, Italian hip hop, there’s something for everyone… that’s what I love.

Home for me is here in Yokohama. When I’m in Italy it is there and when I’m in Melbourne with my family, I’m home there as well. So I guess it is wherever I feel comfortable. I always like to make my home a home, so that it doesn’t feel transient or somewhere where I am only staying for a short time. At times I feel a bit like a snail who carries their home on their back. My furniture has probably sailed the world’s oceans, more than most people.

Life as as an international educator
In what countries have you lived?
I was born in Edinburgh, Scotland and a large part of my family still live in Scotland. My mum and dad immigrated to Australia when I was two years old. From a young age I grew up with the idea of having two homes. I know my mother still considers Scotland as her home, so my Scottish roots are always at the forefront of my concept of “home”. I left Australia in 1989 to take up a teaching position in Kuwait. I was very naive about my first overseas position and really did not have a lot of information about what I was about to experience. I was going for two years and like so many others, forgot to go back. I have lived in Kuwait, London, Bangkok, Thailand, Vienna, Austria, Manila, Philippines, Bonn, Germany and now Yokohama, Japan and my other home in Ripatransone, Italy since 2005.

What is your favorite country?
I have been extremely fortunate to have travelled to many countries in the world. I love to explore new places. I guess Italy would have to count as one of those favorite places. It was a country I returned to many times before I finally bought my house. Other favorites are Nepal, Portugal, France, Oman, Greece and Japan.

What do you love about Italy?
There are so many things that I love about my home in Italy. “Molto tranquillo” is the first thing that comes to mind. I love the pace of life there. It is where I can completely unwind after hectic days in school and I am a zillion miles aways from my day to day work. I love the rhythm of life, the bells from the churches, reminding me of the time of day. The surrounding fields, that are like patchwork quilts of sunflowers, grapevines, wheat and corn depending on the seasons. The mountains that are snow capped in the winter and who play hide and seek with the clouds and heat haze and the splendour, when on a clear day they are in all their glory. I love being close to the sea and spending lazy days on the beach in the summer with a good book, and walks in the cooler months. I love the food, wine and the people. I also love the fact that my home is in the shoe manufacturing region of Italy!

Have you ever been evacuated?
I haven’t been evacuated as such, but close to it on a few occasions. I was working in Kuwait when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990. I had just left three days before the invasion to meet up with some friends I was travelling with in Turkey and Greece. I left with 10 kilos in my backpack not knowing that I would not return until the end of October 1991. I was stranded in Turkey, with the realization that I no longer had a job, place to live or access to money and 10 kilos of summer clothes. As the reality of the situation in Kuwait became apparent, I realized I would not be returning in the near future. I made my way to London to find a job and to start a new home with five other people. I felt very fortunate as I had friends who were still in Kuwait and Dutch friends who were taken as hostages to Iraq and kept for three months. I returned to Kuwait after the first Gulf War in October 1991 to teach in the first school to open up after the war. It was a humbling experience to go back at this time into a country that had been devastated by war, with 700 oil wells alight and the surrounding desert and beaches littered with landmines and ordinance. We endeavoured to teach children, all of whom were Kuwaiti who had lived through the horrors of war and witnessed atrocities, one does not even want to imagine. We constantly lived with the threat of further conflict and our daily reminders were the fighter jets screeching up the gulf from Saudia Arabia on their way to Baghdad everyday. We kept our cars and homes stocked with water and bags packed at the door, just in case.

Do you consider yourself a risk taker?
I think all of us who leave the comforts of our family and friends in our home countries are risk takers. It just goes with the territory.

How do you know when to leave?
I have left different places for different reasons, some I have left to pursue a new job and some I have just realized it was time for a change. I don’t ever begin with a plan, I just let it unfold and when the time comes, for what ever reason, it’s time to find a new adventure. I’m never disappointed.

How has living overseas changed you?
I hope living overseas has changed me. It has made me appreciate the tyranny of distance and at the same time realize how interconnected we all are and whilst there are physical distances, we are really all very close. I hope I have developed more empathy for those people who do not have choices about moving their homelands. People who are displaced by war, terror, oppression, famine and poverty. I know how fortunate I am to experience the opportunities to work and live in many different parts of the world and always have the means to return to my family and friends for holidays and to connect with them. I know this is not a reality for many people. I think it has has made me more independent with the ability to adapt fairly quickly to new and changing situations. I think it has enabled me to see life through many lenses and has certainly enriched my life and has made me realize I wouldn’t change a thing.

How did you find your current home?
I went on a “finding a house to buy” mission one summer in Italy. I just happened to come across my house by accident. It was meant to be.

What do you always unpack first when you’ve moved into a new place?
I always seem to unpack the kitchen things first and get that sorted, followed by the bed. Putting up my artwork, photos etc is also a priority as it helps to make me feel at home.

What is your approach to packing?
I am such a procrastinator when it comes to packing. It’s certainly not my favorite thing. I hate having to make decisions about what to take. I always seem to leave it to the last minute. I always take too much and am continually striving to travel lightly.

What do you like to buy when you are travelling?
I tend to buy art or bits and pieces for the house. When in Italy, I have a weakness for shoes. I have also been known to smuggle the odd chunk of parmesan cheese, olives and other prohibited food stuffs!

Food is one of the things that I really love in Italy. The availability of fresh vegetables and eating food in season. I love artichokes and my neighbour taught me how to prepare and cook them. They are always a treat when I go in the springtime. It’s hard to have a bad meal in Italy. It is simple and delicious eating. I love cooking when I’m in Italy and enjoy going to the market and buying what is in season. So much of the food is locally produced or grown in nearby neighbors gardens. It doesn’t get much fresher than that.

You are invited to leave your love notes for Jacquie in the comments section below.

One Day in Rome (for remembering)

It’s just after 6:00 a.m. in The Eternal City called Rome.

I had forgotten how loud Europe is… and the enormous passion with which the Italians conduct their daily lives including the parking of their cars and the greeting of their neighbours early in the morning.

I had forgotten how the gorgeous sunlight spills down over ochre walls making the whole city appear as if it is in love.

I had forgotten how perfectly Europe fits me.

Yesterday, on my first day in Rome, I began to remember. (Sometimes, images are so much better than words.)

A peculiar story about time travel

I don’t know if this happens to you but sometimes, in the middle of a mundane regular-life moment, I find myself somewhere else.

Standing in front of the greeting cards section at a Target in McAllen, Texas.

Eating panna cotta in a tiny restaurant in Florence… and, at the table beside us, four raucous women are licking their plates and laughing until tears stream down their faces.

Waking to the sound of the call to prayer in Istanbul.

We’re in a gorgeous, sun-filled cafe in Vienna and the waiter, who seems impossibly kind, explains that the woman sitting in the next booth is a poet. And she won the Nobel Prize when she was younger and had black hair. (He whispers the part about her hair.)

My first heavenly bite of a tamale at the Christmas Posada at our school in Monterrey.

Birkenau in Poland. It’s snowing lightly as I walk behind Damien and our guide. I didn’t expect there to be beauty here but there is. For a moment, I’m light-headed and I think I might pass out.

We’re preparing strawberries to make jam. I’m with my mother in her kitchen and the walls are the colour of baked cheesecake.  My fingers are stained red.

I don’t know if it’s time travel or not but I find myself visiting past moments quite a lot lately. And for that moment, I’m really there. I can taste the panna cotta on my tongue… feel the sun on my face and neck… smell the jam as it thickens on my mother’s stove.

All these moments – those from my past… and this moment right now – these moments make up my life and I’m grateful for every one of them. Even the hard ones.

And I’m particularly grateful for the time travel.

Recently, I’ve been visiting Barcelona in my mind frequently. I wonder that that means.

{Photo Credit: Kyle Hepp}

Where have you been going in your mind?