Major Adventures

Just a bloke's records of how his life unfolds.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Green Polyester Tears - The Love of Joy

Have you ever found yourself on a park bench waiting 2.5 hours for a bus? Then you find yourself blubbering for no reasonable reason? You try and reason with yourself as the lady with the polyester green dress walking her silky terrier looks at you in a nice Mum way and an expression to say that she hopes things are OK. You sit on that park bench determined to continue feeling sorry for yourself when you realise that you are crying because you are in fact in a crazy mucked up reason, happy.
How many people cry because they love? How many people sit on a park bench crying because they are so in love with a person that compliments their life in what seems to be in every way? This person you can confide in, try, say and do the craziest, zaniest things and equally be the happiest person to be grumpy with and have a sook with?
It's ok to be totally happy with someone that as soon as you hug them, for the duration of that hug, nothing evil, bad or stressful exists. In fact you seem to melt into the one person and for a stolen moment you are one. How you can read that person and feel their emotions. Sometimes hand tied and can't do anything but watch and wait. Other times just grab them and hold them, squeeze them and tell them how much you care.The tears are for the person you have surrended your fears for. The person who makes you appreciate you for who you are and accepts all the faults and celebrates your more endearing features and charactertics.
The tears are for the person who does so much to show the care and love and demonstrates that changes can happen and that you keep growing and experiencing life together. It's not an easy journey, is it? No. It's another one of my journeys which has changed my perspective and opinion, attitude and behaviour on so many levels all on a positive level. This path is one that I intend to continue laying the firm foundations and build continuously to ensure that every corner we come to will be as positive and interesting as is humanly possible.
Tears are cleansing.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

caffè freddo on the rocks

It would be super cool to be able to share this with you right now. I am sipping on a hot espresso which is served on ice so a nice true iced coffee. In front of me is a beautiful port which is protected by rocky outcrops, perfect blue waters just deep enough for the locals to jump from the rocks and have a good paddle. It's been rather on the warm side, the last couple of days ... 42oC on Thursday, 37 yesterday and when I caught the bus here this morning it was already a balmy 29oC. The prospect of returning to London is far from ideal but I am trying to stay focussed on enjoying the next 6 days that remain in Italy.
Its a very festive time in Lecce this weekend. They are celebrating their patron saint. more about that later and after tonight and my anticipated happy snapping bonanza with the gorgeous Ezio and Clare. Ok time to find another bus for the next caffè freddo ... ciao belli.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Coffee, Beer, Snails, Octopus and a Dog Named Mary

A man walks into a bar, orders a coffee in his best Italian, still obviously too anglophone to get away with it. The barman asks, politely in Italian, where you are from. You tell him in your best Italian that you are Australian but you live in London. You are very happy that you were taught that line during your intensive Italian course the day before.
The man, that's me ... the bar, its in a great town called Lecce in the region of Puglia in Italy. The barman? A local man who has also lived in London for 3.5 years some 12 months ago. He pulled up his chair and provided me with coffee and cake and we chatted about life for a while, offered me his number and didn't charge for the cake and coffee ... thanks :)
So this same man walks into another bar/pub and gets talking with some locals who want to speak English. I am chatting to this man and woman who are very interested in my adventures in Europe and of course Australia. Consequently I am invited to the guy's place the night after to share with his friends, a typical night in with friends with fine local wines and foods and to console him over his impending divorce. How could I say no to local hospitality? I would be looking forward to that for the next 24 hours or so.
So this man walks into a gelato bar in Lecce and stands patiently behind a couple with a stroller, the man orders his gelato and heads outside leaving his wife to handle the payment and the stroller and the ice cream. Jordi steps up to the counter taking the place of the man who is now outside. The vendor didn't see the man leaving the shop and handed me his ice cream. It's at this stage that the woman hadn't noticed that her husband had left either... So, Jordi being Jordi just walked outside and gave the man his ice cream. He looked at me very strangely but thanked me most profusely. The wife and shop assistant very very embarrassed.  Consequently, Jordi orders his €1.80 cone and is handed the €2.80 cone at the original price with a huge apology for the mistake before.., NO WORRIES :P I love gelato.
So the next night arrives after the night before and I am picked up by the friend of the man in the pub to be taken to the man's house for the night of Local delicacies ... he lives just outside of the city limits of Lecce on a great block of land and a very modest house. The property is one huge vegetable patch and as one enters the security gates, one is hit by the smell of marjoram, basil and oregano from the veggie patch. Closer inspection sees runners of beans, watermelons, eggplants, zucchinis and the like. This guy grows all that he can.
Introduced to everyone as Jordi the Australian who doesn't speak Italian yet, the locals shyly introduce themselves in a very friendly and warm fashion. At this stage there are 2 women and the rest men. Jordi's mind starts to think. The women are together. Jordi breaks out of his ignorant shell rather quickly when he realises that the guy in the bar wasn't divorced but separated from his lover after some long distance of time. He, in fact, seems to be the patriarchal figure for this group of gay men Lecce. He called out requests and demands and everyone jumped up and down and went running left right and centre when ever he spoke.
What was on the table? I know you are edging to know. I was offered as my first plate local snails (not from his garden) which were marinated in oil and chillies, so sensationally delicious. They all were watching me as i took the first snail... they were not believing that I would eat them ... come on ... the boy's been to France and eaten horrid bits n pieces of animals surely a snail wouldn't hurt. :) A huge baby octopus cooked on the webber was then served on my plate seasoned with salt pepper lemon and olive oil. A bowl of marinated mushrooms and delicious basil infused char grilled eggplant. Plates of cold cuts and cheeses, melon and cured Italian hams, a great dish like a ratatouille and a delicious mixed peppers dish all served with homemade olive and sun dried tomato bread.
As guest of honour, i was sat at the head of the table and was doted on left right and centre by everyone. Then had prickly pears hand peeled for me and handed to me on a fork, a huge slab of hazelnut gelato, a huge dollop of tiramisu and a pointed fruity slice of home made cheesecake. This was then followed by creme liqueurs in lemon, melon and caffe. Oh my ... was my belly in a happy place.
Two of the guys could speak English and the gals asked me in survival English which I so very much appreciated. I tried my Italian but i think i will wait for another couple of weeks of classes. I think 14 days is a little too little to expect me to be able to have a conversation in Italian... one day though, I promise. There were 2 guys who spoke French and relished with an opportunity to speak French with an Australian cookery teacher living in London. There is a group of them heading to Paris for the week on Tuesday so they thought the practice was very timely.
All throughout the evening I found a friend in a gorgeous dog named Mary. Now this may not seem to strange to you but next time you come across your favourite Italian person, ask them to say the name Mary with their best Italian accent. It is a beautiful sound to hear being called throughout the night. She is adored by all the boys and she picks her favourites by bringing a rock, large or small and places ON your foot which you are supposed to throw so as she will fetch it with a waggly tail and happy ears she will place it in your lap or on your foot again to continue playing. The only thing that stops this game is the chance that dad is about to give her a slice of cheesecake.
It was the most thoroughly interesting and entertaining most relaxing evening with the greatest of food wine spirits and company. The moral of the story ... always walk into a bar with an open mind, a happy face and a friendly disposition and the person next to you may just offer an experience to write home about.
My sejour here in Lecce is at the half way mark. I hope the next two weeks will be just as rewarding and filled with the great times and memory making moments like that last two. I hope all is well in your world.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

When Stripes Shouldn't Exist

OK so there are people out there in the world who are a little dotty when it comes to all things stripy. Ezio, as most of you know, is one of those people. I didn't think that I did too badly myself until I realised that no one could rival Ezio's passion for the vertical rainbow no gaps this, that and the other. As a consequence of his passion, people seem to find certain things from place to place, country to country to support his habit. His colleague and friend bought him this shirt in France. I have kindly requested that the shirt never surface again as it stains the name of good taste stripes. Oh it's just as well the model is handsome ... oh that shirt is just terrible. What's worse is that it is French!! Mon Dieu!

Monday, August 13, 2007

There has to be a shopping centre somewhere ...

Every second person says that there is a shopping centre somewhere close by so as I can find a place to buy a desktop fan that isn't expensive. Today, after uni, I went on a hunt after being giving instructions by my lecturers ... this is possibly the most unflattering photo of me in the world but it reflects how I felt after 3 hours of walking on highways and under bridges through truck stops and over cemetery walls. Just to let you into a secret ... the public transport system is great for the centre of town, but it's so small you don't really need it. If a family has 4 people in it, however, there are 4 cars so as to say the necessity for a better transport infrastructure is a little on the questionable side ... also there aren't too many tourists here to warrant a better system. Enjoy the laugh ... I'll just keep crying.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Otranto - The South Eastern Extremity of Italia

So the morning after the night of the day before I went for a great walk through Lecce and discovered a little of the newer part of town outside the walled city. I still haven't been able to find a reasonably priced desk fan but none the less I have found a couple of more reasonably sized supermarkets.
After a cornetto and cappuccino I went in hunt of the call centre near the university so as I could call home and check how ma is doing with her newly operated foot - wheelchair co ordination. I couldnt find one and the guy in the Tabacchi was a little too grumpy to deal with an Australian who had never learned the phrase to ask for telephone card to buy.
Coming home, washing out, lunch eaten I headed back to the university to catch the bus to Otranto, the most south easterly point of Italy (we are talking the heel of the boot here). What a magic day to be there and the town itself is so interesting with so many little churches and a cathedral that has the skeletal remains of 800 people who were killed in Otranto by the Turks because they wouldn't convert to Islam. This happened in the 1400's. Hopefully the picture will show up. In the basement of the cathedral are 73 columns all different but apparently you are unable to count them and end up with the same number each time ... strange hey!
OK so Sunday is going to be a day of revision of the Italian I didn't understand from last week and also to find the out the phrase for asking for a telephone card.
Ciao a tutti.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Sunshine, Pasta, Gelati ... Could I ask for more?

In summary, today was a very good day ... challenging as expected but great all the same. The lessons were lessons and OK I just have to face the reality that my Italian is so basic that it has not flavour and you wouldn't serve it to your dog to eat.

This afternoon was the first of the extra activities and I was lucky enough to find myself in the cookery class. We met at 16h30 outside of McDonald's, the international meeting point, haute cuisine? I was certainly a little sceptical. Well we found ourselves in a great little restaurant just in the centre of old town, all 14 of us took over the back room and stood around as we made handmade pastas: macaroni and orecchiette then made a sauce it was DEEELICIOUS.

I am feeling a lot more comfortable in my skin today ... as I described this morning, just taking a little time to adjust then not letting the whole thing get too big ... little steps ... word by word. I totally have to ensure that as much as I am out of my comfort zone, its really important that I do familiar things too. Being in the cooking class this evening was awesome, being in my domain where I feel so at home was such a reassuring feeling.

I love being an Australia in mainland Europe and in places a little way out of the main tourist traps because people love to meet you and speak to you. The chef at the restaurant just spoke to me the whole afternoon in Italian and i picked up about every 20 words, deduced from their French counterparts and then I was able to si, no, cosi cosi, bueno, bene ... my way through ... one word at a time; that's today's golden rule.

The classes have already been paying off because the vocabulary in today's class sprang to life in the cooking class ... albeit the word Brutto (ugly) as he was describing the eggplant he was holding ;) Ahhh a good day ... a happy day ... a smiley day.

Walking home I thought Id try another gelataria this one gave me the hugest gelati for such little money ... it will now be my choice as I can buy a cone and it lasts until I get to my front door ... convenient for no drips on the stairs or the lift, which ever happens first.

OK time to sign off and do my homework ... I have about 6 pages to do and revision exercises and the like ... YIPPEEE.


So, It's all about routine: Surviving Day 2

Find yourself a pattern in life and turn it into a set routine to establish an easier flow for you. Find the local supermarket and some friendly green grocers, try to speak a little more Italian everyday and SMILE :) That's my advice for Day 2 in Lecce.
Yesterday I went to a bar for a morning coffee and cornetto (custard filled croissant of sorts) and I liked the man, he was friendly and forgiving of my Italian. So I have decided I need to visit him every morning for un caffè. I also found the green grocers yesterday who were very friendly so I went this morning to buy my daily fruit rations. Both the man in the café and the lady in the green grocers recognised me so too does the lady in the supermarket (after 3 visits yesterday and once this morning) now so I get a warm smile hello.
Leave home about 40 minutes before classes begin, you know the walk takes 10 minutes so it gives you 30 minutes to have a coffee, eat a pear, scoff some grapes and improve your stock standard survival Italian. Arrive at school 10 minutes before classes begin so as you can debrief the last evening's events and activities then find room, settle yourself in and learn some Italian.
Always tell the teacher that you can speak French and English and when you have a facial expression not too dissimilar to a constipated cow, they will try in English first and then if that didn't work they will try in French. I think this would have been very very hard if i hadnt had the experience of learning another language before hand ...
Check your phone at break time to read the encouraging SMS sent to you from the beautiful person you last said goodnight to the evening before. It makes your journey so much more pleasant and provides extra motivation for doing well.
OK Off to conversation lab.


Monday, August 06, 2007

Survival Tactics For Your First Day In Lecce

OK so the last 24 hours have been very very tough for me and again the great old saying of what doesn't kill you only makes your stronger ... Here, I list the points that made me write this e-mail to you know with a happier disposition:

  1. Tell everyone you speak to that you are nervous, feel crap and want to go home ... in particular tell those people who care the most about you and you for them ... unless they've just come out of hospital or are caring for the maim ... they shouldnt know cos then they'd just worry too much.
  2. When you think you have just heard a question that think resembled is there anyone here who doesn't understand ... raise your hand up as quickly as you can ... they will often then reply in the best sounding English you are ever likely to hear.
  3. Know that ALL nationalities LOVE GELATO - share one and make friends.Go to Natale in the town centre and buy a Gelato €3 cup with Chocolate Fondante, Vanilla and Caffe. Eat it whilst overlooking roman ampitheatre and bask in the sun with your factor 50 sunscreen covering your freshly mown head.
  4. Learn that there are people in the group around that speak Italian better than you but they are not perfect. Most of them are English speakers who will laugh with you when you cock up.
  5. Share your phone number with all your Italian friends so that they call you to make you feel better and in doing so you know people care.
  6. Remember that this trip is all about you ... to test your comfort, stamina, communication skills and mental ability to learn another language at the age of 31.
  7. Go into a supermarket - order as much cheese as you can buy for €9.00 and make the man at the deli smile ... he will give you free cheese ;)
  8. Thank the precious gods out there who let you have friends who send you sim cards so as you can connect to the internet and receive phone calls and make phone calls and try to communicate using SMSs. You have to include the gorgeous friends who very patiently and methodically talk you through the process of linking up all the possible technologies.
  9. Go into TIM in Lecce and ask the lady in there if she speaks English, she will say very little then ask if she speaks French and watch her face as she gasps "GASP" and says no. So finally try your Italian sense of humour and ask he is she speaks Italy and be overjoyed when she giggles and answers with a very enthusiastic SI. Then progress with your Italian (which at this point is French with an O at the end of every word spoken with a greek accent) and you will be pleasantly suprised when you end up with €20 credit on your phone and internet. Puts a huge smile on your dial and allows for a little more confidence in your step.
  10. Cook a great pasta dish and wash it down with a nice bottle of lightly fizzy mineral water that you can only buy in Italy ... speak with a person that you care for tremendously, on line, right a blog - its great therapy, have a shower, curl up in bed and chat to that same person on the phone to know that you are still human.

Good night and a HUGE thanks to everyone for caring about me ... All my Italian friends, you are the coolest ;)

It's All Greek To Me ...

OK so at 31 years of age I thought I was young enough and still able to do that OUT OF COMFORT ZONE thing ... I think I am totally wrong. It seems like another age ago when I was in Noumea learning French for the first time and trying to swim and not sink.
The journey started several months ago if not years ago when I decided that Id like to learn Italian, well build on the 7 years of Australian school Italian that I possed (which let me tell you knowing numbers is important but Fuffie the dog didnt teach me how to order a croissant and coffee for my breakfst did he? No! Bad Puppy!
After being back in Australia for Easter, I decided that I wanted to explore a little more of Europe for the Summer holidays, so ... I thought in a perfect Majoradventures style, throw myself into the thick of things and learn a little language and culture and go to school in my school holidays (CRAZY I agree). Its early in the hours of my first day at school and I am here saying things will be OK ... I have only found myself in the foetal position 3 times including rocking myself to sleep last night. :)
It will be OK It will be OK It will be OK.... MAMA HELP ME ... Please.
My gorgeous new friend, Patrizia, cousin to Ezio, has said that her family may adopt me if life becomes to hard ... so I am thinking I am putting myself up for adoption by about lunchtime today. Ohhh dear that whole out of my comfort zone thing ... why I do these things to myself, I never know ... I cant even think in English let alone trying to comprehend Italian as all myanswers and questions come out in French ... its all Greek to me!

Lecce - Florence of the South?

So Palmer, new flatmate for the next month suggested we go out to grab something for dinner, sounded like a great idea to me. So off into the centre of town we headed and explored the inner beatings of Lecce and her old town centre. The apartment is about a 10 minute walk right into the centre.
First I was suprised with the 9pm traffic goign through this city of 97,000 people but i was even more suprised when we finially made it into the centre of tiwn and the hoards and hoards of people ... as usual, I found myself like a salmon trying to swim upstream agains the current. The last time I walked in such a crowd of people I think was in Barcelona New Years Eve, 2005 or perhaps even Chadstone Shopping Centre, Melbourne on Christmas Eve Eve for their 24 hours shopping extravaganza.
First observation was that there are a lot of people out and about on a Sunday night, shops still open, food available ... a great start. Second observation: that the men in this town wear a hell of a lot of pink and in everyshade possible from the light pink lacrosse style to a deep burnt pink ... an interesting observation I know ... but one all the same.
The architecture is worthy of its own entry and I will do that soon enough ... well as soon as I work out the new camera situation and how to down load the images on to the university computers (which are still Windows 98 and as slow as a dinosaur)
Dinner was at a truck diner kind of thing ... it was a huge grill and I was impressed with the number of people but then I was improessed with the fact that I think it was the slowest fast food that I have ever ordered then eaten. It was a great kebab style sandwich that I ate with a good can of coke, however, i was number 41 and they called out number 18 when I first ordered and alas 35 minutes later, 41 was called. I took my Kebab back to the flat and munched it, showered it and then bedded it for a very balmy night that i dont think hit below 17oC. Its been a while since I have had to have a bedroom all to myself ... so Dolores and I counted sheep for a while then drifted off to sleep whilst I could hear myself snoring. . .

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Trip The Adventures The Angst The OMG's.

Ezio, ensuring that I left London and that he could reclaim a little more of his house, walked me up to the bus stop where I waited for the X26 (I think) limited stop bus from Croydon to Heathrow Airport, 1 hour 27 minutes later, I arrived at terminal 2, looked at the line of people at the queue and thought ohh here we go ... I then noticed an automatic check in desk ... so i preceded to check in to Rome ... thinking I would then check in Rome for Brindisi. I progressed to check in my luggage with a most lovely check in lady. She told me i was wrong for checking into Rome and she checked me in all the way through to Brindisi (without the queues) she then told me that the luggage allowance was 20kgs and that my 24.2kgs was too much. Then she wished me a pleasant journey and time in Italy after informing me that she has booked me into the larger seats in front of the emergency exit so as I coudl ahve more room for the flight. I like her, I do.

Arriving in Roma, I had to make my frist italian phone call ... and I have to say that I understood myself perfectly :) The message got through ti Marika but there must have been something wrong with the translation device on my treo 650 because all I could hear was Italian on the other end and I dont speak or hear Italian in an intelligable way. On the plane again for a little packet of crackers and a glass of coke, we arrived at Brindisi airport at 18h25, on time.

Finally arriving in Lecce after a 40 minute bus ride, private hire thingy, to be dropped off in the middle of via Angelo with no number as the univeristy hadnt gtiven me the number nor given it to the bus driver (as they should have). Luckily I had been given the cell number of the guy who is incharge of the apartments and 30 minutes later he arrived to let me in with my co-loc, Palmer, from Philidelphia, living in Milan studying in Swizerland.

The Apartment is nice and big, roomy and spacey ... its a little warm on the inside but great breeze coming through last night ... top of 23oC when I arrived last night. There is a spare bedn my room and a comfy couch/sofa so Jordiland is shaping up well and proudly thrown clothes and books everywhere.

A good phone call from London put me into slightly higher spirits and confirmed that I am an idiot for going on Major Adventures but perhaps, just perhaps, I will gain more from another Out of Comfort Zone experience.

A presto!