Building a Polyglot from Scratch

30/03/2015
Library corner.

Library corner. Just because.

Building a polyglot from scratch is proving to be a fascinating process.

Up until a few months ago it all felt purely theoretical – I’m not sure I ever really believed that Maya was going to be anything but confused by having three different languages spoken to her on a daily basis – but her communication skills have enjoyed enormous leaps since the beginning of the year, and it is suddenly becoming astonishingly apparent that this still-tiny person really does have a linguistic trio circling around her left hemisphere.

As I spend by far the most time with her, and speak English to her 90% of the time (occasionally lapsing into Italian when we are in the company of Italians so as not to exclude them from our interactions, plus throwing in the odd badly pronounced Romanian word or phrase when the occasion calls for it) at least three-quarters of her current vocabulary is in English.

But that doesn’t change the fact that she has an obvious understanding of the other two languages. More so Romanian than Italian – probably due to the fact that her father dedicates much of their communication to activities that stimulate wider comprehension and usage of his mother tongue (as I do in English), whereas her Italian interactions are briefer and more simplistic – but given that a good 85% of those that speak to her outside the house use Italian, I imagine the gap will narrow fairly fast.

And once she starts pre-school, probably in September 2016, I think it is highly likely that Italian will eventually gain a slight lead on both other languages.

(One current and interesting advantage to this linguistic soup seems to be the availability of different options for each item of vocabulary; enabling her to choose the easiest to wrap her toddler tongue around and thus facilitating communication just that little bit more.)

I’ve recently cast my eye over several articles on the subject of bilingualism. One was debunking claims that speaking two or more languages increases the speaker’s intelligence – something I would find hard to believe anyway given the number of unenlightened multilingual souls I have met over the years, as well as my own intellectual shortcomings, but I can’t help feeling speaking more than one language still has more advantages than disadvantages:

– It widens the network of people with whom one can effectively communicate.

– It helps dispel insular tendencies by increasing awareness and understanding of other cultures and mindsets.

– It can create employment opportunities; invaluable when (like me) you have no other real qualifications to speak of.

– It offers the speaker the potential to read loads more books (although it sadly doesn’t guarantee he/she will have the time to indulge that possibility).

– It apparently also wards off dementia (I would give you an update on that over the next few decades, but the way my memory is going I will probably have forgotten where I left the blog…).

– And of course, for those who are fruit of a union between different nationalities, it allows them to communicate fully with both sides of the family.

Given all of the above, I am always surprised when I come across parents who choose to deprive their offspring of the maternal or paternal mother-tongue.

When I was growing up as the bog-standard English child of two resolutely English (with a small smidgen of Scots on each side, wow) parents in England, I used to fantasize about the vastly more exotic existence that could have been mine if my progenitors had been of furrin’ extraction. Spanish, for example. Or Italian. Or one of each. Gasp. But it was not to be. Sigh.

So whenever I met anyone who did boast a furrin’ parent, I would be all over them like a rash trying to discover just how much more fascinating their life was. And shockety shock, many of them transpired to have been cruelly deprived of the second language, thus rendering (to my mind anyway) the possession of an exotic furrin’ parent utterly pointless.

In some cases I imagine it is a result of a desire to integrate, especially if the foreignness is of a sort frowned upon by a close-minded general public.

In others the education authorities are to blame: a Argentinian friend and her Italian husband living in France were told (twenty-odd years ago) that they should only speak to their daughter in French so as not to put her at a disadvantage when she started school. Another Argentinian friend who moved to Italy with her Italo-Argentine husband and their four children (twenty-odd years ago), was told to stop speaking Spanish to the children immediately so that they would better fit in. Even now I am told on a daily basis (mostly by Italian pensioners who I roundly ignore) that I should be speaking Italian to Maya or she will never ever pick it up – one English mother versus a thousand Italian villagers is apparently enough to tip the linguistic balance in my favour.

(Too late for those now monolingual children, but I am hopeful that received wisdom on the subject in professional circles has advanced since then, as well it should have given the incredible capacities of the young mind.)

But parents who are not facing serious integration issues, and who have not been told to withhold their mother tongue? Those parents I really struggle to understand, especially in Italy – a country with an undeniably lovely language, but one which is next to useless outside its borders. I know a couple who are currently depriving their children of Romanian and Spanish in order to bring them up as monolingual Italian speakers. Another couple who could be using the mother’s heritage to raise Russian speakers (an increasingly sought-after language, especially in this area), but are instead sticking to solo italiano. Another Romanian mother who has chosen to speak only Italian to her half-Romanian offspring.

And they are far from being alone.

Aside from being denied the opportunity of being able to communicate fully with immediate family members, I can’t help feeling that these children are going to be extremely cheesed-off adults at the realisation that they have been deprived of their linguistic heritage – often potentially very useful languages that they now have to laboriously learn from scratch with their decidedly less-elastic adult brains.

But who knows: we are, after all, only fourteen and a half months into our Polyglot build job, with a very long path to tread before we discover whether we have contributed to the production of a linguistically fulfilled adult, or one who still calls every single thing her backside comes into contact with “chair” because we fried her brain early on with too many words.

Searching for enlightenment, be it linguist or otherwise.

Seeking enlightenment, be it linguist or otherwise.

Invisible, but There

23/03/2015

For someone who is happy to shine the spotlight on some of the most intimate corners of her life, I find it surprisingly hard to write about depression.

Perhaps because there are still so many people who don’t believe it exists (our pharmacist, for example, who just the other day expounded at length to the person in front of me that depression was nothing but a luxury for those who could afford to waste their spare time feeling feel sorry for themselves – awkward when my turn came and he looked down at my prescription…).

And even those who think they do, often still find it impossible to really comprehend – but why are you down? What’s happened? Have you tried positive thinking? Cheer up!

Lastly, I am the girl who, when she is eventually persuaded to visit the GP yet again with her newborn-kitten-immune-system, usually ends up replying to his/her “How are you?” with an overly cheery “I’m absolutely fine, thanks! You?” before downplaying whatever physical ailment is rendering my life miserable, and walking out with weighty feelings of guilt at having wasted such a busy person’s time with inconsequential things.

But if I’m going to write honestly about motherhood, there will be times when I have to write honestly about related topics regardless how squirmy that might make me feel, because there is always the chance that someone out there will read what I’ve written, say “Phew, I’m not alone” and feel just a little bit better.

I’m sure many British readers will remember the heartbreaking news story that ran in December of last year: Charlotte Bevan, whilst in the grip of post-natal psychosis, walked out of the maternity hospital in which she had given birth to her first child, before ending both their lives at the bottom of the Avon Gorge.

The tragically raw sadness of it all still haunts me today, in part because that might well have been me.

Before even starting to try to conceive, I visited a doctor and posed the question that had most been bothering me: if I fall pregnant, can I continue with my antidepressants? His unequivocal answer was that extensive studies have shown that any potential physical effect on the baby was far outweighed by the benefits of having a (relatively – pills don’t cure everything, you know) emotionally stable mother.

And thank goodness I took that step in the UK, because the line taken by Italian doctors proved to be vastly different as I discovered at my first obstetrical appointment. When asked if I was on any medication, I obediently listed my asthma drugs (all fine) before also mentioning the antidepressants; and was immediately told to come off them.

So a woman suffering from long-term depression is forbidden to take the drugs permitting her to keep her head above water precisely when she is facing the most vulnerable, anxiety-inducing, hormonally charged period of her life?

What a terrifying prospect.

I quoted England and stood firm, but it made me realise that I was unlikely to have an ally in the Italian medical system if any issues arose. Although the only issue that might possibly arise would be post-natal depression, wouldn’t it?

In fact it would be as early as week eight of my pregnancy that the elation would abruptly wear off.

I vaguely remembered that I had been excited at the prospect of becoming pregnant. I had a distant recollection of the giddy joy of producing two blue lines on my piddle stick. I dimly recalled looking dreamily at my partner and hoping that our child would be just like him…

I remembered feeling all those things, I just couldn’t recall how they actually felt; if that makes any sense.

Instead what I suddenly felt was incredibly angry, anxious, uncomfortable, panicky, and most un-elated to be pregnant. I wanted to thump people who gushed about my new status, I felt numb at all my scans, I couldn’t bear to be near my partner (although I remembered being very in love with him only a short time before), I no longer wanted to marry him and I most definitely did not want to become a mother.

I toyed at length with the idea of abortion – what if I never came to terms with my impending motherhood? How unfair would it be to bring an unloved child into the world and saddle it with a disconnected mother?

(Luckily the memories of those vanished feelings were there to assure me that, despite what my brain was telling me, this was actually a very much desired pregnancy.)

It was a shockingly lonely, frightening and sad time – thank goodness I had my mother and her infinitely sympathetic GP on the end of the phone or I might not have made it through here in Italy where a brief mention that things were not as they should be to my obstetrician elicited a curt “not my department, I’m afraid” with zero eye contact and not a life line in sight.

Although it felt like an endless spiral of awfulness, the worst of the fog finally lifted at my sixteen week scan when I was told I was having a girl – initially I had been keener on the idea of a boy, but when the blackness hit, the prospect of bringing up a member of the opposite sex suddenly seemed insurmountably terrifying.

But the bumplet cradled a daughter, and that seemed to be the catalyst I needed to take a good look at the screen, fall madly in love with the squirmy little foetus displayed there, and slowly begin to come to terms with the implications of her existence.

It transpired that for those two months I had been in the grip of pre-natal depression: a condition I had previously never heard of and was completely unprepared for. And, despite being released from its suffocating shackles in time to “enjoy” the remainder of my pregnancy, the niggling worry of what might be in store for me after the birth was never far away.

With my history of depression and this episode of pre-natal depression, the English GP felt she had to warn me that rather than post-natal depression, what I and those closest to me had to diligently look out for in the days and weeks following the birth would be post-natal psychosis. If it did strike, she said, it could strike quickly and have frightening ramifications.

But I was apparently to be one of the lucky ones: I got to have a healthy baby, fall instantly in love with my healthy baby, bond with her with delicious ease and generally suffer from very few side effects to her arrival – major sleep deprivation and a carved-up tummy notwithstanding.

And although there have been periods over the last fourteen months when that old familiar black cloud has hovered, I have to deal with it slightly differently now I have a daughter to protect from its negativity. So I push away the fact that I can’t bear to look at myself in the mirror, and instead look into that beaming little face. I ignore the numbness of limbs and thoughts, and instead plunder the limited resources of my sluggish mind to slap on a big smile, grab her a book or dive into the colourful depths of the toy box. I sing her her favourite Beach Boys song and make a determined effort to lose that black cloud in the carefree playfulness of babyhood.

During these moments my thoughts often return to Charlotte Bevan, and the infinitely sad realisation that she will never be able to enjoy these most blissful parts of motherhood (or suffer through the frustrations), all because her brain betrayed her at the most vulnerable moment in her life.

And nobody noticed until it was too late.

I am so very lucky.

Mission Statement Ahoy

19/03/2015

I give up.

This poor little blog has been left to moulder like an unloved elderly relative in a nursing home, and all because I felt I no longer had much to say about anything but the highs and lows of navigating the rather time-consuming waters of full-time motherhood.

But I like writing.

I love writing.

I miss writing.

And so, until my life becomes less one-dimensional, and as the anniversary marking the start of its sixth year in the blogosphere approaches, I hereby declare Status Viatoris reborn, from this day forth, (temporarily at least) as a Mummy Blog – with occasional forays into Life in Italy, News Items That Make Me Fume, Cross Country Hacks on my High Horse, and Random Philosophical (and not so Philosophical) Ponderings, inspiration permitting…

Mummy Blogs are two a €uro cent, I know, but then so are Ex-Pat Tales from Abroad, so the competition for the hearts and minds of my dozen or so readers is unlikely to be any more fierce than I have been accustomed to up till now, and I am nothing if not primed and ready for the fight.

So primed and ready am I, that I am going to make the rash promise of producing at least one blog post a week from now on.

No matter how dull the content.

And I am aware that for many it will be considered really rather dull, but I find myself with no choice but to write about the things that absorb me, and my current Mummying experiences are both absorbing and entertaining me at least as much as any of my previous adventures.

So if there is anyone still out there, I very much hope you consider the thrills and spills of parenting a trilingual sproglet in Italy enough of a departure from bog-standard Mummy blogging to stick around for this new chapter in the life of Status Viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage.

Two girls on a journey...

Two girls, on a journey…

Just You Wait…

18/01/2015

status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

An attentive audience is always gratifying...

An attentive audience is always gratifying…

The “just you waits” flew thick and fast when I was carelessly chucking around my (admittedly not very numerous) pre-Maya declarations of mothering intent. They tended to be followed by a slightly world-weary shake of the head, which I’m sure must discomfit even the most confident pre-mother mother. You know, the one who has read ALL the literature, and subsequently mapped out an infallible parenting plan from meticulously choreographed birth through to high school graduation.

But now I’ve been in the thick of my own personal mothering reality for just over a year, I feel a little backward glance at any previous naivety is perhaps due, to see how my intentions have fared:

There is no way baby will be co-sleeping in my bed!

Although she would very much liked to have snuggled down with Mummy from night one (and let me know it with all the breath in her tiny lungs) for me it remained a definite no. Taking a newborn into bed with an exhausted mother and a winter duvet seemed risky, plus I am an appalling sleeper at the best of times and fear of smothering her, as well as the constant baby snuffles and wiggles, would not have helped. Lastly, eventually having to persuade an habituated older child out of my bed and into its own seemed to offer just as much potential for ear-splittingly disturbed nights as having a newborn grizzling itself to sleep next to me in a cot.

Sharing a bed with her for the duration of our Romanian road trip only served to further convince me that I had made the right decision for us: finding Mummy boobs in such tantalisingly close proximity every night turned out to be a much stronger lure than sleep, and from only a couple of nocturnal slurps, I was suddenly being badgered every hour or two – an exercise in sleep deprivation that I sadly remain unable to shake her of to this day.

Baby will be in a cot in her own room from six-months!

What with roof issues and illness-dogged road trips, her room took a little longer than six months to sort out, but she finally went in when she was about eight months old with nary a backward glance at her clingy slightly wistful mother.

I admit to being surprised at my wistfulness, although it only took a couple of nights for the lack of baby snuffles and wiggles to work their restful magic and banish all and any feelings of regret.

Loadsa teef...

Loadsa teef!

I will regularly get a babysitter in order to spend time with my husband as a couple!

So far only twice, and both times under duress.

The first when she was a teeny tiny three weeks old, and I was persuaded out for a pub lunch, through which I fidgeted obsessively. The second; just last month, when we left her with the Mothership and went to watch the latest and final Hobbit offering (rather disappointing, I thought), and through which I again fidgeted obsessively.

Whereas I can cope relatively well with leaving her with sister-in-law for an hour or so when I am secretarialising for the local estate agent, absenting myself for longer periods in the pursuit of leisure activities brings with it a ghastly wave of separation anxiety that I am hoping will lessen with time (and practice). Lord preserve us from clingy mothers ;-)

We have, however, opted for one couple-friendly parenting technique than most families around here seem to eschew: the early bedtime. Whereas it seems to be common for local children, no matter how young, to stay up as late as their parents; Maya always goes down sometime between 19 and 20 in the evening, giving us a glorious few hours to be (albeit exhausted and only semi-functioning) grown-ups.

I will encourage baby to be independent! 

Of course it’s very early days, but one thing I was determined to avoid was to find myself still spoon-feeding a child capable of feeding itself (something I have seen rather a lot of here). A potential pitfall that was rendered even less likely when we chose the baby-led weaning route – basically chucking bits of whatever is on our plates at her to do with what she wants. And what she wants so far has been to eat some things, jettison others onto the floor and wipe most things into her eyebrows.

This method of introducing solid food appears unheard of in Italy, where spoons and purées still reign supreme, and at every monthly paediatric appointment I am forced to hide my blushes as the doctor adds another bland ingredient to my daughter’s paltry puréeing list, utterly ignorant of the fact that the previous night the very same baby gobbled down distinctly un-puréed spicy sausage and bean casserole, fish pie complete with leeks and capers, or a beef and broccoli stir fry from which the slices of practically raw ginger and garlic went down a particular treat.

Krissmuss!

Krissmuss!

I will be making sure to get as many snatched moments for myself as I can!

Ahahahahaha!

Make that a double Ahahahahahahahahahahahaha! now she’s mobile.

Actually, I am astonished at how much I actually enjoy my daughter’s company. Having lived the epitome of a selfish existence for almost thirty-six years, one of my biggest worries about becoming a mother was that I would resent the time it took from me. And yes, I would be lying if I said that I don’t think longingly about the possibility of sitting down with a book, of being able to write an entire blog post uninterrupted or even clean the house without a small helper bumbling along in my wake, pongling in the dustpan and attempting to cram its contents into her mouth. Some days I feel utterly cowed by the monotony of keeping on top of the nappy changes, the naps, the demands for attention, the constant clearing up of spilled food and the scattered contents of my lower shelves…

But I still wouldn’t change a thing: being able to spend so much time with this little person – being able to watch her explore, grow and learn, without any twinges of nostalgia or sadness at the passing of time because I am not missing a single moment, makes me feel indescribably lucky.

I have lived almost exclusively for myself – wandering off on this whim or that whim at any given opportunity, fretting about ways in which I could justify my rather feckless existence by finding something worthwhile to do – and now I am now living the ultimate dream of someone who thrives on the excitement of new beginnings, but who is frankly too old and knackered to keep setting off on her own: I am experiencing them vicariously through the insatiably curious eyes of the next generation.

There will be no more babies after this one!

On Maya’s second night in the big wide world, she started feeding at 19:30 in the evening, and at 5 the following morning she was still going strong (cluster feeding to get my milk supply up, although I didn’t know that at the time). I was tearful with exhaustion, and desperate to make it stop, so eventually a nurse took her away in order to let me get some rest.

Rather than feeling relief, I just felt all wrong. I lay there for an hour or two trying to sleep, but eventually gave in to the overwhelming need to find my baby. She was asleep on the nurse’s chest, but my whispered enquiry immediately cut through the noise and chatter of a busy maternity ward, and up reared the tiny head – craning tearfully around in a desperate attempt to locate me. Me. Her mother: the only person in the world she wanted to be with.

It was a terrifying, yet heady moment. One I never want to forget, and one of the many that have thus far epitomised what becoming a mother means to me. But for all the reasons listed here, I still have no intention of experiencing it all over again, except through my memories.

I am hugely fortunate to be Maya’s mother, and that is enough for me.

From this....

From this…

To this, in 365 days. Crazy!

…to this, in 365 days. How crazy is that?!

This is Status Viatoris, currently compiling her declarations of mothering intent for the next 365 days of Maya’s life, in the hope and dread of harvesting another intimidating crop of just-you-waits, in Italy ;-)

Deliverance

10/01/2015

statusviatoris:

This time exactly one year ago, this was happening… Happy birthday, dear daughter !

Originally posted on Status Viatoris:

status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

Can I really have already been here for four whole weeks?? Can I really have already been here four whole weeks??

As boringly unnecessary as some might find this post, the burning desire I had to write it simply could not be suppressed: my memory alone cannot be relied upon to furnish my tiny daughter with the details of her arrival into this world (should she ever request them).

Thus, here I am; hurling my most intimate experience into the blogosphere, all in the name of posterity and those of Life’s little moments that should never be forgotten.

After a few days spent pawing at the straw like a restless old ewe (the Mothership is to be thanked for that most poetic analogy), I woke at 3am on Friday the 10th of January 2014, surprised to discover that I had given birth to a jellyfish – for the…

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It has EVERYTHING to do with religion

09/01/2015

Je suis Charlie 

Twelve people dead, just to assuage the hurt feelings of some truly pathetic human beings. It is heartbreaking, terrifying and infinitely absurd.

And predictably, the apologist protestations have already begun: the terrorists are not “true” Muslims. These acts of terrorism are not religiously motivated. None of this has anything to do with Islam. None of this has anything to do with religion.

Poor, poor, poor misunderstood religion; the hardships it has to endure.

But unfortunately for religion, the deities who, several thousand years ago, so kindly dictated their respective rules, threats and petulant demands for blind obedience to willing scribes, neglected one rather important detail: clarity.

Hence why there are 300-odd Christian denominations, for example, and why some Muslims think Islam is the religion of peace whilst other Muslims think murdering their detractors in cold blood is a perfectly acceptable way to behave. Some religiously-motivated behaviour happens to comply with the laws of whichever land the adherent lives in, others don’t. But as religious extremists believe they are answerable only to their chosen higher power, to them it matters not a jot either way: they believe themselves to be morally superior to everyone who does not share their beliefs.

They and only they are the “true” Muslims, or Christians, or fill-in-the-blank, and their god – the one true god, in case you thought yours was – has got their backs.

And who are we to tell them differently, when every single one of the myriad of belief denominations is based on nothing more solid than an interpretation of texts written an enormously long time ago?

Sadly for us all, not one of the deities who were apparently so keen to communicate a couple of millennia ago has been back to clear up the many misconceptions, contradictions and inconsistencies left by their previous attempts at telling humans what’s what. So that leaves it up to personal interpretation, and as we know, personal interpretation relies heavily on personal experience, personal ideals and personal goals.

The interpretation is shaped not only by the character of the interpreter, but also by the life he is living, and the society and times in which he is living it. It isn’t objective. It isn’t reliable. But it can’t be disproved.

For example, if the New Testament really was a moral guide then there would have been no slavery, no Crusades, no Spanish Inquisition; in fact none of the cruelty, oppression, persecution and bloodshed committed in the name of Christianity during the period within the last two thousand years that such things were considered acceptable.

But it is not a moral guide. No holy book is a moral guide. Morals do not come from religion, they never have. Morals come from the human experience. Morals are the result of human beings discovering what aids cohesion, strength and the success of their community. And it would have been quickly clear that murder, rape, theft, adultery and dishonesty (amongst much other anti-social behaviour) within a society does not make it stronger.

Of course nowadays humans have progressed to the extent where most of us realise that murder, rape, theft et al committed against anyone at all, regardless of their “tribal” affiliations is also morally reprehensible, and so religion has been bent, watered-down and reinterpreted to suit new sensitivities. The parts of the holy books that are unpalatable to anyone with a conscience, and thus incompatible with progressive modern society, are resold as “analogies” or “not to be taken literally” regardless of the absurdity of such a statement.

For how can anyone possibly know how these books were meant to be interpreted? They stand alone.

However there are still people who remain true to the more unpalatable parts of their holy books: the Christian far right who think homosexuals should be put to death, who think women should bend to the will of their husbands, who think evolution is a lie and who would gladly drag the USA back to the dark ages of fear, superstition, bigotry and ignorance from which the Founding Fathers fled. And the Muslim extremists, who for those same reasons and more, would gladly drag the entire world into a monotheistic and theocratic hell where the word of paranoid misogynists with an intense hatred of freedom and democracy, would be law.

It has EVERYTHING to do with religion, because these people act in the name of their religion, and religion can be whatever its believer wants it to be.

It can be a reassuring sop to those scared of the permanence of death, a promise of better things for those living a life of hardship and an ego trip to those incapable of believing that we are no more important than any other species on our planet. It can offer a public veneer of “goodness” to those for whom simply being good is somehow not enough, and offer a sense of community to some who, for whatever reason, would otherwise feel alone. It can be warm and kind and touchy-feely for those who are happy to ignore the parts that are quite the opposite, and who are (happily for them) free to mould it to suit a personal ideal.

But religion can also be fire and brimstone. It can be about beliefs, not behaviour. You can be as “good” as you want, but if you don’t conform to a particular belief system, an eternity of hell fire awaits. Religion can be divisive; your tribe is the chosen tribe and everyone else is varying degrees of utterly wrong. Religion can be judgemental; it shames your sexuality, and demands dominion over your reproductive organs, your heart and your mind. And religion can also offer easy answers for the terminally disaffected – how wonderful for the previously purposeless to suddenly feel so vastly superior; able to sweep aside the boundaries within which lesser mortals are constrained to live in order to decide their fate. Commit the most heinous of acts, and be eternally rewarded by the highest power they believe there is.

These people might not represent the majority of Muslims, but they are still Muslims acting in the name of Islam, and to attempt to claim otherwise merely adds to the problem by continuing to shield religion from the scrutiny any idea wielding such power should rightly be subjected to.

And that is why the pencils of Charlie Hebdo and colleagues the world over must never ever stop chipping away at respect that is demanded, but not earned.

Why they must force people to accept that being offended is just one of the hazards of living in this fabulously free society – where everything must be questioned, nothing glorified, and where nothing or nobody is above criticism.

Why they must continue to be free to kill that sacred cow, again, and again, and again.

“I would rather die standing, than live on my knees.”

On est tous Charlie.

Where it all Began

21/11/2014

status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

Strange things happen to a woman during pregnancy. I thought losing weight instead of gaining it was fairly far out, but it transpires that there was something even more unexpected going on during the longest nine months of my life: I was starting to reach the conclusion that Italy no longer really felt like home.

And at that very same moment, I realised that I was ready to go home, home.

Nobody could be more surprised than me at this abrupt turnaround. At five months pregnant I was still musing about moving into (or creating) a larger home for the Mothership to come and join us in her very very very far in the future dotage, yet by the time Maya was hauled, yowling, from my carved-up uterus I was wondering at which stage I might enroll her at the same local primary school I attended.

I think it’s fair to say that the rot started with the roof fiasco; the absurdity of the situation and the unsympathetic and intractable nature of most of those involved not being the best tonic for the general feelings of vulnerability that go hand in hand with gestation.

But then again, I am no stranger to the bureaucratic irritations that I’m sure exist to a greater and lesser extent in most countries. Indeed, after eight years in Spain, five years in France and nearly five years in Italy; I should be prepared for pretty much anything.

I thought I was prepared for pretty much anything.

But what I wasn’t prepared for was the realisation that despite having declared repeatedly over the last nineteen years that England would never be my permanent home again, it would suddenly feel like the only place that I could call home with any honesty.

Four years in any one place has long been my limit. It seems to mark a crucial turning point at which all that was originally charm and contentment and endless possibilities, becomes tarnished with a scratchy veneer of mundaneness, dissatisfaction and feelings of confinement.

Of course I am aware that that says an awful lot more about me than it does about the places I have cast-off, and what it says most of all is that I am both hopelessly unrealistic and worryingly flighty.

Unrealistic because I have spent all these years snuffling my way round Europe in search of perfection: that perfect place with which to fill all my empty spaces and which in turn would let me grow to fill the perfect niche in life.

And flighty, because as quick as I am to declare my discovery of an earthly nirvana, I am just as quick to go off it entirely.

Because it’s not perfect. Because things go wrong there, just like they do everywhere else. Because the people there are normal, just like they are everywhere else. Because life there is essentially unremarkable, just like it is everywhere else.

Because I’m exactly the same person there, as I was everywhere else.

This blinding flash of self-knowledge hit me at approximately the same time I began to notice that the place that for a few years now has made me feel most at home, I once upon a time called home.

And I know home.

I know its strengths, but, more importantly, I know its weaknesses. I know it far too well to put it on a pedestal, but I am able to accept its frustrating idiosyncrasies more easily than I am those of another country. Probably because I’m English, a fact that no amount of country-hopping is likely to change.

So I am English and my husband is Romanian, neither of us is Italian. We don’t have really have any emotional ties to the country, but if we bring up our daughter here, she will, to all intents and purposes be Italian – I have seen it happen time and again. And with no disrespect to Italy, I’m not sure either of us feels entirely comfortable with that prospect.

And then there is my husband: an intelligent, hardworking and vastly capable man who has spent the last five years working for people who, although they often refuse him time off because no colleague can do what he does, still pay him the same pitiful wage he started on whilst openly informing him and his workmates that if they don’t like the conditions, they can leave.

It’s an employers’ market – something that many Italian bosses don’t hesitate to exploit – and the unpleasant reality of much of Italy’s workforce. A workforce too terrified of the prospect of unemployment to even try and change things. Perhaps the hope that he would have more chance to realise his potential in England is a vain one, but he is still unlikely to be worse off than in his current situation.

There is to be no ship-jumping quite yet, however. We would like Maya to continue to build up a relationship with the little cousins she already adores – five-year old Micky and fourteen-month old Mia (I know, molto confusing) and in order to communicate with them once she has left, she will have to speak and understand Italian as they are not being taught Romanian.

Her speaking and understanding Italian will also be useful for immediate family cohesion, as that is the language her parents use.

So at this stage it looks likely that we will be saying our goodbyes in 2018, in time for her to start primary school with her English peers. And we will be exchanging our lovely little apartment in a Ligurian hillside village, for the (hopefully converted) lovely attic of the Mothership’s home in rural Northamptonshire.

Poor, poor Mothership ;-)

This is Status Viatoris, got three years to change her mind, – will she, won’t she, will she, won’t she … in Italy.

P.S Can a girl still be a Modern-Day Nomad, whilst living in her Mother’s attic??

Better and Better

10/11/2014

status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

Ten months. TEN WHOLE MONTHS have passed since my life got thoroughly rearranged by the appearance of a small human that my own body built with the instructions from two minuscule scraps of genetic material.

I know. Boring, boring, boring; the whole of mankind is at it (and to horrifying excess) but I still can’t seem to help that feeling of… WOW.

Cheeky

May the exploration commence…

There are many who declare that there is nothing so wonderful as a newborn baby.

I cannot but disagree, for there is nothing which could possibly induce me to exchange this vibrant, chatty, funny, endlessly curious and active little ten month-old for her previously floppy, unfocussed and utterly dependent self.

Cheeky 2

Your baby needs YOU! (and toys, lots and lots of toys. Oh, and perhaps a puppy).

I loved newborn Maya fiercely, there is no doubt of that, but I don’t even possess the words to describe the depths of my feelings for the chubby little personality who shares my life now.

Cheeky 3

Superbaby fails to disguise the snacks she has squirrelled away in her cheek pouches for those lean winter months.

Milestones have come and gone since her progress was last documented: the first tooth choosing to pop out optimistically into the chaos of our Romania trip at seven months – a tiny smear of blood on her cheek and the faint clink of something un-gummy on the spoon her Romanian mamaia used to fill her with chicken soup being the only indications of its arrival.

And there it sat; tiddly, white, and all on its tod for a further six weeks, until four more suddenly popped up in quick succession, like mushrooms after rain, making both eating solids and nipping at Mummy’s nipples when she least expects it a whole lot more satisfying.

cheeky 4

Superbaby suspects someone might be after said cheeks and concentrates her super powers on repelling them with fierceness.

It was the arrival of teeth that transferred my wonderment at my own body: first it built her with the instructions from two minuscule scraps of genetic material, then it provided the food to make her plump and hearty. How amazing is that??

To hers: it knows it has to push out those little teeth in order to facilitate eating solids and nipping at Mummy’s nipples when she least expects it, and a whole host of other things yet to come besides. How amazing is that??

Cheeky 5

Watching the nappies in the machine go round and round, round and round, round and round.

And yes, I did study biology at school – I even knew where babies came from, but somehow it hasn’t curbed my astonishment that the process could happen to me. Something that has only served to increase the sense of incredulity that so many humans reproduce so unthinkingly, because it really is an enormously big deal.

Huge.

cheeky 6

Food holds her attention for at least two minutes nowadays.

I imagined that Maya would one day become mobile in much the same way I imagine one day I’ll get to grips with my smart phone: ie it wasn’t something that took up much of my imagining cells. When six, seven, eight months passed and people patted me “kindly” and said they were sure she would be crawling soon, I found myself not remotely bothered. She’d move when she moved. What was the rush?

Still, I was relieved on their behalf when she finally began to execute a laborious commando shuffle (elbows dragging the rest of her along like a carcass – the huffing and puffing involved ensuring that creeping up on anyone was off the menu) towards the age of nine months.

cheeky 7

Everywhere becomes an adventure playground when you’re mobile-ish.

It eventually developed into something rather more respectable, and then eight days on the Mothership’s grippy UK carpets (as opposed to our slippy Italian tiles) added jet propulsion, as well as hauling her vertical with the assistance of furniture, steps, and the legs of whoever happened to be walking past at her moment of need.

Friction really is a wonderful thing.

cheeky 8

Crawling and waving to her public – kid’s a genius.

So she’s chomping, crawling, standing and toddling with help, but does she say anything?

Well, she says “mum mum”, a lot. Usually whilst clawing at my legs, bashing at the loo door while I’m in there having a sneaky pee, standing in her cot at 2 in the morning, requesting that I turn my tea mug round so she can see Winnie the Pooh painted on the other side, or crossly tracking me round the house as I try (and mostly fail) to get important housewifely things done.

All other vocalisations, however, sound really rather similar, although I am beginning to think that her gestures might imbue a meaning that I better start looking out for. Her waving, for example – very Queen of England, no idea where she picked it up – is now accompanied by a cheery “da da” which could well be bye bye or hello, as those are the two two-syllable words I have been repeating to accompany what up to recently had just been random (but delightfully regal) salutation.

cheeky9

Those thighs don’t look nearly so cute on Mummy.

It would be wonderful to know just how much of my constant communication she actually understands. Is she starting to build up a list of recognisable words and phrases, or do Mummy’s ramblings just come across as confusing bursts of white noise, much as they appear to do when I’m trying to initiate serious discussion with her father?

And then of course there is the additional complication of the languages. She understands “water” in English, but doesn’t yet appreciate that the same refreshing stuff is “apă” in Romanian and “acqua” in Italian. She does, however, get that “bye bye”, “pa pa” and “ciao ciao” are all preludes to departure. She will raise her arms to have clothing removed when she hears “sus mâinile!”, but looks at me blankly if I say “arms up!” or “alza le braccia!”.

cheeky 10

Hanging around on the Mothership’s kitchen step.

I am usually treated to a most quizzical look when she hears me speaking Italian, so I hope I’m not being too fanciful in my assumption that she can now differentiate between the three languages, and has already twigged that Mummy’s is supposed to be English.

Tati (Daddy in Romanian) is certainly much better these days at sticking to the limba romana when interacting with her, so I imagine the tiny cogs are at work joining the dots there as well.

cheeky11

Last minute discussions re carpeted step protocol.

But all these recent and delightful developments are not without their inconvenient side-effects.

Google (the last bastion of the desperate parent) tells me that the reason Maya is currently waking me up every two hours throughout the night may be because her brain is whizzing so restlessly with all the new information and skills it is taking on board, she’s not managing to attain a deep sleep.

Sadly what Google won’t tell me is what to do about it, nor, apparently, can Google assist me in any practical way in getting through each day with a sleep-deprived head full of cotton wool.

cheeky 12

Executing carpeted step protocol.

(Google is, of course, far too polite to suggest that she might just be playing me, but as she can keep up the screeching for far, far longer (hours) than it takes me to sooth her back to sleep with a boob (minutes), in the interests of desperately needed rest I must in this matter resign myself to being played.)

cheeky 14

You going to bust me out of here, or what?

Too much information and new skills are a dangerous thing. No, honestly, they really are. Because they brings with them opinions, and opinions in a ten-month old are accompanied by even more screeching than night-time awakenings.

NO BIB REQUIRED, thank you.

NO HAT NECESSARY, thank you.

I said NO BAND TO KEEP MY FRINGE OUT OF MY EYES, thank you.

I think you should stop cleaning, working, cooking, talking to the Mothership on skype AND DEDICATE YOURSELF EXCLUSIVELY TO ME NOW AND I MEAN NOW.

It’s a battle of wills I feel under some pressure to win, having watched an unhealthy number of episodes of various Super Nanny productions. At present I am attempting to apply the “cheery but firm” method, and trying not to let either the screeching or the beseeching work their evil magic.

Cheeky 14

Multitasking starts early.

Accompanying this new desire to control her daily destiny, is a similarly unstoppable desire to cause mischief – upending things, throwing things through the railings to watch them clatter down onto the stairs, defoliating the house plants, redistributing the house plants’ compost, pulling everything off the shelves and generally doing her level best to make contact with all that is sharp, hot, electrified and/or toxic.

I am told it is just as important to take this ground in the battle of wills, but doing so is rendered that bit much harder by the sheer delight a ten-month old takes in realising that she is at last achieving mischief under her own steam (Maya currently finds “no” the most entertaining word ever uttered), and the impressively inventive lengths she then goes to to invent further mischief.

It is the fruit of this constant and fascinating exploration of her environment and her attempts to make sense of it all, nevertheless, I am hoping that whispering “rod/back” “rod/back” “rod/back” three times a day, four on Sundays, will be enough to prevent a sheepish motherly pride turning us into potential fodder for Super Nanny intervention.

cheeky15

Wreaking havoc…

We are still being inundated with helpful advice on where we are going wrong raising our tiny offspring:

We should be communicating with her purely in Italian; how else will she ever learn? Apparently the fact that 90% of the folk we meet whilst oot and aboot speak to her in the language of Dante will never be enough. Well, she is half British after all, with all the linguistic disadvantages that entails, so I suppose they might have a point.

Cheeky 16

…then sleeping it off.

She’ll never learn to walk in cloth nappies, far too bulky. Quite so. One only needs to look at two of the photos above, wherein the Mothership demonstrates to her granddaughter how she, like most of her generation and mine, has been forced to get around for the last sixty years having been hobbled early on by enforced towelling underpants.

She’ll also never learn to walk if we continue carrying her in “that thing” – this from (amongst others) a lady whose own child was in a pushchair, from which I presume he is removed on high days and holidays, as is Maya from the sling.

cheeky 17

Keeping the nipple nippers sparkly.

It is hard to get my head around some people’s apparent hostility to our slings. I don’t carry my daughter in one to annoy others, honestly, I carry her because:

a) I can’t be arsed dragging a pushchair in and out of the car, up and down steps and in and out of shops.

b) I enjoy having her at my level so we can dance a bit, sing a bit, point things of interest out to one another and so that I can revel in the observation of her wide-eyed interactions with the world.

c) Squidging that sturdy little body against my heart for as long as I can is one of my greatest pleasures.

Yes, motherhood is inherently selfish, I admit it. Perhaps that’s why I am loving it so much…

This is Status Viatoris, living the dream… but without the sleep ;-) in Italy.

Keeping a Lid on It

26/10/2014

status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

I am now able to report that getting a new roof is curiously similar to giving birth: once your arms cradle the miraculous warmth of your newborn child or your eyes caress the reassuring red uniformity of your new tiles, memories of the pain endured to reach that goal vanish without trace.

No sneaky raindrops getting in through this baby.

No sneaky raindrops getting in through this baby.

Well ok, perhaps not quite: I certainly have no difficulties conjuring up the ouchiness of trying to meet Maya, and the roof fiasco inflicted wounds on my relationship with Italy that show no signs of healing. But still, it’s nice to have one that doesn’t leak. A roof, I mean. The baby leaks plenty, and often.

Lush

It’s come a long way from this, is thankfully no longer like this and has been altered yet again after this in order to make room for a tiddler.

As I mentioned previously, having kept us in ignorance of everything pertaining to new roofs for six months, the bureaucraps at the Provincia di Imperia finally deigned to give us the go ahead on the very day that I returned home from the UK with my almost brand-new leaky squeaky baby.

Feelings were mixed.

I still wanted to kill everybody involved, but by the same token it was a relief to finally break the silent impasse that had been hanging over us for almost half a year.

We decided to make the bastards wait a couple of months – hubby needed some time to get to know his daughter and I needed some time to reacclimatise myself to La Vita Italiana. But we needn’t have bothered trying to make a stand: the various “experts” involved took such an unsurprisingly long time to get their bureaucrap together, that I was only presented with the last (of a veritable forest) document to sign a matter of hours before Maya and I Easyjetted it out once again.

And thus the roof got done.

We paid for most of it – it was the only way to get the neighbours on board. One who blatantly lied about the surface area of her property when it was time for the calculations to be done. One who insisted that her calculated portion was far too much as she only used the property for a month a year.

We paid all the administrative costs – I couldn’t face more aggressively protracted haggling with people I am obliged to get along with.

Italy likes administrative costs. I presume that’s why the laws are changed with such joyous abandon: it’s the perfect opportunity to slip in an “expert” or two to tut officiously over whatever it is you are requesting, before shafting you heinously.

A thousand Euros for the “expert” who sailed in on the back of a new law requiring the roof to be reinforced, a thousand Euros for the “expert” who drafted a 10 page document about scaffolding safety in which it was stated that if anyone was injured whilst working on the scaffolding I would be fined. Because it’s my house. And, well, because the Italian government needs the money to bunga bunga until the mucche come home. And another thousand Euros just for the hell of it (strangely uniform, the remuneration for these “services”). Oh! And don’t forget the 22% IVA.

Most mysterious were the €350 I was required to pay to have samples of the reinforced concrete and its iron innards tested for anti-seismic suitability…

…after the roof was completed.

What, I asked, would happen if it was found to be as effective against earth tremors as the previous roof had been against raindrops? Would an expert be charging me a thousand Euros (plus IVA, certo) to have it removed? Apparently not. If the reinforced concrete and its innards were found to be substandard, they would simply be tested again, in a slightly different way, until the desired result was obtained.

How very reassuring.

Lest you should feel I had been unfairly singled out for all this shafting, it might calm you to know that not only was the builder boss obliged to pay, yes, you’ve guessed it, a thousand Euros (plus IVA, certo) to obtain a “scaffolding safety certificate” – no obligation to actually attend the course, and twenty years’ building experience notwithstanding – but the scaffolding boss was also fined three thousand Euros after an spot check revealed that he was four days late in renewing his employees’ certificates of suitability for clambering over scaffolding.

The bunga must have been particularly bungaful after that little haul.

But when all is said, done and paid through the nose for, we now have a lovely new roof that doesn’t leak and that keeps the apartment toasty on cold days and relatively cool on sunny ones. Helped in its endeavours by the cladding that hubby laboriously fixed to all the external walls after work and at the weekends whilst Maya and I were partying it up chez la Mothership.

And that would have been the apartment more or less finished, if it wasn’t for the fact that we now have a sproglet that has to be accommodated. So it was that we voluntarily evicted ourselves from our comfy computer room in order to set up cramped technical operations under our brand new eaves – frequently bruised bonces all part of the fun.

Not a square centimetre of wasted space in this house.

Not a square centimetre of wasted space in this house.

Who wouldn't want to pee under those beams....

Who wouldn’t want to pee under those beams….

Home made stair gates are joined by the home made fire guard. I have a very clever hubby...

Home-made stair gates are joined by the home-made fire guard. I have a very clever hubby…

The office was then insulated and decorated for its new purpose, and now the final baby-proofing of the rest of the apartment has been carried out, we can say with some satisfaction that after nearly four years, the place is finished.

Could we squeeze a few more colours in, do you think?

Could we squeeze a few more colours in, do you think?

Note the globe night light - specially chosen to stir globe trotting genes into life ;-)

Note the globe night-light – specially chosen to stir latent globe-trotting genes into life ;-)

Almost.

This is Status Viatoris, feeling a little battered, in Italy.

From Romania with Reflux…

04/10/2014

status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

Thelma, or is it Louise...

Thelma, or is it Louise…

Frighteningly foolish or amazingly adventurous: well, one of those two descriptions must surely apply to a couple who decide to drive their seven-month old daughter the 2,000km from Italy to Romania for a fortnight in mid-August.

In our defence, the mid-August part of the plan was forced upon us by my husband’s place of work – having decreed that no employee may have more than a week off at any one time, they very reluctantly allowed him to tack an additional week onto their summer closing. (Given as how we were planning to immediately hit the open strada, I wasn’t entirely sure how he was going to manage to obey their other golden holiday rule: employees must always be available to go into work during their time off if summoned). Welcome to Italian employment; please check your life in at the door…

The first day’s driving took us from our little village in Liguria right up to the coastal town of Trieste, practically on the border with Slovenia. And what a drive: unforgiving August sunshine, nose-to-tail Italian August traffic and bump-to-pothole Italian motorways quickly led to a wailingly miserable little daughter and two irritable parents questioning their own and each other’s sanity in distinctly un-vacational tones.

Even the service station stop-off (usually my favourite part of any road trip) provided no relief: heaving with single-minded holidaymakers and a distinct dearth of available parking spaces, a long traffic-dodging trek over shimmeringly hot concrete delivered us into the further confusion of a shop, cafeteria and restaurant served by only one cashier – dash to the café and attempt to force a way through the throng in order to catch a glimpse of what may be on offer, dash back to the cashier and join the queue to describe and pay for chosen items, dash back to the café and queue again in order to obtain chosen, described and paid for items, weave a way through a restaurant in search of a clean table. Fail to find one. Sit down anyway, and unrestfully polish off purchases whilst trying to prevent seven-month old from licking all the surrounding filthy surfaces in her joy at being released from her car seat.

Louise, or is it Thelma...

Louise, or is it Thelma…

Thankfully, Day Two amply rewarded our doggedness in the face of adversity by delivering us from the unmitigated hell of August travel in Italy, and into the paradisical-by-comparison delights that are offered when traversing Slovenia. A country I shamefully know nothing about, but whose silken motorways and stunningly lush countryside provided a much-needed balm to three over-stressed nomadic souls.

If I could have chosen a soundtrack for this leg of the journey, it would have undoubtedly been Smetana’s Má vlast – wrong Fatherland, I know, but the best I can come up with until someone composes a similarly stirring ode to Slovenia.

As I suspected it might be, Day Two’s service station stop-off was a well thought-out exercise in soothing traveller revitalisation. Leaving the car in the kindly shade of an overhanging tree, we were greeted by a cool and airy interior holding all the wholesome appeal of a farmer’s market: no droopy panini or dry focaccia here, instead an irresistible spread of fresh roasted vegetables, pasta, rice and tomato salads – moussaka, roast chicken and schnitzel for the more carnivorous member of our little party.

And the highlight of the entire experience (squeakily clean tables aside)? The natty wooden trolley with space for both food trays and thrilled-to-bits small child…

Roasted aubergine has never tasted so good...

Roasted aubergine has never tasted so good…

Refuelled, reinvigorated and with our faith in life and human nature (or motorway service stations, at least) restored, we continued on the disappointingly short trek across beautiful Slovenia and soon popped cheerfully out into Hungary, where old friends were waiting in their rural idyll to spoil us with gulyás, laughter, a large selection of loom band jewellery (they have two daughters…) and a comfy bed for the night.

Her first experience of climbing a Hungarian tree.

First time climbing a Hungarian (or indeed any) tree.

The next day’s drive tipped us out of Hungary and into Romania, together with most of the rest of Europe – or so it appeared.

August is the month in which vast numbers of the Romanians working and living abroad make the long pilgrimage home. Italian, Spanish, British, German, French, Belgian and you-name-it plated cars all converge at the border before spilling onto the badly-maintained single carriageways that serve the entire country. There is a very smart motorway system under construction, but only tantalizingly short sections are open, allowing the weary driver but the briefest sensation of the wind in his hair before he is deposited back onto the nose-to-tail fume-drenched bumps of the overloaded b-roads.

So along we meandered; through village after village; colourful, single-storied houses lining the principal, and only, tarmacked street – all other thoroughfares snaking off right and left in dusty, unsurfaced nonchalance.

Storks peppered the tops of chimney stacks and electricity pylons, only adding to the sensation of otherworldliness already provided by the frequent appearance of slowly moving horses with their carts and fields of curiously stacked hay, occasionally interspersed with 500 metres of outrageous edifices – the Roma shrines to pockets picked and begging bowls filled throughout Europe’s major cities…

Taking time out from helping to overpopulate the planet with their excessive human-baby distribution..

Taking time out from helping to overpopulate the planet with their excessive human-baby distribution..

A slower pace is what's required.

A slower pace is what’s required.

Seriously and fabulously green.

Where the colour green was invented…

Roma gypsy gin palace

And a Roma gypsy gin-palace…

Ill-gotten gains are apparently injurious to good taste

Ill-gotten gains are apparently injurious to good taste.

Words have long since failed me

Words have long since failed me…

My eyes are now bleeding

My eyes are now bleeding.

It took one more overnight stop, and a further half day’s driving to reach my mother-in-law’s village, time enough to note two further developments: firstly that we had arrived in Romania just in time for a suffocating heatwave of the sort that fells the old and the infirm the length and breadth of a country, and secondly, that I was feeling progressively more unwell.

The final four hours of the journey I spent hunched deliriously over the steering wheel, periodically bursting out into paroxysms of sobs miserable enough to rival those of my now thoroughly fed-up daughter.

Not the best introduction to hubby’s childhood home, but I felt sure that after a few days’ rest I would stop feeling as if a band of invisible sadists was tearing me apart at the sinews and be able to throw myself as wholeheartedly into the Romanian experience as Maya had done.

Flower fairies...

Flower fairies…

Sure beats a bloody car seat!

Sure beats a bloody car seat!

A split second before she managed to pick two baby rabbits up in one of her baby fists, and stuff them halfway into her mouth...

A split second before she managed to grasp two baby rabbits  in one of her baby fists, and stuff them halfway into her baby mouth…

It wasn’t to be.

The invisible sadists – seemingly tired of twanging my tendons and jig-sawing at my joints – decided to make like a log, using my oesophagus as the flume, and subsequently jam up my digestive tract to such an extent that not even a sip of water could make it from mouth to stomach without the accompanying feeling that I was ingesting molten lead.

As for food, barely a bite of it past my lips for seven days – one way to get shot of the “baby” weight (ok, so the spare tyres pre-dated the baby by a number of years). Unfortunately my mother-in-law, despite being repeatedly assured of the contrary, was convinced that I wasn’t eating because I couldn’t abide her cooking. So ill-advised attempts at diplomacy would periodically prompt me into trying a little morsel of something, only to spend the following forty minutes pacing the property, groaning in pain and with tears streaming into the gullies of my rapidly diminishing chins.

We went to the pharmacy, a lot. Did we use the air-conditioning in the car on our long journey? Yes? That would be the cause then. Take this, this and that. Did we stop to eat on our long journey? Yes? That would be the cause then. Dodgy sandwich. Take this, this and that.

Nothing worked. And the resultant medicinal smorgasbord wasted no time in giving me the rampant trots on top of everything else. At least the walk to the outside long-drop toilet was scenic…

Not the queenliest of thrones, and far from ideal when a girl feels death might be looming...

Not the queenliest of thrones, and far from ideal when a girl feels death might be looming…

So many trips to the pharmacy did serve one purpose, and that was to give me something other than four walls to gander at. Through a haze of self-pity and poorliness I was able to observe cows being walked along the main thoroughfare to cow daycare – nosh and company whilst their humans were out at work. Dogs of all shapes, sizes and degrees of benign neglect wandered the dusty tracks or prostrated themselves in the sun. Horses pulled their long carts, complete with cargo – rubble from a building site, logs to be sawn up for winter fuel, hay for livestock, huge watermelons whose availability for purchase was loudly proclaimed by the dark-eyed and colourfully attired gypsy children perched atop them.

I was able to observe that the rural Romanian is an intensely sociable being, for the streets were simply never empty regardless of the heat. The elderly and the not so elderly sit for hours outside their garden gates to chat, and to observe – I doubt much escapes their notice: woe betide the precocious teenager who wears her skirt too short, or the boy who answers back – I imagine parents are informed of any misdeeds before the wrongdoer even makes it home for tea.

I was also able to observe that the rural Romanian does not seem to be into gratuitous smiling – something I noticed in my husband when we first met and have since remedied to a certain extent in case his default stony stare alarmed dogs and small children more accustomed to the upward motion of mouth corners that is prevalent, and indeed expected, in most of Western Europe when interacting with other human beings, having one’s photograph taken or even on those occasions unacquainted eyes meet accidentally across a public space. My personal range of friendly, wry, grateful, self-deprecating, empathetic, amused and encouraging grins (usually tossed about like rice at an Italian wedding) were for the most part greeted with something embarrassingly resembling suspicion.

And despite hubby’s declaration that local children nowadays spend far more time in front of the computer than playing outside, I was able to observe that there certainly didn’t appear to be a lack of them as they swarmed the streets with their footballs, dolls, snacks, bicycles and those ubiquitous bloody loom bands – all intent on enjoying the last few weeks of freedom before a new school term beckoned.

This rural Romanian village was also observed to be enjoying a modest property boom. The older and simpler single-story properties like my mother-in-law’s – brightly coloured façade, wrap(part the way)around veranda, vine-shaded courtyard, chickens, rabbits, a pig and perhaps a cow in adjacent sheds, dog tethered to an outside kennel, hollow internal walls fed warming smoke from a log-burning stove, water supplied by a well, long-drop loo, and a parcel of land containing vegetables, some fruit trees and an awful lot of maize, were now interspersed with more modern abodes in various stages of completion.

These, still modest, two-storey houses (presumably with the accoutrements necessary to facilitate indoor micturation, and worse), are primarily the fruits of Romanians labouring abroad – a place to return to in the longed-for holiday periods, and hopefully to retire to should finances ever permit it. As unimposing as they are, they must take years to complete: each visit home adding a further improvement – a bit of paint here, another double-glazed window there, wiring, plumbing, flooring… almost all carried out by the family whenever time and funds allow.

I observed the abandoned agricultural colective – an eerie echo of Romania’s communist past, the plethora of orthodox and catholic churches that absorb so much of the rural Romanian’s time, and rather too many faces stamped with the unmistakable mark of alcoholism – both perhaps symptomatic of the transition from that bygone era.

Rural

Who wouldn’t want to return if this was home?

But despite unavoidable curiosity, attempts to absorb myself completely in the observation of my surroundings were rendered impossible by the red-hot poker insistently belabouring my midsection – bed rest was to be an unavoidable evil.

And in the manner of many large families, privacy in my husband’s childhood home is not a familiar concept so whilst battling intense physical discomfort, the mental anguish of not being able to adequately care for my daughter or even pick her up, and the worry that the lack of imbibed liquids would dry up the Mummy Milk supplies; most days I also had to deal with most of the family sitting on my mattress, mercilessly stretching both my Romanian language skills and my inherently British desire to please.

Each night I tried to fall asleep; hopeful that the next day would bring some relief, but whatever was ailing me seemed only to get worse until my husband and his sister decided enough was enough, and called an ambulance.

Yes, on my Romanian hols I got to go to a Romanian hospital in a Romanian ambulance – and if that doesn’t just beat the socks off the tired old tourist trails to Vlad Tepes’ crenelations and the Biserica Neagră, I don’t know what would.

It was quickly decided (after hubby slipping the odd Leu to the hospital staff to improve my standard of care) that other than an inflamed pancreas,  I also had a rampaging bacteria that could only be subdued with antibiotics so strong that I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed whilst taking them. Perfect time to wean her onto bottles! said the woman in the next bed, apparently not accustomed to mad British hippies who intend to have offspring dangling from the boob until toddlerhood.

A drip, a painful injection in the right buttock and several more palm-greasing Lei later, and I was released back into the world feeling not remotely better, but vaguely more hopeful.

The primary hurdle was persuading Maya to take formula milk from a bottle. Not so much a hurdle, more a huge and impassable mountain. My daughter left us in no doubt that a rubber teat (or a sippy cup, or a teaspoon, or a mug, or indeed anything at all) was not an acceptable alternative to the maternal bosom. And as for the “milk”, I tasted it – the inverted commas are no exaggeration… She cried, I cried and it felt exactly like I imagine the end of the world might, until I glanced at the box of antibiotics and noticed that the pharmacist had written “do not breastfeed for two hours after taking”. Two hours was a huge improvement on not at all, and after throwing ourselves at the informative mercy of the mighty Google, we decided that on balance we would risk it.

Our most immediate crisis averted, we were eventually able to bid la revedere to my hubby’s bemused (and robustly healthy) family, and limp the two thousand kilometres back home; where it took me a further three weeks to regain the strength necessary just to be able to go about my daily life without the assistance of my poor, put-upon mother who kindly allowed herself to be drafted in for crisis management.

A gastroenterology appointment and an anaesthetic-free and sedative-less endoscopy later – a horror I would not recommend to any but those I truly despise, damn that breastfeeding – revealed that I have Gastroesophageal reflux disease and a hiatus hernia. The management plan: pills for ever, stronger pills for ever when I stop breastfeeding, no eating anything vaguely tasty, no drinking anything vaguely tasty, no bending over after eating, and try to control stress levels.

Most unsatisfactorily incompatible with the nicer aspects, as well as the largely unavoidable aspects, of life.

And Romania? Well, despite it having taken most of the last six weeks for memories of that nightmare to fade, I find my mind can’t help but linger on the more visual recollections of spectacular scenery passed on our way back towards Hungary  – Cheile Bicazului, Lacul Roșu, and the rest…

So I doubt it will be too long before I find my way back to the land of my husband – hopefully this time for an infinitely more positive experience.

This is Status Viatoris, seemingly unable to go anywhere without making an absolutely spectacle of herself, in Italy.


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