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??

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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.

Lovely Lesley Porter

08/07/2014

A writer without readers eager to devour his books must surely have occasion to question the point of putting pen to paper.

As a blogger, I don’t even have anything to sell; there can be no monetary purchases of my words to help me feel validated and give me the confidence to believe that I might be doing something right.

Of course I may simply be writing for me – a rather public diary; Lest I Forget, and all that.

But I’m not, not really.

I write for the sheer joy of writing, certainly, but I also write in the hope of providing a little entertainment: an anecdote here, an amusing turn of phrase there, an opinion to be shouted down or heartily agreed with, a glimpse into the inner workings of stranger’s life that facilitates a few moments of escapism for whomsoever might feel the need.

And when someone takes the time to write a little something in the comment section, it goes an awfully long way towards reassuring me that I am succeeding in at least some of my aims.

Since I started Status Viatoris in March 2010, readers have come and readers have gone, but there are a dedicated few who joined me back in the early days, and whose kind consistency in letting me know they are still tuning in has been invaluable in keeping my will to blog alive.

One such person was the Lovely Lesley Porter.

Initially I was in ignorance of the vast extent of her loveliness: yes, I greatly enjoyed her affectionate and encouraging responses to whatever I had posted that day – especially when beloved collie dogs, Obi and Fly, took charge of her keyboard in order to chew the fat with my equally beloved Strauss. I also appreciated her humorously candid turn of phrase when talking about matters of the heart and late motherhood, amongst the other slightly more angst-laden topics.

But it was only when, after several years of Status Viatoris, there was a sudden silence; weeks and weeks and weeks with not a single manifestation of Lesley, that it dawned on me just how important her constant and cheery cyber-presence had become.

So, with the slightly nauseous anxiety that I might be doing something horribly invasive and utterly inappropriate, I tracked her down on the dreaded Facebook, and wrote to her.

She wrote straight back.

It wasn’t good news – she had just been diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer and was awaiting treatment. But with the indomitable, funny and honest attitude to life that I had come to recognise as all her own, Lesley declared herself ready to kick cancer’s butt.

From that moment, our relationship took on a more personal note; the blog comments continued to flow, but we also wrote privately – her messages often appearing in the middle of the night as the gruesomeness of the cancer treatment stole not just her hair and her appetite, but also her sleep.

Burning her wig on the toaster, farting at a nurse – if only Lesley’s brand of hearty irreverence were obligatory, I am convinced society would be a far more congenial collection of folk.

And then it struck me that it might be in my power to offer an additional morale boost with something more personal than the ubiquitous bunch of blooms or bag of grapes: surely a cuddle with a favourite internet pooch would brighten her day. So with the help of Steph (much-loved daughter extraordinaire, also run to earth via the dreaded Facebook) we started to hatch a plan to spring a surprise on my next trip home.

Sadly, the premature loss of Strauss put an end to such plans. But despite the fact that I was rendered unable to spring the best of surprises, I simply couldn’t suppress my own yearning to meet my cyber buddy, so the Mothership and I decided to set off on our road trip to South Wales regardless.

(I sincerely hope it was surprise and not horror I saw on Lesley’s face the day Steph ushered us into her living room.)

Even if it was horror she disguised it heroically, and, armed with cups of tea, the chatter flowed, only pausing with the arrival of the scrumptious Will who kindly broke off from his nap to come and grin disarmingly at us over the rim of his bottle and give outrageous lie to his besotted grandmother’s pre-Will declarations that she would be leaving all baby adoration to husband Howard, while she walked the dogs.

Time was short and Lesley and I found that we had an awful lot to say to each other – far too much to cram into a couple of hours perched on Steph’s sofa. But she was exactly as I had imagined her: all ferocious energy, laughter and life. Then Howard appeared – the man who once promised her, after years of failed pregnancies and heartbreaking disappointment, that he would make her a mother if it was the last thing he did.

And he did, first with step-children (and a seemingly endless stream of youngsters who Lesley took under her wing at various times), and then with Steph, whose arrival led to her mother missing out on a ski trip – I’m guessing she was worth it!

I like a man who keeps his word, and apparently so did Lesley judging by the declarations of her love for him that were worked into many of her blog comments.

Best friends, husband and wife – what could be better?

We parted bemoaning the brevity of the meeting, but I was left with their assurances that the large soon-to-be camper van parked outside their house would be chugging its way to Italy sooner or later.

And we continued exchanging our news: Will was crawling, then walking and talking, Steph was looking for a wedding dress and trying out a new range of soaps in her little gift shop. Lesley was thrilled to be back in a small size 14 and that her locks were at last growing back in most fetching Mia Farrowesque fashion.

She was one of the very first people I announced my pregnancy to, and, a few months later, one of the very first to know that my bump cradled a baby girl. Happily, she was then able to completely trump that announcement by getting herself declared free of cancer!

But then she wrote to tell me of her devastation that adored elder sister Beryl – the one she was so proud of for having paved the way with what was then a pioneering breast cancer treatment – had herself been felled by cancer again, this time inoperable. Beryl had brought Lesley and her brother up from the age of 10. She spent her life helping and improving the lives of others, she was witty and intelligent and had a fabulous sense of humour.

To my ears, Beryl sounded uncannily like the person describing her.

Lesley’s family surprised her with tickets to see Bon Jovi (a wish from her bucket list of the previous year) – she cried because they had remembered and then danced and screamed like a youngster at that concert; declaring Bon Jovi still a great singer, and with the dance moves to boot, but plastic surgery and over whitened teeth ensured he was only attractive from a distance. What a shame. She wrote to tell me how wonderful Steph’s wedding to Allyn had been, and how stunning they had all looked – Steph, Allyn and Will. Such a superb and happy day. Her words.

But the words Lesley hadn’t written to me were that her own cancer had come back. The dreaded Facebook imparted that news, and when it was already too late to respond.

What complete sadness.

My heart goes out to Steph, Howard, Will and the rest of the family. They have lost a most remarkable and beloved woman: their best friend, their mother, their wife, their grandmother.

And I find I have lost the person I most often had in mind when I put fingertips to keyboard. The person for whom I sought to provide a little entertainment: an anecdote here, an amusing turn of phrase there, an opinion to be shouted down or heartily agreed with, a glimpse into the inner workings of new friend’s life.

I imagine most writers have a muse, and mine was the Lovely Lesley Porter. I shall miss her more than I could ever have imagined possible when I read her very first words to me over four years ago, but I shall always be so very grateful to her, and for her.

Marvelous Mother of the Bride

Marvellous Mother of the Bride

It is the memories of your wise words, your fabulously unwise words, your love of life and your quickness to laughter that will have to be enough keep these fingers zinging over the qwerty.

Goodbye, lovely lady.

Having a Ball

30/06/2014

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

Can't think who that could be...

Mirror mirror on the floor…

Try as I might, I cannot quite get over my disbelief that in less than two weeks I will be the mother of a burly six-month old; whilst at the same time struggling even to recall a life before this practically new baby arrived to take up the majority of my thoughts and about 99.8% of my time.

Even more curiously – whilst I am pretty certain these have been by far the most exhausting six months of my entire existence; other than keeping one small child fed, cleanish and relatively perky, I am also pretty certain that I haven’t managed to achieve anything else of any real importance.

Motherhood, it would seem, is nothing but a wily manipulator of the very concept of time, as well as being an endless serious of contradictions.

But, oh… how indescribably delicious it is all proving to be.

Hard work? Moi?

Hard work? Moi?

Our last five weeks have been spent chez la Mothership, who assures me she has been delighted (perhaps in a way only a newly fledged grandmother can be) to sacrifice the relative peace of her rural existence to the endless and noisy demands of a tiny, attention-hungry egotist.

Her recompense (other than my finely honed washing-up skills) has been the witnessing of a quite astonishing array of Maya milestones: the sudden appearance of the back-to-tummy roll only slightly marred by a periodic inability to reverse the process - frustration that leads to much slobbery, heartfelt sobbing into the play mat until our need to retain some sort of hold on our sanity obliges us to flip the pitiful creature over onto her back, only for the process to be repeated again almost immediately.

This'll be fun for at least two minutes!

Well this’ll be fun for at least two minutes!

Being in a house with two endlessly yakking women has also borne fruit, this time of a verbal nature, with a babbling stream of chat that is (I imagine) my daughter’s take on what she is hearing.

In which case it would appear that what she is hearing are two rather deaf simpletons, if decibels (lots) and content (arbuldarbundarbuldar) are an accurate reproduction of reality.

(On an idly curious note, I do wonder if the sound and rhythm of this more sophisticated pseudo-speech would have been different if it had manifested itself while we were still in Italy, where she had daily exposure to Italian and Romanian, as well as English…?)

Sadly, the odious and unloved distant cousin of conversational chitter chatter has also recently made an appearance. Yes, the trepanning squeal is here, and apparently to stay, if my desperate questioning of mothers with older tots has been answered truthfully.

Previously restful pit-stops in eateries and coffee houses are now often rushed and red-faced affairs, and to be avoided altogether on particularly squeally days.

Even my plethora of crappy plastic toys can't muffle the din!

Even my plethora of crappy plastic toys can’t muffle the din!

But it’s not all screeching and chagrin; added to the list of the rather more pleasing developments is the fact that Maya can now also sit for more extended periods of time – always providing she does not reach for a toy too far to her left or to her right, in which case she executes a slow motioned yet surprisingly ungraceful face-plant into the floor.

Just waiting for Mummy to get cocky, then I'll pitch headfirst off the sofa and ruin her day...

Just waiting for Mummy to get cocky, then I’ll pitch headfirst off the sofa and ruin her day…

But not content with almost having conquered the rolling and the sitting, she has also taken to stubbornly straightening her little dimply pins when we are attempting to lower her down, forcing whoever is doing the baby wrangling into patiently assisting with the not unimportant issue of balance as she stands there, proud and plump, until gravity and muscle exhaustion bring her back to earth with a bump.

Naturally I am thrilled with all these new developments – not least because of Maya’s unmistakable excitement at getting to grips with her world and her own dinky limbs, but if it does transpire she takes after her happily static mother (who didn’t take a step until she was 18 months old), that would be peachy too ;-)

Is this walking, Mummy, is it? Is it?

Is this walking, Mummy, is it? Is it?

The entertainment value of a cheery nearly six month old is quite frankly priceless, even at witching hour.

Being woken up by fake crying that promptly turns into a gusty giggle if I sniff or cough is enough to tell me that madam simply feels at a little bit of a loose end, and reckons that a midnight cuddle and two and a half sucks at the maternal udder might be just the thing to lull her pleasantly back into the land of nod.

Unfortunately for her, she is in possession of not only a most unconvincing fake cry, but also a mother who does not consider two and a half paltry sucks at the maternal udder worth getting out of bed for. So I muffle my laughter as she manfully attempts to keep up the fakery whilst being inconveniently distracted from her mission by the fascinating patterns on her quilt, the pleasing scritch scratch of her nails on the cot mesh, her teddy’s astonishingly soft fur, and, after not too many minutes, the welcome onset of sleep…

Yippee!

Baby-led weaning, AKA – a legitimate food fight.

At our last paediatric appointment before we left Italy, the doctor informed me that at nearly four and a half months old, Maya was now old enough to start sampling solids. Of course by “solids”, she really meant purees (naturally, it being Italy, the recipes suggested did include a healthy wallop of olio di oliva and a hearty dusting of parmeggiano).

But having been witness to the unidentifiable and frankly unappetising gloop being spooned mechanically into my niece’s mouth, I decided to have a gander at this “baby-led weaning” I had heard whisper of.

Now I usually cringe unavoidably at anything possessing a fancy-pants modern parenting moniker (even when I myself am indulging in the practice) – “baby-wearing”, “co-sleeping”, “attachment parenting”, “mommy blogging”, “permissive parenting” are just some of the many descriptive titles which induce in me a perceptible shudder.

I would hazard a guess that regardless of the parenting style you adopt to raise your offspring – neglect, psychological or physical abuse being the obvious exceptions – and allowing for micro-differences in nature and nurture, the end result will be fairly similar.

And I would also hazard a guess that sticking too religiously to the concepts set down by such styles, could easily and stressfully complicate what is already a fairly daunting task.

So in the end I didn’t plump for baby-led weaning because I feel that it is a healthier or more life-affirming option for my sproglet. I have plumped for it because it just seems like a hell of a lot more fun – and who doesn’t need a little of that in their lives?

(Although I am not yet sure how I will explain it to our pediatra italiana… what on earth is the Italian for baby-led weaning??)

Glorious messes here we come!

Hmmm… what do I fancy for lunch today.

Hmmm… what do I fancy smearing in my hair for lunch today.

This is Status Viatoris, delighted to announce that a) her roof is nearly finished b) the “goodies” won the mayoral elections and c) hubby finally passed his driving theory exam! Whoopee!

 

 

 

 

 

Those Maleficent Men ‘n Their Mud Machine

15/05/2014

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

There can be few things in this world as baffling (and as terminally depressing) as Italian politics.

I have now been in Italy for almost four and a half years – a period of time that was sufficient to endow me with a reasonably fair understanding of the way the political tides ebbed and flowed in Spain and then subsequently in France – but to my shame, with regards to this country I have long given up even trying to work out what’s going on.

Recently, however, I inadvertently brought a small smidgen of political machinations into my own life… and oh how I regret it.

It all started with a Facebook spat about immigration – far from the first of that nature I have had on that particular forum, and unlikely to be the last given how I seem to enjoy giving myself angst-filled and sleep-deprived nights whilst I mentally harangue people whose attitudes make me feel ashamed to be human.

I won’t rehash the discussion for fear it may instigate in some readers a similar desire to throw themselves from a high building as it did me, but here are some of the salient rejoinders to my argument – paraphrased in the interests of succinctness:

- Certain people (me) are ignorant, impolite and lacking in good sense for pointing out that the person loudly posting about how “Italy is for Italians” is married to an immigrant.

- Certain British people (me) shouldn’t call Italians racist (I didn’t) when there are armed police protecting the Channel Tunnel from illegals.

- Italy is a country that welcomes those from all walks of life, such tolerance stems from the traditions and teachings of the Catholic Church (???).

- Certain British people (me) have no right to express an opinion on the subject of racial intolerance (I didn’t) as the concept was only invented when the British imported slaves into America (???).

- Certain hypocritical conformists (me) are only shouting about racism (I wasn’t) in order to indulge in a bit of pre-electoral mud-slinging.

Aha! So that’s what it was really all about: on the 25th of May, My Little Italian Village will be voting for their next mayor.

The current mayor, my neighbour/friend/ex-landlady, is completing her third (non-consecutive) term at the helm of the town hall, and for the last few years at least, has been greatly looking forward to hanging up her tri-coloured sash now she has reached her mid-sixties, and settling down to enjoy a well-deserved retirement.

Local politics, however, was not about to let her go quite so easily.

For as the elections loomed, it quickly became apparent that the only pretender to the throne, together with a number of his merry band of councillors, are of  the opinion that anybody a whisper to their left is a communist, whereas if they themselves shuffled any further to their right it is highly likely they would topple straight off the edge and into the arms of Il Duce.

And although there are many around here who are of a similar persuasion, there is an equally high number who view such monochromatic political leanings with great concern and were therefore unanimous in their insistence that she stand again.

Playing against the newcomers is their lack of experience in the political arena, something that becomes painfully obvious when scanning their scant “manifesto” – little more than pointed and rather libellous digs at the opposition (a few examples of which are paraphrased below):

We promise that if we win these elections we won’t hog the town hall for twenty years! Was, unbelievably, their opener.

We promise that under us, the village will be managed for the people, by the people! As opposed to the current dictatorship, I presume.

We promise that we won’t misuse our powers to give favours to friends! Just… ouch!

We promise transparency in our actions! Especially interesting, as my new Facebook bestie (one of the would-be councillors), rather than creating his own profile, instead uses the profile of his mild-mannered foreign spouse to harangue the “friends” she has amassed through her school and playground interactions with his political issues.

As in between incessantly posting and re-posting variations on a theme that certain people (me) should keep their traps shut, he has also undertaken to swell the party votes by incessantly posting and re-posting variations on a theme that politicians who hold on to their power for too long, are anti-democratic.

Because apparently the democratic thing to do to a village unfortunate enough to have only two candidates, one of whom happens to be long-standing, would simply be to pass the keys of the town hall to the newcomers regardless of majority opinion.

One would hope that the overt mudslinging that has so far been offered in the place of real and attainable goals, plus the vitriolic lack of self-control shown by this particular councillor on his internet platform of choice, would perhaps make people think twice about the newcomers’ suitability to administrate. But perhaps that is just how politics works.

Either way, individuals capable of demonstrating such complete lack of humanity and compassion in their opinions on the human tragedy such as the one ever more frequently unfolding in the waters off Lampedusa, might ask themselves why on earth they feel qualified to look after the interests of others at all.

This is Status Viatoris, not looking forward to the 25th of May very much at all, in Italy.

Gone to Slush

12/05/2014

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

My days seem to have taken on a slightly drifty quality since we arrived back in Italy. I would blame it on the baby (she certainly provides excellent cover for tardiness, absence, unfinished tasks and odd smells), but I suspect that it’s really just my true nature kicking in.

After years of attempting to keep up the pretence that I seek a fascinating existence, I finally have the perfect excuse to fart around doing very little of any note - an endless succession of happy toothless smiles reassuring me that any guilt I might feel about such idleness is nothing but wasted emotion.

Qui, moi?

Qui, moi?

So time passes in a lazy haze of cuddles, storybooks, long walks, cautious exploration and mutual adoration – with the soundtrack of experimental squeals, cheerful chuckles and incomprehensible nattering that has accompanied my baby’s transformation from helpless newborn to increasingly characterful four-month old.

(It would be remiss of me not to also give mention to the poo explosions, the occasional unexplained crying – both hers and mine, the regurgitation splats that land on most of my clothing within 10 minutes of me dressing, the dearth of more than half a minute to myself at any one time, and the realisation when I leave the house that I have apparently been rendered invisible by the plump and sumptuous little creature strapped to my chest – although in all fairness, my years with Pooch should have inured me to the pain of being overlooked in favour of a more charming companion…)

You got time to burn, I got the matches...

You got time to burn? Coz I got the matches…

Being a new mamma here is certainly an experience – the Mothership was astonished to note that Italian men are just as keen to rush over for a goo goo gaa gaa as the women (most British men preferring to devour their bowler hats rather than interact with a small child).

On the downside, I am still having to work hard at ignoring the insistence of some on telling me how to care for my daughter: “Put a hat on her, there’s a breeze!” “Put some socks on her, there’s a breeze!” “She should be wearing thicker clothes, there’s a breeze!” “You shouldn’t be going for a walk with that baby, there’s a breeze!” and one of my personal favourites: “Does your husband know you brought her out in this breeze?”

Oh please don’t tell him, signora! I’m still sore from the beating I got for not having warmed his slippers…

What do you mean "underdressed"? I've got my cosy socks on, haven't I?!

What do you mean “under-dressed”? I’ve got my cosy socks on, haven’t I?!

I’m also getting it in the neck on a daily basis for the sling, although it quickly became apparent that the pressure to trundle Maya around in a pushchair as opposed to attached to me, has rather more to do with people’s desire to get handsy with her, than any real concern for her well-being.

Many dive in anyway, huffing breathily into my cleavage and grabbing at my spare tyres in their eagerness to lay claim to a beaming grin or force a finger into the gratifying grip of a fat little fist, while I attempt to repress the very British desire for personal space that threatens to bubble out in a blur of aggressively wielded elbows and a swift knee to the groin.

Hanging with Mummy

I’m the only one allowed in Mummy’s personal space, ‘cept perhaps Daddy…

Repressed crossness with an overenthusiastic fan club notwithstanding, overall this is proving to be a magical time.

I never anticipated just how quickly the helpless eating/sleeping/crying stage would morph into something hugely much more entertaining, and I am now captivated by my daughter launching herself with joyful excitement at each new developmental milestone.

The fragile little soul that lay obediently on her playmat until someone saw fit to move her, now throws her way vigorously around the floor with kicks and semi-rolls, frequently parting company with the mat altogether to end up partially wedged under the surrounding furniture.

(No need to panic – we usually manage to hoik her back out before the dust bunnies can get at her.)

Help! The dust bunnies are nibbling my toes!

Heeeeelp! The dust bunnies are nibbling on my toes!

Feeds are interrupted every few sucks with an unmistakable demand to be sat up so she can check nothing exciting is escaping her notice, and even if the view that greets her remains unchanged from the previous inspection, it doesn’t seem to dent her delighted surprise at being faced with it again.

Vocal chords that previously only served to utter monotonous complaints, have stretched to accommodate a spectrum of sounds and volumes ranging from giggles to gusty belly laughs through shrieks and shouts to chatter so conversational that it almost makes me believe we are really communicating.

(I have been told that bringing up a child in multiple languages can make for late speech development. And as I natter away to her primarily in English, hubby in Romanian and most everyone else she comes across at the moment in Italian, I will raise my hat to her if she manages to produce a coherent sentence before puberty.)

You can look, but you can't touch!

I are cute, but confused!

But all this change does bring with it a pang of worry that everything is going by far too fast, that so many delightful moments will be forgotten as she learns and grows.

So at the expense of those readers who would rather eat their headgear than read stuff about children, I am simply going to have to record those moments here from time to time:

Chuckles of hungry excitement at glimpsing an approaching boob – dimpled arms reaching up to guide it home, little mouth pursed into an “O” of welcoming anticipation.

Being woken at 6 in the morning by her chattering and laughing to the teddies in her cot.

Little fingers tracing lazy patterns on my breast as she feeds, playing with my shirt buttons, catching at my necklace – smiling eyes never leaving mine.

Taking a hank of my hair in each hand for added stability whenever I carry her in my arms.

Cooing meditatively at the trees we pass on our daily walks, before resting a chubby cheek on my breastbone and dozing off.

The fist-sucking, body-contorting, fussing and squalling fight she puts up every other time her body clock tries to lull her into having a nap.

The constant and enthusiastic squealing that goes with us lying on our backs reading a book – not forgetting the over excited fist in the eye I get with every page turn.

Kisses to her cheek that she ambushes and turns into drooly, gummy, open-mouthed and milky-breathed declarations of love pressed to my grateful skin.

I am in love.

Just hanging out...

Just hanging out…

This is Status Viatoris who would just like to say – Hang in there, Folks! It’s election time in My Little Italian Village, and the political intrigue is more hot than not… will be digging the dirt for my next post, in Italy!

Licensed to Complicate

21/04/2014

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

My husband doesn’t drive.

It’s a family thing: his father didn’t drive, his mother doesn’t drive and out of his three sisters, one brother, one wife, one sister-in-law and three brothers-in-law; only two of us boast the necessary requirements to legally get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle and make it go brrrrrmmmmm in a satisfactorily motionful way.

And that is all fine and dandy (as well as being loads better for the environment); but as I would find it infinitely reassuring to know that my other half could, if necessary, whizz me to the nearest A&E in case of a kitchen utensil mishap, nasty shower-related slippage or paranoid-new-mother-real-or-imagined-baby-illness panic; my hubby has kindly taken it upon himself to set sail into the complex and rather choppy waters of the Italian driving examination.

Unfortunately, both his lengthy working hours and his current reliance on bus timetables make attending the initial theory course, and subsequently sitting the theory exam, at a local driving school a logistical impossibility.

Thus his only option is to go it privato.

Which entails:

1) Half a day off work to take the bus to the next town in order to queue at the Motorizzazione (eng. DVLA, DMV) for relevant forms.

2) An entire day off work to:

Queue to see his GP for a certificate stating that he has no health issues that might impede safe driving.

Queue to see the official driving school doctor who transfers whatever the GP has written onto yet another form and checks hubby’s eyesight.

Go to post office to purchase various official stamps to be stuck on various official forms, and get all forms and identity documents photocopied twice.

Have two passport photographs taken.

Return that same afternoon, and queue to see official driving school doctor in order to pick up form relating to morning appointment.

Take said form to post office to be photocopied twice.

3) Half a day off work to take the bus to the next town in order to queue at the Motorizzazione and hand over all the completed documentation for them to process.

No exam date can be set until the paperwork has been processed, and the appointment for the exam cannot be made by telephone or email, so…..

4) Half a day off work to take the bus to the next town in order to queue at the Motorizzazione for an appointment to sit the theory exam.

5) Half a day off work to take the bus to the next town in order to actually sit the theory exam.

If he fails the first exam (a very real possibility, given that Italian driving theory question-setters are notoriously keener on testing one’s grasp of the subtle complexities of the Italian language than they are on testing one’s ability to tell a t-junction from a roundabout) then he will have to take half a day off work to make a subsequent exam appointment followed by half a day off work to sit the exam.

If he fails the second exam, then he will have no choice but repeat the entire process all over again.

And in the joyous event of him passing? Well, we haven’t crossed that bridge yet; but I feel quietly confident that we will at that point discover that the practical part of this learning to drive saga has even more potential for will-to-live sapping befuddlement than the theory.

(I’m starting to think we might be better off just investing in a family rickshaw for those theoretical emergency dashes… ;-) )

This is Status Viatoris, mildly curious that a country putting so many flaming hoops in the path of potential drivers can still offer up such a vast number of tailgaters, lane-straddlers, gesticulating swervers and drivers apparently ignorant of the fact that their vehicles come equipped with both indicators and mirrors, in Italy. 

Home from Home

28/03/2014

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

Maya samples budget transport...

Maya voices her opinions on budget travel…

Well, Maya and I finally made it back to Italy where we were duly greeted with much affection and a kind, if unfortunate, deluge of pastel-pink velour.

Pastel pink is just not my daughter’s colour.

Ok, ok. It’s not my colour. And while she’s still small and relatively malleable, I exercise my parental right to deck her in the hues of my delectation – with nary a pastel tone, nor a bow or frill, nor a single cutesy wootsey fluffy image of what society seems to think little girls should represent.

Which might well be why many Italians are wrongly identifying her as a boy (luckily for me, and my belligerent stance against gender pigeon-holing, she couldn’t care less about that… at least not yet).

The only non-pink offering. As you can tell, she's not entirely convinced...

The only non-pink offering. Note she’s still far from convinced by the sheer fluffy bunnyness of this get-up…

Our eventual return to la vita italiana was precipitated, not by the joyous installation of a brand new roof, but by a husband and father who – understandably after five long months and still no apparent end in sight - got thoroughly sick of being without his newly-minted little family.

But as Sod’s Law would have it, and as indeed I had predicted many moons before, the permission to get our roof replaced came through almost as soon as we had finally given up waiting and hoping: in fact on the very day the Mothership, Baby and I flew out of Luton Airport…

The relief after so many months of evasiveness and obfuscation (them), frustration and despair (us) is almost impossible to describe. So, it is with fingers, toes, legs, arms and eyes crossed, that we can now tentatively assume the leaky lid will at last be lifted from our living quarters sometime in late spring.

That would be late spring of THIS year, Provincia di Imperia, do you hear me?

Baby-in-the-nuddy pink? Now THAT is a pink we both heartily approve of...

Baby-in-the-nuddy pink? Now THAT is a pink we both heartily approve of…

Maya is adapting well to Italian living.

The clucking concern about her being horribly under-dressed - hypothermia is apparently but a cotton vest away (she’d be so much cosier in pink velour), suffocated by her sling, and traumatised by her backward-facing back-seat car seat, must be a reassuring indication that here her interests will always be defended; even as the grindings from her mother’s pearly whites float down into the dandelion-fluff of her hair.

The first question on all Italian lips seems to be: Are you breastfeeding? Or as they rather clunkily put it: Are you giving her your own milk?

To which the answer is unfailingly: Yes, and lots of it.

Frustrations over sodden nightwear and chafed nipples aside, I find breastfeeding to be an absolute joy – especially now the dinky diner has entered that charming stage of staring adoringly up into my eyes as she guzzles; occasionally breaking suction in order to further wow me with a beaming milky grin.

I've been spotted!

Ooops! I appear to have been spotted…

We have become unabashed public feeders (always doing our utmost not to flash possibly prudish bystanders with unacceptable levels of bare boob, naturally). Maya has now noshed on a train, on a plane, in a train station and in an airport, on a bus, in many and varied cafés and restaurants, in public offices, in a curtain shop and even walking down the busy shopping street of a swanky coastal resort.

She has also weed on a desk of the local Fiat dealership, but that, dear Readers, is a story for another day…

Some of the older residents of My Little Italian Village are obviously slightly baffled by my sling-wearing, gender-ambiguous, meteorologically-unconcerned approach to motherhood in a place where prams appropriately decked with either pale pink or pale blue tend to contain infants bundled like Eskimos against those dreaded colpi d’aria.

And the younger mothers couldn’t help but express their astonishment when I declared my allegiance to washable nappies. All that extra lavoro! I must be completely fuori di testa!

Pocket nappies ahoy!

Pocket nappies ahoy!

But I honestly don’t find the additional maintenance to be all that onerous – rinsing off a bit of poo and setting the washing machine to a cool wash every three days seems pretty simple when coupled with the satisfaction of not having contributed to the grotesque state of our landfills.

Plus they are wonderfully colourful and give my daughter the most squeezably plumped-up backside you could possibly imagine.

What’s not to like?!

This Living business is exhausting

Life is pretty exhausting when you’re only ten weeks old…

Another frequent question – and one I sometimes sense may be laced with a certain amount of sympathy-masked glee – is how we are sleeping.

She’ll be keeping you awake all night, I imagine?

Pacing the tiles from dusk to dawn with a squealing bundle in your arms, are you?

And for the first couple of weeks that’s exactly what happened, but as we approach the three-month mark I am hugely grateful to be able to announce that (at least for the time being) we have a baby who seems to have grasped that nighttime is for trundling off to the Land of Nod.

With just a little encouragement, and a tummy full of warm milk, she currently goes down at about half past seven every evening, waking for two or three dozy snacks during the night before finally rejoining full wakefulness any time from about half past seven in the morning.

Long may it last.

A sneaky doze on the Mothership is what's required...

A sneaky doze on the Mothership is what’s required…

So Life trundles on, with me still alternately overjoyed and petrified by the weight of my new responsibilities; not wanting to take them either too seriously, nor too lightly. Trying to continue being An Independent Woman, but whilst losing myself in the gloriously fascinating changes that mark Maya’s development with every passing day.

I helplessly confess to it: I’m having a blast. But as the nth nosy neighbour asks me if I’m expecting baby number two, it is brought to my uncomfortable attention that there are some things this Mummy has to set her mind to doing just for her…

Hey ho, it’s time to put the bikkies away and get out those trainers!

This is Status Viatoris, heading off to hang out a horde of vibrant crap-catchers and shockingly non-pink baby garments on her sun-drenched washing line, in Italy.


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