Southern Italy

I am on a train travelling to Palermo, Sicily. We were delayed in Messina for dieci minuti, which made the Nonno sitting next to me very annoyed, but ten minutes doesn’t seem so bad when compared to the five hours I was told to expect these Calabrese trains to delay. Prior to our arrival in Messina the train was put onto a ferry so we could cross the stretto di messina, the passage of sea keeping Calabria and Sicily apart. My claustrophobia kicked in and I wanted to stay inside the train for this brief but unnerving oceanic passage. “But,” I thought, “if the ferry starts sinking I will not just be on a sinking ship: I will be inside a train on a sinking ship.” I grabbed my backpack and hustled off the carriage. As I drank a bitter, black coffee from the ferry bar, I comforted myself by thinking that if there was a Titanic situation I could at least dive into the sea. Hopefully, an old door would float past soon after, I could push Jack off, and await rescue.

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Train travel through Calabria

 

I cannot tell if everything is before me or in front of me. For the first time in my life I feel like I am exactly halfway. Half of everything falling away behind me in the distance, and half of everything stretching out ahead of me. One long train track, and there I am, in the middle. I have just come from a conference about the Italian diaspora, where I spent a lot of time with Italians—some of them “more Italian than others,” some of them keener to assert this “more Italian than others” than others. From a purely critical thinking point of view, nothing about my participation at this conference felt particularly cutting edge. However, I think the robustness will become apparent via my reflections of the whole experience, beginning with someone’s argument that theorising the Italian diaspora must begin in Italy, and must be in Italian, and ending with someone else’s boozy, 4am quip: “when I told my Dad I wanted to be a poet, know what he said to me? ‘What are you gay?!’” The haughty principles of the first argument counterpoised against the mundane hurt of the second. Yet, why do I feel these two incidents are somehow related?

 

I will take all of these moments and slip them into my pocket: the misogyny hidden beneath one man’s sarcastic jokes and ever so slightly raised eyebrows when a woman—me—was talking about her work; the feeling of alienation on the bus as everyone chatted excitedly in Italian, a language intimately familiar to me in sound and rhythm, but foreign and incomprehensible in meaning; the way my body shook very early in the morning on the day I later presented; the tears that spilled over when Giovanna Riccio read a poem, Namesake. All of these things I will gather like small flat stones and add to my pocket, waiting for a calm day by the sea when I will pull them out, one by one, flicking them onto the glassy water’s surface and counting how many times they skim.

 

I feel my body relaxing into a place of placidness as I watch the sunset emerge. It has been a long time since I have enjoyed the sun melting crimson all over the blue-green sky so consistently, as it does this evening, as it has done every evening this past week in Southern Italy. In Australia, the sun drops cleaner, brighter, creating a yellowy orange sky; but here, the sun drifts towards the horizon like a hard-boiled lollie that has gone soft on the dashboard of a car. Allora, such sticky joys—sweetness tinged with sadness because you cannot suck on it any more today.

 

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Sunset, Tropea

 

What will I do when I arrive in Palermo? What will I think of? How will I move my body? Will my hands find themselves on the small of my back again, just as they did in Tropea, the moment I stepped onto the main street sans suitcase? How is it that a place you’ve never been before can draw your body into a shape its known its whole life, learned discreetly from the quiet strolls with your father, as he peered into shop windows or stood back to assess how much fruit the birds had ravaged from the backyard trees? Allora, such sticky joys, sweetness tinged with sadness.

 

Sunset in Tropea

Buonasera, Stromboli

 

 

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On trust

Some of my recent research has led me to engage more deeply with the notions of hospitality & ethics towards the Other. This work, combined with the hyper-affective state of the political climate, has subsequently led me to thoughts about trust; how our encounters with one another–in both public & private realms–hinge on trust.

When do we embody trust and what are the conditions of this embodiment? What does trust ask of us, and what happens when we fall short? Is the relationship of trust actually *always* one of short fall? What happens when trust is sieged, breaks, does not meet its promise? Does what follows equate wholly to distrust, or is something else also created?

Slowly, hesitatingly, I inch towards responses to these questions, knowing that when the articulations eventually come they will be incomplete and unsatisfactory. Tonight, however, this image allows me to see trust, albeit briefly, as simple and fullsome. Originally posted by The Good Win Way (Aamion and Daize) on their Instagram account, and then shared via professional surfer Carissa Moore, the image does something crucial for my thinking on trust. Namely, it reminds me that regardless of what trust claims to be or hopes to become–or, rather, what we wish it to be or hope it to achieve–every now and then it exists as real and true. And when it does, it is the most exhilarating feeling in the world.

TheGoodWinWay

a drafting strategy

I am currently drafting my fourth and fifth chapters of my PhD thesis. I always find I am good at drafting in the beginning but then lose my way somewhere in the middle. This tends to result in me frantically editing my work at the last minute. Needless to say, Pat Thomsons’s post on drafting has arrived in my inbox at a very useful time! I feel like I now have a step-by-step guide to drafting which speaks to me, but will also help me keep on track when I start to flail! Thank you! I hope the writers among you find this useful, too!

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I’m not a should-must-always person when it comes to academic writing. I think there are lots of ways to get scholarly authoring done and there are lots of ways for it to look and read. I always feel pretty uncomfortable when I see people writing about academic writing saying “do this”, “always do it this way”, “never do that” …

So I don’t hold for example that free writing works for everyone, anymore than I think that talking-as-writing will. I reckon that, as academic writers, we need to develop a range of strategies and resources, and work out which ones work for us, when and for what tasks. Just like any tools, academic writing strategies aren’t fit for all purposes. They do specific jobs. And after all, we are smart people aren’t we, and we can work out what works for us, even if it takes a bit of time…

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Woolf’s Wisdom

Today I have found myself looking in corners for inspiration. It seems to be such a hard time for many people in my life at the moment, and if there is one thing as inexplicable as personal loss and grief it is the loss and grief found in a friend (the philosophy student in me thinks immediately of Levinas and Butler and wonders, are they not the same thing/the same undoing?). The political climate here in Australia does nothing for this mood. So, I am thinking of the one thing I always think of on days like today, and that is these words from Virginia Woolf:

“Arrange whatever pieces come your way.”

Today, in text messages about daily life and the grim state of “Abbott’s Australia”, one of my brothers asked (rather rhetorically, such is the level of the grimness): what are we to do, dan?!

I’m referring to Woolf’s Wisdom for an answer. I think all we can do right now is arrange, arrange, arrange.

 

Australia’s Silence on Violence against Women

*TRIGGER WARNING*: violence against women

Last week, Australian grandmother, Jeanette Moss, was murdered in her home & the headlines emphasised police suspicion that the killer might have been known to Ms Moss . The homicide case is still underway.

Whatever the outcome is, it is deeply concerning that the headlines failed to emphasise that the suspected circumstances of her death are not uncommon or unusual. In Australia, women are more frequently killed or sexually assaulted by someone they know. In fact, at least one Australian woman is killed every week by a former or current partnerWhen I first heard this stat, I thought I’d misheard it. I hadn’t. Worse still, this statistic is likely understated: in 2013, this report was released noting that the majority of violence against women incidences go unreported in Australia. Here is the recent ad campaign White Ribbon, an advocacy group committed to eradicating violence against women, has released in attempt to shed light on the current situation. (For readers who live outside of Australia, & who are perhaps unfamiliar with the aesthetic/narrative techniques used here, the ad parodies Australian tourism campaigns):

At the moment, our government is making a concerted effort to stop so-called king-hit (one punch) violence. It comes after a devastating New Years Eve incident in Sydney where an eighteen year old male was killed by a king-hit punch in King’s Cross. A very similar incident occurred in 2012.  These occurrences most certainly warrant investigation and a strategic shift in thinking about violence and justice responses to it . For Tony Abbott,  this involves ‘throwing the book’  harder and faster at perpetrators of these one-punch killings, or what the NSW state government has since pushed to rename ‘coward punches‘. Whether or not this strategy is the right one is not something I wish to discuss in this instance, though I am comforted to know that at least some forms of Australian violence are under scrutiny.

Nonetheless, there remains an obvious and unnerving silence when it comes to violence against women. To repeat it: at least one Australian woman is killed every week by a former or current partner . Where is the outrage from our PM about this? In 2012 he announced his support for White Ribbon, but I’ve not heard him on the radio, in the papers, or on the television demanding any real commitment to the issue. In fact, I haven’t heard a damn thing from the guy about it ever, and this is Australia’s Minister for Women, lest my ovaries forget.

At what point will the government take seriously the outrageously unsafe environments women contend with on a daily basis–on the street and in nightclubs, yes–but also in their schools, their places of work, their own homes?

Further info and stats: http://www.whiteribbon.org.au/uploads/media/updated_factsheets_Nov_13/Factsheet_5_Facts_and_figures.pdf

Seasons

I left Melbourne for Vancouver in mid-August 2012, the last slog of Winter, a time when my spirits are usually about as grey as my sun-deprived face. I was very excited that I would be arriving in the Northern Hemisphere’s Summer. Sure enough, stepping off the plane in Vancouver I quickly became hot, partly because I was layered like the Michelin man so that I would not tip the baggage allowance over the limit, but mostly because the seasons were reversed. I waited in the customs line with sweat on my lip and a back on fire, a combination of backpack strain and warm, sticky, airport air. When I finally escaped the clutches of immigration, I stepped into fresh air and sunshine. The stark difference in light  felt almost blinding, especially given my increasingly jet-lagged eyelids, and looking out of the taxi everything seemed sepia-toned, making my new city seem all the more foreign and exciting.

Walking through the sunshine over the next two weeks was magical. Sunflowers towered above me on the sidewalk, daisies and geraniums were sprinkled in front yards and along windowsills. Vegetable patches grew randomly on street blocks and I plucked figs from big trees. I was enamoured by the heady smells of Summer blooms and shiny air—a romance back-dropped by the glorious mountains forever framing Vancouver.

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Soon I watched the colours change in the wide streets and walked through waves of orange, red and yellow leaves. It was romantic in a different way. Like something from a 1920s film where the lure of affair and adventure provokes reserved social conduct. Often I felt like I was dwelling in a neighbourhood that The Babysitters Club might be found:  the high houses, stair entrances, basement windows and towering, leafy trees seemed just like the streets described in the girl fiction series I read as a child.

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Halfway through October I awoke to vast sheets of water hitting my basement window. It was darker than usual and the pounding sound was everywhere. Later that night I was told: “this is it, Danni. Prepare yourself. It is going to be like this for five months.” I laughed about this.

Five months later I was not laughing about it. The relentless rain had taught me many good things, like the importance of leather-proof boots, jackets with hoods and careful planning of my backpack. It also taught me that Vancouverites are resilient, adaptive and opportunistic: always making the most of a break in the rain (“look, it’s sunny” meaning “look, it’s not pissing down”), managing to walk through rain with little more than a thin poncho and then stepping onto the bus like they just walked out of a salon. It also taught me that I can find value in dismal weather and to really savour small things like hot chocolates, dry socks and a night-in trying to learn how to knit. And I simply adored the brief falls of snow. But when February came and it was still raining I began to lose patience. By May I truly felt I was drowning in excess moisture. My basement apartment felt damp and I was sick—very sick—almost permanently. Colds, sinus infections, bronchitis, laryngitis. I’d lie in bed resting but felt like every breath I took was filling me up with more cold, more wet, more sick. Dragon’s “Don’t You Got Out in the Rain” played through my mind on loop (which actually was a good thing) and I wondered if these Australian-based rockers wrote this song while in Van?!

During my final weeks in Vancouver the blossoms ignited the trees and daffodils poked up to say hello. And, oh, the tulips! The beautiful, beautiful tulips! Slowly the sun appeared more often and people began to appear bouncier, healthier and happier. The day it reached 13 degrees I took a walk around my neighbourhood and smiled at people sunning on their decks, drinking cider on their lawns and basking in every piece of light. Shortly after this it reached 24 degrees. My friend and I had planned to meet for coffee that day but she wrote to me and requested we go for beer instead—it was just “SO HOT, TOO hot, for coffee.” The Australian in me smiled quietly… and pretended that I was not feeling hot, as well. (Here is a secret: I was. I even bought gelato to cool down. Well, to cool down, and because gelato rules, obviously!).

I arrived back in Australia in June. It wasn’t as cold as I remembered Junes being, which was a great thing. Sadly this soon changed, and I found myself feeling colder here than I ever was in Canada. Australians live in perpetual denial about their Winters: because it gets so hot in Summer it’s assumed we do not need sound heating or insulation in our homes and buildings. That’s until it hits 2 degrees overnight and we complain for weeks on end but do not actually do anything about it. We even forget to dress appropriately.

I knew I was longing for Summer. I am a cold-blooded lizard/girl of the sunshine. I exult in the feeling of being hot, and I quickly feel cold at the slightest drop in temperature. I wear jumpers whenever I visit my Dad’s house in Summer because I hate the feeling of cold air-conditioning on my skin. My toes and fingers are frequently blue and I long to roam barefoot. Needless to say, I am very proud of myself for enduring three back-to-back Winters.

Still, I did not realise just how eager for the season change I was until last month when I was strolling back to my house from uni. It was six pm but not yet dark, an exciting symbol in itself, and the air felt slightly thicker and softer to walk through. It was still and warm and pleasant. I was neither hot nor cold. I became aware that my senses were working overtime and I was overcome by a feeling of safety and comfort, though it took me some moments to pinpoint exactly why. It was the smell: the sweet tinge of jasmine, mixed with fresh cut grass and yellow eucalyptus blooms that can make me want to sneeze, but can also leave me hopelessly nostalgic. Combined it was the smell of my everyday life, but it seemed pronounced and special in that moment; extraordinary.

I guess it was the smell of home. 🙂

Oh, this journey we call life

Recently I went to a very quiet place to be very quiet. I will write about this quiet time soon (which in my head was, in fact, quite noisy), but for now I wanted to leave you with this from the delightful Margaret Atwood. It really says everything I want to say about my recent journey and, yes… life.

Mostly

that travel is not the easy going

from point to point, a dotted

line on a map, location

plotted on a square surface

but that I move surrounded by a tangle

of branches, a net of air and alternate

light and dark, at all times;

that there are no destinations

apart from this.

“Journey to the Interior” — Margaret Atwood