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.


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




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.


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

Fairhaven: Ships In the Night

I am on the 99 B-Line listening to The National and thinking, yes, it is true, I am ‘half awake in a fake empire.’ It is grey and raining outside and the scene is smeared by the condensation forming on the windows of the bus, which is becoming increasingly packed as we near the Cambie Street interchange. Five thirty in the afternoon. We, “the people of Vancouver,” are fleeing home, but the mood is damp, not what you’d expect from people who are escaping the clutches of the weekday. We look at each other distantly, sharing only the understanding that while we have reached today’s finish line tomorrow will place another one ahead of us.

I am tired after condensing a gamut of nervous energy into a thirty-minute presentation on a chapter by Elizabeth Povinelli, the formidable Columbian University scholar who incites all sorts of visible reactions from people: raised eyebrows, agitated wriggling, side-wards glances. She is the kind of scholar we all want to be, but pain not to be, as well, and this is perhaps why I prepared the presentation so reluctantly in the midnight hours last night.

Relief touches me briefly thinking that the assignment is over and now I can rest, but I do not let this feeling settle. I am growing tired of the rise and fall of study, the on-loop nervous anticipation and its crashing release; I want long-distance consistency, a steady line. I wonder why it is we do the things we do; why I stay up late labouring over Microsoft Powerpoint critiquing someone else’s critique. Some days I have some answers to proffer but not today. I think of Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism—how we are compelled to work towards “the good life” in the current biopolitical moment—and then I think of the cruel optimism that clearly drove her to write the book.

I smudge out a rough circle of the window fog with my finger—trying not to indulge any O.C.D. tendencies by dwelling on the germs I just acquired—and look through the peep-hole onto the street. I see only pavement and the long yellow line bounding the edge of the road.


Two days later I am in Fairhaven, Washington, squinting my eyes in the foreign light of the sun. The skin on my face is shocked but in spite of itself I feel it unfurling its pores. I stumble upon a record store and John Lennon urges me to imagine that there is no heaven – ‘above us only sky.’ When you think about it, I think, the idea of only sky is not necessarily any more motivating than there being no heaven. This could be depressing but since it comes from a Beatle it is not (things from a Beatle are always tinged with happiness and fancy).


I wake up at three am to the sound of blaring ship horns. I could never be sure if it is one horn from one ship or many horns from several, but my night’s mind is certain it is two separate horns from two distinct ships—one coming, one going. The ship leaving the port farewells the town with an ambitious sound, carrying with it—like all ambitions—both dreams and dread. It passes a ship coming into dock, and this latter ship gives it a nod of good luck with its deep echoing horn. There is a moment of silence, and then this homecoming ship signals twice more quickly: a blow of relief and of a “home, sweet home” that only means so much in this moment because of the outgoing ship that it passes.

I drift back to sleep, restful and comforted at last.


Can you enjoy things that are still a little bit shit? 2012 answered: yes. (Or: how i learned to stop worrying & love the little-bit-shit).

Perhaps it was because we were all moving towards the end of the world, but 2012 felt like the middle section of a film to me. 2011 set the scene and 2012 was the part of the film where the story builds intensely—cars start getting chased at high-speed, the protagonist screws up and looks likely to lose the love of his life forever, the siege begins, the Sandra Bullocks frantically work to keep the buses they’re driving above sixty miles per hour.

I began the year weening my body “back to life” after a rather tumultuous year health-wise, a task helped enormously by the salt water, heat and happy friends in my favourite part of the world. Here:

Innes NP Coast

Heading back to Melbourne I felt better braced for 2012 and all I assumed it would entail: my PhD confirmation, moving to Canada with my partner, and looking myself in the face and asking it some hard questions (as in, “hey, face! I’ve got a bone to pick with you”). I was ready to shake things up; to challenge myself. Yet, when I found myself sheepishly following a guide towards a Meditation Hall in regional Australia at seven a.m. one crisp March morning later in the year, I did wonder how and why I managed to embroil myself in such “challenges.” But this is a story for another time. My reason for mentioning this moment is that while sheepishly walking towards the Hall I desperately questioned my choices. Like the aforementioned hapless protagonist who just can’t get his timing right, I almost quit on the dream. That particular dream being zen, or at least, the ability to sit still for longer than five minutes a day. I am still not sure how I managed to stay for the duration of the course. I suspect it has something to do with my persistent sense that something good had to come out of doing so, even if that good ended up simply having an interesting tale to tell over dinner sometime in the future. Somehow it all just seemed a necessary part of the 2012 plotline.

The tussle between good and bad/love and hate at this meditation course was not dissimilar to the experience I term ‘the Canadian saga.’ Plans to complete one year of my PhD program at UBC in Vancouver began in 2009 but were constantly interrupted—first by sickness, then by administration, then by last-minute news that my partner was not allowed into Canada. So when I finally arrived at Vancouver Airport in August 2012 to be told something along these lines: “You do not have the appropriate documentation, you’ve been given the wrong advice, you ought to be deported,” quitting seemed to be the clear and final option. Especially since, despite the fact that I had flown to Canada specifically to study, I was effectively banned from doing so until I got the correct visa. And P.S., I’d need to leave the country to get that. I took a moment to ask myself: ‘if my life was a movie, what would the audience want my character to do?’ *looks at screen begrudgingly* ‘Fine. I’ll hang in there a bit longer.’ I decided to think about my quitting options while travelling on the Greyhound bus to Bellingham, Washington where upon crossing the border and re-entering I would be issued with the correct paper badge. Since I was literally taking a bus across the border, then taking a bus back again, I had some time to waste between bus-rides in the charming Fairhaven district. Here I strolled into a gift store displaying the sign: SORRY TO RUIN THE ENDING FOR YOU BUT EVERYTHING WORKS OUT FINE. Assuming this was true, I decided not to quit and I returned to Vancouver. (You see, I am only superstitious if I am desperate. Similar to my reading of horoscopes, or the weather-forecast: I believe what is foretold when it is something I wish to believe in).

I started grad school, I read a lot of Critical Race Theory and Affect Theory and attempted to write about both, and in the meantime I battled a range of mundane problems new folk in foreign countries face: getting lost walking to your own house, buying the wrong items for your dinner because the products are strange, speaking in phone-circles to set up a bank account, realizing you have an accent and sound weird and sometimes completely indecipherable, missing the crap out of your loved ones/favourite coffee shop/local  pub/etc. At times it felt quite like being back at the meditation course: I felt isolated, silenced and confused about what I was doing here, and my broken-record mind went: ‘I should quit. No, I should stay. I can’t take this anymore, I have to quit…’ Meanwhile, as this brain-pendulum swung, I quietly and incidentally fell in love with the city of Vancouver.

My new neighbourhood, East Van, was a delight: on the streets I would smile at new graf that said things like: ‘you look pretty today,’ or laugh at cheeky squirrels bolting across the footpath and up tree trunks. I couldn’t find a decent coffee but cinnamon buns made up for that. The bus drivers were almost always friendly, even on the busy, jam-packed, claustrophobia-inducing #99. The changing colours from Summer to Fall had me walking the streets with my mouth dropped open in awe. When it started to rain that day and never really stopped, I marvelled at these Vancouverites’ resilience: they weren’t deterred; they just slipped on their rubber boots and raincoats and got on with things. Then I saw snow for the first time in my life and felt giddy. Then I snowboarded on it—and Canada knew as well as I did that I was hers.

The 2012 USA election came along to shake me up. In truth, I didn’t pay much attention to the campaign. By this I mean: I followed it, but with a sense of detachment. For the most part I didn’t connect to what I was hearing, watching, reading. It seemed too ridiculous to be real. It was an unreality, I decided. Five days before the election I realised this wasn’t Saturday Night Live and if Mitt Romney got in we were all in serious shit. And so I watched the voting updates with that “vote-count nausea” one gets on election days. When it became clear that Obama was the winner, I sobbed.

Wait. Sobbed?! It was unexpected, even for someone who frequently sobs at odd things. Sure, I like Obama, but he’s not exactly John Lennon. Far from it; Mr “I have a Drone” brings much to be disconcerted about, as the excellent Juice Rap News pointed out:

So what to make of this sense of relief and celebration? It troubled me for some time. Should I have “celebrated” this kind of move, even though I knew this was, in many ways, a celebration of “the lesser of two evils?” The concept seems inherently problematic, especially in light of my feeling towards troublesome celebrations, like Australia Day, which I wrote about earlier this year. I’m still mulling this over, but the following is how I’ve navigated the territory.

In the first instance I recalled an extended member of my family saying “better the devil you know” when discussing his voting strategy, notably, to always vote the Australian Liberal Party, which at the time had been in power for several years. He was not willing to take a “risk” on the other major party (even though both were pretty damn similar then). Now, for those who are more politically-attuned, taking a risk might mean a full-fledged riot involving pitch-forks and megaphones, but for a lot of voters, it is the case that taking a risk might simply mean voting for the other, fairly similar side. This surely sucks, but that does not mean it is not true. Thus, if more voters—lots more, as it turned out—decided to vote for the more progressive side in the 2012 USA election, then I think there’s something encouraging in that. The fact that a black man has been given another chance to be President of the USA when not so long ago Jim Crow was the call of the day, is something to feel encouraged by. The fact that this same guy included (however shallowly) gay people in his winning election speech when not so long ago teachers were being lawfully sacked for being homosexual is something to feel encouraged by. These are small moves but in a world in which every political action we take is suffocated I think we need to acknowledge these moves for the political possibility they give. It shows us that people are thinking differently, maybe even more openly. It shows us that they’re willing to take a risk, however small we feel it to be.

To dream about an independent overturning outside of these two parties is admirable; worthy; NEEDED, but to disregard the better situation of Obama over Romney is perhaps to overlook our systems of knowledge and how they function to create power and ultimately change. They do not exist in isolation and nor do we. If we want to change the system I don’t think we can distance ourselves from it, nor can we upend the entire thing from outside overnight. Even when we work from the edges we remain tied to the inside of that beast, and so our best bet is to nudge those walls from “within.” So, in the same way I applauded the excellent anti-misogynist speech delivered by Australian PM Julia Gillard to Oppositional Leader Tony Abbott (see speech here) but continued to actively disagree with several of her political platforms, I applauded the Obama re-election. If I don’t stop and acknowledge these wins when we have them, I’m afraid I may as well crawl under my bed and wait for Romney to blow us up. At least with Obama in power I am more inclined to leave the bedroom, maybe even the house, and start fighting those Obama policies I think are bullshit and need changing. Of course, this might just be a way for me to defer my guilt, or sugar coat it?

In the end, it was Lawrence Grossberg’s (2010) thoughts in a recent interview that made me think it okay to pause and feel celebratory before making the next political step. He says:

“…one understands that reality is making itself and it will continue to, and that therefore there is a contingency about the world that opens up possibilities. Not in the utopian way that leads to misunderstandings and accusations like you are a gradualist or something because you want to take it step by step to get “there.” I don’t really want to get there. I just want to take that one step and hope that that one step makes the world a bit better, and then we’ll figure out what that context is and take another step.”

I believe Obama beating Romney made the world a little bit better, but it was just one step, and now we have to figure out what the next step should be to make the world a little bit better from here.

I  guess that’s the game strategy I employed in 2012 in general, and is perhaps what we all do most of the time. We take a step towards something we feel will be better and we find ourselves in a new situation, which we work to better again, though often on new terms. A lot didn’t “work out” for me this year – like being separated from my partner for six months, losing people, battling health problems – but in response I took some steps which led to wonderful and surprising things, like experiencing a different way of life and forming new friendships, research connections and health resources. And now it’s 2013 and in twenty-four hours I will be meeting my partner in Seattle. He didn’t get the Canadian visa on the second-attempt, so now he will reside across the border, and I will visit him there as often as I can. This situation is a bit shit, and it’s certainly not how I thought the “movie” would go, but as it turns out, where 2012 was leading me to in its crazy mixed-up storyline was a remake of Sleepless in Seattle… which is also arguably a little-bit-shit. BUT, I am pretty certain we will find a way to love it.