The days are beginning to get a little shorter and the mornings a little colder, and suddenly we find that we have been in Monforte for over a month now.
In the way of travelling, in some regards it seems like we only just left Adelaide and yet in others it feels like we have been here forever.
With that in mind, and respecting the human desire to celebrate random milestones, we thought that we would pen some reflections from our first 30 days and post some highlight photos (although these may or may not reference our reflections).
We still love every aspect of Monforte. It continues to gradually reveal its secrets and each walk results in the discovery of new corners, hidden alleyways and vistas that we haven’t seen.
It was two weeks before we realised that every night at 8pm, the two town clocks chime and then the bells play Ave Maria.
It is very much a working village that just happens to be situated in one of the most spectacular parts of the world. Spend 30 minutes in the piazza and you will see tractors with trailers piled up with grapes, scooters of every shape and form and the locals going about their daily business. In addition, you will see tourist cars with plates from as far away as Denmark, groups of cyclo-tourists arriving out of breath at the top of the hill and hear multiple languages being spoken.
We have reacquainted ourselves with the joys of Nutella – we know you can get it at home but somehow we could never justify it – and we continue to use the warm weather as an excuse to sample some very good gelati.
A good friend said that her Italian travels had taught her the benefits of treating yourself each day and that everything is Ok if you have family, good friends and good food. I like that approach and have adopted it as my own.
The friendliness of the locals has been a standout and in particular, their embracing of T and S. People have said that the Italians love children and we see that on a daily basis. A quite perfunctory “Buongiorno” to Jo and I becomes a long chat (in Italian) to S or T as soon as they see the boys – leaving the parents feeling a little like the third wheel in the relationship!
One lady, who walks past our house most mornings when we are eating breakfast on the verandah, has taken a particular shine to T. She was walking past one morning in quite a hurry and was past the end of our building when T called out with a belated “Ciao”. She stopped mid-stride and walked back up the hill with a “Ciao my little friend, I am so sorry to have walked past, how has your day been…”.
In another one of those acts of kindness that made us feel welcome, our neighbour saw the boys playing in the carpark in front of our house and insisted we let ourselves into his garden and use the swing and slippery dip set up for his grandchildren.
His wife then gave us fresh tomatoes, rosemary and sage from their garden and later emerged from her kitchen with a bunch of dried oregano, saying that it was the only thing to have with tomatoes and fresh buffala.
Learning the language continues to be a challenge and in my usual style (patience not being one of my strengths) I am having to reset my expectations about the time it is going to take to be conversationally fluent.
People are realising that we are not here just for a week or two and they are beginning to want to communicate. In these interactions we’ve noticed how much we take for granted the ability to have those simple conversations at home.
I had to make an appointment last week for a medical to get my bike riding insurance and, after a 15 minute conversation with the nurse, the only two things I understood were the date of the appointment (I hope) and that I would have to “pee-pee”…
We have enrolled in Italian lessons…
This pales into insignificance when compared to dropping T off at school each day with a cheery “have fun” and (a silent) “good luck”. The days are mixed for him – there are days that he thinks “Italian Kindy” is brilliant and he is so lucky that he has “two fantastic Kindys” (Adelaide and Monforte); then there was the day where he spent the first hour or so doing a puzzle by himself under the Teacher’s desk.
However, the other kids are now getting to know him and while the language barrier is still pretty huge, he is absorbing more and more words every day. S, meanwhile, has a few English words and says “ciao ciao” for goodbye. He is practically bilingual!
The only other sizeable shift has been getting used to living in very close proximity to each other. We managed to get through the initial shock of going from 550L fridge and freezer to a bar fridge with a freezer insert that holds a bag of frozen peas pretty well.
However, we have found that with two small boys and two parents in the cottage, adventures and exploring walks are often needed to break up the day. Again, I don’t think we really appreciated the space that we had in the house and in the garden at home. I suspect we will need to continue to adjust as Winter approaches, either that or the exploring will just get colder!
In short, so far we have found the experience far more than we could ever have imagined or hoped for. There have been some challenges and hiccups, as you would expect when you move a family half way around the world, but even these have been relatively minor.
As someone recently observed, the Italian approach to life is common to the Mediterranean countries (think Spain, Southern France and Greece), but the Italians have a certain finesse.
We tend to agree.