Anyone who knows me knows where my heart now lies in winter. Yes, there has been a slight displacement. I used to spend winter drooling over boots in shop windows and waiting for prices to come crashing down. I always used to find a good and solid reason to invest in just another pair of shoes. I mean, I needed them, I couldn't leave them. I was certain I didn't have a pair like this.
A dozen years have slipped by in this country. Children have been raised. Pets have been born and buried. Homework has been chewed by dogs (I'm serious: try telling superstar Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong'go that the dog has chewed the copy of The Devil on the Cross that your son wants him to sign). Walls have been painted a half dozen colours; pipes have burst, cars have broken down and been driven into the ground (in fact, you raised your kids on Jimi Hendrix and Chopin on the tangenziale di Mestre). Cherries have been eaten and roses pruned and - last week! - the house finally has a heating system that works so that means nearly fifteen degrees in the kitchen!!
A long, good haul.
I'm not trying to be difficult or precious by saying I never wanted to live in Italy. When I was a young student with an Italian boyfriend living in snooty Paris, I couldn't help looking at Italy as a Fellini set, with all characters striving to look like Dolce e Gabbana models. The gesticulation drove me nuts. I mean, just say it! Without waving your hands! Without looking to see if everyone is checking you out. Stop talking over people and listen!
But one subsides, I guess; one becomes less hard-edged. One accepts. One - gulp! - probably even begins to behave like that.
The thing is that while there is a lot of social conformity in this country, there are great differences in region and terrain, which translates to mentality and attitude. In twelve years I have learnt to decipher a little of this, and in doing so I feel as though I have invented my Italy. An Italy that is far from clichéd (wine, pasta, monuments), and brings out the best in this France-loving Sydneysider ex-West African dweller.
Any idea what is coming next? You guessed it: the Dolomites.
Winter has become The Ski Season. It's when we abandon all ties to city life and friends and go barmy for snow, watching the weather, waiting for fresh snow, seeing if we can afford a new pair of skis, hanging out with a fantastic mountain crew. And while global warming will continue to shorten the season, as long as it's on, count me in. There is something so gutsy, so non-cerebral, so mind-blowing about falling in love with sunset or sunrise on a mountain summit, with a sweaty trek up to the slopes and a freezing ride in the chairlift, with filling your lungs with that giddy oxygen. While I can't really write about city life in Italy, I find the mountains inspiring, shocking, laden with tales to be told.
So I'm signing off. Now you know where to find me on these last winter weekends. Doing telemark curves on my favourite slope. Reading on the couch in an exhausted stupor. Drinking grappa al carrugo in some bar. Or just watching snow floating down out the window.
In fact, until April, this author has snow for brains.