Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Just Another Diamond Day

We all wake as usual, at around 8am. She is fishing around underneath the covers for a book she keeps stashed there. I doze for another 20 minutes as she pokes at my face and chats away excitedly about different types of animals. There are mostly Italian words, A few English ones, a few gutteral sounds (those are ducks) and alot of her own personal language. S goes to the kitchen to make an espresso which I drink in bed. Black. I stopped eating dairy this summer in Puglia and have been set free from the need to buy milk. I drag myself out of bed and get dressed. The mornings are getting cold. I'm wearing ripped, holy jeans and a long-sleeved, stripey T-shirt, a short silk dress under the shirt makes me feel a little more femminine. I'm always dressed pretty strangely these days. All my clothes feel disposable. We have a room full of boxes and two metal shelves which hold them all. Just to cover my body and keep it warm until we move to the other side of the world. We clammer down the echoey stairwell. Those same, wooden stairs with their smell of B.O, marijuana, and that husky that sits in the window box on the floor below us and wails when ambulances pass over the bridge nearby. We are back in our 3rd floor nest. It feels the same yet different, as it's now full of boxes and our oven broke the other day.

 We get into the car and do some errands around town, all three of us. Then Coco and I get on a bus to Salamanca, and she sleeps beside me the whole hour and a half. It's luxury for me to have that time to read something that isn't for Uni. I finished my last assignment for the semester last week when we were staying at my friend's country house/recording studio.

I look out the window while eating dark chocolate with orange essential oil from the health shop next to the bus station. I wonder about chocolate and if it's any healthier when bought from a health shop. I decide the answer is no, and shake my head at myself.

 I love travelling back to places already known and lived. The confidence in my knowledge of a place makes me feel efficient, and truly alive, having lived. Like using the metro in Madrid, giving directions in Melbourne, sleepwalking over to the internet point in Singapore airport.

Coco wakes as we pull into the bus station at Salamanca and begins to chatter again, still half asleep. Her personality is bursting through her skin at the moment. Her ernest little expressions and new phrases suprise me so many times each day. Sometimes I laugh and other times the love is too much, and I can't do anything. I strap her on to my back and gather my bag and camera, jump off the bus and walk through the familiar streets to the square. This town is just so damn pretty. Luisa is waiting for us in the square under the clock, like she used to when we still lived here. She is so familiar in her vintage dress and chunky boots, leaning against the brick reading a book with her wild hair covering her face. I hear Coco's voice in my ear calling her name. We eat lunch on lounges in a trendy cafe. Salamanca has these types of places to keep all the foreign students happy. Spanish cafes aren't really like that.

 We talk briefly and then head down to the river. This route is like second nature. Past the university and all the tourist shops, around the cathedral and down the hill to the basket shop with the terrible incense. We separate at the roman footbridge, and Coco and I walk alone across the narrow, gushing, river- its clear water and bright, autumn foliage. At the other side, we deviate from the well-known path, Coco is indignant, but I insist. Our ex land-lady had spotted us on the other side. She is convinced we owe her money for bills though we left her with our entire bond. Why do Landlords so often think that the bond is a gift from their loving tenants? She is waiting for us under our old house, as we circled widely around the park, coming up to Sol's place from the opposite direction, walking past the houses bursting with pop-flamenco and gyspy women using their public clotheslines. We ring the bell and slip into Sol's courtyard. Hers is the only building in the neighbourhood with a security gate.

 We'd been there just 2 weeks earlier for a late Sunday lunch and lazy afternoon. Her and I sat in her studio where she'd prepared her autumn birth alter as our men talked about work in the living room. Her belly was huge, more pregnant than I've ever been at 40 weeks, and she was rubbing it constantly, quietly willing labour to start. As I left her that day I'd felt so emotional about how my friend's home was about to change so dramatically. There is a secret that only mothers know about, and this is the first time I've shared it with another woman. It is that moment, when your energy is channelled entirely into the workings of your body, and things like amniotic fluid, mucous plugs, and bloody show become daily lexicon and bright, exciting warnings. Never are we so sweetly in tune with our bodies as in the preparation for birth. I heard about Abril's arrival around a week later as we were in huddled the recording studio working on a new album. My heart fluttered and I felt so happy, excited, relieved that she'd had the safe home-birth that Salva and I had helped her carefully and meticulously prepare. I was sad that the news came through social media, it never ceases to sadden me when I see big news in print instead of hearing it relayed by a familiar voice. I was sad that I no longer lived across the road, that the preparations I'd felt so involved with had reached the crescendo of birth and post-birth bliss while I was living in another city.

Inside, there are hushed voices and dimmed lights. Just as I remembered it. There is a glowing feeling inside any house where there is a new baby, but I recognise the sacredness of the space after a home-birth. The harmony of the mother and baby unit that havn't seen the outside since the wild night of the birth. We eat cake and drink tea. I'd imagined myself helping in some way, but Sol has everything under control. The house is immaculate, as usual. Coco tries to give Abril toys to play with, pressing them into her curled newborn hands.

Then, at 8pm, we say goodbye and walk outside to catch the bus to the train station. The stop is right in front of our old house. We arrive, get the ticket and go inside to sit on the train. It stops every 10 minutes at little villages. My favourite is called Cantalapiedra. 

I look down at Coco on my lap who has grown into such a little person, and I feel nostalgic when I think about how quickly she's growing. Then she snuggles against me, and falls asleep at my breast as I feed her, and I remember that at 20 months, she's still just a little baby.

We arrive at our stop and walk upstairs again. Salva orders chinese food. Coco wakes up to eat it from the plastic containers, and then we all slip into bed.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

The Decision

When I moved to Valladolid to be with S in 2008, we didn't give much thought to the permanence of the situation. He knew the city, and didn't like it that much, but once we were living there together, and built our first nest together, it seemed such a simple, comfortable life.

As the years wore on though, we began to notice things we were missing. Waking up in a quiet house to the sound of birds, not cars. Walking on the beach. A wide community of like-minded people. We had forged a tight group of friends in the area, but it never seemed to expand, and when Coco was born, we felt deeply how little in common we had with most of the families in the area.

We were convinced we wanted to stay in Europe, and went to Antwerp, Cologne, Toulouse and Dublin and considered them as new cities to settle. Each was dismissed for some reason, too cold, expensive, complicated for immigrants. We put off any decision-making, and when Salva's contract at the uni ended, I was pregnant, so we stayed on to birth Coco in the wooden-floored nest we'd created in the heart of Spain.

Then, eight months later, we decided to move to Salamanca, just an hour away, so I could start my masters and that was a simple, quick fix. The change was a breath of fresh air but didn't really involve any risk of the new. We didn't need to sacrifice anything we'd built. Especially since my brother moved into our apartment and we didn't really need to actually move.

We'd only been living in Salamanca for a few months before Christmas rolled around and it was time to travel to Australia with Coco for the first time to spend a month with my parents and extended family.

We didn't do much for the month. Dad was desperate to show us a piece of paradise he'd discovered along the clarence river. It was breath-taking, but we spent the few days we were there taking turns with a very severe stomach virus that we probably brought with us from the international flight. Salva played with his new toy, a professional-quality DSLR bought by the faculty for a research project he is a part of. We spent New Years in Byron Bay, the first time I'd been back on the north coast soil of my upbringing in so many years. The smell of the air and the vegetation so sweetly familiar.

We kept our tradition of going to sleep before midnight on New Years Eve, and woke up to a beautiful warm day on the 1st. We walked both ways from Broken Head to the Lighthouse, taking turns to strap Coco to our backs.

We spent time with family, walked around the markets, Then, back in Coffs Harbour, I turned 26, spent mornings and late afternoons walking over the beaches and Macauley's headland with Coco. We slept long nights, ate good food, drank my parents' wine and watched movies curled up on the lounge until it was time to go home.

And the shock felt electric. The journey is so long but it still didn't prepare us for how far away we were going. When we finally arrived in Salamanca we caught a taxi from the bus station down the hill and across the river to our house. The taxi driver grumbled the entire way, his mood matching the dark, foggy weather outside.

The next few days were so cold that being outside for more than a few minutes was unbearable. I got sick again. Sickness is a harsh reminder to the breastfeeding mother that her job is 24/7, with no scheduled breaks. The jetlag meant that we lived a week in almost total darkness.

I felt so sad, and down, and it was suddenly so clear that this was not where I wanted to be. Salva asked if it was because I wanted to move to Australia and I relised that the answer was yes. He thought about it and agreed in a matter of days.

So. We made our decision based on the comparison of a summer holiday to the nasty Castilian winter of real life. It might not be the best way to make important decisions, but the more we thought about it, the more sense it made. Australia is my country, though I forget what it's like to live there. Salva loves the lifestyle. We are dreaming of a backyard full of growing food and a little bit of grass for my wild girl to run. Cosmopolitan, city life, so my man can play his music, I can do my gallery thing, but somehow be there for my girl and her future siblings, and make it all work.  I just never imagined that this is the direction we'd take on our lifelong journey towards our dreams. We've started the visa process. Time will tell.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

4 Years

We huddled in a bedroom of a loft apartment in Bologna for one month. The city was blanketed in snow that was beautiful on the warm coloured rooftops and like a mud slushy on the streets below. He arrived in Bologna at 5am one morning in a car that was falling to pieces and had jazz blaring from its stereo.

He went home for christmas and I drove down Italy's east coast with him. 10 hours from Bologna to Bari, then I got on a train and went back the other way. Slept by myself stretched out on the train's vinyl seats. When I woke up I was in Bologna, the snow was fresh and it was Christmas morning. I walked up the main shopping street and came across only two men standing outside a bar. Buon Natale, Signorina. I can still hear the exact music of their words. I went to call my parents and buy some white wine for Christmas celebration.

He came back soon after, We spent the month shopping at the market, cooking huge meals and studying for an exam in anthopology that had me beat. He coached me through it. It was passed, somehow. We said goodbye again at Milan as he left for Argentina. I left Italy dramatically, soon after, stealing back a box of stolen equipment from my landlord, mailing it to its rightful owner in Sweden, and disappearing. I havn't been back to Bologna since.

The next time I saw him he arrived in Melbourne from Buenos Aires drained and pale, wearing a jumper he'd borrowed from the tanguero friend he had been staying with. Melbourne is the most relaxed city in the world, filled with parks, music, long tram rides, polar neck jumpers and trendy urban beer gardens. We soaked the peace in, until we felt it deep inside both of us. We went wine tasting with Z, cooked pumpkin soup, and apart from love, our deep friendship grew. We became parents to 2 baby chicks that shit all over the house. They were killed by a cat a few weeks after he left and I was inconsolable.

I finished things up in Australia and flew to Italy in time for a European summer. My first year selling in the streets. He taught me how it was done and I was unstoppable. We worked and worked and at the end of the summer, we bought a van to drive home to Spain in, parking it overnight in Tuscany and again in Provence.

And so we began our life in Spain, where we've made so much together. Yesterday we got in the car and drove to a village in the mountains. We sat in the bright autumn sun drinking coffee and breathing in the air, so sweet and clean that the clouds of cigarette smoke rising from the table next to us stood out against the bright blue sky. The baby was bouncing on our knees and climbing back and forth between us. We walked further up the mountain where people were gathering fallen chesnuts and later through a forest to an isolated Carmelite Convent.

Do they at least make honey or something?

I considered that these nuns take vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and silence. In a stone convent in the middle of the lush forest. Silence, except for the sounds of birds and the crystal clear water gushing over granite.

It might be the time of year, this is when the leaves fall, when humans and nature are closest, but there were moments when I felt the three of us melt right down into the earth where we were standing.

4 years. In 4 years we've sung thousands of songs, driven endless distances, met hundreds of colourful characters. Laughed at so many, so very stupid jokes. We are full. Up the mountain we agreed that we have everything we could ever possibly ask for.

We are filled with love, which is not only all you need, it's all there is.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

When Life is Like a Film.

On the first morning here we both wore boots. Hers white and fluffy with bunny faces, mine clunky and black, the same pair that has got me through the past three long winters. I rugged us both up in something fleecy, strapped her to my chest and pulled her strawberry hat down over her ears. We walked out into the grey morning, over the ancient roman footbridge and up the hill into the city.

Coming out of a café were 3 very very blonde people of different sizes. One a bit bigger than Coco, also tucked into a pouch on his Mama. Same brand, hers a kind of sage colour. We exchanged a smile and a nod the way motorcyclists and truck drivers do.

Then there was a pilgrim man attired in expensive camping-wear, with those sticks people use for the serious walking of very long distances.

When I got to the university there was a group of people photographing its enormous doors.

"Is it big or small?"

I heard a exaggeratedly drawling, stilted american accent, not quite right. It belonged to a Japanese girl.

"I think it's very small."

Quebec. There's one I know well.

They were talking about the frog hidden amongst the intricate carvings of the university walls. I stopped and waited for them to take the photograph, but the Japanese girl was just using her zoom to try and find the frog. She giggled and waved at me to pass by. Big, embarrassed gestures.

Coco and I went into the faculty to solve some problems. We spent an hour in the computer room and turned back home.

As we approached the footbridge from the other side, my chin was tucked down against my chest, giving me a better view of Coco's face. She'd fallen asleep huddled against me in the ergo. My eyes flicked up to two girls taking photographs of each other. I took in their layered backdrop. Stone wall to the waist, fast flowing river, golden orange leaves, glowing earth coloured city with it's various architectural jewels looming over the roof tops. They were both wearing heavy grey winter coats, expensive boots and sunglasses. The same two searching for the frog. I wonder if they found it? I never have. If you can find it without help the legend says you'll be married within the year.

I overtook them as they finished their photographs and continued along the bridge behind me. They noticed us pass, and began to talk about babies.

"Would you like to adopt a baby?"

The French Canadian accent asked loudly and excitedly.

I didn't hear the Japanese girl's response, but the tone seemed indecisive, and the Canadian girl continued

"Yes that's true, but my mother told me something once:"

And she paused deeply for effect.

"It is the most wonderful time in any woman's life."

Her voice echoed around the hand-built stone walls as I kissed the upturned sleeping little face, and pulled her knitted hat down over her baby ears. I half-smiled to myself and thought-

I must remember to write that down in my blog.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Little Boxes

Four walls, a base and a lid. You can hammer a box together pretty quickly if your materials are cut to size. And that's what a house is. A box. They are divided up, given sections and levels. We allocate space to different people within the box. Sometimes family members, sometimes friends. Sometimes we pay money for the right to inhabit a certain section of the box.
Boxes. The idea became important to me 5 years ago.

That day I woke up before the sun rose and pulled on the backpack I'd prepared the night before. It was filled with lightweight travelling clothes. I wasn't a homey type then, I moved around alot, and was well equipped with metalicus tops, the type you can rinse and wring out and leave to dry over a chair in your room. I stood at the bus-stop shivering, the thin cotton shirt under my jacket not enough for Bologna's infamous clammy morning air. There was a train to Milan, a bus to Bergamo and a long wait for the delayed flight to Valladolid that gave me time to have breakfast and try to cure the ache behind my eyes with a few extra espressos.

My tights were itchy when I arrived in Spain's desert-like core. I waited for him with my Jacket folded over my arm, and scanned for him in the crowd. He found me first and appeared in front of me like a Jack-in-the-Box grinning and laughing and lifting me in a bear hug. We took a taxi into the city and it parked outside the historical marketplace. I made some comment about how Spanish Spain was. He pointed out all the spanish things. Spanish arquitecture, Spanish woman, Spanish car, Spanish mailbox, then he took me upstairs to the apartment he was renting a friend's room in.

The ceilings were impossibly high, there were ancient wooden floorboards underfoot, and the walls were freshly painted in white off which this magic light here just bounces. A double mattress on the floor neatly dressed in red bedclothes. A piece of wood balanced on two carpenter's horses against the wall as a make-shift desk. All his documents could fit into a black ring-binder. A music stand and a chair seating his black accordian. I felt like that room was the most beautiful bohemian space I'd ever seen, and that I was the luckiest person in the world to be invited there.
That modest room was all we started with. It was where it all began.

The next place was the same style, in much worse condition and we rented the whole box for ourselves. It served as an interim nest though which we braved an entire winter in the rooms where the wind whistled through cracks in the huge glass windows, and the traffic streaming over the bridge threatened to crash through our living room window. And the sirens...
We filled it with the furniture we found on the street and at the second hand depot in the city's outskirts. We never got rid of the smell of the previous owner's Husky and the 2 litters of puppies she had birthed in one of the rooms.

When we began the search for a new place, we eventually found it around the corner. We looked up one afternoon and saw the sign in the window on the old brick building's third floor. More of the same. sky- high ceilings, bright white walls, beautiful wooden floors. The original fireplace in the lounge room. Cheap rent. It became ours. We filled it with our collections. Mounted a bookcase from recycled wood against one of the walls. Cooked endless dinners for friends and family. My Dad cooked a turkey in the fireplace at Christmas. We Lovingly mopped the floors and filled the rooms with the scent of burning lavendar oil. Our bedroom moved around. Coco was thought up in one room, conceived in another, born at the foot of the bed in yet another. She might think this apartment is the whole world, I remember thinking when she was one week old, and Salva and I finally shuffled down the 3 flights of stairs to take her to the registry and get her birth certificate. She was wrapped up tightly on her Papas chest, and I lifted the hood of her tiny jacket to protect her soft cheeks from the cold wind, her little ears from the noise of the city. I thought it again at 6 weeks when we stayed overnight in Madrid for the first time. I expected her to be unsettled, sleeping away from her own nest. Again I worried when we went to Italy for 2 months over the summer.

But she doesn't know what a home is, and if she does, she knows it has nothing to do with the box she was born in. She barely notices her surroundings. In the 8 months she's been on earth she's alternated between clinging to us for dear life, and relishing in life's beautiful details. The button on my shirt. The soft percussion of the macbook's keyboard. The yellow rubber ducky that squirts her in the face if she squeezes it in her chubby hands.

When we take her to the new place, she might notice that its floor has a different taste. She knows that home is where we are. It is. But I love this place. So much has happened here. This place is a boxful of memories.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Master, and Multi-Facets.

What I most missed about studying was that feeling of completing an assignment. The feeling of slowly becoming an expert on something.

I didn't miss that feeling of complete inadequacy. Of listening to someone who feels like they are endlessly superior to you. Simply because they have a phd, because someone asked them to teach the class. I live with a phd candidate. I happen to know that if you want one, you can get one, and even then, you're not a real doctor anyway, and even if you were, I'd demand your respect anyway. So just shut up.

I sit in class and feel guilty for not having done the readings, for not being prepared, for day-dreaming, for not having an academic background in Art History. When my daughter squeals with delight after not seeing me for 2 hours those feelings melt away.

I was suprised to find that everyone in the classroom was around my age. It's been so long since I've been in a room with people my age. I feel part of another generation entirely. Apart from a few smiles, everyone is intent and focused on the task at hand. All are completing the master in one year. I will be lucky if I do it in 2. They all go home and sit in front of the computer. Organise the enormous amount of reading and work they have to do. More than double my workload. They probably procrastinate on facebook. Get up, make tea. Sit back down. Clean their room. Go to bed late. Sleep in. Go back to their computer. Stay in their pyjamas until they have to go to class. That's what I used to do.

I rush outside in the breaks to breastfeed my 7 month old. Salva has to drive to Salamanca and hover around the classroom with her. Until we move there that is. We've found a house.

I like the subject. It warms me up inside. I am preparing a presentation on abstract expressionism and looking at lots of beautiful splashes.

A part of me is the person that makes those paintings. Bare feet on wooden floor boards, dirty bed hair still clinging in last weeks style, coloured grit under fingernails, coffee turned stone cold as I work on a canvas as tall as I am. I love the style because there is little that separates me from those bohemians of post-war New York.
No rules. No meaning. No value given to estetic outcome? Expression. Don't get it? Me neither.

There is another part of me that is wearing delicious overpriced drapey fabrics and a pair of glasses I don't need, surrounded by these canvases in room with high ceilings and white walls, writing wanky descriptions of those paintings. Don't get it? Poor you.
That's the person I'm nurturing with this course, which is a good thing. She is a good person with an awesome apartment who sends her daughter to a steiner school and thinks about colours all day. I love it. I just love thinking about paintings and the painters that paint them.

I wish there were time to nurture all the people in me. There is the business woman. The teacher. There is my musician self, with 2 instruments to learn, an album to help launch, a world tour to take. There is even my summer self, the hippy that sold you that beaded necklace and talks late into the night with her partner about journeying from Spain to Australia with a vespa and side-cart. There is my zen self that wants to meditate daily, and spend an hour preparing a meal at night. The mother, with another child or two yet to birth. My pomegranate self.

Yes. I really will be lucky to finish this in 2 years...

Sunday, 11 September 2011


As we were sitting at the table under the trees in our orchard, drinking wine, playing instruments, and carting trays of meat back and forth from the wood-fired oven, I stared at a pomegranate tree, so full of ripe fruit. It felt like my tree. Finally.

That was one of the times I thought it would be nice to be sterilising glass bottles and storing the juice for the winter. I would put it in my pantry with the fig jam, the litres of olive oil, and the dried apples, pears, prickly pears, chesnuts, almonds, and walnuts this year yielded. I stared at that tree and asked myself if I was ready for the simplicity of this life.

Sunday, 14 August 2011


She walked confidently out onto the veranda carrying her 2 year old, a beautiful black-eyed boy who wouldn't look out of place at an under-6's soccer game. She was wearing a pair of tiny shorts and a black singlet top with her name printed on it in silver cursive. I listened to her introduce herself loudly, though we'd met 3 times before, and then continue to speak at the top of her nasal voice. "Eat your meatballs" " What does a horsey say?" "Ah look, Baby! Coco is having her lunch from her Mama. Did you know milk comes out of there? Just like a bottle! To the rest of us: He's never seen that before..." To my mother-in-law "How old is she? Where is she from again? Wow, she's really pretty."


Later I was sitting on a fold-out chair in a square at Cisternino . Infront of me was a table filled with accessories made from wood, shells, coconut. Behind me, a shoe store that has not changed its stock in the 5 years we've been returning there, only its female shop assistants. This year's is a young single mother, who told me she was relieved to get the job, she'd been looking for ages and had been starting to get desperate.
"Are these rings really made of shell?" "Surely they must break as soon as you bump them on anything!" "Do I get a discount if I buy more than one?"
The same dialogue flows as the years before, puncuated this year by questions about the baby curled against my chest. How old she is, if she eats solids, what her name means. And then from behind me I hear a northern accent reprimanding her daughter. Telling her she is by no means, ever in her life, or at least while living under her Mother's roof, to buy a pair of plastic shoes. That if she were to a buy a pair of plastic shoes with her own money, those shoes would be given to the family dog to eat. Then she said two verbless sentences. "In ITALY. PLASTIC shoes." Then she shook her head in disgust. and THEN, just as she had skillfully sketched the most detailed verbal caricature of herself, her eyes fell on my feet, and then flicked (too late!) up to my face.
"I think these are rubber" I said proudly, of my black havianas.


We were invited to the wedding months ago and I had been looking forward to it, in a curious, masochistic kind of way. I'd planned a vintage nearly-maxi dress with hair down, and a pair of strappy stilettos bought a few years ago. The date rolled around and I barely had time to blowdry my hair. Actually it remained frizzy in the humidity, and I ended up wearing flat sandals. My sister-in-law was invited but didn't attend because a wedding gift of 200-300 euros per family is expected, and they had quite a few weddings that month. We just slipped 50 euros into my Mother-in-Law's envelope, we get away with skirting these kind of social expectations, somehow. Anyway, It was to be a simple, laidback affair. The bride is known as somewhat of a bohemian around these parts. I sipped a glass of champagne infront of the Bossa Nova group on arrival at the reception and fought with Salva about whether or not to strap Coco into the ergo. We sat upstairs with my brother-in-law and his wife. The food was grossly and hideously abundant. We only had room for the antipasti, but waited for the first and second dishes to be served, before slipping downstairs to say goodnight to the mother of the bride at half past midnight, planning to use the sleeping baby as an excuse.
"You don't leave before the cake. There's fruit, then cake, then little bon-bons, then you can say goodnight to the bride and groom, and THEN you can leave, otherwise they'll be offended"
My mother-in-law had seen us. We snuck away when she turned back to her friends at the table. Lucky it was such an informal celebration...


The English couple beside us in the bar arrived in a car with italian licence plates. A bit too old to be a rental. They are probably one of the many who have bought a villa in the country around here. They order "Duo Lemon Soda, Por favor", failing to put any Italian word into the sentence, not even the number. I thought they might have a place on the Costa del Sol too. Or they might just confuse Spanish and Italian with nothing as has been known to happen to the best of us. The summer is over but the days are still unbearably hot. We were sitting in the cafe on the edge of the village, looking out over a valley dotted with white farmhouse and trullos. Olive trees are everywhere here, even in the streets, and there is that noise in the air that is the noise of heat. I think it's cicadas. The baby is irritable. The English couple are glancing over, disturbed by her whining. I want to tell them that it's upsetting me more than them.


We arrived here in Puglia around the 27th of July, after a 3 day drive through Spain, France and Italy. After the first day's drive we stopped at some friend's place in a village near Toulouse. A two story farmhouse housing a percussionist, clarinet player, a skilled composer and at least one cat. We ate split pea soup and collapsed in their front room. The next morning Coco walked on a broken piano in their sunroom covered in red persian-style rugs, and we drove again until La Spezia.
We stayed with Salva's cousin, who we knew was in a rocky relationship with a married women from his appartment building. When we walked into the appartment, the walls were covered in highschool folder style grafitti. I won't go into details.
We left the next morning and drove like mad to the place we bought outside of Salva's hometown 2 years ago. It was pouring with rain, and 3 friends from Belgium, plus Salva's best friend from Argentina were waiting for us under the veranda, toasted caramel by the sun. We joked that they were Charlie and the three angels. They were drinking wine from a 5 litre carraffe they'd paid 2.70€ for. We drank a glass each. It wasn't that bad.

The angels left, and Charlie set up a tent outside under the olives and has been living there ever since, frequently visited by a couple of girls from Bari he met a few weeks ago. A couple of friends arrived from Rome with their 14 month old soon after. She is from Senegal. He was in Salva's class at school. The baby is divine, and speaks in code.
Then the band came. The percussionist, the bass player, and the band photographer. The pianist arrived from Sicily on the bus the morning after. So did the trumpet player, from Rome. Then the flautist arrived by plane. They spread themselves around the living room and the veranda. There were arguments, laughter, rum and tears. Broken love stories are everywhere, rotted by money problems.

Life rolls by for everyone in varying levels of intensity.


The camping guests change but their numbers don't seem to decrease. It's nearly time to go back to Spain and I'm thinking of the upcoming move, yoga classes, and going back to university. My brother is living in our apartment in Valladolid and the power has been cut off. He's had some good news, and some terrible news, all in one day. And the water is causing problems as well. I desperately want the house working for him but maybe the simplicity is what he needs right now. Two simple problems to resolve. We are half here, and half there. Longing to make something more from the space we own in this magic land, knowing at the same time that it's not possible yet. Autumn is coming. Changing everything. Baby is growing, blossoming as a part of this life we have. Rich and complex, multi-faceted. She wants to crawl so badly but she can't put the movements together. I wish she could understand me so I could explain what she needs to do. She grows so fast she can't possibly take in what is happening around her. So many languages. Too many emotions, personalities, stories. Too much life. We try to soak it up but the details come back in snippets. Salva and I rely on each other to make sure they are recorded. Stolen smiles behind the jewellry stall. Mimicked accents. clasping hands. Deep forward facing discussions in the car rides home each evening. Consolidating experiences. Making memories.

Monday, 13 June 2011


And I havn't written since.

In the last 4 months I've been asked countless times what becoming a mother is like. What a question. I don't answer it. I just shyly say something positive. I'm scared of raving on about my baby all the time. I try change the subject. Keep my old self alive with my friends.

One of them asked me this the other day, and then told me that she thinks mothers become irrational.

Maybe now I know what she meant. I'm lying in bed and I just thought of something. It might be an explanation.

You become pregnant. You are one minute a wine drinking, coffee smelling, prosciutto eating human being, then you take a pregnancy test, and all that changes. Your mind keeps zooming back to the inside of your uterus. You are wondering about what's going on in there. and with good reason. What is happening in there is the biggest thing in the world. A division of cells that is so mathmatical but so miraculous. Cells that have to align in such a way to somehow form a tiny microscopic heart. Then that heart has to somehow start beating.

Once you are convinced that that has happened, you continue to wonder about what's happening in there. Arms and legs grow. They can tell you the sex. Your body actually produces another entire organ entirely dedicated to nourishing the baby inside the womb. The baby is attached to it by a chord.

And you go about life. You might go on tour with your band, and spend the nights vomiting under summer stages, climbing your 3 flights of stairs. Talking with strangers about how big or small your belly is and should be, all the while hoping. Doing nothing but having faith that your body is doing its job.

Then you feel somersaulting kicks, and you connect. So 20 to 30 weeks is bliss.

You might think about the birth from the very beginning. But these thoughts begin to fill your mind as the third trimester approaches.

The baby has to make a transition from floating, placenta-nourished to earthside air breather, drinker of milk, sufferer of temperature and gravity. And you birth the child you grew inside of you. If you're lucky, you get to do it without major surgery, with deep groans and pushing. Pushing. Like, pushing a bus across, I don't know, San Francisco? But you do it and then, there you are. Sitting naked on the end of your bed, the blood drained from your face with a rosy baby in your arms.

And. that is the moment it all changes. You don't trust anymore. You don't have faith that your body will look after this precious life. Because you have to. You fall desperately in love, and you feel the responsibility like a sharp pain in your side. Not because you don't want it, but because you feel you don't deserve it. And if she falls asleep on a surface that isn't your own body, you will check to see if she is breathing every 10 minutes for the next four months, because not doing that feels unfathomable. And you don't care if it seems unreasonable. You will leap up when she cries in fright, you will spend hours lying sprawled across your bed with your breast in her mouth.

You do what you can. So you should honour the placenta that used to do this work for you. I ate most of ours. Some of it is still leaking into brandy in the darkness of my pantry. Sweet placenta. Sometimes I really miss it. Not the keeping her inside, because I wouldn't give up the nuzzling and head kisses for anything in the world, and there is the fact that I can't wait to see who she will become. But that feeling that she is safe, nourished, content and floating.

That is irrational, no? Confusing? That is what becoming a mother feels like.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

How She Got Here ...or... The Birth of Coco Mae

This is a birth story... it contains talk of lady bits and bodily functions.

I guess the story starts aptly. At a bar in the city centre with Salva, watching a friend of ours play in a folk trio... people we met in late May, early June last year... when we spent around a month enjoying the new warmth by playing music with them, introducing ourselves to Spanish folk rhythms, drinking wine and at some point obviously, conceiving a baby...

39 weeks later, (37?) and we were sitting in the front row at the Penicilino listening to Sara's lilting fiddle and watching as my belly swayed and bulged with baby dancing inside, the way she did when listening to anyone but the two of us play live. We got home at about 1am and as we dozed off to sleep I started to feel a dull menstrual-like pain. When I went to the bathroom and found the tiniest drop of blood I knew she was coming. So I went back to bed and told Salva she'd be here the next day. He said that's great, and we went to sleep until around 10 the next morning.

As I sat down to tea and toast at the table my waters broke, which I thought was quite annoying. I had been hoping to go into labour before breaking waters because of the planned home birth, and general desire for a natural birth wherever it was to take place. I didn't want to be worried about a time limit to go into labour to be considered safe from infection, and I had no contractions yet. So I had a shower and got dressed, went out with Salva to run some errands all over the town. On foot. By the time we stopped for a coffee break in the centre I was having painless contractions every 5 minutes or so. So we called the midwives, as they had to travel from Madrid which is 200 kms away, I wanted them to know what was happening, but told them not to come yet.

We called into the supermarket on our way home and bought a few supplies, including a mattress protector, something which I would put on a list of my top ten wisest purchases.

Once home, we ate some lasagne and watched the final episode of Lost (hmm...).By then the contractions were getting slightly stronger and I needed to breathe through them. I still didn't feel like summoning the midwives but I'd told myself that I would do it as the contractions started to hurt, as they were a 2 and half hour drive away. So we phoned them, I showered and we cuddled up in the afternoon sun on our bed as we waited. I could see the excitement building in Salva. I felt complete calmness.

Maria arrived first. I don't know how narrative I want to get in this story, but I feel l need to describe its characters. She is a quietly confident woman with a serious manner and a low voice. I'm sure I would know she is a midwife if I saw her in line at the supermarket. I can't imagine her as anything else. She has a clean, sweet smell and a soft, wise look in her eye.

She sat with me on the sofa for a moment, we drank a cup of tea and she asked me if I wanted her to examine me. I did, and we found I was about 3cm dilated at 6pm.

The other midwife is a man, so I find it slightly awkward calling him a midwife, because that includes the word wife which is quite gender specific. I don't know what they call themselves. The Spanish language has the same problem (Matrón?) He is in his late 50's and has longish white hair and a beard. He is so passionate about giving birth. When I met him for the first time, in a restaurant where they were having lunch after seeing someone in my city, Maria was repeatedly shushing him as he was recounting in explicit detail the birth he'd assisted the night before. When he arrived at 6.30-ish pm Maria met him downstairs and they went out together, taking advantage of the trip to see someone else in Valladolid, have a walk and some dinner.

Maria told us not to sit around waiting for contractions while they were gone. She advised us to watch something mindless together. Preferably something funny. So we put on Flight of the Conchords, which I'd never seen but had the dvd in my bookcase.

So the strange thing about labour contractions is when they are happening the mind needs to completely shut off from anything else. Then, once the contraction was over, I would come back. I'd heard about this happening, of course. but it was funny all the same. So while watching Flight of the Conchords we had about an hour of (frequently interrupted) belly laughs. When there were more interruptions than laughter, we turned it off and I started to move around, knowing that being on my feet would speed things up and wanting all the help that gravity could provide. That was probably the moment I sub-conciously chose where she would be born. I gravitated toward our bedroom and stood at the foot of my bed. Rotating my hips in large circles like I'd been doing for months in yoga sessions, trying to visualise her head passing easily through my cervix, knowing that my spontaneous movements would help me do just that.
Salva and I have since discussed the next part of the story. I don't know how much the choices I made changed things. Salva is convinced that it was the decider of her birthday. As the contractions grew stronger and more intense quickly, at around 8pm I pushed my face into the red mat at the foot of our bed, the one we bought in Morocco that still smells of sheep and over-ripe fruit, as the contractions began nearly overlapping. I kept breathing though them, and started practising voice yoga tecniques- a combination of concious breathing, visualisation (the shape of the mouth mirroring the cervix and vagina) and well, song. As far as pain control goes, this tecnique comes highly recommended. The pain is felt and acknowledged on the inhale, on the exhale it is expelled in the form of a long held note. It worked. I controlled the pain of 5 hours of contractions this way. The contractions were coming SO fast though and I didn't feel ready. I wanted to get into the bath, I asked Salva to call the midwives and ask if that would be ok. They said to get in if I wanted to.

I was still so calm.

I got in the bath and Salva sat on a stool with me as I sang through the contractions. When the midwives came back, Maria came into the room and quietly observed the contractions for a few minutes, and without saying anything she put her hands on my knee and ankle, what I later relised were acupressure points to stimulate contractions. She did that for a while then left me with Salva. I think I spent about 2 hours in the bath before she came back and mentioned gently that the contractions had slowed down quite a lot... With that I nodded and stood up immediately. How strange. Looking back I think that getting in the bath was a sub-concious need to slow things down. Salva insists that the baby was on her way when I was at the foot of our bed earlier, twisting between moon and child poses as though praying to mecca on that Moroccan rug. I think so too. It's something I will be aware of next time. On the one hand, it was nice to follow my own rhythms and control the pain with the hot water. On the other, it REALLY slowed the labour down, and my feeling is a fast labour is a good labour from a physical point of view. More energy for those final moments, which might have come in handy...

After the bath Salva supported me as I walked around the room for an hour, stopping for contractions, feeling her weight heavy between my legs. Maria sat on the bed, watched, encouraged and checked the baby's heartbeat at more regular intervals.
The contractions were coming faster and with increasing intensity.

It must have been past 1am when Juanjo, who'd been resting on the sofa came in dressed entirely in white saying, "I'm dressed in white which means you're going to give birth soon..." Salva laughed softly at the joke, I think I nodded seriously.

I was ready to have her then, and I was wondering if I needed to push. So I turned to Maria and told her I needed to know if I was doing the right thing. She asked if I felt like I needed to push. I kind of did, but I told her I didn't know how, as in, I didn't know which muscles I needed to use. She told me I'd know. It was coming. She could see I needed assurance though and asked if I wanted her to examine me again. I said yes, but I could NOT lie down on the bed for her to do it, it was a physical impossibility. It came to me in a flash that I would have spent the whole labour lying down horizontally if I were in a Spanish hospital. That wouldn't have worked out well for us.

I continued walking and singing though the now earth-shaking contractions. I have the sensation that the notes got progressively higher in pitch during the evening but I'll have to check with Salva (he's the one with a conservatory diploma...). Then I felt like I need to go to the toilet. So I told them. And Maria exclaimed Eso Es! Do it right here, that's the pushing feeling. I'd heard that, but I didn't expect it to be exactly the same. So I knew what to do. I'd identified the feeling, and I pushed and pushed.

And pushed.

"Don't be embarrassed to poop on the floor" Umm, I'm NOT. Believe me. I would if I could. Gladly.

This is where Juanjo became a magic medicine man. We relised during a later conversation with him that his specialness is that he has somehow achieved a perfect balance between western and alternative medicines in his field. He would stimulate the contractions with acupressure points on my back, and leap up to support me as I collapsed under their weight. I've never seen another birth, but I've watched many natural birth videos, and never seen such an active midwife. He later told me he could tell I was asking for his support, whereas Maria knew that we both needed our space in the early labour. All I can remember is feeling so grateful as he continued to suggest and encourage. He moved me around the room guiding me into various positions when he could see something wasn't working. Asking how each one was. Maria continued to check the heartbeat, now at more regular intervals.

And it felt like she was never going to come out. I could see Salva looking expectantly between my legs after every push, and I wanted to tell him not to bother yet. It felt like I pushed her down 5cm with each exhale, and that she'd slip back up 4.5cm on each inhale. And I said it. I looked over at Salva and said "maybe I can't do it.." and he said "Of course you can, we're nearly there" but told me he later thought at that moment "shit, maybe she really can't."

I relised that the birthing stool had been placed at the foot of the bed, and I sat down on it. I don't know what happened then. Perhaps I found the right position. 3 more contractions, about 12 more pushes and she was crowning. 2 more contractions and perhaps 8 more pushes and I was staring at her furry little head in the mirror under me, begging my body to break and let her through. Juanjo took the fetalscope and listened for her heartbeat. He moved it around for a few seconds, but didn't waste much time trying to find it. He jumped up, Maria handed him a pair of scissors, and he told me he was going to do an episiotomy. I nodded. Heard the sound of the scissors as he waited for my push. Felt her slither out into his hands, and heard her cry before she was even on my chest, her black eyes wide open, staring at me. Maria's voice behind me said "3.20am"

Maria cleaned her nose and mouth as she cried weakly. I soothed her insitinctively, and heard Maria say over my shoulder. "Let her cry. She's been through alot. She's just telling you her side of the story. She knows you're here now." and she seemed to. She was quiet within moments, wrapped up in a towel, and a bright red blanket wearing the hat I'd made for her the week before out of an old pair of my leggings. She lay that way on my chest as I birthed her placenta and was stiched up by Juanjo.

Then that was it. Salva disappeared for a moment to provide bedding for Maria, who stayed in the front spare room, some extra blankets for Juanjo who slept on the sofa. I found myself in bed with Salva next to me. He took the baby from me and laid her down on his chest, and they both watched over me from there as I slept for 4 hours, Salva's eyes half open, drifting in and out of a light sleep, hers wide open like two buttons, looking around, her tiny body rising and falling with her Papa's breathing.
The sun streamed in the window the next morning. Juanjo tried to help me up to go to the toilet but I couldn't stand up without fainting. I spent the day in bed with my baby on my chest, offering the breast she wouldn't take until she was 30 hours old. We skyped our families in far-away lands. They partied in our absence. The midwives went out for breakfast discreetly, and went home at about 10am. I ate another plate of lasagne from the day before. Visitors came to meet her at around 6pm. 4 of our friends drank a celebratory glass of red wine with us in our bedroom. The house filled with flowers.

What else to say. We'd decided to attempt a home birth at about 3 or 4 months into the pregnancy, when we relised that a birth centre wasn't an option here. It was something we kept to ourselves throughout the rest of the pregnancy, never discounting the fact that we may have had to go to the hospital anyway, knowing that it is an incredibly contraversial topic here in Spain, that our far-away families were worried about her safe arrival, and not wanting to go into any detail about her impending birth with those who ached to be closer.

But my feelings on homebirth are worthy of another extremely long post. For now, I'm going to echo Salva, who later told Juanjo that he couldn't imagine having lived through this experience in any other way. I'm positive that we chose not only the most beautiful, but safest way for her to be born, given our particular situation at that particular moment. Our baby's birth was attended by the two people who know more about babies, mothers and birthing than anyone I've ever come across. They lived it all with us. The last moments of my first pregnancy, Coco's birth, and our shaky transition from people into parents. Juanjo spent a morning with us when Coco was 3 days old, talking about his experiences with birth in a country with an extremely complicated history. Maria came back after 30 hours and helped relunctant Coco and I begin breastfeeding, reminding me that my relationship with my daughter is unique and can not be learned from any book, that we need to get to know each other.

I still get teary with gratitude when I think about them and what they do.
3 and a half weeks have passed, and I've worried about her cries, wondered about her weight gain and pleaded with her to have a little sleep in her basket by herself, just for an hour or so. I am tired.

But I am still calmer than I have ever been in my life.

I don't know how to end this story. She was growing in my belly and now she's out here, strapped tightly to my chest. A unique, seperate little person with an elfin pointed chin and the biggest, brownest eyes. It happens all the time, but there is nothing more beautiful.
And she will never, ever know how much I love her. How glad I am that she could be born this way. A friend of mine recently said "People who get to have a home birth are BLESSED" I think she meant me, and I do feel blessed, but so is Coco. It was her birth, and it was perfect.