Dove sei stato per tutta la mia vita? Where have you been all my life?

Venice

Today I received a beautiful text message from Venice, courtesy of one lovely younger Italian. It simply read “Sei piu bella del mondo”… which loosely translated to English is “You are the most beautiful in the world”.

 The Italian was the first guy I dated, and slept with, after my marriage break up, and he still has this very lovely habit of making me smile from half way around the world. Though we are not together – (he is in the beautiful Italian coastal town on Jesolo for the Italian summer, and I am rugged up warmly against Melbourne’s winter days)  – he has always consistently stayed in contact with me, and our friendship has endured.

 Meeting him was probably the liberation of me in more ways than one.

 After my marriage ended, it was my amazing friends who carried me through,  and in particular my amazing friend –  the extroverted and divine Belladonna.

 Everyone in life should have a friend such as Bella. She never judged me. She eased me through with gentle words of friendship, and sometimes with harsher “pull yourself up” speeches, at the exact moments I needed to hear them.

 In Sex in the City terms, Bella was Samantha to my broken Carrie.

 I’m grateful to my all of my gorgeous girls for their support, both then and now. There is nothing like the love of girlfriends, and mine have been inspirational sisters in my journey through life. Friends who walked those footsteps before me were an endless source of inspiration and I drew courage from them.

 If I could give any advice to younger girls, it’s this – don’t ever give up your friends for a man. I’m so glad I never did.

 Bella and I have been friends through childhood, and now she was my wing-girl, and a sensational life and dating coach. Single life was a whole lot different from my cocooned married world and Bella was instrumental in the re-education of the suddenly single me. I had no idea how to be single, how to date or where to go! As a married chic I had always gone out to bars and clubs with my girls but I did so with a very different mindset. Solely committed to my marriage, I didn’t take notice of the talent on offer, or lack there of!

 So Bella and I went out on the town. We ate great food and she took me to clubs where we drank French martinis, or great wine and, sometimes (okay often) we got more than a little tipsy. I’ve learnt valuable things. As a single 40-something, it’s better to go out to a club on a Friday night (with people my age) rather than on a Saturday night (think 20-something Gen Y’s!).

In the process of Bella dragging me out to get me out of the doldrums, I met the Italian. Born and raised on the outskirts of Venice, he has a deep, mellow voice, olive skin and eyes like pools of dreamy dark chocolate. He held himself with a quiet confidence that never lent itself to arrogance and he looked at me like I was a work of art. I’m not sure that any man has ever quite looked at me like that, before or after. Fit and trim, he sported soccer-player thighs and nicely defined arms adored with a tattoo…sigh…and swoon. The Italian, I should add is ten years my junior.

 Apart from the fact that his kisses actually made my toes curl, he was incredibly respectful of me. We shared a love of music, dancing, great food and wine and he had a cheeky sense of humour that consistently had me laughing until my sides hurt. He’d gone to school in Australia to learn English and he thrived on it.  I would have thought he’s been talking English for years!

 The lovely thing about hanging out with him was that I felt very safe. He was affectionate, often kissing my hand, or simply holding me. We both knew the score. He was going back to Italy within weeks and he was my very private foray into life beyond marriage!

The Italian was the first man, other than my ex, that I had slept with since I was 24. And there I was, 41 at the time, standing, exposed in front of this very gorgeous chiseled, sun kissed boy…It’s fair to say that when that night eventuated that I was suddenly filled with all sorts of negative self talk.

 Is my ass too big? Are my thighs too fat…are my boobs perky enough? I’ve had kids! Oh my God, what is he going to think when he sees my stomach?!

 Thanks to Bella’s great advice I was at least prepared in some ways when it happened. Waxed? Check. Sexy lingerie? Check. Fake tan? moisturized skin?Check.

 C’mon Charlotte! You’re hardly a virgin! You can do this!

 I suddenly felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz…I was not in Kansas anymore, Toto! Talk about being out of my comfort zone! I needn’t have worried. The Italian, half-naked in front of me, raised one finger to his lips and simply said “Shhhh”, sensing that I was nervous. I was sincerely feeling like an awkward teenager! He kissed me, and then…well…let’s just say I was smiling for days afterwards!

 It was a really lovely thing to share such an experience with the Italian because I knew instinctively he wasn’t going to hurt me and being with him allowed me to leave my inhibitions and insecurities at the door.  It wasn’t a serious relationship but a genuine human connection none the less. It meant I could be 100% authentically me without worrying about where it might lead. There was no game playing or awkwardness. It was just easy and fun.

 So we spent his last weeks in Australia together, hanging out whenever time allowed, and we really got to know each other. He felt he could tell me anything and everything about his life and I opened up to him about my life.

 When he left for European shores, we said we’d keep in touch and to my surprise, and his, we did. He sent me text messages and emails and I reciprocated. We chatted via Facebook and occasionally Skyped. Then one day, many months later, the Italian called me to tell me he’d bought a ticket back to Australia and applied for a 12 month visa.

I had to admit that I was both excited and dubious by the breaking news. He was so excited. In his absence, I was still going out and living and hardly waiting for him to return and I’m sure the same was true for him in Italy, but with the Italy economy crippled and little going on for him there, he returned to the great land of Oz.

 The first time I saw him, I was really nervous. Would he be the same? Would I be the same? Our friendship had been a holiday fling at the end of his first adventure here, and I was nervous about what might happen now. The moment we met, the chemistry was undeniable on both sides. His smile said it all and when he hugged me, it felt easy and quite normal.

 Our friendship grew into a bit of a romance though I didn’t go public with it.  He met my mother when she unexpectedly turned up at my place for a surprise visit…Good lord! I thought her eyes might fall out of her head when she spotted the lovely Italian in his tight t-shirt standing in my kitchen making coffee. I have to say that my former hippy-turned-conservative mum was mighty impressed!

 During the following 12 months, I ended the relationship several times. I just couldn’t reconcile at the time that he was much younger and while I realize how foolish it seems now, I’m sure I just wasn’t ready. Of course people warned me also that he might be looking for a Visa to stay in the country. He never asked to move in with me, nor did he ever impose on me financially. He was simply a lovely guy who later professed his love for me. I adored him. It was just so easy to be around him with his laid back attitude, and his positive nature.

 When his visa was due to expire he packed his bags and we both took the philosophical view that if a relationship was meant to be, it would just be. When he returned home though, the eternally pull of the mother land was too much. He told me he’d decided to stay in Italy and while I was sad, I totally understood. There was always a deep friendship that bound us together, the Italian and I.

 In recent months I had the most amazing opportunity to go to Italy to visit him. He had been saying for months that I should visit him and see his world, and eventually I took him up on it. It was a fairly spontaneous adventure to embark on and one that I could hardly afford but I simply booked the ticket and told the Italian I was coming over. He was thrilled! My gorgeous kids spent time with their bio-dad, and I got on a plane bound for the Italian winter.  

 Seeing that smiling face at the airport was so brilliant and it just felt like no time had elapsed. We stayed at his family’s property in the picturesque town of Lughignano, just outside of Venice, with his family treating me like I was one of their own. I had the most amazing time and I got to see Northern Italy though the eyes of a local.

Venice was of course sensational, as was Florence but what I loved the most was the Italian showing me towns off the tourist path such as Asolo and Treviso.  Gorgeous medieval towns where time stood still and we would stop to drink Prosecco or spritz (the drink of Venice – Prosecco, Aperol and soda) in tiny bars in romantic little villages. We ate incredible rustic Italian food – steaming bowls of homemade pasta lavished in seafood or rich tomato sauces. His father lovingly cooked the most enormous spit roasts with a combination of rooster, pork, rabbit, lamb and beef.

We drank incredible full-bodied red wines in lovely cozy pizzerias with open fires roaring.  I ate incredible seafood in coastal towns. We indulged in amazing cheeses and olives and mouth-watering prosciutto, finished off with tangy lemon zabaglione. It was an odyssey of food and flavour and everywhere I looked, it was a feast for the senses.

He was always attentive and so generous of his time and spirit. He translated for me everywhere we went and he patiently explained things to me about Italian history and politics. We listened to Italian songs on his iPod and he asked me the more subtle meanings of English-speaking songs by artists like Gotye and Sia. He loved Metallica and we listened to their tunes as we drove up into the Dolomites. We drank piping hot chocolate in the snow-covered town of Cortina, and made a snow man like children.

We explored Verona, the home of Shakespeare’s darlings, Romeo and Juliette. Amongst cobblestoned streets and beautiful castles, I felt like I had stepped back in time and my heart was filled with child like wonder.

 We strolled for seven hours through the Uffizi gallery in Florence and I bought beautiful boots and shoes. Honestly, it really was a journey of the soul. It was the one truly selfish thing I’ve done for myself in my entire life. I had been so busy being a mum and a wife that I had forgotten who I was. Surrounded by architecture, culture and incredible art was a brilliant way to rediscover the things I loved.

 When I stepped back on the plane for the long flight home, there was a part of me that believed the Italian would follow. He didn’t of course and I resumed my life back in Melbourne, feeling a new found sense of what I wanted from my life, and knowing I was ready for a real relationship…and so life continues.

 Lovely text messages from Italy still happen occasionally, as they did today. My hope for the Italian with the beautiful soul is that he will meet a gorgeous girl and have pretty bambinos…that, or he will simply arrive in Australia again one day! What I have learnt, is you just never know what’s around the corner…I never believed I’d be travelling to Italy by myself to go or sharing such an incredible journey with a younger guy.

 I know that meeting him meant I was able to liberate myself from the ghosts of my marriage and finally take huge leaps forward into a new unknown world. I found out I was incredibly capable and gutsy – I organised an overseas trip by myself and travelled to Italy via Doha by myself!  I have rediscovered a love affair with Italy, and all things Italian. And I met an amazing friend who has the heart of a poet. It made me believe that anything is possible in this crazy, scary, beautiful life!

I am forever grateful for that! 

As the Italians would say, “Vivere la Liberazione”…Living the Liberation!