December, 2010

Dec 10

Christmas Cheer

I am sitting here in Geneva airport 28 hours after leaving our home in Chiavenna to fly back to Dublin for Christmas. Obviously this side trip to Geneva was unplanned as our original flight was from Milan airport. After hours of delay at Milan the flight was cancelled and I was thrown into panic at the thought of missing Christmas with the family. We were told “Sorry. If you can find space on another flight we’ll change your tickets for you, but if not tough.” Well there’s no Aer Lingus desk in Milan airport so the only options for finding another flight are by yourself through the internet or the call centre. Of course from Milan all seats are booked up until well after Christmas. It was a wonderful example of the Smyth world web in action: Me in Milan on the phone to Darragh in London, who was checking flights online for us. Jeff sitting beside me talking to Dad in Dublin who was concurrently talking to an Aer Lingus lady on the phone. Seats were found on a flight leaving from Geneva for the next day, and all of a sudden Jeff and I were back in our car driving under the pissing rain for 4,5 hrs, through the Mont Blanc tunnel (a first for Jeff 🙂 and on to Geneva. We spent the night in a hotel near the airport and have been back in the airport for 4 hours so far this morning. Currently we are on hold (again) as our flight is indefinitely delayed. Which means right now we don’t know where we will be for Christmas morning  🙁

Airports are of course great places for people watching. Especially with the madness of cancelled and delayed flights left, right and centre. Kids running riot all over the place, bringing smiles to the faces of otherwise disappointed folk. The arrivals area has been completely closed down for a while after they found an abandoned bag. Jeff and I promptly moved ourselves far away from said bag. Just in case. We find ourselves in a type of Irish neighbourhood, as slowly but surely us Irish emigrants returning home, claim the comfiest seats to be found while we settle in for the long wait. There are 2 little birds fluttering in and out of the rafters above our heads, who have found prime feeding grounds in this airport restaurant. So for the moment we live in this weird airport world, like so many people have done in the past week…

So as a time-filler and distraction tactic (especially for me) we have been browsing through the photos stored on Jeff’s computer. Thinking about all the nice times that have been had over the past 9 months in Chiavenna. So here are a few photos of some of the visitors we’ve had the pleasure of welcoming into our new home. There are more in the photo section of the blog. We’ve also put up some of our new friends that we’ve made here. You’ll also find some from our short visit to Jeff’s family in Virginia just over a month ago, to celebrate his Grandmother’s birthday and an early Thanksgiving. It was as heart-warming as ever. We wish they weren’t so far away, but that seems to be story of our lives together.

Christmas being such a time for family and friends we are thinking of you all. The Christmas rush of the past few weeks has now stalled for a while as we sit and wait. Lots of time for reflection and thinking about each of you and where you are and what you’re up to. Hopefully ( I say that with a lump in my throat) we will get to see some of you over the next few days, but if the gods of dublin airport remain angry, we will see you again soon. Lots of love and hugs to you all around the world. From the two Beans in Geneva airport on Christmas Eve 😉

The expansive view

Dec 10

A White Christmas

Last Christmas we were in Pucon, Chile, having just flown back from warm sunny Thailand. Christmas was a little “atypical” for us let’s say. Fun and adventure filled, but not really Christmas as we know it.

Since then another whole year has flown by, but to be honest with so much change this past year it seems like a lifetime ago that we were jet-setting around the world, hanging out in Asia and South America.

This winter we find ourselves in the snow-covered Italian Alps. Our Christmas tree is up, the room filled with that heart-warming smell of pine, and the glow of fairy lights. The streets of our new home town, Chiavenna, are lit with Christmas lights and there seems to be a Christmas fair every few days somewhere in the valley, giving plenty of opportunities for drinking mulled wine and listening to Christmas carols, while browsing the stalls of Christmas crafts that you’ve no intention of buying.

I knew before we made this move to Italy that it was going to be tough at times. A new country with it’s own language and culture. It’s own complicated history, traditions and beliefs. Starting from scratch anywhere is hard, but with a new language it can be plain old terrifying at times. Finding a home, a car, a job, making friends, opening a bank account, learning the language…the list goes on and on. Some days you wake up and it’s all a wonderful adventure: you and your dearest in the midst of all the chaos. Trying to live life for all it’s worth. Other days you wake up and you simply don’t have the energy. It all just seems too difficult. You want to run home, where things are familiar and people understand you. Where you can never be mistaken for stupid just because the right word escapes you. It can be hard to just be yourself through a foreign language. To just relax and have conversation flow, even when you’re tired after a long days work. To crack a joke, on a whim, without having to think it through beforehand. To be sarcastic, without being rude. I have discovered that feeling misunderstood by those around can be pretty exhausting.

It would be an understatement to say I have learnt a few things about myself over the past year. For one, I have discovered how important my job is to me. That it has, for better or worse, become tied to my self-identity in such a way that without it I tend to feel a bit useless. I realise that it has become a part of who I am and how I express myself as a person. A way of contributing to the world around me. I have always been the girl who works hard but then leaves the hospital and makes the most of every moment of free time. Travelling, climbing, hiking, biking, hanging out with friends. There has never been enough time in my week to do everything or see everybody. And yet earlier this summer when I had only a few hours of work a week, I found I only really enjoyed my free time if I felt I deserved it. Free time only feels like free time when there’s work/school to compare it to. Even when you live in the Alps.
Though not actually unemployed I came to understand on a more personal level the negative psychological impact of unemployment. Pretty topical right now unfortunately. People are all different obviously, but for me the need to feel like I’m doing something worthwhile and of benefit to others became clear this summer. A purpose, when in the midst of all this change the concept of life can get a bit blurry at times.

Gradually we are settling in here, and it is becoming home for us, with a cosy home, jobs, good friends and a back garden filled with the Italian Alps. In my usual impatience with myself, I hadn’t anticipated it taking quite so long to settle in. Jeff, my American with no Italian family and less of the Italian language, seems to have coped better than me. I put this down to the fact that:

(a) I am more sensitive than him (much to my disgust).
(b) I work in a female-dominated environment, which often ends in tears +/- chaos, and finally,
(c) I worry too much about most things, mainly things that don’t, or at least shouldn’t, matter.

All in all this has been a wonderful experience so far. We have been very fortunate. Mostly to have each other with which to share this whole experience, with its ups and downs. To chat excitedly about the new friends we have made, or the novelty of spending the day skiing 20 mins from home. To vent the frustration of being misunderstood, or of dealing with the UNBELIEVABLE mountain of bureaucracy that smothers Italy. To prepare Thanksgiving dinner together for friends in our home. To curse the internet company that keeps screwing us, and the Postal system that keeps screwing our mail. To marvel over the beauty of the mountains that surround us, and laugh at the little birds that play in the snow outside our window. Most things, good or bad, seem better when shared with someone you love.

Thank you bean 🙂

And Merry Christmas to you all !