Leaning Towards Pisa
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It's a real life story that sounds too good to be true: fate hands a woman a chance to abandon her stressful job, make a fresh start in Italy, have a passionate affair - and open a whole new chapter.
'I don't know what triggers are at work to attract people, to inexorably pull one to the other, I only know that at a certain point you give in, you stop thinking about it, and you abandon yourself to whatever lies ahead.'
Like so many women, Sue Howard was an expert at juggling a growing tower of work with a shrinking slice of personal life until a stabbing pain in the middle of the night forces her to take stock. After emergency surgery, her doctor orders a reality check - and a long rest. When she is invited to share a house in Italy, Sue suddenly decides that rather than just take a holiday, she'll quit her job for good and take a chance. It's a big decision. There's family, children, even grandchildren, and a relationship, but the lure of the great unknown proves too strong.
Once she gets to Italy, the temptation to throw caution to the wind becomes even stronger and she accepts a job teaching English in Pisa, where she slowly but surely falls in love with a place where people know how to really live, where work is work and life is life, to be embraced with gusto every day. As Sue learns to think as well as speak Italian, she falls under the spell of a charming professor who c
ompletes her seduction by a country where enjoyment of food and wine is an art form, an afternoon rest almost compulsory and being stressed at work downright impossible - just what the doctor ordered.
step back to let me take my rightful place. The shop assistant was smoking, talking on the phone and ringing up the till at the same time. He looked completely frazzled. Finally my turn came. I read slowly and carefully the words Lisa had written for me: ‘I’d like a SIM card for my mobile phone.’ ‘Si’, signora, quale tipo?’ Okay, I’d got that. What type? I shrugged. How many types were there? He looked at me, exasperated, and said: ‘Okay, facciamo cosi’.’ And with that he got an A4 sheet of
teachers to take it. Italian children are precious, and their parents even more so. Everyone tried to avoid them. One concession, however, was that the children’s teacher got priority on the one-and-only VCR, which was there as a back-up – if you ran out of ideas, you could show a video. Angela didn’t seem to have any ideas at all. Her constant shouting at the children in Italian could be heard from the staffroom: ‘Watch the TV! Come on now! Watch the TV!’ One day she was moving the children
that it was years since I’d had dinner with a man in this context: one where he knew little of me, and I little of him, and yet something had us drawn together. ‘What’s life like in Australia?’ Giancarlo asked. I tried to paint a picture of the relaxed, open lifestyle that I associate with Sydney, and mentioned my family, and how I’d never imagined having them at separate ends of the world. He smiled as I spoke and occasionally leant forward and touched my hand. ‘Children,’ he said, ‘never do
got that – breakfast at eight and included in the tariff. As I looked round my whitewashed modesto room with laminated furniture, shabby curtains and TV with no remote control I remembered how I’d imagined my first night in Italy – rustic farmhouse, cypress trees, warm summer smells … This wasn’t it. I lay in bed and recalled the past two days – Jane and Brian’s warm and encouraging farewell from Sydney, my dad’s last minute phone call: ‘Keep in touch – don’t forget us’, and then thought about
party for eight. The other guests – all Italians – were an architect and his lady friend, a historian, a teacher and her scientist husband. Drinks were served in a reception room with family portraits and tasteful furniture. The historian, a woman in her fifties with a kind face and a remarkable resemblance to Princess Margaret, said: ‘I have an Irish friend who’s been here for twenty years. She’s learned the language, but says she’ll never adjust to the culture.’ And then she laughed. Why was