February 22, 2024 | Rome, Italy

Eye of the beholder

By |2018-03-21T20:05:15+01:00December 31st, 2016|"In the Sticks"|
Australia is booming, at least ib terms of consumer spending power.

riter’s block for me is an approaching deadline, an empty page and a gassy husband by my side on a muggy morning in suburban Melbourne. I picked up what feels like yellow fever during a stopover in Shanghai and I’m desperately trying to process the end to another year.

I’m not glad 2016 is over. I’m not sad that a bunch of celebrities I have never met have died. I refuse to pretend I liked George Michael’s “Last Christmas” and I predict he’ll be back in 20 years on a hologram tour similar to the $150-a-ticket one Elvis is about bring to Australia and for which my mother most desperately tried to get tickets.

I spurn New Years’ resolutions and recaps of all that this year has been. All my New Year’s resolutions are made in my car at various times throughout the year and most have about the same level of fulfillment.

As I watched millions of mall-happy Melbourne shoppers indelicately navigating around tight rows of tables in a food court, burdened by piles of bags and even bigger piles of Korean fried chicken, what I saw was bontà or “plenty”. I asked my husband what he saw. But first, some background:

I am a firm believer in the superiority of Australia in all things. I’m part of the generation that doesn’t remember our last recession (more than 25 years ago) and I honestly believes that we’ve pipped the rest of the word in every category that counts.

My husband grew up in the backwaters of southern Tuscany. Forget la dolce vita. It’s a place where university educations are the exception, multiculturalism is seen as anti-Italian, and local potheads hide their stashes in hollowed out Nutella jars.

I fully expected my husband to grudgingly accept that Australia had it better. So it was that I turned to him, brimming with confidence (read smugness) and shared my thoughts. “What do you see?”

“I see boredom,” he replied.

It was like being kicked in the guts. He wasn’t being glib. He wasn’t trying to annoy me. He wasn’t even being vindictive. He was being honest. He didn’t see wealth, wellness and opportunity. He saw boredom and ignorance. This coming from a man who actually believed”Walker Texas Ranger” was the new hit show of 2006.

This isn’t a case of ignorance is bliss. This is a man who has travelled the world and attended one of Italy’s most prestigious universities. He puts fish sauce in his spaghetti Bolognese and has received job offers from Google. Yet his most ardent wish is to live and die a town with a population of 5,000, 70 percent of which are crabby senior citizens who view the new supermarket with suspicion and still can’t figure out how the automatic ticket machine at the post office works (though it only has one button)

I’m not sure who’s wearing the proverbial beer goggles. Is it me, for putting materialistic goods above all else, or Giulio, who loves the idea that everyone knows his name?

I left the food court feeling overwhelmingly frustrated and wondering whether I would get away with pushing my husband down the escalators. I’d like to pretend I have new respect for his small town affections and that I now realize he’s as passionately committed to living in rural Italy as I am about moving to Australia. But all I really wanted to do was shake him until he admitted I was right. Hello New Year’s resolution.

About the Author:

Australian writer Elisa Scarton wrote the column "In the Sticks" from 2014 through mid-2019.