Props: Miss Lucina and Deadly Companions

1234663_729617350445098_1159588222941025606_n You know you’re in love when it feels like everything good that happens to the people you care about is the Most Amazing Thing to Happen. Ever. Nothing can bring you down or dampen your mood. This was my experience during the summer when, while in Italy, I heard that my dear friend Lu (along with her business partner Isabelle),  had launched their very own fashion label, Deadly Companions.

It’s the culmination of years of hard work – of slogging through fashion school in Sydney, of years and years of waitressing and bar-tending. It’s the realization of a dream – testament to the power of vision and perseverance.  In Lu’s own words, she ‘has worked her ass off.’ And it seems to be paying off, with her clothes being sold in chi-chi boutiques as far-flung as Dubai and Hong Kong.

Anyone who has seen me in the flesh knows that fashion is not my forte. Thinking about this new phase in Lu’s life did two things for me. No, it did not make me question my frumpiness. I’ll deal with that another time, like when pigs fly. The first thing it did was make me start to wonder about my own dreams and how big I wanted to make my life. I’m sure I could write six thousand blog posts about that, which would be about as interesting to read as a book on tax law. For now, I want to focus on the second thing, which was feeling very nostalgic and reminiscent of our friendship. Good gal pals are hard to find in the 30’s because most of them are being Smug Marrieds and/or breeding. Also, in Asia, where the western white woman is a bit of a rarity, it’s even harder to find kindred spirits.

Lu made quite an impact when she arrived at my high school for her last year, having ditched the snotty girls’ only school in favor of our more liberal, ‘anything goes’ environment. She was tall, with long blond hair and a pierced nose. She was already quite the fashionista and had extra cool points because she owned a red Mini which became the preferred mode of transport for our gang of fun-loving grungers. She was already very independent, having left her home in the countryside to come to the ‘Big Smoke’ for school. She had a part-time job. She was also a very sought after model (although the most unpretentious really ridiculously good-looking person you could imagine). She gave me lots of her old clothes that I wore for years. Her generosity knew no bounds.

We became fast friends random photos from pentax 012and about a year and a half later, I found myself working as a domestic slave in a posh little town near Amsterdam, and she found herself waitressng in London. She came to visit me twice – we found ourselves sitting on a semen-stained bench in the red light district, being followed by creepy men through the Vondel Park and walking around the canals at 3am in the morning under the influence of what were known back in the day as Space Cakes. We stayed with a Dutch acquaintance of mine – an older woman who had seen a fair bit of the world. She summed up Lu pretty quickly: ‘She looks like she can take care of herself,’ she said.

That same year, I went to visit her in London for Christmas. I spent the whole ferry ride to the U.K. vomiting from motion sickness. In London, we were a bit excessive. One night, she had to bring me back home in a taxi after I started to feel very nauseous. I vomited all over the backseat of the taxi (not from motion sickness). She paid the taxi driver for the damage and took care of me even though I completely ruined her night. That Christmas was fun because of her and her company which made it easier to forget how cold it was and how hungry we were after we realized too late that every single supermarket, shop, and restaurant closes in London on Christmas Day.

We kept in touch and met up again a few years later in Sydney where she was living permanently and I was staying for the summer. We spent it at the northern beach near her house where her then-boyfriend tried to teach me to surf. My failed attempts had her splitting her sides for days. The last time we saw each other (apart from through Skype), was in Tokyo a few years ago. She was living there and I was staying for a few days in order to get ready for another global voyage on Peace Boat. She traipsed across the metropolis to meet me. We went out to a bar and had a few drinks. We told stories to my other friends about our shenanigans in various cities. As usual, she paid for everything.

It’s rare to find such a person – someone who can be a good friend by being open and honest, to call you out, to support you, to pick you up when you’re down. She could always be relied upon for giving brutally honest advice and observations. So I raise an imaginary glass of champagne to my amazing friend Lu, to not only toast her success, but also for just being a bloody good person and friend. Hopefully I can look forward to more clothes from her, but instead of them being designer labels she’s grown tired of, they’ll be all of her own making.

In My Italian Dream

10383631_10152230773851853_4697526860467526129_nAnd old and rather Zoolanderish friend of mine from my university days recently posted some modeling shots of himself from some years ago. One photo caught my eye – of him sitting next to a Vespa with a smoldering look on his face in jeans and a loose-fitting shirt. The caption he wrote was: ‘The photographer said, “Think you have just got out of bed and you are fixing your Vespa on a sunny morning in Rome.”‘ It’s such a cliche, but it’s so true. I lived this experience. I didn’t make it to Rome this time, but I did spend a fair amount of time on the back of two different Vespas, being driven around by one very handsome Italian, clinging to him like a koala. I spent time at the Vespa repair shop too. I learnt about the trajectory of the brand and the different models and heard all about the intricacies of finding and buying old parts and the quasi-communist payment system it entails. This was all a part of my Italian dream.

I slipped in and out of this dream in the two months I spent there. Sometimes the dream took over reality, like the first time I visited the shabby port city of Livorno in Tuscany and walked along the narrow canals, watched lovers kissing on the bridges and had my first taste of ponche, a local speciality which consists of espresso mixed with spirits. As I gazed up past the sheets hanging out to dry from the windows of four storied terracotta buildings built decades, if not centuries, ago, and scanned the stars in the sky, I wondered if I was on a movie set. As rain fell and we sought shelter under the canopy of a pizzeria, watching the ubiquitous lone African hawking umbrellas, would Fellini come chasing after me and swipe me with his pudgy hands and yell at me in Italian to VATTENNE (go away)?

10672204_10152230774971853_2200441193191780817_nI walked along Roman aqueducts hidden in a forest, through Roman ruins on the coast, around crumbling castles, in and out of monasteries, stood high atop a fascist-era tomb. I trudged through city centres where nuns and monks, beggars and merchants have walked for centuries, listening to the chime of church bells while licking gelato made from lavender. I observed meadows of sunflowers nod off at sunset, all witnessed from the back of a Vespa, zipping through the narrow back roads of Tuscany. I heard the waters of Venice lapping against the ancient, sinking piers as an orchestra played in Piazza San Marco, in almost complete darkness, apart from the moon and the silhouette of Venetian arches. I swam in the same  clear blue lakes as nobility and old monied families on vacation from Switzerland. I took in the view of an old Tuscan village from a restored farmhouse high upon a hill. I was literally under the Tuscan sun. And I stood in awe of many a dazzling Tuscan sunset – like the hottest, reddest fire burning into gold and then blackness.

And yet, while these moments are perhaps too beautiful and perfect to adequately describe or recapture in words – moments I never thought I would be lucky enough to experience in this lifetime, moments of reality seeped in. The gypsies who try to swipe your things at the train station. The young prostitutes standing on the side of the road. The mentally ill who want to fuck them in broad daylight in public. The shops and supermarkets constantly being closed. The fact that it’s so difficult to communicate and so easy to feel isolated. The realization that it’s your own fault because you were too disbelieving in your Italian dream to study much beforehand. The way that public transport doesn’t make any sense and doesn’t run on time. The astronomical cost of said public transport. The whining and justified pessimism of locals entering middle age who feel that there’s no way for them to get ahead. The tenacious clinging on of nepotism and a Byzantine bureaucracy designed to make your life a living hell. A youth disillusioned and/or brainwashed by twenty years of rule by the vacuous iPod Nano that is Berlusconi. A culture of immediate gratification and materialism, and hypocrisy.

And yet La Dolce Vita triumphs. I met her in my dream and now she haunts me while also comforting me. I close my eyes and dream of once again riding on the back of a Vespa, zipping through not only dreams, but also reality.