This year I’m working on a rather large January event, which requires me to work through most of the summer, so I’m experiencing a pseudo-holiday and time away through this month’s TENANT Abroad post.
I met Angelina years ago when she was living in Fitzroy. She was a friend-of-a-friend and a ceramics student at RMIT. I remember how much she loved language and writing and, like I do today, had a beloved bookshelf full of “old friends”.
We lived in the same share house for a time before I left to work overseas and from then onwards have tick-tacked in and out of each other’s lives.
When I heard she had decided to live in Italy I wasn’t surprised, she always spoke about her Italian heritage with a fond curiosity and like many Australians enjoyed the rich history and culture to be found in Europe. I was somewhat surprised years later to learn that she was still there, and that it had become her home, but when I reconnected with her in Melbourne recently it was undeniable how much Italian life suits her.
It’s has been fantastic to learn more about an old friend through this profile and to see images of her life as a Melbourne TENANT abroad. Thank you Angie for sharing it with me and my readers and I hope to see it in person with my own eyes very soon!
In what country and postcode do you currently live?
36030. Zugliano, Italy. I’m 25 minutes from Vicenza, and about an hour and a half from Venice.
Is it easy to get there from Melbourne?
The last time I flew to Melbourne I flew from Venice to Australia direct – with Emirates Airways, it was very simple!
Why are you living in Italy? What took you there, when, and why did you decide to stay?
I must be asked that question at least once a week, and the answer changes all the time. My father was born here, and so when I came to Italy for the first time, in 1989, it was most certainly about connecting with my roots. I came back again for a holiday in 1999. On both occasions, when it was time to return to Australia, I didn’t want to leave. In 2002, I felt that I needed to make some changes so, following my intuition, I bought a one-way ticket, and I’m still here. I still feel, as I did on that first trip, that my feet know the ground beneath them here. It feels right, I feel at home.
Are you from Melbourne?
I was born in Melbourne, in North Balwyn (3104)…but my family moved to Lakes Entrance (3909) in East Gippsland when I was three, so I grew up as a country kid, being dumped in the surf and tearing through the bush on a bare-back pony. I moved to Melbourne in 1987, and spent 15 years there, working my way through a BA in Literature at Melbourne Uni, then a Fine Arts Degree with a ceramics major at RMIT.
First I lived in Carlton (3053), in Palmerston Place, and then I moved to the corner of Elgin and Lygon Streets. I was in Melbourne (3000) for a year, in Guildford Lane. Then there were five houses in North Fitzroy (3068): two houses on Clauscen Street, one on Miller Street, one on South Crescent, and the last was on James Street on the Northcote hill (3070). Eight houses in 15 years…looking back it was a transitional time!
When I first met you in Melbourne you were very committed to your ceramics work. When did you know you wanted to be a yoga teacher?
Teaching yoga was never an ambition. It just happened, as a natural extension of my practice. It’s such an amazing thing to do that you reach a point where you want to share it with others. Most people who practise yoga teach, in one way or another, even if it’s just sharing snippets with their colleagues, children or friends.
I think it was around 1995 when a girlfriend and I enrolled in a beginner’s course of Iyengar yoga. Even though we giggled our way through the lessons and went to the pub for a beer after class, we knew we were hooked. Yoga remained constant in my life, amidst many changes. When I moved to Italy, I was still working as a ceramic artist. I did some designs for a factory at Nove, and completed a few commissions, but it’s pretty hard to live as an artist, so I started teaching English, which was satisfying and fun. Life evolved, the creative work became less, as the English teaching became more.
At the same time, my yoga practice was increasing, quite naturally, from just once or twice a week to every day. I was aware of deep changes that were happening to me through the practice: I was becoming calmer, more trusting and patient, more compassionate, accepting and forgiving. I was becoming happier and more satisfied with who I was and with how I was living and contributing to the world. I do remember being on the mat one day and thinking, maybe when I’m 40 I’ll be ready to teach. I think I was about 35 at the time. But I didn’t really cultivate the thought…It wasn’t, like, a change of career. It just happened. People started asking me to teach, so I accepted the invitations. I felt that if people were asking me, then I was ready.
The way it happened so easily, so naturally, testifies to my belief in the practice. Yoga means union and at the core of the practice is the realisation that we are all connected, with each other, and with everything. Everything, be it an action or a thought, produces a current of energy, which ripples away through the vastness of creation.
So when things happen easily, I feel that it’s the energy moving in them the right way. I didn’t even want to look for a studio – my colleague at the time was the catalyst behind finding Lo Spazio, my yoga studio – and yet we found it easily. She moved on a year ago, and now I’m there on my own. I run things a little differently than other yoga studios in my region. I don’t do drop-in, but rather ask all participants to pay for a whole season. I’m now working with around 55 people at Lo Spazio, the consistency allows for the development of relationships, and this is very enriching.
What does Lo Spazio mean? It sounds like 1970s (non-PC) Italian-Australian slang for spaz.
Haha! I guess it does. I have never considered that! It simply means ‘The Space’ in Italian.
I also teach twice a week at a Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Community for young men. There, I work with 10 to 14 people at a time. I don’t distinguish between those who come to Lo Spazio and those at Ca’ delle Ore . Yoga is yoga and people are people and addictions are addictions.
People are addicted to work, or to sugar, or to negative thought patterns, or to cocaine. I’m addicted to my morning coffee!
The Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Community sounds like an interesting initiative. How does this work in Italy?
It’s interesting; it’s one of many that operate through the country. It is government-funded, and I am sure there is a private funding stream also. The men are recommended by social workers and come to live at the community for, from a few months to up to 18 months, and undertake holistic therapy from yoga, to tai chi and music therapy, and like a traditional community, they cook and clean and do maintenance on the accommodation to contribute.
Do you see big changes working in this environment?
For the most part, very big changes, yes. The men who are accepted go through an interview process and are offered a place based on their commitment to change and rehabilitation.
Like all regular practitioners of yoga after a month of regular practice they report feeling stronger and more flexible, inside and out.
What do you draw on for inspiration and what is inspiring you right now and why?
Five years ago, when I sat down to meditate for the first time, my practice took a different turn. It had been very much focused on asana, on the physical posture work. Meditation awakened the spiritual core. I was inspired to sit after reading Power vs. Force by David Hawkins, the recently deceased American illuminate and psychiatrist. Now, I might skip the asana practice from time to time, but I rarely pass the day without sitting in Zazen for 45 minutes.
I’ve participated in two zen Buddhist sesshins, which is a week-long meditation retreat, with the Japanese zenmaster Ryoton Tokuda Roshi. Very challenging! Meditation starts at 4.30am and finishes at 9.30pm. You learn a lot.
How do you approach your work, particularly when you might hit a road-block?
I try to be constantly aware that I am working with human beings, all of whom are unique, all of whom are healing on some level or another, all of whom are seeking happiness and freedom from suffering. This is very motivating, especially on days when I’m tired and would prefer to be at home on the couch watching The Sopranos.
What do you dislike about your industry?
‘Industry’ is the right word. Yoga has become incredibly fashionable, and as its marketability to sell anything from soft drinks to fashion labels expands, so do the problems of commercialisation, exploitation, simplification and sexualisation.
Yoga, on one level, is very simple. You stretch, you breathe, you concentrate, and you feel better. But it is also a complex and complete science, a deep philosophy and a holistic practice that works with every facet of what it means to be human. It affects people in different ways, some of which may be unexpected: as stress is released, people may cry, or feel very nervous.
For this, I’m ambiguous about yoga teacher training courses. Yes, it’s important that people are trained and that standards are established but a lot of the courses are so expensive! And at the end of the courses, from what I’ve seen and heard, everyone walks away with a certificate in their hand, whether or not they are ready or able to teach. It makes me question the level of integrity – is the motivation about professionalism, or just about raking in the cash? I think teaching yoga requires a certain level of maturity, and this is something that you can’t buy in a 200 hour or 500 hour course. I’m not sure that a 28-year-old Westerner full of hormones, optimism and the arrogance of youth is really ready to teach what is essentially a spiritual practice, with its considerations of ethics and surrender. I certainly wouldn’t have been…so maybe I’m just projecting.
A lot of people come to yoga because they are vulnerable on some level, which means they are easy prey for weird, charismatic, convincing, intelligent megalomaniacs masquerading as gurus. Like any other area of society, one needs to have one’s bullshit detector turned on.
The thing you are most proud of professionally…?
I feel blessed that people seem to like the way I teach and communicate. And I am proud of developing my own website, www.angieyoga.it, and my blog, www.fangoandmoksha.com. I’m not a technology whiz-kid by any means, in fact years ago I didn’t know there was a difference between a server and a host, and now I’ve built two functioning sites, and I really enjoy working on them.
Angie, to me it seems like you’re living your dream, but do you have a dream project in the works?
I would really love for Lo Spazio to evolve to the point where people who are now participants become teachers. When there are others to teach the yoga, I can concentrate on teaching meditation, studying and writing. It’s starting to happen, there is one person who is wanting to start to teach, and I’m fully encouraging her. It will be an interesting transition for the studio, because at the moment people come for me. They say, “I do yoga with Angie”, not, “I do yoga at Lo Spazio”. I imagine we’ll need to work together for a year, so that people will get to know her and trust her. Within two years, I hope to find a larger space, so that we can run two classes simultaneously.
What do you like most about the country you live in?
I love so much about where I am! The hills and the mountains around where I live, the architecture – medieval, Roman, Palladian, Venetian. And I know it’s terribly stereotypical, but I’m afraid it’s true: the pizza, the gelati, the coffee. I know you can find all these things in other countries but as the Madonna t-shirt in the 80s said: Italians Do It Better. They just do.
Haha, I love her in that t-shirt, in that film clip – with her attitude and short hair do!
Me too, and I love the fashion here. Like anything, when the pendulum swings too far it can be superficial and/or ridiculous, but generally, there is something very beautiful about the way everybody – men and women – take a certain delight in putting on a stylish outfit and feeling good in it.
My man, who is a gardener and a trumpet player, is a lovely example of this. By day, he wears work boots and overalls, but when he plays he wears a three-piece suit with two-tone handmade shoes. He looks a million dollars, and it’s gorgeous and fun.
Over your time living in Melbourne and now Italy what observations have you made about Melbourne Italians vs. Italian Italians?
It really struck me one day when I was watching The Sopranos, the way the writers have really captured the self-consciousness and nationalism of Italians outside of Italy. Tony Soprano says to his to his daughter something along the lines of, “You look beautiful… just like a model from Italian Vogue…”.
They’re always identifying with the object and referring to it, romanticising it rather than just being in it. It is probably true of most migrant groups who practice attachment to a ‘mother country’.
What do you dislike about the country you live in?
The same as what everybody dislikes about their country: the politics, the tax system, the public health service, the injustices of public spending. The Goods and Services Tax which has recently increased to a whopping 22%.
What do you miss the most about Melbourne?
Multiculturalism and Vietnamese food, in particular.
Do you have a favourite Melbourne word or expression? Or an expression that you miss?
I don’t know if this is a Melbourne, or an Australian, or an English-speaking world thing, but my friend Pat had me in fits of laughter, when he told me people are punctuating their dialogues with the expression “Moving forward…”. I thought it was a political slogan until he explained.
A place that reminds you of Melbourne – but is not.
I get a little taste of home whenever I go to London – the multiculturalism, the Union Jack, the food, the love/hate relationship with the Royal family, the weather, the way they embrace innovation…
What do you mean by that – the way they embrace innovation?
Oh, Italy is very slow moving in regards to any kind of change. History runs deep, and the roots of Italy are the Romans, the Mafia, and the Vatican – not great foundations for inciting change, unfortunately! And habits of the pastoral epoch are also slow to budge: you never know whether shops or offices are open, or whether they are having an extra-long lunch break, or their designated afternoon off. It’s very romantic….
What are you most proud of when you think of, or visit, Melbourne?
Melbourne people really know how to do a festival – street parties, ethnic celebrations, community get togethers, parades, shows, music, colour, vibrancy, art – Melbourne festivals have always been brilliant, and there is so much to celebrate.
What change would you most like to see in Melbourne?
I’d love for it to be closer to Europe! And less expensive – it has become a very expensive city. The Euro doesn’t hold much value against the Australian dollar these days, making it difficult for us to visit and have a good time.
What do you think that Melbourne could learn from Italy and vice-versa?
Italy could certainly learn acceptance and embracing difference from Melbourne. It is a city that proves that the co-habitation of many cultures does not cause individual traditions and customs to diminish. Italy, on the other hand, is still very much mono-cultural, with its inherent suspicions of the ‘other’. Assimilation is starting to happen, but the peaceful coexistence of a mosque, a cathedral, a temple and a synagogue is still beyond the consciousness level of most people.
Melbournians could learn how to make a good coffee. My brother thinks the cafe latte culture has destroyed Melbourne coffee –the coffee itself has become so much stronger so as to be tasted through the vast quantities of milk. I think he has a point. Coffee should be an elegant, balanced blend of beans and appreciated in medicinal quantities, preferably black and sugarless, after a meal, or standing at a bar. It should not be babied-down with too much milk, and so strong as to pump up your heart rate.
What do you think Melbourne will look like/be like in 20 years?
I think the density of the inner city population will continue to grow, which is wonderful, as it gives vibrancy and colour to a city. The last couple of times I’ve been back I’ve been amazed at the increased Asian population, and I think this is great. I imagine, over the next twenty years, Melbourne will identify itself less as an English colony, less as an American little sister, and more as a self-identified city of the Asia-Pacific, noted for its strong sense of design.
Do you think you will always be a TENANT Abroad, or will you live in Melbourne again?
I’d never say never – life unfolds in unexpected ways, but at this point, I’d find it difficult to live in a city again. I find I’m very happy to visit a city, be it Melbourne or London or Florence…but after three or four days I’m looking forward to returning to a slower pace.
What do you think is Melbourne’s best-kept secret?
I grew up with the sound of bellbirds ringing through my ears, from dawn til dusk. One day I called my mother, and she told me they’d woken up one morning to a strange sort of silence. It slowly occurred to them that the bellbirds had gone. After more than thirty years, the entire colony had disappeared, driven away by the drought and the resultant lack of food supply. I certainly noticed their absence when I went home. Stopping in Melbourne for a few days before flying back to Venice, I had a gorgeous surprise. Fiorenzo and I took a walk through the Royal Botanic Gardens. At one point, down by one of the lakes, he said, “What’s that noise?” It was the bellbirds – they’d found a suitable habitat in the gardens, and it made my day to see them, and to hear them.
The Botanical Gardens are amazing; not just for the history, the design and the continual innovation, but also for the way they attract species such as this into the inner city.
What’s on for the week?
I have classes every evening from Monday to Thursday, so on Friday it’s nice to spend time with Fiorenzo. On Saturday I’m heading down to Venice where I’ll meet up with a girlfriend from London. We’ll stay the night, and that way we’ll have a day and a half for the Biennale. While she’s here, we’ll find time for the hot Thermal Baths at Padova. Then it’ll back to the Zafu and the yoga mat.
A Melburnian that you know and admire, who you would like to introduce to be interviewed by TENANT?
Two people come to mind immediately. The first is my long-time friend Patrick Coppel who runs MAKE Designed Objects in Carlton. I don’t know anybody who is more passionate about Melbourne. His interests and knowledge are varied and deep – not just about the architecture, the retail trends, the music and football scenes, but also about Jewish history of which his family have very curious roots. Ask him to recount the story involving black and white movies, Japanese visitors, and the Dandenongs. But meet him at MAKE and make sure he fires up and explains the incredible interactive light sculpture in the stairwell that runs off the data received by the MAKE newsletter.
The other person who I think is contributing beautifully to Melbourne is Vanessa Virgato, who runs Vanessa Virgato Celebrations. I worked with Vanessa years ago at the Melbourne Youth Support Centre, and since then she has gone on to realise her dream of being a certified Marriage and Celebration Celebrant. I can’t think of anyone better for the role, she exudes warmth, enthusiasm, integrity and joy, and combines this with a real love for organising events. Look her up, she is gorgeous.
Thanks Angie! It was so lovely to catch up with you over Skype and to delve into your Italian life! Thanks for all of the pictures you sent too. Your town is so picturesque. I really hope I can visit you soon! Ciao Bella from Melbourne!