Full circle.

The last Christmas I spent in Australia was in 2010. My first European Christmas occurred the following year, and was in fact my first time in Europe at all.

A friend from school was living in Germany at the time, working as a rocket scientist, and had extended an open invitation to anyone who wanted to visit her. I had planned to go to the UK after New Year’s anyway to have trial lessons and suss out schools before auditions the following year, and was easily persuaded (and in turn easily persuaded my parents) to extend the trip by a few weeks.

In that first week of questionable, alcohol-fueled life decisions in Germany, the Rocket Scientist introduced me to the BFGD, or Big Friendly Giant Dutchman. I don’t think I’d ever seen anyone that tall at that point in my life. He arranged a brief sojourn in Amsterdam for us, including seeing a concert at the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ.

In a nice bit of symmetry (which I always interpret as the universe telling me I’m doing the right thing with my life), I recently performed at that very same music hall as an intern with the Nederlands Kamerkoor. Right before boarding a flight to bring me back to my first Australian Christmas since that European holiday in 2011.

Since moving to the Netherlands, I’ve had many people ask me what Christmas is like in Australia. Some even question whether it happens at all! (Answer – yes, we have Christmas. We’re in the southern hemisphere, not on Uranus.) Basically, the essentials remain the same: family, food, presents, food, not working, food. But there are a few key differences, namely:

1. Summer

Seeing as we’re on the other side of the world, our Christmas occurs in the middle of summer. We still sing the traditional carols like Jingle Bells, they just make no sense. The Christmas holidays are part of the longer summer holidays, and so the family get togethers can be huge, as everyone is free to travel to whichever relative lives closest to the beach.

2. Salad and seafood

Many families still do the traditional roast ham, turkey and chicken as part of the Christmas lunch or dinner, though more often that not these are served cold rather than hot. But where we Australians really come into our own is with the salads – the more unusual the flavour combinations, the better. Seafood is also a pretty important element on many Christmases now – why eat turkey when you can have prawns?

3. Presents on the 25th

I’ve always found the European thing of opening presents on Christmas Eve really strange, not realising that this is the more “authentic” tradition. But for us (or at least my family), Christmas Eve is just a large feast and then filling stockings and putting remaining presents under the tree. Christmas morning is when you open the gifts.

4. Trifle

Trifle is hands down the most important aspect of Christmas in my family. For those poor deprived souls who have never experienced trifle, it is a pudding made from layers of sponge cake soaked in jelly, fruit, custard and cream. My grandmother was always in charge of making the Christmas trifle, and it would appear that since her passing, the recipe has become a thing of legend. No fewer than four children and grandchildren claim to have been taught the secrets of the trifle at her knee, yet all disagree on crucial aspects of the recipe. I personally believe that I alone know how to make the real thing, as in fact my last Christmas in Australia was also my grandmother’s last Christmas, and I made not one, but two trifles under her supervision. I’ve tried to make two trifles in The Hague, neither successful. But I might head back this time armed with Aeroplane Jelly and some crushed peanuts…..third time lucky!

 

Merry belated to Christmas to anyone reading, and Happy New Year!

 

 

Lest we forget.

In Australia, far removed geographically and by generations from major conflict, it’s easy to be ambivalent about Remembrance Day. War is a terrible thing, and the arguments that Remembrance Day glorifies militarised violence carry a lot of weight when we see so many conflicts around the globe driven by ignorance, fear and greed.

Moving to Europe, however has lent a new perspective on the importance of Remembrance Day. We live in a time when travel and communication are incredibly easy. It is not difficult to contact your loved ones, see their faces on a screen, hear their voices, keep up to date with their lives and experiences and share your own. Yet even so, living overseas can be an incredibly lonely and isolating experience at times. And it is in those times that I can only begin to grasp the enormity of what the ordinary men serving in the World Wars did.

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When in Rome…

So before the advent of Sorrowful September, I was lucky enough to spend Awesome August in the country that gave us the Renaissance, pasta, Pavarotti and in-floor heating. That’s right people, I literally spent an entire month luxuriating under the Tuscan sun.

I had been awarded a scholarship to study a four week Italian course at the Michelangelo Institute in Florence, which I was super excited about. Not only because I got to learn Italian in Italy, but because I would have a full four weeks of eating authentic pasta and gelato. And it would be glorious. Friends from Australia who now live in Germany had done the same course a month before, and my appetite (both literal and figurative) for all things Italian had well and truly been whetted by their Facebook pages.

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Wishful thinking

I’m going to admit it: I suck at shopping.

As a girl, I realise that this is an activity I am supposed to have a natural affinity for, and that being a female human sans shopping stamina is a bit like being a panther without claws or like a dolphin that can’t swim. Unless my shopping trip involves chocolate or books, my enthusiasm levels match that of Marvin the Paranoid Android, and I’m about as fun to be around.

Marvin

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Indicating is optional.

I made it.

I have survived a full academic year in The Hague. Well, full is possibly a bit of a misnomer. Sure, up until my singing exam at the end of May I was all into practicing, studying, rehearsing and being a good little student. But since that was over and I gained acceptance into the Master’s programme for next year, my level of dedication has been noticeably lower. In fact, I’ve pretty much been on holiday since then, despite June being the month of all other exams. My mind just decided that my life outlook would henceforth look a little something like this:

The barren field...

So I went to all my other exams with a minimum of study or care, handed in assignments and did presentations with the bare skeleton of preparation, watched movies and fuelled my addiction to peanut M&M’s. I have also discovered a few new things about Holland, the main ones being:

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B’s Helpful Guide to Moving to the Netherlands.

Oh, if only I knew then the things I know now. If I could go back three months and re-move to The Hague, the things I would do differently! Actually, let’s go back five months and start the process again. I would change about 87% of what I did in preparation and once I got here.

But sadly, not matter how many episodes of Dr Who I watch, I still haven’t managed to master the art of time travel. So I shall simply content myself with passing on my infinite wisdom to any lesser mortals who choose to follow in my footsteps. So here it is:

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Get (c)lucky.

There seems to have been a recent explosion of babies amongst my friends and family. Everywhere I look, (ok, mainly Facebook) there are pictures of babies, statuses about babies, pictures of baby bumps. One couple even named me the fertility fairy, as wherever I go, a string of babies seems to follow.

If I were a man, you would have legitimate reason to start ordering paternity tests, but seeing as I am a woman and the closest I have been to pregnancy is multiple food babies, I can safely say that none of these adorable crying lumps of poo and vomit are mine.

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