Sunday, April 11, 2010

Just a very good bureaucrat

I've several friends who have started their own businesses. I think they're tremendously clever... like my ethical PR chum Trine, and the tremendously gifted science whizz turned graphic designer, Kerry. Then there's my dad, who's committed to 'moving people forward', and my crafty sister in law Amy who I can't wait to order some groovy I SPY hats from.

There was a time when I wanted to set the world on fire by coming up with a genius idea and seeking my fortune in the world of business. After all, I am strong and clever, my nose is pretty... Sadly,I lack the courage and the nerves of steel that a business requires. I am fundamentally risk averse. I would obsess about the need to build the business while secretly procrastinating cold calling because I loathe it. I would be far more likely to end up like some other friends, whose businesses are sadly no more.

And if life has taught me anything, it's to play to your strengths. Mine, I fear, are an obsession with detail, a geeky determination to nut out the most convoluted bits of nonsense, and an innate determination to provide frank and fearless advice in the service of the greater good. Oh, and sometimes I'm an absolute academic snob.

In short, I'm just a very good bureaucrat. Thank goodness they let me in at the UN.

(It don't get more bureaucratic than here...)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Birthday adventures in Rome

I turned 36 this week, and I have to say I'm rather chuffed.

My year got off to a flying start - I had the day off. (One of the advantages of my new improved contract. I get holidays!) Minor sleep in, wee bit of cooking, then off to the train station to meet the lovely Ms Heather, freshly arrived from London. There was shopping, in which I cheerfully told the checkout chum (in proper Aussie style) that it was m
y birthday so I didn't have to work today and my friend had arrived from England so I was very happy. Oh, and no thanks, I don't need a bag for my groceries. Heather was flabbergasted - you don' chat to shop staff in England. Especially not in Italian. (I was a bit chuffed. I remembered nearly all the words).

So, home, champagne, scrambled eggs, smoked salmon - the most perfect special occasion breakfast ever. Lots of chit chat. Phonecalls from teh folks. Walking adventure into town to prove that we really DO live right near the Colusseum, followed by coffee and cake. More walking, eating, drinking. (Heather is here for 5 days - there will be lots of that.) We found performers at the Spanish Steps and the Piazza Del Popolo... I felt like a circus had been turned on specially just for me!

Of course, this being Rome and Monday being my birthday, it all would have been a bit incomplete without a big ol steak dinner. And best of all, the weekend is nearly here... and then the celebrations will really begin!

Monday, February 08, 2010

Astrid returns...

It's been one of those weekends where you just can't wipe the smile off your face. Thursday saw the jubilant return of Astrid, one of my first friends in Rome (alongside her housemate Rachel. Two women less alike you could not meet: one tall, Danish and as liberal as they come, the other petite, Scottish and Presbyterian in all but name. What they share, of course, is fiersome intellect, utter gorgeousness and... they are friends with me!). So there was much rejoicing and there may have been a wine or two involved. Perhaps even chocolate shots.

Friday we trooped down to the Druids Den to see Ants play with his new group, the Coff Drops. Before you know it I'd been roped in too and suddenly there were half price drinks all night for performers. Saturday brought another gig, for both of us, this time at the packed and higher profile Finnegan's. There were more friends from work - Ash and a gaggle of girls (how does he do it, and yet stay single?) and my friend Antje with her husband and friends, to celebrate her birthday. The prosecco flowed, the crowd (about a hundred of them!) cheered, and we left there floating. We haven't shared our musical side with work friends here in Rome before, so the whole night had that slightly crazy chaotic air of worlds colliding, leaving me dizzy.

It was hard work to get on my bike the next day, but I'd promised Kate that if my house guest had other plans, I would go. Astrid was off to go catch up with a friend, and left looking very glam in a dress and high heels. I arrived at the meeting point and Kate said... we're waiting for some other firends,... Astrid and Geoff are coming too, do you know them?? We nearly wet ourselves laughing when we saw each other... the Rome expat community really isn't that big after all!

Anyway, it was a cracking ride up along the Tevere, and my wee legs felt well tested by the time we trundled home in the dark, still smiling!

Monday, February 01, 2010

Haiti - a tough job getting aid in

Once again I am in awe of my colleagues. WFP had 225 staff in Haiti on January 12 when the earthquake struck.

Virtually all of them are now homeless.

More than 90% have lost a member of their immediate family.

But the day after the quake, they were virtually all back at work (our country office has relocated to an awning in the middle of a cleared space, because the building itself is too damaged to use), trying to find out which of our warehouses are okay, what roads are passable, and putting in place plans that will ultimately see us providing food to 2 million people a month, for the next 6-12 months at least.

But it's not an easy job. This article from The Age gives a hugely accurate picture of why food and other support is only slowly getting in there.

My boss is over there now, and some of our engineers. There is no running water, no showers. You take in everything you will need: water purification tablets, tent, sleeping bag, wetwipes, loo roll. And, with the rainy season closing in fast, a shovel and mozzie repellent.

Port au Prince, a city of 3 million, is devastated. Many of the country's leaders, heads of government service departments and emergency services, lost their lives. A city already the capital of the poorest country in the region did not need fate to deal a hand like this.

And yet, people are starting to put things in place, and the world is responding on a massive scale. This is what the UN is for - to bring nations together in support of one another. And it's global responses like these that remind us of the power of our humanity.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Aussie Day bbq

Our New Years trip to Bristol contained something of a discovery... an importer of Kangaroo Burgers just outside of town (I could live where these guys are based, its really pretty). Australia day was just around the corner, so what else could a girl do, really, but host an Aussie day bbq with all the expats from work.

Okay, so it was January, and we were just days away from snow (for the first time in 20 years, apparently). And Ants and I have no bbq, so we were indoors, and cooking in a pan. And half our guests turned out to be vego, so more for us, but that meant prawns and a growing range of hot and cold salads were called for.

But Cold Chisel, the Waifs, the Whitlams and the Cat Empire made it onto the stereo, and all the gang who had brought treats back from visits home at Christmas - real twisties, tim tams even minties! It was a bit like a midnight feast out of an Enid Blyton (no, wait - Mary Grant Bruce!) novel. We ate and drank and talked til far too late for a school night and Ants graciously volunteered to do all the washing up the next day.

I'm just getting to know this mob, but I like em all so far :-)

Sunday, January 24, 2010


It's been on our minds for some weeks to brave Rome's madcap traffic and get ourselves on two wheels. Ideally we want scooters, but Ants lacks the requisite licence, and swears blind he'll never ride behind a girl (not even me), so it's pedal power all the way. We're both after something a bit retro, but not too classy cos it will just get nicked in this part of the world (Rome's rate of bike crime would put even Oxford to shame). So one saturday, armed with some very vague directions from a colleague and accompanied by the intrepid Kate-from-Albury (who has recently arrived in Rome via WFP's operations in China, North Korea and the Philippines... so has serious field cred), we set out one morning on foot...

...and returned on two wheels! Check out these babies... perfect for rattling over cobblestones and sitting tall as we pass Roman cafes bathed in winter sunlight, although with only 6 gears, their ability up a hill is yet to be tested.

They were sold to us by an elderly chap whose shop-in-a-shed in an alleyway of bikesellers halfway up a hill (along with his charming promises of free maintenance) captured our hearts as surely as our new wheels have. And yes, they all match (although Anthony swears his is "completely different" to ours... yeah. right.

And there was an innate sense of freedom as we headed down the road to home, remembering to keep right (most of the time)making up the roadrules as we went along (in Rome, they're not so much rules as guidelines, anyway).

We can't wait for our first freewheeling adventure, although today has been a pretty good start!

Monday, January 18, 2010


Our friend Lissy from Oslo has, for the last 3 months, been Lissy from Prague, courtesy of a work placement offered by her company. We left it to nearly the last minute, but we couldn't let her leave without going up to say hello.

We flew Wizz Air, and I would do it again, any time. Punctual, polite and the sort of service you expect to pay a lot more for. And the coolest inflights snacky service - little trays of finger food that make you feel like you're at some kind of sit down cocktail party. Wizz indeed!!

It was nothing compared to our excitement onlanding in Prague, driving through fairytale streets blanketed with snow, catching glimpses of castles and spires, and then seeing Lissy, who had laid on a spread and even found ciders, which were a welcome sight indeed after months in Rome where the pubs serve nothing but Bulmers, Magners and vino. (There's no pleasing some people. In England I bemoaned the lack of decent wine at any price.) Much nattering was had.

Next morning we set out to explore, trudging through icy streets, up the funicular, stopping for a snow fight and hot wine, sliding down paths and laughing at tobogganing kids.
Past churches and pretty streets, up to the castle and down past the absinthe shope and one very brave busker, fiddling in the snow, and off in search of a monster lunch. We found it.

More meandering, more eating and drinking, and then back on Sunday to see the market on the Charles bridge (above, which is gorgeous and charming in its own right), then to explore the castle properly and watch the weather really close in on the way home.
More hot wine, although none of it as warming as seeing our friend happy and at home in Prague, but looking forward to her move back to Norway :-)

Monday we'd taken a long weekend, so we bid Lis a fond farewell, thanked her for being hostess with the mostest and headed out exploring the old fort near her place, complete with statue of Good King Wenceslaus.
There is nothing as beautiful, nor as muffled silent, as a city blanketed in snow.

We left longing to come back and see it all in summer, sad that our friend and tourguide won't be there to share it with us, but excited too about the prospect of a trip to Norway while the sun is shining...