Letter to Ren ... 4

Dear Ren,

I slipped quietly, almost guiltily, out of my apartment this morning – should I be resting? I was fleeing Cabin Fever. It was so late really, as I am finally embracing sleep and rest as the cure for the long-lasting cold. The cold that is teaching me that, sometimes, one must bow to the needs of the body.

I have been panicking about all I haven't been able to do and so when you said, last week, it's okay, take this week off from our correspondence, I almost cried with relief. I have trouble with the idea of letting people down and, lately, it feels like all I've been doing. Failing to turn up as my best self, having to cancel lessons, not completing the editing of a beautiful but huge set of photographs I took, moving house … everything.

I was trying to do what I had been taught to do … that is, putting my head down, making more of an effort, and working through. But instead of feeling brave and strong, I see that I've dragged this cold out longer. I feel like a bit of an idiot.

Suddenly it's the weekend and here I am, in beautiful cafe, with a cup of thick hot chocolate next to me. It's been two nights of early to bed, waking at midnight, taking those painkillers and sleeping again, and again, and again. I can see now, I had lost a sense of reality about what my body was capable of … in terms of healing while under a huge amount of pressure.

Sense of reality … sense of balance.

Yesterday, some wise and generous Aussie friends wandered down from their home in the Italian mountains, on their way to some place else. They dusted me down, (mocked me as only Australians can mock New Zealanders, and vice versa), unblocked my kitchen sink, made me laugh, cooked a beautiful dinner, and came up with a plan where we three will work together on the books Lisa and I have been writing for a Very long time.

They were gone by 7pm, taking their lovely kids with them, leaving me filled with a quiet happiness that I haven't felt in a while. They are similar to you and I, in the choices they've made in choosing to live in countries not their own. Rather than see me as brave, or slightly insane, or plain foolish, they gently roughed me up, verbally, when I was too hard on myself for those places where I feel I am failing.

Instead they left me with a challenge … a plan.

Lisa is the most talented artist and writer. Practical too but her vision, or her way of sharing her views of the world, are so beautiful that they've always taken my breath. She came on one of my photography workshops and, using her other camera, the shitty little one, in her words, she created some stunning images.

However Lisa and I, similar in so many ways, both suffer from having a million exciting ideas and failing to select that one we will finish.

Sam, on the other hand, is a man of action. What is the task? Okay then, let's get it done.

After a delicious dinner, whipped up by Sam … his homemade sage pesto, my dried pasta supply, crumbed fried chicken, and all kinds of food he foraged for at the local supermarket … we sat round the table discussing the books that both Lisa and I have been writing FOREVER.

Sam did some of his straight-talking. He came up with a plan for accountability. Lisa and I require weekly accountability calls. We know it. Sam's willing to be that person who coordinates our 'no bullshit, finish the books' project. He wants to read them.

And so … it's begun.

And it is time.

I have been traveling toward this life in Genova since first hearing about the city 16 years ago, while living in a small island nation far far away … never dreaming of living here one day.

It's time to share the passion I feel for this ancient Italian city. To shake the dust off the thousands of photographs I've taken here over years … and the interviews.  It's time to finish what I began quite some time ago.

But moving on and slipping back into your previous letter. You wrote of the photograph I took … your favourite from the wedding. That moment of joy shared by a mixed group of your friends … arms around each others shoulders, they were connected by joy.

It was representative, wasn't it? Representative of that beautiful day. Of the joy all your friends felt about your marriage to E. The joy so very present throughout your wedding day … from morning till night.

Remember when you and E came to Antwerp. For the opening of my photography exhibition … and my birthday too? My friends became friends, as they came from all over Europe, originating from all over the world. Like your wedding. We were from everywhere.  The photographs I like best are on the blog ... I see Kim and Shannon chatting.  The French and Belgian husbands of my Irish friends ... my ex -in-laws gathered there at the table.  You and E. 

I loved it. Loved knowing who would enjoy whom, so delighted that some were finally meeting one another. Sad that some others were absent because they would have loved it.

We have friends our friends love … we are blessed, aren't we?

Lisa and Sam scraping me off the floor of sad … I have other friends who would have done it. I have the shittiest time asking for help. I feel like a Leper whenever I reveal how damn fragile I can be.

I think, what I'm circling, is this idea that you and I invite our friends to be more ... Or is it just me? I am always looking for people willing to step into that tribal role, where we are connected by our humanity … the family of man. I smile as I write that.

You wrote, I've been experimenting with haibun these days, and yesterday I read an article by Aimee Nezhukumatahil. She likens the prose of haibun to a chicken bouillon cube: intense. It seems counter-intuitive, since we (or at least, I) tend to think of poetry as condensed expression of experience. But it also rings true: I need poetry to dilute my intense experience of life; through a poem, a single truth becomes bigger than my own observation of it.

You made me think.  It may beyond me to grasp your words and meaning correctly today.  Here's my attempt.  My camera doesn't protect me.  I wondered that after reading your, 'If I were a photographer, the camera would be my tool for self-protection: a way in, and a way out' 

I try to make it protect me, sometimes. Once upon a time, my daughter's pony bolted off into the distance with her holding on. Oh how I pressed the viewfinder into my eye that day. But mostly, the photographs are all the more intense if I can channel my feelings or responses into capturing the moments unfolding in front of me ... it deepens the experience. 

And coming out of it ... is like coming back from a huge emotional journey.  I'm emptied. Often joy-filled but completely empty.

If I'm fortunate, the result is the 'wedding' photograph you love. Where I capture something representative, something big, in a single image. I have often taken photographs, at events, with tears quietly rolling down my face. Mostly weddings. But where ever there's love. Love undoes me when viewed via a telephoto lens. When E made his speech about you, in Norwegian … I didn't understand a word but I saw and felt the intensity of his love for you, and I cried. Of course.

But anyway …

I am still learning the discipline of replying to what is written to me. Do you see how I veer off, all over the place? It's as if your letter is a door that opens something in me that hasn't been opened lately, and I whoosh off through the door, and want to dance through all the others that magically open once I begin. I guess that's the luxury … the point, of letters. The lack of need for discipline :-)

Lisa and Sam challenged me. I didn't tell you but somehow the conversation turned to reminding me that my photography and writing are important. They're things not to be put down as I work my through my need for some kind of financial security. They reminded me that there's a need for balance in every area of my life. That I don't need to stop with photography and writing ...

And this cold has been teaching me to listen to my body. I was exhausted when I finally stopped.  Let's not even go into the fact it's attacking my throat because, honestly, there's so much I haven't been saying these days. So much I've simply been swallowing. What's this throat chakra thing all about anyway.

The first time pharyngitis hit me was not long after my mother died. And now it returns, periodically, when life is difficult and I am quiet about important things.

Thank you for gifting me time and space last week. I think you had to tell me because I didn't quite now how to take time off, without feeling like I was letting you down. I was too far gone … too lost in this dreadful sense of failure in being so damn ill.

I'm back, although I just had to take another painkiller and perhaps it's time to head home and nap again. I look forward to hearing from you.

Much love

Di

From the Antwerp Photography Exhibition.  Anchovies, Genova.

From the Antwerp Photography Exhibition.  Anchovies, Genova.

This is one of a series of public letters to Ren – a friend, a writer, a poet, and an extraordinary woman who writes to me via her own blog.

Please click through to her website: Ren Powell: Poetics & The Good Life

A Note & 2 Photographs ...

I feel like I've been running in sand lately ... if I were to measure the level of effort requiredversus the distance achieved.  My cold has gone on and on; a milder cold becoming a second more exhausting cold.  Silvia got me checked by a doctor and my chest is clear however ... rest was required and I was unable to rest.

I've reached Saturday and I'm shattered but there is much to be done. These last few weeks have been more about putting out fires, as one thing after another came knocking on my door.  I probably just need to sit down and make plans, now that the coughing has finally calmed itself down.  I just need to sit down, actually.

In good news, I've continued to meet good people, and have smaller, but still excellent, adventures.

I'm enjoying teaching English but I miss my photography.  My students are lovely.  They're clever and interesting, and they blow my mind some days.  And my knowledge of Genova has increased hugely, as I've raced all over it lately.  

I am becoming fluent in 'bus', although still far from perfect.  And better at knowing when to include my umbrella because it might rain.  I have all I require for breakfast.  I'm less good at lunch, and dinner but getting there.  

Sitting here, I was awake just after 6am on this rainy Saturday, I'm realising it's been a year of making-do.  Photographs of my London life have been coming up on my 'year ago today' Facebook timeline.

And I can do 'making do' but will confess that I wouldn't mind a week or two in a hammock some place simple where everything works  ...  :-) 

Letter To Ren ... 3

Dear Ren,

Today's mail will surely end up being about my cold. It may even be ALL about it. The virus that has made me forget red wine exists. The one that sees me forcing down gallons of ginger and lemon tea, sweetened with good Italian honey and soured by real lemons. The bug that has made me cough until my voice is gone.

As I begin writing, I'm making a family-sized pot of chicken and vegetable soup. I'll freeze some portions. Now seems like the right time to begin my letter to Ren, only one day late, accompanied by the sound of chicken soup bubbling on the stove.

I have a doctor's appointment for tomorrow. A Genovese friend got it for me. A miracle really, as I'm not quite 'in' here. The same friend who invited me to her place on Friday night, after a coughing fit took my breath so seriously that I needed to phone out from this space where I live alone.

I jumped in a taxi, so grateful for her invitation. The taxi driver was delightful. An ex mountain-biking guide. We talked all the way across the city and up into the hills. The Genovese often apologise for their poor English but if they can create sentences, I am in awe . I know words, and so I weave words and body language into understanding … sometimes. I can't create sentences in Italian yet.

We couldn't find the apartment. He drove around a bit. I laughed, there in the back seat and confessed I was sick. Maybe she didn't really want me to come over after all … I said to him, maybe you'll drop me off, thinking I'm a normal adult who can find the address alone in the night, and I'll just die in the gutter somewhere.

We both found that amusing.

Me because I think I deserved it for being such a child about being sick.

Him … well probably the same reason.

But then we realised we were looking for the actual apartment number and not the building number. He was a good man, who made me laugh.

And I spent the night at her place, feeling safe ... or safe knowing my body would be found quickly.

I have learned to stand the coughing fits now. The first was quite the monster experience but I understand my body is simply ridding itself of the stuff that is foreign.

Silvia also took me to her pharmacy the next morning and talked to her guy about my symptoms and what might be required. I was then convinced to try all these new-fangled cold and flu medications. Apparently they've been around for ages and are not so new-fangled really.

Mmmhmmm, I am the worst when it comes to medications. It's a love/hate thing. I know I need/I wish I didn't.

I took a big 12 hour cold/flu tablet today. Oddly enough, I feel quite good as I write this. Exhausted, no voice, but otherwise not as bad as I have felt lately.

Silvia called me a dickhead this morning, when she phoned in. She said something like, You will take that medication, won't!?? You're quite a dickhead about it. You know that, don't you?

I had to laugh. I do know that but oh the leap of faith I have to make when I take medicine without being able to read all the 'paperwork' that goes with it. It's trust. It's about trusting people, isn't it.

I'm sorry about the book recommended in my previous letter. And I just finished another truly delightful one. It's simply written. I can't believe how simple it is. And yet it's so beautiful. Or it was to me. Our Souls At Night by Kent Haruf.

In your previous letter to me, I really understood when you wrote:

I crave attention.

I want to observe.

Perhaps I am slightly different, in that I want to connect. I want to observe.

I love to know people. I see each individual as a book waiting to be read.

I want to connect, I love to observe.

I don't know if you realise the test your wedding would have been for me if I had obeyed you. You so generously invited me but said, No camera, you're not working. You are our guest.

Oh Ren. I was … I don't know. I love to work with my camera at events. I love that moment when I am both out and observing but in and accepted as part of everything. Trusted.

Being a photographer gifts me such a rich experience of life. Being an observer deepens all. Winning the trust of those I'm photographing … that means the world.

I'm invisible, I exist, I am trusted. 

You wrote, I think I’m an interpreter at heart. Not an actor, not a director. I see metaphors where no one else does.

I wonder what I am then? I need to think on that, when my head isn't so full of this cold. I can't believe I'm writing this in this state.

The football … being allowed to be part of that group of people, gathered for a football match. I believe I crave that feeling of belonging. I'm happy to wander alone, to live alone but like a cat, I seek the warmth of human company. Those desires war in me when I'm 'in'. But when I'm 'out', I see that I prefer being 'in'.

For some reason, that bar where I quietly watch the football, takes me back to my childhood. There is something familiar and I haven't quite worked out what it is yet but I think it reminds me of Dad. Of sitting quietly on the edge of his sporting world, happy to be with him and watching the football that came down the long, sometimes scratchy, distorted tunnel of satellite that was football beamed into New Zealand on those long-ago Sunday mornings. I still remember the strange warped sound of it.

The book I read at halftime...I think I thought it would reassure them, somehow. That it would be clear I was simply there for the team.

Otherwise, you know me, I'll look around a room and start talking with someone. I'm protecting them from my curiosity and my desire to connect … to know people :-)

And my camera ... if I could, I would enjoy the attempt of capturing the emotions I feel and see in that room. It's a place where people are themselves … and I'm sure I could find that same feeling in Istanbul, in New Zealand, in England, in Africa. Watching the football, mostly men, some who have known each other forever.

In fact, I sought it out in England too. I had a favourite pub and a lovely bunch of blokes I used to watch the rugby with. But I talked with them. And once England was out of the rugby world cup, they were there with me, for New Zealand.

This paragraph about me.

.. your ease with putting people at ease. I have been in awe of that since I met you. I think of how you soothed the angry woman I photographed (incidentally) in downtown Stavanger. You immediately made her feel “seen” instead of observed – with just a sentence or two. You would be a good diplomat. But then, that would probably be a bastardising of your talent.

That is a gift beyond that of the shaman, the oracle, the poet. I don’t know what that is. You may say you had no mentors. But you have become one.

You have a way of gifting me these unfamiliar views of myself. Perhaps as I did with you when I photographed you, from all angles, on your wedding day … I remember how that affected you.

I have always negotiated but the way you wrote of it was beautiful. Thank you.

Moving away from New Zealand and into other languages has seen a change in the way I read people though. Perhaps it was simpler with language but I'm not sure. Now I'm like a deaf woman, perhaps. Compensating by watching the language of a person's body. It's not what they say, it's what their bodies do … it's what their eyes and posture reveal. The tone of their voice. The emotions they reveal.

I do know I've always felt I could step into the shoes of another, very easily. I have viewed it as more of a challenge than a strength at times. I felt I could understand why actors often struggled with drugs and alcohol. That need to create a wall that protected their fragile sensitive self from feeling others too deeply.

If I think about it now, it seems like I know some of the stories of being human. Is that too big a thing to claim?

Not all of them but a lot. Perhaps that comes from being an avid reader, since forever … and of every culture. Complicated by living a lot of different lives, with different roles to play.

It's a perfect skill for a photographer or a teacher, or a traveler perhaps … but difficult in other ways.

My inclination, my desire, is always to get down to the nitty gritty with people. To keep it real. I've never been good at conversation about the weather or those subjects intended to keep people at a distance. I want to really know people. And that follows through into my photography. I will not photoshop my clients to 'improve' them. My desire is to capture what is real about them, what is beautiful, and the moment too. My goal is to be trusted enough, so that can happen.

You wrote this ... E. doesn’t anchor me, though; he knows I’m in motion, and he moves with me, or is comfortable trusting I’ll not choose to untether entirely, I love this so much.

You two are examples of what I would like to see in my next relationship. I have decided I'm like Goldilocks and, obviously, my third attempt will be just right.

I'm not someone who loves living alone, without community and sharing. I love nurturing and being nurtured. I love space too but that's another whole story.

God forbid I should ever be settled and satisfied with what I’ve seen and sucked from life thus far.

Yes, just yes. Settled isn't a word I associate with you. Not at all. You bend the world to fit you, in ways that I love and admire. The food you eat, your office/library. Your boundaries. You are defining them and therefore you are a mentor to me.

But I must go. The chicken just fell to pieces and I suspect you might have laughed had you watched me working out how to solve the problems of that. It became clear, suddenly, that this letter to you might seem like the work of a snot-filled, coughing, voiceless woman …

Because it is.

Much love, Di

This is one of a series of public letters to Ren – a friend, a writer, a poet, and an extraordinary woman who writes to me via her own blog.

Please click through to her website: Ren Powell: Poetics & The Good Life

Letters to Ren ...

Dear Ren,

I have to begin my reply with the first sentence that captured me.  The one that made me think I need to reply to Ren's letter. Immediately!

You wrote, 'Perhaps we are both drawn to seek the foreign as a way to recapture wonder and awe?'

I think so.  I was examining the idea that I am drawn to live in, and explore, places and cultures foreign, simply to experience everyday life with that 'edge'. I love the slight discord. I didn't really feel it in England, and it made me curious about myself. It made me move. It's a whole conversation I'm in the middle of having with myself actually. I love the adventures out here. It was the same in Belgium, in Istanbul, in Berlin. And when I wander, I feel it, on a smaller scale. But living in a place not my own ... I love  that.

For me, it's partially about living out of language, and then usually in cultures so different to what I have known. The visible history in Europe is so much older than where I come from.  The traditions and just the ways of being ... it pulls me in.

But language … I really quite enjoy the space I find myself in when I don't understand.  I always have. People get so mad with me, for not learning but I need to confess, language learning feels like it hunts down, and twangs, every part of the learning disability I've never been diagnosed with.

I have noticed that I love to experience other languages as sound. I fell asleep one night, in Istanbul, listening to the retired officers wives playing cards in the next room. Playing cards, gossiping, laughing … and I realised that the sound of them soothed me, like the sound of the sea, or a river would. I love language, like others like music perhaps, and a part of me doesn't want to break that. Although I will learn here, if possible, in Italy.

But it occurred to me that I'm such a communicator and so, not understanding a language gifts me a space I can't give myself because I simply love knowing people. I can't resist an attempt at making a connection. I. Just. Can't.

Although perhaps I am trying to cultivate that now ... Not communicating, as a choice. On weekends, I have begun wandering into a bar here in Genova and I sit, very quietly, among the men.  We're all glued to the football. Just my team. Just Genoa. And I'm silent. I'm not there to talk or meet anyone, to connect or communicate. I leave my curiousity at home and I slip in and I'm silent. I took a book to read at half-time today. I'm there to watch the football.

But moving on … do you really think there's something wrong with us? With our restlessness, our desire to nest, and then that boredom when nested?  Again.

I don't. I like how we are.  I love the feeling of rising to the challenge and successfully creating a new and beautiful nest. Although, at this point I'm still in disarray, nestless since the marriage ended more than a year ago.  I'm not actually loving that.  I have nothing, no place, that is mine.

Tonight I cleaned and organised this space I have until the end of November. It feels slightly better but I haven't been able to settle in. My work schedule is, more or less, set for the year now. It's busy, and so tonight I had to do something about feeling so unmoored.

By Thursday, of course, I'll be in disarray again.

I'm not sure I have ever felt safe. But wait, as a child ... one home, stable, stayed in it till I married. But since then I've moved house more than 20 times, maybe much much more, and countries too.

Occasionally I meet someone who makes me feel safe but life has taught me … perhaps like you, never to take 'safe' forgranted. Everything can change in a moment. I know that now.

Whenever I've been safe though, I've been compelled to wander. Yes, I recognise the restlessness you talk of. In New Zealand I loved road trips. I loved driving, more than anything. I spent a month, alone on the road, interviewing climbers once upon a time. I loved that. But I was ready to come home at the end of that month, and I remember the wonder of finding cups and plates in that place where I knew they would be.  In my nest.

I like to flee into chaos, I love coming home to my space, to the calm. My known space.

And then there is the fact that I love nesting, but yes, I struggle with being nested. When nested, I almost become compulsive with things like evening routines. Lights all out? Stove off? Doors locked? 

I'm curious as I prepare to step into life again. I think I may need to choose everything, if possible, consciously. I've chosen Genova, as the place I most want to live in the world. More than New Zealand, more than England, Scotland, Istanbul and Belgium. And I like how that's turning out.

I was raised in a world where I learned that people sacrificed for each other. I had no useful heroes or mentors. No Katherine Mansfield or Amelia Earhart's. I'm not sure how I missed out on knowing about that kind of woman.  And I realise I have spent almost half my life living other peoples lives. I want o be cautious about going forward.

Then you wrote, Being busy, being occupied with the ordering of things gives me an illusion of control. Once that flurry of activity is over, the illusion is broken. I feel vulnerable.

Yes, I have been excessively ordered and really needing to believe I had some control in my life, in those past lives I shared with another. I liked shopping for food for the month, I liked having all the most necessary housework done by 8.30am. I liked everything locked up and in its place in the evenings.

There's a split, or perhaps it's just a space that opens up when one set of our needs are met but not the other set/s. A chasm perhaps. You are settled, with a lovely man, a beautiful home, a divine office and your exquisite books. And I envy you your new bookshelf and you envy me my adventures.

Meanwhile some of my best books are back in England with a friend I adore. Some are here in Italy with me. There is no bookshelf.

See how we can envy one another, as we live different lives …   Is it that we perhaps need to experience all, in totality, to be whole?  We need to create a balance.  Somehow.

Is life about trying to have it all ... in terms of choosing how to live your life?

You spoke of the gentrification of old neighbourhoods, What is taking me by surprise is that I have absolutely no interest in any of it. I would rather explore the rocky beaches out by the lighthouse south of here. I’d rather roam the lived-in spaces in East London on a weekend. Feed the pelicans. I would rather spend time where things aren’t carefully designed not to match in just the right way – maybe go seek out on of your beloved bazaars in Istanbul. Things that are not preplanned. Places that grow organically, as chaotic as humans are. What is the point of moving into or even through something that is already in perfect order? How gawd-awful boring.

Yes, I am learning how little it takes to make me happy. To balance myself, in the sad moments that I'm having less often, I would rather walk in this gritty beautiful city of incredible contrasts and contradictions, than join a gym or be part of a hip & happening art scene.

I think we're similar. I'm so busy admiring the hell out of your mind, and your achievements, that I don't always realise that perhaps I find something so familiar in you. You provide me with questions, and when I read your answers I think, 'Oh, yes.'

I read something today, and I had to run and find it after reading you … and laughing over the wildebeest. I've always been very aware of the zebra on the edge of the herd being taken out first. Always, my entire life. I have always tried not to be that creature but I think, maybe, I always have been.

But when you wrote, I guess that brings us back to belonging and not really belonging. The safety of the familiar, on the periphery? I don’t know, that seems paradoxical. It’s the wildebeest on the periphery who get eaten, isn’t it?

I ran for this quote, Psychologists use extroversion and introversion as the most stable personality traits with which to measure people. They can't do this with creative individuals because they exhibit both traits simultaneously, tending to be both extroverted and introverted, sometimes the centre of attention, sometimes the observers on the fringes.

It comes from Rod Judkins book, The Art of Creative Thinking. I'm loving it but must give it back to my friend one day soon. Belonging and not belonging ... 

You see, I have always been happy at the centre of things but so happy on the edges too. That extract confirmed something I absolutely know about myself but had become tired of trying to explain. Oh yes, I contain multitudes. Just call me Walt.

But anyway, to end this letter ... I'm so tired, I hope this is lucid.

Perhaps we are simply complex tapestries … and I'm laughing as I type that sentence. But I am an introvert and an extrovert. A nester and a wanderer. I love living with someone. I'm remembering how to be alone, again. I love to be alone, I love to socialise, to share a life with someone. I love hosting parties, and friends coming to stay. I love finding a quiet place, with a dog maybe, and sitting still for a while.

But it's late.

Grazie mille, my lovely friend. I really didn't see how I could write this by my self-imposed Sunday deadline but somehow, it gave me energy. I look so forward to your next letter.

Much love

Di xx

This is one of a series of public letters to Ren – a friend, a writer, a poet, and an extraordinary woman who writes to me via her own blog.

Please click through to her website: Ren Powell: Poetics & The Good Life

Choosing Home ...

The Way Home ... Genova,2016

The Way Home ... Genova,2016

Dear Ren,

My reply to your letter, titled Discovering Home, would have to be Choosing Home but it has taken me almost a week to understand or discover that.

I was born in New Zealand, in a small town called Mosgiel, way down at the bottom of the South Island. Of course, I had no way of knowing that Mosgiel would be the place I would spend the longest time, the most years, in this first half of my life.

I married young. I was 20, unsure of how to get out of committing to that guy I rather liked but not sure I wanted to get out of it either. We stayed married for 14 years. Had a daughter and moved a lot. He was a high school teacher, who also served as a New Zealand airforce officer for a while, so we lived all over the place.

I came to love moving house which was fortunate as we moved 14 times over those years together.

I love creating my own space, making a nest, finding a place for my computer and I. And so I loved finding those favourite walks and beaches, those river and lake edges, for my daughter, my dog and I to spend time on. We lived all over the South Island … Dunedin, Blenheim, Te Anau and Cromwell. Enjoying a huge range of landscapes, and good friends, as we wandered through that life building his career.

One of the key influences in my life has been my mother, although only after she died. After she died because we all knew mum was always going to follow her dream of living next to the sea when she retired. And so she sacrificed all, in a way, to raise her family safe in the knowledge that she would make her choice about where she would most like to live when she retired.

But my brave strong selfless mother didn't make it. She died before she had the chance to retire and live that life she had dreamed of.

This wasn't knowledge that I was conscious of when, 14 years later, I was cut loose from my marriage and needed to make myself as financially stable as we had made my ex-husband with our marriage and moving. I headed for Istanbul.

That's when I began to learn how to move countries and cultures. How to create home where ever I landed - what things I needed. And, without realising it, I had also begun searching for my house by the sea but on a bigger map than my mother's. I was looking for home … and I was open to any place in the world.

These days, I laugh and compare my story to that of Goldilocks and those three bears.

I loved Istanbul but perhaps it was a little 'too hot' for this woman from small town New Zealand. Bombs went off while I lived there, there was a gunman loose in my school once, and a woman fell past my 5th floor balcony one evening.

I loved it though. I enjoyed the Turkish people so much but it was hard. It's only in retrospect that I understand the edge I constantly lived on over there. I had good friends and they saved me, without even knowing it but there are so many stories from that period … from those two homes I made in that country.

Then I moved to Belgium. Now I can see now that Belgium was everything I didn't want. I used to laughingly tell my Belgian husband, 'be sure that I love you because there's no way I would be here otherwise'. And when he came home to New Zealand with me, he stated what I didn't quite realise I knew … New Zealand was the complete opposite of Belgium, in every single way.

Of course, in understanding this I guess it's no surprise that we broke up but only after 10 years of me tip-toeing across a landscape I didn't quite trust. The pollution levels scared me, and the lack of accountability when things went wrong.  And while I had lovely Belgian friends, and truly amazing experiences, I had rough experiences with officialdom and in other unexpected places too.

Most tellingly, perhaps, for the first time in my life I couldn't find a place I loved wandering. A place to disappear into, to be alone … Or not until I found Genova.

In 2008 an Italian friend, met via so many coincidences that it is too long to tell the story here, invited me to visit her city with her … the city that I had first heard about way back in 1999.

I arrived here, with Paola, and fell in love … with a city. I'm not sure I knew that was possible. And for the last 8 years, I have been returning often.

 Without realising or planning it, I was laying down the foundations of living a life here ... one day.

But it wasn't a conscious plan of mine. Not even a dream.

One of the unintended gifts of my Belgian marriage was dual nationality. I took it because I was going to stay there forever … obviously I had forgotten mum's story. Or perhaps I was sleeping. Anyway, dual nationality made traveling in Europe so much easier. I didn't imagine, way back then, that it would allow me to move freely in Europe 'after the marriage was over'.

And there she is … Goldilocks again, exploring the home of those bears.

My daughter plays a huge role in this, even if she hasn't been mentioned yet. She had joined me in Belgium, and I had spent 9 years sharing my Belgian world with her and her daughter, and so I couldn't go far. I couldn't go 'home'. I couldn't return to the other side of the world because I didn't want to without them.

So I moved to the UK and loved it. It was so familiar, and I slipped into life there, so very easily. There were favourite places, favourite foods and, best of all perhaps, secondhand bookshops full of affordable books. A luxury rarely experienced while living in countries not my own.

It had to be the mother bear's life… it was almost 'just right'. I could have stayed there. I could have sunk myself into the familiar.

Once again, I had lost everything in the second marriage and so, I was in that strangely terrifying but liberating place of having nothing left to lose. I've written of it here before.

And there is this part of me, this strangely stubborn part that listens only to myself, that knew against all advice, that if I didn't try to live in Genova while I was this free I would regret it forever.

It was just like Mum wanting to live by the beach … that knowledge was there, riding on my shoulder, whispering in my ear.  And I couldn't wait until I was safe again because then I wouldn't risk all. Mostly it's not human nature to leap when you are safe.  Mostly.

I took a running jump and the summer of 2016 was probably one of the most terrifying of my life.

I'm quiet when I'm terrified.  I prefer to concentrate on the positive and not dwell on all that could go wrong but the nights were a sometimes struggle.  And I couldn't lie in bed in the mornings.  I worried, a lot ... but I lived too.

Living in Istanbul with bombs and gunmen was nothing compared to that leap. Living in Belgium, traveling to Cairo … all were simpler than this move.

But a foundation had been laid and I only had to get through the summer. I just didn't know that.

Here I am, in the city that I love so much more than any other place I've ever lived, feeling like its letting me in.

I have work.

I have had a place to live and I'm about to move to my winter space … a double room, with a kitchenette and a bathroom, in a grand old palazzo.  But that's a story for another day.

Best of all, for me, in these days when I'm sad, or lonely, or scared, I step out into Genova's ancient streets and alleyways, and I wander. And there's always someone or something good out there. And I've been sad and lonely and scared in so many places over so many years but no place has ever healed me like Genova does.

The 'cure' might be as simple as the light, or a conversation, or live music discovered out on the street, or a glass wine or a cup of coffee at that cafe in the piazza not too far from here.  It's that simple.

There are so many reasons why I chose this place as home. There's a little of everywhere I've ever lived. I can see New Zealand in the Ligurian landscape, in this city located between the hills and the sea … cradled like Wellington, or Dunedin.

And Genova is surrounded by hills that go on forever, and they make me feel like I've found another island to live on. And I like that feeling.

And the people. They're … they tell me they are closed and that they can be mean but honestly, their friendship, when it is given, it means the world to me. But more than that, I have experienced so much kindness here over these last 8 years, that I can honestly say that I like the Genovese, very much  ... even their mocking.

But okay, I understand if the Genovese are the first to doubt me.

It's an ancient city and, for some reason I don't understand, the child of the South Pacific that I surely am, loves the feeling of it. I used to love Nature, and I still do but this city ... it fills my soul like nothing else ever has.

I love the colours of the city … the palette that ranges from pale yellow through into terracotta, with green or blue shutters. For me, if I had to name 'the' colour of Genova, I would say apricot.   It's beautiful in the sun, it's beautiful in the rain.

I love the church bells, as much as I loved the call to prayer in Istanbul. I love the quiet holy spaces I find inside the huge range of ancient churches. I love the noise in my street. The noise of daily life … of the cafe under the apartment, of the bar next door, and the pizzeria across from me. I love to work with the window open so I can hear it all. To be a part of life without needing to be always in it.

You see...?

There's so much. And it's going to take years to explore it. I only know the tiniest portion, despite wandering here a while already.

I'd like to stay. To settle down to that baby bear's life. The one that feels 'just right'. Not too hot and not too cold. Not too soft and not too hard. And so I'm working towards it, with the help of friends who have friends who reach out a hand and offer me names of dentists and doctors, and good places to find the best things.

So yes, I see now that I chose this home, this place, this ancient city. And i have to say, it's the best feeling … 

Thank you, Ren ... for the challenge of writing around and through this experience of 'home'.  It's a first draft, more or less, and so forgive me my errors but I like the unpolished nature of it.  I think the subject demands it and, after all, it's a letter to a much-loved friend.

Much love, Di   xx

 

Painting With Light ...

My photography always returns when I have some free time ... or is that, I return to my photography.  

My head needs to be a little clearer than it has been lately.  Last week was particularly chaotic as I pulled off a few minor miracles ...

Today is Sunday, and I slipped out into the morning searching for coffee and ended up with a camera full of photographs.

I found the light exquisite and ended up staying out for hours, wandering in the medieval heart of Genova.