And so it is ... 'nothing left to lose' has gifted me the courage to move to Italy. Finally!
I have been loving Genova since 2008 but ... I had stuff I could lose, I didn't dare move. Who leaps from that kind of cliff edge really ... without wings?
Suddenly, and unexpectedly... I lost everything, even a country. Everything, except my books and my desk, and that's only, so far.
But really, I'm smiling. I'm slimmer and stronger than I've been in decades ... and honestly, that's a good thing. Right?
'Stuff' can trap a soul in one place, oftentimes quite happy to be there. Add that brilliant job, the family, those responsibilities ...
So my take on all that is ...how many people get the chance to wander off, in search of that next life. The next big adventure?
Mmmm but this is my second big move. The first time, I packed my shiny, new university degree and flew out of New Zealand heading for Istanbul. This time, I have meandered ... slightly lost and a little bit broken.
Finally, I arrived ... on a Tuesday, here in Genova, Italy. In that city I have loved, more than any other since 2008. I have that 'nothing left to lose' thing going on and I'm planning on making it here because I believe there is nowhere I'd rather succeed in making a life.
It's been so good to be back. And fortunately, I really enjoy the northern Italian sense of humour. Mmmhmm ... because there has been quite some teasing, as new doors opened and I've met new people. I had forgotten the humour. The affectionate mocking:-)
Most notably/enjoyably, I was documentary photographer at special event last Friday. Up in the mountains here (I love writing of being up in the mountains in Italy) and it was such a privilege to be there, to be free to capture the day, to meet the people I met. I will write of it soon but I need to process the photographs. Get permissions to share.
There is something about Italy ... about Genova, that fills my soul with a special kind of joy. I have no idea what it is and, believe me, the Genovese cannot begin to imagine what this terribly 'enthusiastic' foreigner finds here. Never mind, I find something I warm myself on and so here I am. Tasting it, trying it, loving it.
I suspect there will be stories ... lots of them. And photographs too. I'm slow at the moment, it's been 30+ celsius since I arrived. I'm adjusting, and sleeping more than I've ever slept ...
Stories to follow. I'll leave you with a favourite song, performed in a much-loved place in the city here.
Ciao for now.
Whenever I am unable to create my own sense of beauty, I have this book that has traveled with me since the 90's. The date I wrote in the front reads 'pre 1999'. I remember how it saved me when we moved to Te Anau, from the disruption and loneliness that is moving, and that it has saved me so many times since. For me, there is this sense of falling into the beauty that is Frances Mayes prose, like sinking below the surface of a swimming pool, immersed for a while.
Whatever a guidebook says, whether or not you leave somewhere with a sense of the place is entirely a matter of smell and instinct. There are places I've been which are lost to me.
I've heard so many angry women talk of Frances Mayes book 'Under the Tuscan Sun' - and make no mistake, I am talking of the book not the movie, which is another story entirely - and these women rage about this book and that woman's unrealistic portrayal of a life lived partially in Italy.
I listen, sometimes I speak up but mostly I quietly decide that they are not lovers of beautiful poetic prose writing ... that they simply lack a dreamy writerly soul. But truly, I'm not sure why I love what they hate.
The outrage ... I would love to unpick it, to understand where it comes from.
The second-floor bedroom that opens onto a brick terrace gleams. They've made the bed with the new blue sheets and left the terrace door open to the sound of the cuckoos and wild canaries in the linden trees. We pick the last of the pink roses on the front terrace and fill two old Chianti bottles with them. The shuttered room with its whitewashed walls, just-waxed floors, pristine bed with new sheets, and sweet roses on the windowsill, all lit with a dangling forty-watt bulb, seems as pure as a Franciscan cell. As soon as I walk in, I think it is the most perfect room in the world.
These are soul-soothing words for me. I once lived in the brick house of a friend who was so good to me when I divorced. It was everything sensible, that borrowed brick house, but my soul needed something else. I found a funny little 1.5 bedroom cottage out on the Otago peninsula.
I moved there and was happy. I would drink my morning coffee out in front of the massive rough wooden-framed windows that made up the front wall of that cottage. My view, a few metres of lawn, maybe 2, a small road just below, and the sheltered water of that beautiful harbour.
I require beauty but mostly it's simple. It's about Nature and good air, it's about views that make you stop and dream for a while. It's about having a dog, when possible.
New Zealand spoilt me in a way. My Belgian bloke understood more of me after our trip home last year. He realised that while I believe natural beauty is a right, he understands beauty is a luxury. He comes from a small country, 1/10th the size of New Zealand. In Belgium there are 11 million people, New Zealand has 4 million.
After a few days, my life takes on its own rhythm. I wake up and read for an hour at three a.m.; I eat small snacks - a ripe tomato eaten like an apple - at eleven and three rather than lunch at one. At six I'm up, but by siesta time, the heat of the day, I'm ready for two hours in bed. Slumber sounds heavier than sleep, and with the hum of a small fan, it's slumber I fall into.
Finally entering into university studies at 34 was one of the best things I have ever done. There was an appreciation of all that I studied, an excitement that I might not have felt back when I was 18. In those days, I lived in 4 different homes along the peninsula. My first husband and I bought an exquisite cottage down there back in 1999. We divorced and I lived in a series of cottages on that narrow strip of land between the harbour and the Pacific Ocean.
Under the Tuscan Sun got me through dark times and lonely times too. It was like a burst from a sun-lamp perhaps. It traveled to Istanbul with me, as one of the few things I could take from the old to the new life. It lives here on my deep-red book shelves in Belgium, a much-loved book that I recently pulled out as these autumn days grow grey and the darkness comes so much earlier.
For me, the book is a meditation on the beautiful moments, written in the prose of a woman who began as a poet and went on with prose. It's a writers book. A book for dreamers and lovers of beauty.
Siesta becomes a ritual. We pull in the shutters, leaving the windows open. All over the house, ladders of light fall across the floor.
There are so many reasons that Italy has slipped into my heart but one of the biggest is surely the people I have met here over the years.
The people of Piedmont have simply added to that particular experience of Italy. There was the intensity, the laughter, and the pure joy of spending those hours working with Carla in her restaurant kitchen on Monday ... then the kindness and patience of the people in Acqui Terme's Market with those foreign photographers yesterday. Last night it was all about the generosity of the people who led us through an exquisite multi-course dinner.
There is a saturation that occurs, for me, here. A saturation that is not just of a physical nature but there is a very real sensation of my soul being filled ... or whatever 'organ' it is that stores joy. It fills and overflows and simply sparkles so many times in day when I'm here.
Sure there is the beautiful landscape, the visible histories, the wine, the food, and the language but there are also the people.
Yesterday the lovely man pictured below arrived at Diana and Micha's, laden down with gifts and toting his own gentle charm. Needless to say we adored him, both for the fruit and even more after he called us all beautiful women.
For all that is difficult, in Italy in these current days, there is still so much that is beautiful and I am truly grateful to the people who allow me in.
Genova tomorrow, the day when I get to introduce everyone here to that Ligurian city I love so very well.
Before I committed to photography, I was pursuing a writing career.
I attended writing workshops with New Zealand writers and have this novel I've been carrying since the early 90's. As I develop, move countries, learn new things, so too does my main character. By chance.
Currently she's a war photographer who was in Iraq but who somehow ... happens to have relocated to Genova, Italy. Before that, she was a woman in retreat, living in the mountains of New Zealand, alone with her dog, once again retired from a previously intense life.
There's a book of interviews with New Zealand climbers and mountaineers, almost published, two publishing meetings and an apology but 'they didn't think there was a big reading public for it', despite them liking it a lot. The Everest tragedy happened later and climbing literature became more mainstream however, by then, I had enrolled at university: age 34.
I was heading for Bill Manhire's writing course in Wellington. I ended up in Istanbul.
It makes me laugh to write that. One never knows where life might take them if they allow it to take them ...
Anyway, back in my days of writing I used to drive my first husband crazy. No, that's not why he divorced me. I used to edit and correct as I wrote. I would reach 27,000 words and edit it down to 3,000 words. I was brutal and a perfectionist too.
But it was my editing that made him crazy. As I got closer to the final edit ... on a first chapter (hence I never finished the book), my editing would become minute. I would give him the manuscript to see what he thought of my edit. He would say, 'there's no change!'. Exasperated, I would explain that I had moved two 'the's' and deleted an 'and'. How could he not see the difference that made.
Children, never edit an unfinished manuscript. Write it. Fix it afterwards. Or you will never finish.
The reason I write all of this is because ... there was another photograph of B&B Baur, like the previous one but different. I think the edit isn't so small but perhaps it is tedious to those reading this blog.
This is me and I need to 'see' both of them here, so that I can happen upon them unexpectedly later, and really 'see' them as a stranger.
'When we (Di and Diana) initially sat down to talk about what kind of experience we wanted to create, we were clear and in agreement on almost everything. First we wanted this to be a very small and private women’s event. It was important to us that it take place in beauty and peace. We thought it should be in a place we had to ourselves, so that we could just be ourselves. We wanted good food, wine, scenery, comfort, the potential for creativity, and relaxation.
But more than anything, we wanted to create a space that would encourage woman to tell their stories – through photos, art and words – and to use our combined experience as guides, mentors and artists to provide a mirror to each woman’s intrinsic beauty.'
You can read more about the retreat Diana Baur and I have put together over on our new website ... Your Beautiful Retreats.com
We are so deeply excited by the week we have planned. We are offering 4 places, and two are already gone. If you would like to join us in Italy, let me know.