A Note from a Winter Day in Belgium ...

And the burn-out has continued here in my world but I'm running up the stairs again, finally.  I'm not taking that forgranted ever again.  Now to commit to taking the vitamin D I guess.  Apparently 80% of Belgians end up  deficient in vitamin D ... this New Zealander too.

As for the burn-out, I'm not sure that it's still that.  Now it seems more like I'm looking around and thinking 'what next?'  But instead of attempting to follow multiple paths, I'm thinking of just one or two.  We'll see how that plays out.  I have remained slow ... very very.  And I'm letting it be like that.  I have had a few times of intensity, quickly followed by that descent back into slow.

I know it's a luxury.  More time without income but still, the Belgian bloke seems happy enough with the housewife who has stepped up as me.

Lucy, Ruth and Fiona, lovely friends from near-by, birthday-gifted me 50euro in book vouchers for my favourite secondhand bookshop here in the city.  I stretched it out over 3 visits and I'm rapt with my books.  I finished it on Tuesday, with two books about artist and wise woman - Georgia O'Keeffe, with a third by New Zealand writer, Barbara Anderson.  Oddly enough, I didn't see the similarities in the titles until later but Anderson's book was a slice of home that I couldn't resist.

I had my hair cut too.  'Cut' might be too big a description.  I have finally found a hairdresser who listens to me ... a hairdresser that doesn't immediately start cutting while attempting to make me stylish.  She also found a way of unifying the damage I had done with my boxes of hair colour bought at the supermarket.  I can only adore her for this.

The Belgian boke's frozen shoulders are almost completely recovered.  His flu is gone, and the relapse he had seems to have left the building too ... as of last night.  Fingers crossed.

We're slowly making our way towards Christmas.  We have a tree, some presents, and plans are being made with regard to the food.  Since returning from that Christmas we spent at home, back in 2012, I have flashbacks to how good it was there ... in summer.  And the food.  And the way that my sister made sure I was spoiled.  It was like a journey back to my childhood ... almost.

The haircut and colour ... it's below.  I think I take the worst photographs of myself.  I'd like to claim that the light in the bathroom is bad, that I use a telefoto lens and end up jammed against the wall but really, there are no excuses.  It's more about the fact I quite like the difficult light and employ a little ineptitude when it comes to self-portraits.  I like the blur and shake of it all, the strange lighting and I remain defiant in my use of the tele-foto.  Not something I would teach but I might say, know the rules and then break them.  Don't be afraid to play a little.

'Say Yes to Life' ... Isabel Allende

I was wandering alone for a month, back home in New Zealand, interviewing climbers and mountaineers for a book I wanted to put together.  It was a month off from my first marriage. The synopsis went through two publishing meetings.  They told me they loved it but they didn't feel there was a big enough audience.  They gave me other publishing house names to send it to but my mother was diagnosed and I wandered off to university late.

I still have the manuscript but that was a long time ago.

Anyway ... way back then and I arrived in Wellington, at the home of my truly delightful friend, Michelle Bennie.  I had her absent flatmate's bedroom.  It was a small room in a beautiful old wooden house.  Her flatmate was out of town.  The bedroom was located on flimsy-looking stilts ... located on the side of a steep bush-covered hill there in Brooklyn.  Possums on the roof at night, it offered a beautiful view over Wellington city.

I remember that this was the place where I first 'met' Isabel Allende, via a book on the bookshelf in that bedroom.  I devoured 'Eva Luna' one rainy day, enjoying the strange and exotic taste of her story, curled up on someone else's bed in a city not my own.

I was in town to interview Matt Comesky.  The loveliest high altitude climber I've ever met.  He was  on K2 with Bruce Grant and Alison Hargreaves when they were blown off the mountain.  I so very much wanted to understand the mind of the climber way back then. I still do, and war photographers and journalists have joined the ranks of those who fascinate me.

Anyway ... Wellington, 1998, Isabel Allende was the bonus. 

Dimitris Politis, The Stolen Life of a Cheerful Man

I find myself finally crashing today, after weeks of pressure from so many sides that they must have been holding me together until now.

As each problem has been solved, I imagine the pressure came off, leaving me free to crumple today.

Thank goodness for Dimitris Politis and his beautiful photographs from his visit home.

He recently published his first novel and I so very much enjoyed reading it.  You can check it out here - The Stolen Life of a Cheerful Man.  I loved it!

'The story deals with the contentious yet universal issues of intolerance and understanding, discrimination and acceptance, violence, terrorism and forgiveness. Dimitris Politis plunges boldly into the Irish reality but always in equilibrium with his Greek consciousness, creating a unique mirror between Greece and Ireland, where the glittering Aegean waves are crowned by the rainbows of the Atlantic and the west coast of Ireland. The reader is drawn to the story through its exciting twists and turns, interlinked through a fast cinematographic pace: the book is an excellent contemorary example of "black" fiction with a subtle and delicate deepening of sentiments, feelings and beliefs linked to the human nature. It voices a loud protest against social and historical stereotypes and is a stern warning of how intolerance and ignorance can lead to disaster. In today's world where many countries are mired in a financial crisis, where make people tend to forget the importance of tolerance and acceptance of their fellow human begins, the author cleverly reminds us that difference and diversity are universally present: they indeed shape our world, they are the rule rather than the exception. He prompts us to remember that we are all born different and grow up differently, making each of us very special in our own unique way whatever the circumstances.'

I Am A Reader ...

There's not much that gives me more pleasure than finding a really good book.

I have two 'suppliers' here in the Flemish city of Antwerp.  The first is De Slegte aan de Wapper, just a couple of doors away from Rubens House.  The second is more of a secret.  It's the place where I find quietly superb books for .25 cents to 1euro.

We hired a city car for a few hours today.  Jess had an appointment with the dental surgeon and we delivered her to the hospital.  Then the Belgian bloke who is on holiday, and I, slipped away to the secret book supply shop and voila, treasure was found.

We found 4 beautiful hardcover Roald Dahl books for Miss 10, printed in Nederlands.  Then I discovered Dinner with Persephone by Patricia Storage (.50 cents), Alentejo Blue by Monica Ali (.75 cents), and The Colour of the Moon by Alkyoni Papadaki (1euro).

I love the randomness of secondhand bookshops.  I find so much treasure in them.  I just finished Tim Parks novel, Dreams of Rivers and Seas tonight.  I had loved his 'ethnographical' book titled A Season with Verona.  This fiction was something else.  Someone else's treasure, now my secondhand treasure.

But really, the reading is done on the trams mostly.  I was back on that early morning school run this morning.  Jess had her dental surgeon appointment today but turns out she can't have her wisdom teeth out until Thursday as there is an abscess which, combined with the pain of her teeth, is knocking her around something fierce. 

We were quite traumatised by our 5am ER visit and by the time she had been treated we didn't even dare ask which painkiller they'd IVed in to her, much less insist they might be wrong and that there was an abscess involved. 

We actually laughed as we walked out into Saturday morning afterwards ... that stunned ohmygoddidthatreallyhappen kind of laughter.  But today was an experience so opposite as to be surreal.  It was very healing and I confess, we were very very relieved.

So there is work to do and family to work around ... Gert has his appointment with a shoulder specialist on Thursday.  We're hoping he doesn't need surgery but it's not looking good.  He's been in much pain for 2 months now. 

My football team played a brilliant game in Italy last night.  I was glad not to be here.  The tension ... missed chances and the fact that they lost in the final minutes.  All this against one of the top teams. It might be an exciting season this season based on the exciting squad they've put together.

I was wandering out on Flanders Fields one frosty morning, with a small group that included then New Zealand Prime Minister, Helen Clark.  I noticed these trees and stopped for a few moments, wanting to capture something of the light. 

The quote.  Justine Musk ... I enjoy her writing.


Colin Monteath, and the Poppies

Over years I have filled my journals with notes, quotes, and photographs too.  Some of those journals traveled from New Zealand with me, and many many new ones have been filled since I flew.

I love quotes and extracts.  They seem like small pieces of intense wisdom or pure beauty but I keep them all locked up in my journals.  So ... I've decided to go through my extensive, sometimes unexplored, photographic archives and merged some of these collected wisdoms, from others, with my images.

I met with Colin Monteath, author of today's quote, a couple of times during those years before leaving New Zealand.  And even then, I still didn't know quite how to describe him here.  Photographer, mountaineer, adventurer, Antartic expert, writer ... and probably so much more that I don't know about.

Anyway I found one of his books here in Antwerp, wrote to him full of laughter because it cost a lot more than he was selling them new but still, I was working at the time.  How could I resist.

I've never regretted buying that book.  I found the quote, the one on the photograph below, and feel it gives a good sense of the man himself.

As for the poppies.  That was me, crawling around on the edge of the church garden in Mesen, out on Flanders Fields, here in Belgium.  I had some time and really wanted a good poppy shot.

Denise Leith, 'What Remains' ...

I flew today, waking at 4am for a 6am flight from Stavanger to Copenhagen, Denmark.  And I have to confess, I love this feeling of the world making itself real as I travel.  Norway and Denmark were places that confused me back in New Zealand during those long-ago geography classes but today I learned where they were, having bravely taken a window seat, no longer fearing there may be dragons at the edge of my known world.

Copenhagen ... on an island so flat, or so it seemed from the air, that it looked like one big wave might roll over the city and cover it. 

But as I flew, I was reading.  Devouring one of the best fictions I've read.  'Best' because it was well-written ... best because it was written by a war journalist too, and their stories are the non-fiction genre I read most.

Denise Leith has a Ph.D. in International Relations, which she teaches part time at Macquarie University in Sydney. Her special interests are the politics of war, human rights and humanitarian action, peace keeping and peace enforcing, Middle East Politics, the Rwandan genocide, the United Nations and US foreign policy.

Denise has two published non fiction books, The Politics of Power: Freeport in Suharto's Indonesia (University of Hawaii Press 2002) and Bearing Witness: The Lives of War Correspondents and Photojournalists (Random House 2004) and the novel What Remains (Allen & Unwin 2012). She is also a contributor to the anthology Fear Factor: Terror Incognito (Pan Macmillan and Picador 2010) and 'A Country Too Far (Penguin 2013).

I was reading her book, What Remains, and I read as the plane climbed up out of Stavanger.  I read, glancing just briefly out as we passed over fiords in Norway.  I read as the pilot flew low over the North Sea, landing at the airport in Copenhagen.  And I read as I snacked there, breakfast, and continued to read after boarding that second plane returning me home.

And while I was curious about the view from those plane windows the book held me fast.  I dove into the story of Kate Price and war zones, of Pete McDermott, and a big love. 

I read the closing chapters on the 45-minute bus ride from Brussels Airport to Antwerp, wiping away the threat of tears while reading it right through to the end.  Then, still not quite home, I spun back to the start, just to be sure of what I had read there ...

I fell into bed here in Belgium, slept for 2 hours and was woken so that I would sleep tonight, only to realise I was missing the story that had carried me across a small part of Europe.

Denise Leith also knew the journalist, Marie Colvin, who was killed while reporting in Syria.  She has included an interview she made with Marie.  It appears in her book Bearing Witness but that particular interview is there on her website.

If things are never spoken of, if people accept all without informing themselves, then incredibly horrific things can happen.  I so very much admire those who go out and bear witness for as long as they can.  The price is huge.  I'm recommending Denise's book ... so very highly.

Meanwhile, I'm still playing with my new photo-editing tool.  I was out on the Stavanger fiord yesterday and took the shot below.  It was stunning out there.  Just stunning.

This And That, and a little bit more perhaps.

I have a new way of post-processing my photographs ... perhaps I should simply write, 'a new toy'.

It's so much fun!

And that's not written lightly.  I woke at 4.30am after an early night.  Well ... 11.30pm is early for me but sleeping before midnight seems to result in a ridiculously early morning wake-up.  My mind was racing so I gave in at 5.30am, slipping downstairs, turning on the radio as the coffee machine creaked into action, as the toast cooked. 

I sat awhile reading the new book about the granddaddy photo-journalist from way back there in the beginning.  I cannot begin to tell you how much I am loving that book, sad that I can't take it to Norway because ... along with my camera equipment and laptop, it would be too heavy to take with me.

I wanted to write a blog post from the quiet of this morning but my mind was noisy and busy.  I had a portrait session at 9am.  Two lovely Canadian girls from Texas ... from Canada.  And their cousins, the two girls from Belgium.  The shot of the day ... the one that made us all laugh most, was the one where Cloe had them all doing the 'fishface' thing.

It was about 2pm when I elegantly face-planted on the couch and napped for a little bit.  Oh those naps, they are getting me through.  I'm thinking, when I get back to Belgium, I might have an iron test.  It feels like it might be an iron thing, this tiredness.  I'm 'that age' these days.  And maybe some allergy tests too, as they're running out of control.

Soon though, I'm off to spend time with one of my most favourite poets in the world.  We hope to create some beautiful posts/art/something unexpected during our days together in Norway.  I'm curious.  I've never been there before.   But that's life, isn't it ... a big adventure.

I processed the photographs of the Air BnB apartment I spent some time in last time I was in Genova.  I loved this little place where my bed seemed to float, up there on the mezzanine floor, with a view up the narrow carruggi somewhere near the ancient Chiesa di San Donato.

So ... a combination of photograph, of new processing tool, and some stories too, written from another humid and hot summer day here in Belgium.

Robert Capa Exhibition, Genova

I didn't have time to visit this Robert Capa exhibition while in Genova but only because I realised that it will be there for a while.  I shall return and make space for it.  He was a fascinating man.

Monday found me in my favourite secondhand bookshop here in the city.  I discovered a huge treasure, justified buying it, then had to talk myself into carrying the huge weight of it home.

It's John Phillips book, Free Spirit in a Troubled World

At just 21 years old, Algerian-born photojournalist Phillips was hired by Life magazine and assigned to cover Edward VIII, just as the story of Wallis Simpson and the king's abdication was about to break. Here, Phillips records his next 23 years as a correspondent, witnessing many of the 20th century's most dramatic events. Before World War II, he filmed the Wehrmacht marching into Austria, the Warsaw Ghetto, and turbulence in central Europe. From the Middle East, there are momentous photographs of King Farouk, King Ibn Saud, and the destruction of Jerusalem's Jewish Quarter. Reproduced from his negatives rather than Life's prints, the over 200 black-and-white images chronicle old worlds collapsing and new regimes seizing power. More so than most photojournalists' memors, Phillips's extensive text combines intelligence with delightful intimacy.

Of course I'm going to want to read his book.  And even better, for me, it was less than 20euro.

But anyway, at some point each morning spent in Genova, we would find our way to Douce Pâtisserie, in Piazza Matteotti, and this was the view from my table ...

This and That & Everything!


If I ask you what you did, saw, heard, smelled, touched and tasted yesterday ...'

Alan Watts, The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are

The extract was longer but perhaps this is enough to remind us to leave some time for our senses to do their work ... to smell the flowers perhaps.   There are more quotes from his book here.

These days find me rushing, like a mad woman, through life.  Cleaning, organising, packing, remembering, searching, sometimes finding. 

I am so tired I will probably sleep all the way to Italy on Wednesday.  Meanwhile the Belgian bloke is having a shoulder scan, this week I hope.  He's been in pain for far too long now and physio isn't helping at all.  It seems he has either torn a muscle or ... he needs something for inflammation of a joint somewhere in there.  We'll be so glad when he can use his arm again, and sleep without waking when he turns.

Jess has broken her finger.  Ignoring it didn't speed healing and so she's 'limping around' in terms of what she can do with that ridiculously painful middle finger.

Miss 10 has taken to lolling about and generally enjoying her summer holidays. And Sander is crossing Belgium 5 days per week for work, as usual.

I suspect, if we sat down together and talked of what we noticed yesterday, we might just be a small group of grouchy stressed people who noticed not much at all ... except Miss 10 who may have noticed things. 

I talked to my Dad this morning.  I wanted to wish him well for his hospital tests on Tuesday but, in good news really, his tests were on Monday and he had come through the actuality of them really well.  It was lovely to be talking to him as he had worried me with talk of having to go off his heart medication for the test.  He's staying at my sister's tonight.  They didn't want him to go home alone.

And so the new website needs fine-tuning.  There are emails to write and to reply to.  I'm behind on my writing course, yet again ...   I'm in and out with the laundry, packing ,and ironing while searching for some really important notes I had made.

But I did finish the family portrait series of shots I took last Sunday.  I'm so pleased with the results.  They were another really special family full of adorable little folk, as seen below.


Mourid Barghouti, I Saw Ramallah.

An extract from one of my 10 favourite books ever.

I am reading an old blog of mine.  I can't help wanting to bring these things forward from 2005 ... 2006, just so I don't lose them again.

For an exile, the habitual place and status of a person is lost.

One who is known becomes anonymous, one who is generous has to watch what he spends, one who is merry gazes in silence.

The fortunate ones are looked upon with suspicion, and envy becomes the profession of those who have no profession except watching others.

Europe, where I lived for years, was full of them, from all the Arab countries. Each one had a story I cannot record, perhaps nobody can record.

The calm of the place of exile and its wish-for safety is never completely realized. The homeland does not leave the body until the last moment, the moment of death.

The fish
Even in the fisherman's net,
Still carries

The smell of the sea.
Mourid Barghouti from, I Saw Ramallah.

I'm Back ...

There's no headache this morning!  It feels so unbelievably good.  I found this area in my neck at 5am ... because it was stiff and sore, so I rubbed and stretched it for a while and voila ... I woke with no pain.

Meanwhile everything continues to happen here.  My huge ring-binder folder, the one I use for my book-writing course, is full of assignments and we're only halfway through.  It's been beyond excellent having to work out things like defining your book's genre, imagining how it will look - ideally.  Hardcover or soft, photographs, text, binding-style, after learning about different options for bindings.

Creating a vision board, a mind map, a set of core values for the book and the process.  Listening to published author interviews, learning all that Christine Mason Miller knows from her publishing successes.  Writing a synopsis and so much more.

It's intense and although we only work with Christine for 6 weeks, the material remains available to us for 6 months.  This course is all about fitting a book in around real life and all the distractions that most people live with ... which is so realistic for a creature like me.

Last night I began trying to select books for the journey next week.  I love reading at night in Genova.  I'm still not an electronic book reader-type, although the Belgian bloke is working on me.  My camera gear makes me a little sad about the extra weight I can't really carry in books but read I must. 

I have Kay Cooke's 2 poetry books on my desk, and 2 of Ren Powell's too.  I'm thinking they would be a great study while I'm out wandering.  Gert found me another Claire Messud book, secondhand, and I picked up Christos Tsiolkas's book, Dead Europe while in France but I think that one might be a little bit darker than I expect.  Let's see it.

There's all that but then I adore La Feltrinelli's in Genova.  It's one of my favourite bookshops out here in the world.  The English selection isn't huge but it's good.  Really good.  Last time I didn't allow myself to go in.  This time, we'll see ...

Anyway, enough of that.  I'm behind with my photo-editing.  I was lucky enough to wander over to Brussels last weekend, to photograph my lovely colour therapist friend, Marcia's, beautiful family.  I need to get on to that now that my head has stopped aching.

They are a truly, madly, deeply exquisite family and I so love photographing them.  It took most of the day but it wasn't just about photography, there was also a delicious cooked lunch after the picnic captured below.

Napolean and Excess ... perhaps.

You must not fight too often with one enemy, or you will teach him all your art of war.

Napoleon Bonaparte.

I was wandering through the Château de Fontainebleau and found this room.  I've never taken much interest in the things Napolean did however his great big old palace suggests he was an excessive kind of guy.

However I'm reading Eduardo Galeano's book, Mirrors, and this means I am never going to form a good opinion of Napolean.  Not via these pages. 

Galeano's journey though ... highly recommended.

A Fabulous Book by Andrew Simonet, Founder and Director at Artists U

Taking power as an artist means going from beggar to partner. Artists who are strong partners thrive. They find resources, connections, and audiences. They don’t wait for opportunities; they create opportunities.  Everyone we deal with is a partner (not a parent). Funders, presenters, museums, record labels, and critics are all partners. When we step up as responsive, responsible partners, we can go anywhere.

Simonet, extracted from his book, Making Your Life as an Artist - a guide to building a balanced, sustainable artistic life.

Every artist should read this. 

Really.  It's that important.

As Val wrote when I posted the link on Facebook, Good resource and point of view with concrete actions to take. They need to give this to students in school. 

Val Oliver, an Originator/Creator/Writer/Director/Producer.

Making art will never be an entirely reasonable, rational pursuit. Excess, immersion, wildness, and obsessiveness can all fuel our work. But that doesn’t have to be the way we deal with all aspects of our lives.

Protect the wildness of your art practice. Keep the radical parts radical by cutting out the chaos. 

Sustainable means your life can work over the long term. A lot of artists’ lives are built for 23-year-old single, frenetic, healthy, childless workaholics. That doesn’t last. Our lives change and our needs change.

Sustaining is radical.

(Starving is not.)

Stories and People ...

Maybe we refuse to acknowledge our common origins because racism causes amnesia, or because we find it unbelievable that in those days long past the entire world was our kingdom, an immense map without borders, and our legs were the only passport required.

Eduardo Galeano, Mirrors - Stories of Almost Everyone.

Re-entry is always difficult.  My life in Genova is so different to the life I live here in Antwerp.  And being house-keeper in this quirky little Belgian house means settling back into that domestic life of cleaning and cooking and taking care of people.

It's also about me creating a space that I like to spend time in and so there are peonies in the big vase downstairs ... my laundry is done, the floors have been cleaned, bread was baked, meals cooked.  The transition  is complete, I am a housewife and all kinds of other things too, again.

I've done a couple of school-runs with Miss 9 (almost Miss 10), we're on a countdown to her fourth of July birthday.  And one of those school-runs involved a much-needed detour to my place of worship and peace ... De Slegte.  I found treasure, of course.

Eduardo Galeano's book, Mirrors - Stories of Almost Everyone, was my tram-companion today.  I love that  man's humour.  His intelligence more than anything but the way that he writes is rather exquisite.  I heard him interviewed a while back and thought, 'Hmmmm'. 

I have a copy of his Children of the Days too. 

In other news, in news from Genova ... Giovanni is a friend I met long-ago via the internet.  Raised in Milan, he moved to New Zealand some years ago with his wife, and it is from there that he too writes the most marvelous things.

You can imagine, it's rare that we find ourselves in the same country at the same time.  Until this last visit he was always in Italy when I wasn't however we did catch up back in 2010, when I was at home in New Zealand.  And this time the gods of travel allowed us a small meeting.

He arrived in Genova last Sunday and we met in Piazza De Ferrari.  The antiques market was still on and it was fun to wander with him, hearing his stories of this thing and that. 

I was obviously beyond temptation having purchased the beautiful shawl.  (Actually I reached home with about 2euro in change in my pocket.  This is my traveling life, the common story of Di wandering... New Zealand to Istanbul being the most disturbingly close-call of all).

Giovanni and I lunched, we caught up on stories and then, that evening we were able to join Barbara, Donatella, Luciano, and friends of theirs, for aperitivo out in the city.  It was so much fun.  But that's Genova to me ... aka La Superba.

My airline had contacted me that afternoon and so there was the scramble as I worked to get ready to leave a day earlier than I had planned.  Gert has since expressed bemused surprise that he made that mistake while booking for me.  We never make these mistakes and, while it was a situation that made me laugh, there was so much I was leaving until that last day in the city. 

Mmmm, children, don't leave everything until the last moment.

Anyway, I left Giovanni in the city on the Monday, as he wandered there before he headed off along the exquisite Ligurian coastline.  And I gifted my wine and Monday-food to Barbara, then left.  It was over again.

And below ... a photograph I took of Giovanni as we said our goodbyes until next time we find ourselves in the same country again. 

Climbing That Gate Again ...

There are mornings when I wander back through the city, feeling something like happiness.  It's not that the pollution has disappeared, it rarely disappears.  And it doesn't seem to be weather-dependent, as I've noted this 'feeling' on drizzly misty mornings too ... no, it must be some random thing, like the stars aligning someplace else. 

Perhaps it's partially about whatever I'm reading.  At the moment I'm moving between C.K. Stead's novel Mansfield, and Piers Moore Ede's All Kinds of Magic.  Both are rereads ... old favourites that live on the red shelves next to my desk here.

I also have Marsha Mehran's Pomegranate Soup underway ...

All these books probably say something about my state of being at the moment.  I'm a little restless perhaps.

This month and the previous, I have spent time with the loveliest families, attempting to capture something of what I see when each of them  come together. 

Then Sunday evening I slipped into the abyss that is a Monday, 9am dental appointment.  A broken tooth was involved and I was a bit nervous but my dentist ... she's the best that I've ever had and so there's always the confusion of catching up with someone I very much enjoy seeing.

It went well.

I'm transcribing interviews from those days spent in Italy.  And processing photographs too.  I'm cleaning and cooking ... and failing to cook and clean too.  I'm losing and finding myself via books and good movies.  I'm waiting to fly. 

I'm back in Genova at the end of this month ...

Climbing that gate again.

On Travel and Reading

Travelling, too, is something you have to learn.  It is a constant transaction with others in the course of which you are simultaneously alone.  And therein lies the paradox: you journey alone in a world which is controlled by others.

Cees Nooteboom, extract Nomad's Hotel, Travels in Time and Space.

This morning I was that woman engrossed in her book as my trams crossed the city.  Those first chapters in Cees Nooteboom's Nomad's Hotel were electrifying. 

I love revisiting the books on my shelves next to my desk.  This one is dated 2008, in my handwriting.  I've been to Venice in years since.  Cees has some truly divine descriptions of that city I didn't fall in love with. 

Zinc light, the painter does not yet know what he is going to do with this day, leave it as it is, add some more copper, a greenish sheen, accentuate the grey, or alternatively flood everything with more light.

This morning, as I read, I realised that I read to travel.  When I can't 'leave', I climb into a book and go anyway.  But when I travel, in actuality, I read too.  I become a devourer of books, on buses, planes and trains, enjoying those quiet alone-spaces and the freedom to read without a long list of must-do things queuing up there in front of me, and people I must give my attention to.

And then, when alone and out traveling, I read myself to sleep.

Returning from the weekend that took me 'home', back to people I understood, shared a humour with, people who reminded me of who I am at my core ... re-entry has been interesting.  There is always so much more to understand about the self.

Life as the journey.  Perhaps that's it.  There always something new.

And my latest 'new' thing was photographing the Hangi, from beginning to end.  Here is the magnificent fire that heated the stones that were later buried with the food and cooked it all.

Eleanor Catton, The Luminaries, Brussels

Last night was one of those extraordinary nights spent with good people while doing marvelous things.

I had wandered over to Brussels in time to meet Lynette after work.  We met up with New Zealand artist, Wendy Leach and together we walked to Irma's house, where New Zealand photographer, Jacque Gilbert, was arriving fresh from her Amsterdam world.

I cannot begin to describe how lovely it was to find myself sitting there with these women, glasses of wine in hand, food on the table ... just talking.  It was one of those magical moments you experience sometimes, one of those ones where you think about pinching yourself to see if it's real.

But that was only the beginning.  We had come together because we were attending a literary event at the bookshop called Passa Porta.  I had never heard of it before last night but their event was impossible to resist.  Lynette had written, telling us all that she had booked tickets to an event with Eleanor Catton.  The writer who convincingly won the Man Booker Prize in 2013 with her book The Luminaries.  Annelies Verbeke, a Flemish writer, was to interview Eleanor.

We arrived at the shop and the room was already quite full.  I'm sure there were more than 100 people there. And then it began and honestly, sometimes I was close to the point of tears.  Before photography, writing was my great big passion.  I still write but somehow it slipped into the background as photography strode to the forefront in my life.

Last night, there I was, listening to Eleanor and Annelies talk while delighting in the way she was willing to kind of crack open her novel ... revealing her motivations, ideas, goals, and more.

I loved her 832 page novel, The Luminaries, for so many reasons.  It was set in New Zealand but more than that, on the west coast of the South Island in a town I've loved since I was a teenager.  My cousins came from Hokitika. It was a small town with a wild savage beauty back then.  The Tasman Sea still comes roaring across from Australia crashing in on the shore there.  And a few miles inland you can see the powerful outline of the Southern Alps rising up, appearing to trap you between the wild coast and the mountains.

I returned to Hokitika in 2012 and it had changed, so much.  So little, and so much.  The road through the alps to the east coast is a highway these days ... a rugged New Zealand highway but still, simpler to cross than it was back in 1866.  The year Eleanor Catton's novel opens ... goldrush days in that wild place.

She read the opening scene to us before Annelies began with her questions.  The audience became completely silent.  The room was still as she read.  Annelies asked some superb questions and Eleanor answered them, fully, completely.  To the point where I will reread the book because I understand how she intended we use the astrological information.  And while she was clear on the fact that it's not important to understanding the story, it does add another layer or ten to the complexity of the story.

There was a question time and an invitation to stay for the book signing.  New Zealand wine was handed out, courtesy of the New Zealand Embassy.

I'm not really a creature who wants my books signed by authors.  BUT I did want to talk with Eleanor, to tell her how much I had enjoyed both the book and the evening.

I started my university degree in 1998 because I needed to earn two papers before I could apply for Bill Manhire's creative writing course ... way back then.  I lost my way, stayed on at university and never did apply for the course.

Listening to Eleanor brought everything back.  Those days on Stewart Island, a writing workshop with Patricia Grace.  The Otago University's summer writing schools.  Those days of writing.  And so I bought a second copy of the book and waited my turn in the queue.  Somehow, despite the intensity of the interview she had just come through, Eleanor made time to really talk with every person who approached her. 

It turned out that we were wearing the same greenstone necklace.  The same hook.  I explained I had needed some of 'home' to bring back to Europe, to wear close to me, and that it came from a place just along the road from Hokitika. 

Today I wrote, over on Facebook,  that I found Eleanor Catton to be intelligent, gracious, patient, humble ... and you know, everything good.  I didn't exaggerate. If you get the chance to hear her speak, I recommend you do it.

Lynette (on the left in the photograph below), the woman who made it all possible because I would have missed this without her, gave me her camera and I took a series of photographs. 

But you see ...?

I Had Mail ...

Sebastian Junger's documentary about Tim Heatherington arrived in the post today ... Which Way Is The Front Line from Here?  It joins my collection of dvds and books about war photographers and journalists, mountaineers too.  People who fascinate, or who have fascinated, me.

Director Sebastian Junger gracefully weaves together footage of Hetherington at work and moving interviews with his family, friends, and colleagues to capture his compatriot and friend’s unique perspective, compassion, and intense curiosity about the human spirit.   The Sundance Institute.

Also in the package, randomly selected from my Amazon wishlist by Gert as a surprise, was Bright Star.  Jane Campion directed this one and it looks rather marvelous, an antidote to that time spent studying Keats work in dusty old university rooms back in New Zealand.

And the final delight came in the form of Dani Shapiro's book, Still Writing - The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life.  This one appeared on my radar via Terri Windling's blog, Myth & Moor.  She wrote a series of posts about this book over days ...

It's another deliciously warm April day here in Antwerp, we're up over 20 celsius and my clothes-line is heavy with laundry drying.  Winter seems to have been so much less painful this time, perhaps to make up for the one before ... the one which traumatised everyone here. 

And now, to work.

I Think I Have Stories to Tell Tonight ...

I'm almost sure I have things to say ...

I was accepted by the NYC gallery, as one of their photographers but I couldn't afford them.  There was a lot of money involved and, in the end, it seemed more about money than art.  I would have loved working with them but by the time Gert and I reached the end of the contract, it was clear.  And so very over.

Today a client ... a friend, the lines often blur, sent me a pdf of the book she's been writing.  It's full of my photographs from that time when I was working with her, having some of the most excellent adventures and wandering the world, photographing so many friendly and talented artists.

So I'm excited about that.

And I won a prize today.  Last Friday, I almost couldn't breathe for stress because I was two weeks behind on my rather intensive marketing course.  I sat here at the computer, Saturday, Sunday ... Monday, and mostly caught up.  And somewhere along the way, I posted news of my one-day photography workshop for women.  It sold out in 12 hours. So I won the prize that I had taken no notice of last week.  I was 'that' far behind.  I shared the winning with Chris, the one we all knew would win.

I transcribed two Genova interviews this afternoon, then wrote them up as short pieces for a most exciting new Ligurian website launching soon.  Photos were sent.   And now for the rest.  These were the shortest interviews.

It's been slightly manic of late.  Life is humming.  I'm attending a Māori hāngi in the months ahead.  Photos and stories shall surely be posted because I can see how that event might become one of those big old delicious stories, out there on Flanders Fields.

There's talk of Norway and a favourite friend at the end of summer.  Lots of photography.  And I'm organising a series of 5-day workshops in Genova.  If you have ever wanted to work with me then this is the one because I have a truly superb group of Genoese people willing to work with me.  However my webpage is still under construction.  It's all there, just not the 'Buy' button nor dates.  I'm currently looking at July, earlier if there's time for anyone to be interested, then September, October, November.

However, I will get that under control in the days ahead.

Amy Turn Sharp is one of the poets I love best and she has finally published her first collection.  I wrote. I have ordered.  News of that will follow.  Kay McKenzie Cooke is another favourite poet.  She has also published a new book.  I want to get there too.  And Ren Powell is writing and will publish again, I'm sure of it.

Life is good.  It's slightly surreal.  I'm busy.  I'm babysitting Miss 9 for this week-long crocus vacation, and sure enough, there are some little yellow beauties out there in the garden.  And in-between everything else, I'm reading my way through a most excellent book ... the Man Booker prize-winning book, The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton.  I shall be sad when it comes to an end.

Some More On Writing, then veering off in Ylvis

19 days of blogging everyday ... sometimes more than once a day. 

And it's interesting, for me, to realise that the more I write the more I want to write.  Last Wednesday I took time out to photograph an event and that had its own rewards.  And then Saturday I took a little more time and interviewed a truly interesting woman

But always, I return to the writing.  And the book is growing.  And it's just as I had experienced, twice before, it feels something like a pregnancy.  I didn't finish the other two books, I didn't make time ... it was life then, the usual excuses I guess.  But with this book ... there is always some thing that is happening with it, some thing that excites me at least once a week.

Of course, there are all the other things too.  I guess they would be the equivalent of cramps too early in the pregnancy, gestational diabetes, elevated bp ... the highs and the lows of growing something you very much want in your life.

My cousin, Julie, the creature who so generously took me traveling with her back in October, has finally arrived in New Zealand.  She left her life in the Cayman Islands a few months ago, came to Italy via a lone roadtrip in the UK, then stayed with us in Belgium, and we did some more of Europe together, and she did Lisbon, and later traveled on to Greece and Malaysia and Australia alone ... but I know I have forgotten some of the 'everywhere' of her travels.

However at some point I realised she had my October interviews, the three I had worked on in Genova.  She had bought a voice recorder there, saying she needed one ...  but really it was so I could borrow it because mine was back in Acqui Terme.  She's like that, one of the kindest people I know.  And so I had a series of delightful interviews recorded on it.  It was a crazy-busy time and somehow I never downloaded them because there was always tomorrow

Having finally arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand a couple of days ago, she was able to send them while I slept last night, despite another earthquake there.   And as I downloaded them, I realised how nervous I had been about it all.  The nausea slowly disappeared as I realised they were all there.  They're for the book too.

So it's like that these days.  The weekend was impossible, Monday was challenging.  Today ... today has started so well.  And I received an exquisite book in the mail.  Oh and last night, I was introduced to the most interesting Norwegian brothers.  Not really 'introduced' actually.  But they call themselves Ylvis.  I don't know which youtube to link too because you have to see them all ...

So ... probably everyone else knows about their song that went viral.  (They're mortified about it just by the way which I find hilarious.)  They explain some of it to Ellen Degeneres here.  The song they're talking of is here ... What Does The Fox Say.

But I think this is the best of their story found so far.  An interview they did on a Norwegian talkshow.  It begins in Norwegian but only the introduction.  Like so many Europeans they speak beautiful English.