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.

A Communicative Moment ...

In the modern world, parched of ritual and starved of mystery, we don't register these communicative moments as often as we might. The idea of a conversation with a landscape is foreign to minds schooled in the separation of humans and nature. Well-seen photographs, wrought in the attuned moment, can help us renew the connection. They invite us to the necessary work of addressing the land.

An edited extract reproduced with permission from Spirit of the South by Andris Apse.

The article is so very worth reading.  I miss the wilderness here in Belgium.  It is one of those lands that have been peopled forever - New Zealand's precise opposite perhaps.

I'm off to Genova soon.  It can't come too soon.  I miss the Ligurian sea, the hills that almost surround the city, the caruggi and the people too. 

And the espresso.  How could I forget the espresso.

But a photograph I found when I was back home in New Zealand.  I was photographing the hot pools in Rotorua and captured a Taniwha.

What else could it be ... Taniwha are supernatural creatures whose forms and characteristics vary according to different tribal traditions. Though supernatural, in the Māori world view they were seen as part of the natural environment. Taniwha have been described as fabulous monsters that live in deep water. Others refer to them as dragons – many taniwha looked like reptiles, had wings and ate people. They could also take the shape of animals such as sharks, whales, octopuses, or even logs. Some taniwha could change their shape, moving between different forms.

A Little of This, a little of that ...

I feel like I've been quiet here but perhaps that's simply a part of my idea that some days are longer than 24 hours.  I have spent the last few weeks quietly nose-diving into the ground with very low iron levels.   Not that I knew it.  Suspected it but wasn't sure. 

And I have to admit that I have never been so glad to have a diagnosis of anemia.  I left New Zealand with terribly low levels, 10 years ago ... imagining, perhaps, that moving countries would magically fix them.  It turns out that this was wrong-thinking and these last few weeks have been so very difficult. 

Ignoring the problem didn't work either.

I'm on my second day of serious iron medication today and, although it's probably some kind of placebo effect, I feel stronger this morning.  My testing ground is the stairs to my office.  They've taken on an

Everest-like aura of late and while I was reading 'Summit Fever' I really got a feel for the high altitude, thin air feeling.  Puffing my way to the top.

And so I am back, tentatively excited about all that is ahead.  There's the photography exhibition at the end of the month but before that, a much-loved old friend is coming to stay next week.  Murray was one of my favourite people back in those days when I was an officer's wife and living on the airforce base in New Zealand.  It will be good to catch up with him.  We have Flanders Fields plans and I hope to introduce him to some of the special people I know there.

Then I'm turning 50 next week but the big party is happening in November although ... I haven't sent out all the invitations yet.  The anemia exhausted me organisationally, and I'm already not superb in that area.  I hope friends forgive me for being so late.

Logistically I've had a lot to do and no energy to do it with.

I'm back in Genova at the end of November, with much planned. And then a lovely friend has offered me her house in another part of Italy early in the new year and so, I need to organise flights and plan that too.

But mostly I've been exhausted and unable to think.  Here's to a return to 'normal', or perhaps something better than normal, if I fill up on iron :-) and Vitamin D (so the blood says).  The doctor also prescribed daily antihistamine for allergies to dust mites and grass.  I think I'll take a rain check on those pills though.  My body, the one that was formerly only familiar with mild painkillers, is taking in enough that is new.  I'll keep the allergy pills for emergencies ...

So that's my news.  I'm sure there's more to follow as the energy returns.  The image that opened this post was taken back home in New Zealand.  I used this path often when I lived in Dunedin.  It led to my favourite beach and I was most often found there following my dog as we made our way to and from Long Beach.

Leonie Wise & Waves

Leonie Wise lives in New Zealand these days, on an incredible heartbreakingly beautiful island called Waiheke Island. 

And she blogs, sharing small pieces of that country I love, allowing us all to drink in images ... text too.

I visited that island, once, long ago.  All indications are that it has improved over the decades since and that it offers lifestyle ... on steroids.  In a natural nature-enhancing way.

And she posted photographs today, and a song too, by Mr Probz called Waves.

So I went and found some waves I had photographed while we were out on a boat exploring Mercury Bay, up in the Coromandel, when I was back at home too.

a country girl again, by Kay McKenzie Cooke

The black-and-white photo goes back

to '67.  Taken around Christmas.  Perhaps a Sunday

drive out from Gore.  A bit of a breeze parts Nana's perm,

her own steady caution holding down hands

that shine below the folded-back cuffs

of her bri-nylon cardigan.

Grandad's road-worker's hands lie relaxed

over the roof of the car, taking ownership

of its dim-blue.  Both of them

caught by me at fourteen, when I press

the slow shutter of my Brownie box camera

with a pronounced click.  Just a moment ago.

Kay McKenzie Cooke, a country girl again.

I love this poem, so much.  It captures familiar scenes, people I almost know ... from my childhood.  And Kay's descriptions seem better than a photograph because I know the way her Grandfather's road-worker hands would have looked on the roof of his car.  I saw my Grandfather make that same gesture, so many times, back when I didn't know I was even looking ... or remembering.

3 sets of Kay McKenzie Cooke's beautiful poetry books have arrived in time for my 'Home & Away' Photography exhibition, soon to be mounted here in the New Zealand Shop, Antwerp. 

Kay has signed and written a small message in 6 of her books, the other 10 came straight from the publisher ... hot off the press and her new poems are just delighting this New Zealand girl so far from home.  

The new collection is titled, Born to a Red-Headed Woman, and the Otago University Press tells the story of it more fluently than I can: Using the extraordinary capacity of music to revive the places and people from our pasts, this poetic memoir springs from over 50 song titles or song lines and spans more than four decades.
Laconic, wry, subtly philosophical, Kay McKenzie Cooke’s new collection carries us from her rural Southland girlhood in the 1950s and 60s to the bitter pressures of adopting out her baby as a teenager in the 1970s, and to her present as grandmother, mother, wife and author. A plain-spoken honesty, a sensitivity to the natural world, a gentle humour, a deep sense of how the richness of our relationships lodges in ordinary rituals and routines: all combine in a quietly moving autobiography.
Born to a Red-Headed Woman is documentary, vivid, ever grounded in the workaday detail of farming, the changing decades, family, city life and job. Yet at times the language peels right back to the tender nerve of major, formative losses.
If Cooke’s observations of the daily are the simple melodic lines that seem to coast on the surface, beneath that runs a rich bass line of meditation on time, on meaning, how to live a life true to oneself, and to familial love

I love Kay's poems.  Not the least because they take me home.

An Absence ...

One of the most difficult things for me in these days is the absence of beauty.

I've always been a bit of a monster about my need for a particular kind of 'beauty'.  It's necessary for me to be happy, somehow.  And it's not about skin-tone or weight, it's not about fashion.  For me, it's just all about my environment.  A favourite beach, an old chair on a wooden verandah, a pier, or a view.

My history is littered with places found and colonised by myself ... and back home, in New Zealand, there were dogs too.

Belgium has challenged me.  In NZ I was known for not liking brick houses.  Not at all despite them being a sensible option.  They felt wrong to me.  There's a lot of brick here in Flanders.  Our house is brick however the Belgian bloke did paint the walls so that we live in a space filled with various shades of yellow through into terracotta.

And in all of the places I've lived there's been that place I would run away to.  The place that somehow restored my soul.  I don't know how to describe it.  It's a need not dissimilar to my need for music, perhaps.  I have a 17 song playlist that creates some kind of 'space' for me when I work.

I like what I like and it's looking more and more like I'm particular.

And so here, in this incredibly industrial city, located on the crossroads of Europe I struggle.  But I had found a variation of wandering.  I discovered the blog of Mystic Vixen - created by Elizabeth Duvivier, and she took me wandering with her and her dogs, via her words and her images.

But it's been summer, she bought a house too, she organised some massive international gatherings  ... I've missed her.

I also wandered with Nina Bagley, over on her blog called Ornamental.  But it's been summer and Nina, like Elizabeth, has been busy.  And so there's been no virtual dog wandering out there in Nature via my Plan B escape routes.

So I thought, 'Okay Di, if it's that important to you, why not write what you want to read?  Go find it here in the city.'

But I can't.  And it's so very frustrating.  I've been home here in Antwerp for a few months now.  Here, where there's no dog and where Nature is somehow smothered so that I struggle to walk in that beautiful park where the 'mist' from the massive international highway next door wraps itself around trees and softens vistas.

And I know this seems so very negative and yet it's my truth and so I think it's okay for me to write of it. 

Anyway, I'm sure of my ability to find those places.  I've been doing it for years and have become an expert at finding that space my soul needs.  I'll keep searching because oh how I miss it.

Don't be surprised if you read it here one day, Di got a dog and life is good.

The photograph was taken at Hunter and Claire's place ... down in Manapouri.  In Fiordland, New Zealand.  I went out walking one morning, amongst the trees Hunter has planted over years.  The light, the air, the birdsong.  It was quietly spectacular.

I Loved These Words ...

For a homebody surrounded by the familiar or a traveler exploring the strange, there can be no better guide to a place than the weight of its air, the behavior of its light, the shape of its water, the textures of rock and feather, leaf and fur, and the ways that humans bless, mark or obliterate them.

Each of us possesses five fundamental, enthralling maps to the natural world: sight, touch, taste, hearing, smell. As we unravel the threads that bind us to nature, as denizens of data and artifice, amid crowds and clutter, we become miserly with these loyal and exquisite guides, we numb our sensory intelligence. This failure of attention will make orphans of us all.

Ellen Meloy, Writer.

Those Landscapes ...

When I went home, back in 2012, one of the places I had to revisit was the river in the photograph below.

It was the scene of much childhood joy.  It was my river.  I loved the smell of it as it flowed out of the valley and onto the plains.   I loved the scent the stones would throw up from under our wet and wriggly bodies as we baked ourselves on top of them, teeth chattering, after being ordered out of the river to warm ourselves a while.  I loved picnics there ... warm Greggs cordial in big glass beer bottles, and egg sandwiches and cakes Mum had baked.   And I loved the way my hair would smell, full of river water, on the way home.

Later, when body consciousness forced me out of the river and those idyllic childhood days, I returned with my dog.  She seemed to share my passion for the river.  I would skim stones for her from the shore.

Fast-forward decades and everyone warned me, when I went home ... things will have changed.  You will have idealised it.  So I was cautious with my expectations, knowing that the landscapes I had loved might seem different, now I was older, more traveled.

But no ... those old landscapes, they rose up in front of me and kissed me full on the mouth.  A bear hug, or more, and this deep feeling of joy over simple things like bird song and the scent of bush in the rain at Tautuku. 

Nothing had changed.   All of the big passionate love I had felt was still there.   Those 'scapes allowed me to slip back in and love them like always.  No recriminations about leaving. 

Well, maybe .... just a few sly questions like, have you found anywhere better?  Name one place where the air smells like this ...  

Did you miss us?

There Are People I Miss In My Everyday Life ...

I rolled up my sleeves and waded into my photo-archives, wanting to begin the selection process I need to do for my exhibition opening at the end of October.

I popped back to the surface of life when reminded of an 11am appointment, at 11.15am.  I'd forgotten in spite of having my appointments book open in front of me.  An appointment with a friend but still, I forgot.

Photographs were taken, the last in a series.  She made me a coffee, we shared our stories since last meeting, then I returned to my desk ... after lunch and a little more laundry.

Then came a conversation about 9/11, a link shared that pulled me into the world of the 2,200+ engineers and architects who want the event properly examined.  Using real science.  And I read the discussion that followed amongst friends and bommpft, I fell off the edge of my creative world ... again.

I have 8,000 photographs in the archives of my 2010 visit back home to New Zealand.  I have photographic archives that I have never fully reviewed ... folders where I have skimmed off the best and most obvious at the time, meaning to get back to the rest but life has raced on, like a galloping horse sometimes.

Slightly destroyed, I wandered across to my bed.  Note: having an office in a large bedroom means that the space isn't big enough to stop the bed-walk from occurring when sadness kicks in.  I flopped there for a few minutes before the Belgian bloke phoned from his first day back after his long summer holiday.

Guilt.  Caught being so lazy. 

So here I am, back at the computer, exploring all these archived images of mine.  I love what I'm finding, in terms of memories of home and people I adore but I'm  fighting the sensation of overwhelm as hundreds upon hundreds of moments I never want to forget appear here in front of me.

Meet Fiona, my friend Fiona.  She has been described in this way since I first left the place where we grew up.  My friend Fiona ... my very best friend since I was 13 and still, so many years on, much-adored ... much-missed because we live about 20,000kms apart.  I wish we lived closer. 

Missing you today, Fiona.

Love,  Di

Today ...

Gert is home after having a shot of cortisone to the shoulder.  The specialist told him not to expect much for 2 to 3 days.  Fingers crossed this is the beginning of a cure, as he's been in pain a long time.

Jess is out of surgery and they're waiting for the doctor to let her come home.  I can't even imagine how it must feel to have 4 wisdom teeth removed but we have a freezer full of good quality ice cubes, and there are the popsicles too.  She has her very own Flemish bloke with her there.

Inge raced in to spend some time with me this afternoon, only to race out about 10 minutes after meeting, as a small family emergency called her home.  It wasn't serious in one way but it couldn't be ignored in another.  We'll try that Antwerp city tour again, if possible.  Meanwhile she's invited me to visit her in her Westhoek world.  That would be her Flemish childhood home ... as, these days, she's a fulltime resident of New Zealand.

It's been an intense few months but today signaled a change in direction.  I'm working on something a bit special and hope to mount a photography exhibition here in October.  More news to follow with regard to that.

Meanwhile while Jess recovers from tooth abscesses and surgery I'm back on the trams 4 hours a day, not enjoying the heavy pollution we have here but having fun with Little Miss 10.

So yes ... it's like that.

The image below was taken at Cooks Beach in the Coromandel.  Early one New Zealand morning when I was out wandering alone.

Well yes ... I am having fun with the new set of photography borders and tool kit they come with.  Thank you.

Walker Creek, Fiordland

Welcome to Walker Creek, Fiordland.  My favourite place when I lived in Te Anau.

Technically, the last image isn't the creek, it was actually taken further into the national park, at Mirror Lakes but I added it because it gives you a sense of the same kind of mountains just beyond 'my' creek.

On arriving there, I would make a small seat for myself in the long grass while my dog, Sandie, made herself at home in the creek.  We could spend hours there, dreaming the day away.

When I returned, back in 2012, I was so intent on breathing in both the air and the scene that I didn't take any photographs of this creek.  These images all belong to the Belgian bloke who made a beautiful job of capturing those places I loved to well while I wandered off into dream-mode again.

I yearn for that particular air, the peace of the place and the overwhelming sense of Nature pressing down on me but ... I have also become accustomed to Italy, France and to being here in the centre of the world. 

I am divided in these days, unsure of which place is more for me.  Loving Genova, and loving the memories of home.  Perhaps it's best that I wander a bit longer.

A Beautiful Confusion ...

These days have been about a mix of good friends who have wandered through, coming from the UK and Italy, with New Zealand due at the weekend.  And into this mixture there is also what feels like the end of summer, a yearning for New Zealand, planning for Italy, laundry and dishes and vacuuming, and sometimes ... exploring my photography archives, wishing I had more time to just write too.

A beautiful confusion perhaps.

I feel like a cat, turning and turning and turning again, attempting to settle into my life, clear on a way forward. 

I found myself writing this blog post after searching to see if I had a photograph that captured Walkers Creek, a favourite creek in Fiordland National Park.  That creek my dog used to swim in while I sat on the grassy bank, with a beautiful mountain range directly in front of me. 

I think I wanted an image that confirmed my memories of that place.  It was about 60 kms into the park, back when I lived in Te Anau.  60kms ... like so many of my 'runaway' places.  Anakiwa when I lived on the airforce base back in Marlborough, the Arrow River when I was in Cromwell, and Pilots Beach when I lived out on the Otago Peninsula.

But there was another favourite place and I did photograph it last time I was home.  I was up  recording a New Zealand dawn chorus to bring back to Europe, staying at Hunter and Claire's place.  I was wrapped up in warm clothes, out on the veranda, voice recorder mounted on my camera's tripod when I suddenly saw all that was directly in front of me.

I love this view ... Manapouri, New Zealand.

Early Morning, New Zealand

... with an Erica Jong twist.

I found this beautiful image out walking, early one morning, at Cooks Beach, in the Coromandel, New Zealand.

Listening to favourite song, favourite singer, as I load this. 

It opens with a torrential downpour in the recorded version.  I think I love the sound of that rain, more than anything.

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.

Home ...

You know, if the truth were known I have a perfect passion for the island where I was born. Well, in the early morning there I always remember feeling that this little island has dipped back into the dark blue sea during the night only to rise again at gleam of day, all hung with bright spangles and glittering drops . . . I tried to catch that moment . . . I tried to lift that mist from my people and let them be seen and then to hide them again.

Katherine Mansfield, Writer.

I am returning to Genova in July and already my head has begun to fill with what I would like to achieve while there this time.  That city brings me alive in a way that no other place has so far.  Perhaps Istanbul came close but Genova has everything ... in just the right proportions. It is imperfectly perfect for me.

Genova, once known as La Superba, is an ancient Italian city (at least 2,000 years in the making), nestled in the arms of hills that are topped by ancient fortresses.  And at the feet of the city you have Ligurian Sea. 

The first time I saw that sea tears filled my eyes.  It had been a long time since I had been anyplace where the sea looked like home.  I was out at Nervi, photographing a Genovese family, and suddenly I was overcome by this strange sense of being back in a place that was completely familiar.

I have been thinking about things and have this idea that if you ever leave the country you were born in and move someplace else, far away, then eventually the idea of returning home can become as strange or as foreign as living in another country.

And so you move countries and become 'the other', living amongst people who are 'the other' to you.  But when you go home you realise you have become something else there as well. 

And so my place on the edge of lives and cultures is confirmed, probably for life.   That said, there is something else that happens out here.  I love people.  I love when they invite me into their worlds.  In Istanbul there were Turkish families I adored because they took care of me when I lived alone in their city.  That experience of being a guest, of being invited inside, to be a part of this celebration or that, here in Belgium, in Berlin during those months spent living and working there.  Cairo.  Naples.  France. Italy.   It's those insider journeys that make this lifestyle of mine so very very worthwhile. 

Lately I've been reading a series of biographies and fictions about New Zealand author, Katherine Mansfield ... searching for clues I think.  Something about her story speaks to me.

She left NZ in 1908 aged 20.  By 1923, she was dead from TB but not before she had revolutionised the 20th Century English short story.  She was a part of the English literary scene at the time and yet very much the colonial from the Antipodes. 

Her masterpieces—the long stories ‘At the Bay’ and ‘Prelude’—are lovingly detailed recreations of a New Zealand childhood, reports from the fringe—the edge of the world as she felt it to be. She wrote as if she’d stayed. Of course these luminous re-imaginings are lit with the affection and nostalgia of the expatriate. They would not exist without their author’s estrangement from the scenes and places and people she describes. They are set in a New Zealand of the mind, composed at the edge of Mansfield’s memory.

Source: NZ Edge.com

I'm curious about her because I relate to her on so many levels.  I feel like reading her story might tell me more about mine.  I yearn for home.  Adore it, am passionate about it and yet ... could I go back and live there again?  I really don't know anymore

Ahhh but all of this when really I came to post a photograph I took at the antiques market in Genova, back in May.

Katherine Mansfield... a small and unexpected pilgrimage

Risk anything! Care no more for the opinion of others ... Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth.
(Journal entry, 14 October 1922)
Katherine Mansfield, Journal of Katherine Mansfield


Gert surprised me by taking me on a small pilgrimage to Fontainebleau, France ... to the grave of my most favourite New Zealand author, born 76 years before me. A much-loved author, a woman I might have modeled my life on if I had known of her when I was young.

She fled New Zealand before she was 20, striking out in a world that was bigger than her 1903 Wellington, New Zealand, world.  She returned home then left again, forever, in 1908 and died in Avon, near Fontainebleu, in 1923 ...aged 34.

She knew so many writers, forming close friendships with D.H.Lawrence and Virginia Woolf, to name two.

Katherine’s friendship with Virginia Woolf was an extraordinary blend of intimacy, rivalry and mutual admiration. Artistically, they were intimates. Culturally they were hemispheres apart.

After Katherine’s death Virginia confided to her diary that Katherine's writing was: “the only writing I have ever been jealous of.”

And so it was. Katherine was bold.  She wrote: I believe the greatest failing of all is to be frightened...  in a letter to her husband, John Middleton Murry, 18 October 1920.

She revolutionised the 20th Century English short story. Her best work shakes itself free of plots and endings and gives the story, for the first time, the expansiveness of the interior life, the poetry of feeling, the blurred edges of personality. She is taught worldwide because of her historical importance but also because her prose offers lessons in entering ordinary lives that are still vivid and strong. And her fiction retains its relevance through its open-endedness—its ability to raise discomforting questions about identity, belonging and desire.


And so, we called by, visiting her grave today.  Said our hellos and photographed that place where she stopped with her wandering, leaving her work to travel the world on her behalf, inspiring others oftentimes ...

But honestly, who wouldn't love her?  That woman who wrote ... The pleasure of all reading is doubled when one lives with another who shares the same books.