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

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.

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.

About How It Is To Live About 16,000kms From Home ...

I grew up in a small town called Mosgiel, population something small, a place where people raised their families.  Near a city (Dunedin) but not a city.

I grew up with aunts and uncles living 'away' but close enough to visit sometimes.  I adored my Nana and Grandad (mum's parents) and often begged to go stay with them in their Invercargill house.  3 hours away in those days ... cars got faster, roads improved.  It's not so far in these days. 

My Grandma and Grandad were delightful too but that appreciation of them came later.  When I was small, it was all about Nana.

My mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer back in 1998, my Nana (her mother) slipped away before her, with undiagnosed cancer.  Surprising us all. 

These days, so many years later, I still imagine them alive and so I have these conversations with them going on in my head.  Not 'voices'.  I guess I simply talk to the memory of them.  The memories of who they were, the memories of how they would react to things in my life now.

But I 'find' them via my senses too.  There might be a sight Mum would love, or an experience I wish I could share with her, or questions I so want to ask her.  And then I've wondered, in the years since losing her, if Nana ever wanted to travel ... but I never knew to ask.  Who knew I was going to do what I did. 

And, of course, I thought they were forever folk. We never considered that thing called Death while they were alive, there was no, 'this is last time I will see them'.  And then it was complicated by the fact that Mum wasn't even 60 when she died and that she so very much wanted to live.

Fast-forward to Now and I was invited to visit Lake Como.  I went, full of misgivings, knowing the Genova was the place that had captured my soul ... but curious to see what was there at this much-talked-about lake. 

It turns out there was a whole lot of 'home' just waiting for me to discover it.  The lake and the mountains there created a bizarre, and yet beautiful, split in my reality.  It was so very like Queenstown, New Zealand ... and yet, not.  The scent of lake rocks warmed by the sun, cleaned by a massive lake ... so very familiar.  The early morning peace ... 6am lake-lapping, birds calling, and air so clean that it took me back home in the peace of it all.

But another 'experience' was the food.  That first night Helen and I ate on the lakeside balcony of Ristorante Helvetia, in Lezzeno, and oh how we dined.  We ate every course, unusual for us but we were celebrating the end of a first fantastic workshop back in Genova.

For me, the course of the evening was this incredible piece of pork, with cheese and ... other stuff. It took me back to those times, when I was safe in the kitchen of Nana, eating meals that comforted me at some deep soul level, even while she denied she could cook.

I wish I could share my journey with these women who formed me.  I feel that they watch over me since dying, and I hope that they do because I miss them.  My sister will come here one day and we'll travel for sure, toasting those women we loved as we wander.  Those women who made us the creatures we are today.

But anyway, all of that just so I could post this photograph of a dinner that I hope to repeat sometime soon.

Christmas ...

Last year was the first 'real' Christmas I had had in 9 years.

I left New Zealand mid-2003 and experienced my very first northern hemisphere non-Christmas in Istanbul that year.  Living in a predominately Muslim country meant that life didn't stop for Christmas. The weather was rubbish.  It was winter.

That year I was given the day off to celebrate Christmas because I was considered a 'christian'.   And my Turkish boss took me home to her family that evening, generously celebrating Christmas for me and with me.  The next year I was teaching English conversation class at the university on the day, then raced off to English friends to experience my first-ever English Christmas (in Turkey).

Then came Belgium and the next few years were spent attempting to get used to the whole Christmas-in-winter thing.  But the traditions here have simply moved Christmas so far from my New Zealand origins that I don't experience Christmas as Christmas.  It's just this strange holiday that people mess about with over December, beginning on the 6th - that day when Sinterklas comes, leaving gifts for the children who then, more often than not, have to head off to school after present-opening.

This time last year though, I was home in New Zealand and it was magnificent.  With a little bit of terrible thrown in too.  I was trying to do that final organising of a lifetime's worth of possessions.  I needed them to fit into just a few boxes so I could store them before shipping them over to Belgium.  I think I arrived at 4 medium-sized plastic containers ... giving the rest of my stuff away or throwing it into the rubbish.

Christmas Day, 2012, in New Zealand was so familiar and delicious however throwing out most of my previous life and trying to pack two 21kg suitcases to fly in the morning ... it was difficult despite being the best Christmas day I had had in a long time.

This year, I seem to have misplaced Christmas.  I haven't bought any presents (except for that gift organised for Miss 9, shared between 4 of us.  A gift she will love because it is simply marvelous).  Nor have I sent any cards. I haven't even managed to organise Christmas Day but perhaps that's because it's not really Christmas Day to me anymore.  There is none of the excitement of summer, of cherries and strawberries, of finding a box of new potatoes ... it's just so different.

It will come together on the day, we have children around and I'll make sure it's marvelous for them but I am suspecting that Christmas just is that thing I don't get excited about anymore.

Let's see how it goes.  Meanwhile ... my people, last Christmas in the land Downunder.

New Zealand in Antwerp

It seemed I only needed to roar a little and voila, the words came bubbling up afterwards.

I sent the advert text away before rushing out and across the city on the Thursday school pick-up.  It's a half-day, like Wednesday.  So now I just need to do the bio and locate some photographs of Genova.

But the happy news from today was that Miss 9 and I stopped for lunch at the new New Zealand shop located in the heart of Antwerp.  Pies ... Buzz bars, L&P, and etc.  We love it.

Miss 9 is a fairly radical vegetarian at the moment and so she chose the vegetarian pie which, to me, seemed like a very big waste of 'pie'.  I had the Stoofvlees pie ... a pie filled with the rather divine Flemish beef and beer stew.

L&P was our choice of drink.  Miss 9 because she finds it delicious and me because it takes me straight back to those childhood days where it was always summer.

Fortunately, before devouring too much pie, I remembered to stop for a photograph.  An imperfect image but I was far more interested in eating it.

On Missing Home ...

It's been an odd day here.  Some blog posts were deleted today and I decided to step away from Facebook for a bit.  I'm learning the limits of 'what else I can do while writing' and having FB available just doesn't work for me.

I've been homesick for New Zealand.  Dad's brother had a fall last week and so I spent a few evenings talking with Dad via skype.  It was sad knowing he was spending his days at the hospital, watching Uncle Brian slip away.  They couldn't save him.  The funeral was last Friday.

Uncle Brian was a butcher by trade but when I think back to my most vivid memories of him they seem to involve those backyard games of cricket played by families, and their neighbours, all over New Zealand during summer.

I think Brian might have been a Speights man back then too.  Like Dad.  I think all of them were, and I don't think he would mind the link.  That series of adverts usually makes kiwis smile some.

You will be missed, Brian Mackey.

Autumn ...

hello, autumn...  hello, smell of smoke in the air.  hello, hot cups of ginger tea with a cookie on the side, hello chilly evenings, hello colors spreading from mountaintops down, down down into the valleys here below.

Nina Bagley, extract from her blog Ornamental

If I had to describe the place I would most like to live then a location like Nina's would be high up on the list. Her blog is the place where I go when the need to wander off and be quiet is upon me and I can't physically go anyplace.

In fact there's a novel I've been writing since those days when I was an airforce officer's wife.  It's a story that has retained the same main character but one that has reshaped itself as I have moved countries and lives.  She always has a dog, lives someplace beautiful but slightly isolated, and her life has been simplified. 

She was a war photographer, so I researched post-traumatic stress and Iraq and the Green Zone and so many other places where people like her go, filled with the conviction that if people just knew the truth of those places and situations, they would rein in the monsters who create wars. 

My bookshelves have more than a few war journalists and photographer biographies sitting there, next to the climbers stories.  Another people who fascinate me.

But there's still no dog in my life.  Everyone feels compelled to remind me of the responsibility when I bring up my desire to have a dog again.  They tell me ... the woman who has had dogs since she was 9 years old, that it's a big decision.

I don't roll my eyes ... well, not visibly but it does get boring.  I rode horses, had cats, my daughter had a pony.  There are things I just know by now.

Another birthday soon.  Another year older and, oddly enough, I'm enjoying these years.  I'm becoming less concerned about what people think of me, how I 'should' look, and I'm turning down the self-censorship dial on those things I would like to say directly. 

I learned the fine art of careful and considerate behaviour as a child, with a side-helping of all-consuming guilt if I slipped up and was honest or direct. It's almost fun unlearning these things.  Fun and frustrating, and challenging too, but as  long as I'm gentle ...

Autumn is here.  It was crisp out there this morning.  The pollution levels have been high recently.  Our city is split by a ring road that has some of the heaviest traffic loading in Europe.  We're a true crossroads and it's a nightmare living so close to a section of it.  And then there's the industrial pollution.

It takes about 3 days for my system to begin to clear when I flit off to Genova, that spot by the sea that is close to some beautiful hills and mountains. 

New Zealand ... out there the air was simply stunning. I would all but dance, delighting in the variety of scents the air carried as we journeyed there.

Wild thyme in Central Otago, then the seemingly limitless beech forests and lakes that give Fiordland that unforgettable smell.  The wild west coast of the South Island, with the Tasman Sea crashing on one side while, on the other, the Southern Alps roar up into the sky.  The scent of the sea and the glaciers, soaking wet glacial moraine and forests.

Mmmm, I'm not really a city girl ... must work that one out one day soon.

But today is all about packing and preparing for another journey.  My cousin continues her journey back to New Zealand on October 8.  We will say our farewells in Milan, after almost two months together.  It's been good having someone around who shares a history, whose mother was my mother's much-loved older sister.

Sometimes, over these weeks, I've looked into Mum's eyes - Julie's are almost exactly the same.  Mum died way back in 1999 and I've missed her often over the years.   Anyway, it has been a time of 'remember when ...' and of familiarity, of picking over old wounds, and creating new stories to tell next time we meet. 

We're off on a roadtrip to a part of Europe I haven't thought of exploring before.  Although, admittedly, I do find it hard to go past Genova ...

But anyway, meet Julie.  She was the model of choice one day out there in Piedmont on the photography workshop.  Sandy and I photographed her, delighting in the colourful backdrop Diana provided with her delicious use of colour.

Julie has eyes just like my mother's.

In Bourgogne ...

I find myself comparing the landscapes here in Bourgogne to those back in New Zealand.  Although, surely, that is the fate of the wanderer.  I find myself always layering memories of places I've lived or visited over where ever I am in the now. Looking for some kind of 'fit' or familarity.

Some mornings I wake up in Antwerp and I smell that particular smell, that heavy-traffic pollution smell, first discovered in Los Angeles,  a familiar scent back in Istanbul and now, oftentimes, there it is in Antwerp.

Here in Bourgogne it is the geography ... the lay of the land.  The vineyards that run as far as the eye can see, the hills, the lush fields.  The air is good.  And somehow the cloud formations make me imagine the coast or a huge lake is somewhere close by.  It's big sky country where we are.

Chateaus and castles are everywhere.  Sunday was spent wandering le Château de Cormatin.  Rather exquisite it was ... no echoes of 'home'.  It was particular and surely an example of 'someplace else'.  Unimagined. Unknown.

Evenings, and I've been relaxing with a short tv series out of New Zealand, Top of the Lake.  A Jane Campion creation.  I'm hooked but find the storyline disturbing.  However the scenery is so beautifully familiar.  Two episodes to go ... has promised a 'superb finale'.  Let's see how that goes.

And now?  Sunshine and Bourgogne are calling me. 

Off and wandering.

Back in a New Zealand Summer

Sitting here, having just completed 100-shot photo-shoot, a hotwater bottle on my aching back, Miss 8 downstairs with that horrible flu/cold that's going around, waiting for the predicted snow to arrive on a zero celsius day ... I find myself missing those sublime days, back in New Zealand, on that roadtrip in the little red car.

I miss pies too.


The Road ...

I woke early ... as always while back in New Zealand it seems ... and slipped out into the day before anyone else was awake.  It's one of those things I used to do before leaving behind driving and beloved roads to known places.

There is no other road for me on a  Dunedin blue-sky-summer-morning, it has to be the Otago Peninsula road and so I  turned right and disappeared for a while.

It was bliss out there.  The harbour was calm but the tide was out and so there was only one rowboat reflection.  I'll have to go back before we leave ... I need one for the Belgian walls.

The weather folk tell me it was 17 celsius out there and I had taken a jersey but it didn't last and by the time I reached the Albatross Colony, I was all summer clothes and barefeet.

It's good to be back ... so good.

Home ... ?

I woke from an anguished dream about working as a wedding photographer for a friend and experiencing complete and utter gear failure.  My camera batteries ran out, the flash wasn't attached  correctly, I had no memory card ... it was a horror of a nightmare and I woke in a terrible panic that I had missed everything important of the wedding.

I briefly caught up with family and friends in Belgium via Skype then ran out the door to the Botannical Gardens here in Dunedin.  I was meeting with Nikki's exceptionally lovely family for a quick photography session.  She's a much-loved friend of my sister's and so I knew it was going to be a pleasure to take some photographs, just for fun.

But this morning I realised that for all the lightness and joy in my posts about coming home there is the growing awareness that it's almost time to leave this country I love. Driving familiar city streets this morning left me wondering what it is that I want from my life ... maybe the weight of the nightmare was still there in my mind because it seemed like a heavy thought on such a beautiful morning.

You see I have devoured the air as we have wandered the South Island, overjoyed to be smelling the yellow lupin and the cabbage tree flowers, sniffing out and identifying the wet stone-scent of Fiordland, the intense forest-bouquet on the West Coast.

I have loved the food, I have loved the people, I am loving summer in this place that I know so exceptionally well.  And is that the lure ... the seduction? The familiarity, after 10 years away from all that is known to me.

Driving the city streets today, I was wondering if Icould return to New Zealand ... the little island-continent out here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean at the bottom of the world? 

I think I need to go back to Europe now, revisit Genova because it gives me so much of what I require, check out Antwerp because I have this Belgian bloke who loves that city, maybe visit Paris on a day-trip once we recover financially ... just to explore what I need.  And to try to understand what I would do if there were choices ... you know?

Meanwhile, my beautiful Katie-niece sat next to me as I sat here writing and downloading today's photoshoot.  She photographed me at work ...  so there you have it, a real-time photograph of the Di Creature.

news ...

I'm in Genova soon, then off to New Zealand.  It's all starting to feel real. 

It's a long weekend here in Belgium.  It's All Saints Day today(an official public holiday), then tomorrow is All Souls Day (an unofficial holiday but some people, like Gert, have a bridging day)

The bridging day phenomena is explained most precisely on wiki: 'when a lone holiday occurs on a Tuesday or a Thursday, the gap between that day and the weekend may also be designated as a holiday, or set to be a movable or floating holiday, or indeed work/school may be avoided by consensus unofficially. This is typically referred to by a phrase involving "bridge" in most languages.'

It's November 1 and it's overcast and raining.  Just 9 celsius and well ... it feels like autumn.

Anyway, a beautiful memory from a long-ago home in New Zealand, with my much-loved ancient dog walking towards me on the veranda.

That Desire for Home ...

The desire to go home is a desire to be whole, to know where you are, to be the point of intersection of all the lines drawn through all the stars, to be the constellation-maker and the center of the world, that center called love. To awaken from sleep, to rest from awakening, to tame the animal, to let the soul go wild, to shelter in darkness and blaze with light, to cease to speak and be perfectly understood.

Rebecca Solnit.

I used to sit there, near the top of the hill, at the edge.  Located on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand, it was a great place to sit and dream about the world ... 6,000kms away from my east coast they told me.

I'm beginning to believe that I'm finally going home ... after 8 years away.  I never imagined, not even for a second, that I would ever spend longer than a year away from this landscape that owns my soul.

But I've looked around while I've been gone ... fallen for Genova, loved Istanbul, live in Flanders, wandered in Cairo and Paris and Amsterdam, Barcelona and Salamanca, Madrid too.  Adored and was awed by Rome, smiled in Naples, survived Berlin.  Enjoyed Ireland and England, France.

But going home ... it's as the quote says, I suspect. 


Back when ...

25+ years ago, I had this little munchkin.  It was love at first sight and I spent the next few years as her devoted slave.

Unbeknown to the baby police and those in charge of new mothers, I developed this habit of singing her to sleep.  Most especially when she was ill.  And there was a 'favourites' list ...otherwise known as the songs that got her to sleep most successfully.

She still remembers them.

I have just come downstairs, from my granddaughter's bedroom, after quietly uncurling myself from the edge of her bed. 

I remembered the routine for stopping the songs and the signs were all good.  She had slept through the songs ending, and slept on through me cautiously moving off the bed.  She slept through me leaving the room and I think we might be okay now.

It's hot here tonight.  She had an incredibly late night last night and, unsurprisingly, she complained of a headache at bedtime.  One that wouldn't, 'just wouldn't!' go away.  And wicked gran that I am, I had no painkiller in the house.  Tomorrow.  Tomorrow.

But there was something delicious about telling her of the songs I had always sung to her mum and that, shhhhhh, we probably shouldn't tell her mum but I was going to sing them to her too now.

Mull of Kintyre continues to be 'the' song that most successfully sends small children to sleep.  But you should know, it's not a routine to enter into lightly.  When you sing small children to sleep you must either stroke their forehead or walk with them in your arms while you  sing ... 

10 minutes, and a quiet amazement that I still knew all the lyrics, she was asleep and  here I am , smiling over memories of those long ago days back home in New Zealand ... back when I was just a young mum.

Remembering Rome ...

I was looking through my photo files ... there are 1000s of images that never see the light of day.  And I found one of my Rome shots which inspired me to go wandering through old blogs I had written about Rome.  I found this which is good because I have been missing Rome today.

I remember when I fell madly and passionately in love with Rome. I had gone there expecting to be disappointed by a myth fallen on hard times but found something else ... 

Rome was a city that was more than I imagined a city could be.  It was a mix of ancient and beautiful, of sophistication and of real people who wanted to chat.

I stayed on Campo de' Fiori in a hotel with the same name.  The entrance was stunning, it was like stepping into a story. There was a daily market there in the square,where I could buy flowers and food.  There was a superb little bookshop where I found a good book and, on another corner, a delicatessen with wine and cheese for my evening because ... I was in Rome and one must have some chianti and cheese while reading that new book.

It was a city of angels.  Bernini and his students had sculpted a series of them on Ponte Sant'Angelo in the 17th century.  There was the arrogant angel by Raffaello da Montelupo.  I loved his 1544 rendering of the Archangel Michael, and Peter Anton Verschaffelt's rooftop Michael, sculpted 1752, too.

Angels and archways perhaps. I felt so comfortable with the architecture there. I spent hours in Castel Sant'Angelo, fascinated by the history and feeling of that ancient place . It was originally built as a mausoleum for Hadrian, as in Hadrian's Tomb, but was converted into a fortress for popes in the 6th century. It was magical wandering along old passages, or just sitting in the sun trying to comprehend that that really was Rome's River Tiber below me.

I had lunch with Paolo, a friend of a friend, and we wandered the city for a while.  He told me his stories of the city he loved. An old friend took me home to his family for dinner on the back of his scooter,  and his wife cooked a beautiful Roman feast, introducing me to mozzarella di bufala and prosciutto, followed by veal, artichokes and chard ... and then there was a midnight tour of Rome on the way back to the hotel.

I bought a painting from another Paolo, in Piazza Navone ... the place where the artists gather.  He took me off to a cafe for coffee and we talked for a long time.  He had been a history teacher until his art had become self-supporting. We talked of movies, books, writers, societies, children and life ... it was magical too. His painting, the painting I bought, was a titled 'Diving into Life' ... it seemed like something I had to have.

I loved Piazza San Pietro in Vatican City and bought the ticket that allowed me to climb the 300+ steps to the cupola on top of the Basilica.  You reach the top and voila, there is Rome, far below in all of her beauty.

Inside the Basilica ... the sculptures were outside of my ability to describe them. I stared for a long time, perhaps hoping to comprehend the beauty via some kind of osmosis. Michelangelo's Pieta was stunning but Bernini's monument to Alexander VII was almost overwhelming ... somehow, Bernini had made heavy red marble seem like soft velvet.

I loved it all ... the Pantheon took my breath when I turned a corner and found it unexpectedly there in front of me. The Trevi Fountain, even the Spanish Steps at midnight, all but abandoned.

I have to go back, and soon, there is no other solution.