From Piedmont ...

The Beautiful Truth workshop in Piedmont was intense ... I'm only beginning to unpack everything that happened and to go through the images we all took there.

Intense in that way it is when like-minded women gather together.  As always, I met some truly superb people who made me laugh so hard sometimes ... other times, well I'll post a photograph of Sara, Sandy and Julie trying on shoes at the Market in Acqui Terme - cameras dangling over their shoulders.

But no, that made me smile too.  They were delicious and we're all still in touch.  In fact, Julie and Sara arrive at my place tomorrow, flying in from a quick trip to Portugal . 

In the image that follows ... Sara made us pause while she captured herself, Diana, and I in reflection while taking aperitivo in Acqui Terme.

I Am Here, Really.

I realise it has been a while since I've posted.

I've been so empty of words.

My cousin is staying.  I adore my cousin, she's family, and I've been trying to make the most of her being here before she heads off to the Southern Hemisphere.

But before she leaves ... there will be Verona, Trieste, Lake Blad, maybe Senj, Budapest, and Vienna if there's time.  Julie wanted to go wandering and it seemed like a very good idea.

There's a party coming up at our place, with 3 favourite friends staying over at the weekend.  And there's an attendance at a Gregorian Chant performance in a couple of days.  And the new Red Star Line Museum invited me in for a sneak preview this weekend.

I've been busy with ticking off my 'to-do' list.  Catching up on long overdue emails.  And I need to talk beer with these guys.  To write a blog post for the Loving Genova people ... because I do love Genova, just in case you had missed that fact about me.

I have sent previous photography workshop photographs to the lovely baker in Genova, and an English menu off to my favourite pizzeria in the world.  Photographs to the lovely Giulia, the results of asking if I might photograph her and her puppy while doing the aperitivo thing in Acqui Terme.

In-between times, I had the most incredible luck.  I found a novel set in one of the places I lived in New Zealand.  I've been reading that on the trams, in my bed, anyplace there's is space for a book.  I wrote home to Manapouri and Te Anau, asking old friends if the book was as good as it seemed, only to discover that people I knew, or their family, were used as character inspiration for the writer.

I loved the book.  I loved being home in New Zealand for the duration of the read.

Gert returns from Genova tomorrow.  He's had a week out of the madness and chaos of here,.  Actually he has been tormenting me a little, talking of temperatures I could barely imagine back here in Belgium, where autumn has arrived and I'm wearing boots and my polar fleece ... that is after weeks of glorious Italian sunshine and warmth.

I'm deep-cleaning the house, making sure all is ready for everyone and the weekend ahead.  Stories may follow ...

I wonder if I sensed something about the road ahead of me after the workshop.  I seem wary.  This photograph, taken by Sandy during the workshop in Acqui Terme ... is me, responding with that discomfort that comes when I realise I am the 'subject' rather than the photographer.

An 'ohmygoodness' moment I think.

There are so many reasons ...

There are so many reasons that Italy has slipped into my heart but one of the biggest is surely the people I have met here over the years.

The people of Piedmont have simply added to that particular experience of Italy.  There was the intensity, the laughter, and the pure joy of spending those hours working with Carla in her restaurant kitchen on Monday ... then the kindness and patience of the people in Acqui Terme's Market with those foreign photographers yesterday.  Last night it was all about the generosity of the people who led us through an exquisite multi-course dinner. 

There is a saturation that occurs, for me, here.  A saturation that is not just of a physical nature but there is a very real sensation of my soul being filled ... or whatever 'organ' it is that stores joy.  It fills and overflows and simply sparkles so many times in day when I'm here.

Sure there is the beautiful landscape, the visible histories, the wine, the food, and the language but there are also the people. 

Yesterday the lovely man pictured below arrived at Diana and Micha's, laden down with gifts and toting his own gentle charm.  Needless to say we adored him, both for the fruit and even more after he called us all beautiful women.

For all that is difficult, in Italy in these current days, there is still so much that is beautiful and I am truly grateful to the people who allow me in.

Genova tomorrow, the day when I get to introduce everyone here to that Ligurian city I love so very well.

A Most Beautiful Day ...

I don't know if I have the words to capture half of the beauty that happened todayon our Beautiful Truth Retreat.

I am learning that something extraordinary happens whenever women come together in a small group to talk and learn.  Something so powerfully beautiful that it feels a privilege just to be a part of it.

Yesterday some of us met for the first time.  Today, dare I claim it ... we're friends.  It has been an intense day.  It's only 9.42pm as I write this but I could easily sleep now. 

This morning we gathered for breakfast ... a divine breakfast of fresh fruits, Italian coffee, tea, muesli, and pastries. Freshly-squeezed orange juice too.

Then there was a photography workshop with me ... out by the pool.  It was made up of more than a little laughter and many photographs were taken out there in the blue-sky summer's day that was today.

But then a most extraordinary thing ... we jumped in the car and headed off to Carla's restaurant.  We spent the next few hours learning how to make pasta and bruschetta the old-fashioned way ... no machines.  Carla made us all smile as she opened a bottle of some divine Piedmont white wine and we began with a toast. 

Of course, as the hours unfolded, there was more laughter and so many courses of beautiful food that we almost had to be rolled away from the table.

There was bruschetta, a pesto cream sauce for our handmade pasta. There was this turkey, pot-roasted, in sauce made from its juices, some cream, dried mushrooms and other secret ingredients.  Some of us could have attempted that as the soup course.  The gravy was divine.

And we ended with a bowl of plain gelato ... no flavour, not even vanilla just gelato and I had never tasted anything so good.  And understand, I could have stopped with the bruschetta, I definitely could have stopped after the pasta.  But I ate it all, well most of it, like everyone else.

And like everyone else, I left having absolutely fallen for Carla.  She hugged and kissed us all when we left and, I think I speak for everyone, when I write that we left feeling like the sun had been shining on us ... just us, for those hours spent in her company learning those everyday things that meant so very much to us.

Dinner tonight and we gathered in the kitchen, a selection of beautiful Italian meats and vegetables there in front of us, some red wine ... all of talking, and laughing.  I needed this laughter.  Life so serious so often and to gather with these women who simply astound me ... it is good.

Perhaps the photograph that follows captures a little of fun of it all.  Then again, I said quite a lot ... didn't I, writes this bemused woman, hoping she will be forgiven for raving, again.

There is more, there was the visit the ancient home of an artist, his lovely architect wife, and his film-making son.  But I don't dare try to add that on here.  That story is a whole other post.

The photograph below ... Diana and Carla, serving up the pasta we made. 


And Now ... to Begin

As Diana and I put this 5-day photography and storytelling workshop we never let go of the idea that we wanted to create a beautiful space for the work to unfold in.

And it wasn't simply about the physical space, it was about creating a nurturing space too.  It is this desire that has informed all our decisions made over months.

Yesterday, making last-minute checks, we were pleased with what we have created.  Gift packages that contain not just the physical gifts but a whole lot of thought too. These are the kind of things we would be touched by.

The evenings we eat out are evenings that made us smile as we planned them.  We are eating at some very special places in and around Acqui Terme.  Our menus for meals eaten here at the B&B have been put together with quite some consideration of what is required each day.  And Diana and I will be up early each morning to prepare breakfast. 

Our intention was create a safe and nurturing space for those working with us over the days ahead.  We believe we have achieved that. 

Below is another glimpse ... our tea table set up for those who love tea.

So here I am writing this post from that small desk in front of the window, the one that looks out over the pool set in the heart of the Piedmont countryside.  We are ready to begin ...


To Market ... Acqui Terme, Piedmont

Acqui Terme has been a revelation to me.  I  had imagined a small Italian village that serviced the farming community. 

I am now so ashamed of my extreme ignorance.  I should have searched Diana's name with 'Acqui Terme'.  She wrote a lovely piece over on Slow Travel Italy, with the title: So, Ok, But, Well, Why Acqui Terme?

I need to go back and photograph it all but imagine, I dipped my hand into this fountain ... La Bollente, a fountain built in 1879 by Giovanni Ceruti that is arguably Acqui Terme's most famous landmark. At all hours of the day and late into the night men, women and children can be seen visiting La Bollente (literally "the boiling source"), filling jugs and buckets with the curative waters that rise to the earth's surface here at 75 degrees celsius.

Today it is a thriving town surrounded by vineyards that produce some of the most remarkable wines I've ever tasted.  But more on the wines another time, although this wine was indescribably delicious.

We were there for the market and I managed to replace that hat I lost in Genova too. 

Diana bought a chicken from a man who grows the tastiest chickens (I imagine I might be getting boring with all this 'exquisite' and 'best ever' stuff, I know.  It will pass.  Forgive me.)  And she selected some cheeses and some gloriously sweet juicy tomatoes. 

Diana roasted the chicken until it was golden on the outside, some potatoes, and whipped up a tomato salad too.  Micha opened another delicious Piedmont red wine and voila ... dinner was truly divine.

The Rainbow Seat, Piedmont

Diana and Micha have created an extraordinary space here at their B&B in Piedmont.

It's a photographer's delight really.  Everywhere you look, there is some exquisite detail.  Yesterday, swimming in their pool, I would stop sometimes, lean on the side and just concentrate on how much beauty there was there in front of me.

And perhaps it seems like I'm exaggerating, or that I don't get out much, or I'm easily impressed but really, I'm almost sure that it's just about the fact that B&B Baur is beautiful.

To Step Out of the World ...

To step out of the world, to stop for a little bit ...  I discover that I am tired.

I discover so many ideas clamouring to be explored. 

I see a need to change how I live.

Here in my exquisite room, going over workshop notes, I need to lie on my bed periodically ... to rest, just for a couple of days.  And there's time, we don't begin until Sunday.

My mind was still racing and so I began with one of those meditative visualisations ...imagine you are lying on a beach in a beautiful place, then smiled, as I understood my reality.  I am here in a beautiful place, lying on a comfortable bed in a exquisitely decorated bedroom, in Italy.

Viktoria Mullova is playing Bach on my laptop, quietly, without destroying the peace of the Piedmont countryside. 

Sitting outside earlier, just before Diana and I set out to the market in Acqui Terme, I looked up ... of course there are grapes growing overhead here.

One Of Those Quietly Joy-filled Days ... in Italy

 You know when you step into so much beauty that you almost cry ... ?

It was like that today, as I arrived at my new 'location' for these next few days.

Diana and I are preparing our  Beautiful Truth Retreat for a small  group of women who are flying in from all over the world.

And while we made plans together over months, the reality of where I am to spend the next few days is truly overwhelming today.

I remember my first visit to Diana and Micha's place.  During the tour I noticed a small table next to a green-shuttered window, with a view out over a lush Italian hillside, and I imagined how it would be to inhabit that space for a while ...

Today I am writing this from that exquisite location.  And it is as good as I imagined. 

There is work to be done in the days leading up to Sunday but for today, I am luxuriating in the quiet joy that has filled me to overflowing.

A glimpse ... just a really small taste of what I am talking about. 

Only a glimpse because I am running on a few hours of sleep, after a 3am start for the 4am airport bus and my 6.30am flight to Mlian.  Despite that, it has been a day filled with quiet joy.

I woke while my plane was crossing the Italian Alps.  Laid out below me and not too far away, it seemed, was ridge after shadowy-sunrise ridge, rising up out of the delicate early morning mist. 

It's been like that today  ...

Today ... and some other days too.

We shopped for our monthly supplies, Colruyt and Makro.  Later, we slipped away to our favourite secondhand shop by the airport and voila, found the beautiful orange bicycle for Miss 'Almost' 9 ... it has flowers.  It is a little early, as her birthday is actually 4th of July but it was meant for her.  We're sure.

Then I slept. 

Last night I was out with Lucy and Ruth, there was some red wine involved, much laughter and many conversations.  And then, cycling home after midnight, I learned that using my phone while riding a bike is to be avoided.  Only my finger was hurting this morning.  I was lucky.

Tomorrow I'm off to the Westhoek, really really early, to photograph a special moment in the lives of one of my favourite Belgian families.   I love this kind of photo-shoot, the kind that involves extended family.  I love attempting to capture not just the day but the emotions and connections too. 

Let's see how it goes.  Meanwhile, there was this poppy in Piedmont and I was there photographing it, just a few days ago.

It's all about details too ...

One of the things that really struck me about Diana and Micha's B&B were the details ... exquisite details.

I felt concentrated, like a kid playing in mud, using flowers and twigs for decoration.  I had light and colour.  I was that lost during those moments when I played with my camera ... lost in the light, and the details.

This is an odd photograph and yet  I think I like it.  The light struck me but perhaps I saw the mosaic first.  I don't remember but it's like this.  You can spend hours in each room, outside, and in doorways, just noticing the details, one by one.

And so, the rooms ... B&B Baur, Italy

After I had wandered outside for a while, I stepped inside.  Oh my, I could  spend weeks in some of those rooms ... walking through the early mornings and out into the evenings but writing, just writing, all day.

They're inspirational rooms but see for yourself.   And this, incidentally, is one of the rooms our workshop clients will be staying in ...

Note: I had no tripod this trip and so I made do with a ledge which was limited.  I was sherpa enough without carrying a tripod this trip.

Before Photography ...

Before I committed to photography, I was pursuing a writing career.

I attended writing workshops with New Zealand writers and have this novel I've been carrying since the early 90's.  As I develop, move countries, learn new things, so too does my main character.  By chance.

Currently she's a war photographer who was in Iraq but who somehow ... happens to have relocated to Genova, Italy.  Before that, she was a woman in retreat, living in the mountains of New Zealand, alone with her dog, once again retired from a previously intense life.

There's a book of interviews with New Zealand climbers and mountaineers, almost published, two publishing meetings and an apology but 'they didn't think there was a big reading public for it', despite them liking it a lot.  The Everest tragedy happened later and climbing literature became more mainstream however, by then, I had enrolled at university: age 34.

I was heading for Bill Manhire's writing course in Wellington.  I ended up in Istanbul.

It makes me laugh to write that.  One never knows where life might take them if they allow it to take them ...

Anyway, back in my days of writing I used to drive my first husband crazy.  No, that's not why he divorced me.  I used to edit and correct as I wrote.  I would reach 27,000 words and edit it down to 3,000 words.  I was brutal and a perfectionist too. 

But it was my editing that made him crazy.  As I got closer to the final edit ... on a first chapter (hence I never finished the book), my editing would become minute.  I would give him the manuscript to see what he thought of my edit.  He would say, 'there's no change!'.  Exasperated, I would explain that I had moved two 'the's' and deleted an 'and'.  How could he not see the difference that made.

Children, never edit an unfinished manuscript.  Write it.  Fix it afterwards.  Or you will never finish.

The reason I write all of this is because ... there was another photograph of B&B Baur, like the previous one  but different.  I think the edit isn't so small but perhaps it is tedious to those reading this blog.

This is me and I need to 'see' both of them here, so that I can happen upon them unexpectedly later, and really 'see' them as a stranger.

Photographing People

I've been preparing for the photography workshop in Genova, thinking about all the things I know ... and finding stuff I didn't realise I knew.

When I make notes on portraiture, I include words like Trust and Respect.  Empathy.  Patience.  Engagement. Authenticity.

And it's not about acting or demanding or insisting.

People, when they're being photographed, are often fragile. They feel broken open, exposed, vulnerable.

You're asking them to show a little of their souls, to give you themselves in a relaxed state of being.

People often tell me they photograph badly but no, I think no one 'photographs badly'. I have this theory that it is a failure on the part of the photographer, to relax their client.  To engage.  To earn their trust.

When I work on a portrait shoot, I am almost skinless.  I don't want to be the boss, to be in control, to demand this expression, that pose, this place.

I want to go someplace my client loves.  A space where they can relax and feel comfortable.  I want to talk, and maybe walk a little.  I want to know who they are and how they want to be perceived.   I want to discover and capture their best selves.  The self they know and recognise. 

Sometimes, if it's a family portrait, I have asked the mum for a follow-up shoot alone because when you're a mum and a wife on a family shoot, you can miss out on being you.  Your own private individual you ... before you took on all those roles.

And it works.  I have photographed some beautiful strong confident women when they're off-duty as everything else.

Kids are something else again.  You need to engage, it needs to be fun, you need to be real.  They will know.  Bubbles have saved many a shoot when a child has grown bored or tired. 

Portraiture is all about a lot of things ... and then relaxing and enjoying that time spent together.  It's about gifting someone the beautiful things in them, and everyone has something. 

Photography & Story-Telling Workshop, Italy

 'When we (Di and Diana) initially sat down to talk about what kind of experience we wanted to create, we were clear and in agreement on almost everything. First we wanted this to be a very small and private women’s event. It was important to us that it take place in beauty and peace. We thought it should be in a place we had to ourselves, so that we could just be ourselves. We wanted good food, wine, scenery, comfort, the potential for creativity, and relaxation.
But more than anything, we wanted to create a space that would encourage woman to tell their stories – through photos, art and words – and to use our combined experience as guides, mentors and artists to provide a mirror to each woman’s intrinsic beauty.

You can read more about the retreat Diana Baur and I have put together over on our new website ... Your Beautiful

We are so deeply excited by the week we have planned.  We are offering 4 places, and two are already gone.  If you would like to join us in Italy, let me know.

You can wander through the location of our retreat over on Diana's B&B website ... Baur B&B and read the reviews Diana and her husband have received here.

Your Beautiful Truth Retreat, Italy

Planning and developing has kept me quiet here, as well as playing tag with exhaustion and flu the rest of the time.

And so to announce, with much pleasure, the first Your Beautiful Truth Retreat, in partnership with the extremely talented and inspirational Diana Baur.

Come take a peek  ...