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. 


Diana Strinati Baur, True Vines (and writing a book review)

I finally reached university when I was 34 years old.

I hadn't known to dream it when I was young.  My people didn't have a history of university attendance but I was a natural  researcher, a terribly curious child who became an intensely curious woman. 

My first husband suggested the marriage owed me a degree as I had followed the development of his career, moving around New Zealand's South Island over the years.

And so I began.  I dived into literature, wanting the papers necessary to apply for Bill Manhire's creative writing course.  I explored film studies, psychology, and archaeology along the way.  Then I discovered social and political anthropology and detoured off into that seductive discipline.

Degree complete and realising that there wasn't much work in New Zealand (population 4 million), divorced, and having lost my mother along the way, I set out for Istanbul.  To teach English, of course, like so many good kiwi students looking for work and experience.

Ten years later and here I am, a photographer, a writer, a woman of dual-nationality living in Belgium.

All that to introduce today's story.  Last year, one of my favourite people published her first novel. I packed it, back in November, and read it as I traveled the 16,000kms+ home ...

Home for the first time in 8 years.  But the book pulled me in anyway, despite all that was going on in my head.  I recognised situations and characters, I knew that feeling of expat dislocation ... of not being sure of where home was anymore.

And then I arrived in NZ, put the book down, and spent 5 weeks wandering my old worlds, spending time with family and friends while sinking into that landscape I love more than any other.  There were roadtrips and beaches, mountains and forests, there were bush walks, jet boat rides, rivers ... everything you can imagine and more.  And friends, so many really kind friends.

I arrived back in Belgium ... that other home, to a life that demanded quite a lot of me.  4 hours on public transport twice a week, 2 hours on the other week-days.  And more.  And housework.  Life ... just the usual messy demanding life we all lead but I found it incredibly difficult to settle.

And the book review I wanted to write kept being put to one side.  I knew, part of it was that I had no space in my head for writing ... most definitely not even for serious review-style reading.  Time passed, it sat there on my shoulder, poking me occasionally, waiting.

Back at university we knew that to write an essay worthy of an A+, we needed to adopt a written language we called wankspeak.  Delightful I know but it was a way of recognising the elevation of language required to be truly worthy of an A+.

It terrified me.  I love poetic prose and always understood that that wouldn't get me an A+.  I developed a kind of nervous tic when it came to formal writing ... I required time, usually an extension on date due, and much misery.  You could say I developed a certain technique that got me through with maximum suffering.

Back to the present and somehow I had decided this book review needed to be worthy of an A+.  I should have pulled that idea out of my head at some point, discussed it with someone, had them say, Di, it's not about earning an A+.

Today, more than 4 months after opening the book, I decided it was time.  And I wrote.

I was stunned to find that I didn't need to reread the book, making notes and laboriously researching secondary sources.  I was stunned to realise that Diana's book had remained inside of me ... like the story of an old friend that I hadn't forgotten.  And that I understood, somewhere deep inside me, that it wasn't about wankspeak ... it was simply about tellling my truth.

Imagine that!

Anyway, let me introduce you to Diana, or a glimpse of her, via the photograph below.  Taken in Genova in October last year ...



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 Retreats.com

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

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.

New Directions ...

And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.

Rainer Maria Wilke

It's like that ... this year.  It's full of the promise of things that have never been.  Exciting things.  And if I can just work through this winter thing, this frustration with ice and snow, the isolation of working alone and without colleagues or friends After 5 fabulous weeks back amongst my people, then all would be grand.

It's been a rough week, one where I picked up more responsibility than I like, cleaned the house more often than usual, and struggled to juggle all of the balls/projects I seem to have up in the air.

And I've been on a mission, trying to work out what is possible, which projects are feasible when it come  to time and what might lead to employment ... the usual angst but with a clearer head.

I'm developing an exquisite project with a much-adored and respected friend ... to be unveiled as soon as it's ready to fly.  And I'm interviewing the people in my neighbourhood here.  The Flemish people I enjoy doing business with ... enjoy knowing, and I'm loving their stories. I need to pick up and start running Camera Journeys again ... but need to wait for the new direction to be confirmed, with dates and a place to book.  There's a newsletter to get out soon ... there's stuff to be done and no more time can be spent on my knees, feeling sorry for myself.

It's been like that ... I needed to give myself a bit of a talking to.  And it helped that I was reading Diana Baur's superb book titled 'Your Truth'.  It's been the perfect companion through these challenging days.  At only $5.99us, it's the best kind of read.

And the quote at the beginning ... I found that over on Cynthia Haynes website ... via the truly lovely Leonie Wise.

So, there's a vegetarian lasagne to bake now, and some bread too.  I was going to make a pavlova for dessert but I think that might be raising the bar higher than I want to commit to longterm.  I don't love housework.  I'm more like Erica Jong in her poem Woman Enough

I'll leave you with a favourite subject ... an image that I think best sums up the promise of things to come.  Tot straks.

Diana Baur, a meeting

At the weekend, and thanks to the kindness of Stefano and Miriam, I finally met one of my favourite bloggers, ceramic artists and B&B owners ... the lovely Diana Baur.

Diana and her husband run a beautiful B&B in Acqui Terme, Northern Italy, and it so happened that I discovered that they were located just a few kilometres down the road from where I was spending the weekend. 

I will use their words, already written, to introduce you to their beautiful B&B in Italy: B&B Baur is a top-rated inn, located in the beautiful Roman Spa city of Acqui Terme, in Piemonte, Italy.  Surrounded by history and thousands of hectares of wine hills,  Piemonte is known to gourmets and wine experts from all over the world as Italy’s premier gastronomic and enological region.  To read more ...

Diana showed us around on Sunday, explaining the renovations, and talking with Stefano and Miriam of NYC.  A place much-loved by all three of them.  

Anyway, I can't recommend this beautiful place highly enough, and Diana and her husband are delightful hosts.  You can get a sense of the B&B via her photographs here.

Her art and ceramics can also be viewed on her website.  And she has her first book being published soon but you can read more of that on her blog - A Certain Simplicity.

Grazie to everyone who made that meeting possible.