Whenever I am unable to create my own sense of beauty, I have this book that has traveled with me since the 90's. The date I wrote in the front reads 'pre 1999'. I remember how it saved me when we moved to Te Anau, from the disruption and loneliness that is moving, and that it has saved me so many times since. For me, there is this sense of falling into the beauty that is Frances Mayes prose, like sinking below the surface of a swimming pool, immersed for a while.
Whatever a guidebook says, whether or not you leave somewhere with a sense of the place is entirely a matter of smell and instinct. There are places I've been which are lost to me.
I've heard so many angry women talk of Frances Mayes book 'Under the Tuscan Sun' - and make no mistake, I am talking of the book not the movie, which is another story entirely - and these women rage about this book and that woman's unrealistic portrayal of a life lived partially in Italy.
I listen, sometimes I speak up but mostly I quietly decide that they are not lovers of beautiful poetic prose writing ... that they simply lack a dreamy writerly soul. But truly, I'm not sure why I love what they hate.
The outrage ... I would love to unpick it, to understand where it comes from.
The second-floor bedroom that opens onto a brick terrace gleams. They've made the bed with the new blue sheets and left the terrace door open to the sound of the cuckoos and wild canaries in the linden trees. We pick the last of the pink roses on the front terrace and fill two old Chianti bottles with them. The shuttered room with its whitewashed walls, just-waxed floors, pristine bed with new sheets, and sweet roses on the windowsill, all lit with a dangling forty-watt bulb, seems as pure as a Franciscan cell. As soon as I walk in, I think it is the most perfect room in the world.
These are soul-soothing words for me. I once lived in the brick house of a friend who was so good to me when I divorced. It was everything sensible, that borrowed brick house, but my soul needed something else. I found a funny little 1.5 bedroom cottage out on the Otago peninsula.
I moved there and was happy. I would drink my morning coffee out in front of the massive rough wooden-framed windows that made up the front wall of that cottage. My view, a few metres of lawn, maybe 2, a small road just below, and the sheltered water of that beautiful harbour.
I require beauty but mostly it's simple. It's about Nature and good air, it's about views that make you stop and dream for a while. It's about having a dog, when possible.
New Zealand spoilt me in a way. My Belgian bloke understood more of me after our trip home last year. He realised that while I believe natural beauty is a right, he understands beauty is a luxury. He comes from a small country, 1/10th the size of New Zealand. In Belgium there are 11 million people, New Zealand has 4 million.
After a few days, my life takes on its own rhythm. I wake up and read for an hour at three a.m.; I eat small snacks - a ripe tomato eaten like an apple - at eleven and three rather than lunch at one. At six I'm up, but by siesta time, the heat of the day, I'm ready for two hours in bed. Slumber sounds heavier than sleep, and with the hum of a small fan, it's slumber I fall into.
Finally entering into university studies at 34 was one of the best things I have ever done. There was an appreciation of all that I studied, an excitement that I might not have felt back when I was 18. In those days, I lived in 4 different homes along the peninsula. My first husband and I bought an exquisite cottage down there back in 1999. We divorced and I lived in a series of cottages on that narrow strip of land between the harbour and the Pacific Ocean.
Under the Tuscan Sun got me through dark times and lonely times too. It was like a burst from a sun-lamp perhaps. It traveled to Istanbul with me, as one of the few things I could take from the old to the new life. It lives here on my deep-red book shelves in Belgium, a much-loved book that I recently pulled out as these autumn days grow grey and the darkness comes so much earlier.
For me, the book is a meditation on the beautiful moments, written in the prose of a woman who began as a poet and went on with prose. It's a writers book. A book for dreamers and lovers of beauty.
Siesta becomes a ritual. We pull in the shutters, leaving the windows open. All over the house, ladders of light fall across the floor.