Under The Tuscan Sun ...(or a recipe for dreaming)

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.



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.

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.

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.

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  ...

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.

Antica Drogheria di Canneto, Genova

I met the loveliest man, via Francesca, when she was searching for Lupini ...

We decided they were surely something to do with my beloved flower, the Lupin, but the photograph on the bag of beans showed this enormously strange and beautiful tree.  Google-searching tonight, Francesca ... it seems we were right.  All photographs in the search pointed to the Lupin I know.

Anyway, I wasn't carrying my photography gear and Francesca asked if I might wander back along Via di Canneto il Lungo, to number 54R, for a photography shoot.  The lovely man said, 'Si'.  So here's a small glimpse of the magical drogheria where you can buy all kinds of everything.

He tried some of his English and I appreciated it immensely but here, you can see him chatting with Karla Verdugo, a favourite artist friend of mine.

Leaving Italia.

So here I am, Milan Airport, waiting for the flight that will return me to Belgium. I'm leaving one day early, fleeing ahead of the transport strike planned for tomorrow ... avoiding the big snow due on Sunday.  It doesn't seem foolish.

Simon informed me, via Facebook and in response to my post about how bad the food was here in the airport, that he has never ever had good food here and that one should really bring their own.  Too late.  I shall arrive back in the Flatlands absolutely ravenous. 

I'm making use of the last of my usb modem allowance.  They are fabulous things, for those who enjoy an online life and don't have one of those wonder phones ... well actually, I can't imagine using the internet via a phone.  I believe this makes me something of a dinosaur.  There are other habits that make it more than certain, actually.

It will be good to reunite with the photographs taken on this journey.  I'm curious to see what I captured.  I felt like there was some good stuff but we'll see.

Beautiful blue skies here again today.  It's been mostly stunning here, weatherwise, over the 6 days I spent in Italia.  Gert has promised me rain on my return ...

Ciao from Italia I guess.



Genovese Days ...

It's been up and down and all over the place ... but then again, that's the reality of my wandering life.

I love wandering.  It's been a passion since forever.  I must confess though, it's not all easy and fun.  And just like the good days, the bad days are kind of extreme. 

Saturday was sublime.  Sunday was spent out at Arenzano with the lovely Francesca, her children and Ashley, a New Zealander.  The sea had real waves, just like New Zealand, and the company was grand.  I'm hoping I convinced Ashley to come stay with us in Belgium at some point in the near future.

It was a delicious day that ended well.  Monday, I woke from nightmares and my mouth was sore.  I decided to walk them off.  I called in to buy salt from Francesca at Le Gramole, as I passed by on my regular walking route, and she was like this lovely ray of sunshine in my day.  Much-needed, although she gifted me the salt which was very kind ... on top of the whole making me smile thing. 

The first walk done, I returned and realised my usb modem, purchased 3 months ago, was about to run out of hours. Life without the internet ... incomprehensible.

I raced out again, all the way down the hill towards the harbour, weaving through the caruggi like an expert ... so proud until I realised I was in the wrong place.  Eventually I arrived at the right TIM shop and voila, they were closed on Monday mornings.

Back to the house, a quick shower due to the humidity here and the fact it's warmer than I'm used to at this time of year here in Europe.  I was meeting Francesca G for lunch and we wandered some more.  It's always lovely to spend time with Francesca.  She is my translator in this world but more than that, I consider her the loveliest friend.

Enroute in search of metal detectors for sons and lupini, we called by at TIM and I picked up a short term recharge on my usb modem for 9 euro.  I love TIM and their service.

Well, I arrived home about 6.30pm and realised my usb modem just wouldn't work in any way that was satisfactory.  I looked at the clock, wondered how late they were open and set off, at a brisk pace.  They were open and I can't say enough good things about the TIM assistant who worked for an hour, getting my usb modem up and running.

Dinner was cereal and yogurt because I'm terrible here.  And I worked late into the night.

Today ... the weather.  You probably cannot imagine how glorious a day can be here in Genova, Italy in the middle of winter.  I think it was about 17 celsius at one point, deep blue skies and sunshine forever. 

I could prove this, had I packed the card reader I need to transfer my photographs to my computer ... even if I had packed a spare usb cable but no.  All images remain safely here on my camera. 

You see, I don't have my everyday laptop with me.  I decided that the life of a sherpa was not for me, and I packed light.  I am regretting it but my body appreciated it on the long haul here.  The everyday laptop has everything I need on it.  This little travel laptop has very little ...

I spent a lovely few hours catching up with Karla, a friend and artist who lives here in the city.

Dinner tonight is pizza from the exquisite Pizzeria Ravecca.  The same as the one pictured in this post.  I'm kind of stuck on this one.

Things are going well ... well, except for the train strike scheduled for Friday.  That would be the day that I need to get from Genova to Milano for my 7pm flight.  It's 2 hours on the train from Genova, then another 50 minutes on a second train to the airport.  We shall see how that goes.

So ... a short round-up of news here in Genova.  I have some truly delicious news in the days ahead but let me get it all set up before I write of it here.

Ciao from Genova!


I am back in Genova and it is so unbelievably good to be here again.

I was drowning in the winter grey of Belgium, missing my great big Genovese walks round the city, missing the exquisite espresso that Simona and Marta make, the focaccia from Panificio Patrone in via Ravecca, and missing the pleasure of finding just the right food, in amongst all that is delicious at Francesca and Norma's shop.

11am, and I have walked around the old city, bought my pale pink flowers, eaten focaccia, had espresso. I have talked with people.  This place feels like the closest to home I have ever been while wandering outside of New Zealand these last 9 years.

The sky is a deep deep blue, the air is mild - unlike the freezing cold in Milano as I arrived yesterday.  People are out on the streets and, as always, they are talking to each other and greeting strangers.  Did I tell you how much I love this city?

I felt so very strong, walking the hills in a way that delights me, as it's my first time on hills since I was here last, back in November.

I'm here to put together a range of accommodation options for the photography workshop in April.  I have my favourite hotel but I need to cover all budgets.  I think it will be easy but I want to be sure of what I am recommending.  And I need just a few more specific photographs for the book.

No photos today though ... my hands were full of focaccia and flowers.  And my soul was singing too loudly to concentrate on pulling my camera out of my bag to use it. 

And yes, I am a wee bit much this morning but oh, it is good to here.

A memory from my last time in Genova alone …

There is something truly delicious about lying in bed here in Genova, listening as the street comes alive … the first footsteps, the quiet voices, followed by louder voices as people roll up the doors of their work place, and the clank of the coffee cups on saucers begins soon after.

I doze a while longer then wake again, this time to the laughter of men on the street below. I imagine them stopping for an espresso at the cafe as they head off to work … friends who meet everyday, on their way, and I envy them their routine for a moment.

There’s music but I nap just a little more … until it becomes impossible to ignore my craving for focaccia. I pull on clothes and step out, almost into a neighbour. She laughs and apologises in Italiano. I reply in French for some early-morning-not-quite-awake reason.

I don’t speak French.
The bonjour feels strange in my mouth and I only recover when I find her holding the street door open for me and I say ‘Grazie’ and smile ... located in place and time.

I have some days without shape or form ahead of me, days where I can organise the creative chaos of my life. I have been waiting so long to reach this place of peace and isolation in the midst of the everyday noise of the ancient city.

For me, wandering is rarely about sights seen. When I was in Cairo I only saw pyramids as my plane climbed up through the pollution and left the city however I met some truly interesting people. And so it is that my idea of travel is more about people and the feeling of place. Barcelona was the first city in recent years that forced me to be the tourist, perched on the outer shell of the city, excluded from everyday life by virtue of being foreign and without people who knew me.

Here, back in Genova, I’m always a little off-balance and shyness hunts me down easily but it is good to be back in La Superba and writing again.

Buon Natale

Yesterday was the day I said goodbye to the artists on via S. Lorenzo.  They are only there at the weekends and I’ll be back in Belgium next weekend.

I was so surprised to hear them wish me Buon Natale as we said our goodbyes but of course, it’s almost Christmas, even if my New Zealand-orientated self doesn’t understand the possibility of Christmas in the dead of winter.

I was so very pleased to see Franco Fondacaro this time.  He is the guy in the photograph below, captured as he talked of his art with a client.  Not long after I left Genova last time, he was beaten up and robbed, early one morning while out walking his dog. 

Franco fought back.
Franco is 83, and completely adorable. Everyone was horrified that he had been attacked by the two guys.  He spent quite some time in hospital and is slowly recovering from a serious neck injury but stll, he is full of life and laughter.  It was good to see him.

Meanwhile, Shannon finished Amedeo’s new website and so, last night, Karla, Amedeo and I had a working/farewell dinner where I showed them how to operate the new site.  I think it’s a good idea that Amedeo’s latest work is always out there, especially now winter is coming.  Now I just need to work on the About text which is currently a direct translation of his Italian bio via google translate. 

We also spent time working out whether to move Karla’s website over to Blogger or some other space.  I think we will.  And some new business cards have been designed for both of them.  We had so much fun.  I’ll miss them.

I love it here.  I come alive in a way that I don’t think I am alive any place else.  It’s been difficult this time but the cough is almost gone.  I’m strong again, and walking all over the ancient heart of the city.  I was sitting on the stairs of San Lorenzo Cathedral earlier, close to my favourite lion sculpture, just watching the world go by while eating a slice of onion focaccia ... happy. 

Happy to be here, in this moment, in this place.
Buon Natale ...

Amedeo Baldovino's Artwork

Today I was gifted a second beautiful painting ... painted just for me. 
Look closely, you’ll see.

I love this city. 
I love the people here, and already I’m thinking about the fact that it will be my suitcase rolling along the caruggi here in a few days.  I will take some exquisite memories when I leave ... as always.

Anyway, about the photograph of the painting below.  It was painted by one of my favourite artists in the world, Amedeo Baldovino.  You can read of my first meetings with him over here.

Tonight I had the pleasure of having dinner with both Amedeo and Karla. I do adore them.

Mille grazie, Amedeo!  I love the painting.  I love that in those Genovese cityscapes you paint, there is a space for this New Zealand photographer who is passionate about books.