Or have made your home in a country not your own ... Anne Michaels

I think, one of the things that become most obvious when you leave the country where you are known and understood, is that those invisible unspoken things protecting you ... the habits, the customs, the family and known behaviours will disappear.  Out here, it's just you.

One of my favourite poets, Anne Michaels, writes in her poem Blue Vigour:

I think, if you have lived through a war,

or have made your home in a country

not your own, or if you've learned

to love one man,

then your life is a story.

Yes.  A story because all that you have known and understood is somehow broken. Smashed even.  Each country is different.  The way I lived in Turkey is different to the way I live in Belgium.

Those 3 months in Berlin ... so different to all my 2 and 3 week stays in Genova, Italy.

And I feel like a blind woman sometimes, reading braille. The braille of being human ...

So this behaviour, I wonder, where did it come from? 

What formed these people, their culture? 

Why is this acceptable here and not there?

I'm always curious.  And not learning the language of each place I arrive in helps somehow.  I do try learning but I am beyond terrible.  I think I have some kind of learning disability however these weren't invented until after I was educated and so ... I am simply judged lazy.

But not learning the language ... sometimes I'm not sure it's some kind of gift.  It means I have had to become a close observer of body language.  I was a photographer alreadyand so perhaps I always was a close observer of body language.  Even in that country called Home.

There's a massive birthday approaching this year and I have this feeling of being filled in ways that I didn't expect.  Filled with so many stories, of so many people and places, that perhaps it's time for me to re-evaluate who I am and where I am heading. 

Anyway, enough ...let's leave this post with the ultimate in wise men, quoted there on the photograph below.

I'm Back ...

There's no headache this morning!  It feels so unbelievably good.  I found this area in my neck at 5am ... because it was stiff and sore, so I rubbed and stretched it for a while and voila ... I woke with no pain.

Meanwhile everything continues to happen here.  My huge ring-binder folder, the one I use for my book-writing course, is full of assignments and we're only halfway through.  It's been beyond excellent having to work out things like defining your book's genre, imagining how it will look - ideally.  Hardcover or soft, photographs, text, binding-style, after learning about different options for bindings.

Creating a vision board, a mind map, a set of core values for the book and the process.  Listening to published author interviews, learning all that Christine Mason Miller knows from her publishing successes.  Writing a synopsis and so much more.

It's intense and although we only work with Christine for 6 weeks, the material remains available to us for 6 months.  This course is all about fitting a book in around real life and all the distractions that most people live with ... which is so realistic for a creature like me.

Last night I began trying to select books for the journey next week.  I love reading at night in Genova.  I'm still not an electronic book reader-type, although the Belgian bloke is working on me.  My camera gear makes me a little sad about the extra weight I can't really carry in books but read I must. 

I have Kay Cooke's 2 poetry books on my desk, and 2 of Ren Powell's too.  I'm thinking they would be a great study while I'm out wandering.  Gert found me another Claire Messud book, secondhand, and I picked up Christos Tsiolkas's book, Dead Europe while in France but I think that one might be a little bit darker than I expect.  Let's see it.

There's all that but then I adore La Feltrinelli's in Genova.  It's one of my favourite bookshops out here in the world.  The English selection isn't huge but it's good.  Really good.  Last time I didn't allow myself to go in.  This time, we'll see ...

Anyway, enough of that.  I'm behind with my photo-editing.  I was lucky enough to wander over to Brussels last weekend, to photograph my lovely colour therapist friend, Marcia's, beautiful family.  I need to get on to that now that my head has stopped aching.

They are a truly, madly, deeply exquisite family and I so love photographing them.  It took most of the day but it wasn't just about photography, there was also a delicious cooked lunch after the picnic captured below.

In These Days ...

I sit at my typewriter
remembering my grandmother
& all my mothers,
& the minutes they lost
loving houses better than themselves

Erica Jong, extract from Women Enough.

I've been busy ... a project, of course.  A new website specifically for the project, and all kinds of other things too.

At night, I shift my aching body from my ergonomically-disasterous desk and creak to my bed ... tired from sitting rather than anything deliciously active.

But the website is almost done.  I'll launch soon, via a newsletter that shall become regular.  I'm eyeing Instagram too ... I'm in Genova next week, it seems like a good time to work out all this social media stuff that I've mostly ignored, as the new project is all about Genova.

I've been cooking and cleaning, imagining myself quite marvelously productive there too, although wanting more applause than I get for fitting everything into my day.  I've always been dubious about this housewife stuff.  It seems to run along the lines of 'if a tree falls in a forest and noone is there to see it ...'  Same with housework.  A clean house is the result of many lost minutes and hours.  Many.

Erica Jong wrote the perfect poem when she wrote Women Enough

So precisely, yes.

But I must work.  I have one more in the elderberry series to post.  It's been up to 28 celsius, thunderstormy, calm and cool too.  It's Spring.  I'm loving it.

Ralph Hotere, New Zealand Artist

He was very gentle but held strong views and was extremely inquisitive and interested in many things.

Jeanne Macaskill, artist, describing Ralph Hotere

I think, sometimes, we can grow lacking appropriate role models.  We assume we fit the world wrong and that we carry the burden to change.  But it's untrue.  I think it is more that the institutions that define and model 'correct' behaviour often have it all wrong.

Rather than exploring the full range of what it is to be human, we are shaped so as to fit the structure already in place.

I wish someone had told that it was possible to be gentle and hold strong views.  That one didn't cancel out all possibility of the other.  Strong views do not a monster make. 

The word most used in describing Ralph is the word generous.  That is how friends and colleagues remembered him and yet, he was a man of strong political views ... a man who believed 'art and politics are not separate things, because life does not allow them to be.'

He was described as a warrior artist.  His greatest works embraced great causes.  He used elegance, power, and beauty.  He was a builder of bridges between people.  These are just a handful of the things I've read about Ralph Hotere.

Source: Mirata Mita's documentary series at the end of this post

New Zealand poet Cilla McQueen, one of Hotere's 3 wives wrote 3 beautiful fragments on the Listener magazine's memorial page to Ralph after his death in 2013.  She wrote of time spent in Avignon as a family, 'We knew these were precious days, of dappled sunlight, warm earth, lavender, grapes, melons, rosé wine. I wrote because a camera was not enough.'

He was a talented artist, a stunningly generous man who gave away more then half of his art - gifts to friends, a silent man who believed that 'there are very few things I can say about my work that are better than saying nothing', a man who understood 'precious days' ... a man I don't want to forget because he shows that it's okay to be everything, to own that character that makes us so uniquely ourselves.

I Think I Have Stories to Tell Tonight ...

I'm almost sure I have things to say ...

I was accepted by the NYC gallery, as one of their photographers but I couldn't afford them.  There was a lot of money involved and, in the end, it seemed more about money than art.  I would have loved working with them but by the time Gert and I reached the end of the contract, it was clear.  And so very over.

Today a client ... a friend, the lines often blur, sent me a pdf of the book she's been writing.  It's full of my photographs from that time when I was working with her, having some of the most excellent adventures and wandering the world, photographing so many friendly and talented artists.

So I'm excited about that.

And I won a prize today.  Last Friday, I almost couldn't breathe for stress because I was two weeks behind on my rather intensive marketing course.  I sat here at the computer, Saturday, Sunday ... Monday, and mostly caught up.  And somewhere along the way, I posted news of my one-day photography workshop for women.  It sold out in 12 hours. So I won the prize that I had taken no notice of last week.  I was 'that' far behind.  I shared the winning with Chris, the one we all knew would win.

I transcribed two Genova interviews this afternoon, then wrote them up as short pieces for a most exciting new Ligurian website launching soon.  Photos were sent.   And now for the rest.  These were the shortest interviews.

It's been slightly manic of late.  Life is humming.  I'm attending a Māori hāngi in the months ahead.  Photos and stories shall surely be posted because I can see how that event might become one of those big old delicious stories, out there on Flanders Fields.

There's talk of Norway and a favourite friend at the end of summer.  Lots of photography.  And I'm organising a series of 5-day workshops in Genova.  If you have ever wanted to work with me then this is the one because I have a truly superb group of Genoese people willing to work with me.  However my webpage is still under construction.  It's all there, just not the 'Buy' button nor dates.  I'm currently looking at July, earlier if there's time for anyone to be interested, then September, October, November.

However, I will get that under control in the days ahead.

Amy Turn Sharp is one of the poets I love best and she has finally published her first collection.  I wrote. I have ordered.  News of that will follow.  Kay McKenzie Cooke is another favourite poet.  She has also published a new book.  I want to get there too.  And Ren Powell is writing and will publish again, I'm sure of it.

Life is good.  It's slightly surreal.  I'm busy.  I'm babysitting Miss 9 for this week-long crocus vacation, and sure enough, there are some little yellow beauties out there in the garden.  And in-between everything else, I'm reading my way through a most excellent book ... the Man Booker prize-winning book, The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton.  I shall be sad when it comes to an end.

Sunday Night, and a poem.

No matter how early I get up, the world
is already whirling; no matter
how silent the kitchen, the stove is warm,
like a great heart, the coffee beans
are sending out their dark signal,
the cat is half-awake, his second eyelids
partly glued to the two suns
of his eyes.  The oranges contain themselves
like glorious planets on the cheese tray,
the milk waits, luminous in its carton,
the round table abides, the day
grows wide.  Slowly I step into
its bright stream.

Matter, by Carolyn Miller.

I found this poem while I was lazily reading my way through the Squam blog, over here.  I've been busy of late.  Madly, truly, beautifully, crazily busy.  It has reminded me of crazy times spent running down scree-slopes back when I was young and foolish.  And while I didn't lose control of the beautiful madness and it stayed fun, I did need to keep that forward-momentum going just to stay on my feet.

My next blog post, outlined on a piece of pink note-paper just now, will be all about things I enjoyed during those days.  And really, there was so much.  But today I rested.  I lolled about.  I read.  I noted down quotes as I read.  I listened to music.  Baked bread.  Had 4 loads of laundry dry outside on the line.  I nibbled, searching for something to magically re-energise me - trying all but those scary vials of vitamins I bought a month or two ago.  Gert has taken to sighing when he asks if I've had any yet.  I have an osmosis theory about medicines and vitamins.  If they sit close by and I look at them sometimes, they work ... magically.  By osmosis.  Julie might snort laughter through her nose if she reads this ...

Today I didn't drink any red wine.  I sighed over all that still needed done but thought 'Tomorrow'.  Tomorrow is Monday and I will begin again then!' as if I really meant it.   And I do.

The house is clean and it smells of fresh laundry ... as the towels had to come in and finish drying on the clothes-horse I use instead of an electric dryer.  And the house smells of freshly-baked bread because the loaf finished cooking not so long ago.  And in just over 7 hours the smell of coffee will be filling the house, as my coffee beans are ground and become a rather lovely espresso.  Thank you to Wesley for selling me her exquisite coffee machine back in October.

And that is how it is here tonight.  The time is becoming midnight in another 32 minutes, I should be sleeping but somehow writing this became that more interesting thing that woke me a little.

The photograph ... taken while out wandering with Lynette, at an ungodly early morning winter hour, last Friday.  The posh fries shop made me smile.  It did.