Gate-Climbing ...

It began harmlessly enough ... gate-climbing as soon as I worked out the 'how' of it. 

Another memory from long ago, quiet excitement ... a gap in the hedge that surrounded my childhood home.  They closed that up pretty quickly once they realised how I was slipping away.

Me and my trike, then my bike, traveled far and wide ... or as far as my lazy legs would carry me.  Then came the car and that seemed like the best freedom so far, until I flew over to Istanbul.  And zipped off to Rome.  Then ended up in Belgium, discovered France, Holland and every place else in Europe was easily reachable.

'Gate-climbing' on steroids.

Then Genova, Italy.  That place I keep on returning to ... since 2008.  That exquisitely ancient city surrounded by beautiful hills and the sea. 

These days I can wander where ever I want but I keep returning.

I recently had 14 days in that city I love ... the stories and photographs follow, from November/December 2014. 

As always, grazie mille to Paola who introduced me to the reality of her city and who makes it possible for me to constantly return.

Listening to The Sweet Remains these days, specially Ghost in the Orange Blossom Air.

New Boots ...

I had decided to head back to Belgium, cautiously wearing my broken boots however ... on the way to the supermarket this morning I accidentally looked in the window of the Bata shoe shop.  It's on Via XX Settembre, at 270-272R.  I wandered in, just to browse.

I'm so  glad I did.  The women working there were lovely and so are my new boots.  They had a special deal on ... buy 3 pair and get the second most expensive pair for just 1 euro.    And I loved the idea of that because I loved 3 pair of their shoes however I only bought one pair. 

They were on sale, at 39euro, and I thought them so very beautiful. 

Sadly, my feet are currently hating them.  I floated round the city in them all day, not realising till I reached the other end of town, that some breaking-in would have to take place.  I am home now, wearing my slippers, wondering how tomorrow will go because I may have already thrown out my old broken boots.

Porca miseria ...

But aren't they beautiful.

Pasticceria Liquoreria Marescotti di Cavo, Genova

I had my first hot thick winter chocolate at this beautiful ancient Genovese cafe late on Saturday afternoon.  I met Dear Miss Fletcher, who has already written of this beautiful place, there and we talked over steaming hot drinks.  

I hope to have some of their stories to tell you in the weeks ahead.  I took this photograph as we were leaving.  The place is stunning.  I promise.

Snapshots of Sights Seen Here in Genova

As Dear Miss Fletcher lead me through the caruggi of Genova, I couldn't resist trying to capture snapshots of the sights that she showed me.

This one was taken just before 6pm, on a dark winter's night and yet the warmth that spilled out of this fruit and vegetable shop warmed my heart.

Robert Capa Exhibition, Genova

I didn't have time to visit this Robert Capa exhibition while in Genova but only because I realised that it will be there for a while.  I shall return and make space for it.  He was a fascinating man.

Monday found me in my favourite secondhand bookshop here in the city.  I discovered a huge treasure, justified buying it, then had to talk myself into carrying the huge weight of it home.

It's John Phillips book, Free Spirit in a Troubled World.

At just 21 years old, Algerian-born photojournalist Phillips was hired by Life magazine and assigned to cover Edward VIII, just as the story of Wallis Simpson and the king's abdication was about to break. Here, Phillips records his next 23 years as a correspondent, witnessing many of the 20th century's most dramatic events. Before World War II, he filmed the Wehrmacht marching into Austria, the Warsaw Ghetto, and turbulence in central Europe. From the Middle East, there are momentous photographs of King Farouk, King Ibn Saud, and the destruction of Jerusalem's Jewish Quarter. Reproduced from his negatives rather than Life's prints, the over 200 black-and-white images chronicle old worlds collapsing and new regimes seizing power. More so than most photojournalists' memors, Phillips's extensive text combines intelligence with delightful intimacy.

Of course I'm going to want to read his book.  And even better, for me, it was less than 20euro.

But anyway, at some point each morning spent in Genova, we would find our way to Douce Pâtisserie, in Piazza Matteotti, and this was the view from my table ...

That Divine Thing ...

Today, at the monthly antiques market here in Genova, I met the most marvelous man and he sold me this 'most divine thing'. 

I wasn't shopping.  I was actually accompanying Outi as she shopped however ... this happened.  This beautiful shawl that I couldn't resist and believe me, I can resist most things, but this hit me in my girly soul.

I wasn't bartering, I really didn't have the money.  Unfortunately most people assume I'm bargaining.  It used to happen in Istanbul too. The lovely bloke selling this dropped to a price that was simply superb and so yes, I'm walking to catch my plane in Milan on Tuesday ...

But no, really, the Belgian bloke is bailing me out.  Thankfully.  I broke into a sweat confessing.  I love this shawl that much though ...  and I'm not sure I captured it here as it's silky and heavy and completely luxurious.  But anyway, you get an idea.

Wandering ... and stuff.

Furthermore, we have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.
Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, p. 18 (3rd edition)

This quote popped up on my Facebook wall and bemused me some ... because it seems true to me, in a way.

I come on these solitary pilgrimages to Genova.  I'm seeking something of home.  The sea, the hills, even the friendliness of Genovesi, (sometimes biting humour too) ... all of it feeds something inside of me.

But don't imagine I'm a fearless wanderer.  I'm really not.  I love it here, more than anyplace else but, it's not all simple or beautiful.

On Monday night, I struggled for most of the night, with what I initially imagined was an allergy problem.  My mouth was incredibly dry and, of course, the more I thought about it, the worse it got.  I had eaten a couple of things that I usually avoid and so allergy attack was there at the top of the list.

I thought I could tough it out but the night was long.  It's amazing how alone you can feel in a country not your own, when you're struggling with your body in the night.  So ... around 4am, I decided to call a taxi and quietly visit the emergency room.  Well, my Belgian phone didn't want to play and it may be, that I panicked ... which, of course, made the dry mouth dryer.

What I didn't know about Italy was how stunning their emergency services are. The Genovese should so proud of the people who work the phones.  I phoned in, they found someone who spoke English ... the calmest man in the world I think.  He asked me what was wrong and I told him that I thought I was having an allergy problem and my mouth was very dry and yes well ... I was a bit shaky by then.

He said, shall we send an ambulance.  The New Zealander in me was horrified.  I explained that I had failed with a taxi and I was only trying to get myself to the hospital, just in case it wasn't serious. 

He asked, shall I send a house doctor.  I quaked in my boots and said, 'will it be expensive'.  He said, 'no, it's free'.

I was stunned.

So, at 5am, a doctor arrived.  A practical kind man, from Syria originally and, using our English, his German and Italian, we solved my problem. 

I was alternately mortified and grateful.  It seems that there three options and none of them too serious.  In German, he told me it was small problem.

He was kind, he left, having reassured me and said, 'and now sleep'. 

And I did.

Lesson learned on the road ...

When traveling you should always, but always, know the phone numbers you might need in a medical emergency.
Hanna, my lovely Finnish marketing partner arrived on Wednesday evening and experienced the misfortune of walking straight into my category 5 cold.  I was still imagining it might be an allergy at that point and so we went out for pizza. 

I couldn’t even finish the pizza and no red wine passed these lips of mine.  The misery of the cold was beginning to really press down on me.  We went back to the apartment and I crawled into bed only to wake with this terrible feeling of restricted airways ... very much like my old childhood nemisis, croup. My mother used to spend hours with me in our steaming hot bathroom, me ... the screaming toddler who couldn’t breathe.  The knowledge being that the steam would open the airways again ... if the child ever stopped crying.

I appeared in the lounge as a startled creature, realising that I didn’t really have a clue about what to do with this reappearance of a seemingly ancient ghost, and not really sure that it was anything to do with croup.  And voila, there we were in Italy where I had no idea about after hours doctors or emergency rooms.

I am incredibly fortunate in having a marketing partner who is rapidly becoming a much-treasured friend.  We worked through the problems of who we could ask for information after 11pm, and in the end, she went down to the bar near the apartment.  The guys in there were so incredibly kind, giving her the address of the nearest hospital emergency room, an after hours house doctor number, and they also offered to call us a taxi.  I was just so grateful for their kindness.

She returned with the news.  Knowledge is something special, and knowing I did have an emergency place to go if things got worse, we worked out that the situation wasn’t getting any worse, that it seemed more like my larynx having a major incident with flem and swelling, and it might be possible to go back to sleep if I remained propped up for the night.  It was a long night but it worked. 

Yesterday, some of my favourite Genovese friends emailed in with all the medical information I could possibly need and these last 24 hours have been about living quietly while catching up with a couple of good people. 

Stefano came to check on the patient yesterday and took us along the caruggi here, for the most delicious lunch.  The restuarant was cosy-warm and the food delightful.  Everyone was surprised that I was still saying no to red wine but I have been living on painkillers.  It’s not quite time for my ‘wine cure’ but soon, surely it can be soon. 

Later, Lorenzo caught up with us, and another piece of the photography workshop tour for 2012 has fitted itself into place.  You see, Hanna and I are here to finalise the details for a spring ‘come travel with me’ photography/travel workshop.  First the tour, then next week I begin work on the book.

7.30am and here I am, at the kitchen table, ready to work but still struggling with writing as you can read.  We have our first appointment at 9.30am and I’ve already decided that will involve a rather good coffee along at Bar Boomerang.

Photos and more lucidly written stories to follow in the days ahead ... she writes, hopefully.
Ciao from Genova.

Those details.  Hospitals vary on where you are located but:
Hospital Galliera
Taxi: 0105966

Emergency Number: 112

Guardia Medica (home doctor) 010 354 022 (8pm-8am)

Jetlag ... and some stories from the road to Italy

Probably not jet lag ...
The flight to Milan was meant to be about 1 hour and 15 minutes.  We ended up arriving 20 minutes early ... a short-cut that boggles my mind.  How does a plane arrive 20 minutes early?

The alarm rang in Belgium 4.59am. 
Taxi at 5.54am.
Suitcase, the one that Brussels Airport broke last time I flew in there, revealed we hadn’t managed to fix it as I placed it in the hold of the Airport Bus ... 6.05am.
I may have said a bad word.

I arrived at the airport.  For a moment, I forgot I was in a country whose service providers often don’t care.  I confessed that my suitcase probably wouldn’t stay closed on the plane, due to being damaged last time I’d flown Brussels Airlines.  Fortunately, I said, I had managed to replace the suitcase strap they had lost but could he note its fragile status?

Actually, the Brussels Airline check-in bloke pulled that face that Belgian service providers pull when they don’t really want to hear what you are saying because it’s YOUR problem and THEIR company and/or shop refuses to be held accountable.

Fair enough.  I’ve been there long enough to know the impossibility of anything close to satisfaction in this kind of thing.  I have lost the few battles I’ve attempted.  Raising ones voice doesn’t help.  These guys survived the Spanish Inquisition.  Raising ones voice is NOTHING.

I had an idea and suggested it to the Belgian check-in guy.  He warmed to me immediately. 
I suggested I get my suitcase plastic-wrapped so it would stay closed.
He led me there, abandoning his post even.
He didn’t mention the 5euro fee for plastic-wrapping.

However, there was the relief of having my suitcase secured. I returned to complete check-in.  He had handed my case on to the Belgian check-in woman.

I was early but you really need to be when you tavel from Antwerp to Brussels via the bus.  You have to allow for traffic jams when you travel morning or early evening.

I wandered off and bought a bottle of coke,, looking for that instant caffeine hit.  I thought the check-out chick insane.  She kept asking me for MORE money.  I knew we would work it out at some point.  She would laugh, I would laugh, she would apologise.
But no, that small bottle of coke really was 3.50euro.
I said ‘I’ll be sure to really really enjoy it then…’  And then we both laughed.
That is a robbery, isn’t it? 
It is $4.88us and $6.09 in New Zealand money.
I wish I hadn’t made those conversions now ...

On the plane and things began to improve. I met this lovely Mexican/American woman.  We chatted most of the way to Milan and so I noticed even less of the very short flight.

In Milan, the big heavy Belgian-frost-protecting jersey had to come off but ... oh no! I couldn’t put it into my plastic-wrapped suitcase because I still had a long way to travel and dared not interfere with its hold on my belongings - there were two train trips to be made.  I tied it onto my suitcase, hoping not to stand out as a peasant there in Milan.  Found a nasty sandwich, remembered too late that I knew how to purchase them in that shop because I had been a chicken last time too ... limiting myself to simple Italian when ordering food.  Sigh. 

I decided perhaps I could make this my rite-of-passage experience.  Each time I arrive in Italy I will have one of these disgusting sandwiches to appease the gods of travel and win myself a good visit.  I ate almost all of it while waiting for my train to Genova.  Breakfast had been quite some hours earlier.

On the train, I had the most incredible good fortune ... (so I’m thinking the sandwich sacrifice may be the ritual of choice on future trips).  I sat next to a lovely woman called Germana.  We began chatting after she very kindly alerted me to the fact that our number 7 train carriage had just become a number 6, and yes, we all had to move.

My seat was next to her in number 6 carriage and so we began to chat.  It turned out that this lovely woman had, like me, had spent some time living in Istanbul.  Well, that was that.  We fell into conversation, talking of the lovely places she had lived, talking of family, talking of life.  It was so excellent!  That train trip passed so easily that I didn’t even notice the million tunnels that we have to travel through to reach Genova.

We said goodbye at the station, I found a taxi and voila, here I am, back in this city I love so very deeply.

But that’s not all.  I walked into the apartment and Paola and Simon had arranged the loveliest birthday surprise.  3 bottles of truly delicious wine!  Really!

So there I was, back in Genova, having met good people along the way, my suitcase had managed to contain itself and not spill open and now ... there was red wine waiting for me!
A huge thank you to Paola and Simon!

Today it’s 9 celsius, it’s pouring down after 3 very dry months here in the city, and here I am, wrapped up warmly and smiling that big smile that I try to control whenever I reach this place.

I hope your worlds are behaving today and I wish you joy.
Ciao for now.

And so I fly ...

I’m off again ... to Genova, otherwise known as that city I love. But really… I’m there to work rather hard.

And after the work, I need to stay on because, there is this book I have been talking of putting together for quite some time now.
It’s time.

And of course, I’m taking the wedding photographs too, those ones from Madrid and Suffolk because I have been living life at 1,000 miles per hour since taking them and still don’t have them quite completed ... although almost everything else that needed doing is done.

So tomorrow, I’ll be that woman wandering again.
A presto.

Reminiscing the Future ... Italy

I love the way we can bring the past alive in our present ... recalling the people we loved and lived with, the way that they made us feel.  I find everyone is still there, as solid memories, if I manage to call them up.

7am here in Italy, a cup of coffee from my small traveling espresso coffee-pot and a packet of shortbread-like biscuits nearby ...voila, memories of Nana and pre-breakfast coffees back home at her place, in Invercargill, New Zealand, chatting as she sped through her daily Southland Times, reading the news.

Imagine if her and I could have reminisced about the future ... ‘Hey Nana, in 2010, I’m going to be sitting at Paola’s kitchen table, in a small and ancient city in Italy, window open so I can hear the sounds of Genova waking up, drinking coffee, just like you and I are now.’

Nana, who never left New Zealand in all of her life but I wonder if she dreamed of it.  We never talked of those things.

Or a conversation with Mum ... ‘So I moved to Istanbul in 2003.  You would have loved it.  The people are so friendly, the summers are warmer than here in Mosgiel, the life ... you would have loved the life of that ancient city. 

Then Belgium in 2005’.  She would have flown over to make me a balcony garden in Antwerp, and spent evenings out there, ignoring the mosquitoes, drinking a white wine and watching the sun slip below the horizon. 

And Genova, I’m almost sure she would never have ever left Genova after arriving.  We would have laughed about me being my mother’s daughter perhaps, with a need for the sea and serious hills, and maybe we could have planned to open some kind of B&B here, satisfying our oddly hospitable souls and the pleasure we find in knowing people.

And my lovely little sister ... the one who has always been older and wiser than me, even if she was born after me.  We used to talk across the single-bed space back in those days when we shared a bedroom and if we had reminisced about my future life, I do believe we might have imagined we were inventing fairy stories ... where Istanbul, Antwerp and Genova were flights of fanciful imaginations ...

She should come here now.

Hhere I am, in the now, in Italy... loving the life I find in Genova.

Did you know, that swallows fly up and down Via Lorenzo in the evenings, before dark, screeching like hysterically happy young girls playing chase at an out-of-control birthday party.  They amuse me, those swallows - even as I realise that I can't begin to caputre their antics with my camera.

And did you know that if you take nuts to the park in Nervi, and you throw a few then make yourself comfortable on the grass, the squirrel will be become bolder and bolder ... until you run out of nuts.  Then you and he are over as photographer and model.

And did you know that this woman, a few thousand miles from home, from her past lives, and the people she loved first, finds the Ligurian coast an exquisitely beautiful place to remember and miss them?

Church bells ring in through the open kitchen window ... 8am.
Time to begin the new day but Sandra, come over one day soon.

Ciao from Genova, both feet in the present, as I think what to do with this day.

Yes, that was me ...

I was that woman who apparently screamed as she fell yesterday on Via XX Settembre, bending my knee in a way that it hasn't bent in quite a few months. I was so sure I had either cracked something inside the knee or my achilles tendon had finally snapped.

I lay back on the rain-soaked pavement and waited for the agony to arrive however a lovely Genovese man came along, spoke to me and started helping me up. I was stunned, it hurt, I was shaking but it wasn't bone-shattering pain.

Once he had made sure I was okay and Gert had taken over, we walked on to the railway station. Me drenched from head to toe and limping ...

And so it was that I returned home from Italy.
My Belgian had come to bring me back after 17 days in Genova.
It was 2 hours to Milano by train, then an hour through Milano to the airport by bus, then a 1 hour and 10 minute flight to Brussels and a final 35 minute bus ride home to Antwerpen city and voila, here I am, freezing in the fog, surrounded by the mess of semi-unpacked bags, working out the when and the how and the why of the days ahead.

Full of stories, a few 1000 photographs and some really excellent memories.