29 February 2008

the up side of down

I have been fighting the flu with endless cups of tea with lemon and honey, yummy soup, lots of my favourite chocolate, and hours and hours of sleep. And now I feel well enough to snuggle up with a book...

"Life, Paint and Passion, reclaiming the magic of spontaneous expression" by Michele Cassou and Stewart Cubley. Publisher Jeremy P Tarcher/Penguin NY. ISBN 0-87477-810-7

I opened it at random, a habit I have. That is how I found that paths are made by walking. Today I found this:

It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that things are difficult. (Seneca).

...and then I read a little more, and came back to the computer, because I wanted to add this. It reminds me of Sarah's great to be lost...

The great majority of artists are throwing themselves in with life-preservers around their necks, and more often than not it is the life-preserver which sinks them. (Henry Miller)

I think it is time to jump out of the life boat, paint for process, not product, for a while... somewhere deep inside me I am sure that, when I need to, I can swim.

28 February 2008

faithful friend

Today I am moving slowly, fighting off the flu I think. No fever, just pain right through my spine. When I woke I was numb down one side so, despite no rash or fever, I cautiously checked for meningitis, remembering all the lectures I gave my teenagers, and everyone else's teenagers, as they headed for university hostels. If you are going to bed feeling unwell, tell someone.

All seemed to be well, so I moved a little more. I must have just gone to sleep in a strange position. Zacchi did his very best from the floor on the far side of the bed to tell me he was happy to see me moving, but if I hadn't moved, that might not have been enough. I sleep with my cell phone beside me, just in case. One night in January there was friendly debate about which of the gentlemen present at dinner I should call if I took ill in the night, the one who lived closer, or the (self-described) more reliable one? ... but no, I would call my female friend in the daffodil painting, because only she holds a spare set of keys to my house.

But it got me thinking about Zacchi, lying there watching him trying to get up to me. I don't pat him enough. He is a scruffy little Fizzgig, thinks he is a farm dog and finds smelly things to bring home, to roll in, to breathe all over me. He gets oily, and is always dirty, even two minutes after a bath. I sometimes scratch his wiry head, or comb his tangled coat, but I don't pat him enough. I wonder if that is why he pretends to be frightened of big dogs? So I will pick him up and cuddle him, carry him a while. Because when I do, he is in no hurry to get back down again.

Last week, in our patch, Zacchi's normal daily stretch of village, a young dad wanted his toddler to meet Zacchi, to play a little. Zacchi ran behind my legs, leaned in, and said "No Mum, he's bigger than me..." Yesterday Zacchi barked most ferociously. Someone was gathering wild asparagus down below my patch. Zacchi let them know he was in charge. You can be, when Mum is standing behind you!

Zacchi is my second gift dog. The first was Pulce, or flea, whom I renamed Pulcetta, because she was such a little flea. She was doggy-napped, then stolen from the street before I had tracked her down. She had value on the re-sale market. Then Zacchi arrived, a rather reluctantly accepted gift from the same friends who can't contemplate that I could possibly live alone.

Passed on to my soft-hearted friend I suspect because the interesting mix that is Zacchi had no sale value, he was covered in ticks and the most timid wee dog I have ever encountered. Friend had accepted him without looking too well, obviously not wearing glasses that day. Much treatment later, during which this frightened little creature lay perfectly still, almost showing me where the next pink patch was, I was an expert on tick eradication and Zacchi was my slave for life.

The Italian for tick is zecca, plural zeche. I named him Zacchi.

helping mum get better...

27 February 2008

everything has a season

To everything, turn, turn, turn,
There is a season, turn, turn, turn,
And a time for every purpose under heaven.

I was going to add all the lyrics to this, from "Turn, turn, turn", but I found in the Seekers' lyrics page via google there were so many other good songs to read too.

The photograph is of number 26. I live in the part you can't see, down below the road. If you are coming to visit, the doorbell is on the big door, the one by my car. But it pays to ring first; Zacchi could be out walking me.

26 February 2008

running out of hours...

I had hoped to be further on with this one, but it is a large canvas, 100x70. I am tired and seem to need lots of breaks. But we can do this...

there is a difference

Something that I am struggling to put into words is the difference in approach between the Madron Seligman lecture which talked about "taking warfare off the menu of mankind" (reference pending) and "building a culture of peace" (Congress on International Peace in Côte d'Ivoire 1989).

Peace is not merely an absence of war. Building a culture of peace feels to me more like starting from the foundation and building something new, rather than looking at what is there, and trying to remove it.

"As the twig is bent, so grows the tree". For this cultural change to be permanent I believe we must look to youth, to establish this culture at base level. But it would certainly make growth much stronger if we could also remove the shadow of war, and let the sun shine where seeds of peace are planted.

"Pax in Spinus" suggests that peace comes from war. I want to believe that peace has a life of its own.

why is it

...that our language doesn't have words that are adequate when you want to say to your children how much you love them?

Is that why we bake cakes, buy chocolate, prepare special meals, learn to cook for vegetarians, try to find a way that says what words don't properly convey?

I love my big kids, lots and lots. Always, and in all ways. The world is round, so we are not in different corners. Physically spread wide, but not far apart.

I know that when they wake, some of them will be reading this.

I love you. So much.

25 February 2008

and while I painted

work continued in the cantina...
happiness is watching work progress

one more day...

Just the finishing touches to go, the family have seen the work and say "It is her exactly. It is truly Mamma". I think it is still an "almost..."

There is always something more that can be done, but for now, time to stop. It is her wedding photo, outside the local church with all the village gathered, in the background.

I didn't remember, it was not part of my thinking when I decided to paint her, but the opening of this exhibition is on the 1st anniversary of the Maestra's death, 1 March 2007, at 100 years old.

it's perfectly normal for me

...to have my tea go cold while I am working, or to forget to eat then wonder why I am hungry late at night, but this morning was a first.

I looked at my palette of carefully mixed sepia tones for the photograph in the background of the portrait, and wondered how that yellow had got into the pigment.

It was a cornflake. And the tea was stone cold.

Time for a break, and a proper breakfast.

24 February 2008

work in progress

transitions are difficult

I am working on a painting, the Maestra (teacher), an elderly Italian lady with wartime New Zealand connections, the indomitable matriarch of the family that has adopted me, who died last year at the grand age of 100 years and 4 months. I have a good likeness. I have taken a few liberties with the ravages of time... I have not been particularly kind to her on this occasion, but I am fascinated by the weathering of the body over such a long and difficult life.

The painting was progressing well, although the background colour is bothering me. I have it right in one corner, and I have it right in the diagonally opposite corner. But the transition is difficult.

A friend once said to me "conclusions are difficult". And that is so right. Particularly when other people are involved. Transitions can be even more difficult, swimming in uncharted waters, to unknown destinations. Perhaps that is why the phrase I chose for the title of my blog appeals to me so much.

"Travellers, there is no path, paths are made by walking". (Antonio Machado)

And from Sarah, when I was having a "lost" day some time ago: "Lost is a great place to be! It's like you're out at sea and instead of working on your ship back at shore, you have the whole ocean to splash around in!"

I would like to say something clever of my own, to tie the walking and watery images together, but instead I will paint, and maybe later the words will find me all by themselves.

Right now, I think, it is enough to just acknowledge that yes, transitions, and conclusions, are difficult. Yet as I write this, a smile gently grows and develops - spreading almost to a twinkle in the eye - as I think "but how exciting new beginnings are..."

23 February 2008

we can do this...

Painting has taken second place today. Frustrating, but there it is. It is olive tree pruning day, but first a few other odds and ends.

The car was ready this morning. Euro 166.45 for oil change, check wheel alignment, check brakes, install radio, check for not idling properly, replace rubber part on an arm which he kindly showed me on the polo parts range on the computer; I am still not sure if it was alignment or braking system. I fished out the cash and he took only 165.00 because that way of rounding down for simplicity is pretty normal here. Only Eu 60.00 was labour. I am happy with the service and the price.

Then down to buy some wine that was on special, a muscatel from Terracina which I rather like; the special was pointed out to me by Nonno who often cooks lunch for me on Wednesdays. I need to be able to tell him on Wednesday that I bought some. Well, that's my excuse!

I have another portrait to do on the strength of the success of Angela, so that is good, another month's petrol and internet money!

As I type work is progressing in the cantina. A little damp has been exposed between some rocks. I am not surprised; in fact I am surprised there was not more.

But now I have to paint a little, while waiting for the olive tree pruning friend to arrive. I am trying different background colours, and think I have found one that sits well with the portrait. Wish me luck, too many things are happening at once and that's when I make mistakes...

I have just remembered what I set out to say.

When things pile up too much, or look too difficult, I talk to myself. I tell myself what has to be done, identifying the problem or listing things out loud, then say "I can do this!" Or if Zacchi is around it seems to be "We can do this!" And, it seems to be, that when I have told myself I can, I really can. We have to be ready for the exhibition (mostra, from the verb mostrare, to show) and we will be. We can do this, Zacchi and I. We can do this.

22 February 2008

the things we do...

Somehow I have ended up working in two completely different styles at the same time. I think I need to finish this one before I go back to the spring flowers.

21 February 2008

we've only just begun...

Today has seen some progress, but still many many many hours of work ahead. So far, it feels OK.

while paint dries...

I forgot to tell you:

*we had a huge earthquake yesterday, schools closed and sent kids home, centre not far away at all, very exciting. I was driving the car, completely oblivious...

*in the afternooon I helped to make sausages and salami...
*last week a beautiful shiny red, sleek, purring Ferrari oozed its way through the village. For a fleeting moment I wished I wasn't towing a scruffy dog, wearing sensible boots and carrying a plastic drink bottle...

*and it's true, when the car looks that good, you don't even notice the driver...

*this morning we took our more modest VW Polo to the garage all by ourselves. Let's hope we got the translations right! Didn't even leave my address... I love living here...

*but finding the garage was a mission... just a big gate, no sign, tucked in behind houses...

*coming home up a steep hill there were new trees to mark, even in the light rain. Such fun.

and BTW.... just wanted to say, I'm happy, happy, happy... some things that were wrong have come right... :-)

20 February 2008

it pays to double check

I thought I was exhibiting in May. But no, it is in March. I do worry about my telephone conversations sometimes, it is easy to get things wrong. I rely on facial expressions, double checking with written notes, and talking with my hands, so much! Oh dear, that date changes everything!

So if I don't reappear here for a while, it is because I am very, very busy! And if I do, it is because I need a break from painting. But first, I need thinking time. I have selected from existing works, but I must do more. And well, And fast.

I think I will put these two in, both easily recognised places in my wee hamlet, and paint two more. Less is more, less is more...

It is a festival for women, so here I have the passage of time, home and church represented. Now I must paint family and one other aspect, to pull these together in an appropriate statement. I have an idea... gotta go...

19 February 2008

all mine

The cats are safely up there...

and their sausages are up here...

...and I am so much smarter than Mum! (There's a rebellious streak in this dog. Time to review the discipine programme I think... started when he found he had two girlfriends, not just one, running after him...)

I don't care how much you plead, both mats are *mine*.

how could you not be excited?

It will be beautiful...

on art

an email from a friend, edited with permission

Art makes a difference - full stop
It endures longer than people problems, longer than people lives, longer than many nations.

... you must also give hope, give beauty, give examples of creation. You do that...

Keep putting in brush strokes.

And that is true too. How many people are diverted or soothed by the art on the waiting room walls? Given pleasure as they choose the artwork that is the final purchase in making a house a home? And didn't I say very publicly, at the time of my first solo exhibition, that I wanted original art to be accessible, affordable, so people could own works that had more meaning for them, works that wouldn't fade to the washed out blue I saw in so many homes? So doesn't that give me some obligation to make those works should they ask for them?

And no, I am not going to enter the debate about what is a picture that anyone could have painted, with or without guidance or talent, and what is art. At least not before breakfast.

I don't use a projector to get a likeness in my portraits, but that doesn't necessarily mean it is cheating to do so. But check out buying portraits on the internet, and then we can debate the difference between art and craft. Some "craft" is real art, other art is a "mere" craft. I say that with the utmost caution, because historically those words are loaded. Another time, maybe.

But now I must eat. I have more than my cereal to chew on.

she says it so well...

Sarah paints ideas and gives them form.
I have stolen this while she sleeps.
I love it.


18 February 2008

i have something i want to say

I am starting this post knowing I that will edit it many times along the way, over the next 24 hours. Why put it out there raw, unfinished, in draft? Because then I will write it, and I need to, to clarify my thinking. But if I write it in Word on the computer, it will remain unfinished, will not see light of day. And I will remain fuzzy in my thinking.

In my art, the art I have yet to make, I have something I want to say.

Sarah wrote a very challenging post on her blog, February 15, entitled "What is Art?"

She writes as well as she paints. She forces me to think. She challenges me. And sometimes she rescues me.

My art is my voice. But I haven't found how to say what I want to say. I want to shout on behalf of the people with no voice. I want to show you what I see. I want to change how we see, expose the realities, as Alan Duff and Lee Tamihori did with Once Were Warriors . And so I paint, but I don't say anything. Not yet.

When I painted the works for Cassino, I began to use my art to speak. But then life got in the way, earning a living, sorting my head and emotions, living in a new country. I need, not want, need to use my voice.

I introduced you to Bruno. He is waiting for me to comment on his last two months' work about the situation in the Philippines. It sits in my inbox, only partly digested. It is really really interesting, but there is a lot to read, too much for me to learn. It scares me, how ignorant I am. I wonder where my head has been in recent years. Sometimes I feel so very very small, and I even wonder if my brain really functions all the time. I am ignorant of many things, but I do care. I care a lot about my fellow men. And so Sarah's post struck a nerve, hit where it hurt.

I live a "dream life", living and painting in Italy. The problem is, that is not my dream. My dream is to make a difference, to help right some wrongs, to show that there can be hope, that strength and personal resolve can triumph over adversity. I don't have the knowlege that Bruno has. I don't have the skills and resources of Alan Duff and Lee Tamihori. But I do have my painting.

Alan Duff put books in homes. It is a wonderful programme, and so simple an idea. Children who had no books now have books of their own in their homes. Newborn babies are given their first books. Another New Zealand group I know of puts breakfast into the tummies of hungry children on school days. The children have at least a chance of being able to learn without the distraction of hunger. These people make a real difference.

I want to put images in minds. I want to put ideas into form. That's what I want. I have something I want to say. That's what I must paint. And none of that has anything to do with painting pretty pictures for people to buy.

he paints how I once wanted to

When I find wonderful artists I am frustrated that for so many years I didn't paint. There was a time when I aspired to paint like this man.


I was in a painting class in 1978 and an elderly lady said to me "You are so lucky, you are painting while you are young". But I hardly painted seriously again, just in short bursts, exhibiting periodically in the 1980s, and over the next 20 years. And then my series of "mid-life crises" occurred, and painting took over. It was a wonderful space to be in.

I said I think there is more I should be doing. i still think there is. I don't think it is just because I don't think I am painting particularly well right now, although I am struggling to find my painting niche in a foreign land. Sometimes I miss my large and airy studio. I don't have a deadline to meet, and my next exhibitions are still evolving in my mind.

I told Sarah I was feeling lost as an artist. She said:
Lost is a great place to be! It's like you're out at sea and instead of working on your ship back at shore, you have the whole ocean to splash around in!

I needed to hear that. It is all about finding the right way to look at things. I have been in a life boat, not splashing, not heading out for adventure. Like my 9 year-old friend who was unteachable on Saturday, I have been cooped up for too long. I need an adventure...

I have promised myself no more harmful chemicals in my art-making. But I can still splash... there is another new brush waiting for me, it has been waiting for me since October 2006. It is so special I can remember when and where I bought it (Edinburgh, with Nicola, who has never seen her mother spend so much on something which looks so small and unimpressive to the uninitiated). I never did convert the price into NZ dollars. There are some things you just don't want to know.

My last exhibition was of local landscapes, a tribute to the people who welcomed me here. Now I am painting portraits for them. The exhibition before that was in a War Museum, tracing the shadow of war. Maybe it is time to paint for me, to paint from within, to really forget about anyone else and lose myself in my work again.

I need more space. I need my walking away from the artwork space. I think the bedroom has to go. I can sleep in a single bed in the passageway, and cover my big bed with art resources. There are no visitors due for a while. That's what I will do.

Right, she said, I'm off to town to buy huge sheets of plastic, it's time for me to paint up a storm too!

afternoon walk

Zacchi loves these ruins, just above where we live. There are such great trails to follow...

main chiesa on main street - there are many many more...

looking towards the ruins and the general area where Thomas Aquinas was born. Although he grew up in neighbouring Aquino

...we stake our claim to him with a 9 metre high marble statue.

the main street in late afternoon light

17 February 2008

don't you just hate it when

you paint something absolutely perfectly, but it doesn't sit well with the rest of the painting?

Darn it, thank goodness for big brushes and ruthless bold strokes.

Working too close to it Kay, walk away, walk away...


an hour later...

A new brush was all it took... beautiful to use, absolutely beautiful. And no one else, not even Sarah, gets to use this brush...

And now to crop it, just a little... and tidy up the odds and ends. But that collar still distracts... must think some more... maybe lift the other side a bit too? I think the work would lose necessary energy if I flattened the collar.

16 February 2008

walking Zacchi

We did take that long walk yesterday.

We were a little late leaving, and as we walked the 2kms to the older part of the village, walking through the little section where Thomas Aquinas was born, and passing below the castle ruins which enhance our skyline, the sun was a golden orb, saying it's evening farewell through the haze of fog and chimney smoke. In the time it took us to walk 500 metres it had changed into a large, glowing pink-gold two dimensional disc, balanced perfectly above the skyline, a teasing, evasive mistress sliding elegantly behind the mountain range. It was an exquisite performance, for performance it surely was.

At the village we stopped to buy more of that cherry yoghurt, and coconut yoghurt (yum) but no, I don't have the marinated cherries to add to it. The shopkeeper there will not serve me unless I speak English, because he wants to learn. His father, who was my grocer until the son took over, is the kindly man who gave me plums, always gave back too much change, and cut the salami exactly as I wanted it.

Next stop was to collect the lemons from Nonno, forgotten that lovely lunchtime. A friend stopped to invite me to a first Communion. That invitation is rather special, as it is the first communion of my friend with the new glasses. The painting will be my gift to him; I have one for each young rascal.

Back through the village we met the daughter of a friend, who always greets me warmly. Friend is a wonderful singer and concert pianist who wont leave this village for a promised career in America because she is afraid to take her daughters further into the world. Daughter, like mother, sings and plays. Their "standing invitation" to visit for lunch or dinner is one I must take up soon, as friend is almost house-bound caring for her parents now. In this part of Italy it is normal to give up a career to care for the aged.

Walking back home in the dark I realised that the place for my fluorescent orange safety vest is in my bag, not on the sideboard in the studio. We stayed right on the edge of the road and arrived home without incident. Here it is compulsory to carry a safety vest and triangle in the car; there is a large fine if you don't have them. They must be where you can reach them quickly, not in the boot. The one in my car is yellow. You really need to know that, right?

I had barely arrived home when I was "summoned" to eat with my adopted family. It was tripe as I have never seen it, a special more expensive cut. It was served in a tomato garlic and onion salsa, but not before we had all tasted it with just salt and lemon juice. Tripe here seems so much more edible than the tripe my grandfather used to eat. Nothing is served in "white sauce" here, obviously that has not come into the Italian cuisine yet. But in this part of Italy pavlovas, carrot cakes, chocolate cakes, banana cakes and pikelets are becoming standard fare... oops! Guilty! Another thing I have "started" is cooking bananas in the embers, with dark chocolate popped inside, the way we did it in cubs and scouts. Yes, the world is shrinking.

Today was a reasonably normal Saturday, with the addition of meeting my new neighbours. They are lovely, about my age, and speak Italian, not dialect, so we could have some conversation. And the bonus is... that they have a puppy and are happy for Zacchi and Queenie to play. A marriage made in heaven I think, a (yet to be) speyed female, and only the gate and a small fence between us. And 2 month old Queenie wore Zacchi out. Incredible but true!

The rascals came later for their English lesson, but not before I had hidden their portraits. Today there was no point in trying to teach them. They have school Saturday morning, then had come from two hours of catechism class. They had had enough of studying and had energy to burn. We picked oranges, then sat by the fire and cooked bananas instead. There was also a competition to see who could flick the most mandarine rind into my paint water. I turned down my pay.

The highlight of the day had to be a phonecall from Angela. It is her birthday, and tonight she received the portrait. She is absolutely thrilled with it, so I am pretty pleased too!

the next stage

This painting will go to a family where, despite mixed ethnicity, things are more traditional, everything in the house is antique Italian. Backgrounds become a problem when I think like that, but in this case I think I must. Looking at it on the screen, which is quite different from living with the painting, and thinking of this, I wonder if I should turn his collar down. But he is only just 8, after all. He was playing when I snapped the photograph. But the collar distracts... mmm... I think I'll paint the rest of his jacket then decide...

It is a gift for the child's first Communion, not a commission. When he was still only four he tried to teach me Italian numbers. Now I try to teach him English. It is for my own satisfaction, as much as for the child, that I need to get it right. I have plenty of time.

15 February 2008

however, in the meantime,

...there's still painting!

This is another young friend, time I took a break now. This is 6 hours work started this morning, working with no real break, just eating whatever is handy with the paint brush in one hand and food in the other - or was it at the computer with the food? Surely not!

No, not chocolate... maybe later.

Now for that walk I was going to have before...

there is more...

There is more to life than painting, eating, sleeping, doing up my house, walking Zacchi...

I know there is more, there is something I should be doing.

I just haven't found it yet. Or it hasn't found me.


Last year somebody said to me that, for now, I should just be being. Just learning what it is like to live here, be a part of this community.

Maybe I haven't been walking often enough.


All through the winter people kept walking, with umbrellas, coats, arm in arm, no matter how cold, just chatting, meandering. Now it is spring they are out there in droves. I didn't know so many people lived along this mountainside. Women too... lots of them. Where did they come from? I was convinced that it was a man's world here (as in rather elderly men, don't get the wrong idea, girls!)

Ok, I'm off walking. Zacchi and I are off to join them.


fighting temptation

Right at this moment I am fighting the temptation to cut my hair short. Really short.

Every time there is a crisis in my life, I reach a crossroad, or something traumatic happens, I cut my hair.

Today it is probably none of those things. I am feeling rather feisty. I think maybe, for the control freak that I am, it is that so many things are beyond my control; I have had to trust, to let go, more than I am used to.

Whatever the reason, I want to chop my hair, come up with an urchin look, and say "Like it, it's me!"

But no, I will resist. I will wash it, dry it, preen it, and come up looking like the me I think is pretty OK on every other day of the week.

But if I wake up feeling like this tomorrow...


14 February 2008

outside my comfort zone

Today I took another tiny step towards being a legal immigrant here. I have done all the paperwork, chased up everything I could, been fingerprinted, photographed, all those things. But still I don't carry with me the papers I need should I ever be stopped by the Carabinieri. Hopefully, the digital trail is all on the police computers, and there would be no problem. It would be some comfort to know I have them, rumpled and worn, in my bag. The fact that the papers I am chasing now are due to expire at the end of April makes it a matter of urgency to me.

Knowing I would have to wait some more, I allowed the whole morning to process this step. And yes, there was plenty of waiting, plenty of thinking time, plenty of trying to understand the Italian spoken around me. The woman ahead of me was in a hurry, not happy to wait. She thought the person in the office ahead of her may have jumped her place in the queue. The young girl behind me had lost her driver's licence. She too was checking her watch frequently, but declined my offer to go ahead of me. I guess that was because I was old enough to be her mother, and age carries advantages here.

Once in the office, the large door firmly closed for privacy, the staff were as patient, relaxed, friendly and attentive as anyone could wish for. There were no problems with completing the forms, documents; all seemed to be well. Having looked very closely at my passport photograph, and my Italian resident photograph, and then at me, the woman processing my request said to her assistant, with a lovely smile at me, "No it is not her photograph, she is a more beautiful lady". Makes you feel wanted, in a funny kind of way, that a complete stranger can be so kind to a battle-weary foreigner.

Then she didn't quite question my sanity, but did ask if I knew that everyone in this village is a little crazy. I said yes, I knew, and I was also a little crazy, that is why I love living here. They each shook my hand and I think she said, "We can't call you crazy, but you said it yourself, and we must agree with you. Welcome to our town". And it's true, I have heard it before. "If you're not crazy, we don't want you here".

The next step is a visit from the inspector who will come to check that I really do live here, that it is not just a holiday home that I am claiming reduced tax on. Zacchi, you may earn your tucker that day. Picture a slightly frazzled me running up the stairs to open the door, with Zacchi Fizzgig bounding excitedly at my feet. I am sure we make the perfect crazy couple, should checking my insanity level be a part of the inspector's job.

Then my next hurdle is to figure out how and where I get my Italian Driver's Licence. My rumpled, worn, and literally falling apart International one runs out soon and I am only allowed to drive on that for one year if I am an Italian resident. I have to sit and pass my Italian Driver's Licence. Scary stuff.

I think, in March, I will go back to the same office and look as innocent and sweet as I can, and simply ask for one. Do you think it will work? Maybe, this is Italy, after all!

I would rather drive in the middle of Rome than sit my licence in Italian.

13 February 2008

the best thing today

The highlight of my day was something on another artist's blog, Snakeskin:

stolen without the permission of the artist, Sarah Scott, from http://sarahspaintings.blogspot.com/

She says it so well.


Today is Wednesday, market day. Sometimes I do need to shop, however reluctantly, and here Wednesday is shopping day. I drove this morning, because I needed to go further after the market.

The sun was gorgeous, and the market seemed to be particularly colourful. At the point where the road is closed for the morning market three men stood in animated conversation. There was a good positive energy around them. I absorbed some of their energy and decided that yes, I was very glad I had come. I had been working too hard, away from people, for too many weeks. My whole approach to the morning changed on that encounter. I remembered why I am living here, how important it is to be among people, and how beautiful this life can be.

Instead of rushing to buy the things I needed I took time to enjoy an exchange with a charming young vendor who delights in flattering passing females as he tries (not too hard) to sell underwear. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed his charades and harmless banter. He can call me "La bella signora" any day. Then on to the linen merchants, to browse. They don't pressure me to buy; they know that last year, week by week, I bought from them everything I needed.

On to buy what I really needed, and then, just to prove I do have some heart, to the butchers to get a little something for Zacchi. This week I remembered to buy bread early, sometimes I miss out.

As I ambled back towards my end of the village the three men were in the same spot, still enjoying their animated discussion. I had only been an hour and a half I think... and I was so busy enjoying this sight, and wondering what their wives were buying while they waited, that I clean forgot that I had driven, not walked, the 2 kilometres from home this morning. I was well past my car when I remembered.

A chance encounter with Nonno (Grandad) at the market saw me eating pranzo (the full Italian lunch) with my friend with the new glasses. That was fun. We have little secrets when Nonno is out of the room, about who is the current 9 year old girlfriend and how many bits of salami can safely be munched without being caught. He is my best Italian teacher, clear, patient, and knows how to rephrase things so that I will understand. He was 6 when we first met, and back then he was worried that if I couldn't speak Italian, and had noone to speak English to, when I went back to New Zealand I wouldn't be able to talk at all. I try to teach him English, but I fear that he is the better language teacher.

Then it was home to pick my oranges, as I had seen a bag of them disappearing yesterday as I returned (minus the naughty Zacchi) from a shorter than usual walk. Obviously the culprit thought his need was greater than mine. So this evening I shall deliver oranges to all my friends. He was right, I can't eat 4 trees of oranges and 2 of mandarins all by myself. But I prefer to offer, rather than have them walk. This morning I met his anxious query about all being OK with my normal greeting and a kiss on both cheeks. He knows that I know, and I wont say anything.

12 February 2008

too much freedom

Zacchi loves to run. He is incredibly fast. He absolutely loves to run full speed along our road. And, sometimes, when it seems quiet, I let him. Irresponsible I know, but how can I deny him the pleasure he gets when he almost flies? But lately, he has been taking advantage of the freedom, not coming back when I call him, not wanting to come down to the enclosed garden. Today he escaped early when I went to check on my gas, and ran, ran, ran. He came back, an hour later, but not until he had worried half the village. Later, when walking, I gave him a little freedom. He was good for about 500 metres. Then he realised we were heading for home. He took the high road.

It's OK to worry me, Zacchi, but it's not OK to worry the neighbours. So now he is back on the leash. If only he had come when he was called, he could have freedom every day. For now, he is back under control. Bit of a bind for both of us really.

It made me think a bit about responsibility, freedom of choice, all that serious stuff. There is no "one-size-fits-all" prescription for that. Some of those choices affect us for a life time. Others make hardly a ripple. What is right for one is not right for another. I suppose the thing is to make sure there are no real regrets in our lives, and look for that positive future.

So Zacchi, as I don't want any regrets, don't want you run over, or frightening the neighbours as you fly like a speeding bullet close to their cars, I am going to take away your freedom, clip your wings. You didn't know it, but the choice was yours.

11 February 2008

seeing differently...

the difference a year and new glasses can make...

so you don't believe in God?

(photo of the tiare flower from picasaweb.google.com)

I wrote earlier that I don't know exactly what I believe God is, these days, but I do believe that there is more than coincidence in this world. That is not to take away freedom of choice, attribute everything to un unknown power, give up personal responsibility. In fact many years ago, when I was writing to my former Bible Class leader after a friend of mine had been murdered, and I questioned that God could let this happen, she pointed out to me that God had given us freedom of choice. There may be many awful things in the world, many mistakes made, but that was our choice, not part of a master plan.

And freedom of choice is why I am writing this now. Tiare, I hope you have got to a computer and are reading this too.

I was sleeping, minding my own business, at 4am this morning, when someone popped onto my computer; I heard the "bong" of a chat. By the time I got to the screen the little green image was disappearing. I have no idea who it was. But the only person on line in my MSN list was Tiare. So thanks, God, whoever, whatever you are, for waking me, because Tiare was on my mind recently. She is a bit hard to get hold of, she shifts house sometimes, doesn't have much email time, and well... let's just say she is predictably unpredictable.

I wanted to put Tiare in my suitcase and bring her to Italy with me when I left my NZ office last year.

Tiare is one of the most talented sports people I have ever met. She is intelligent, beautiful, and just so very, very talented. But she is young, and like many young people, sometimes takes the easy option. Now that easy option is pretty hard core stuff, I really tore my hair out over you Tiare, I did, you turned my blonde hair grey!

But, I do believe in Tiare. And I am right to believe in Tiare. For one thing, she is still going to school. That is miracle number one. She is going to play netball again this year. Make that happen, beautiful lady. Your biggest fan will be checking up on you from Italy. Get yourself out there running. Are you playing touch this summer? I hope so.

The tiare is a flower, a beautiful island flower. This Tiare should be out there for everyone to see. I am waiting to read about her story, much the same way as I read about Jonah Lomu's story from school days to fabulous sportsman days. I have talked to her coaches. I believe Tiare is that good.

10 February 2008

flying things

This morning two blowflies came into my house. That means Summer is nearly here.

And they try to tell me it isn't even Spring...




(this is my garden, photo nearly two weeks ago...)

9 February 2008

the rascal

is emerging...

there is still more work to do but this version feels more like the mischief I know.


In my little chunks of Italian life over the last two - now nearly three - years, when I was living here without a car, I enjoyed waiting. Waiting for the bus, waiting for the train, waiting for a lift with friends, just waiting. It was legitimate down-time, something I had never allowed myself to have before. In that time I listened to the language, I marvelled at my surroundings, I enjoyed the sun or the mist swirling around the castle ruins. Eventually I became brave enough to try to speak to others who were waiting. Now I have a car I miss that kind of waiting.

Yesterday, when I went in to get things done at the picture framers, I could have excused myself and gone off and done the other chores I had lined up for the evening. My New Zealand self would never have spent that time just leaning on the counter, just waiting. Just waiting? No. Chatting to the charming owner and her nephew, the jobs taking considerable time as we were joined for parts of the conversation by her husband who was doing my work in the back room. Rushing to the next chore would not be living this Italian life. The expectation is that I will wait while the work is done. Waiting, taking time, is part of what it is all about.

When I go to the Post Office to pay an account (electricity, internet, water, garbage, rates are all paid at the Post Office) I allow at least an hour. If I don't have that time spare I choose another day. Yes, at all these places, you must wait. But when you get to the counter you are not rushed, you have the undivided attention of the clerk. You are treated as though you are the only customer there. And, behind you, others chat, decide whether to stay or go, and generally are content and patient. Just occasionally, someone asks to be let in ahead. And just occasionally, when you make this unexpected offer, the reward is a huge smile. So when I am waiting to be served in a shop, and the conversation seems to be little to do with purchasing merchandise, I try to remember that soon even I will be able to join in and make the most of my shopping time too.

To begin with, when I tried to shop alone, often armed with dictionary and pre-written list, I could see the panic in the eyes of those who had to try to serve this oddity, this English-speaking woman who had chosen to live in this village. Now even the women serving in the supermarket butchery and the delicatessen, who don't see me so very often, will joke with me, as they did last night when I overheard them doing a take-off of "Life is Now" from a television advertisement, or offer to help if they see I am dithering over the prices of pre-packed or off-the-leg prosciutto. It feels good to practice, to learn, in the shops while you are waiting.

But it is a work day, so back to the paintings... mmm... thinks to herself... I enjoyed breakfast outside so much this morning I think I will have lunch outdoors too. Because, away from the computer, the sun, and my Italian life, is waiting...

8 February 2008

just couldn't do it

tried so hard to keep away from the computer, but I think it has a people magnet inside...

This evening (we have siesta all year round, shops open again at 4.30 or 5pm) I went to the picture framer to have the portrait of Angela remounted and trimmed, and my large map of Europe - that hangs in my stairwell and was caught in the wind last year - repaired. I chatted there for nearly an hour, about this and that, as far as my vocabulary would take me. At the end of that time, there was no bill for the work done. Not a cent. I tried to pay, but no. Not permitted.

Further along the road, negotiating traffic, bright lights in the half dark, my phone rang. Forgetting the law, I answered it. As I dodged the ambling pedestrians, cars on right side of road, occasionally the wrong side of road, feeling perfectly safe (with cell phone in hand?), I thought... wouldn't have been able to do this a year ago!

I guess that's progress?

And so far, everyone who has seen the portrait of Angela has recognised her instantly. Makes me feel pretty good :-) Now to get that "imp of mischief", as Nana Jean would have called him, and his big sister, ready to go home as well...

no post today...um...

I don't think I'll write today. It's spring cleaning day, glorious outside. Almost a "computer-free" day. Almost.

Life can be far too serious sometimes; here's a little verse I saw in a school staffroom once. (Blame it on the butterflies, I found there was a little one on the fob pocket as well...)

(author unknown, and please picture with it a plump and friendly glow-worm looking back at you with a sparkle in his eye and his...)

I wish I were a glow-worm,
A glow-worm's never glum
'Cos how can you be gloomy
When the sun shines out your bum?

7 February 2008

ssshhh! Don't tell!

It is incredibly difficult to buy clothing that fits the Antipodean "bottom half" in the Northen Hemisphere. If it goes around the wonderfully accommodating child-bearing hips then there is always the assumption that one has a paunch to match. Well no, I don't. Once upon a 34-24-36 girl, I still have a waist. And some curves. And that makes it so hard to buy clothing in shops or markets which sell clothes made by petite Chinese for slender Italians. (Current measurements remain secret, even from me).

On Tuesday my friendly Moroccan street vendor finally persuaded me to try some jeans. And... yes... One pair was an - almost - OK fit. So today, under my stylish coat and above my Scottish boots (it was a power dressing day) I wore my new black jeans. And that's how there came to be a yellow butterfly on my backside as I sat in the mayoral offices of the City Hall.

One of the occasional delights of my old and dusty house is the livestock I share it with. No, not Zacchi, he is in disgrace, and the stairs have been washed again. But the tiny little grey-pink-mauve gecko that I put out when I swept was such a beautiful wee thing I was tempted to keep him inside. I don't see them so often these days, and I marvel that they can grow and survive with only the occasional neglected pot plant for shelter. But each time I see one, running up the wall, under my shoes, between the floor and the door, it is a real delight.

6 February 2008

not so scary

I wanted to do something that scared me a little, pushed me outside my comfort zone. But I didn't mean irresponsible, just exciting. I prefer calculated risks. I might wander around Rome on my own, but right now, for several reasons, it would be crazy to wander around Naples alone.

I'm the "belts and braces" girl who backs things up in a minumum of three places every day before they get to the publisher, and had her dissertation flying aound cyberspace for two years just in case her computer crashed and the CDs wouldn't read. So maybe, by "scary", I meant something that was just unfamiliar enough to keep all my senses alive. I'm still looking for that delicious something.

Yesterday I took four of my increasing number of new portraits to be critiqued by an artist. You have to do that sometimes, when you work alone. It keeps you honest, stops you from getting complacent. Putting them on a blog does that too, I suspect.

Now yesterday could have been scary. He is very talented, well respected, and part of a very talented family. His father and grandfather were very well known artists. One of them did the frescoes in the chapel in the local cemetery.

He was very kind. He pointed out something to change on one, my bright tablecloth needs to be darkened, it distracts. He said to leave big sister as she is, once I have finished her face. That pleased me, I was going to do that anyway. Another he recognised easily, as did his wife, but he said rather cautiously that my rendition, although well painted, was more beautiful than the original. But not to change it. Isn't that what portraits are for? To bring a little of the inside, out?

I wish now that I had taken them all for him to see, but then I wouldn't have been able to take Zacchi, and I had already left him for a few hours. Demanding little fellow he is, that Zacchi.

The artist said, "My compliments. Keep painting portraits". At least that's what I think he said. That encouragement was good timing, because right now I am taking a break from another that I am struggling with.

Remember the portrait of the new glasses? It is a good likeness of the child. Possibly a very good likeness. But you have to look hard to see the mischief. When I see him it is the mischief I see first, and then the child. I'm trying again. This time, I am hoping to paint mischief that might just happen to look a little like my friend.

5 February 2008

with permission

...introducing Bruno and Irene. I think peace should look a lot like this...

I refer you to Bruno's comments on my earlier blog, "every morning". I like his point of view. We can't change the world, many have tried and failed. But we can change ourselves, and as we change, so do those around us, and so it can spread, each of us becoming the best we can, and serving in our own small corners.

When I was a child I went to church in the local hall. There was always a part of the service specifically directed at the children, and a children's hymn. I had two favourites.

One was:
"Jesus bid us shine like a clear pure light,
Like a little candle, burning in the night,
In this world is darkness, so we must shine,
You in your small corner, and I in mine"

and the other:
"Jesus wants me for a sun beam to shine for Him each day,
In every way try to please Him, at home, at work, at play.
A sun beam, a sun beam, Jesus wants me for a sun beam
A sun beam, a sun beam, I'll be a sunbeam for him."

I don't really attend church any more. I can't define what I mean by God any more. But I do believe. And in a time of darkness, the song that kept me going was also about light. I can't find the words, now, so I could get them wrong. But it was something along these lines:

Light a candle in the darkness
You will see flicker glow
Ask a friend to light another
And the light will soon begin to grow

Others friends will come to join you
Bringing candles of their own....

(Can anyone help me with the words to this? Oh dear, that's not what this post was about! I have just had to delete a whole paragraph! How easily distracted I am).

I think you would like that song, Bruno. That's what you are doing, in your work. Lighting many candles with friends.

But yes, when the job looks too big, when the problems seem huge, remember how a tiny candle in a window was enough to guide a ship safely into port on a stormy night.

There is a danger that the candle has become a cliché as a symbol. But that is only because it is such a good one. In times of darkness, how much hope we get when we can see a tiny light.

And here, on a "spring" day, with full "winter" sun, there is lots of light.

Post script, with thanks to Tania:

Light a candle in the darkness
You will see a tiny glow
Ask a friend to light another
And watch the light begin to grow
Others soon will come to join you
Bringing candles of their own
As the light and the warmth start spreading
You'll no longer be alone

A ray of hope
Is only a shaft of light
And a ray of hope is all you need
Deep in your heart

I still say it is spring

The sun is shining, the birds are singing, the spring flowers are bursting out everywhere, even down under my olive trees. And just to tempt you more, here is my wee village. I live in one of the lower houses. Have a great day, really and truly make the most of it. Whatever you need to do, do it today (or write it down for tomorrow if you are off to sleep now, perhaps). And if it is inside, put on some music, it fills the soul. I'm off to paint....

every morning

the first thing I do is check my emails. That has been my habit for years now, where ever I lived. My family and friends are well spread, and at any time one of them might be awake, sending an email. I used to turn the computer on each morning, but now that it is also my telephone, often I don't turn it off.

The bonus of that is, if I have also left my emails open (not wise, I know) that I don't have to face my home page every day. My home page is stuff.co.nz world news. I have yet to open that and read something that made my day brighter.

For a while I changed my home page, and then I felt irresponsible. I should, ought, need to know what is happening in the world. But actually, no, none of those things. I could live here quite happily in a dream world, pretending they don't exist. Painting pretty pictures. They don't need to reach me, those horrors that are happening out there. But if I do know, can I sit here and not try to do something, even one tiny little thing each day, to try and change what is happening?

Who was it that said that to stay silent is to be as guilty as he who does the deed?

Somehow, almost by accident, I have ended up becoming a volunteer docent for a war museum, and a battle field tour guide. Sometimes it feels wrong, but when I see that I can open someones eyes, take them to somewhere that they might feel another's pain, then it feels right.

Again, almost accidentally, I have begun painting portraits. None of this made sense to me. I asked myself which of my many jobs is my priority? I think it is falling into place. For now, I must improve my portraiture skills. I can practice that while I live here, improve because I must. And then I will paint for peace. And if I must do that through painting the horrors of war, then so be it.

But it wont be the soldiers and places that I paint, or the heroism. I cannot presume to know what those brave people face. When I guide young men fresh from Afghanistan over the mountains around Cassino, nothing of what they have experienced shows in their faces. They keep their pain well hidden.

It is the aftermath, what happened to the civilians, that I choose to paint. Because here I live among those people, and among my elderly friends I see the effects of malnutrition, I hear the tales of starvation, of survival, of living petrified by the bombing, hiding in the caves in the winter of 1944. The images these people carry, of rows of dead soldiers along the road waiting for burial in temporary graves, the smells and the fear, they will take to their graves. But first, it seems that now they need to share them, they need to be heard.

I don't think those paintings will be small. But sometimes, if you want to draw the viewer in, to tell them something so personal that they can't walk away unchanged, then small is best.

Now I am not ready to do that work. I need to paint happy things, to get stronger myself. But one day I will be.


I have to figure out how to update my website again. I want to paint about hope, to promote a culture of peace. But first we must paint reality. Or maybe, in writing this, I have just done that. Maybe I can move on.

4 February 2008

bits and pieces

I was optimistic, got it wrong again, this is from an email this morning...

"Spring? We'll have this season at march 21 bella ! You have to be more patient this is a long winter."

Darn. Well I don't care, for me it is spring.

As I put the treadmill pendenza (slope) up to 8 for the first time at the gym this morning I asked myself "Why do I always need a challenge?" Why do I never take the easy option? I don't know the answer. But in an email recently I waxed on about how the word "bored" was not in my vocabulary (ask my children on that one!) Maybe I get bored easily, and have to always have a challenge? But I don't think so. I think it is because there is a busy creative life in my head, there is always another picture being painted, another story being written, another house being planned; my head gets too full sometimes, and my brain yells "stop!"

It's a bit the same with emotions, too, I think. I suspect that getting past that 60th birthday in New Zealand was harder for me than for the birthday boy. Someone once said to me, you artists feel things too much, you're much more emotional, you see things differently. Perhaps we do. Maybe that's why traditionally we all go mad, and to think that I was blaming the toxins that we inhale and absorb as we work!

But now, we're over another hill, back at the gym, spring is here despite what my friend says, even though I know that February can be the coldest month in this part of Italy, and it really is, very much, good to be alive.

And here's something to think about. Yesterday I added to a previous blog about the candles for calming storms. I hadn't been to the church to get one. Not my thing, I thought. At 2am this morning we had a huge storm. I got up and pulled things in from outside. I unplugged the computer (having lost internet connection in the storm, mine is not a landline) and snuggled back into bed. The thunder crashed, the windows shook, lightning lit the room despite the rattling shutters being closed, and the storm rolled up and down the valley, across to the mountains on the other side, only a few miles away, and back up my side again. It took well over an hour to pass. Each time it sounded as though the windows might break, I thought about that candle.


I haven't done anything that scares me for a while. It's well overdue.


3 February 2008


There is nothing quite as perfect as a raindrop on a blade of grass...

although maybe a raindrop is less beautiful without a little light shining on it.

Walking time is healthy thinking time. Not all thinking time is healthy. Today, at Zacchi's request, we walked a long way.

Zacchi discovered new smells, more bravery in the face of big dogs, new friends, and a serving of a free pasta meal being dispensed to the stray dogs near the gorge.

I discovered that I have not yet given myself permission to be myself. I thought I had. But recent email conversations have left me thinking I still have a long long way to go, before the real me is brave enough to stay out in the open full time.

Thank you, for the light that sparkled on the raindrops today.

2 February 2008

big sister

You can't have one without the other...

step 1

step 2

...and little brother in his new glasses is nearly finished, I just need a break from the close work for now.

today's weather is as important as the sausages

To really appreciate my Italian family, you need to be able to fully comprehend this. Food is very important here. Over a meal, or when driving, men talk about food more than anything else, it seems to me. They are experts on the subject, and know every type of mushroom, herb, pepper, which village has the best pizza, the best bread... I am impressed, and feel far too inadequate to enter such conversations. The palette here is so refined that children can explain the taste difference achieved by using a different shaped pasta, even though all pasta is made from the same ingredients.

My friends made pork sausages today. 133 fat pork sausages with all sorts of interesting added flavours. Despite having a mincer for the meat, every scrap of meat for those sausages was cut into the tiniest little pieces by hand. Why? Because it tastes better that way.

The sausages will hang to dry for three weeks now. They will be fantastic.


Today is the day my neighbours watch the weather closely. If there is bad weather today, then Spring will start tomorrow. If there is some sun today, even only a tiny bit, we are in for another 40 days of mixed weather, a long drawn out winter with spring not really arriving until after the 5th of April.

Candles distributed today at mass can be used to lessen the fury of bad storms.

I single-handedly ensured that it will be spring tomorrow. Despite the cold and the mist this morning, I put all my towels out on the fence to dry. I needn't have run the rinse cycle.

I thought that spring, along with the blossoms and the lambs, was already here.

1 February 2008

today and tomorrow and for many weeks more...

Small beginnings but it really has started!

From this... which is dirt and can be very dusty

To this...which is stucco, and exposed rocks

and when it is dry, and finished, it is washed in acid, polished, and sealed... it will be beautiful, I can't wait! And oddly enough, although since I was a child my favourite building in New Zealand was the old stone store in Kerikeri, never ever in my life had I dreamed of living in a stone house several hundred years old. I had always planned to build something spacious, light and airy, with bay windows and a wonderful library. Funny how life turns out, sometimes! (Yes, I think I have said that before...)

it's true that less is more...

The last two or three days I've been struggling with the background to the portrait of the new glasses. I had a pretty OK version happening, a neutral scene taking ideas from somewhere between my studio and his house, using a lot of scumbling, creating the perfect background for the wall it might hang on. But it didn't feel right. I painted four different versions. Three were good. But still it didn't feel right. I photographed the painting, and looked at it on the computer. I still prefered the plain unpainted version on the earlier blog post.

I took a lunch break. I came back to it. Intuition had said leave it plain. The rest of the portrait is not too bad. I worked again, warming, brightening, lightening. It was going well. But suddenly, I did it. I completely wiped out the background, and the rascal was there again, larger than life, exactly as he is. He had become lost in my thinking brain.

It wasn't so hard, in the end, really. I took a big brush of white acrylic, made a few bold movements, and the background picture was gone. No baggage, no trying to conform, no wondering which skin to wear. Felt great! His personality is back in the picture.

And that's how it should be. I am painting a portrait, not a picture. There is a difference.