31 March 2008


It is tiring, trying to function in another language... and maybe my very late night speaking Italian with two German women contributed a little to my morning lethargy.

I am cross with myself; I didn't do what I wanted to this morning because I slept in and then became caught up in other things.

Domani, domani, there is always tomorrow...

Yesterday I explained the various meanings of the word "cross". The English language is as difficult as Italian. It's a wonder we can communicate at all.

Thank goodness for smiles, that's what I say!


But she was not tired enough, says Zacchi.

The indignity of it!

First she unblocked the handbasin, then while she was wet and mucky she turned her attention to me. A shampoo, and a trim. How would you like it, having your backside trimmed?

Dreadlocks are "in" mum, don't you know anything? It was hard work, getting those to stay.

But I admit I quite like my sleek new look... Ok, you can brush me more often, I know you want to...

30 March 2008


I am torn... between sitting in a sunbeam and cleaning the mess that I have made in my "sorting out the studio that was once a kitchen"...

In the sorting we found a stinco (ham hock, it comes pre-cooked in sealed foil) which Zacchi and I shared for lunch. One of us had forgotten it it was there.

The food is all orderly and in the correct bins again. All evidence of Easter baking long gone, all those cakes a distant memory and a slightly expanded paunch.

The debris is not exactly sorted. The studio paper and canvas storage part still contains serving dishes and plates. Some logistical problems linger, which drove us to the computer to think.

The paint cupboard has been in perfect order since day one. That goes without saying.

What to do... what to do...?

That's it, decision made. The sunbeam wins... there is always tonight...

(Why didn't I pick up a bottle of wine with the groceries... a nice lightly chilled white would be just perfect...).

PS: Ooooooh sometimes you just squeak it! I had finished in the kitchen, even put a new tablecloth on, and had swept the floors, and Zacchi and I were negotiating the finer points of his backside grooming when the doorbell rang. It was two German friends who had come to return a plate (that Easter baking).

We drank tea in the sunshine, and eventually went to see the exhibition. There we had wine and bruschetta, (brr-oo-sket-ta) and wonderful conversation sliding between three languages. Fortunately one could translate the German into English when the other ran out of Italian - which was our preferred means of communication - or from English into German when I ran out of Italian.

Big satisfied sigh... :-) It is great speaking Italian with others who understand how difficult it is to learn and how tiring it can be trying to keep it up late into the day.

29 March 2008


Today the sun was glorious. And even more exciting was seeing the lizards scampering up and down the walls, a little clumsy, not quite so fast, and I am sure much fatter than last year. It is the first day they have been out to entertain me since winter called them away.

Zacchi and Queenie had lots of fun, and all around the valley I could hear people out gathering asparagus, cutting grass, generally celebrating the fact that picnic time is here. Easter Monday is traditionally the day of the first picnic in the mountains, but that wasn't possible last weekend. Today surely made up for it. Zacchi and I were content to stay home, soak up the sun in a deck chair, and declare today a holiday.

I washed all my merino and my polar neck tops. Dare I put them away? Maybe I'll keep the merino out a little longer... there is still snow very low and not too far away. But today, unless you looked, you would never have suspected it.

Mmmmm... thinks hard... Zacchi, do you think tomorrow might be a holiday too? If you say yes, we could go up to the ruins...

Tomorrow daylight saving starts. It is also the last day of the exhibition. Monday it is back to painting again.

28 March 2008

a great day...

It started with collecting ragamuffin from his holiday home. I am sometimes almost put out by how happily he goes to stay, even though I have encouraged this. But when he saw me this morning he grovelled, he whimpered, he flattened himself into my feet, he rolled on his back with his paws in the air, he wouldn't let me move without being right at my side.

Then later when I went to work he looked at me from his sunbeam outside on the mat, and didn't move a muscle. I locked the door beside him. No barking, no pleading, no scratching at the door. That is a first.

Work was good, a busload of Belgian teenagers. More happy customers, another good tip! I don't approve of tipping, do it very reluctantly myself, but I do like happy customers. During the tour the group leader asked me what I charged. I repeated the quote I had given him by email. He asked "But how much more should I pay to you?" I said "No, that is my charge". He teaches Latin, not maths. He paid me at the last stop. I like his maths.

Back home again I notice someone has been putting dishes in my sink. I am sure it wasn't me. I think it has been a kitchen for too many days. Tomorrow it has to be a studio again. Studios don't seem to grow dishes the way kitchens do.

And Zacchi says, my mat is beside the right bed, Mum is at the computer, the heater is on, all is right with the world.

27 March 2008

sometimes you have to

Today has been really interesting. I have been with friends who are planning to start a new business. I admire their altruism, I love their enthusiasm, I really wish I could say with certainty that they will make a great success of this.

But I have seen that this is a depressed area, that people do not accept change readily, that dreams and reality are likely to be far apart.

I advise caution. Extreme caution. I would love to see their ideas come to fruition. I want to say "go for it, it will fly". But today I played devil's advocate. I spent 8 hours pointing out negatives. Sometimes you have to.


I have my own plans, my own dreams, my own business. I have no regular income. I have a tough boss. I have very few overheads. I don't pay rent. I don't employ anyone. I am my own devil's advocate. I am my own advisor. I think I will make it.


This morning, I woke up singing. I have no idea why. There were no emails, there were no phone calls. There is much work to do. It is now quite late. My back is sore. My feet hurt. My eyes are tired.

I am still singing :-)

Oh, and Zacchi has gone to stay with his other mother tonight. She needed her toes licked. I suppose I miss him... yes, I think I do.

Drat, the scruffy little mutt has won me!


26 March 2008

day off and on

Today is my day off, no painting, no "real work". It is market day. I didn't need anything, didn't have the energy to be sociable, but I made myself go to be a regular shopper because that is part of living here.

As I approached the market I saw a friend who speaks Greek, French, Italian, but not a word of English. Being rather too tired to struggle in Italian today, I didn't draw her attention to me.

I made my two small purchases, the first more important than the second. I bought some parmigiano from a stall I don't often pass, haven't bought from there before.

I'm a cautious shopper, when shopping alone. There is always the danger that a stall holder who doesn't know me might like to extract a tourist dollar or three. He cut the amount I indicated from the huge round of cheese. I noted the per kilo cost and carried it home to weigh and check. The result would determine whether or not I shopped there again. I am pleased to say that, give or take a little for my maths and scales accuracy, the price was correct. I will buy from him again.

The second was a spontaneous purchase of casual summer shoes (5 euros!) I can't decide whether they are fun and trendy or just plain ugly, but I am thinking "fun" for now.

The same friend was in the same spot, still chatting. She greeted me warmly at the same time another was asking me about my Easter. I told him that I had missed my children at Easter and he agreed that Easter was all about having family home together, making sure I understood by cradling his arms to indicate togetherness. I suspect my other friend overheard. She invited me to come with her, she had errands to run in another town. I dithered, thinking of Zacchi in the cold and the work from yesterday still not finished. She looked as though she really meant the invitation. Why not go? Grazie, thankyou, I joined her.

She is a wonderful musician. We talked about Easter, religion and music, and while she did her errands I listened to the wonderful choral Easter CDs she had in the car. It is true, music fills the soul. I didn't know how much I had missed that kind of music until I heard it again. Next Easter I will make sure that I am in the church where she is choir mistress and organist. It has the best choir around. I think I needed music, more than food, last Sunday.

She is very patient with me, searching for simple ways to explain things to me. She is an independent spirit herself, and likes my courage in moving to the other side of the world. (It was neither brave nor difficult, it felt right, like coming home, so the esteem is not really deserved). She turned down a chance for a music career in America because she couldn't contemplate life outside this village. Her talent is not wasted, it just reaches a much smaller audience here.

I know some of my friends don't agree with my spiritual beliefs while others think I am quite crazy. Usually I keep my beliefs to myself. But today, having received an email mentioning angels (jokingly but not unkindly) I am challenged to say that I am sure it was not by chance that she invited me to go with her this morning. It was exactly what I needed, music, language, and renewed and more meaningful contact with a wonderfully talented friend. Whoever it is who watches over me is doing a pretty good job of providing everything I need at exactly the right time!

I came home to an excited Zacchi, rewarded for his solitude with orange cake and a shared lunch. Yes, he really is Italian. He ate all the oily cooked tomato skins I offered him. Carefully licked them out from between the dog biscuits. What do you make of a dog that prefers cooked carrots, pasta and tomato to dogfood? I suspect he too has lived here before.

25 March 2008

writing a blog

How does the saying go? "If not you, who? If not now, when?" You don't have to be a star to share a little light.

I have been happily "blogging along" since 7 January. I chose to make my blog public, not terribly personal, because sometimes on the www I have found something that I really needed to read, and maybe occasionally I can put back a little of what I have taken. I know people check in occasionally, or regularly, and some email while others stay mostly silent. I have no way of knowing how many readers I have, or who they are. It would be nice to know, but it doesn't really matter. Wanting to know is about ego, and we have too much of that in this world already.

So, mostly, I write for me. There are hidden messages to myself in some of the entries. Sometimes, they are not so hidden! Sometimes I am driven to write something and I don't know where it has come from, so on those occasions I simply trust that someone somewhere needs to read the words that flow through my fingers. I have abandoned all thought of writing a balanced, interesting, "art-philosophy-living in Italy" type blog.

This morning I read a blog post that I want to share here. It makes you realise that we can all make a difference amidst the horror stories we read and try to ignore, ignore, that is, as long as they are not in our own back yard. There is only one person you can change, and that is yourself, but in making that change you might inspire, you might bring other changes. Backyards have neighbours, and those neighbours have neighbours...

Whatever you do, it does make a difference.

How many young students, over how many years, have had their day made better knowing that when they arrive at the classroom door over in the "Pre-fab Block" there is a smile, common sense security, and a practical optimism waiting for them? Nothing temporary or "Pre-fabricated" inside the classrooms; real life evolving and teachers with hearts of gold.

How many hearts are made lighter, because a shop assistant actually treated the customer like an individual human being? I remember one such assistant who consistently, seemingly effortlessly, sent every jaded shopper away from her check-out position feeling that they were special, leaving with a smile.

You don't forget things like that.

We do make a difference.

From the Bippiblog today I borrow Mahatma Ghandi.

"You must be the change you want to see in the world".

That says it all, really.

24 March 2008

scary stuff...

Today I decided, after being a little "discombobulated" by Easter this year, that instead of crawling back into my shell which was looking like a pretty good option, I should take some advice that I frequently forget and do something that scares me.

I did.

I feel so much better now!

(No, I am not telling...)


One day I will really learn to fly, not just metaphorically but in an aeroplane, as other members of my family have. The last time it came up in conversation, the oldest female pilot in New Zealand was a relative of mine. I don't know if she is still flying now. In fact, I don't even know if she is still living. But if she is doing one, you can be sure she is doing the other...

Why just dream?


23 March 2008

Easter Sunday

Today a young boy - too shy to speak as he left his gift beside me - gave me a little chicken in a nest he had made for me. The chicken is fluffy, and the egg shell it is "emerging" from is real. It is quite beautiful.

His younger brother explained to me how the snail that was supposed to clean their fish tank had eaten 25 little fish overnight, and now sits in "gaol" in its own part of the tank while the new fish swim freely.

The apartment was modern, huge, open plan. There were four apartments in the building, one for each member of the family. Best of all was the "rustic" kitchen, additional, communal, on the ground floor. I think by rustic they meant traditional, large and accommodating. It certainly didn't look "rustic" in the sense that I would use the word. It was huge, the table would seat 12 to 20 people. It had a large oven, a big fireplace, and room for the children to play. To me it represented all that is good about Italian culture. In building this new apartment block for his family, the grandfather had ensured the continuity of togetherness.

I am grateful that today he also invited a lone Kiwi to share his family. And grateful to all of them that they were caring and patient enough to speak slowly and simply, rephrasing when necessary, so that I could join in the conversations.

22 March 2008

it's not often

...that I buy a whole loaf of bread, so I thought I would share this one with you...

Bread is purchased by weight, and you can ask to have it cut to whatever size you require. I always ask for meno cotto (less cooked) because I have a fear of having to pay for dentistry here, although I do enjoy those crusts...

To cut the bread it is quite normal to cradle it in your arms and simply "hack" pieces off, people choosing which piece of crust they want, but I prefer to use a bread board and have reasonably manageable slices. (Don't be so boring, Kay, live dangerously...)

You get some idea of the size of the loaf if you look at the wine bottle behind the biscuit barrel, and consider that the bread is covering a large area of the bench.

And yes, you know when you have been living in Italy a while when you have more types of pasta than jars to put it in...

a new day

It's Saturday. A new day. I've phoned New Zealand. I've done the dishes from all that baking (Yes!) I've put a brand new table cloth on to brighten the room (3 Euros at the market on Wednesday). I've put my paints away for a few days. Until you open the cupboards my studio looks like a kitchen-living room again. (Visitors looking for food will be very confused!)

Now I am going out to spend some time with the daughter of a German soldier killed in Cassino when she was a toddler. She has bought a house in Aquino, not too far from here. At lunch will also be the son of a woman who was born in a cave above the town of Veroli as bombers flew over that town. Here, I cannot escape the war.

On my car window is a sticker that says:

Arbeit fùr den Freiden
Travail pour la Paix
Work for peace
Werk de vrede
Lavoro per la pace
Pa6ota bo nmr mnpa
Praca dla pokoju

(Please excuse the lack of correct lettering in other languages)

The sticker was given to me by a German veteran soldier, at the German Cemetery at Caira where 20,000 young men lie buried.

The printed sticker is sponsored by Volksbund.
I am often asked if I am German or Polish. And it has just occurred to me that I drive a VW Polo.

21 March 2008

chains and daisy chains

For two days I have been unable to write. I don't know what has been hanging over me, but it was a struggle to stay positive, to go out, to be productive. I can think of many reasons I could attribute it to, but I don't think any is particularly accurate, it is simply how it was. So I looked after myself, I baked carrot cakes, chocolate cakes, I cuddled Zacchi, I rested.

Now, nearing the end of Good Friday, I am feeling much much better.

Last Sunday, Palm Sunday, Zacchi and I joined the procession from down in the lower part of our parish - at a tiny little church where men sit under the trees and play cards every day, about 20 minutes walk from home - up the hill to the church in the piazza here.

I am not Catholic, and the "Stations of the Cross" are not part of what I do. But I live here, and so I did. Walking down to the little church was nice. Others greeted me, asked if I was going to the procession. There was no surprise or disapproval of Zacchi coming too. Dogs are a part of the community too.

Outside the little church was a table with many large branches and baskets of smaller branches of olive trees. These were blessed in a short ceremony, then distributed. They stay in the home all year, and should anyone have an argument, then a twig or leaf is offered to to make the peace. Quite literally, here you offer an olive branch. I have mine too, one given by a friend explaining the tradition, and the one I took from the basket and carried home in the procession.

Children in their white gowns carried palms, and led the way. The priest from Madagascar - I agree with the woman who said "He's not like a priest, he's more like a friend" - followed, wearing a splendid red gown. Men took it in turns to carry the loud speaker on a pole, and somehow I imagined that to be the cross.

The first station of the cross was at a little madonna in the countryside, one of the many you find often where you least expect them. After that one, there seemed to be no particular reason for the places we stopped at. I decided to photograph something at each spot. So Zacchi and I have our own "stations of the cross" from nature.

One of these was a patch of daisies. I love daisies. And daisy chains. I wonder how many many hours I spent as a child, connecting daisies? Daisies represent all that is simple and good. And hope, and happiness. From daisy chains, we can move to the paper dolls, cut so they are all holding hands. I have always seen these paper dolls as a symbol of unity, youth of the world joining together.

As we approached our village (in the photo, on the hillside) I found a poppy growing among the stones on the edge of the road. It is too early for poppies to bloom. This is the first. Poppies are for peace. I think it is never too early for poppies. And if they have to be artificial ones until the real ones grow, we can live with that too.

This morning I received an angry email. The writer was justifiably angry, angry about what is happening in the world. I didn't answer until a few minutes ago. This is a (slightly edited) part of what I wrote.

It has been an interesting day.

I understand your anger, and I believe we should only be angry if we use that anger to bring about change. When I read your email I was not in a good space to respond. For two days I have felt that something was hanging over me, something was not right. I still don't know what caused it, there have been many things happen that are sad, but I don't think any of them were the cause. But while I was feeling like that I couldn't think clearly and I couldn't write.

Then from reading your email I read another which contained ... (writing) about torture of doctors who refused to drug athletes to perform better. Yesterday I read about an escape through the wall from East Germany, costing the life of a daughter.

I started to read my homepage, stuff.co.nz world news, and it was all too much. I felt completely unable to deal with any of it. I had to go out, to find myself again. Because when I am lost, I am of no use to anyone.

It took me a lot of time and a few tears to find myself. But I am back. And for now, I choose not to deal with the bigger things, because I am not ready. I have some personal grief that I must work through first. And then, I will start by remembering to smile.

And if I smile, people will smile back, I will feel lighter, they will feel lighter. Maybe they will smile at someone else. Maybe they wont yell, when they go into their houses. Maybe, just maybe, my smile will start a chain reaction.

And as I wrote that email, sent it off to another country, I remembered the daisies I had seen down below. If it were not after ten at night I would go down and pick them, and find a child to make daisy chains with, and then maybe go for a walk and smile a little, then a lot... and maybe, even probably, I would have made a difference in the world today.

20 March 2008


I baked.
It smelt good.
I ate too much of it.
It tasted good.
I gave most of the baking away.
That felt good.

You can smell a different culture in my kitchen.

Tomorrow we walk, even if it is raining.

Good Friday is a normal working day here.
That feels wrong.
And not a hot cross bun in sight.
That feels wrong too.

And (sad face) no marshmallow Easter eggs...
so (happy face) I bought some gelatine...

(for vegetarian daughters, there is still chocolate...).

Uniforms on dummies

Yesterday I held a WWII helmet while a NZ uniform was changed on a dummy. In good condition, the helmet was heavy, strong. As I looked at it I remembered a photographic image of temporary graves. New Zealanders, killed in Cassino. On each grave was a helmet. In each helmet a hole. Five young men, each killed by a snipers bullet.

I think of the WWI poem by Ted Hughes, based on a photograph taken at Lumb Falls, that I used when studying the literature of war with teenage students. In another few years, forgetting how they wrestled the messages from the lines of poetry, each of the students could have been one of those Six Young Men. And so it goes on, another generation, another century, another war. Uniforms are better on dummies.

Six Young Men

The celluloid of a photograph holds them well -
Six young men, familiar to their friends.
Four decades that have faded and ochre-tinged
This photograph have not wrinkled the faces or the hands.
Though their cocked hats are not now fashionable,
Their shoes shine. One imparts an intimate smile,
One chews a grass, one lowers his eyes, bashful,
One is ridiculous with cocky pride -
Six months after this picture they were all dead.

All are trimmed for a Sunday jaunt. I know
That bilberried bank, that thick tree, that black wall,
Which are there yet and not changed. From where these sit
You hear the water of seven streams fall
To the roarer in the bottom, and through all
The leafy valley a rumouring of air go.
Pictured here, their expressions listen yet,
And still that valley has not changed its sound
Though their faces are four decades under the ground.

This one was shot in an attack and lay
Calling in the wire, then this one, his best friend,
Went out to bring him in and was shot too;
And this one, the very moment he was warned
From potting at tin-cans in no-man's land,
Fell back dead with his rifle-sights shot away.
The rest, nobody knows what they came to,
But come to the worst they must have done, and held it
Closer than their hope; all were killed.

Here see a man's photograph,
The locket of a smile, turned overnight
Into the hospital of his mangled last
Agony and hours; see bundled in it
His mightier-than-a-man dead bulk and weight:
And on this one place which keeps him alive
(In his Sunday best) see fall war's worst
Thinkable flash and rending, onto his smile
Forty years rotting into soil.

That man's not more alive whom you confront
And shake by the hand, see hale, hear speak loud,
Than any of these six celluloid smiles are,
Nor prehistoric or, fabulous beast more dead;
No thought so vivid as their smoking-blood:
To regard this photograph might well dement,
Such contradictory permanent horrors here
Smile from the single exposure and shoulder out
One's own body from its instant and heat.

Ted Hughes

19 March 2008

when a little means a lot

I'm a Joe Bennett fan. Always have been, although I haven't read him recently. That is, until I got up to write this post.

My homepage is www.stuff.co.nz world news but sometimes I read other bits of stuff. And this morning, (it is 1.29 am as I type this, after a day in the garden I had an early night...) I read Joe Bennett on kindness, and in it he mentions hope.

OK, in the morning light, as I edit this post, the link is tenuous. But in the night I read it as something that was meant to be. Hope, and the world being the right way up.

You see, the post I wanted to write enough to get out of bed at 1am for was about "if you believe you can, or you can't, you are right". That involves hope. And much much more.

Yesterday a friend explained to me how he had learned to walk, and to urinate, having been told he would never do either of those things again. He said despite his determination he was not making progress with urinating until he bought a pig's bladder, complete with all its parts, and studied how the muscles worked. It was a matter of teaching some muscles to relax while the others contracted. Once he understood, he could learn.

I wont share more of his story as I haven't asked if I may, but I can tell you mine to illustrate the point I want to make.

At the age of 15 I started having regular traction on my spine. When I was 18 I was told that I would be in a wheelchair at 40. I was in such pain that I believed the prognosis. Despite my high pain threshold and doing all the "right things", keeping my weight down, exercising, doing corrective exercises, I was still in a huge amount of pain. Regular checks simply confirmed the prognosis. When the degeneration was bad enough, (when I got to about 96 on a scale of 100 I think it was) I could have an operation to freeze my movement. I was only at about 85.

My four children are close in age because of that looming wheelchair. There were even times I daren't hold a child, I had to be seated and have the child given to me. But mostly, I held back the pain and coped. Then something wonderful, something life-changing happened to me.

I was told of a physiotherapist who specialised in problem backs. She didn't have room for me but she squeezed me in to her already full case load. She talked to me about my life. She showed me films. She gave me things to read. She educated me. She explained what I was doing to my spine, and how to correct this. Through her, I understood, and could learn.

The male experts had looked at my xrays and said "you will be in a wheelchair at 40" and "you just have to accept that you can't make a bed, you can't do this, you can't do that...". The woman had asked me about myself and said "You will be doing.... Afterwards, you must.... to compensate". She understood me, and gave me hope. I understood her, and I believed I could.

I had a wonderful example to follow, when the going was tough. Two men came back from the war with identical amputations. Both were told they would never walk again. One believed his doctors. The other danced, played tennis, trained horses. He was my father-in-law. When he stayed with us it was my job to disguise his "work leg" for transport on the plane as he wore his "good leg" home.

How could I contemplate a wheelchair, when he had rejected his?

I think of two students from long ago who lead interesting international lives, both holding university degrees. Their early academic records would suggest they should never have attempted university study. Both believed they could do it. So they did.

Four little letters, h o p e. That's where we start. Combine it with belief, add education. How precious, how empowering, it is.

18 March 2008


a 40th birthday gift ...
of course I will have it finished and framed for Thursday...

Happy life-changing birthday, young friend! You can do it!

17 March 2008

is it cheating

to use a ladder when you climb up into the orange tree?

As I reached across, balancing inside the tree this morning, I felt really good that at 55 I can still climb trees. But then I remembered that the man who taught me to prune my olive trees a few weeks ago was far more agile, had better balance, climbed much higher while pruning, and he is 73. No room for feeling smug.

Then, up in that tree, I thought: is it important what I do in life, or is it more important, what I think?

How much we are defined by our thoughts. Should I fall out of my tree, miss the edge and go down a terrace or two, I doubt I would get up and walk away so easily. I might not climb trees again. But I would still have my thoughts, and they determine my attitude, my approach to the day.

I want to be like the woman who said of the rest home room she hadn't seen, "I like it already". Every morning, we choose how we will approach the day.

I have a friend who seeks adventure, seems to have an exciting, adrenalin-filled life. Big adventures, things I can only dream of. Sometimes, reading those emails, I am envious, feel very uninteresting, and if I allow myself to become diminished I write less about myself in reply.

But mostly I am grateful that I can take so much pleasure from watching the sunrise, seeing a leaf flutter gently to the ground, hearing the church bells echoing across the valley, having my 9 year old friend take my hand and assure me that, thanks to his "bastone" (stick) and Zacchi running ahead, there are no snakes where we are going.

Another friend in an email this morning discussed luxury and possessions, then said "WOW! Kick my ass if I start thinking like that :)" Don't worry, I will!

From where I sit, in my orange tree, I am very sure I would rather be defined by my thoughts than my possessions, by the friends I hold dear rather than the achievements I can list.

Each to his own, I say. But in the meantime, I have to get over my ethical dilemma. When I used the ladder to get up into my orange tree this morning, was I being sensible, or was it cheating?

16 March 2008

where else...

...would you find three adults, combined age of 170, sitting around the table after Palm Sunday lunch, watching a DVD of Shirley Temple playing Heidi?

Tears were running down my cheeks unchecked; my host left the table occasionally and I dared not look to see his tears. The hostess had tears as well, and she had watched it only yesterday. And no, there was not a child in the house.

Three mature wrinklies, choosing to watch a children's movie knowing it would make them cry.

I really, truly, love living here.

15 March 2008

rural roots still a little attached

Anyone for a little Wairoa nostalgia? I found this site and couldn't resist spending some time there. Some real rural Kiwi humour, at www.nobullshit.co.nz

Perhaps I have two homes after all. Although he lived not too far away I don't know the author, but his stories brought back a few memories...

And this is the local tavern in the distance in my photo of Whakapunaki in the previous blog, my childhood next door neighbour, and no, despite growing up a few paddocks away, I was never allowed to go inside...

We were on a "party line", six private homes and the pub on one phone line. You knew who was ringing whom by the style of the ring as they turned the handle. When the Wairoa police were coming to "raid" the pub in the days of 6pm closing we would know, because the pub ring was always followed by the sound of cars leaving the pub in a hurry. That was entertaining, but for me it wasn't so funny that the whole neighbourhood knew when my boyfriend rang every Tuesday evening to arrange a Saturday date.

Gene Lambert until I figure out how to contact you I'll say it here. I enjoyed your site hugely! (You didn't expect me to stay at the computer getting past that bull did you? The sun is shining, and besides, I have to go eat now...)

Thanks from a MaruMaru girl!

a rocky road to peace

When I walk Zacchi, I am sometimes frustrated by the number of stops we make to make to mark the spot. When Zacchi walks me, he is confused and frustrated by the number of stops I make to capture the spot. I look up, he sniffs down. On Thursday we decided that we really do need one of those retractable leads, no matter who is walking whom...


I love to be up, in all ways. Up high, physically, helps me to be up emotionally, spiritually. So even though I live up on a hillside and can look out over the valley, there is always the urge to climb higher, to look further. On Thursday, I did just that. I had had an awful day on Saturday, the day for celebrating women. Wednesday, my "day off", my day for me, I worked. It was still a day for me, I came home very much "up" after my guiding, but it was a work day. So on Thursday, feeling a little guilty about not working until I rationalised it as above, I went up. I found a spot in the sunshine, and just let the view and the sun fill my soul. And as I rested there, I told myself that this was me, just "being".

But now, as I write this, I look at my words "just let the view" and "just being". I think "just" has to be redefined in my personal vocabulary. I hereby renounce it's meaning "no more than, only", in relation to myself. I use that too often. Today, should I happen to go up the hillside to be, it is me, being. And it is right and just that I should be.


Thursday saw our long walk, the first after the flu. It was celebratory really, being "up" again, and of course the camera came too. I stopped, repeatedly, much to Zacchi's frustration. But the photos of the rocks I posted last night I have taken off the post, because they couldn't begin to convey what I felt. I was so full of the sense that, although it has no "logic" to it, it is right and proper that I should live here, in this rocky, ancient place.

It's the rocks. I absolutely love the rocks. One day I will try to put it into words, but for now it stays within my heart. But when I walk from my wee hamlet to the historic centre, along my mountainside, I am filled with a sense that it is so right for me to be here.

As a child I had a fabulous rock and river stone collection. I had an obsession with the Kerikeri Stone Store, long before I ever saw it. My favourite parts of the New Zealand landscape are the raw, powerful escarpments, the cuttings through the rocks on the Desert Road, the Napier-Taupo road, the Wairoa-Napier Road. When I went to my school reunion I have to confess that, contrary to my expectations, I felt little when I walked into the school, when I met old school friends. But driving the Napier-Wairoa road filled me with a sense of belonging, to the landscape, to the hills, to the ridges, to the rocky faces. It is a wonder I made it there safely at all, I don't think I looked at the road ahead of me as I drove.

My mountain, without a doubt, is Whakapunaki, although for more than 25 years I looked at Mt Te Aroha every day. But it feels as though, despite all my years in New Zealand, it was the rocky mountains around Roccasecca that were persistently calling, calling me home.


Whakapunaki, a sleeping giant, viewed from the place I once called home

Above my village

The Liri valley, and "my" little village

And further up...

Call me crazy if you wish, but I am very sure I have lived here before. She who couldn't stand on the glass panel in the Auckland Sky Tower without holding onto the rail felt young and as sure-footed as a mountain goat amongst these ruins.

14 March 2008

today will be (nearly) all italian

oggi devo studiare...

Today I must study.

Zacchi has gone to play with his little doggy friend next door. Her owner is just back from Switzerland, and I now have real butter, special cream, yummy cheese and Swiss chocolate...

yes, it's definitely back to the gym next week!

13 March 2008

bathroom revelations

This morning I ran out of "carta igienica".

Now most of you would think "bad house-keeping, but where's the big deal?"

Those of you who know me well know that I NEVER run out of toilet paper. This is the girl who used to buy it wholesale, 52 rolls to a carton.

This is the girl who is old enough to remember long drops, the sun streaming in, the pile of newspaper neatly torn into squares, being able to leave the door open to see the animals because her grandparent's long drop faced the hill and no one but friendly animals ever came down that way.

This is the girl who used to spend forever sitting in that outhouse rubbing newspaper until it was soft enough for a "baby's bottom". This is the girl who knows that dock leaves are best in an emergency out in the hills.

This is the girl who remembers being carried out into the dark last thing at night by her Dad, who talked to her all the way, past the possums in the orchard, but can't remember whether that was to keep her feet clean because she was ready for bed or because she was afraid of possums. I was three, and apparently the first change my parents made when they bought that farm was to install the toilet. I don't remember that happening, but I do remember the long drop. Later that is where my cousins and I hid the things we didn't want our mothers to know we were reading. I learnt a lot, in that out-house.

But as usual, I digress.

I have always thought of myself as a "belts and braces" girl. Always have a back-up plan, never take risks, or if you must, make sure they are calculated risks. But my family also had another expression, "flying by the seat of your pants". Occasionally I guess I did that too. And my grandmother always said that when you went out from home, you must always wear your newest underwear just in case there was an accident and you ended up in hospital, and someone might just see the under layer.

I have thought a lot about my grandmother over the last few years. She was quite a girl. A really strong, capable woman, pillar of society, fantastic cook, could make a dress out of nothing, and in her day, "quite a gal". As a teenager she was dared to swim across the Wairoa River where it runs through the town. She did, in her underwear. She got cramp, and couldn't swim back to her clothes. She had to wait on the North Clyde side until it was dark, and sneak back across the bridge to retrieve her clothes and her dignity. Does make you wonder a little about her friends, really!

She had an argument with her father at 19, and walked out of home, getting as far as Napier where she found work and stayed. She didn't communicate with her parents or come back for two years, when her father finally went to look for her. Wairoa to Napier was not an easy trip back then, and maybe father and daughter were both strong willed. That part I am only guessing.

She never learned to use a washing machine, and her hand washed bed-linen was always snowy white. When she died we found drawers of immaculately mended, perfectly folded, snowy white underwear. Waste not, want not. I learned that lesson well. She also taught me how to make the lightest of pikelets. I was making some at the very time she died.

I think she was 86 when she died. Six weeks prior to her death she was out in her garden, still digging with a spade. I used to write to her on Sundays. For several years, on the odd Sunday, I would sit down to write to her, only to remember that she had died. I guess she is still with me.

But that was another digression.

I think, at the beginning of this, I set out to say that the rest of yesterday's question, "what took you so long?" was quite likely to have been "What took you so long to learn to fly?" Not perfect grammar, I will admit, but that's what we said, way back then.

And now that my wings are getting stronger I too wonder, as I begin to recognise the woman in the mirror, what took you so long?

And, just in case you were worried, of course there was a box of tissues in the bathroom!



11 March 2008

what took you so long?

These words were my waking thoughts, and they wont go away.

What took you so long?

The words were asked of me in a dream. They came over and over as I floated in and out of waking. I don't know the last time it was that I remembered a dream. These words must be important. I think they are a gift, I just have to figure out what to do with them now.


Now, I must fly, I am going to guide an Irish group around the battlefields of Cassino. But first to the market, to change a top I bought last week but which turned out to be far too big.

So, being a good wee dog, and knowing today would be busy, Zacchi wrote a post for you last night. Here it is...

Zacchi says...

The down side of Mum taking that woman out of the mirror is that I know I don't get to come along too. Darn it. As soon as I smell the hairspray or see the footwear I know it's not good for me. I sneak up to the door, and look as cute as a guy can be, but nope! She just pats me, smiles and says she feels guilty about leaving me (yeah right!) and sings her way on out the door...

I'm going off those Scottish boots she loves so much, power dressing I reckon! Give me the tramping boots any day. Now that gets a guy really excited, when she gets the tramping boots out... and I haven't chewed a shoe for months now. But socks or gardening gloves... give me half a chance and I'm off outside with 'em!

And she is using me to write this for today's post because she is going to work early in the morning. The tourist season is coming, it's all downhill for me!

a healthy addiction

Sometimes when I sit down to write I have no idea what I am going to say. Today is one of those days.

When I started this blog it was an evening thing, someone other than Zacchi to chat to when my brain had turned to custard in the language immersion. But it has become an addiction, an essential part of my day, and therefore a morning thing. My excuse is that I now study in the evenings. I lie to myself; it is quite simply that the thought of a day without writing is too much to contemplate. I am addicted.

I am not entirely sure that it is healthy.

I have a few addictions. This morning I haven't checked Scrabulous, because other things are more pressing. I am thrilled about that, because Scrabulous had become an addiction.

Emails can be an addiction too. That is a harder one to monitor, because I do want to stay in touch with family and friends, and in my "taking a break" time it is always to the computer I go, bowl of tea in hand to help or hinder. Now that I have skype it is worse, because I don't turn the computer off very often. It is my telephone, and yes sometimes (not often) it rings. But when I stay up too late, or get up at 3am to check, just in case someone has emailed from a different time zone, that is an unhealthy addiction.

Guilty, and working on it.

Physical fitness is an addiction too. No one would say that that is harmful. But it can be. (Why on earth did I write that? I need to think some more). Yes, if pursuing physical fitness is hiding an obsession with burning calories for image control, it can be an addiction covering a disorder. If it is a way of blocking out things that need to be dealt with, then that, long term, is not healthy. (I have become completely stuck with this line of thinking. Let's leave it there. But enough to say that my chocolate eating addiction has no bearing at all on my fitness routine).

Is chocolate another of my addictions? Yes and no. Mostly no. Cocoa is an antidepressant, and that is more likely where my addiction to the lovely stuff started. That feel-good thing. I can go weeks without chocolate, but when the chips are down, chocolate is a girl's best friend. I ate a whole box of Mon Cheri when I had the flu. Happily I can report that the second box is not going down nearly so fast! If chocolate is an addiction for me, then it is a well qualified one. I am very fussy about the particular chocolates I am addicted to!

Caffeine is certainly an addiction I admit to; too many days without a cup of tea and I get headaches. And I live in a society that runs on caffeine and sugar. Interestingly enough, on television there are all the health programmes we associate, with all due respect, with overweight Americans and Pacific Islanders. Weight, in the time I have been watching television here, has gone from being a fashion and image issue to a health issue. It certainly needed to. While proportionately there may not be so many overweight Italians, the size of the problem for individuals (pun intended) is equal to any I have seen in New Zealand.

I am missing going to the gym. I was almost addicted to it. Pity about the "almost". It just isn't convenient at the moment, with work happening in the house, my gym partner deciding she doesn't want to go at all, the cost of petrol making it an extravagance if I think too hard about that, all those things. But mostly, I still feel a bit fragile after the flu. The effort to get through my exhibition opening over a week ago was huge. Kick-starting myself every day is a bit of a mission. My body is saying rest, sleep, keep the shutters closed.

So what did this post end up being about?

All my dear southern hemisphere friends, going into Autumn, do make sure you get your flu jabs. This is the first year I haven't had one, leaving NZ before they were available last year, and the flu was a real pain, quite literally, in my spine, my neck, my shoulders, my hips. If you want an addiction, make it to flu vaccinations. Life is far too short to spend it lying in bed feeling sorry for yourself.

Too much time, energy, and optimism was stolen from me. But today is another day (freezing cold one, but still a new one) and I am addicted to being up!

I have a lot of making up to do!

10 March 2008

waiting in the wings

how many clichés are clichés because they are just so right?
And dismissed because they are "just old clichés"?

The source of the word is interesting. From Wiktionary we get a link to "pulpy mass"... mmmm... need some back bone?

I digress. This was a quick post about waiting in the wings.

The world is your oyster.
Life is now.
If not you, who?

Time is of the essence.
Time is the enemy.
The time is now.

Life is not a dress rehearsal.
All the world is a stage.
Better put some make-up on that woman in the mirror.
No more waiting in the wings...

It's time to fly,

Who knows where the landing will be?

two-handed thinking

Thoughts don't flow through only one hand.

I tried writing, drinking a huge bowl of tea at the same time. It just doesn't work. Thoughts don't flow so well through only one hand.

I remember saying once, long ago, to my own surprise, "I can't think, I don't have a pen in my hand". Then it became "I can't think without a mouse in my hand" (How language changes, a mouse used to be a cute little rodent).

Now I must go out and pay the power bill, post some things, let Zacchi walk me. But first I just wanted to catch that thought.

Thoughts fly, and if you don't keep up, sometimes they lose you.

9 March 2008

interesting, what you notice

I'd love to say that life is perfect, but that would be leading you astray.

As I munched through my chewy bread washed down with red wine, having already consumed the salad, tomatoes and mozzarella, I scanned my blog, looking for an entry I knew would cheer me. It's been a miserable 24 hours. But never mind, they are over now. And I survived, helped by some sensible comments from daughters and the prospect of a visit from my son. The good thing about having grown up children is that when the chips are down, the roles reverse and they look after me!

But I noticed that I had written "Expectation" with a capital letter, in the blog title. That was completely unintentional. My blog titles don't have capital letters, and that choice was intentional. My bad 24 hours were the result of an expectation not being met. And so I was disappointed. Maybe the expectation was reasonable, maybe not. Maybe the disappointment was reasonable, maybe not. But you see, I have this habit of believing people, expecting them to follow through, expecting them to be who they say they are. And sometimes, I get it wrong, because I blend expectation, hope and trust. So if someone promises something, I expect that they will deliver. I hope and trust that they are who they say they are.

Ah well, time to put on some positive music, I think it will be Frank Sinatra... it goes a bit like this:

I'm gonna live till I die! I'm gonna laugh 'stead of cry,
I'm gonna take the town and turn it upside down,
I'm gonna live, live, live until I die.
They're gonna say "What a guy!" I'm gonna play for the sky.
Ain't gonna miss a thing, I'm gonna have my fling,
I'm gonna live, live, live until I die.
Those blues I lay low, I'll make them stay low,
They'll never trail over my head.
I'll be a devil, till I'm an angel, but until then.
Hallelujah, gonna dance, gonna fly, I'll take a chance riding high,
Before my number's up, I'm gonna fill my cup,
I'm gonna live, live, live, live, live until I die!

It's just a bit of a nuisance that on my Cd the song that comes straight after it is
I don't know why I should cry over you?
Sigh over you? Even be blue?
I should have known that you'd leave me alone
And break my heart in two
Although you have left me alone to pine
And all of my love was a waste of time
Someday your heart will be broken like mine
So why should I cry over you?
Although you have left me alone to pine
And all of my love was a waste of time
Someday your heart will be broken like mine
So why should I cry over you?

Bit of a bugger, really! Never mind, we can just play the first one over and over... and no, noone has left me, it is only Zacchi and me here... and Zacchi always comes back, when he runs away. You can't lose what you don't have. It was not that kind of disappointment.

You might say, why am I putting this out there, posting my emotions all over the internet. Well, I know from emails I get from America, Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, England and Germany that people do actually read my blog. And while I want them to know that I am well, I am ok, I don't want them to think that I live in a dream world, some magic space that doesn't hold any challenge other than the language barrier, that life is all wine and olives. (Actually, I probably drank more wine in NZ than I do here).

I like to think my blog is a kind of diary about life. Life isn't always easy, it is a challenge. But then... I always did like a challenge.
And, as I type this, Frank Sinatra is singing about broken promises. And I feel fine.

Emails can be a problem in themselves, even when you really do know the other person well. You don't know how the person was feeling when they dashed off what seems to be a thoughtless note. They don't know how you will be feeling when you receive it. Emails tend to be quick and easily misread. Nothing replaces the sound of the human voice, or better still, the face to face contact. 80 percent of communication is through body language. So with only 20% of the messenger there in an email, the odds of misreading the content are pretty high. But if you did promise to email me, to stay in touch, I really would love it if you kept your promise...

And Shuffles, my lovely friend, it was great to get your email yesterday. Now you look out those sweatshirts because Autumn is coming, and get out there and have some fun too!

And Frankie sings... my heart must chase those ripples on the stream... so keep faith in your heart... for if you felt like me... :-)

8 March 2008

Expectation versus hope

I have been thinking some more about those lights.

I can't wait for the end of May, all of June, and into July until it gets too hot. Then we have fireflies. The most singularly magical thing I have seen. Glow worms are wonderful too, but they "go out" when you are near, when there is noise. They are shy little things. Fireflies light my way in the evenings, they dance and play with me.

Lights to me mean hope and security. Hope that there is someone home, or someone coming. Hope that I can see well in the darkness, or reach safety. Hope that I am not alone. And when none of those things are important, just hope.

Then my addled brain moves from hope to expectation. I had hoped to have learned more Italian by now. But I had so many excuses. I wrote in English, I taught English, I emailed in English... but if I am honest, my expectation was that I would make slow progress, because I did not study enough. And I am disappointed, disappointed in myself. I haven't failed, because I had no great expectations. But I have not achieved what I had hoped I might.

Hope, unrealistic hope, can bring disappointment. But unrealistic expectation brings failure. But if we don't try, we can't fail. Surely it is better to try, and risk failure, than not try at all? And if expectations are realistic, then success is likely.

Since I joined the online learning community and foolishly(?) put in my photo because it asked for one, I have been flooded with requests to become friends with people. Most of them are men from the Middle East. And most of them do want to learn to speak better English. But that is not a lot of help with my Italian.

So, to set realistic expectations, I have decided the following:

I will teach English to two people, my good deeds for the day. One is from Turkey. I haven't decided who the other will be.
I will say no to every request from others, and yes to Italians wanting to share learning.
I will expect a "fair trade" of English for Italian.
I will chat in Italian every day.

And my expectation is that I will learn much faster. No more Scrabulous in English (can I really do that?)... just crosswords in Italian.

I used to hope that I would learn to speak Italian well. Now I expect it of myself.

No more teaching English classes, no more excuses, no more "just hoping".

I am free.
Free to learn.
Free to fail.
It is my expectation that I will learn.

temporary post while I turn all domestic

Today is the festival for women.
Every Italian woman can expect to be spoilt rotten.

I will clean my house.
I will walk my dog.
I will prune some more of my olive trees.
I will go to my own exhibition.

And, somewhere in the day,
I might... just... be.

7 March 2008

evening musings...

We do fireworks particularly well here, in Italy, And often. Tonight was no exception. It is the anniversary of the death of Thomas Aquinas who died on 7 March 1274, and in the town where he was born we made sure he was not forgotten. He died about an hour's drive - 70 kilometres - away from here.

This evening I was up in his territory, checking on the security of smaller works in the exhibition, when the last special mass finished and the fireworks began. I joined the crowds in the drizzling rain and watched too as the display reached up beyond the castle walls. It was the first time I have watched fireworks in the rain, and the effect was muted, more subtle, perhaps appropriate on this day.

I have argued the case both for and against firework displays here. In dry midsummer, with fires and no water, it seems absolute madness that we send thousands of euros worth of peril into the air, to come down and ignite what it will. We wouldn't dare burn our rubbish in a controlled setting, but we would allow this risk-taking on such a magnificent scale.

But when a friend deplored the extravagence of such displays (and they are regular all through the year, but particularly in the summer months) I found myself defending the expenditure even in the impoverished area where I live. Each display gives so much pleasure to so many, and is part of what makes this a wonderful community. Where else would you find free festivals, music, feasts, a sagra every few days over the holiday period (sagra = food festival) and firework displays that lift the spirits and allow you to forget about poverty, litter, unemployment? Where else do you find three generations together at the same concert, the same "party"? How else do you say, "It's so good to be alive"?

At the end of the displays there are always three loud, evenly spaced "booms", so you know that there is no more to wait for. You can go back in from the balcony, put the children back into bed, or continue on your evening saunter along the mountainside. How incredibly sensible!

And until those booms echo across the valley, people from all the villages are outside, saying "no, it's too close to be Aquino, it has to be Castrocielo, but down on the Casalina", or "look, there's another across there, it must be at St Vita..." and they never tire of marvelling at the colours, the beauty, the pleasure a little light brings into often difficult lives.

What is it about lights, in any form, that give us joy and hope?

Thomas Aquinas

Happy saint's day, St Tommaso...

I think, like all of us, you were a mixed blessing. I agree with much of what you wrote, you will be happy to know, but I am not so sure that it should have been "set in concrete" by the Catholic church for so many years. But the grumbles about this are only hearsay, maybe I got that wrong. So I am happy to exhibit in the house where you were born, and at the moment in the building right next to that house. And you certainly were an intellect and a character... a very strong character with a very interesting life!

I like the things that you said about God and nature. People are saying pretty much the same thing now, finding it anew. But the language used to say this is so much more simple now. Were you a philosopher or a theologian, really? You bought reason into faith. You were a hugely prolific writer, and I can't pretend to have come anywhere near understanding a fraction of the things you wrote.

I know you really grew up in Aquino, but you were born here and we claim you too. I was here when the new statue was commissioned and later installed and blessed, 28 May 2005. That was a hot morning, I nearly fainted. I had to sit under a tree by the cemetery. The whole town got a re-vamp for that, new footpaths, all shining white. It still looks good. Zacchi knows that once we get past your statue the gorge is not too far away, and if it is a Sunday a kindly man will be nearby, dishing out pasta to stray dogs and not so stray dogs passing by.

There was huge debate about that statue, 9 metres high, marble, and modern. But they chose the right one. I have a book with all the marquettes photographed and described. That was the only one possible, really. The others didn't come close. Aquino has the museum, but we have your formidable presence. The debate has died down, people leave their red candles at your feet. I've become quite fond of you really, in the early morning light, in the evening glow, against a glorious sky, playing with the cloud, or in the rain at night.

I think you should know they are persisting in their attempts to restore your old castle and it's surrounding wall at the moment. I think they are going to take it too far. Stop, I say, conserve, don't rebuild. Tell them, will you? Enough is enough.

And just between you and me, I think there is some significance in the fact that the special "women's day" comes the very next day after your saint's day...

6 March 2008


I woke up tired

I have done my washing
I have made some soup
I have joined an on-line language community

It is cold
It is still spring
It is the day before the festa for San Tommaso who was born here
The sun is shining

A friend is coming to lunch
Zacchi is being particularly well behaved
and best of all...

I am throwing caution to the winds... and...
I will teach my last class :-)
I am through with planning lessons... yeehaa!!!!!!!!!

5 March 2008

plastic plates and green things...

There are many things I love about living here, and many things I really would love to change. But my policy is that I have no right to judge, to try to bring about change, unless it is an issue that is bigger than where I observe it.

I first visited Naples in 2001, and arrived there in the middle of a rubbish strike. Not pleasant. A regular occurrance, and a health hazard. But back then it was nothing like the crisis we have here now. It is prominent in the election campaign dialogues, and I even read about it on www.stuff.co.nz.

Most of my Italian friends are incredibly "green" in their thinking... until, for a couple of them, it comes to plastic and convenience. For years I have listed my pet hate as lawnmowers that wont start when you want them to. I have changed that number one abhorrence to plastic plates. The only thing they should ever be used for, over and over again, if someone gives you something on one, is paint palettes. If we must dispose, then can't we have paper plates, made from recycled cardboard?

That raises another issue though. The cleaning products here are wonderful. So superior, in fact, that an American friend takes a box full home every time she goes back to New York. I guess with the amount of oil used here they need to be good. But my waste water drains out into the garden, or down into the septic tank equivalent, the "black hole". So when I wash my dishes, and my linen serviettes, instead of using disposable ones, what am I doing to the environment in my own back yard?

Here, much as I would love to, I daren't use a spray to kill my weeds. Amongst those weeds are edible mountain grasses, and if Zacchi's barking is anything to go by, they are being eaten regularly by someone coming on to my property to gather them. So I just let Zacchi out to bark a little more, to remind them that there is now someone living here, then I go back to whatever I was doing before we were disturbed.

In my village of 90 people, an hour and a quarter or so's drive from Naples, we are being invaded... by people from Naples, wanting to buy houses here. So far we are a population of French, English, Belgian, German and New Zealand extraction, to name only the most visible. Now we can add Neopolitans to that mix.

The rest of Italy still classes Naples and the south as a different country... and only partly in jest! I think they are running from the rubbish problem. I hope they don't bring it with them. Despite all our recycling bins, the excellent collection system, and the best efforts of some of the villagers, the litter problem we have here is big enough already.

4 March 2008

the woman in the mirror

Recently I have noticed that there is a woman in the mirror in my bathroom. Odd that, my mirrors in other houses were always empty.

This morning she looked at me with black rings under her eyes and said "I've got a bit of a headache. I think I'll go back to bed".

I told her, "Toughen up! This is a whole new day... and you think you're going to waste it? Get out of my mirror!"

I put moisturiser on her face, pampered her a bit. And you know what? She smiled at me. She said "Can I have a hair wash too? And something pretty to wear? And can we go buy groceries and some new canvas please?"

I think I'll take her out today. She's been hiding in the bathroom mirror far too long.

3 March 2008

home, artists and earthquakes

I woke this morning to an email saying "come back to NZ and live in Wellington, you would love it there". And as usual, although there is still no logic in it, my response on all levels is "but this is where I live, this is home".

Last night happily confirmed for me that I am an accepted member of this community, being a part of the exhibition as an invited local artist, not as a foreigner, and also that my little mountainside hamlet is so very accessible, not isolated at all. The world comes to us.

The guest speaker at the opening last night was Danilo Lisi, an architect, docente dell'Academia di Belle Arti di Brera, Milano (Professor of Fine Arts in Architecture, in Milan), and architect of several churches in this region. A quick search on google and I see he was involved in the Parco della Memoria a Memorial Park for the town of San Giuliano di Puglia, where 27 children and their teacher died in an earthquake in 2002, along with other building and park "green" projects in cities.

I understood about one third of what he said about art in different settings, but when he talked about Frida Kahlo I think I understood nearly everything. I am a big Kahlo fan. In 2001 I was lucky enough to go to a Frida Kahlo - Diego Rivera exhibition in Venice. That same trip to Italy found me in a Munch exhibition in Verona.

An artist from Frosinone, the capital of this province, asked me if I felt shut off, or closed in, living in my little hamlet. He couldn't understand why I would come all the way from New Zealand to be in such a remote place. Remote? An hour and a half from Ryan Air and Ezijet to get me all around Europe at ridiculously low prices. Or for less than the cost of half a tank of petrol I can hop on a train and go to Rome and back, as I did to go to the Rothko retrospective exhibition, no parking problems, no driving in that traffic, any day of the week. But I wouldn't live in Frosinone, or Rome, if you paid me to! (Mmmm... might do a re-think on Rome, if the price was right...)

We had another earthquake the other day. I heard, rather than felt it. This village was once destroyed by an earthquake. So was the Abbey on Montecassino. Being the veteran of many many NZ earthquakes I tend to take them rather lightly. But reading again about the tragedy in 2002 I see now why my little mates were sent home from school two weeks ago when a reasonably big one struck.

This is a rocky, unstable hillside, and some things are beyond our control. I have seen the size of the rocks that can be dislodged, was here when a young man was killed by one. I treat them with great respect. But I am not at all afraid, because this feels like home.

2 March 2008

the next best thing

...to having NZ family at the exhibition is having my Italian "sister" come to steady the nerves...

The exhibition was of work by 9 female artists from throughout the province. We were ten, but one couldn't come for family reasons. The special day for women is 8 May, irrespective of what day of the week the celebration falls on. This exhibition was in March because of that celebration, and will run for the whole month. The title for the exhibition comes from the artist whose work was pictured on the poster and invitation, Artesimia Gentileschi, and many years later I am very happy to be one of "the others" in the tradition of Italian female painters.

projected on the wall outside

the setting

another view

people were upstairs and downstairs, moving constantly, coming and going... around 200 were there

the food was a three course meal - a colourful artwork itself, the antipasto was so beautiful, sorry I was too busy enjoying to take a photo...

For a while you couldn't get near the long table, guests were 3-deep on either side, but there was more than enough food...

I love the way the rocks intrude and interrupt the hanging space...

part of my space

two of my local scenes with window in the middle

and now it is nearly midnight... buonanotte...

not so proudly...

after reading the small print, in the label on the seam, where you really don't look except to find the washing instructions. I challenge NZ companies to check on the employment conditions of their "off shore" workers.

My basic black, with the stunning burnt orange scarf...

Skirt by Staggers, designed in New Zealand, made in China.
Top by Rayma Stirling, Synergy, designed in New Zealand, made in China.

Scarf... who knows, purchased in New Zealand, but I cut the label off because it bothered me. But I suspect...

Undergarments, by Hickory. Yes, made in China.

The shoes... ValleVerde, and I bought them at the factory.
100% Italian.

as New Zealand as dags on a sheep's bum

I wrote to an ex-pat mate who was asking about my health that "I am not a hang of a lot better". The retort came that my "Maru Maru dialect" was "as New Zealand as dags on a sheep's bum".

That breakfast email followed on from a confusing mix of waking thoughts, jumping around the world, about exhibition openings, ironman competitions, goals, expectations, building tables out of doors, building houses, fitness of body and mind, what to wear tonight, fitting in to another culture, and putting the rubbish out before it walked out by itself.

I decided that the rapid response to my slang meant that it was the writing ex-pat, not me, who is "just a tad" homesick. Here, at least for now, is home. But I would have loved to have been in Taupo yesterday.

A further comment made me really think. "Still any girl that can say "hang of a lot" should be strong enough to survive".

How true. A few years ago I wrote, but don't have here, an essay about New Zealand culture, and what "being a kiwi" means to me. I wrote - not knowing what was ahead of me - that, if I were translocated into another culture, the thing I would strive to achieve in a new place would be the ablility to be independent. I remember writing that it was the urge to be independent, and the "kiwi can do" attitude, that defined me. I think I then abstracted from that how education and communication are most important to me.

So language barrier or not, tonight, although friends will come to support me, I go to the opening alone, self sufficient, resolutely independent.

My biggest problem today is not my health, but what to wear. My clothes no longer fit; running up and down ancient steps has been good for me. I have to look good, out of respect for myself in this image-obsessed culture, and out of respect for my friends. And I am a professional, and this is my work. I go to my wardrobe and despair.

Yesterday I read an article about "slave labour" in China. I could look good for very little cost if I bought from the Chinese shops here. I hope the workers are paid and treated well. But I don't know that, and I do wonder, when sometimes I do buy Chinese at the markets. But most of my clothing is "proudly made in New Zealand".

Before 6pm I have to find something in basic black, get out the machine and alter it, and add something to make me, as my mother-in-law used to say, "a mass of dash". Good old Kiwi can do.

So much for my supposedly glamorous European life. So much for feeling that I belong here. Occasionally I wear buzzy bee and Mary-Lou doll ear-rings in Italy.

Sometimes I am still a Kiwi, I guess.

1 March 2008

graduation day

I have moved from unscrambling sentences on my language programme (the same ones, over and over again) to attempting crossword puzzles of 4 to 6 words.

I wonder, at this rate of progress, will I live long enough to be able to do a "real" crossword puzzle in Italian?


Tomorrow is the opening of a group exhibition I have work in. I was given a souvenir copy of the invitation and the poster. My name has been changed, inadvertently, and oddly enough I find it strangely appropriate rather than a problem.