31 January 2009


No, not the song. Far, far more positive than that!

Yesterday I accepted a new commission. Even though it scuttles other plans it is too exciting to walk away from. I estimate it is up to three months work, and I have until June to finish it. March, April, May and half of June were already looking pretty full. I have had to re-arrange travel plans, change tickets, and address the unfinished work I have been avoiding with sudden urgency!

The sun is shining, literally and metaphorically.

Monday I return to take photographs so I can begin the work. I can't wait!

love story

A New Zealand artist whom I have always held in the highest regard was married today... at age 93!

Austen Deans, congratulations!

It took a while to download the story, (let it run through and load first with the sound down) but happy endings like this are worth sharing.

30 January 2009


I signed up for a relatively new language course. Much to Zacchi's delight it arrives in my emails, I don't catch the early train to Rome. It gives short, quirky lessons based on real life situations, and is good company in the evenings. The young folk delivering the course seem to be having fun with it, so of course that comes through on the videos and in their dialogue.

Yesterday I thought "I don't have time to study today". Today, after a meeting with a geometra (hard to define this role, more than project manager, not an architect... we don't have an equivalent position in anglo-saxon culture), I decided that I don't have time to NOT study.

Tonight I am revising earlier lessons. I hope I never have to say to anyone "mi prude la schiena" (my back itches) but it is good to know that "prude" (pru-day) is not even close to the English "prude"!

I'd certainly rather say "Mi prude" than "I am a prude!"

29 January 2009

so much so that...

I promised myself efficiency today. It worked! I got so much done, and was so involved in what I was doing, that I almost forgot to write a post! But I would like to be less flippant, more considered.

On Justice:
I received an email recently with a thought-provoking quotation in it.

It is from “The Hidden Words” by Baha’u’llah.
The best beloved in my sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see through thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thine neighbour.
Ponder this in thine heart how it behooveth thee to be. Verily Justice is My gift to thee and a sign of My loving kindness. Set it then before thine eyes.
I am still pondering it, simplifying it and putting it into my own words, particularly "thou shalt see through thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thine neighbour".

I think I will come back to this again.

28 January 2009

thinking hard...

I am not painting. Works are started, then left unfinished. It is a concern. There are too many distractions.

Self discipline is required... I think what is missing is my year planner. I don't seem to function well if I don't have the whole year set out where I can see the dates. Diaries simply don't work for me. Calenders don't show me enough.

Tonight I will print out, month by month, a year planner. I haven't managed to find them here. Yes, that's what I will do.

Tomorrow, efficiency!


There have been good dumpings of snow in the ranges around the valley. Beautiful to see, gleaming in the distance. Last night I was in Venafro, much much colder than here, and very grateful that I had New Zealand wool and possum fur keeping me snug. Did I mention how chilly it is if you forget your gloves? I'm with Zacchi on the sun-worship thing today.

27 January 2009

two things a day

I wrote the post title then went to have breakfast, watching television, my "listening exercise" for today. I was going to write about my practice of doing two things other than painting, however insignificant they might seem, to progress my art career each day.

It seems more important to write about two other things.

Yesterday I went to an agency (a little like Citizens' Advice Bureau) to get assistance to make sure my application to renew my permesso di soggiorno was absolutely correct. I may be out of the country when my current permesso expires.

I was welcomed into a warm office, made comfortable beside the computer to check all my details being entered as they appeared on the screen. I noticed that the moment my name was typed my codice fiscale appeared automatically. Big Brother does watch, very efficiently. The inevitable questions came, amid laughter and banter. HOW did I ever find such a tiny spot to live in, when Italy offered so many places? This question I can answer relatively fluently now!

When I left the office I felt great; the man asking the questions asked me to let them know when my next exhibition would be. The woman with the sunny personality handling my application is now a friend; we will go to concerts and eat gelati in the summer, she will bring her daughter to see me paint.

As I ate my breakfast on my comfortable couch, warmly dressed and wearing my Christmas gift slippers, I watched a program about the problem of clandestine immigrants in Italy. Sleeping under blue plastic covers, wearing plastic bags inside their shoes to keep their feet dry, sharing the little they had, trying to hide in their shanty towns as the cameras approached, their futures looked bleak. Comradeship was really their only resource.

We sit in our houses, alone, wondering what to bake today, how to arrange our furniture, how much money we might need to survive independently in our old age. Comradeship is sometimes lacking.

The "talking heads" discussing the problem were not threatening to evict these immigrants. They were looking for solutions, and wondering how they will cope when, not if, the next four hundred arrive.

It makes my "problem" about finding good light for painting in the winter pretty pathetic, really.

26 January 2009

no post yesterday because...

the weather was bad, and for some reason the internet signal dropped to a tantalisingly low amount; not enough to open a programme, just enough to know I was getting some signal (the skype icon was green).

Luckily, a call to the technician this morning was enough to sort it out. Small town central-southern Italy means that the technicians know you by name and are friendly and helpful. (The service provider is from another town, too). Who would want to live in a city?

This afternoon I put the gas heater on and went out of the room. Shortly after Zacchi came out, looking for me, telling me something was wrong. His track record at communicating important things is pretty good, so even though I had a guest here I went to see what the problem was. The flame had gone out, and my room smelt of gas.

Zacchi, you are a little champion! Extra Scottish beef jerky for you today!

And here is yesterday's baking, just to show that I haven't forgotten what a kitchen is supposed to be used for!

24 January 2009


Today I bottled ten small jars of mandarines. It feels odd to be preserving fruit in the winter. I normally give most of this fruit away as my wonderful trees provide more than I could ever eat during the season. I have done that, and still the trees offer more. Yesterday before the rain came back again I stripped the most mature tree quickly, the skin breaking as I pulled the mandarines. These had to be distributed quickly, eaten or preserved within 24 hours or so. I gave away a few bags, and looked at what was left. Time to be domesticated again. It's OK, this kitchen stuff! I guess it is part of my on-going nesting process. Cooking, preserving, music and the kettle boiling. Life is pretty good, really.

On Life: today I opened one of those endless forwards that come around. I usually delete these unopened, but this was from a friend who seldom writes, who doesn't clutter my in-box with anti-male or anti-aging jokes. It was beautiful, absolutely beautiful! Thanks, Jackie! The photographs were stunning, the music pleasant, and the sentiments, while not new, are so true. Unfortunately the photographer is not named, a pity because the images are truly beautiful. Thankyou, whoever you are!

23 January 2009


This quiet stream has bubbles rising through it. I guess it is fed by a spring. How could you not want to be a landscape painter when you come across colours like these?
They have to be watercolour sketches, really!

Friends brought me here this morning, carefully making sure I could find my way back again, so I could bring my students to paint here. Magic! Those friends live here... more magic!

22 January 2009

i've been tagged...

I've Been Tagged
Actually I was tagged way back in November, but... time passes! I was tagged by fellow artist and NZ Art Guild manager Sophia Elise, check out her blog in my links.

The rules are simple, now I've been tagged I have to list 6 things you don't know about me, so here goes -

1) I used to have a bed in my studio so that I when I was really excited about a painting I could work late, sleep out in the studio and bounce out of bed to see the work when I first woke in the morning.

2) I'm secretly passionate about water... from dropping paint into it to skipping stones across it; it thrills me and scares me at the same time. Take me out to sea where I can't see land and I am anxious...

3) I love bubbles. I think bubble pipes should be standard issue on every street corner. Who can be down when there are bubbles floating, sparkling, shimmering with colour?

4) I still make daisy-chains at every opportunity. The best things in life really are absolutely free!

5) I absolutely love the smell of freshly cut grass. (Yes, I mow lawns, even here on my rocky hillside!)

6) I get a buzz when I get a smile returned in waiting rooms, in the street, at airports, anywhere where people look stressed and worried. I like to think that smiles are contagious; I have yet to work out how to start an epidemic!

Ok, here goes. I now should tag 6 people... problem is I don't know 6 people with blogs! And of those I do know, some of them are really busy right now, but that's cool. When the time is right...


I hope the two artists I found on the web don't mind...

The rules:
1. Link to the person or persons who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
5. Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up

i really enjoy

I really enjoy moving just a tiny bit out of my comfort zone.

Today I decided to get my hair cut, rather than trim it myself as I usually do. This becomes an adventure for me! I occasionally go to a hairdresser in the town below, where you don't make an appointment. This morning I peeked in and there were only two customers ahead of me.

I made my greetings then took a seat. The conversation was a little too fast for me, and some of it in dialect, so I gave up my "listening exercise" for the day and picked up a magazine.

Here age is no secret; complete strangers will ask you how old you are. This magazine, full of filmstars and gorgeous bodies and more cleavage than any man could possibly want at the table, had three articles about television stars.... in their 60s! This was one magazine that left me feeling good, rather than depressed about the youth and sex culture the world encourages. Not only were these women clearly loving their lives, but they had wrinkles! Long live interesting faces!

Soon it was my turn. After I had taken my seat at the wash basin the hairdresser looked at her watch. Sorry, she just had to pop out to get bread, today is Thursday and everything shuts for the afternoon. Did any of us want her to get them bread too? Off she scuttled, leaving us in the salon, one under the drier, me at the washbasin, and another waiting for her colour treatment. She left the till open, there was no attempt to close anything, treating us equally as good friends.

Soon she was back to wash my hair. We managed much more conversation than last time, and she commented that my Italian was improving. Whew! I still can't pronounce "parrucchiere" (hair dresser) but I can at least have my capelli trimmed the way I want them. The cut was every bit as good as my last (London) haircut. The treatment perhaps a little less smooth, fewer niceties, but the price difference - incredible! You can't beat "going local"!

And, as always, after a good haircut I feel ten years younger... we just wont look TOO closely in the mirror! Vanity, all is vanity!

21 January 2009

early bookings

My year planner is beginning to fill already.

Today I have been working on promotional material for my classes, and am putting some information out in a blog, Watercolour Painting in Italy, until I get the webpage formatted and uploaded. This one wont be a daily blog, just some information sharing.

The blue protective covering has now come off the large building being renovated (photo on the new blog). We are all dreading the sales of those apartments, parking is at a premium now!

No work outdoors today, it is cold and wet. A good day for the office, so to speak!

20 January 2009

happiness is...

... a tub of Vicks Vaporub!

I went to the chemist to buy Frontline for Zacchi and spotted.... yes, good old Vicks in its unmistakable packaging!

Memories of night time tickles as the Vicks was rubbed in, loving and dreading the treatment from mum or dad, memories of sitting miserably, eyes streaming, over a steaming bowl with a towel over my head... ah, bliss! There is nothing like tapping into the sense of smell to bring back memories of being cherished and protected!

I don't really need the Vicks, I am over the worst of the bugs. Only the cough remains, and that is excuse enough. And oh, how good it smells...

Now Zacchi Fizzgig, about that bath and then the Frontline...

Zacchi? Come back here!

19 January 2009


Work has moved outdoors. All the sand and dirt from the cantina now goes into building some more attractive steps down to the first terrace. I have given the general outline of what I want, and am now giving ownership of it to my workers. I hear that lighting will be incorporated... sounding good!

I have achieved very little today, and the gas hasn't arrived yet so I could be eating out tonight. Cheese and vegemite on toast was OK for lunch, but something hot is called for later. I am increasingly reluctant to use the microwave for any serious cooking- I think it could simply be because I put it in a rather awkward spot when I elevated the telly to the microwave's position. I could always move the chair that is in the way, I'll see how hungry I get! My lunchtime soups sits uncooked on the gas stove.

It's now mandarin picking time... I am going to try to preserve some, using the water-bath method, when I find the appropriate seals and bottles. And maybe, just maybe, I'll do some serious preserving this year.

Or maybe not?

PS: The gas arrived, so when I have the energy to lug it downstairs I can cook the soup. Makes me feel warmer already!

18 January 2009

rough seas or safe harbour?

Last night I had a strange dream. Even stranger, I remembered it when I woke. I can't recall when I last had a dream that stayed with me when I woke.

Why oh why would I have been on a waterfront with a friend in bad weather, watching a boating carnival that previously had been postponed taking place on rough seas? There was an oddly-out-of-place, very picturesque little house boat with ivy growing over the roof of it moored close to the mossy bank.

Was it a coincidence that that friend, who hardly ever visits these days, arrived unexpectedly on my doorstep this morning?

Later in the morning I received by email a request from a distant friend, wanting assistance with writing applications for positions working with boats. Yet another friend has purchased a boat, which he will bring to Italy in a few weeks time.

I'm mostly a landlubber. I feel that something more than rain and cold is in the air.

17 January 2009

getting a balance

I want to be painting, but cleaning is taking priority. How can I paint when things need doing? Painting should be first, but even I have limits on the state that is acceptable. I can't shut the door and go to work; sometimes there is a down-side to working from home.

Today I washed away dust, and put things back into some semblance of order. Zacchi went chasing hunters in the woods down below (their guns hardly stopped for two hours, Zacchi is getting so much braver) and came home with a cut on his foot.

The gas heater smells of gas. That isn't good. Only one heater tonight as I can't find the spanner to fix the connection.

Tomorrow will be better.

The house looks good though! The ancient doors at the end of the cantina responded well to the stain and varnish, their gnarled texture living again.

16 January 2009

a tribute

"With watercolour, you can pick up the atmosphere, the temperature, the sound of snow shifting through the trees or over the ice of a small pond or against a windowpane. Watercolour perfectly expresses the free side of my nature." - Andrew Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth, contemporary realist painter, died today.

In a life-time of being interested in art, of going to exhibitions, of occasional study, very few paintings make a lasting impression.

Many years ago I saw a painting by Wyeth at an exhibition in New Zealand. I have never forgotten that image.

Occasionally I really miss my library of art books still in New Zealand. I wish I could read my copy of the biography of Andrew Wyeth right now.

Wyeth the father, Wyeth the son. Both left an indelible mark. The father apparently said that the son didn't use enough colour.

The limited palette and haunting images of Wyeth the son will never fade away.

last day of serious dust

and a very strong smell of varnish.

Tomorrow, I clean. Again... again... and again...

The sun is shining after some bad weather. I went to Cassino this morning to stand in queues again, this time enjoying knowing I could communicate all that I needed, with a fair chance that I would also understand the replies. It is time to renew my documentation.

The nuns (there are always nuns) in the queue were in a habit I hadn't seen before, and I have seen quite a few different ones now. They wore large wooden crosses and rosary beads from their rope belts; their habits were in two quite different, very soft shades of blue. Another woman looked anxiously as though she might give birth in the waiting room before her documentation was approved; it was all I could do to not offer to rub her aching back as she shifted uncomfortably. The young man with her had tears in his eyes. I wonder what country they had fled from?

The gentleman who took my request had to go through it several times; I think he had forgotten me in the last 18 months, and had trouble understanding why anyone from New Zealand who was not here for work, not married to an Italian and had no Italian relatives would want to come and live here!

I came home to more dust, through everything again. Ah well, I am resigned to it now. The doors just don't stay shut when I am out.

The sun is catching my coats and towels and my room is a riot of colour.

It is dry enough to pick oranges, to be safe up the ladder.

Zacchi prefers the heater, silly dog!

15 January 2009

nearly there...

where Santa shops

Another goody under the tree for me was another favourite, cranberries and macadamia nuts. After all these years, Santa knows me well.

I'm not a suspicious person by nature, but having discovered to my horror that in New Zealand I was eating peanut butter from China (and sweetened... ugh!) and jam from Poland I read the labels a lot more these days. (Whatever happened to the "Buy New Zealand" campaign?)

The dried cranberries with the macadamia nuts had much more environmentally friendly packaging than the chocolates. The clear, simply printed cellophane bag proclaimed:
Marks & Spencer
cranberries & macadamia nuts
A delicious combination, a source of magnesium, perfect for snacking and topping.
Then in tiny print at the bottom advised
"Display until 03 Jan 2009
Best before 10 Jan 2009.

I must say that they were pretty good even after 10 Jan 2009... but one couldn't risk them going off, could one?

However, after the interesting discovery on the chocolates I looked at the other side of the packet. Where were these goodies from?

There was plenty of clear, useful information about allergies, nuts and small children, ingredients and nutritional value, packing conditions. But the source?

The panel read:
Product of more than one country.
Packed in Italy
Marks and Spencer (address and contact details).
I wonder, what gives Marks and Spencer the right to withhold the origin of the food I am eating? Am I supposed to just accept that their name assures me that all has been gathered in fair trade situations? Couldn't they at least have assured me of that, in the tiny print?

The flavour, by the way, was good! Consume within one week of opening? No problem!

14 January 2009

the cause of all the dust

The rocks are now being treated with acid (I haven't quite got my head around why, but it is a recognised step in the process) and then polished, the polishing with an electric drill causing all the secondary dust.

house painting Italian style...

Yes, it really is four and a half metres to the centre of the vaulted ceiling. Bold but simple black wrought-iron chandeliers, rather than pigs' carcasses, would be my preferred object to be hanging from the iron ring in the centre of each room!

interesting reading

When resting on the couch with the flu and a box of Santa's cherries in brandy dark chocolates, I had plenty of time to read.

The brand was Warner Hudson. The box design was clear, simple, casually elegant. A bottle of "finest superior brandy", a stemmed glass of cherries and two chocolates, all with delicate reflections, over a loosely sketched gold design. On closer inspection the gold line behind the picture turned out to be a rampant lion. Ah ha, I thought. An English brand. But Santa came from Scotland this year.

I turned the box over, for closer inspection. From whence came these luxury delights?

I found two days' worth of interesting reading.

This amused me first. The description. "Plain chocolates with Cherries in Brandy Liqueur". I suppose they were plain, empty!

Everything was in 15 languages. Best before ... 15 times over, and then the date printed convincingly in a different type and ink. Yes, no problem, I will definitely consume these before 26.08.09. In fact, mission accomplished already!

But now the really fascinating part. The nutrition facts, repeated in tiny print in other languages, generously described a serving as 4 pieces. Great! But no, wait! On the opposite side was a slightly bigger panel, especially for Australia and New Zealand. Serving size? A miserly 3 pieces! I felt cheated. Why could the English and French eat more?

I looked closer. On the French and EU side there was fat content of 31%, plus a tiny bit of salt. On the Australasian side there was only 17% fat. And no salt. and 20mg of calcium. The EU had 0% calcium.

Even if this was (heaven forbid!) a typing error, the fat figures (love that!) still showed a difference. EU had Fat lipides (bold type) 11%. Under this was saturated and trans fats another 20%. The Antipodean version of the same chart (on the same box, remember?) had Fat, total (bold print) 17%. Under this was 'saturated, 10%'. The figures just don't add up. Mine certainly will... needing the brandy after all this confusion, I ate them all!

And who actually made Santa's gift? It was a product of Germany, distributed by a German company, for Lolliland, Sydney, Australia.

13 January 2009

time to paint

I leave the television going for language immersion. I walked into the kitchen (the TV supplanted the microwave when I was sick) and saw a close-up of frilly lettuce leaves. For a moment my brain had it all converted into negative painting, lights and darks, shades of green. I thought, in that moment, that I was looking at a close-up of a work of art.

Perhaps I was.

12 January 2009

more work

Work recommenced in the cantina this morning. The expression "you wont see me for dust" takes on a whole new meaning... as does "eat my dust". All those girl-hours of cleaning before Christmas are being negated as I type. This dust is so fine, so pervasive, it doesn't matter how many layers of covering I use, how many doors I close, the dust locates, targets and settles on every object I have with accuracy and finesse. I do understand why people put their gear into storage and move into hotels when their houses are being restored. I'm just too frugal to pay the bill! Besides, who would feed Zacchi?

Zacchi and I have had to re-establish some meal-time rules. He forgets that he is a dog and turns down perfectly good meat, raw and cooked, and dog biscuits, as he waits hopefully for omelettes and home baking. Forget it, little critter! I may have become vegetarian but it is no excuse for you to reject good dog tucker!

11 January 2009


Today I did something most unusual for me. I destroyed a perfectly beautiful as-new book. (I feel my librarian friends' shockwaves from here!)

My two weeks of not working has given me a lot of thinking and reading time. Oddly enough the flu didn't fuzzle my brain too much. I have decided to accept the "down time" as a gift.

On my bookshelf was a book I had bought to read as I flew to my new life. Several people had recommended it, and the volume itself - hard cover, most attractive dust jacket, small enough to go into the hand luggage - was just too seductive to leave on the shelf at the airport bookshop.

I read the book very quickly, totally disillusioned once I got past the attractive quotations and beautifully designed pages. I am sure the writer had the most honourable intentions as she wrote. For me, however, it was not the inspirational book I had been promised. Describing the "law of attraction", this was a book encouraging greed, encouraging consumerism, encouraging self-centred living. It sat on my kitchen bookshelf for almost two years. I half-hoped one of my guests might take it away. Increasingly its presence offended me. I read other books, and the more I learned from them the more this attractive volume weighed negatively in my home.

It is no more. Today I tore pages from it. I cut them into small sections to give away to friends. I have kept a few quotations for myself. Then, without any qualms, I gave it a ceremonial burial in my kitchen rubbish bin, covering it with the peel of about thirty mandarines. That wasn't enough. I took the plastic bag and deposited it in the local rubbish tip.

Tomorrow it will be gone. I feel good about that.

9 January 2009

creative spaces

Following links in my emails I found this... creative spaces. It sometimes blows you away, what goes on, largely unsung, in our communities. Awesome work!

One of my unfulfilled aims was to set up a Children's Art House in Morrinsville. Maybe someone else will run with the idea...?

A somewhat grander "maybe one day..." is a yen to study the use of creative therapies to help "problem" children and teenagers learn more acceptable social behaviours, develop a programme to suit New Zealand teenagers, and have it replace the discipline systems in some of our schools. It will take a huge amount of energy. There is still time.

out of the wilderness

After almost three months of isolation I have internet again. Long may it last.

It is one year and two days since I started this blog. I am not sure how much I will blog this year. My enforced break and now some time with absolutely no email connection at all gave me time to read, to think, to re-evaluate. The flu kept me at home and out of contact with all except kindly neighbours cautiously delivering food and medicine to my door. Less time at the computer this year? I hope so!

But now to tackle all those long-neglected emails!

Zacchi says all is right with the world... the heater is on, and mum is at the computer. What more could a little dog need?