31 May 2008

zacchi's big adventure

It was a nice day for a good long walk... until they got near the town.

Zacchi knew it was a bad idea, he tried to tell Kay over and over. She just picked him up and carried him past the big dogs.

It was good fun at Haide's place, a cat to chase, trees to count, lots to sniff. When it was time to go home Zacchi tried all over again to tell Kay it was a bad idea.

She carried him past the wild dogs up on the bank.

She ran with him up the street until there were people.

She coaxed him to walk past the card players at the bar.

She bent down to pick him up near the butcher's shop where the big dogs "hang out".

She was too late. A big dog moved. Zacchi moved. Kay moved.

Zacchi was the fastest. He ran. He ran. He ran.

Faster than a speeding bullet. Past the running dogs. Past the card players. Past the grocer's shop. Past the scary dogs. Past the wild dogs.

The grocer ran. Down the street. All the way to the statue.

Zacchi had gone. He had outsprinted 9 scary dogs in three different parts of the town.

A man on a bike stopped. What were we looking for? A little dog on a lead. He was down past the cemetery. What is the little dog's name? I will look for Zacchi, he said. The man on the motor bike turned and went back.

Kay called Haide. Please look for Zacchi, Kay said.

The motor bike man came back. No Zacchi.

Kay's telephone rang. It was Haide.

I have Zacchi, she said. I called him. He came fast. Very very fast.

This time Kay carried Zacchi for nearly 2 kilometres. Kay got tired. Then Zacchi ran the rest of the way home.

Grrrr, Zacchi, Kay did not need this adventure!

30 May 2008

sewing day

It all started when my neighbour needed something altered... and I am the one in the village with a sewing machine. Two skirts for her and I was on a roll...

By the end of today I will have (she said hopefully) a new summer wardrobe.

Snip, tuck, trim,


not me,

I am attacking the clothes that don't fit any more.

Two summer jackets, one light overshirt, two skirts... maybe the jeans with the yellow butterflies if I don't run out of good light...

nearly a new me!

Time for a cuppa, then back to work... this domesticated stuff feels good occasionally...

just occasionally though!

Zacchi is putting on weight, my clothes are too loose... between us we are doing something right!


The down side of things... I met a real zecca, a tick, two days ago. It was far too close to my house. Uuuuughhhhh!!!!!

I know it is all in my imagination, but I have been scratching ever since. It reminds me of finding head lice on a child when I was teaching. Here they say it is better to find a snake in your house than a tick. I'll stick to the sprays, the shampoos, the horribly expensive treatments for poor old Zacchi... and try to keep the snakes AND the ticks away!

Oooops! Oh dear! Now YOU are going to be scratching too... (evil cackle from Italy)...

What did I say about keeping my feet on the ground? Fancy a glass of vino on the doorstep watching the fireflies knowing I have sprayed the concrete with insecticide? If you had made a precautionary google search of "tick bite" you would have sprayed too!

I just hope the fireflies don't come too close tonight, they really are so beautiful and don't deserve the same fate as the ticks.

And me? I'll be the one in the deck chair... at least until I stop itching! The doorstep has temporarily lost its appeal.

29 May 2008

art can be fun

When my own thinking takes too serious a turn I just need to look at the work of artists like Beryl Cook to remember that we want to enjoy life as well as change some things about it. Beryl was shunned by the "important" galleries, but her work, if not her name, is known far and wide, and sells for huge prices to her loyal fans.

I first met Beryl's art in a book about five years ago, although I had previously enjoyed her cards without thinking too much about the artist. I love the way she captured slices of the ordinary, warming them, enjoying them, commenting but not judging, it seems to me.

Beryl's art (2 minute video with voice-over).

If you have a spare 9 minutes, I recommend watching this... warms your heart just listening to her. Beryl Cook Culture Show interview, 2006. (ps, can't find this again... hope you saw it before it disappeared).

Thankyou, Beryl, for the fun. I'll bet you were a fun lady to know too.


There was a patch in my life when I pictured my old age as being the eccentric old lady living on a hill, having planted myself in with trees that added to my mystery and hid me from prying eyes. Children would come to listen, spell-bound, as I invented stories and illustrated them. I would be surrounded by cats, black ones of course.

I didn't picture olive trees and a mutt named Zacchi. The rest of it seems to be evolving...

28 May 2008

not really neglecting my work

I said yesterday that I was ignoring my "real work" while I played with Sabina. I'm not really being that irresponsible. I have finally worked out, after taking a break from it, what I want to change in the painting of Manarola, Cinque Terre. When I get too close to a painting I don't "see" it well, and needed a long break from this one. It took a little research and some more photos to see what I had to do, as the photo I was working on had flattened out a hillside and created a few problems with no real light source. (If only I had done the research before I started painting. I never learn!)

Now I have to decide... the photos I have found have got lots of little boats in them... sailing, anyone?

"Sabina" is the name I have given to my mop brush. One wicked friend checked up on my new love then tried to tempt me with a website having a sale of mops. No Jan, I wont be greedy... well, not today, anyway!

I don't know where the name Sabina came to me from, I haven't heard it recently. When I researched it (as you do, when it comes to you from nowhere) I found many Roman references. That reminded me of a most unexpected and strong reaction I had during my first trip to Florence, when I encountered for the first time the statue of The Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna.

The story of the reconciliation is an interesting one... the nurturing love of women really does conquer all.

faithful friend

I have been asleep all day. I am not sure why, I had a big day planned. I didn't wake until ten, then kept falling asleep again. I don't feel unwell at all. I think maybe my study and a full day of speaking in Italian then watching an Italian film with friends last night caught up with me.

Each time I woke a pair of eyes watched me move. The ragamuffin made no attempt to jump up at me, no scratching at the bed covers, no barking or trying to make me get up. When I let him out I forgot to feed him, forgot to check his water. Each time I got up and went back to bed he waited patiently beside me.

Finally I made a cuppa and got some food for myself. He watched, noiselessly, his head just touching my knee when I sat down. He has never been so quiet. I went to reward him and found that he had finished his food (a rare event) and had hardly any water left.

It leaves you feeling pretty humble, really, that kind of devotion. He's not such a bad wee thing after all!

27 May 2008

better than chocolate...

I have a new love in my life!

I have decided my new companion is a "she". No man (sorry guys, I love you really) could be so soft, so full, so voluptuous, so giving! Her curves are made for caressing. I unwrapped her gently and lovingly stroked her to life under sparkling mountain water.

I met her in Edinburgh, but she is German and says her name is "da Vinci, petit gris pur, series 418 size 6". That sounds more like an identity crisis to me.

I am going to give her a new name. I am sure she is going to be very happy working with me. She has been waiting patiently for me since October 2007. I have been biding my time. I knew she would be perfect, when the moment came.

The time is now.

That soft glow you see is not the sunset, it is my smile. I am back in watercolour, ignoring my commissions, loving what I am doing.

It feels right.


A friend wrote recently "Surely you have found a very wealthy Italian bloke by now who wants to sweep you off your feet!!!!"

Sorry amica mia, for now I am not interested. Who has time to look? Besides, I love having my feet on the ground, preferably in tramping boots or barefoot and a little dirty! When the time is right, if it ever is, he will find me... and I will bet he wont be wealthy!

Until then I have a mop brush, and she is all I need.


I couldn't help it, really...

I was sitting idly editing photos for compositions, giving the morning's Italian study time to sink into my brain (well, that's my story anyway), and I got an irresistible urge to paint in watercolour again. It's been brewing a while, but today I couldn't fight it.

Yeehaaaaaaa!!!! The watercolourist is back!

Now I just have to figure out what to do next, as watercolours are no good in ancient stone houses. I think it could be a version of my 2005 techniques I invented for the museum exhibition coming up...mixed media again. That bites a bit, for a purist like me, but as long as there is a challenge, and something new to discover along the way, that's OK too.

No Kay, you will NOT use nasty chemicals that harm you and the environment this time... take a dictionary with you, read the labels carefully...

(Apologies for the loud yeehaaaa! but nothing else would do...)

26 May 2008

it will be music...

...one day!

I have found websites where you can download music which is now in the public domain. My fingers are beginning to remember, and until they remember well I can keep the volume knob turned down low :-)

It feels absolutely luxurious, in the heat of the day (30 degrees, don't hate me too much), to sit in the cool of this old stone building and softly play some old songs. It makes the day feel like a holiday.

I think I will adapt really well to taking a siesta this year. The idea was growing on me last year. A little music, a little reading with my feet up, back to work for a while then out walking with the rest of the villagers after 8 or 9pm.

Mmmm.. yes, there are definitely some things that make a huge amount of sense in this life!

food for thought

Yesterday was about sunshine, tramping, exploring, and friends. In the evening I watched the procession and saw the flowers laid out for the celebration of the eucharist. My plastic outdoor table, elegantly draped and decorated, was used as an altar at the "station" by our fountain. Now I am both an onlooker and a participant, my contribution being to community rather than religious ritual. (photos later I hope)

Zacchi and I went for a long long walk in the evening, returning after 9pm. Zacchi had left-over soup with his dry dog food, I had fish fingers from the freezer because I was too lazy to cook and hadn't been shopping for fresh food.

I have had some interesting emails recently. In one exchange we were talking about people walking in the shadow of others, seemingly invisible, diminishing if they are in shadow too long. In such relationships, is it the responsibility of the one in the shadow to move out of the shadow and seek a little sunshine, keeping in mind that most plants need a little sunshine to grow? Should the larger-than-life partner sometimes step aside, and let that sunlight in? Or does it come down to personality types, and recognising which one is more accommodating?

Another email talked about my blog, expressing a preference for the personal rather than the more global entries. This confirms something I have felt all along, that we relate to things on the smaller, personal level, and change comes from here. "In this world is darkness, so we must shine, you in your small corner, and I in mine".

Sometimes I think my blog is my own "visibility" in a life where I am a student, not a star player. As a student, I am learning that simple is best, ego causes problems, and the worship of money causes even greater problems. When just occasionally I think I would like to be visible, to be a part of the show, not necessarily the star because I enjoy supporting roles most, I do need to go back to nature and just sit, and be at peace with the wonderful world I live in.

Yesterday, as I sat on top of the fortified cave and crevice that made an observation post, I was almost glad that I hadn't been shopping, had not bought prosciutto and cheese, had forgotten to put in the apples. Sunshine, water, dry bread from a wood-fired oven, and delicious dark chocolate, simple yet the very best; this morning I woke up feeling rested, refreshed, and young again.

25 May 2008

hiking and thinking...

Sunday, beautiful sunshine, thick socks inside comfortable tramping boots, a pack on my back, and some hills to climb.

It is very close to Cassino, yet so far from anywhere. This is a view of the Liri valley from Mt Cifalco, a German defensive position and observation post during the Battles of Cassino. Lunch was bread, water and chocolate, seated on top of the forward observation post looking towards the Monastery and Cavendish Road. From here Mt Trocchio, the Allied observation post, looks like a piece of playdough on a child's table.

On this mountain top in particular it is easy to feel the presence of the soldiers, many of whom still lie in these hills. It is not a sad place though, the sun shone brightly, wild pigs had been rooting for truffles, cattle had left their droppings. Lizards scampered across the rocks and fortifications, and birds sang cheerfully. The stubby, furry bees were too busy in the beautiful flowers to worry about me, and I had taken care not to wear perfume or use a floral soap. Wild sweet peas, lilies, wonderful pink flowers... colour peeked from every crevice in the sun. The only snake to be seen appeared once I was safely back in the car...

Home again, first a cold beer, a shower, then a cup of tea and some Anzac biscuits.

24 May 2008

how could you not love it?

Every day I have a "bad hair day" I look anxiously from the dog to the mirror... it's ok, today I look more like a "wool-blind sheep" than a Zacchi Fizzgig!

Zacchi photos by Rosco...

23 May 2008

now you try...

...listen to the prompt, and in the pause give your answer.

I need some tiramisu... (it translates into "pull me up"). I am not an aural learner, I am a visual learner needing lots of repetition. Back to the drawing board... this time with Italian vocabulary...

I think I have mastered something, then it disappears again. Visiting daughter "eats" other languages, devouring them with relish. Her two weeks here showed me how it could be done...

All I have achieved is an acute loss of English and huge frustration with my inadequate progress in Italian. The other day I said something in English and wondered why it felt odd. Later I realised I had said it with the Italian sentence structure. I wonder if learning for me is a bit like cleaning a house; I seem to need to make a huge mess before I make any progress.

Four years ago my rascal friend worried that soon I wouldn't be able to talk because I hadn't learnt Italian and I would forget my English while I was in Italy. I think at only 6 years old he already knew...

I wish I could devour languages whole too... but my taste buds say give me a dark chocolate cherry liqueur any day!

22 May 2008

starting with peace?

Does developing and growing a culture of peace begin by looking at places of conflict, or does it begin by analysing peace where it exists?

What is the common denominator when we look at peaceful countries? From other bloggers, here is a Global Peace Index.

We talk about educating for a culture of peace, but try to do that by looking at conflict. I prefer the idea of looking at peace, and wondering what the lessons in it are.

This morning I received an email protesting about an art exhibition involving the death of a dog. What was done in the name of art was so shocking I couldn't bring myself to link to it here. The artist claimed that he was bringing the plight of such animals to public attention. He certainly did that, but the debate seems to be more about his approach and the cruelty witnessed in the gallery than about dealing with the animal rights issue. The end never justifies the means. There is always a better way.

I went back to read more about the GPI: The methodology itself is an interesting comment on mankind. The discussion papers are far more comfortable reading than the email I reeled from this morning.

From the May 2007 Discussion paper "Peace and Sustainability: cornerstones to survival in the 21st Century" page 12 (reprinted without permission from www.visionofhumanity.com) we get the following:

Characteristics of a Culture of Peace
Peaceful nations demonstrate certain
characteristics or attributes. Nations at the
top of the Global Peace Index manage to
balance the interests of the private and public
sectors in ways that result in most people
feeling that they have a “stake” in the State
and social system. These components are
best secured by the State being committed to
creating a positive environment for business
and by business supporting the State. Both
need to be committed to promoting the public
good and reasonable degrees of equity and or
equality of opportunity for all peoples in the
Peaceful nations embrace the concept of
inclusiveness. If we extend this concept
to humanity as a whole, it presents a
starting point for the beginnings of global
Most peaceful societies tend to have a
range of formal and informal mechanisms
for dealing with grievances, conflicts of
interest, and questions of marginalisation and
exclusion. In particular, they have deliberate
and intentional mechanisms for balancing
majority prerogatives and minority rights.
They also tend to have mechanisms for
containing conflict which is inevitable and
essential to the effective functioning of all
systems. Many would argue that creative
friction constructively channelled is the fuel
of progress.
Peaceful societies have strong sanctions
against direct violence. This is reflected in
an independent and an effective police,
legal and judicial system which is capable of
controlling and preventing direct violence.
It is also reflected in high levels of sensitivity
against violence as an acceptable way of
settling disputes. What is interesting is that
some of the nations ranking in the top twenty
have not always been peaceful. They have
changed over the years. This means that
violent behaviour is not permanent: it can
be reversed. Decision-makers can realise that
violence is not the most effective instrument
for advancing national interests.
The top twenty nations of the Global Peace
Index also tend to have quite modest military
systems that are largely non-offensive, even if
some of them such as Japan are large in per
capita terms. Most also tend to pursue what
can be called cooperative or common security
strategies, advancing national interests and
pursuing national security in collaboration
with others. They also tend to play active and
responsible roles in regional and multilateral
institutions. They view the United Nations
as the cornerstone of a critical set of global
institutions for generating what can be called
the international rule of law and the peaceful
settlement of disputes.
An awareness of the attributes of peace can
provide politicians and decision-makers with
a tool to develop peace initiatives, and to
create and sustain more peaceful societies.
The effectiveness of government actions can
then be measured through the Global Peace
Index. This information allows governments
to better understand what they can do to
reduce violence and conflict. And, with
this awareness, business could make more
confident investment decisions on the basis of
actual and predicted stability in a community
or nation.

While the tone is general it is not hard to extract from this some specific guidelines to apply to society.

The 2008 discussion paper looks at
"The Study of Industries that Prosper in Peace -
the ‘Peace Industry’".

Whether we like it or not, peace seems to be about the distribution of resources and wealth. From the 2008 discussion paper (page 11) comes the following:
The great 18th century
French philosopher Montesquieu in his
dissertation on the separation of powers,
‘The Spirit of the Laws’ states:
“The natural effect of commerce is to bring
about peace. Two nations which trade
together render themselves reciprocally
dependent; if the one has an interest in
buying and the other has an interest in
selling; as all unions are based on mutual

When we teach a child how to care for a puppy we show the right way, not the wrong way. Does too much exposure to violence de-sensitise us? I think it could. It takes so many positives to correct the damage done by one negative. We tend to be "negatively geared" when we are vulnerable.

Philosophically I am anti-consumerism. If trade and exchange can contribute to peace then I might have to re-think this position.

21 May 2008


It doesn't rain for four days in a row in May in this part of Italy...
does it?

We have had thunderstorms, squally showers, misty rain, steady rain... very wetting rain!

Today as I drove home from a memorial unveiling near Cassino I marvelled at the number of people out and about in the heavy rain. It was mid afternoon, the end of siesta time, and people were out strolling, walking, chatting. On the steep slope up to my village two men chatted happily under umbrellas in the middle of the road, moving a little to let me go by. Down near the shops a woman cycled with her groceries in the cycle basket, a huge umbrella held above her. I had the feeling that it was nothing new.

How spoilt we have become, in our normal lives. It wouldn't have occurred to me to cycle with an umbrella. I have a bright red jacket, but my groceries in the basket would get very very wet (yes I have a basket on the front of my bike too). I need to think a little more about how many luxuries I take for granted. I have tried to lead a more simple life here, and a year ago I was bemoaning the fact that I had bought a car, was opting out of public transport. The car brings a full life, changes our perceptions of what is normal.

I like my mobility and independence, but I miss my waiting for the bus time, my walking time, my "how am I going to do that?" time, my slower pace of life time.

Yes, Zacchi, we will go walking in the rain.

Can you train a scruffy munchkin to hold an umbrella with his tail?

a fine choice...

...snakes or cars, that is my choice. I really want to paint poppies in the fields, Italy's fields.

Do I go into the waist high grass and risk disturbing copulating snakes?

Should I stay on the road and risk being squashed?

Sometimes life throws you tough choices!

I woke up this morning with a new series painted in my head. I can't wait to get started...

20 May 2008

fine food...

The best things are the simple things... Give me cherry tomatoes, ripened on the vine, bursting with flavour in my mouth. Fresh bread, fresh ricotta straight from the baskets... let me savour life, take time to enjoy.

Less is more, keep it simple, we all know the rules... so why do we sometimes let life run away with us? Stop, breath deeply, look at the flowers, the fallen leaves, listen to the bird-song, count the good things that have happened in the day. It is time for fireflies, poppies, and magic. No matter what season you are in, it is time for friends, time to share.

more to paint

I am sure from the other side of the world my life looks like all fine food, wine and sunshine. Sometimes it is. Add good friends, interesting work, and international visitors and it is a wonderful space to be in.

Sometimes, however, I do paint. I have two more portraits to do after the three already booked and the "village-scape", which means that they are piling up faster than I can keep up with. If there are gaps in my blogs it means that I am working... my blog kept me company in the evenings, and has things in it that serve as a diary for me. I still like to write, but if there is a gap please read it as painting time, or maybe I am trying to read Italian.

I know that 24 hours in a day should be enough for anyone, so I am going to have to limit my computer time for a while.

I like it when my children take over the reins and tell me that I need time management and some rest scheduled in. They have learned well.

Thanks TK, I'll try!

18 May 2008

a special day

Today my rascal friend made his first communion.

I remember the first communions in the MaruMaru Memorial Hall when I was young. I didn't make my communion then; I didn't think I could keep the promises we were being asked to make, and my mother let me opt out when others took communion. My grandfather was a church elder. I suspect that was a strong move by my mother, defending my right to hold a different opinion, to step outside the norm.

Church was in the village hall. It was our job to go early if there had been an "occasion" in the hall during the week, or more particularly on the Saturday night. We had to air the building so it didn't smell of beer, and give it an extra clean. As I write I remember sitting on a step one Saturday night looking skyward into the darkness with a boyfriend, talking about the first landing on the moon.

Presbyterians and Methodists attended one another's monthly services, thus making church once a fortnight. Anglicans and Catholics had to go to town to worship, 11 miles on a winding shingle road. We sat on wooden, folding chairs that we pulled into the centre of the hall, neatly placed in 3 slightly curving rows before the minister arrived. The "organ" was a folding, portable, bellows type organ. Occasionally I played the piano when the organist was away, and when she retired. My mother stood where I could see her and closed her hymn book part way through the last verse so I knew when to play the "Amen".

Today's ceremony was in a beautiful, marble lined chiesa, in the main street of the historic village. There was not so much singing, but somehow my voice seems to know where to go even though I know few of the words. Music is important to me, it fills my soul.

Once again I am grateful for being made welcome here, being included in family occasions, knowing that this place is home.

Once again I promise myself that I will write less in English, and study Italian more.


17 May 2008

I blame the chemicals

It could be that I have a bad memory.

It could be that I am a lazy student.

It could be that I am opting out.

Whatever it is, I seem to have a really bad memory. I have not made satisfactory progress with Italian vocabulary. I am hopeless when it comes to remembering names. And during the last two weeks I have had some absolutely brilliant (I am sure!) flashes of inspiration about themes to write in my blog, and when I sit at the computer they have disappeared.

I have decided to blame all the chemicals I have inhaled in my ignorance over the years as an artist. I hereby declare that as from today my art-making will use only safe products in an effort to preserve and increase the remains of my brain!

Mmmmm... now about that turps...

There are all sorts of chemicals. I avoid the illegal ones. I have absorbed and inhaled too many of the work-related ones. I have swallowed prescription ones.

This week, largely thanks to discovering myself in Italy, I am four years "anti-depressant free". I love being alive, and have so much to live for.


15 May 2008

on being local...

This morning the church bells tolled that someone in our tiny hamlet had died. Long, slow, evenly spaced tolling of the bell. It was followed immediately by a joyous ringing of the bells that indicate a "festa", a wedding, a baptism, or, most unusually but in this case, the entry to heaven of the "senior elder" of our village of 90 people.

This afternoon I was driving down to sign insurance papers at my lawyer's office and a resident on his way home from work flagged me down to ask me who had died in our village today. Despite the sad news I had to tell, it made me feel truly local.

In the time I have been coming here (my first visit to this hamlet was 21 May 2004) there have been many changes. I used to worry that my presence might cause problems as I represented a very different lifestyle for women. Independent and free to move about is not the norm here. When I bought my house and joked to the neighbours that we didn't want any more strangers here, just me then "basta" (enough) I had no idea how many people of different nationalities would be living here within such a short time.

A visiting kiwi once wrote to me that "Caprile is dead". I see a hamlet that is very much alive, and growing daily. Caprile has births, deaths, marriages, laughter and tears. The residents are unemployed, blue collar, white collar, professional people and even a couple of artists and musicians now. It has happy people, sad people, angry people, problem people, healthy people, sick people, loving people, caring people, old people, young people. There seem to be more young folk now. I have many more names to learn, people to meet. Today I met a new couple who couldn't believe that I had been here so long and we hadn't met before.

The locals call me a Caprilotta, and I am happy to wear the translation as well as the name!

14 May 2008

out of routine, out of line

I think I am slowing down! I can't burn the candle at both ends any more. It is time to nest the melted wax into the rock and sit and flicker for a bit... give the flame time to strengthen and grow.

It has been a fun week, and time has flown. This morning at Ciampino airport we were evacuated from check-in and sent outside. There was no panic, and the relaxed police shepherded us out further and further away from the building. We chatted happily, wondering what it was all about, when a loud boom made most of us jump and the windows of the airport building moved considerably with the blast. It seemed to be a controlled explosion, something to do with Ryan Air.

The most significant thing to note was how slowly people moved through the doors when, for all we knew, our lives could have been at risk, and how quickly the waiting passengers rushed the building when check-in was re-opened after the all-clear! Mmmm... my life, or a good seat on the plane? I think I'll walk slowly and enjoy the sun a little longer...

12 May 2008

Sunday was ... interesting!

Yesterday I was with a group and the Italian guide and translator didn't arrive.

Picture this: the farmer was celebrating his 77th birthday. The group was a little late getting to him. Refreshments were plentiful.

The farmer spoke in dialect.
I speak little enough Italian. I have deliberately avoided learning dialect.

I stood beside him *translating* and to my horror someone had a video camera pointed our way. I have visions of an Italian in Canada viewing the video and discovering that my translation has very little in common with what the farmer was saying!

All I can say is, I did my best!

I told them that the Canadians were well-liked by the locals. I told them that 17 soldiers were killed around that site, crossing the river to try to take the farmhouse and buildings from the Germans. I told them that the Canadians ate fish from the river, that they liked eating the fish. I told them that it was the farmer's birthday and we all sang to him. I asked him how old the house was and he said part of it could be 800 years old.

I told them I really couldn't keep up with the speed of what he was saying, when he wouldn't pause for me to translate. I told him that he talked too much!

What else could I do?

Today I told his daughter that I hoped he wasn't offended when I laughingly told him he talked too much. She said "What time were you there? Don't worry, it was his birthday, he wont remember anything you said."

At least I got the bit about his birthday right!

11 May 2008

happy Mother's Day...

...however you would like it!

Italian - Buona festa della Mamma!
English - Happy Mother’s Day!
Spanish - Feliz Día de las Madres!
French: - Bonne Fête des Mères!
Portuguese - Feliz dia de las Mães!
German - Alles Gute zum Muttertag!
Hindi - Maatri Divas kee shubhkaamyaaye!
Japanese - Ha ha no hi o me de to u!
Mandarin Chinese - Mu Qin Jie kuai le!
Russian - S Dnem materi!

photos don't capture the glory

Day by day more poppies are disappearing as the hay is baled. These survive because there are young olive trees planted in this strip of land. From the village above they are a glorious blaze of colour. From the road below they are spectacular.

10 May 2008


I really had the best of intentions. I was going to be up early and write yesterday's blog...

Yesterday I went to a high school in Frosinone to represent the collective memories of international soldiers in the Italian campaign of World War II. I spoke briefly and simply. Fortunately I had someone to translate their questions and my answers. I was happy to make mistakes in my Italian in front of the students because they are all trying to learn English so were sympathetic.

I was with a history lecturer friend from Florence University. The 100 or so students (there seemed to be 5 classes... what nice class sizes!) were in their last year of high school. They were watching a documentary about the wartime experiences of the civilians of Roccasecca and the surrounding districts. This documentary was made by the Florence friend and her documentary-maker son, in consultation with the history teacher who had invited me to the school.

If I achieved anything at all it was to link New Zealand veterans of 1943-44 with teenage Italians. I was thrilled that their questions focused on feelings, rather than facts. If there is empathy and understanding, compassion and consideration rather than attention to heroic deeds, then there is hope for a culture of peace.

I often shake my head and marvel and the strange and varied thing that is my life.

After that it was home for some time with the family, then dinner with a Canadian group in Cassino. Today I could be touring the Hitler Line with the Canadians, learning more for my guiding, but time with my girls and their friends has priority. (Big happy smile).

8 May 2008

from Zacchi

This is where I like to go every day. There are cats that play with me... it's a great game! I run, they run faster. I run even faster... but they can jump higher than I can. The fastest one gets the cat food... and cat food tastes better than dog food!

But Mum has made it out of bounds because the silly cat up there had kittens in the basket under the balcony where I like to chase them and steal their food.

The kittens are two days old. I wonder how long before I am allowed to chase the little ones... or will they be furry mouthfuls?

Mum spoils ALL my fun...

It's just as well I have the others here to spoil me... spoilt rotten, Mum calls it...


7 May 2008

and sister makes two...

Pizza, red wine, two daughters and a boyfriend, a dog, some beef jerky treats for Zacchi from Scotland...

Daughters one and two to stay... half the family is here. No post today... we are busy talking!


and one has just said "Mum, how do you have your tea?" That means that there has been far too much coffee lately or we have been apart too long!

6 May 2008

happy is how I look

I have posted and removed this poem several times. I don't know the protocol for such things. I could well be annoyed if people posted my paintings without my knowledge... or would I be flattered? I don't know.

I think this poem is a gem. I first heard it on a David Whyte CD. It is by Fleur Adcock, and strikes a chord with me as I contemplate my life here.

Am I in love with a place?

Well-meaning friends suggest I could have a facelift to look younger, more beautiful. They think that then I might attract a young man into my life. I see the woman in the mirror occasionally and I know that she is younger, more beautiful... and happily independent although alone. I know I am a "passable woman", and here, in my rocky mountainside retreat, looking out over the Liri valley, (OK Zacchi, yes I am living with my four-legged friend), inexplicably happy is how I look.


My face catches the wind
from the snow line
and flushes with a flush
that will never wholly settle.
Well, that was a metropolitan vanity,
wanting to look young forever, to pass.
I was never a pre-Raphaelite beauty
and only pretty enough to be seen
with a man who wanted to be seen
with a passable woman.

But now that I am in love
with a place that doesn't care
how I look and if I am happy,
happy is how I look and that's all.
My hair will grow grey in any case,
my nails chip and flake,
my waist thicken, and the years
work all their usual changes.

If my face is to be weather beaten as well,
it's little enough lost
for a year among the lakes and vales
where simply to look out my window
at the high pass
makes me indifferent to mirrors
and to what my soul may wear
over its new complexion.

Fleur Adock


Photo of wrinkles added for Sarah... how do you take a photo of yourself without getting a double chin? Ah well, it's all vanity anyway. Here the folk who lived through the war look at your eyes, it's the younger ones who see the wrinkles and the age spots!

it's a long way

...from Auckland to Roccasecca, but it is well worth the journey. Yes, that is a huge smile you see... :-)

No post today... mine came via Fiumicino. Tomorrow I expect another arrival at Ciampino... I may not write to you then, either!

Contented happiness is being at home with family.

5 May 2008

excited happiness

...is different from other happiness. Tomorrow I willingly catch a train at 4.43am to go and meet a daughter at Fiumicino, Rome, even though I could take a later train. I can't bear the thought of missing the Leonardo Express and not being there when she walks through from customs. Part of the excitement is checking the arrivals board, watching, waiting... I love airports!

Yes, I know I could drive and leave much much later, but how can I possibly drive safely when I am so excited? Much better to leave it to the train driver!

What is it going to be like when I finally get to America to see the daughter I haven't seen for more than two years? We teach our children to fly, so we have to be happy when they do. After all, we are descended from the most adventurous people on earth!

Zacchi knows something is up. He is quite anxious. He didn't even eat his mince today. What did I ever do to deserve such a demanding, nervous, stroppy and sensitive scruffy muffin?

"But this *is* my best foot Mum..."

4 May 2008

happily tired

NO I will NOT walk past those big dogs...

Market at Aquino today, then to a garden shop, lunch out in the sun with friends, on to pick up a bookshelf a friend had made and varnish that, and now happily tired and ready for rest.

Zacchi has been busy, plenty to bark at, and he somehow got out onto the road earlier and had to be called home. Now he is curled up on his mat with a defiant "woof" in the general direction of a barking dog and says, "that's it, mum is back at the computer, must be bed time!"

Ooops, no, spoke too soon, he is off to protect the garden. Time to shut the door...

3 May 2008

no more pain

I have been in agony (metaphorically only, don't worry).

I have this thing about rocks. The painting I am working on had some wonderful rocks in it. But because the photograph I was using was taken on an overcast day I was stuck with the problem of a light source to make the painting as a whole convincing. Easy, you might say. Just pick an angle and apply it. Not true, here in Italy.
Normally I would simply choose a light source to make the buildings come to life. But on rocky cliffside villages the houses are at all sorts of angles, and if I paint for the sun I flatten them and lose their higgledy piggledy charm. If I get hung up on detail I die, and the painting with me.

Today was decision day. Something had to go, the rocks or the houses. There was too much happening in the composition. There was no real focal point, or, rather, there were three focal points. I was ruthless, professional. I pushed the rocks back and worked on the houses. We are on our way to having one main focal point...

We are a pretty amazing breed, we painters. We push rocks and cliffs around with a few strokes of the hand. Other people use dynamite, then have trouble putting them back again.

PS: The water level really is the camera, and where I take the photograph (on my lop-sided chimney). After seeing it in this photo too I measured it, and both sides of the water are 14 cm from the bottom. Truly!

PPS: I did say at the start that this could be a lesson on how NOT to approach a painting...

2 May 2008

on excellence

As I write this post thousands of runners are assembling near the start line in Rotorua for the marathon around the lake. There is a wonderful energy that is contagious when athletes are gathered.

I first watched the Rotorua marathon in about 1983, give or take a year or so. It becomes an addiction, even for the spectator. There is something special about seeing people dedicated in pursuit of their goals. It became an annual family outing, and my fit young adult off-spring certainly gained rather than suffered from coming with their mother year after year to watch their grandfather and other family members run.

Athletic excellence and personal bests, however modest, are worth celebrating.

The Bippiblog has a campaign to turn off the TV during the Olympics. I couldn't bring myself to post it here, but please check it out in case you want to share it on your blogs and elsewhere.

There is something about excellence that promotes others to strive as well. I probably will watch some of the Olympics. When I go to the masters games I come home inspired, energised... and each time that enthusiasm lasts longer than the time before.

Today I watched another kind of excellence. A marble monument was being erected near Cassino. I undertook to photograph the process for the friend who had initiated the project from England.

A two hour project became a four and a half hour effort as tiny little things went wrong, and almost nothing went as it should. The project manager smiled apologetically to me, and said mildly "we are unlucky today". From a flat tyre on a trailer to an ill-fitting generator connection, a truck driver running late to a broken strap around a marble rock, even the best of the equipment seemed to pick this afternoon to have problems.

Through all of this the young man heading this team of workers was thoroughly pleasant, calm, competent, and ensured that his men stayed the same. It was an absolute pleasure to watch as he defused potential problem situations one after another. He lead by example, somehow finding the perfect mix of "hands on" and distance to know exactly what was happening.

He wont win any gold medals at the Olympics. He wont be mentioned when excellence is discussed in the media. But what I saw today was equal to any sporting display of excellence. He was captain and player, strategist and team doctor. He had talent, knowledge, leadership skills, and had trained and been trained well.

Thankyou, R S and your workers, for letting me join you today.

1 May 2008

1 May another holiday

Zacchi really wishes the fireworks didn't have so many loud bangs. It is a good excuse for a cuddle though.

The holiday bridge period ended today. Some people take a break from 25 April until today, but none of my friends do. Last night on television I saw a map of Italy with all the dangerous roads with heavy traffic marked on it. A good day to stay home.

Yesterday was market day and I spent more than I usually do. I enjoyed the post office queue waiting to pay my bills. The clerk asked me if the road to Caprile was still closed, and then a lengthy conversation ensued around me about the fire last year, the falling rocks, and the job they are doing to stablilise the area. I understood most of it but it was far too fast for me to consider joining in.

I bought some dangly earrings with bright colours, and will think of Jan and her beads every time I wear them. Then I somehow found the courage to buy some underwear. For three years now the charming young vendor has been flattering me, and anyone else slighty easy on the eye, as we stroll past his stall. I am very coy about buying underwear in public and when I stopped to look at some he made no attempt to sell to me. I have never bought from him. He was selling to others, and eventually I chose what I wanted, rolled it discreetly and handed it to him with the exact change. He gave it back to me in a bag and I am sure he was blushing as he thanked me profusely for buying from him. Usually it is me blushing!

Then, as it was getting late and I was hungry I bought the bread that is rolled into a circle to represent the cloth the women in this region wore to support the heavy urns of water they carried on their heads. I wandered happily through the market munching in public, thinking how good life can be!

Today I had the full Italian pranzo (lunch, today five courses) with my lovely neighbours on the other side of the fountain, and then had unexpected late afternoon visitors for a beer at my house. Yes, it felt like a real holiday today.

time to take another break from it

and no, the water isn't on an angle, it was my camera that changed the surface of the earth.

meat and three veg...

a culture makes!

I "cooked NZ" for my dinner tonight, it was good!

The irony was that I had been having a conversation about eating meat earlier in the day. It started like a bit like this:

if I know that eating meat means using 5 times more cereals than I need if I eat only cereals, and I know that at this moment there are not enough cereals for all the people in the world so that many are starving, and I know that eating meat more than once per week is unhealthy, and I know that the treatment of animals in abbattoirs is ethically wrong, then...

should I eat meat?

I cooked potatoes for the first time in a few months. The lambs fry was so fresh that the flavour and texture completely banished any thoughts of what was ethically right, and Zacchi Fizzgig and I had a wonderful meal.

I don't think I am ready to be completely vegetarian.