29 April 2008

no lunch today...

...it's a question of priorities! The light was not so good this morning so I had to shift to a different painting spot. Good progress with the painting though... (big grin) and there's always bread and cheese and wine for lunch and chocolate for afters...

aaah... it's a good life!

That is, unless you are a dog.
Zacchi says "I've tried everything.
When I saw the footwear I staged a sit-in in the stair-well...
and even that didn't work!"

Talk about emotional blackmail... first the daughter then the dog. What's a girl supposed to do? Stay home and buy books? This is Zacchi's fifth different tactic to come with me or make me stay home... each one more pathetic than the last.

There was
*hopefully bounding upstairs,
*perfect upright best behaviour waiting on the top step,
*find the handbag and sit perfectly and hopefully right beside it,
*poor little me but "I'm so cute flattened into the step in absolute subservience"
*the scruffy neglected waif look.

The woman has no heart...

28 April 2008

going public too soon...

I don't really like sharing the messy stages of my paintings... but, just for Peggy, here it is. Still plenty to do. I have put away the photograph and now am interpreting the painting. Lots of adjusting and balancing of colours still to happen, and of course the foreground rocks still to strengthen. When the oil dries I will glaze and bring some into shadow, put some further back... it is how I like to work, with many scumbled and transparent layers. I have used the scumbling technique under the glazes because I think it suits the ancient buildings.

Moving from acrylics into oil has had it's fun side and its "downside"... I enjoy being back in oils after the acrylic underpainting, but I forgot that they don't dry and I am now covered in paint... ah well, at least I feel good!

You Know If You *Really* Loved Me

Sarah has published a book of her art project. This was the email in my in-box this early Monday morning: (love the emotional blackmail in her subject line... how can a mother resist?)

You Know If You *Really* Loved Me

You'd buy my book!
Yes, yes, you would!
Each and everyone of you.
Then you'd beat your friends with a baseball bat until they bought a copy.
And then they'd beat *their* friends until *they* bought a copy!
It would be a beautiful friend-beating experience.
And then it would spread like CRAZY MAD RAPID FIRE!
And oh!
You'd buy them as gifts to give away!
You'd buy them to use as coasters, door stops and YES! Even toilet paper if you so choose. Think of how many could fit stacked from the bathroom floor to the ceiling!
If you *really* loved me you'd all buy my book and turn it into a freaky fungus type of deal, crawling all over the universe, taking over small villages and outrunning small children.
So do it.
Do it!
Buy my book.
Buy it at:
And then I will know that you all love me, for sure.
Anybody need a baseball bat?

*heads to the sports store*

27 April 2008

a day to simply be

It is bright but overcast today. It is the Sunday of a long weekend.

The birds are singing, the insects chatting, the rooster was crowing earlier. Even the rascal Zacchi seems to know not to bark today.

There is a calm, a stillness over the valley. I can hear neither cars nor human voices. A lazy blowfly can't decide where to settle so flies from room to room, not hurried, gently taking me back to a corner window in Maru Maru, maybe fifty years ago. Can I really be that old? No, inside I am still young.

The sun comes and goes, teasing a little. Inside, outside... where do I want to be?

I didn't turn on the television, or the radio, or even my music.

I would rather hear the birds, the insects.

I don't think I will study, read or write. I don't think I will go to friends. I think I will sit outside and dream in the beauty of this silence. I think it is a day for me to simply be.

26 April 2008

anyone who cares

The weather is glorious.

It is too late (full moon was 20 April) to finish pruning my olive trees.

The grass under the trees was cut today.

The work in the cantina continues slowly but beautifully.

The painting has come to a bit of a halt.

I was a guide today.

The flowers at the railway station monument are looking healthy but were happy to be watered. Today's visitors were impressed with the work the students had done. (Later they kept up what is becoming a kiwi tradition and helped me to pull out more weeds at the St Angelo Peace Bell site).

As we left the station traffic was held up by a procession of singing and laughing cyclists. One wore a peace flag like a cape. There was nothing to indicate who they were or what they were doing. I ran after them and asked one what their rally was about. They were promoting the use of cycles instead of cars in Cassino. They were, they said, "anyone who cares".

I got into my car and negotiated the chaotic holiday weekend traffic, vehicles three wide on a two-lane road with no lane marking. I too could have been on my bike singing happy summertime songs...

I am very very tired, but happily so.

Goodnight... but first a little piece of chocolate...


poppies for today

The poppies are brilliant right now.

In Cassino's fields.

The 4000+ Commonwealth soldiers lie peacefully under their marble headstones in the immaculate lawn and gardens. The 20,000+ German soldiers enjoy a still and dignified solitude on their conical hill. The 1,000+ Polish soldiers could do with a gardener in their patch; it's a pity the abbey only looks across at them and does nothing for the fallen man. The estimated 6,000 French with their colonial soldiers were locked in for the night by the time I got to Venafro. I guess the headstones of the colonial troops at the rear of that cemetery were still facing Mecca.
Tomorrow we paint poppies...

tomorrow and

tomorrow and


25 April 2008

La Festa della Liberazione

Today is a national holiday, La Festa della Liberazione, celebrated on April 25 to mark the anniversary of the 1945 liberation of Italy by Allied troops. Also known as V2 Day, it has become a day of political protest... but there were no demonstrations in my corner of the woods. Politics were certainly aired over pranzo though, father and daughter going much too fast for me to understand the content other than that it was a political discussion.

It was far too good a day to be inside

24 April 2008

on Anzac Day

It seems appropriate to mark Anzac Day here in my daily writing. It is still the 24th here, but in New Zealand family members will already be home from the Dawn Service, and Dad will be at the morning service as I type this.

Anzac Day has always been special to me. It was something we grew up with, going to the services a part of what we did. We went as a family. I used to go with my dad after my "little sister" was born and Mum couldn't go. Vaguely I remember Mum being pleased that I wanted to go, because it wasn't right that Dad should go alone. Or was that my fantasy? I don't know. But it became "my thing", going to the Anzac services with Dad. As the soldiers marched past, their medals on their chests, it was grief, not pride, on their faces. Tears don't dry up with age.

I have just been reading research suggesting that there is a kind of "dark tourism" associated with attendance at such services. It is a disturbing thought. It is also a challenge to me, someone who occasionally guides people around the battlefields in the Liri Valley. Am I feeding an unhealthy desire, mine or anyone else's, to be associated with death? I don't think so.

I have huge reservations about the re-enactment of battles, a growing tourist business in many parts of Europe. I have no reservations about thinking of the dead, honouring their memories, and passing on the stories that veterans have told me.

Come and visit me and I will take you to five very different war cemeteries within a very small radius around Cassino. You wont go away unchanged. When you read the ages on the tombstones you will be thinking of members of your own families, your sons, your daughters, your grandchildren, your brothers and sisters. The soldiers who died had families too.

Kerikeri students locating family members, New Zealand section of the Commonwealth Cemetery, Cassino, Italy 23-4-08
A friend who has no memories of her father lays a wreath at the German Cemetery, 18-11-07. Her only comfort is knowing that he knew her for three short years.


Today is my anniversary; one year ago I was unpacking in my new home after that long haul flight from Auckland to Rome.

This morning I received a lovely email from New Zealand, noting my year here.
The four seasons have been.The road has had some hills and some tight corners but "your car" has survived as has the driver.
Yes, it has been a difficult year, but a good one. The car is on the road, negotiating traffic, and mostly I am the driver. The four seasons have been, and now I can reflect on a whole year.

Yesterday when the Kerikeri High School students sang a waiata at the Commonwealth Cemetery I remembered what it felt like to be a New Zealander. Special moments have music that touches the soul. Even if I forget the words, I hope that music always touches me the way it does now.

I came back to Roccasecca, took Zacchi for a long walk past the huge fallen rocks where the road is closed, and knew that I was at home. We walked for nearly two hours. It was dark when we got home. Just before we got back to Caprile, our little hamlet, we saw our first two fire-flies for the season. They are due in May. The first was flashing so brightly and happily beside us, telling me that all is well. The second one, resting on the road, was saying that this is a good place to stay.

The music of Ciociaria is growing on me, but is yet to enthrall me the way Maori music does. But in this part of my life, this pause in my journey, this is my turangawaewae, my place to stand. When I see the fire-flies my spirits soar and I know that I am standing in a very special place.

23 April 2008

Thankyou Kerikeri High School

Cassino railway station; monument to New Zealand soldiers who gave their lives in Italy.

22 April 2008

Peace and love alone means...

It was too dull to paint. The light was simply not good enough for close work. I have been writing. I could easily prefer writing to painting.

Today's writing was for the peace blog. I am going to try writing the weekend posts. You can't read my bits until Saturday and Sunday. You can read the blog every day, though, the link is on the right of this page.

I want to write about building a culture of peace without making the job look too big to even start, without being too negative or moralistic. I have decided that the only way I can do that is to write from the heart.

I am going to use the cropped photograph above as a metaphor. I sent it to Bruno. I told him I thought the blog was too heavy, too grey, like my palette. I want colour, and I want optimism. Not surprisingly, perhaps, he invited me to write too. It is almost impossible to write that way when you are writing about what is happening in the world.

I started by writing about things I have seen, things I have felt. If it is real for me, maybe it will touch someone else too. I have written two posts. They are grey. Light grey. I don't know how to write colour. Do you write colour with peace and love? "Peace and love alone means nothing!" said my friend. I am still thinkng about that one.

Peace and love, awareness through education, followed by reflection and resulting in action might mean something. Painting, writing, talking. Is that action?

Today I visited the New Zealand memorial at the railway station in Cassino. If I clear away the grass and plant more flowers there on Anzac Day commuters will notice it once more.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them
A tiny action, very very tiny, but it is a place to start.
I googled "culture of peace". You have to persist and click refresh to get to many of the pages. Maybe that is a better metaphor... persist, refresh, click a mouse and not a trigger.

I found that today is Earth Day. That is also a good place to start. Resources is what it is all about, really.

If anyone knows of any writing about peace that has substance and colour, please send it to me.

21 April 2008

feeling better today...

Everyday you should challenge yourself (I don't like the word "should" but I agree life is better with a little daring in it) so today my challenge to myself is to publish the agonies of finding the painting when you are working from some else's photograph. I think it will be good when I get there. There is still a long way to go (it is 100x70cm).

It would be much neater and nicer and more accurate to draw up a proper grid, neatly sketch everything in, and paint my way through it.

I would be bored out of my tiny brain.

I choose to think the painting is already there, I just have to find it.

Here goes... for all the world to see... possibly a lesson on how not to do it, but there is always that wonderful song (maybe I will finish the painting before I sing it) "I did it my way..."

... at the "one third of the way" mark I guess, I work my way across and down, this time going backwards for me, not quite sure why I did that, and then I come back and balance, adjust, glaze, etc etc... will post progress again in a few days.

20 April 2008

rocks and tumbleweeds...

It is Sunday morning here.

Some time ago I wrote about the song that helped me through a very difficult patch. That song was "Light a candle in the darkness". I had heard it at the Morrinsville Intermediate School end of year prize giving service. The other song that stayed with me that morning was "Tumbling tumbleweeds".

Last night I heard that a distant relative had died. Her son had, only recently, described himself to me as "a tumbleweed", someone "nebulous and insubstantial", but using these descriptors in a positive, air-borne kind of way. That positive interpretation of the words so often used as negatives fits for me, as I have always been fascinated by tumbleweeds, and loved to see them dancing along the sand dunes at Mahia.

This morning I heard that the choir mistress has died. She was also my friend and my choir mistress many years later. I was not surprised at the news, but I was a little sad. I thought of those two songs, and I wondered what the tumbleweed link was.

Robyn was a strong, positive, assertive and at times controversial woman. Many choir practices were a little fraught. The results, however, were always wonderful. She also taught very well. I could tell which of my students of English had been in her class. Grammar, correctness, there were no half measures with Robyn. I am sure many a student quivered in her class until they recognised her warmth under the strictness. By the time they got to me at the next school they had learned their lessons well.

In church she was a forbidding figure, as well as a wonderful one as her voice filled the chapel. She also used her voice to question the church administrators and congregation when she thought it was necessary. Listening to her gave me the confidence to do the same. She will be remembered by some as challenging, perhaps even "bossy".

I prefer to remember the warm, intelligent, witty Robyn with a deliciously wicked laugh, the painter who was too shy to exhibit, the woman who set incredibly high standards for herself. I remember trying to get her to re-interpret a scene rather than reproduce the photograph. She wanted to know how to get the colours exactly right. She won, of course. I taught her how to mix exactly what she wanted.

My tumbleweed friend challenges me with questions, lets my brain wander and shows me that there is nothing certain, all can be an illusion, all can be interpreted and reinterpreted in many different ways. Robyn, if she heard those conversations, would link the ideas back to the Bible and speak with absolute certainty.

We need tumbleweeds to float on by, giving us something nebulous and insubstantial to consider, to challenge our idea of gravity, to help us see things from the air; a different perspective. And we need rocks, solid decisive people who are well grounded, are great support, and teach us the importance of detail.

I am very lucky to have met rocks and tumbling tumbleweeds along the unformed path.

Dear Robyn,

Thankyou for being a rock. And most of all (yes, I began the sentence with "And" for emphasis), thankyou for the music that fills my soul.

Somewhere, I know, the Halleluia chorus has just become much stronger.


19 April 2008

where destinies cross

Last night when I could have been emailing an artist friend I searched for her with google. I don't know why. I have her website, her email address, her phone number.

It was a surprise to find her name in another artist's blog. I enjoyed reading the blog, and found that the writer shared many of my views. Somehow it is reassuring knowing you are not a lone voice, even if you are unsure of exactly what you are wanting to say.

The timing (of course) was perfect. I had been blogging along steadily, and trying to keep up the spirits of a friend who needed me. Sometimes that is a little difficult when your mind is in the studio, it is easy to become torn if you think about it. Better to follow your intuition and trust that you will find the time you need for your other work later.

But my happy blogging was becoming very heavy blogging on the peace blog. My daily dose was sometimes a burden, as the cares of the wider world were in front of me every day. It got me thinking again, the same dilemma. How do we build a culture of peace?

Do we have a moral responsibility to be educated about the bad things that are happening in the world? If we are likely to be pulled down into negativity reading such things, is this actually subversive? Do I do a better job building a culture of peace if I stay aware but essentially focused on happiness in a local place?

I went to sleep with this dilemma. I woke up to find that Sophia Elise had not only linked to my blog, but had written some lovely things about my work. It gave me so much heart, knowing that we can spread kindness, share ideas, and focus on the positive so quickly, so efficiently, so creatively.

From reading this I went on to edit the English version of the peace blog. It told of an artist who was murdered in her peace work, her creative way of looking for hope and drawing attention to how things can be. My heart dropped so much that I didn't re read my editing. My energy levels sank so much that I was almost impatient with my friend who was relying on me to lift her spirits.

I came home and read, and read Sophia Elise's blog, following the links. Sharing her kindness lifted me.

Finally I noticed the message in the work that was in her entry where she mentioned me. "Where destinies cross and hearts intermingle immortality shines through". I no longer believe in coincidences. Our paths were meant to cross, and somewhere in that message I will find what I am looking for. I am leaning towards replacing the word "immortality" with "peace" for now.

The title of her post was "Internet creating opportunities to unite people on the same path". My blog name is "There is no path" (from "Travellers, there is no path, paths are made by walking" Antonio Machado). Sophia's blog name is "LIFE IS THE COLOUR YOU PAINT IT".

What I think I am trying to say is that if we paint our days with too much heavy sad paint we forget to see the sun. A plant needs both sun and water. Yes, we must be aware of all that is happening around us. But we must also be able to see the sun, to nurture the tiny seeds of hope. If the sun is blocked even hope does not grow.

I really do want to work towards the dream, the dream of world peace. I do believe in the peace blog and the work we are doing. But most of all I believe that life is the colour you paint it, and we must choose the proportions carefully because it is far too easy to mix a murky grey and "kill" the painting.

The path I hope I am making as I walk will be a colourful one, with just enough grey to show the full effect of the sunlight. If the object is a warm colour, the most effective shadow is a cool colour. If the object is cool, the shadow should be warm.

We need to work out how to make the palette in our blogs shimmer with hope, life and vibrancy to keep the energy of peace workers at a high and potent level.

Back to the drawing board?

18 April 2008

a label is just a label

I have two posts in draft. Sometimes you know something is worth holding onto, but you don't always get back to finish it. In the mean time I want to say...

Yesterday I watched a video of Sarah cutting into pieces work that was not acceptable to her, work made with sales in mind. It reminded me of a time when she took almost all of her work and painted over it. In my mind, she is a professional artist because she does not put out work that she cannot stand beside, that is not "honest" for her. At least that is how I see it.

Or is a professional artist one who does paint to sell, and a "real" artist is one who really doesn't give a toss about sales except to buy new materials, and who paints what must be painted, puts into form that which will not stay inside the person?

Is the artist who takes other paid employment to support their art more professional than the painter who churns out work to a formula that sells? I used to say that I would work to support my art. Painting commissions is part of that work. When I am through painting these works which feed me and buy me more materials then I will paint the work that is more important to me. I have two exhibitions to work for. That work will be work that is generated inside me. That is what I am passionate about, that takes precedence even over writing and emails.

At the moment I am painting commissions. I am grateful for the work and hope the clients like the results. I try to picture the places through my own eyes, feel the wind on my face, smell the sea spray. It isn't always easy. But if I can't do that, can't try to find the sense of wonder that inspired the orignal photograph, then I can't paint well.

I follow the photograph for the underpainting, usually in acrylic. I like to paint in layers and glazes, I really am a mucky pup. I am taking a break and typing with blue fingers. That does not make me an artist. Getting an exact copy of the photograph does not make me an artist. I suspect that putting the photograph away and then interpreting the scene again (this time in oils over the acrylic) with whatever feeling I have engendered from the photograph and my past experiences might be what makes me an artist.

Does earning my daily bread by painting make me a professional? Or is it the standards we set for ourselves that does that?

What am I? An artist, a professional artist, a painter. I am whatever I choose to call myself. A label is just a label.

It is clouding over, my light will be gone soon. I must go. I have a deadline to meet, set by a tough boss who demands high standards and is never completely satisfied with what I paint. The next time I see her in the mirror I will tell her to lighten up a bit; sometimes an artist needs some fun too!

there is a sunbeam on my boots

I am very tempted to put a door where there is a window... the sunbeam that reaches in to caress Zacchi as he sits beside me at the computer is calling me outside...

There is evidence that there was an external door in the other wall once upon a time, but the sunbeam comes through the smaller window. With a double glazing door or a lower glass panel it would be the perfect taking-a-break-in-the-fresh-air or curling-up-with-a-book spot.

Oooooh... that's tempting! Short post today... I have to test-drive this theory... door or window seat...window seat or door...

if only we had asked more questions then

Today was a strange mix of extended family and more links with Italy and WWII. Staying with me is the grandson of one of my childhood heroes, my mother's cousin. Neither of us knew if Hector was in the Italian campaign. We googled him and found that he "took an important part in the negotiations at the time of the Italian Armistice, organising the handing-over of the Italian Air Force".

I remember hearing about his heroic flights and wartime deeds. He loved young children and I was always excited about his visits when he came back to Wairoa, where he was born. But if I am honest I must admit (shhh) part of his appeal when I was 10 or 11 was his very handsome and charming ADC who was very patient with adoring Kiwi fans. They say there's something about a man in uniform...

I probably didn't even know he had been to Italy back then either, it all sounded so far away.

Strange how all these things tie together...

17 April 2008

grrr... and :-)

As of the day after tomorrow I am back on the bus or the bike. My efforts to get a temporary licence came to nothing. That in itself is fine. The problem is that getting an Italian licence when your documents are not sorted is impossible, and international licences only last a year.

So tomorrow I take pictures to be framed, buy in bulk anything heavy, and go back to being good for the environment.

I will get fitter too!

There's always an up side...


Today I went to the oculista (optician, optometrist...?) and next week I go back for new glasses. The oculista shares a waiting room with a doctor. I had an appointment so could arrive just a few minutes before. Patients for doctors must take a place in a queue. Apparently the queue began at around 2pm today. The doctor arrives at 3pm. There were at least 12 people waiting. I enjoy people watching in places like that. People are endlessly fascinating. It was a different part of town and I was new to them. I guess they were people watching too...


I have a guest here at present, a distant rellie I hadn't met before. I emailed a friend only two days ago saying that my brain needed a workout in English as my vocab in Italian is too limited for real discussion. I shouldn't be surprised... suddenly there is someone to discuss abstract ideas with. There is no apparent connection between the email I sent and the arrival of my guest other than the power of thought. It happens like that here...

15 April 2008

post election

We have a new government. Berlusconi is back in. Most of my friends are vaguely pleased. It's not that they are fans of his, but simply that the alternative was so much worse for this part of Italy. Berlusconi has promised to abolish the bolla, much to my relief, because I can't find a receipt to say I have paid it!

The kids have had a long weekend. Where schools were used as polling places they have had a four or five day break for two days of voting. They normally go to school on Saturday here. That was cancelled to prepare for the election. Sunday and Monday Italy voted. Today schools were still closed. When I asked a friend why also today (voting closed in the morning) she said "to disinfect the schools after the election". I liked that image, somehow!

The bonus for me was I took my young friend off grandma's hands for the day and we took Zacchi up onto the mountain behind my village as far as the church in the cave (where we used the timer to get this photo) then he took one of me in front of the church (I had to pose, that's what he does) but Zacchi decided to be camera-shy.
The view as always was wonderful.
After lunch we went down into the (rather grandly named) woods where there are many flowers, cyclamen, iris, too many to count. Absolutely beautiful. We picked our way between the beautiful and the dangerous, and even picked some asparagus for my tea tonight.

Zacchi is tired from his grand adventure. He now runs free in the woods and goes exploring without me. I just have to trust that he will always come back. There are no guarantees...

14 April 2008

other artists

I share other artists with you today...

These are from 2006. I saw some of the 2007 work in Florence in December.

Art has a place other than to decorate the houses of the wealthy. I would rather put my work in a home than a house... or in a public place to speak for those who have no voice.

Can art help make a house a home? Maybe, if it is chosen with thought and love, not to match the decor.

It is time I started painting with passion... I feel stifled with commissions even though I paint with love. But first I must paint to buy more paint and large canvases. Somehow I can't get too passionate about painting to sell.

July is my personal deadline. The work for the next exhibition (late August) will be alive, painted with passion... I promise...


"No one is born hating another person because of the color of their skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."

Nelson Mandela

13 April 2008

just beautiful...

Today and tomorrow Italians vote. Many are pessimistic.

I choose to see the beautiful side of things.

I took these photographs today, only metres from my house.

This is a wonderful, complex, fascinating country.

Why do I need to defend it?

12 April 2008

one-handed affection

It's Saturday not Friday...

Our morning ritual is that as soon as I stir Zacchi is at the side of the bed, scratching at the blankets, begging me to get up. Sometimes I let him out and go back to bed. Other times I open the door and he doesn't go out. I snuggle back into bed and he continues his scratching at the blankets. I proffer the hand to be licked, pulled at, wrapped around. He launches hinself onto my arm and we have a little one-handed scratching affection session. He licks, paws, nips, I pat, rub or scratch whichever clean bit of the dog is within reach.

Yesterday he was very protective, seemed to sense something ominous. Twice he insisted there was someone behind me. He barked and barked. I couldn't see anything. I told him not to be silly, we have only friendly spirits in this house. Maybe he was wiser than I am. The day went downhill after that.

This morning after I had opened the house and snuggled back to bed he was pleading with me to get up or at least put the arm out from under the blankets.

Neither of us know how he did it. I don't know who got the biggest surprise. Suddenly he was up on the bed, completely bewildered! That's a first. It took a while for him to settle. He licked, nipped, generally wanted to stay excited. Eventually he settled down for a cuddle. I felt oddly protected by my scruffy companion.

Then it was up and bouncy again... you can see out the windows from Mum's big bed! Things look so different from way up here! Uh oh... it's a long way down too...

I wonder how long it will be before he works out how to jump up again?

11 April 2008

election weekend...

... has come around very fast.

I expected a lot of fire, passion, loud argument, animated debate.

So far it has all seemed far too civilised.

Until recently there seemed to be more about the American elections than the Italian ones on TV.

I am the first to admit that I don't understand a lot of what I hear, but the body language seems far more polite and restrained than in New Zealand elections. La bella figura, perhaps?

I have become used to the television prattling along with me understanding very little, but when the political rallies have the Colosseum in the background you remember that you are living in a very different place.

Rome wasn't built in a day. The young country that is Italy wont be either.

Wish us well tomorrow, I have a sneaking suspicion that things are so bad economically that even the opposition doesn't really want a chance to govern...

PS a quick Google search shows me that you can learn about la bella figura in an Australian university... far be it from me to comment!

10 April 2008

Thursday, taking stock day

Today I have been sorting papers. Sorting, sorting.

I have
-learnt about bolla (car tax)
-found email addresses I thought I had lost
-bored Zacchi so much he went to bed at 5pm
-found that things fade even in boxes
-used my new (hunted for a year for one) hole punch
-changed where I store my papers
-ordered some shelving
-made an awful lot of mess
-found a forgotten message I wrote to myself as I set out for Italy...


I've certainly done the first two. I am wondering what I meant when I wrote "Regenerate". Perhaps that is building a new life.

I have finally let my old life go, closed the book, labelled it "for reference only". Tears are reserved for diaries and romantic novels; reference books have favourite pages that are good to look at occasionally.

Maybe it was timely, finding that scrap of paper.
Now it is time to regenerate.

9 April 2008

my day off...

Today is Wednesday, my "weekend".

I had fun.

I am not going to type any more, because I hurt my fingers playing basketball and volleyball over/under/in the loquat tree.

Later edit:
Simply couldn't leave the post like this!

Here is a gem from David Whyte, from his "Mid-life and the Great Unknown" CD. I think I have quoted from him before. In fact, I have probably given you this quote before! You can read it again, it's good!

I like the "in the life in which we find ourselves". Sometimes it feels like that for me here... I have found myself here, happily being "me", that evolving thing of indeterminate nature. I find myself living here as if by chance on the one hand, yet absolutely sure it was not an accident on the other.

Where ever we want to go in life, that journey begins with the first step, and that first step has to be taken in the life in which we find ourselves.

-David Whyte

Sometimes I read this as being a motivation to step out, make change, start where you are and get going. At other times I read it as being about making the most of the situation you are in. Perhaps its beauty is in that it can mean what you need it to mean.

One thing is for sure though, whatever your best intention is when you make that step, nothing will ever be quite the same again.

Happy smiles from wonderland...


8 April 2008

no stress...

When I first moved in (May 2006) and gazed out over the Liri Valley I was very tempted to cut the top out of a mandarin tree on a lower terrace. It cut into my view from the doorstep. I can't reach the mandarins, even on my ladder. I had been eyeing up the top of the tree again recently.

My promise to myself was to make no drastic changes until I had actually lived in the house a full, unbroken year.* I extended that promise to making no drastic changes in the garden too. That year will be up in two weeks.

It was a bad year for citrus and olives last year. The 2007 summer was a tough one. Dad and I watered and watered my trees. Other visiting Kiwis were told the price of their accommodation was several buckets of water to each tree each day. My trees survived in reasonable shape, quite a few oranges but very little fruit on the mandarin trees.

This morning I noticed that my new neighbour was busy in his garden. Company out my side of the house is rare; I live in a relatively private spot. I grabbed the chance to go up the ladder and beyond, reaching a little precariously for the last of the citrus. It is still too chilly to lie undiscovered outdoors overnight should I inadvertently choose a short-cut down.

As I stretched out to harvest the last of the mandarins I looked across at the view.

If something is blocking the vista then you simply have to climb higher.

The top of the tree will stay.

When I came back inside the television** was expounding on the problems of techno-stress in today's world. I didn't take my cellphone or computer up the tree.

A woman, a ladder, a basket, a dog, a tree.

No stress.

*I moved here "officially" on a residency visa 24 April 2007
** Don't get excited folks, I haven't changed. The television was purchased to keep my Italian friends from fretting about me being lonely on my own when I moved from the more social and public side of the village to my private hillside with no real neighbours. It sat in the box for over two months - but I could say that I had one - and is purely for trying to learn Italian.

7 April 2008


Yes, balmy is the best word.

Every so often (don't you just love that indeterminate phrase?) we have a wonderful wind that comes to our village, playing, teasing, uplifting. It is not one of those cheeky winds that picks up leaves and swirls them around, and it doesn't really blow. It caresses, invites, makes you want to run to the top of the ancient steps and raise your arms and go with it.

Tonight it came again. This time it brought a heady mix of perfumes, tantalising. A little wood smoke, a changing variety of blossoms, spring flowers, wafting them around you then stealing them away before you can properly identify them.

The street lights along our road are off. I came down the steps again and looked across the valley. Every light shimmered. The air is so clear. Magic, fairyland.

The night is balmy. I need to go back out again. But first I wanted to capture this one, it is special. Now we need to go back and find out why.

Si, Zacchi, you must learn to love it too...

on Cavendish Road

Unexploded, dangerous. We looked, but did not touch. We had children with us. A young Tommaso ran ahead and was separated from the group. It was an eerie ten or 15 minutes before he was located. He could easily have picked up a similar object.

In our group was the badly scarred friend of one such young man who did pick up something like this and did not survive. How deep are the scars of our quiet young friend who makes documentaries about the battle of Montecassino?

About 15 metres further along the track is where three children were killed after the war, one having picked up an unexploded mortar as they played.

There were daisies.
No poppies on Monte Cassino today.

6 April 2008

happy day

I've been climbing hills and mountains for the past two days. I'm a very happy chappy.

I've been speaking in Italian for two days.

Life is good.




5 April 2008

peace from thorns

Today I have been on a battlefield tour in the Monte Lungo area. It was interesting, the places are beautiful. It was also all in Italian so I understood only a fraction. That gives you time to become a people watcher, when the brain gives out.

I struggle with balancing a culture of peace with my work as a guide around battlefields. When I guide, my own messages are always geared towards peace.

When I see commemorations and history being sorted and saved I have no problem. When the tour group includes many in semi-combat gear, their preferred mode of dressing, I feel uncomfortable. Knowing that would be the case today I wore blue jeans, a bright water-melon coloured vest and matching shoes. I sketched the veteran soldiers as they told their stories. Later people drifted over to talk about the sketches.

I hope that talking about art and being a bright spot in the dark and camouflaged people-scape was helping to grow a culture of peace.

I'd dress as a poppy if I thought it would help.

4 April 2008

time zones

I'm really not sure what time zone this blog is in. If I post too early it gives me yesterday's date.

Drat. Contrary to popular opinion there are some things I like to keep tidy. The dates on the blog is one of them. Ah well, not important really.

Dear Cat, I hope that all your today is better than your yesterday...
Dear Sarah, I loved your post about writing/reading/music.
Dear everyone else, I still haven't written last year's Christmas/New Year letter. I don't think it is going to happen. Oooops!

Our road is closed. The rocks above Castello are being pinned back behind huge wire grids. The fire last year destroyed all the vegetation that was holding them together. It is a huge project. I don't want to watch. Rocks should be free, beautiful, scary, but then they might land on Zacchi or me... it's a hard choice, really.

short grain rice

It's the little things that are important.

Today I am going to make rice pudding.

A few nights ago, forgetting dinner as I worked, I was hungry at 11pm so I made banana custard, using my precious Edmonds Custard Powder from New Zealand. It tasted just as good as it did when my mother made it fifty years ago.

Last year I brought a few small things from New Zealand. One was a teapot. I couldn't find a teapot I liked here, or if I liked it it was expensive and china and I imagined it in pieces on my tiled floor. My NZ teapot felt so out of place here that I was almost uncomfortable using it. I said so. My happily married friend said "If you can't integrate things from your past then you still have a lot of healing to do". I thought, "what do you know, it's perfectly healthy to want a completely new life". I said nothing.

But somewhere inside I knew she was right. Back then I couldn't even put photos of my children up, it hurt too much to admit that there was no unified happy ending for my dream "and they all lived happily ever after". I looked at the photos, but always put them back in the drawer.

Another friend gave me a photo frame, and the first photo of "the kids" went up. In the glass cabinet certainly, but it was a start.

A few days ago I put a photo of myself, with my husband, up on the mantelpiece. He is a huge part of my history. We share our wonderfully interesting children. I felt good about being comfortable with that photo.

What has that got to do with short grain rice? Today, for myself, I am making his favourite. Rice pudding.

Banana custard, rice pudding, favourites from my childhood, from my middle life, and now in my future. I think things are integrating all by themselves.

3 April 2008

growing pains

The bus stop is next to the house, and waiting children (and their parents) often call down to Zacchi or to me. Sometimes Zacchi goes up to sooth some tears or take me to practise Italian, but more often than not I am still in my nightgown when the bus comes these days. (Summer is coming, that must change!)

This morning a teenage friend called out to me as I opened the gate to let Zacchi and Queenie play. The last time he visited I noticed he had lost his puppy fat and was talking in another tone. This morning I had to look up to see who it was greeting me. His voice has broken and I didn't recognise it.

Time passes.
Life goes on.
Things change whether we want them to or not.

Zacchi is discovering that. Queenie has grown quickly. She is powerful and headstrong, and still a bouncy puppy. She is too much for poor Zacchi. After a little playing he runs home, begs to be let inside, and collapses behind my chair or beside the bed. He is the faster runner.

Thank goodness for that, says Zacchi.

2 April 2008


I went to the police department in Cassino this morning to check on my visa. It expires shortly too. Don't worry, they told me, you can come and go as you please. Come back in May and we might have your documents ready. Thankyou for coming, but there is no problem.

In the small waiting room were three nuns, a young couple and a child, a young man with a child, two middle-aged men one ahead of me, one behind me. Three young women came in to check their place in the queue and went outside again. In the five minutes or so I waited at least five police men and women squeezed through the crowd.

I was called in after the nuns and ahead of others who had waited longer. My consultation was in the corridor, and I hardly needed to say anything. I think they recognise me, or at least my passport, these days.

1 April 2008

short and running

Today is the first day of the rest of my life. I wonder how many times I have said that? But today is day one of my self-imposed business plan. Wish me luck, I will have a very tough boss. Hopefully Zacchi will encourage me to take time off every day. On top of that, I have made myself promises that will be difficult to keep. One is that every day I will do something that challenges me. This morning it was my visit to the local Comune about documents...

Language, communication. Is it important to speak a language well? Every day I correct a translation to post on the Bippiblog. Sometimes I can't find the exact words, and sometimes I leave things a little unpolished when the meaning is clear. It doesn't hurt to remember that they are in translation. Communication is what it is all about.

I try to speak Italian well, and that means I don't speak a lot. But when I need to I communicate with my hands and my face, I throw decorum to the winds and make myself understood. It is a while since I have had to draw stick figures on a napkin to explain something, but if I need to again, I will.

I found this email again recently. A friend wrote it to me when I had become stuck, needed to deal with some difficult things. I would hate to see it written in perfect English. Written as it is, when I read it I feel again all the care and support that the hand of friendship was offering.
The life is short and running...and it's your life.
Drive you your car...don't leave another people drive your car.
This has another, more literal significance today. I am still waiting for the house inspection that says yes, I really do live here and I can have the correct documents to stay. Until that happens, I am just visiting. And without those documents I can't get my Italian drivers licence. My international one expires in two weeks time. So I guess my morning visit to the Comune, although challenging, was unsuccessful.

I really hope I can continue to drive me my car.

PS the gremlins are on my side. I was delaying lunch as I worked, a bad habit I have, and most unexpectedly my computer crashed. Food time... but all seems well again now. Strange...