31 December 2010

a little bit eccentric is good, right?

I woke at 5 this morning, (it's really Friday, New Year's Eve, here in Italy) looking for an email that wasn't there. Stupid, I know, but that's what we do, we solitary bods. It set me thinking about this strange and challenging life of mine.

I've decided that if the electrician sees me as being a bit eccentric then that suits me just fine. I've seen others look at me as though I'm not quite real too. I'm not sure if the looks are of disbelief, admiration, or appreciation. Some, I know, are sympathetic, pitying, and these I reject vehemently. If I choose to sit outside the square that is, absolutely, my choice. I will conform when I find things worth conforming to. For now, it is enough to renovate my house on a shoe-string budget in the manner most appropriate to the house, honouring its 500 year old history. Tomorrow, when it comes, will have to take care of itself.

A friend called in recently, and expressed her concern and sympathy when she noticed that the hot water cylinder above my sink was missing connecting pipes, and clearly wasn't working. Ummm, yes, well... it was, until I had it disconnected. There is no place for a huge, ugly, inefficient, calcium filled water heater that leaks and costs 20 euros a powerbill to run just to wash the dishes for one person, in a beautiful ancient structure where it is ruining the line of the magnificent arch above it. It is on its way out, as soon as I find two strong men to lift it down.

I heat exactly the amount of water I require to wash my dishes, no more. When I carry larger amounts from the bathroom (where the water heater is more efficient) I appreciate the pioneers, the people who have no running water, the need for conservation of resources. Is it little things like that, together with a fragile but beautiful snakeskin on the mantlepiece, that make me eccentric? If so, it is a hat I gladly wear.

The owner of a furniture shop who called to deliver something belonging to another NZer gazed around my apartment with eyes wide and eyebrows arched, then uninvited stepped into the unconventional kitchen, nodded approval and said "so much imagination" or words to that effect.

You can get away with a lot, when you have the label "artist", in this culture. Perhaps that is why it suits me. I am not really expected to conform, in my daily routines. It is a privileged space to be in.

Today I am grateful for the company of two little dogs.

30 December 2010

blame it on Christmas

I've hit another speed bump. I guess such crashes are inevitable. My friends are busy, or overseas. Emails from afar are few as summer pulls friends to the beach. The dreaded Facebook shows wonderful photos of an Italian group in the mountains, a group I belong to, but I wasn't there. It is hard to get on with the things that need to be done.

It makes me think of immigrants to New Zealand. It is one thing to get to know them at work, to chat on the street, but quite another to welcome them in to your home. I am guilty of limited contact on a personal level, and I am ashamed of this. How many times could I have invited a family to my home, but simply didn't think to do so? How many refugees in New Zealand are forced to cling to their own cultures because they are not given the opportunities to assimilate? You are welcome to live in New Zealand, but not to come too close, not to rock our world?

At Christmas I had more invitations to dinner than I could accept. For this I am always grateful. It is in the aftermath of Christmas that I need to be self-propelled again. Or perhaps simply accept a push from others, to get me started again? When chatting with a sympathetic young friend yesterday he wrote:
poi tu sei un artista, gli artisti hanno una percezione molto amplificata del mondo reale. Comunque, in compenso gli artisti, lasciano una testimonianza indelebile nella storia degli esseri umani
tu attraverso i tuoi dipinti
lo fai
Whether or not there is any truth in the perception that artists feel things more deeply, or perhaps have an unreal relationship with the world, I will accept his unintended challenge, to paint the history or our times. (In fact, as I wrote this, I remembered my electrician friend yesterday looking at the snakeskin on my mantlepiece, one I had found in the garden and brought inside to enjoy. He looked around my interesting and unconventional home, banged his head against mine, and told me, in broadly smiling dialect, that I REALLY was unwell...)

Why am I writing this more-personal-than-usual post? A Kiwi friend wanted to "Google Earth" my home. In fact, my address doesn't take Google to the right place. I was looking back through this blog for a photo to send to her, but instead I found this post. It reminded me of my journey, and so instead of feeling alone and sorry for myself I have decided to write my way out of it. It's good therapy.

Among my gifts at Christmas is a hand made card that reads :
"Carissima Kay noi ti vogliamo bene dal primo giorno che ti abbiamo conoscuta e ti pensiamo sempre
perchè se ti senti sola noi ci siamo sempre
I don't need to look very far at all to find the blessings in my life. The family who wrote these lovely words is away skiing at the moment. They have a campervan, and in it is a bed for me. I just need to accept the invitation.

There is another invitation I would like to accept one day soon. That is the invitation to dance, to dance with life. In fact, I think I'll stop writing and go and put the music on...

Today I am grateful for very special friends.

29 December 2010

the joys...

No, not the joys of Christmas, but of living in a house that is 500 years old. Two days ago my walls got damp enough to short out my power supply. The electrician couldn't come yesterday, because it is pig-slaughter time here and he was well committed to the family chores in another village. By the time he arrived this morning power was back on.

We have agreed that I should have isolating switches, and maybe eventually re-wire some of the suspect areas... who knows when? (Best you visit me in the summer, maybe...)

But the great news of the day, thanks to some generous friends, is that I have wireless internet so can hear skype calls if I am in my studio! Wooohooo... maybe I'll spend more time up in the studio now, instead of haunting the downstairs computer for contact with the outside world!

A flurry of domesticity hit me this morning, so there are now eleven jars of preserved mandarines on the bench, the tops making satisfying clicks as they seal. Waste not, want not... the ones that left half the skin on the tree in picking are now my breakfast fruit for the summer.

Happiness is feeling connected with the world again. (OK, so you didn't even miss me, but I knew that we weren't in touch!)

And something nice from yesterday... I was driving on country roads and at a Y intersection was struck by the most paintable sunset, with a great composition all laid out for me. (OK, I know, I don't paint sunsets and usually avoid landscapes, but I do appreciate them...)

I stopped and got out to photograph this with my simple cell phone, and a young man driving in the direction that would take him in front of me stopped, indicated for me to continue, and waited smilingly while I took my pictures. Nice that he too appreciated the magic of the moment and how fleeting sunsets can be.

The sun is shining, the studio is calling... ciao a tutti!

Today I am grateful for supportive and practical friends.

27 December 2010

for word lovers

I found this interesting reading this morning... Hope you enjoy it too.
Christmas in Italy, and some interesting word origins.

Happy new week...

Today I am grateful for bloggers.

26 December 2010

and so that was Christmas...

I have just been reprimanded for not blogging. It's kinda nice knowing that someone cares enough to check up on me. Thankyou, blogger extraordinaire!

Christmas was of course as stress-free as I could make it, but brings stresses just the same. Where to go, what to do, who to visit, to drop in some baking and stop and chat or just be a good fairy and leave it on the doorstep, not intruding on another family's togetherness?

Of course, it wouldn't have been Christmas if I didn't leave things until I was pressed for time. Why didn't I make the condensed milk balls a week earlier, they mature well and are better for it? Why didn't I wrap up the gifts from Zacchi and Pickle and put them in a safe place? (And where the heck are they now?)

I was torn, this year, more than ever. I couldn't make a decision. I couldn't say decisively "This is what I am doing at Christmas". But in the end I left it too late to go to family and after a lovely two week "pre-Christmas" in Alabama I stayed home and simply pleased myself.

I chose to spend the most important part of a European Christian Christmas, the Vigilia di Natale (Christmas Eve), talking with family in New Zealand. I know this offended at least one friend, but at the end of the day it is about what you believe, and I don't think that eating to excess, particularly in hard economic times, is justified anywhere. The price of fish has sky-rocketed this Christmas, and I want no part of the commercial side of the season. So Skype and G-mail video it was, sharing time with the people I love, while Italy ate and ate and ate... seven courses, all of fish, if you are to do it "properly".

I did go to mass and then to friends for a cup of tea afterwards, and was home by midnight to watch the computer clock tick over into Christmas Day.

Christmas Day itself was again a choice, and my preference was to go to an ex-pat friend in an Italian family where a Kiwi link was really appreciated. While I have tried very hard to assimilate here, I see why ex-pats do tend to group particularly at "family" times when we are away from the ones we love. These friends, an Italian-English couple, have more than half their family in NZ so are currently jumping through the NZ immigration hoops. Over a mixed English (roast turkey) and Italian traditional meal we laughed about the senility test administered to the over-70 wanting to immigrate, wondering if we younger ones would pass it ourselves, and discussed what a Kiwi Christmas felt like. My gift to the Italian and more reluctant emigrant half of this equation was a bottle of my very Italian olive oil in a clear, stylish, recycled, NZ bottle (from Paeroa). Italy into New Zealand does go.

My reflective time was spent reading and re-reading emails, looking at Youtube videos of Christmas carols, of troops abroad at Christmas, crying over the images with John Lennon's "So this is Christmas (War is Over)" song, and thinking of the homeless and the hungry.

I have felt closer to New Zealand this Christmas. When I came out of a restaurant a week ago where, with an English speaking group, I had been happily singing traditional English Christmas carols, the tune I was humming and the words in my head were "Te Harinui". Now where did that come from? Of course, the subsequent Youtube search took me back to school... and many unbidden memories came floating by. Hours were gobbled by the internet... have you any idea how hard it is to find a clear sung version of "A Pukeko in a Ponga Tree"?

So, Christmas Day for another year is over. The snow came about ten days too early, but yesterday we had sunshowers and temperatures back up to around 16°C. No complaints about that.

And yes, that was Christmas. Some laughter, some tears. Some reflective time, some busy time. Some writing, dreaming, and planning. Some baking and kitchen chaos. Getting out of my jeans and into festive garb. Christmas, for me, was a mixture, and the lows serve only to make the highs much sweeter.

Today I am grateful for my loving family and friends.

20 December 2010


I am beginning to think there is some merit in living between two hemispheres...

The heater has been going in my studio for three hours and it is still only 8 degrees. Back down to the warmer part of the house at least until my fingers thaw enough to continue painting!

Today I am grateful for a hot lunch.

13 December 2010

life in italy

This morning was an early appointment in Frosinone to try to sort out a rather expensive taxation issue to do with the purchase of my apartment. This afternoon I watched Cassino school children doing the haka. This evening I updated the Legato blog. One can never complain of having nothing to do, nor of being bored!

Today I am grateful for safe travel on the foggy autostrada.

10 December 2010

once upon a time...

I read John Ruskin for his literary achievements. The year was 1970, or 1971. I didn't read The Ethics of the Dust containing his lectures The Crystal Orders, but it's better late than never, right?
There's no music in a "rest," Katie, that I know of: but there's the making of music in it. And people are always missing that part of the life-melody; and scrambling on without counting-- not that it's easy to count; but nothing on which so much depends ever IS easy. People are always talking of perseverance, and courage, and fortitude; but patience is the finest and worthiest part of fortitude,--and the rarest, too. I know twenty persevering girls for one patient one: but it is only that twenty-first who can do her work, out and out, or enjoy it. For patience lies at the root of all pleasures, as well as of all powers.
(Ruskin, 1875. Lecture Four, The Crystal Orders, from The Ethics of the Dust).

In more recent years I have read his critical essays on art, and found them equally interesting and useful.

From Wikipedia:

Ruskin's views on art, wrote Kenneth Clark, "cannot be made to form a logical system, and perhaps owe to this fact a part of their value." Ruskin's accounts of art are descriptions of a superior type that conjure images vividly in the mind's eye.[10] Certain principles, however, remain consistent throughout his work, which Clark summarised as:
1. Art is not a matter of taste, but involves the whole man. Whether in making or perceiving a work of art, we bring to bear on it feeling, intellect, morals, knowledge, memory, and every other human capacity, all focused in a flash on a single point. Aesthetic man is a concept as false and dehumanizing as economic man.
2. Even the most superior mind and the most powerful imagination must found itself on facts, which must be recognized for what they are. The imagination will often reshape them in a way which the prosaic mind cannot understand; but this recreation will be based on facts, not on formulas or illusions.
3. These facts must be perceived by the senses, or felt; not learnt.
4. The greatest artists and schools of art have believed it their duty to impart vital truths, not only about the facts of vision, but about religion and the conduct of life.
5. Beauty of form is revealed in organisms which have developed perfectly according to their laws of growth, and so give, in his own words, 'the appearance of felicitous fulfillment of function.'
6. This fulfillment of function depends on all parts of an organism cohering and cooperating. This was what he called the 'Law of Help,' one of Ruskin's fundamental beliefs, extending from nature and art to society.
7. Good art is done with enjoyment. The artist must feel that, within certain reasonable limits, he is free, that he is wanted by society, and that the ideas he is asked to express are true and important.
8. Great art is the expression of epochs where people are united by a common faith and a common purpose, accept their laws, believe in their leaders, and take a serious view of human destiny

the cookie walk

Take one church hall, fill it with trestles, decorate for Christmas, and spend an entire morning filling and refilling the trestles with cookies until, around the middle of the afternoon, they have all gone. Picked out by generous patrons who willingly purchase these, chosen with care, looking for favourites from years gone by... all to contribute to "Habitat for Humanity".

As you enter the hall you are issued with a box and a plastic glove, pointed in the general direction of the "start" and then you walk up and down the rows of tables, choosing your Christmas cookies. All the hand-made biscuits are donated, some obviously family affairs if the icing on the gingerbread men is any guide.

The hall is full of music, cheerful voices, and efficient helpers topping up plates and then consolidating the display as thousands of cookies disappear out the door with happy purchasers.

What a great fund-raiser for a wonderful cause. As I watch to make sure noone is sneezing near my chosen cookies, I remember regulations regarding church fairs and something tells me that food and health wardens would not allow this in dear old NZ.

Occasionally, surely, it's OK to bend the rules?

oh, and... (further to yesterday's post)

+ watched a certain short video over and over and over again,
+ renewed friendships with extended family
+ went to a Christmas cookie walk
+ and a Christmas parade
+ enjoyed the squirrels playing on the doorstep,
+ saw a beautiful blue jay in the tree close to the window
+ drooled in a book store
+ bought some art magazines
+ shopped for warm clothes
+ marvelled at the progress of an artist at work
+ revisited a revamped historic part of town
+ contemplated cultural differences
+ purchased some chai tea
+ appreciated being driven around to see the Victorian Front Porch Christmas decorations and lights

and ate fried green tomatoes again!

Today I am also grateful for emails from afar.


* played peek-a-boo in the curtains
* robot Nonna in the hallway
* pirates with booty at munch-time,

* danced to the Wiggles
* laughed with the Tele Tubbies
* "looked" and "see-ed" through a child's eyes
* gazed at "babee tarshar" on the computer
* giggled with the giggler over musical Elmo
* "wowed" at the Christmas lights
* "yummed" at all things yummy
* snuggled at evey opportunity,

* loved being used as a human box-horse
* marvelled at the intelligence of a little one
* enjoyed all the smiles, the cheeky ones, the flirtatious ones

...just been a Nonna!

Today I am grateful for grown up children and not-so-grown-up grandchildren

9 December 2010

the old new broom

Clothes sorted and packed away,
Dozens of tiny socks reunited,
Toys sorted by relevance,
CDs and videos sorted,
Books located and relocated,
Food bin groceries ready for delivery,
Swimming pool dismantled,
Pikelets made and eaten,
Hot soup on the stove,
Cupboards painted, however badly,

...almost done.

It's nearly time for Nonna to go home.

Today I am grateful for the opportunity to lend a helping hand.

6 December 2010


Kettle brand krinkle cut potato chips, (party size) Salt and fresh ground pepper flavour... YUM! (Purchased at Earth Fare).

Today I am grateful for Earth Fare, the healthy supermarket.

1 December 2010

just occasionally

Just occasionally I treat myself to some time reading in English. No big deal? Well, these days it is to me. My struggle to learn Italian is not helped by reading and thinking in English, but often the frustrations of not exercising other parts of my brain is too much and I need to explore themes in depth, in English.

Saturday and Sunday I read a novel, thought provoking, ideologically challenging, historically interesting, and as a novel with a simple yet complicated plot, most satisfying. The novel is Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant. This is the second novel I have read this year that has a deceptively simple story-line. The complexity and satisfaction is in the detail, the accuracy and depth of research, and the richness and flair of description. The other, of course, was The Burning Mountain by L J Adlington, a novel for teenagers based on the eruptions of Mount Vesuvious and the WWII battle of Cassino.

Today, in my quest to find something completely different via Google, I stumbled upon more interesting reading. This time it is New Zealand authors on New Zealand themes. I have been accused of deserting New Zealand, of not caring. "Not true", I cry, it is simply that for now I need to be elsewhere. If I really had deserted New Zealand I wouldn't have been excited when I found this page of writings by prominent New Zealanders all caring enough about New Zealand to write their visions for us all to read.

Today I am grateful for stimulating articles and books to read in English.