The saddest little Church – Madonna della Neve Bagnolo.

Madonna della Neve Bagnolo

It is unlike any church I’ve been in.

The Santuario Madonna della Neve was visible from the valley floor not far from our house.

Shining like a beacon on the hillside we decided to see if we could find it. A few wrong turns and some dirt roads later we arrived.

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Inside the chapel it slowly dawned on me that all the pictures covering the walls were of people who had died.

So many children, so much sadness, I felt overcome by many of the paintings especially the little photos in the corners.

Each one told a story, bought to life knowing they were images of actual people.

Many were obviously painted by the same artist over a number of years.

There were hundreds, all the walls were covered from floor to ceiling. It was overwhelmingly sad, a living history of the people and the losses they had suffered. I couldn’t imagine sitting here at a service, so many spirits, so many sad stories.

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Subdued we left the  Madonna della Neve Bagnolo.

Walking back out into the sunshine we met a couple who knew the history of the sanctuary.

They told us that the pictures were in fact of ‘miracles’ not deaths.

They explained to Sam who later translated (as only Sam can, see below)  the story of the Church and the paintings.

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If you’d like to hear the official story of the chapel you can find it at Madonna della Neve Bagnolo.

 Signature and the gang x

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Completly Clueless – living like a local in Piedmont

 

It starts with the locals, with their quality of life, their ability to be happy and their respect for the land they live in. Then the tourists will find a way!” Carlo Petrini ~ Slow Food

Since moving to our Valley in Piedmont we’ve been up close and personal to the local livestock. Flocks of goats come past our door daily, the cows graze just above our house and we’ve even been diverted by a huge white sheep dog guarding his flock when we were out walking. I now dodge various types of pooh on the road, know it’s lunch time by the passing of tractors and returning of the locals for lunch.

I have to admit to initially being scared of the cows roaming the meadows here. Completely clueless I grew up in the suburbs of Australia and apart from the occasional visit to a dairy farm run by friends of my first boyfriend way back in my 20’s I’ve had nothing to do with rural animals apart from taking the kids to the petting zoo at the school fete.

Now I live in a community immersed in the rhythms of nature,  in touch with where their food comes from, a lifestyle less reliant upon the latest device for entertainment. I actually still know very little about this lifestyle, about the role of livestock, the shepherds and their flocks and how it all fits into the Valley I have come to love.

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My view of the Fiera is still one of a tourist, although I now know many of the faces and even get to go behind the scenes (this year we saw them putting the mammoth bells on the cows before leaving to join the parade)  I still have a limited understanding of the significance of the celebrations held in May and October when the animals are paraded through our village of Bobbio Pellice.

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Tradition is alive and well here in the Valley, I see it in the face of a grandfather carrying a young child on his shoulders, a tiny boy with curly hair and traditional shepherds hook (and yes he knows how to use it), the boys strapping on huge cow bells whilst finishing off their second bottle of vino, they happily pour some for us into plastic cups.

Although this way of life is one I may never truly understand it’s one I deeply admire, this community has a right to be proud and to celebrate the seasons. I am as always honored to be a small part of this community and to have been welcomed so beautifully.

 

at the fair 2015

fair 2015

Living in a medieval Borgata in the Alps means we have goats, sheep, and cows passing our front door, I can literally reach out and touch them. I love watching our neighbors two white dogs round up the straggling cows that feed on the long grass along the road. With a little nip they soon have the herd together and on the move.

Watching the old ladies here hand rake the pasture above our house ready for grazing, I am reminded of all we seem to have lost with large scale farming. They have an understanding of the seasons, the mountains and they can usually tell me what the weather is going to be like with a great degree of certainty. They continue to fascinate me.

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We have a guest staying with us from California, her name is Marina and she is doing workaway which means she helps us with five hours of work and we provide meals and a place to sleep. We took her to see the Fair and she was a big hit with the locals as you can see.

She and Sam have redone the fencing, planted the ‘orto’ and we all spent a day in Turin eating gelato and wandering the city.

She is leaving on Sunday for Florence and I’ll be sorry to see her continue on her journey. As our neighbor Antonio told us, she has a gift from God and a beautiful heart (she is an artist and he asked her to do a painting of his house). She and Carina made apple cakes today, they have been walking the mountains, gathering wildflowers and she has done many sketches and paintings around the Borgata.

I can’t wait to hear how she falls in love with Florence, I spent a week visiting as a young backpacker myself many years ago.

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cow at fair 2015

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Life here in the Valley is full of surprises, as an outsider looking in everything is new, the ancient traditions passed down through generations are a complete mystery to me, one I hope will remain within the Valley for many years to come.

Now I know the names of the men and women moving the animals from pasture to pasture and to be milked. I can even say I have had a try at milking, but only for a few minutes with no resulting milk.! Our friend made it look easy, he’s been doing it all his life. He invites us to sit down to a simple meal of pasta, cheese and home made vino, an absolutely incredible meal and one I’ll never forget.

A day at the Fair now means so much more to me, it’s a celebration of all the reasons we moved to Italy…..oh and don’t get me started on the local Piedmont food!

If you ever get to Piedmont come for a visit, we’ll show you a side of Italy even I didn’t know existed.

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Living Italy – a day at the fair

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What a difference a year can make, now the faces smiling out of the crowd are friends, people I am slowly coming to know. We came to the fair in our village last year and I felt like a tourist, with no real understanding of the lifestyle, heritage and traditions around me.

This year at the fair I felt relaxed, smiling and waving, nodding to the locals and getting a ‘Salve’ in return. We are slowly becoming part of the Valley, Living Italy, Australiani yes but welcomed wholeheartedly.

While Sam and his friend were off photographing the fair together, the kids (well just Luca as Carina took off with her girlfriends) and I were free to just wander.

I even sat and had a coffee with two lovely German men at the bar, they were on a ‘boys weekend’ and they couldn’t believe they found an Australian here in the midst of the celebrations.

The faces in these photos are no longer strangers, they are the ones who come over to ask after Carina, the ones who smile and nod at me, the ones who listen to my halting attempts at Italian, the ones who stop for a chat and a joke with Sam.

These are the people that our children go to school with, the ones who have invited us to their homes, to birthday parties, to become a part of the community and celebrate all that is so special and unique about our Valley.

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 Sam has found his mojo and is back behind the camera, we actually met whilst studying photography. He was taking the commercial stream and I was happy in the fine art department. Not a single one of our friends thought we’d last, yet here we are almost 20 years later and still together.

These ‘Live Italy’ posts will be a way to give you an up close and personal view of our life here in the mountains of Northern Italy.

Looking through the photos Sam took at the fair had me laughing at how different our style of photography is. With him being the chef in the family he tends towards the food, and I love the people. I hope you like this little glimpse into Sam’s view of the valley, it’s nice to get a bit of male perspective from time to time.

 

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I’d love to say a huge thank you to our dear friend from Australia who helped Sam find his mojo again. We have big things planned for 2015 and will be filling you in as we progress.

As always I hope you are chasing your own dreams, and if you come to Italy you know where to find us.

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Thinking of visiting Italy next year?

and the gang x

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Portrait in Paris – with Carla Coulson

portrait in paris

Portrait in Paris

For many years I have been missing, behind the camera instead of in front.

Convinced I didn’t deserve center stage,

Carla Coulson you helped me change all that.

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Not only did I find my inner sexy, adventurous, spirited, passionate sense of self again.

I also gave the gift of myself back to my daughter.

A Mum who wears red lipstick, high heels and knows how to navigate the Metro.

One full of laughter, confidence, glowing with happiness that we get to share these moments together.

From the absolute surprise on her face when she caught the first glimpse of my transformation I knew I’d cheated her a little.

Our portrait in Paris was a chance to change all that.

We laughed out loud feeding the pigeons at Notre Dame, splashed in the fountains, shopped, danced and sang together.

Total ‘Girl Time’

It was long overdue.

My own Mum and I have an incredible closeness, she raised us after my Dad died suddenly at only thirty nine. I’ve long had a thing for preserving memories, I only have a few photos of my Dad and I together, I was only five when he died.

By taking myself out of family photos I really see how I just disappeared.

How my kids don’t feel they smile the right way for photos.

If I could give you a gift from my heart it would be to let yourself always SHINE.

To not hit delete if you don’t look ‘just right’ and if you get a chance to have a portrait taken go and do it wholeheartedly.

The day we spent with Carla for our portrait in Paris really did change my life, in ways I didn’t see coming.

She has such a natural, humble. easy way, a clear vision that she brings to life, and she carries you along with her passion and enthusiasm.

I have never felt this way in front of a camera in my entire life.

Swirling, laughing, yep even a bit of strutting……people pausing to watch us, it all seemed on the edge of my joy, hugging my daughter, a bouquets of flowers with their own special meaning for us, feeling like a million dollars.

I even did a few quick outfit changes in a little courtyard, and Boobs…..who knew I had those!

Just Priceless.

A complete and total contrast to how I felt only a few short months ago when I found out I had won.
I turned the camera on to video my thanks and everything went sideways.
I know the video and the post I wrote touched many people who also hide from the camera.

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All photos copyright Carla Coulson

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To the only man in my Life,

we share so much, laughter tears Renovating (enough said), you are still and will always be my HERO!

I might not tell you enough that I love and adore you

yet I do

with all my heart x

Carina portrait Paris

Carina,

My beautiful butterfly girl.

You are my heart,

I know sometimes it doesn’t feel that way when we argue but it will forever be true.

I love you more than a million red M & M’s, more than anything in the world, to the moon and back.

My little girl you are becoming a young woman and I am so proud of you!

You have such a special grace, an inner beauty, a rare gift of resilience, creativity, laughter, cheekiness, and such a Spirit.

I love you Sweet Heart, you are my JOY xxx

 

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Lisa and Carina Paris

Dearest Carla,

You gave us so much more than you could ever know.

Way beyond a Portrait in Paris.

Such a beautiful moment in time together, the grace of a girl becoming a young woman.

I’m incredibly happy that you were the one to capture these moments. I can’t imagine anyone else behind the lens, you have such a gift.

At the end of the day shooting it felt like we had just wandered Paris, soaking it all in, all of us laughing together as girlfriends.

I don’t actually remember you pointing a camera at us, how weird is that?

I just remember Carina in my arms, laughing, relaxing, a feeling of twirling, sharing, her hand in mine as we walked, lots of laughter.

Yes Life Changing in so many ways!

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 “Freedom, Sensuality, Joy, Movement, Adventure”

thank you Carla from the bottom of my heart xxx

PS  Carla I will forever love your little cat, how clever he was to draw my name from that dish.
Give him a big kiss on the whiskers from us says Carina x

PPS Now the boys want to get in on the act….next time you’ll have the entire family LOL xx

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and the gang x

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A New Way of Seeing – workshop

a new way of seeing

A New Way of Seeing

‘My destination is no longer a place, but a New Way of Seeing’

Marcel Proust

Just over a week ago I received an Invitation from Di Mackey to attend a photography workshop in Genoa – A New Way of Seeing.

It felt like a ‘sign’

After much discussion regarding finances, and ‘who exactly are these women?’ with my dear husband, we agreed that I should go. Yep I’m officially menopausal so don’t mess with me. Luckily I have a great husband and he has a fantastic wife.

We packed up the campervan and headed to Turin with our friend Laura and the kids. Then spent a few wonderful days exploring the markets, listening to a fabulous jazz band in the park, and checking out the Egyptian Museum (which was the highlight for Luca).

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a new way of seeing

a new way of seeing

Saturday morning at 4am Sam and I left Laura and the kids sleeping in the van and headed for the train station. My first solo trip since arriving back in Italy 18 months ago.

It’s been a long time since my backpacking days, I traveled all around Europe and America in my 20’s. A whole weekend to myself sounded like heaven, and it was. Sometimes a little solitude and ‘away time’ is just what the Doctor ordered. I navigated the metro, bought myself a cappuccino and brioche at Piazza di Ferrari and then set off to meet Di.

My weekend adventure had begun.

This is no ordinary workshop, A New Way of Seeing is such a unique combination of incredible women each complementing the other perfectly.

I am sure Di Mackey and I were sisters in another life, we just clicked, it felt like I’d know her forever. She gave me the gift of deep belly laughs, understanding, and freedom to be myself, each one I will treasure forever.

Helen Kerrison how can I thank you, every word was food for my soul.

Working with you over the weekend I reignited my passion for photography and regained a sense of my own place in the world. These were things I hadn’t realized I’d lost, your gentle guidance had me see for myself just how far I’d drifted away.

Together with Laura from Ciao Amalfi and Leah from Help! I Live with My Italian Mother in Law we laughed, shared, took a bus ride to Boccadasse for dinner on a terrace overlooking the ocean and even got a little tipsy on Limoncello.

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Up until the weekend I’ve relied on my Fuji digital point and shoot camera, I take it with me everywhere and hadn’t used a SLR camera since studying photography (where I met Sam).

This was way before digital back when we processed our images in the darkroom, four years part time study and one year full time at RMIT and I felt like a total novice again.

I have to admit I was totally clueless and the number of times I had the instruction book out could have been embarrassing but it wasn’t. It was FUN, huge fun, I got to fiddle about with f-stops, and shutter speeds, depth of field, and ISO it was like remembering a lost language.

The main thing I discovered with A New Way of Seeing is that I have so much more to learn. That photography is an integral part of my language and it’s one I love sharing with you .

If you have passions follow them, keep dreaming, keep learning and keep laughing.

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Being invited to stay with Di and Helen in a gorgeous apartment right across from this charming Pizzeria and it’s very proud owners was a highlight. Thank you both for taking me under your wings and showing me how to fly solo. x

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Please note that the images in this post were taken on my point and shoot Fuji digital camera. the photos I took for the exercises are pretty bad as I hadn’t worked out how to preview them. If you’d like to see some gorgeous shots of the kind of work we did take a look at these ones from Laura Thayer.

 and the gang x

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Favorite Italian Villages – selling the house

our favorite italian villages

Selling our house in Liguria seems like selling part of a beautiful dream, another renovation of course but in a glorious spot. For favorite Italian villages,  Veravo has a hold on my heart. This house is one I don’t want to give up but know is totally impractical for us now.The kids are settled in school and we love our community here in Malpertus. We are settled here now so the Liguria dream house is hopefully passing into other loving hands.

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Last week we drove  to Liguria in the campervan with the kids and Laura to meet with a lady interested in buying the house. Our architect met us and answered the many questions she had. We also met an Italian lady in Colletta who was interested and she and her husband came to view the house as well. Many house sales in Italy are through word of mouth with Vendesi signs on doors, and not the huge billboards we know in Australia.

Each time I am in Liguria I fall in love all over again, the dream of a beach lifestyle, zipping along the coast on my vespa, meeting girlfriends for a coffee, and having an even suntan. It’s amazing the difference a bit of sunshine made to my well being, coastal cafe’s and sitting back people watching was lovely. Taking Laura to favorite Italian villages was great, being able to see them anew through her eyes.

The lifestyle in Liguria is such a contrast to our lifestyle here in the mountains of Piedmont. I am no longer in shorts and t shirt, rubbing lotion into softly tanned legs, feeling the warmth of the sun on skin that has been covered up for some time now, swimming in the warm waters of the Italian riviera. Now I am in winter clothes, it’s been raining all day and who knows what happened to Summer even the locals are puzzled.

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It seems like a dream life, and one I know I am idealizing, we lived a street from the beach in Australia yet I hardly ever went swimming. It must be the relaxation of being on holiday that I am in love with, and with our friend Laura along we had more alone time to relax. She and Carina bonded like long lost sisters, doing nails and braiding hair, talking music and boys, I hardly saw my girl the whole trip. It’s crazy but I started to feel a little jealous of the easy friendship and laughter they shared. She now has an adopted big sister…..beautiful.carina laura dbl rszbatch

We were able to take Laura to some  favorite Italian villages, visiting Balma Boves, Breil sur Roya,  Ventimiglia, Colletta, Veravo, and Castelvecchio di Rocca Barbena, each one a beautiful jewel which inspired me to take hundreds of photos. My favorite was Castelvecchio di Rocca Barbena, it just sang to me and I could imagine a little artists apartment here one day.

Carina made friends with all the local cats and we got chatting to Mario the man in the image above and heard all about the Castle and how it was sold to a private family. Even so the village called me to wander and with the kids following Laura and Sam I was able to have a rare solo walk imagining a different life here.

 

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I feel rejuvenated, ready to take my health in hand, ready to embrace a slower life, start writing again, create a home, welcome visitors, and spend more time with the kids, learn Italian finally, time to live the dream life and just relax. Life is good, and life in Italy almost perfect. I’ll continue to add to our favorite Italian Villages as we discover them, would you like to see more images?

I can’t imagine living anywhere else now. I’m happy to always take you along or one day welcome you to our house for a vino, cup of tea, or coffee which ever takes your fancy. Here’s to friendships both new and old. xxx

Signatureand the gang x

 

Renovating Italy hits the road – Liguria

liguria

We set off for Liguria with high hopes, expecting beautiful weather, gelato, family time, some much needed rest and relaxation. Each of these arrived in different ways, at unexpected moments, our maiden voyage in the camper van was an education for all of us.

We managed to survive without computers, no internet, no online games or movies to watch, I was surprised how quickly the addiction was broken.

We played Mastermind, Hangman, Join the Squares, drew, read, walked, made new friends along the way, and actually spent time with each other. In this stress filled world we live in, just bowing out for a week was a real treat.

Since returning we’ve fallen back into old habits, our comfortable routines, and our family love affair with the computer. Creating this simple life is a work in progress, one we are yet to completely embrace. I know and believe with all my heart that it will be the making of our little family.

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exploring Albenga, Liguria

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exploring Portofino

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finding a friend in Veravo

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looking for an agent in Albenga

Finding an agent for our house in Veravo was a little more challenging, a total change from the buying / selling process we are so familiar with in Australia. A number of agents wouldn’t take on a ‘Rustico’ and were luckily happy to put us onto an agent that would. So our house in Liguria is now on the market, yet I secretly hope we’ll find a way to keep it. The entire valley is gorgeous and so close to the beach and towns on the Italian riviera. Albenga is the closest town and she totally captured my heart with her Medieval walled center. So now we wait and see what happens.

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 taking a dip at Monterosso al Mare

Luca celebrated his tenth birthday on the road, was happy with the perfect gift found in a tiny souvenir shop in Monterosso al Mare ( a bag of prehistoric creatures which just happened to include a Gastornis!) we had a simple cake the next day with friends on the way home, a family we met on the road gave him a gift of a helium balloon and a golden Lindt chocolate rabbit complete with ribbon and bell. Just tiny gifts and special moments, he had a wonderful birthday.

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heading home to Malpertus

With hundreds of images to sort through and share I’ll be creating resources on all the places we visited. Right now I’m off to bed, after a day at home I have managed to come down with the flu and am feeling rotten.  I hope you all had a wonderful Easter Break, I have lots of stories, adventures and ideas to share with you and I’ll be posting here with all the details.

If you have any thoughts or questions on anything I’m sharing I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

with much love as always

and the gang x

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