Unconsciously not wanting the peace to be shattered by the sound of my 6am alarm even though it was still pitch black, I awoke early this morning and before I needed to.

After the torrential rain that accompanied my last two awakenings, the stillness and peace was blissful and as I luxuriated in my warm bed I reflected, for perhaps longer than I should have, on the wonderful past few months in this paradiso of mine in the wild hills of Northern Tuscany.

24 years ago this villa was purchased after I stood on the crumbling terrace looking at the crumbling ruin of a 10th century fortress on the hill opposite and said “if you can’t catch a dream once in a lifetime, why are we here?”

There have been many dreams realised at this wonderful place whilst many have elsewhere been shattered in the intervening time, and because of who I am I will always come back for more.

Packing up the house these last few days I was, on occasion, a trifle sad that I did not have someone I was crazy in love with to share this loveliness.

In the early days restoring the crumbling ruin and creating a beautiful home was lovingly and excitingly shared with my husband in the days when I thought we would last forever. But that was never meant to be and now I am ready to share it again; with someone who wants to fill his life with magic moments and me.

So instead of weeping at the kitchen window to the sound of the village church bells as I have done for 23 years on departure, I stood at the kitchen window surveying the autumnal colours with great joy and gratitude and with a prayer that next time there will be someone else enjoying the beauty.

The storm over the last couple of days has been as bad as Christmas Day 2009 when those near the river were told to pack up and be ready to be evacuated. My friend Mary spent much of the night before last up evaluating the river. The sound of it kept her awake as it sort of funnels below her mill and becomes a raging torrent. By 3am she had a bag packed for herself, and another for her three dogs, and sat and waited for what would come next.

As the light came she saw the river encroaching way onto her land and heading towards her lower mill, the home of her prized chickens and pigeons. There was nothing she could do. It was far too perilous to go anywhere near the water which was rising as she surveyed the damage. Her lower field was completely covered by water. Her wood for the winter months, neatly stacked as the Italians do, was nowhere to be seen…presumably whisked away by the force of the water and a long way down the river by now, as was at least half her fence.

Watching the local channel on television later at another friend’s house, I saw the famous Devils Bridge, the gateway to the special part of Tuscany, the Garfagnana that I call home, with water almost right up to its five uneven arches. In all my years here I had never seen the water so high. Usually this river, the Serchio, has but a trickle in it, and on occasions in the past when we felt like a swim, it had but enough to get your feet wet on a hot day. Now it was a raging inferno, muddier and browner than the Yarra on a bad day, and full of debris.

Later I heard Tuscany and Liguria, just above us, were the worst hit provinces in this big tempest. I did see images of Venice with a metre of water in St Marks Square but since that occurs historically around four times annually, it did not seem so unusual.

The noise and the ferocity of the wind had quietened by the time I woke this morning and I was pleased to leave with everything looking normal and no chance of my house being washed away!

Not that that would have been such a drama after my visit to my insurance brokers this week. After 3 hours of fairly intensive conversation, with Mary as my Italian language expert, I discovered that half the things I thought had been covered for the past 24 years were, in fact, not! It seems you have to ask for various add-ons that anywhere else in the normal world would be part of your householder’s policy. Public Liability was one which I had requested years ago for the practically unheard sum of 2 million Euros.

Water and electrical storms I knew about, having been once recompensed for a fried laptop during a fierce storm. But what was news was that in my part of the lovely Garfagnana, theft is not covered. You can get covered if windows or doors are damaged but not for anything they take.

How curious, I said, and asked why. Well it turns out that what is so very charming about this area is that it is sort of in a time warp…life is lived pretty much as it has been for a long time and habits die hard. Most of the residents never lock their doors; many leave their keys in the doors….so naturally if a ladro or two come to see what you have got and leave with something they fancy you are not covered! I now am although I would defy anyone to get in to my casa through its metre-thick walls without been seen by my neighbours. Such is the beauty of living in a village with a population of about 60 people.

Farewells have been made, the Vegemite locked up and the contents of my suitcase revised a dozen times, especially after the arrival, after 9 months in transit, of two, but not three, of my boxes from Australia: some containing winter clothes which have never been worn because I have studiously avoided winter for, it seems decades.

Now I am embracing it with an entirely new collection of fashion and a warm coat from a beautiful Florentine boutique. Winter is different here: you live seasonally, as people in the rural areas of anywhere would know. There are definite seasons and I love that…it is living in tune with nature and so winter is a time to slow down and rather deliberately hibernate.

That’s if I was staying in Caprignana, which of course I am not. Instead I write this from the lounge in Pisa airport….awaiting the call of my aeroplane to London for what I call The Season.

I lived in London in my 20’s when I had to have a job to pay the bills and had only weekends and holidays to explore. Now I have the luxury of time to become acquainted with a London I don’t know, or re-aquainted with a London I once knew. This is the next exciting project in the Begging Bowl and Lap Top journey of 2012 that will extend into 2013 and, in fact, has no foreseeable end date.

I am loving the freedom of living in the moment, which I do here and did not do when I lived in Australia. And in recent months I have taken ownership of Italy in a way I have not in the previous 24 years, other than in the wonderful year we lived here as a family in 2001 as a prize for my cancer recovery.

I now state that I live in Italy. It is my home. Australia was my home; it is no longer and maybe it will never be again. I feel no pull to it other than to hold again my beautiful Poly puss-cat and to reconnect with my friends. Poly is a no-no right now; my friends are welcome to come play with me here and I am expecting they will in the summer of 2013.

So I live in Italy even though the Comune still does not believe that, and I am still fighting for my Residenza! The battle lines are drawn, the Vigili know I am fighting but because they call to check on me when I am learning French in Paris or giving a talk in Geneva or sunbaking in Sicily, they do not believe I live here! I see their point and they have now been told I am an international speaker and presenter and my job is tutto il mondo. Maybe they will get it next year when the process is resuscitated.

So, a Season in London. A beautiful apartment in Chelsea: Kate Middleton’s parents are my neighbours, and I’m right off The Kings Road…one of my most favourite locations. Securing it was a nightmare…with the agents having many thousands of my pounds and my signed lease for 3 weeks before the pedantic owner stopped adding clauses that I was not to conduct any business in the flat and I could not have access to the letterbox because she had lost the key, and finally signed it at 7pm on the eve of my leaving Italy to take up tenancy. The power of living in uncertainty!!! It nearly drove me to drink on occasions but I managed it and am looking forward to moving in in a day or so.

So, as the battery in my laptop is about to die, I will say Arrivederci to my beloved Italy, and head for the bar for my last inexpensive decent coffee and a panino filled with local prosciutto and the best tasting tomatoes on the planet.

Next time from London.

Until then, with heart Buzz


Before we even arrived at the station I knew that my train was not going. Hugo and Eve were leaving on the 7.32am to Pisa and back to London. Mine was the 7.26am to Aulla, the top end of the valley and from where I was to go north to Milano and then to Geneva.

As I waved them goodbye and settled down to an early morning coffee I accepted that you get what you pay for: 30 Euros for about 10 hours on the Italian trains and 75 Euros for 4 hours on the Swiss which is of course on time: how could it not be? Switzerland is ruled by timepieces, and chocolate.

An hour later I travelled the 43 kms up the valley but was barred from talking to the bookings office lady by two very stroppy Italian women with forms and photographs who told me that the computer was busy with their stuff and could not help me! Thanks I said, as the woman eventually printed out a new itinerary for me but not a new ticket.

Rather than heading due north I found myself on the much lovelier route alongside the Mediterranean and, thinking it would be the last time I saw its blue waters for this year, I sat back to enjoy the scenery, the big villas at Rapallo and Santa Margherita leading onto Portofino and looked, from time to time, at the notes I had taken for my speech in Geneva the following morning.

I was to be guest speaker at an inaugural leadership breakfast at The Global Fund for Malaria, Tuberculosis and Aids and they wanted me to talk about The Power of Coaching. Focus, I was thinking about. When things don’t go right, change your focus, and I was in amongst my speech instantly.

Not long before I reached Genoa a woman boarded and squeezed herself in a seat alongside my suitcase: funny when there were lots of seats free, but there was a reason. Asking me if I was English, we started a conversation. She was in her 50’s, an Englishwoman who had married an Italian and lived in Genoa for 30 years. She told me she had been persuaded to sing in a competition that night and was terrified. I replied that the fear was what caused most entertainers to be their best, but that I knew of one singer, Carly Simon, who regretted she had not sung for 30 years because of that very stage fright. She was, of course, singing Carly Simon that night so our encounter was absolutely no accident.

Focus. I am in the next train in a seat that was not mine clearly because I did not have the right ticket! The Controller got on board and whilst I explained and gave her my original itinerary my Italian was not up to speed and a very tall gal in her 30’s sitting opposite me chimed in with perfect English. Focus. We talked about it. She told me what she knew. And that was a lot. She was an Air Traffic Controller at Genoa Airport in charge of the radar machine. She knew all about focus, and peripheral vision. And I knew why my train schedule had been hopelessly screwed that day.

Even in Milano the Information Officer would not give me a new ticket or allocate a new seat number on the train to Geneva. I am not sure what these people are on but it’s certainly not “help the customer juice”. My three hours at Milano Central Station were spent visiting shops, drinking coffees, dare I say it I even had a burger, and out of the blue creating the end piece for my speech entitled Dr Buzz’s 8 Point Plan for Absolutely Everything. And, as it turned out, it was the highlight of the performance!

I played musical chairs on the elegant, streamlined Swiss train out of Milano. Every time someone turned up with the seat number I was occupying on their ticket, I moved. Eventually no-one came, and I settled down to enjoy the journey and the beautiful houses around Lake Como and boats moored for another season or at least another sunny day.

Soon it was the end of the day’s light: the lake looked faded blue and I couldn’t make out what was land and what was water; it seemed there were twinkling lights in both. Suddenly big mountains rose out of the lake and I felt the Mediterranean was hours behind me. It was lovely and I was sorry I had not seen it in daylight as planned.

Then just as the big villas went and without a sighting of George Clooney (or is it now Tom Cruise? I hear he has bought the Clooney villa) everything was dull: dull houses, no glamorous lakeside or stunning alpine scenes as we got closer to the border. But then I was not surprised: I think all border towns are rather sordid and unappealing…perhaps neglected because they belong neither here nor there.. and we get to Domodossola: what sort of a name is that anyway??

Living in Europe one gets the feeling that it’s all the same place these days and I had almost not brought my passport until Hugo had told me I must. I needn’t have bothered. The Swiss police wander down the corridor, ask the couple opposite me what nationality they are but don’t even give me a glance.

Right on the knocker the train drew into the Geneva station: not a second late and I realise that I have to abandon the idiosyncrasies of my adopted home, Italy, for a few days. It was lovely to see my friend Jodie who abandoned Australia for Geneva 2 years ago and has changed her life and the lives of her two kids inexorably. A bottle of champagne later I hit the sack, knowing I had to perform on stage at early o’clock the next morning.

The Global Fund is an interesting organisation and my entree into the humanitarian sector. It’s a mini united nations with a very global staff and like Geneva in general, a high proportion of Africans. Bono has been a huge supporter, as has Tony Blair and Bill Gates and they have made a huge impact in places I can barely pronounce in black Africa.

Jodie’s kids tell me there is a distinct divide between the humanitarians and the banker/wankers: their international school has two international campuses, one for each and never the twain shall meet. The diplomat kids tend to go to the one on the rich side which is about three times the size of the humanitarian campus they attend. It sounds like a great program they are doing, two languages are compulsory and an IB is offered. Certainly it has provided the kids a different dimension from suburban Melbourne: 17 year old Charlotte’s friends are from the four corners of the globe and her ambition is to do law at Magill. Good on her and good on Jodie for giving her kids this amazing opportunity.

Switzerland’s differences from Italy are everywhere. Cleanliness and timeliness are huge but there is dog shit all over the pavements. They earn huge salaries and the cost of living is equally huge, except for skiing, which, if you live there, you would indulge in as often as possible not just because it is cheap. They are so anal about timeliness that they have an actual word for being early – which many people are rather than be accused of being late. In Italy time is different: you turn up when you want to and it is not discourteous. People stop at pedestrian crossings…now this is novel in Italy, in fact an Italian-born friend of mine was once yelled at by a policeman who asked her if she was a bloody foreigner when she stopped for a woman on a crossing. Coffee is a big difference. The Swiss model is large, very milky, almost no coffee, expensive and comes with a chocolate on the side and chocolate on the top. This would not do in Italy. Nor would the price: about $1 each in Italy and $4 for a very unsatisfactory offering in this alpine heaven. The large numbers of smokers in the street are probably indicative of the 20% French speaking community.

One night we went to an Oktoberfest party at the rooftop apartment of one of Jodie’s workmates and her brand new husband. We were invited to wear our lederhosen or dirndl…thankfully I had neither but remember when my ex husband bought lederhosen years ago in Austria Hugo told him “don’t you ever dare pick me up at school wearing that stuff!!” Lots of people wore them, some created their own with braces and coloured rick-rack: Sabine wore her grandmothers and her mother, an Austrian MP looked an absolute treat in hers. Elected to the Lower House, she is its Vice President and yet it is rated as only 20% of a job, so she has another as a teacher. Not sure I get that system but maybe some of the Aussie polies should have a real job as well as their Canberra position….might give them a bit more reality. The mother had a new husband as well: he also has two jobs: he is headmaster of a technical school for 57 hours a week and CEO of his own engineering consultancy for 60 hours a week. I ask him why both, and he says the teaching is for the love and the company is for the money. Makes sense. Small beer barrels were refrigerated on a rail on the rooftop, easily accessible from the living room in which there must have been at least half a dozen languages being spoken. It was a fun night.

Other nights we went to bars and jazz clubs and had a pizza and vino evening at home to meet the wonderful international community that Jodie now calls her friends. Fabulous women friends with interesting pasts and colourful lives; many have lived in 6 or more countries.

Thinking this mountainous and cold land was the place to buy my Arctic Circle boots (for the Northern Lights in February) Jodie and I set out to the big smoke after perusing a rather truncated antique market in the very wet rain. Boots everywhere: Ugg, Moon, leather, suede, killer heels, every colour, and finally something that was insulated, waterproof, with a fake fur trim and thick rubber soles with reversible green circles that had ice spikes on one side. Perfect, I need them, I said, and they were mine. Another thing I have to take to England soon!

Shopping elsewhere was not a huge success. A very nice Swiss village called Carouge was just 10 minutes walk from Jodies and I spent time there on my last day whilst she was at work. Pretty layout, lots of squares, a few churches and attractive double storey buildings painted in pastel colours with lovely shutters. But here the difference with Italy was really obvious. With the exception of two lovely shops selling trés expensive women’s clothing beautifully displayed in the windows, it was almost impossible to tell if a shop was open or closed. If I really peered in most often I saw a chandelier at the back of the shop and a woman not interested in attracting a customer. Not inviting in the least, it was almost they they did not want you to enter. So in the most part, I didn’t. Many were shut, many were empty, many were selling such old fashioned stuff that I wonder if in fact anyone came to buy, ever. The most astounding however was a shop labelled Finance Bureau. Up one end in a very dusty window there was a very old cream telephone, an ink roller, an ink stand and steel nib pen, a letter rack and a very old camera. I wondered how this related to the archetypal image of a Swiss Banker in his double breasted suit, his Ferrari and his anonymous office address.

I stopped at the one attractive cafe with seats in the street on this lovely sunny but cool day and was told at 1.40pm that I may be too late for lunch. As it was, I was not and I ordered cauliflower soup which came in a glass lidded preserving jar on a piece of grey slate and accompanied by some pumpkin and linseeds. The vino selected was delicious and I had two.

Hairdressing salons had racks of clothes in their windows, a jewellery shop sold Cinquante Nuances de Grey (otherwise known as Cinquante Sfumature Di Grigio in the La Spezia railway station shop) and as I train-ed out I passed fields where apples trees were espaliered to the favourable direction of the wind, brown crunchy leaves were left lifeless on the empty vines, fat cows lay in luscious green fields, and the mountains that rose from Lake Geneva showed more than a smattering of snow.

The train was scheduled to leave Geneva at 7.42am. And it did. No bells and whistles, no crumpled green flag the Italian guard brings out from his pocket to wave to the driver, no announcement, no nothing. It just left. On time and within 3 minutes the conductor was checking our tickets and whether we were sitting in the right seats.

Only a four hour journey to Milano but as soon as we get to Italy the energy mysteriously changes. We arrive 15 minutes late, just because it is Italy. And I decide, even more, that I love my new home. Colourful houses, noise on the train, people on their cell phones, eating, chatting and thankfully no dogs.

Italy: a land of colour and passion, of the imperfect but human. Late trains but a relaxed life. Less precision but more personality. Smaller mountains but bigger hearts. Things that don’t work but people who know how to laugh, to love, to live. Italy: much cheaper and a whole lot more stylish.

But even more, right now, it is home. No longer just an occasional home over the past 24 years; now it really feels like home. I am happy and joyful with the prospect of sleeping tonight in view of my Fortezza, even if it is only another 11 days until I close the house, weep at the kitchen window and leave for the next adventure.

Until next time, with heart