Twenty six years ago we came to Italy. We came young, enthusiastic, wildly idealistic and full of promise. We were going to spend the rest of our life dedicated to our art and we were going to spend it becoming great. We had met two years before in our final year at art college. We fell irrevocably in love, we became pregnant, we married and Mike got work teaching and only two years later we were on shaking ground, wondering how we could continue this life together without our art. A good friend and former lecturer to Michael, took hold of us and told us to get out while we were young. Go find yourselves. Go and work in Carrara – that’s what you were going to do before you both met, NOW, before its too late. We went. Joyous. Impassioned.
We arrived in Carrara in January, 1984, the coldest winter in decades. We had little Jake, not yet two, and Teddy and Potty, strapped to our backpacks. We trundled the streets fourteen hours a day for a week before we finally found a little house in the mountains in a village called Ortonova. Here is an extract from a letter we wrote to our family at the time:
“Tramp, tramp, tramp through Fontia and we eventually find a lady who has a home free in Ortonova, however she doesn’t want to rent it because its in the process of being renovated and no shower, no hot water, poor little bimbo (Jacob) – they’re not very enthusiastic about us at all, but their son is and insists on showing us the house. We couldn’t believe it when we saw it. It was putrid, plaster, dust, machines everywhere, but it looked wonderful. We were ecstatic and I think we would almost have paid any price for it. It has one small bedroom which houses a bumpy bed and a small fold-up bed and a large mirror cabinet, pink ceiling, blue walls and crucifix. A kitchen, a toilet, and stairs, and the most wonderful studio you’ve ever seen. The top floor is one large windowed room that was in the process of renovation before we assured them we loved it just as it was …. $15 a week. Marble bench tops and sinks and window ledges and architraves and stairs. Views like you would not believe. Absolutely spectacular. On the way up the mountain from Carrara a magnificent range of marble grey mountains, ragged and pierced by quarries are half covered in snow, surrounds you, and tiny walled villages defiantly perch on mountain tops or nestle into a shoulder. We are just over the mountain top which greets these views and face yet another stupendous view from our windows which look down onto terraces, vineyards and olivegroves to a steep decent into little orange clusters of houses and spires. The village of Nicoli sits like a nipple on a mound like hill in the middle of a vast valley that reaches the sea and is broken by deep green rivers. Your heart is constantly in your mouth and the village people feel real and on the ground. You sit on the steps of the church in the village square and kids kick a ball around, ducking buses and cars on the way down and you think if they kick the ball hard it’ll be flying down the mountain. Somebody in deep baritone sings Santa Lucia and you feel privileged that you’re witnessing people living in a setting that’s hundreds of years old and that they are really only a small part of the whole long cycle of life and death. Australia somehow makes you feel bigger and grander than what you are…”
So that was the beginning of seven special months in the mountains of Carrara doing our art. It cemented us together as we found ourselves back on the path we always wanted to be on. Our adventures related themselves to our quests for our art and we grew closer from the fun of it all.
I have found some old letters and extracts from this time and I thought it might be interesting from an historical point of view to post them up, so over the next couple of weeks that’s what I will be writing about; our beginnings.