HOW I CAME TO STAY IN GUARDIA SANFRAMONDI

It was the end of the day, and the bright December sunshine was already fading to rich red glow, and sucking all the heat with it, as it fell into the west. I reluctantly closed the massive wooden doors to, and settled into the rapidly-chilling stone room, in relative dark, trying not to over-think.

I had resources: a couple of thousand pounds in the bank, my car, my books and clothes, my paintings and art materials. There; that was positive. I could go anywhere I want to – just drive off into the sunset, get some fresh perspective, start anew…. again.

The weight of it all came crashing down, even as I tried to jolly-rationalise it. I was alone, I had only pasta and tinned beans to eat for dinner, and had to cook on a leaky gas stove which was giving me a headache, in this bad-vibe dungeon of a house….

My head was pounding with the accumulated grief of a relationship – a big life decision – gone very, very wrong. Lord above – I’d just escaped The Worst Relationship Of My Life: months upon months of niggling diminishment and sarcastic backhanders, criticism from waking up to fitfully falling asleep, and sometimes in the middle of the night. A cracking, stinking, rotting pile of complaints that had flowed towards me – ME! – the sassy Scots lass in Italy! Me, the one who wasn’t scared of jumping into any adventure or barefoot travels, and who’d never have taken this kind of shit from a bloke in my own culture and context.

Me, who had always chopped her own wood and carried her own water, who made pop-up art events, impromptu inspirational meetings, abundant permaculture gardens – I was a visionary artist and prize-winning social entrepreneur, for fecks’ sake: focussed and passionate, clear-sighted and determined. I would never allow a relationship to take from me in this way.

Unfortunately, my spiritful optimism and adventuring had gotten me into a deep, dark hole this time. I had been so sure of the synchrony and signs – of everything lining up, dreams and prayers included, to bring me to this magical part of the world, with a man who had property, in a town with massive potential. All I had seen, felt, known, was that an easier life would unfold. Everything had said ‘do it’, and it had been impossible to not fling everything into my car and drive off out of the glen, full speed towards rural Campania. It was so hard to admit that it might not have been destined. What did that mean for my life philosophy of everything being interconnected and beautiful and the universe guiding us to dive deep into our dreams?!

Though it had been obvious from the beginning that the guy was a tad misogynistic (as it turned out, he was seriously abusive), that his financial situation might not be the ‘stability’ that I was yearning for… I’d thrown myself in 100% like I was accustomed to doing with everything in my life. I’d tried a variety of tactics to transform the deepening rifts that had been visible from our very first meeting, and I’d avoided the nightmare that that was looming by getting into extreme Coping Mode. Smiling and Facebooking my exciting new life in Italy – showing off my sunny perspective of what happens when you just jump in!

Inside my stomach was churning, I was losing weight (and was slim to begin with), and my emotional and mental well-being were really beginning to be affected. My growing nervousness was then being used by my ex as a means of wounding me even further. I observed him humiliating me, sure that I could shrug it off – that this simply wasn’t happening to me, or if I showed enough understanding, we could get beyond his hard exterior. Meanwhile, I was equally threatened by the thought of what the alternative would mean; if I left him. Driving back to Scotland on dwindling funds, to midwinter in a sunless land, an expensive deposit on some rented property that’d suck me dry again, and start that whole cycle of poverty from the top, trying to live from my art in a cold expensive country, where it (and I) frankly didn’t fit.

No. There simply had to be a great and significant reason for me coming here; I had felt it and seen it – this profound sense of freedom and ease, this deep connectedness and wellbeing. I had had a fricking vision of it for cripes’ sake, and had coupled that with a big manifestation painting: I’d written prayer and affirmation to draw the dream down to earth, and I knew that this was mine – that it would come to pass.

Nothing could convince me otherwise.

Apart from this:

Sitting in this freezing medieval kitchen, my ex’s weekend escape: a glorious place in summer, but not a happy winter abode. Headachy and depressed, the decision looming about Where The Fuck Do I Go From Here?

The gnawing exhaustion of overload from trying to learn the language: my head a full sponge, unable to take any more in.

My reluctant trips to the shop with my phrasebook, to try and acquire the most basic of sustenance, whilst working super-hard to not burst into tears in the street if anyone smiled lovingly at me.

I needed more than ever my friends, I needed my community, I needed love and comfort, I yearned for familiar food, I wanted to go home. And I couldn’t see where the fuck that home was. In this dark, dark moment, I felt like I had fucked-up more than ever before. I honestly felt that I had been tricked by the Universe, by God, into coming here, only to have it all go arse-over-tit. I’d thrown away what little riches I had in my small-but-perfectly-formed art career in Scotland…

I breathed in deep, between bouts of sobbing, and excruciating mental turmoil. And I made an agreement with Spirit: okay – obviously my small human beingness, full of fear and doubt, cannot see the magnificent opportunity in (nor, in fact, any logical means of resolving) this disastrous situation in which I find myself. BUT, rather than panic (I’m trying, I’m trying!!!) I will trust that this is meant to be, and that I simply cannot see it, because I am afraid. So, I pledge to sit here as peacefully as I possibly can, for the next, let’s say, two weeks, just painting and writing and taking care of my basic needs… and I will allow the Universal intelligence to let this situation unfold as it is meant to, i.e. perfectly.

The echoes of my mean ex’s goading me, it passed across me as a shiver, as I spoke these words out into the cold air in that kitchen. I also heard my own doubtful voices jump on what I was saying, and beat it down. But I persevered, and I did what I promised to the Universe, and simply let it be for a while.

Those two weeks were super-rough.

I never felt so isolated, alone, so failed, stuck, and genuinely scared for my future, as I had in all my eccentric life choices and creative adventuring. Everything had been leading towards a big leap forwards in my life, and now here I was with nothing, and with severely dwindling enthusiasm. And no contacts or language skills…. Oh god, someone help me… I lived of pizza slices and biscuits from the bakery, trying to get my stomach to calm, and forced myself to notice the convivial presence of the locals, even if some of them were eyeing me sideways, wondering what the hell I was doing there.

Painting always helps things to align, and so I painted – colourful landscapes inspired by what I’d absorbed that first year in Italia: small bright squares of peace and joy. It felt wonderful to just make something that didn’t need any harsh-logic decision-making from me. I started to feel more myself.

And, in that space, something magical happened. An image-feeling came into my mind/ my energy. It came spontaneously, and it repeated itself several times. Like a message coming through. My logical mind put it to the side several times before I realised it really was a message: something to do with a house further down this street, that my ex’s dad had seen earlier that year.

There was a feeling attached to this idea, and a very-strangely-familiar sense of home – oh, and that same feeling that had drawn me here, which was in the manifestation painting …

I remembered that my ex had said, back in August – ‘you should buy that house’. Absurd. Totally absurd back in the summer, and even more absurd now. I didn’t have money for a house, and had a bank account that was slowly being chiselled away at; how could I possibly finance a property?!

The waking vision persisted, as did this mantra of ‘you should buy it’. So, absurd as it was, it was significant enough a feeling that I went with it. I called the ex, who called the owner, who said we could see it.

My first viewing was surreal, made with my 96 yr old neighbour as escort. I didn’t understand a word of what was being said, and was making even less sense of what this house actually was: there were doors and balconies and arches and stucco. But I couldn’t see how it was all fitting together – it was just a jumble of rooms and steps and niches and…. heaven.

The previous-owner picked lemons from the house’s tree in the street below, filling a chipped white enamel pail – he waved away my nonsensical stuttering queries with – piano, piano (slowly, slowly) and ‘più tardi’ (later)… And I didn’t find out the price.

The next few days passed like months. My head brimmed over with new ideas and plans, decisions and hopes, finally distracting me from the dark hole I had felt I was in… but everything hinged on whether or not we could convince the previous owner to accept my small deposit, and my paying €10,000 in a year’s time when my long-term investment matured.

I couldn’t sleep, I kept waking up like ‘is it not Christmas morning yet?!’ I was frantic to start my new life – or at least just to have a roof over my head. I wanted a house like I have never known I wanted it: it all fell into place. It was all making sense; all my conflict in life had been to do with not having this safe haven, this sacred second skin, a place which I could shelter in and flourish into my full creative being.  This was meant to happen: I was finally going to own my very own home, and it would become an alchemical vessel, a magical container of my creative outpourings… I would never have to feel insecure or be tied to a financial bind of rented property, or be limited by my landlord’s strict policies, ever again!

But would the previous owner take my offer? Would I be able to get across my concerns, with my phrasebook?! I stayed awake day after day, waiting through this ‘piano, piano’ slow-motion business transaction of rural Italy.

What seemed like a year later, but was probably less than a week; a handful of neighbours were pulled into a tiny Italian car to drive over to the next town and meet the family. Team Casa: my almost-centenarian next-door neighbour, and my rotund friend from a few doors up, all of whom I had very limited dialogue with – hard-core dialect and smiles and Napolitano hand-flapping, mostly – with me forced-smiling and frowning to glean the slightest meaning… How the fuck was I going to negotiate a house sale?! Wah!!!

An even-more-surreal-than-the-house-viewing meeting with four generations of the beautiful De Vincentis family: man talk, and my in-vain attempts at gleaning any meaning from the dialogue – whilst being metaphorically patted on the head like a child, when I asked for clarity, as if to say – don’t worry your pretty little head about it, deary.

A painfully slow, epic discourse (which I watched unfolding from a tight-chested, heart pounding distance) around the owner having seen a particularly special exhibition that I’d made in a circus tent in the gardens below the town, that summer. It had been all fairy lights and colour and Turkish carpets and atmosphere; I’d talked to only a handful of visitors, and hadn’t thought of it has having affected anyone particularly… But now Giuseppe was saying that he had been very moved by my art and by the beautiful context I’d shown it in, in these abandoned gardens where he’d grown up and raised his family… If I could do something as impressionante as that, with his family house… then okay, I could have it for €10K, and pay for it next year.

Back in Guardia Sanframondi about an hour later, and in a very different place in my life, I clacked open a large metal key-latch, and walked into the big marble-stepped corridor.

I stepped gingerly, almost ceremonially, down the polished-by-centuries-of-footfall stairs, and came face-to-face, for the first time, with my home.

Blinking back tears, I set the key in the door, walked across dusty tiles, and onto a balcony with the million-dollar view.

I breathed in deeply at the immensity of what had just happened, and said YES to the Universe.

See imagery from the actual first viewing of my house HERE.

And see what I’d done with the house in a few short years, with literally no budget HERE.

Buy my guidebook to Guardia Sanframondi HERE.

And read my art awakening story.