So, it’s coming up for 6 yrs into my Italian adventure, and still every day someone asks me ‘but how did you come to be in Guardia Sanframondi?’
They ask it in a variety of ways – from incredulous to inspired to cynical – locals and foreigners alike.
The response I give them depends on my assessment of a) whether or not they’ve seen the house hunting TV show, b) how much time we have, and c) what I think this person’s capacity for hearing truth might be.
I launch into whatever version is appropriate to the mood, then we quickly end up on a tangent, with questions about whatever aspect intrigues or challenges them…. There are many myths as to how and why I came to Guardia, and initiated this fascinating dynamic of intercultural, happy-life experimentation, so here are some corrections:
- I was here for 2 and a half years, before I had even heard of the TV show.
- My house had been 16 yrs abandoned, and I’d already been living in it and restoring it for a year and a half, before the filming.
- The real cost of the house was precisely €10,000 (around £8,600 at the time, or $11,380 today), and I’ve a total of approx. €2,000 on renovations: lots of things I was gifted – from a windows and doors to toilets, furniture, plates and the tripod I filmed the video with – everything else was either reused or recycled.
- The other two houses on the show were never for sale; not then, not now; they belong to folks who live in the city but come to Guardia occasionally. Neither was my ‘estate agent’ an estate agent – though in real life he did help me with the initial contract on the house, before I’d learned enough Italian.
- I was never so bothered about the “earthquake damage?!!” – that is, until an actual earthquake happened – that freaked the hell out of me, quite honestly. But I was totally amazed at how a medieval abode can loup about, and yet sit down solidly again afterwards; feels like, if anything, the tremors actually helped my building to settle.
- Before I came to Italy I had a flourishing career in Scotland and other countries, as an artist and a visionary. I’ve been involved in various fields, always working with concepts around creating abundance and inspiring positive change. My artwork and social entrepreneur projects have received many rewards, and I am known for having inspired positive change in the least likely of places. Making the choice to appear on House Hunters was an intentional tactical move, to bring Guardia into the spotlight, with the vision of stimulating a new community: it wasn’t a chance event, by any means.
- When I arrived, I met literally no-one in town who spoke English, bar a couple of younger folks in the bar, who – meno male! – took me under their wings, and helped me learn quicker.
- I drove here from Scotland, with my cat and all my worldly possessions (that would fit in my car, but leave room for the cat, and for rear-view-mirror visibility). It took 3 ½ days. Then I drove to Scotland and back again, to pick up my paintings.
- Very little of my first 5 yrs in Guardia was the glorious utopia which I’ve now achieved. To varying degrees, I was weighed down by – in no particular order: being harassed by lecherous old men; being psyched out by a stalker who followed me here from Scotland, then vented his rage on his blog, after I told him I was going to report him to the carabinieri; being threatened and intimidated by a dodgy guy who was trying – and succeeding – to rip off foreigners; being bad-mouthed by an American woman who had taken a severe disliking to me – she told a few folks that I was mad and evil, and that she was scared I was going to take a pistol to her; a clique of foreigners who subsequently cold-shouldered me (to do with the previously-mentioned person), despite my having gone well out of my way to welcome them to the town; a nasty and completely untrue story which was passed around by many in town (particularly those who wanted to scoop up all the B&B clientelle) that I’d sabotaged this previously-mentioned woman’s work (!); huge water and rubble damage being done in my beautiful house, due to shoddy workmanship on the house above me, then subsequent aggressive bad-mouthing of me in emails, by the owners, when I very diplomatically flagged it up; raging aggression from my neighbours, for no particular reason I could understand at the time, but before I could decipher shouted Italiano; being consistently patronised-beyond-belief by men (like, being patted on the head and told I was a good girl – that hadn’t happened to me since I was about 6 yrs old); being ripped off by lots of folks, from petrol attendants (Solopaca: vergonga!) to chimney sweeps – until I learned to assert myself; being asked to tone down my blog and only write nice, happy things about the town – and to not mention all the sordid tomfoolery which was going on around selling houses; occasional preoccupying gut-wrenching fear that I’d made the really, really wrong choice to come here; being manipulated and pushed and pulled by almost everyone in town – from the initial house hunters’ onslaught, to annoying old men who insist I should be helping them sell their house, ADESSO, whilst leching horribly over me; annoying old ladies who ask really intrusive questions in order to try and humiliate me; mean folk in one bar who went round saying I was sleeping with ‘everyone in town’ early on; the ex-wife of my (now ex) partner who had a screaming fit at me during the busiest market of the year; persistent ill health and severe poverty and overwhelm and disillusion of every imaginable variety, which at several points has convinced me I should pack up and leave…. etc.
The point of this list and the video is a) to get it all off my chest, so I don’t have to keep repeating myself (either in my own head, or with others), b) to illustrate that ANY REALLY HAPPY LIFE contains all manner of stress and unpleasantness, and c) to explain that it was not luck which brought me here: I am not ‘lucky’ to have a life like I do: it was faith in the divine creative intelligence, and then lots of humility and super hard graft.
For me, the Guardia ‘magic’ is not about finding a place in the sun, where everything goes slowly, nothing costs much, and where there are few loud noises and little crime: it’s about superando (overcoming) the hard stuff and creating the dream, slowly, painstakingly… no matter what comes up.
It’s about keeping on your happy path, and nurturing your vision by appreciating the moments of perfection, which nestle like jewels amidst all the chaos and projections and nastiness and pollutions. Over the years, these jewels become polished, and all the dirt in the world around them just makes them shine all the brighter.
Here’s the definitive, uninterrupted story: or at least as much of it as could be crammed into a 25 min video!
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