First, I need to say that this isn't an easy page to write! Whilst I can talk the hind leg off a donkey on a subject I am interested in, and will happily write late into the night a page for this, my guide to Maremma, I'm English. And talking about myself, let alone writing it down, doesn't come naturally.
But I'm going to give it a shot: so here goes...
The short version: my name is Donna Stiles and I live in the heart of Maremma in Tuscany with my Italian husband and our daughter.
I started writing The Maremma Guide - my business - to enable me to be able to work from home, or anywhere, flexibly, and around my family. And, importantly for me, to stimulate me intellectually and keep my brain active. However much I love being a mum and everything that goes with that on a daily basis, I know what I need to make me happy: I just can't sit still if I'm not "doing something", learning something new or accomplishing something I have never done before. And I love travelling, exploring the world, history, geology, science...
So writing a web site which would require me to learn how to use a computer beyond turning one on in the morning and begging my personal assistant for help (I used to have a fantastic PA), let alone learning about web site design, coding and Search Engine optimisation, seemed a perfect idea. And all the information I needed for my pages was right here around me: I just had to go out and explore and learn to speak and read Italian as well! N.B. Personal trait: I always take on elephant-sized challenges :)
OK, that wasn't too bad!
But what started out as first a few pages (how I cringe at my first efforts now!) quickly became a passion: for everyday that I lived here and experienced the magic of Maremma - a fiery orange sunset over the sea, a traffic standstill caused by fifty goats munching their way along a roadside, a walk along a windswept beach, or the pink-orange glow of the late afternoon light on the medieval buildings - and the warmth and generosity of the people I met, deepened the roots I had begun to put down here and a love affair began. Not with another Italian! But with the land.
Now you may think that to write about falling in love with a land is prose on Prozac and way OTT, but Maremma has a way of living in the heart and feeding the soul of those who live here, or happen to visit for a while. Gently, softly, and in everyday things. That to talk of Maremma with passion is natural.
You only have to strike-up a chance conversation with a local to see the smiles that light faces and eyes that sparkle if you mention how beautiful a location it is, for they already know.
So exploring more and more of Maremma, its history, legends, nooks and crannies and documenting in these pages the places I have visited, the things I had seen, touched and eaten, doesn't feel like work at all: I'm doing something I love. Our daughter now takes her own camera, notebook and pen and rucksac with supplies with her when we go out, and you will find her thoughts on a place we have visited appearing in the text in these pages too! Her judgment is always spot on and comes without all of the language niceties necessary of being an adult!
But my elephant challenge has grown and become bigger than just me and my web site. I LOVE MAREMMA.
It all started with conversations with my lovely Nan.
I was in my late thirties, working full-time as a Chief Executive in the National Health Service in the UK. She was in her nineties. Just talking with her and laughing about what she had done when she was younger, I realised that I had a whole another lifetime ahead of me to build a new career, or two, if I wanted to. There was plenty of time.
My heart kept returning to thoughts about when I was a child at school and loved art and making things. So in my spare time I took silversmith lessons and made some lovely things and some disasters!
I spent two weeks solo exploring Tuscany and knew that one day I would live here. I don't know why, maybe its the part Italian blood in me, but I just knew.
I returned to Tuscany again, this time with girlfriends, and came across a silversmiths in San Gimignano whose work just blew me away.
Something told me San Gimignano was important to my future.
I immediately booked a return flight. And in the warmth of an October afternoon sun that year I sat on the steps of the duomo eating the best food I had ever tasted, a tomato bruschetta and a gelato.
And then it just happened: all the contemplating, what if's, how can I's...all dissolved away. Just like that. And everything fell into place. All I had to do was make a plan and then take the first step to make the life change I wanted to happen. And I was good at plans.
So I brought a sketch pad and some pens and started: there and then, on those steps. And that same afternoon I gathered up the courage to ask the silversmith for lessons with only a phrase book to help me... And he said yes!
I returned the next spring for those lessons only to find that, despite me confirming my arrival he was more full of words than deeds - one Italian lesson learnt! - but his cousin and partner in business, the goldsmith, wasn't. By now my Italian was better, but it wasn't up to keeping-up with the "argomentazione" (argument) that followed between them in front of me. The conclusion of which was that the goldsmith would give me those lessons, but just two days, not two weeks.
And those two days changed my whole world. I sketched, sawed, filed, soldered, polished, laughed, smiled... and felt like a fourteen year old in love. And he asked me out! More than once it turns out, but I didn't understand. So, at the end of the second day he took me for a coffee in the adjacent bar and engaged the help of the owner who spoke English. We went out for dinner in his home town of beautiful Firenze :) happening on the way there to end up behind and so meet - you just stop cars in Italy and get out! - his whole family!
I followed my heart: I gave in my notice and arrived in Firenze to train as an apprentice silversmith with Fabio. Our daughter was born :) We decided to move to Maremma where Fabio had spent every weekend before he met me fishing and where we had spent our weekends together camped by the sea, so that our daughter could grow-up in the countryside. The economic crisis hit Italy, and we closed our silversmith workshop. Maybe one day we will open it again...
And during that time I stumbled across a web site written by a woman who, similarly, had left her career and home, changed countries and was now earning a (really good) living writing about where she lived. When she wanted to, where she wanted to, and fulfilling her love of travelling and exploring - for months at a time - as the legitimate research for her new work. But that she didn't feel that she was working at all... Well that got my attention! So I did what she had done, I researched (and researched - another personal trait, I am thorough, if too much sometimes...) the web site business building tools she had found and decided to try. Turns out I didn't need to know anything about web site design, coding, html, optimisation etc at all. Just motivation, commitment and lots of hard work. And so The Maremma Guide began.
So now you know my story! And it looks like I wrote a lot!
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Explore some more...