Guest Blogger: Laura Hefty of For Love Of The Moon

by Nisha Btesh November 03, 2018

Guest Blogger: Laura Hefty of For Love Of The Moon

Confession #1: Ok, so the obsession is real. I'll even go as far to flatter myself here and admit that I like to think of Laura and me as modern-day pen pals. I imagine her on her terrace barefoot, sipping slow on black coffee backlit by the sun rising over the Italian countryside. And unless you've been so inspired by her most recent Hola Gwapa Instagram Takeover, that you've deleted all social media and are busy off somewhere planting fig trees than you know just HOW REAL and how excited I am about this, because it's literally all I can post/talk about. 

After the Hola Gwapa community was first introduced to Laura during her takeover in mid-October, I got more DM's than ever. Artists from all over the world were writing to me to see how they could get more of Laura's Italian tech-free fairytale. I wrote Laura, (with attached screenshots of the outpouring love) asking if she would Guest Blog and share her story with us here in a more permanent capacity. She graciously agreed. We both felt that there's an inspired energy wrapping around her unconventional lifestyle and Laura wants to share her little slice of heaven with anyone who's willing to lend their ears and eyes. 

Confession #2: When I read this post for the first time, I balled like a little baby. Laura's story is magic. If you're like me and work full time to support your passion projects/side hustle and you can find yourself stressed and overwhelmed by the ebbs and flows of a TOTALLY jam-packed workload then reading this will be like medicine. I encourage you to really treat yourself here and pause to go grab a hot cup of coffee or better yet pour yourself a really delicious glass wine, bring your laptop/phone outside and find a sweet spot to curl up and read Laura's story. It'll be the best thing you do for yourself all day, if not all week. Enjoy!

 

 

Thousands of olive trees line our path to the coast. Forever green leaves littered among the land in rich tilled soil that smells earthy and sweet in the hot sun. We round the final curve and the Adriatic shows her face. The water is a tie-dyed sheet of dark blue & turquoise and the rocky beaches are scattered with a rainbow of umbrellas. The salt is in my eyes, on my tongue as soon as we step out of the car. The thick air fills my belly with a sense of calm I can only get from a vast body of water that stretches beyond my vision.

 
We’ve packed a picnic: figs from our own tree, pecorino from the masseria, bread from the local shop & homemade wine from our neighbor. We aren’t saying much. There is an overwhelming feeling of gratitude that we’ve given this place to each other whenever we come here. I can hear laughter; see children jumping from cliffs in giddy delight. I can’t understand a word of chatter around me and it feels good.
 

No tired conversation about social media or complaining about work. In my mind everyone is in deep conversation about their crush or how to harvest their olives. Nobody uses Facebook or posts photos of their day. Everything is intimate, personal, lovely and present. My mind is full. I’d like to know what they’re saying but it’s better that I don’t. I listen to the rolling R’s and complicated dialect riddle off their tongues.  I can turn back the clock. I feel high when I hear the first slosh of a wave against the rocks. I know this feeling isn’t reality always but I’ve made it my mission to live as close to this peace as possible so I can feel it when I need to. Tap into it like a blood transfusion. A lifeline of soft waves on a rocky beach. Stop listening to others’ words. Stop paying attention to others’ thoughts. I imagine myself far away out in that sea… the salt keeping my legs afloat. As important as a paycheck or the embrace of a lover. It’s as important as anything else in my life. 

 

Our decision to leave America for Italy was obvious and simple. We didn’t have complicated plans and ironed out ideas. We had not a clue what it was going to look like. We had a lot of doubt swirling around us. We talked about it often. We dreamed about it at night. When Jim proposed to me in New York City two years before Italy became a reality I was reading a book called “How To Buy A Property In Italy”. Which, after buying a property in Italy, the advice in that book seems ridiculous. My desire ran deep. I didn’t get very far in the book. Instead of being consumed with all of the unknown of what our lives would look like, we held onto the beauty of the uncertainty. We knew we wanted to live a simpler life. We knew material things wouldn’t drive us to make money we didn’t need and that we’d be happiest living closer to the earth. We knew we wanted access to good quality food at a reasonable price. We knew we wanted to be able to have a drink at a good bar and be a short drive to some coast. We knew we’d only be on this Earth but one time. Why would we waste each day doing things we didn’t want to do for someone making 10x what we were so we could buy things we didn’t need to have and check the boxes of a life well-prepared, a life well-lived? Tick tick tick. Job, tick. Marriage? Tick. Home, baby, happy ever after. Tick tick check tick.

 

We left behind what we should be doing at this time in our lives and in reality, did exactly what we wanted to do. An idea I didn’t realize we were so far away from as a society until I heard the doubt and surprise in others’ voices as we explained our admittedly very loose plan. But we didn’t need a book to tell us how to buy a house in Italy and I don’t need societal pressures to tell me what I can and cannot do with my days. My worth should not be valued on my bank account or how many projects I’m working on. Busy days don’t make me feel accomplished. I don’t know that my answers are the right answers. I most definitely don’t know if they are the responsible answers but they are my answers. Every piece of fruit that falls from our fruit trees and every crack in our wall was bought with our hard-earned money and intense desire to live this way.

 
Our story is a braid of a romantic idea, a childhood dream and some really hard years that pushed us to the point of urgency to live. To begin, I have to paint you a picture of my first Italian days: traveling to Italy every summer with my family. We were six people piled into a car that could not comfortably fit six people. Luggage stacked above our heads which often tumbled onto our laps as we curved & twisted up mountain roads. Howlin’ Wolf’s Smokestack Lightnin’, Taj Mahal, Nashville Skyline and Percy Sledge playing loud on the cassette tapes on the long drives from here to there. Navigating the narrow roads from Sicily to Sardegna, Rome to Umbria to Calabria with a real-life paper map. Which got us painfully lost. Sun shining bright, jumping from agriturismo to agriturismo, swimming in the crystal blue sea, listening to my mother speak her beautiful, perfect Italian to all of the other beautiful, perfect Italian people. So much beauty captured in my memories. Sometimes it feels like too much beauty. I saw Saint Peter’s Basilica and swam off the shores of Capri before I was a teenager… that alone will change your life. Some of the happiest moments. My love for this country was so intense. I don’t remember where we were, either Sicily or Sardegna, but I was crammed in the back of our car, I must’ve been about 15 and this would’ve been my fifth or sixth trip to Italy, and we curved around a steep cliff and in the distance, perched on top of a hill, I saw a giant villa. It wasn’t particularly nice but it was my dream. Everything simple & right & good in my world in the moment. I felt like I would never be truly happy unless I lived in that villa. Unless I made that my life. It was the only way. And I started to visualize myself there: parties on my terrace, music playing while we danced, hair still salty from the sea. Wine flowing freely.
 
Fast forward several years and while I still longed for Italy and occasionally got a pang in my heart to travel back, I had begun a new life in New York City and that was as exciting as ever. Jim and I lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and we went out for martinis and danced at Zebulon. Those were some really fun years in New York. I loved seeing different colored faces every day… it’s what I miss the most. The music of the city made me feel alive. I’m grateful I lived there, I will always love New York, but towards the end of our time in Williamsburg, the neighborhood was changing for the worse and we were at a point where we had to move but where to go? New York rent was killing us, we were saving but working a lot and I was tired of crawling out onto my fire escape to get my only sun. I felt drained. All of these feelings were intensified as my sister was going through a particularly hard time doing her first round of chemotherapy treatment for her brain tumor. I was terrified, she was terrified. The intensity crept through the bones of my entire family every day she took the pill. I look back on these days as some of my most challenging, not just because of this or that, but all of it combined made me feel like I was drowning. My heart was shattered into a million pieces for my sister and every day I ached with pain. Leaving New York, where she lived, was the hardest decision I’ve ever made. Being close to her relieved me of some of my stress but that’s just life. It felt like something everyone must decide, or at least ponder, at some point: Does living here make me happy? How will I make it all work if I leave? If I do this, will I lose that? If I choose this, will everyone be OK? I wanted a change but I didn’t know where to go and this uncertainty only added to my sadness. I kept going back to this idea of Italy… my happiest heart was always in Italy. And I pitched the idea to Jim that we should travel the entire country for three months (only restrained by our 90-day tourist visa) and see if it was a place we could see ourselves living. He enthusiastically agreed, either because he loved me enough or he didn’t have a better plan - I think both. It only took three weeks of travel before Jim saw what I saw in this beautiful country. It wasn’t long before we had our magical, yet seemingly unrealistic, vision sorted over too much red wine in Rome: Yes, living in Europe was for us. Yes, living in Italy was especially for us. We would buy a house in the countryside (where, exactly, didn’t matter) that we could afford. It must have an outdoor pizza oven. It must be near a sea (which sea doesn’t matter). It must have land with fruit trees. First, we have to get Jim’s citizenship, which he was eligible for through his bloodline so that we can live here forever and ever, visa-free. That ended up being a monumental monster of a task that we worked incredibly hard for over two years to accomplish. It wasn’t a month after his citizenship went through that we put a bid in our home and declared ourselves locals. You’ll have to ask our friends how we’re doing at living like the Italians & shedding our American urgency. Easier said than done.
 

I write these words now sitting by my wood stove with a pot of tea warming on top. The wind is howling a bitter cold outside and it’s getting dark before 5pm. Fall is fading into winter and our Puglia summer of sunset swims and crisp white wine is long gone. A different way of life settles in here after the grapes and olives are harvested in the fall. After the tourists leave and the locals take over their towns again. The welcomed silence of winter. We now spend our days either working on our home or sourcing & shooting for our vintage shop, For Love of the Moon. We also keep in touch with the world by doing trip planning for those wishing to experience Italy as we have and renting our country home as well as an apartment in Ostuni, all of which helps us reinvest in our new life. During the high season our days are all about our guests: breakfast under the citrus trees, pizza nights in the countryside, cooking courses & day trips to the coast. During low season we’re able to see the towns as the should be seen: a bit sleepy but with the friendly faces of the southern Italians around every corner.

 

I’m thankful we get to share our perspective and I feel accomplished to be living close to the land. Abundance is everywhere and it’s incredible to watch nature’s natural rhythms. Our fruit trees being my favorite thing we’ve acquired with this new life. We have everything from orange, lemon & Clementine to cherry, mulberry & fig. Olives, grapes, pears, and persimmons. Almond, walnut and prickly pears are growing like wild. Jim has planted enough vegetables in our garden to keep us (quasi) fed ’til spring. I’m grateful to have clean sheets washed in the fresh rainwater we’ve been collecting with every thunderstorm from our roof and storing in large cisterns below our home. Taking what Mother Earth is pouring onto us in winter becomes our lifeline in summer. To recycle my used water back into my land so that none is wasted. To use local olive wood for our heat. To personally know the man who trimmed those trees and know the money we put in his hands for our heat is feeding his family. I’m proud I’m learning a new language, expanding my mind every day even with simple interactions. I’m content I’ve learned to free myself of the things & people that don’t make me feel like my best self, that don’t bring me happiness.

 

The fires in the countryside are burning every day, the olive & grape wood filling the air with a sweet smell that is uniquely Italian. Things that seemed impossible back then are my new every day. We consume very little. We buy only what we need. We make what we can. We share what we have. We’ve slowed down to a relaxed pace. A pace that always allows for an afternoon wine with neighbors, a coffee with the guy fixing our electricity. Nothing is rushed. The southern Italians live by conversation and shared meals. If you rush through life down here, you miss everything, because everything good in life happens during the in-between. By choosing to live in southern Italy we are forced to play by the southern Italian rule book and rule #1 is domani è un’altro giorno. Tomorrow is another day. That thing you just absolutely have to do will always be there. Yes, this logic can make getting anything done a bit hard but we’re drinking some really good wine along the way.

 

 

 

For more information on For Love Of The Moon & to peruse her Online Vintage Shop, please visit www.forloveofthemoon.com




Nisha Btesh
Nisha Btesh

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