Twelve years ago Julia Blackburn and her husband moved into a house high up in the mountains near the Ligurian coast, within hiking distance of the Italian border with France. It is an inaccessible and isolated part of the world: the Mediterranean shimmers in the distance, but the hills are steep and rugged, peppered with the ruins of long-deserted houses, and for those who remain life is a hard and precarious business. Julia Blackburn spoke no Italian when they first came to their village: Nanda, who owned the village shop, soon took her in hand, and before long she had not only got to know most of her neighbours – among them a bonesetter, a turbaned shepherd and a retired postmistress – but was quizzing them about their early lives.
Living in the mountains, Blackburn tells them, ‘has made me think that time past and time present and time future is like a vast landscape and we are walking through it on a tracery of thin paths’. Exploring their new home and the surrounding country not only involved