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Archive for October, 2008

Ten or so years ago I read Neil Postman’s “Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology.” While I have always embraced technology, I have also tried to be aware of its downsides. Postman’s book is a marvelous critique of technology’s dark side.

So I am always curious and a little dubious about new technologies. I worry about us becoming more “connected” when in fact what that means is that our connections are less personal. Further, in the connecting I think we miss being with and connecting to those in our presence.

I probed Twitter the other day – the super short messaging system people are now using. The Twitter site promotes the ability to stay connected in between e-mails and blog entries. Frankly, the entries I saw were of little value. Who cares if I am having coffee, going to the store, cutting my nails? Why would anyone take the time to keep up with everyone else’s activities. Have they none of their own?

The real problem for me is that all the technologies we employ are taking us away from each other as people. We are connected through the ethers alone. We sit with a group of people, all texting, twittering, or talking on our cells but not to those sitting beside us. Doesn’t that seem bizarre? And sad?

It is one of the reasons I love Italy. They use technolgy much more maturely than we. We see this on our trips. It is refreshing and instructive. Join us sometime and see the difference!!

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It has taken me some time to figure out that my work has mostly been about authenticity. It has been about trying to create authentic places, and it has been about trying to be authentic myself. This latter is a challenge for all of us because, from the moment we are born, we are being molded. One of the great things about getting older is that we begin to assess who we are, how we have been molded, what society says we should be. I think the so called mid-life crisis is really a search for self.

Our trips to Italy serve as a tool for people working towards their authentic selves. It takes place in such an authentic place. This, I believe, is important. In an authentic environment it is more natural to be authentic yourself. Sorry, but most places in the U.S. are not authentic. Suburbia is bland and soulless. Our shopping centers and malls are completely fake – ersatz everything to try to hoodwink us into buying. When you are in a place 3000 years old, when the buildings around you are of human scale and textures, not trying to be grand or cute or anything but real, you become real. So the environment is critical.

Then there are the activities on our trips that induce searching of one’s talents, skills, likes, dislikes. There is the melding of all the senses that make up who you are coming together to analyze and decipher. Art and culture based activities help us look closely at life and who we are.

Italy contributes. This is the magic. I can’t explain it or how it happens. But Italy seeps into you as the week unfolds. The Italian attachment to and awareness of all their senses flows into your soul. You become alive as you immerse yourself in the place. Kristi and I say we never feel more like ourselves than when we are in Italy. I don’t know why that is, but I love it. We are so lucky!

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From computer . . . .

From computer . . . .

We are so happy to report the Mary Ellen Kranz will return to Orvieto with us in 2010 to share her wonderful skills of marrying photography with fabric. Mary Ellen has just published her second book on the technique. This fall’s students took stunning photo’s with Mary Ellen’s guidance and now are displaying them on journals, scarves and purses as a result of Mary Ellen’s tutelage. Mark your calendars for May 9 – 15, 2010, if you would like to capture Italy and then wear it all over the U.S.!

. . . to fabric

. . . to fabric

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Mary Ellen Kranz is an unbelievably gifted teacher, and skilled artist. During our recent trip to Italy she led a class that did 2 things:

  • Provided skills, comfort, knowledge and confidence in using cameras and photo manipulation software to create beautiful pictures.
  • Showed how to take those pictures, transfer them to fabric and then apply the fabric to useful and beautiful objects.

The class applied the pictures to silk which was then sewn onto silk scarves that class members bought in Orvieto. The shopping trip was of course, great fun as there is a wonderful shop that sells gorgeous scarves. One of the scarves was given to Giovanna, who runs the convent in which we stay and that she is modeling here.

Other projects included using the photos on purses and on book covers. One of the great joys of this class is that students walked away with memories of their trip captured in photos and then used in objects that are used daily. It was fun, artful, memorable.

We have asked Mary Ellen to return to teach another class, and she has agreed. Tentatively we have her lined up for the fall of 2010. Mary Ellen has just published a second book on her techniques that you can get from her website.

Scarves

Scarves

Books covered with photos on fabric

Books covered with photos on fabric

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Italy is Human Scaled

Italy is Human Scaled

As our trip winds down and we begin turning towards home, I inevitably begin to reflect on why I will miss this place so much. It is hard to put a finger on. But I think it is the integrated life I will miss. It is the way of life, the texture of life here, the living with all the senses engaged all the time that I love. It’s life on the street. It’s looking anywhere and being met by sights that delight and engage the eye. It’s the food that unfailing rewards with incredible flavors and tastes that are so pleasant you look at each other, smile, and exclaim. It’s the movement of people providing endless diversion. It’s the intimacy of the spaces and places that evokes security and contentment and well being. It’s diversity in food, environment, people.

The U.S. has grand vistas, stunning natural environments. It’s weak in people-centric places. It doesn’t pay attention the way they do here. Like the natural environment that is impressive, we, in the U.S., try to do the same with what we build. Big houses, big cars, big entryways to houses, big buildings, big lawns, big streets. Big and impressive. And cold, devoid of life, of richness, of intrigue, of nuance, of intimacy, of giving a sense of well being.

In Italy there is a continuity to places and the day. It happens because they are not totally dependent on the car. You sit in a restaurant, rich in historic detail and emerge onto a street rich in detail, full of people, and built to a human scale. These kinds of transitions occur all day long. In the U.S. we may be in a wonderful restaurant, but we emerge into a parking lot, have to get into a car so unhuman and drive to the next destination. So there is no continuity. The humanness we need is intermittent and assaulted.

Oh, I will miss Italy until we return in May!

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Our Wine Bar

Our Wine Bar

Today is our last day in Orvieto, magic city we love. Last night Kristi and I were in our neighborhood wine bar having a beer (Yes we’re in Italy, land of wine, but we love beer – one of many reasons we enjoy England – their great beer.) So we told them we were sad our time in Orvieto was winding down. They said but you are here having a beer, so enjoy it.

Well of course! Italians are so much better at living in the moment. Instead of pining over our upcoming departure, they helped us enjoy them, their hospitality, great food and cold beer. It is a lesson we are taught every day we are here.

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Morning Sunrise

Morning Sunrise

We have been in Orvieto for a week. Tomorrow is our last day. It has been simply wonderful. Just to recap a few things.

  • How can I have missed so many details in my previous 9 trips? It is simply amazing to me that I am seeing so many wonderful details on buildings that I have missed before. One of the joys here, is the richness of detail which provides endless entertainment and enjoyment for the eye.
  • Mary Ellen Kranz is doing an unbelievable job of guiding the students in
    Scarf

    Scarf

    taking wonderful pictures and transferring them to fabric. Tomorrow is Show and Tell. All of us not in the class will be able to see the book covers, purses and scarves that have been made using picture of Orvieto. What you see here is a sample.

  • The food has been fabulous, simply nonstop gastronomic pleasure. We made yummy pasta – orchiette – in the cooking class, as well as several desserts. Who knew we could cook so well. Tomorrow we will take part in the Slow Food Festival with a walking feast at 5 different spots in town.
  • Orvieto is a magic place. There is no other way to
    Palazzone Vineyard

    Palazzone Vineyard

    describe it. We saw the Mayor yesterday and today and relayed this fact to him. He didn’t disagree. Slowly, we become a part of the place, get to know the people, become part of the fabric. The hospitality is humbling – profoundly so.

While we hate to leave, we can’t wait to retun in May. It seems so long to wait. Vive la dolce vite!

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