Archive for November, 2008

Country or City?

Country or City?

John Zogby’s final meta-movement (that I have been writing about the last few posts) is authenticity in views and ways of life. Oh boy does this hit home when you talk about Italy! Its long history and ancient towns are the essence of authentic.

Here is the bottom line: It is hard to be authentic when you live in an inauthentic place. Suburbia, where most of America lives, is neither urban nor rural. It is a confused cross between the two. Suburbia sprang up as people fled cities which had become dirty, unsafe, unpleasant places. The car enabled us to move out, and the ideal was the “country.” Suburban communities leapfrogged each other so that country was lost as was urbanity.

exitviewWhat Italy does, what our trips do, are put people in touch with a truly authentic place. In this real environment our participants find their authentic selves, and, I would argue, it provides the springboard for reaching for authentic places and lives at home. If Zogby is right about a demand for authenticity, and I believe he is, then Italy is a teacher, enabling us to recognize the authentic at home.

There is a group in England called Common Ground. They have a wonderful publication called “Rules for Local Distinctiveness“. It is a short read and a great guide for authentic places.

I find these meta-movements encouraging. We are maturing as a country and people. We are recognizing our role as world citizens, and taking our place as co-equals with everyone else. In this equality we understand we have as much to learn as teach. And Italy is one place from which we can learn.

I have one more post to compose on Zogby.


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This meta-movement of John Zobgy’s “The Way We’ll Be” is naturally supported in trips with us to Orvieto. It’s subtle, intrinsic, resides in the nature and character of Orvieto and the wonderful place in which we stay. Travelers with us very much reflect Zogby’s contention that we are looking for and expecting more from life than we are currently getting.

Zogby contends that affluent Americans, who have it all and are now asking “Is this all there is,” and the less affluent, who are finding little satisfaction or sustainability in constant consumption, are looking for more, are becoming spiritual. The great joy about a week in Orvieto is that it is a spiritual journey, because the place, the way of living, the intimate living of life our participants enjoy make it so. The experience induces contemplation, brings peace and quiet, reawakens the child within to the wonders of the world.

I can’t claim it is Kristi and I who achieve this. It is intrinsic to the place. We stumbled on it, were cognizant enough to recognize it, and have been fortunate enough to put together trips that take advantage of it.

How does it happen? Well, there is an element of magic that I can’t explain. Just being in Orvieto for a week makes it happen. There are elements that contribute I can explain.

  • Being in a foreign country and place raises our level of awareness. We are present, absorbing, experiencing all there is, instead of thinking or worrying about the past or future.
  • We are removed from home, its demands, e-mail, phone calls, distractions. This allows us to pay attention, to really live.
  • The cultural exploration and immersion we provide is fun, different, eye opening and induces reflection and comparison to our own ways at home. Those who come as companions or on our food and wine tour – Savoring the Artful Life – are even more immersed in the culture.
  • Those who take one of our art courses look in a more concentrated way at their environment, resulting in deeper observation, which by its very nature is reflective.
  • We stay at a convent B&B that is serene. We aren’t going to church, or being lectured by the nuns, but there is space to spread out, places that induce thought, overlooks of the countryside, 15th century murals, a sense of timelessness and history.

All of these contribute to and reward the inward spiritual bent that Zogby identifies.

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The second of John Zogby’s meta-movements in his book “The Way We’ll Be” is diversity in views and ways of life. Travel to a foreign country, where customs, ways of living, dress, and outlooks are different, automatically brings one face to face with the diversity of our world. It is one of the benefits of travel, particularly for Americans who are isolated by two large oceans, to see how different, yet the same we all are. It ties us into the large realm of the world’s humanity, while appreciating the characteristics of our own place.

orvieto-doorsWe place a special emphasis in our Adventures in Italy trips on understanding, appreciating, and experiencing the Italian culture. It is fundamental to our trips. It’s why we stay at San Lodovico, our bed and breakfast convent, immersing us in an Italian setting – its day care with young children and their parents coming and going each morning and lunchtime. It’s why we don’t prearrange meals with set menus so each of us can explore and discover eating as Italians do. It’s why we have built relationships with merchants, artists, city government and others so our travelers meet, rub shoulders and interact with Orvietani. Its why we explore the market, select a vintner who is passionate about his wine reflecting the taste of the locale, and expose as much as we can of the Orvieto and Italian cultures.

It is by throughly exploring Orvieto and what makes it different that we better understand ourselves and our culture. We appreciate the differences, see the similarities, ponder what we can borrow that’s of value. It helps us see we are part of a world community and builds a bridge.

Let me also say that the diversity in architecture, details, door and window sizes, paving material, street dimensions, building materials – the absence of uniformity so common to American development and suburbs – is also instructive. It is not what Zogby was talking about, but the diversity of the built environment is something we love and enjoy. Recognizing this and bringing it back to apply to our communities will make them richer and more enjoyable. Can’t take the community builder out of me!

Next in Zogby’s metamovements: looking inward.

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At first blush it would seem that taking a vacation to Italy with us could in no way be a part of the meta-movement of living with limits. The wonderful thing about being on our trips is that it is incredibly instructive about the merits of living with limits. Let me explain.

I believe living with limits means we will as a society stop finding our “pleasure” in consuming, and find it with other people. Nearly every study done shows we have fewer friends, are no happier despite being immensely more wealthy, are stressed for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons is the amount we work to support the amount we consume. Our advertising society has led us to believe buying, consuming, and having will make us happy. It hasn’t.

Space required by cars, drivers, and drivers on a bus

Space required by cars, their drivers, and drivers on a bus

In Italy, our travelers see something quite different. They are immersed for a week in a place where human interaction is going on constantly. It happens on the street, it happens in the market, it happens over food, it happens in the passeggiata – the evening walk in which townspeople emerge onto the main thoroughfare and spend several hours strolling, greeting, catching up.

Contributing to the interchange is the scale of the city. It is intimate, people friendly, built on a human scale rather than a scale to accommodate cars. Cars require about 65 square feet to a person’s 3 square feet. Highways and pedestrian streets each handle the same number of people. The difference is there is abundant human contact on a pedestrian street.

So our trips instruct on two levels. First, we see, appreciate, and revel in the great reward and joy that comes from a level of human contact we have forgotten. Second, we experience a physical environment that enables human interchange. We return home understanding the benefit of human interaction which will result from living with limits, and we understand how to rebuild our cities to support it.

As a former planner and community builder I know we can reconfigure our towns and cities to support people. While we have built around the car for 60 years, the redesign of our communities for people is happening everywhere in this country. It simply takes commitment. Living with limits is one driver that will reform our cities as people friendly places.

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John Zogby in his new book “The Way We’ll Be” describes what he calls 4 meta-movements that will transform the American dream. Interestingly, I believe these movements all can be experienced and appreciated in our trips to Italy. The meta movements are:

  • Living with limits as consumers and citizens
  • Embracing diversity of views and ways of life
  • Looking inward to find spiritual comfort
  • Demanding authenticity

I will take the next few posts to talk about how our travelers find clues to these movements and how to integrate them into their lives as a result of visiting Orvieto with us. Should be fun and I encourage you to respond to my posts!

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Since I started bashing technology a few days ago, I may as well continue!

Swiss playwright, novelist and architect Max Frisch said, “Technology is the knack of so arranging the world that we don’t have to experience it.” Consider:

  • People walk through the public realm plugged in to their cell phones or i-pods completely oblivious to the world around them.
  • Television and “reality” computer games mean we live vicariously rather than a real life.
  • “Virtual” everything means not real.
  • We can watch movies without even leaving the house to be with others in a theater.
  • Cars, a technology after all, separate us from the world around us and particularly people.

We embrace technology blindly. There is no question it provides benefits, but we never consider its downsides. E-mail, for instance has added an hour to the work day. E-mail, voice mail, and easy connectivity anywhere has led to nearly half of us working on vacation up from less than a quarter ten years ago. It is no wonder a quarter of us are lonely and the number of close friends we have has declined by half since 1965.

One of the things I love about being in Italy on our trips is that it is at least a little harder to be plugged in. Yes your cell phone will work, but there is a six hour time difference. And yes there are Internet cafes but it is just a little more difficult to use. And no there are no televisions in our B&B.

Over the course of the week people begin to stop worrying about being connected. They immerse themselves in living – good food, spectacular scenery, amazing history and arhcitecture all around them, interacting face-to-face with people, seeing others interacting in the passeggiata (evening walk) and at restaurants, using the art course they are taking to touch life more intimately. It’s wonderful and rewarding. It’s life. What a concept!

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