Archive for December, 2008


Swallowtail in our garden

“We are butterflies who have been taught to become caterpillars.” So writes Dawna Markova author of some great books including “I Shall Not Die an Unlived Life.” It is an interesting observation.

What I so love about traveling to Orvieto and spending time there is that it helps us realize we are butterflies. Orvieto clears your head, gives you perspective, helps you balance life. You become a child again – before you were taught to be a caterpillar. Babies laugh for no reason, not because of a joke or humorous event. Isn’t that wonderful? And it is part of being in Orvieto – you are alive with wonder, tripping down the street, light hearted and young. Ooh I can’t wait to be back!


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Life is Tough

Mark Twain made this comment. He said, “Life is tough. It takes up a lot of your time, all your weekends, and what do you get at the end of it? . . . Death, a great reward.”

Dinner in Orvieto

Dinner in Orvieto

That’s one way to look at it. As Christmas winds down and we learn that our consuming way was less than normal this year, I take heart. If we let life take up our time with memorable experiences and learning and exploration, it isn’t so tough. In fact it is downright wonderful. I believe we replaced a lot of the empty consuming this season with experience and sharing.

This recession can be a great blessing, if we learn to live differently. A World Health Organization and Harvard Medical School study put the U.S. at the top of the list of depressed countries. One reason is we have not been taking vacation as we work to consume stuff. A study this year by the good folks at Take Back Your Time found that over half of us take less than a week’s vacation. Nearly 30% take none and two thirds take less than two weeks.

We are buying things and put it in storage. Every month 100,000 storage units are abandoned – people simply get up and walk away from all the stuff they have bought. The storage industry is bigger than the motion picture industry.

We are finding this season that there is richness in living life, not buying it. What a wonderful way to enter the new year!

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This Christmas, as with any Christmas, we take so much joy in giving – and receiving. Orvieto’s people, the Orvietani, are giving us much this year. We have been visiting Orvieto every year since 2003. Slowly, we have built relationships into what are now deep friendships with everyone from the mayor, to agency directors, to craftspeople, to merchants, to citizens, to our dear nuns at the convent B&B.

It is our experience that, just like in any small American town, you have to earn your friendships in Orvieto – and that takes time. We don’t begrudge this. In fact, when embraced it is with a power and depth and honesty and feeling that is hard to imagine. This Christmas we have been receiving Christmas greeting after Christmas greeting from our friends in Orvieto. It has been humbling and wonderful.

What Kristi and I do with our Adventures in Italy is transfer this warmth to those who travel with us. We love Italy and Orvieto, and the Orvietani allow us to share this with you. It is our gift, yet ultimately it is the gift of Orvieto.

Merry Christmas!


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cafegroupRay Oldenburg in his book “The Great Good Place“, argues that the neutral places we come together, such as downtown, coffee houses, bars and post offices, are tremendously important for us as people and for our society. They provide the place of interchange where we build ties to each other and our community, giving us a sense coffeescarponisof rootedness, purpose and belonging.

The pedestrian nature of Italian towns makes many of its streets third places. That pedestrian character supports a host of other important third places, and particularly the cafe/bar. A cafe/bar in Italy serves coffee all day, pastries in the morning, light lunch fare, and drinks in the evening. It is busy and active most of the day. You always find people in conversation, whether standing at the bar or sitting inside or out. It is wonderfully warming and nurturing. The rich human interaction of these places is one of the reasons Americans find Italy so enthralling.

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Back in 1982  John Naisbit wrote Megatrends. There have been sequels and knock offs, but this was the original. One of his megatrends was that we were going to become more high technology and that it would lead us to want more social interaction – high touch.

We have undeniably become more high tech. It is all around us and has fundamentally changed our world. I would argue that we have yet to become truly high touch. I don’t consider Internet social networking high touch. I don’t care what anyone says, high touch only feels that way when you are face to face, can actually touch someone.

I believe we are on the cusp of truly becoming high touch. I love this, think it is so needed. In previous posts I’ve talked about our need for it.  The struggling economy, recent high gas prices, and, ultimately, the unsatisfactory nature of high tech is leading us to what truly creates human happiness: social interaction.

Daniel Pink has updated Megatrends (although he probably doesn’t see it this way!), in A Whole New Mind. He argues we are beginning to use and need what the right brain provides. This really is about high touch. It may be taking 20 some years since Megatrends, but it is upon us.

High Touch!

High Touch!

I don’t know why Italy is ahead of us on this, but it is. I find it so hard to adequately convey the depth of the soul touching character being in Italy evokes. The place nourishes our need for high touch. Part of the primordial, instinctive, palpable, at-the-core-of-the-soul reaction our participants get while with us in Italy stems from this fundamental need. It is hard to explain because it is felt, something we left brained types have a hard time with. All I can say is join us for a week, don’t try to put words to it, and just feel. It feels amazing!

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An editorial writer in the paper this morning talked about his having 3 weeks of vacation that he would lose this year. He managed to squeeze two days off this past week and spent it with his twin grandchildren. He found great meaning in those two days – particularly when he returned to find that the news stories were all the same.

My daughter and her great grandmother

My daughter and her great grandmother

It has been three and a half years since I jumped off the treadmill. I’d forgotten how much pressure there is to be productive, to be busy, to not take your vacation. I have become blissfully removed from all that.

Life is not about securing your retirement.

Life is so much bigger. One of the benefits of getting older, of having fewer years in front of you than behind, is that you do begin to try to figure out how to get the most out of this incredible journey we call life.

Every single one of us has something unique to bring to the world. Often, it is drowned in the roles, responsibilities, and cultural mores foisted upon us. It takes guts to resist, yet it is the only way to really live.

It’s why I love doing our trips to Orvieto. It enables people to richly live life, for each to touch what is uniquely him or herself, to gain a glimpse of what is possible.

I wish the editorial writer would come along on one of our trips. Of course, if he did, he’d have to use some of his vacation.

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In the true story of American Greg Mortenson’s amazing drive to build schools in the remote Hindu Kush region of Pakistan and Afghanistan, recounted in Three Cups of Tea, Mortenson described life’s most important lesson for him. The lesson came from the leader of the first town in which he built a school – a place so remote he had to first build a bridge over the raging Braldu River to reach the town before he could bring in supplies to build the school.

Mortenson had been driving hard to get the school built. It was making the townspeople crazy. Town leader and Mortenson’s good friend, Haji Ali, took Mortenson on a long hike and then returned to his house for tea. Ali explained that the first time you share tea in the Balti region you are a stranger. The second time you become an honored guest, and the third time you become family for whom you will do anything. Ali told Mortenson he must take time for 3 cups of tea. In other words, he was saying take the time for three cups of tea to ensure that everyone will be on your side in the building of the school.

Mortenson said, “We Americans think you have to accomplish everything quickly. We’re the country of thirty-minute power lunches and two-minute football drills. . . . Haji Ali taught me to share three cups of tea, to slow down, and make building relationships as important as building projects. He taught me I have more to learn from the people I work with than I could ever hope to teach them.”

Make Haste Slowly. One of the great joys of traveling to Italy is to witness how much time Italians invest in relationships. It surrounds you every moment of the day. It is probably the most striking thing about the country. In many ways it is subtle. As a visitor you are so busy seeing all that is new and different it is hard to focus on any one thing. Our travelers, staying in Orvieto for a week, slowly begin to realize just how human it is, how much attention people pay to each other, how much interaction there is. This revelation is startling for people from a society so bent on getting it done fast. By seeing a different model we can appreciate its benefits.

We are, as a country poised, I believe, to slow down, to get more out of life. The economic slowdown, hard as it is, has a silver lining. We are realizing how rewarding, wonderful and rich life is when we share time with others. Three cups of tea. Make haste slowly.

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A recent article in the New York Times cited a study which showed that happy people watch less TV then unhappy folks. What do the happy do? They socialize.



So what does this have to do with our trips to Italy? Well, a lot actually. One of the reasons we love Italy so much is the tremendous level of social interaction that takes place. Because we spend a week in Orvieto, we become more observant of the day-to-day interactions and activities than if we were racing from city to city. We see people on the street at all hours of the day, including the “passeggiata.” The passeggiata is the evening stroll, when the locals come out for several hours to simply walk up and down the main street, greeting, talking, socializing. We see the high level of interaction in the twice-weekly market. It is evident in restaurants, at cafes where people get their coffee all day long, in the multiple conversations taking place on the street throughout the day.

In one study measuring happiness and environmental impact, Italians are the happiest people in the industrialized world. Much of it has to do with the high level of human interaction.

This sociability is one of the characteristics of Italy that we find so enchanting. It is one of the many deep impressions our trips leave on people. Witnessing this sociability happens because of the many cultural activities we provide, the time our people spend on the street through various activities, and staying in one place for a week to fall into the rhythms and patterns of the place.

We believe it provides an intriguing contrast to the less social life in America. As we live more within our means (see my November 15, 2008 post) I believe we will appreciate and learn from the Italian social practices. It will lead us to greater happiness!

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Baby boomers are due to recapture what they started back in the 60’s and 70’s. I have believed this for the last 6 years or so. The idealism and desire to change the world was not lost. It was postponed.

A recent book, while not really dealing with this, hints at it. The book, “A Whole New Mind” by Daniel Pink, is about us becoming more right brained. Pink says in an interview that “prosperity has freed us to consider what’s fundamental about being human.  . . . this widespread search for meaning is one of the most important things going on in American life today.” I agree and think it is wonderful. There is even a program for people looking to have an impact via a second career.

One of the ways we find our way to greater meaning is through contemplation, and our trips to Italy are such a great place to do this. Why?

  • Being in a different culture leads you to observe their ways and think about your own.
  • Our programs, whether creative or culture, lead you to examine life and living more deeply.
  • Our B&B is a peaceful, contemplative place.
  • Italians live richly, fully – and we notice wondering why we don’t do the same.

I look forward to boomers returning to their roots. I have great hope and faith in our youth, but I also believe boomers are poised to work alongside them in very positive ways.

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One last entry on Zogby’s “The Way We’ll Be”. Thank God for today’s youth who are leading us baby boomers down the very path we set for ourselves but somehow got off. They are an inspiration.

Zogby calls them the first global generation. They are 18 – 29 and have a passport. They are demanding a life and good work. And they are living all over the world.

Our daughter is a great example. She is 27 and living in Sydney. She had a good job in her field at a weight loss spa, guiding people in exercise and healthy lifestyles. It was also a job that was eating up all her time. She decided that there was more to life. So she is now in Sydney working, living with a bunch of international roommates, learning about the world, its peoples and customs. She is learning to surf, scuba dive, touring Australia, between jobs. She is living a full, rich life. She is encumbered only by the possessions on her back and what she can haul around with her.

My daughter’s generation are a clear reflection of the meta-movements Zobgy describes. But guess what – it’s not too late for the rest of us. It is why I love what we are doing with our trips to Italy. They provide a chance for anyone to embrace life, to live more spiritually, to experience authenticity, to appreciate experience over possession, to embrace and learn from the diversity of the world. Our trips nourish us in a way we so need.

One last thing. The economic stinks. But life is short. Do we hunker down and wait for the economy, or our bank account, or retirement fund to get fat? Or do we live? It may not be easy, but let’s opt for living!

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