Archive for February, 2009

I have just added a page to this blog – 10 Reasons to join us in Italy. Reach the page via the “10 Reasons” tab at the top of this page. 10 Reasons lists more than 10 reasons to travel with us. We know we have great trips and wanted to share a few of the reasons why. One of the reasons is the great teachers we have, all of whom are listed in the right panel.

Believe it or not, we are working to add teachers for the fall trips of 2010. It seems so far away, yet it is time for us to be lining up teachers. When we are a little farther along in the process we will introduce you to them. Suffice it to say that we have some wonderful teachers, a repeat and a new teacher from Australia. We are excited to be adding other English speaking teachers to the fold.

Personal Attention from Our Teachers

Personal Attention from Our Teachers

One of the fun things about our trips is that, if you are taking one of the creative exploration classes, you begin to interact with the teacher long before the trip. Some of our teachers have established Yahoo groups or other forms of sharing. As students, you are able to ask questions, see tempting pictures of what you will be doing, get to know others who will be traveling with you. Anticipation about the trip is one of the wonderful aspects of travel. Our teachers are so supportive of helping build your anticipation through communication.

And you can always ask Kristi and me questions about the trip. We truly want our adventures to be exceptional, for you to have an unparalleled experience. We are here to make that happen.


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This is fun. I have mentioned the Italian Notebook before, as a place to get daily, short blurbs on Italy. Today’s story was on several thieves being caught for stealing rounds of parmiggiano reggiano worth 250,000 Euros. What’s interesting is that they stole it from a bank!

Why a bank? Turns out that parmiggiano, which has to cure for one and a half to three years, is used by farmers as collateral for loans. Two – three year old parmiggiano has never lost value. As a result, the bank is stockpiling it as a hedge against other assets in its portfolio that may devalue. They currently have 25,000,000 Euro (about $32,500,000) stockpiled.

Making umbrichelli in one of our cooking classes

Making umbrichelli in one of our cooking classes

Parmeggiano is not the only wonderful food in Italy. Every region has its own preferences. And every region has its own typs of pasta, often hand rolled. In Orvieto it is umbrichelli, and you will find it in many restaurants. It is thicker, denser and less uniform than spagetti and oh so good! In the fall, when truffles are just coming into season, you will get umbrichelli with “tartufo”, or truffle, either as part of the sauce or shaved right on top of the pasta. In spring artichokes are a favorite. A deep fried artichoke is an amazing delicacy as far as I am concerned. Think potato chip consistency with and incredible flavor.

Oh my goodness, how did I get off on this tangent from stolen cheese? Suffice it to say that the food and wine in Italy get my juices flowing, and my mouth salivating. Come to Italy with us and enjoy not only parmeggiano and umbrichelli, but all the wonderful food and wine Italy has to offer!

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Missing in Action

Yow! It has been over a week since I posted. Life takes over sometimes. We are planning to move to Morganton, NC, a small town in which we plan to capture some of the intimacy we find in Orvieto. Moving takes time and energy!

We traveled to Morganton last week to look at houses, found one we liked, made an offer. The offer was contingent on selling out house here, which is not ready to put on the market. Long story short, they went with another bid that was less money, but not contingent on selling their place.

With the prospect of buying and selling, that meant working harder to get our house ready. That means finishing the torn up bathroom that I demolished several weeks ago. It also means finding a real estate agent, blah, blah. The upshot is I haven’t been on here as I would like.

logo150x199I have also been busy with Slow Travel Tours. This is an informal affiliation of other folks who lead trips to Europe that are deeper in nature, more attuned to the locale the the normal trip, run by owner-operators, a really good group of folks – folks who lead trips like ours. I am helping get the blog going, as well as getting the logo – developed by another member – to everyone in a format they can use on their web sites.

So I have been missing. But I will get back here. I enjoy talking about what we are doing, and the joys and wonder of Italy. We are signing up new teachers for the fall of 2010 – have some great people including a quilter and beader from Australia. So I will be back now that the NC offer was denied and I have some breathing space.

One final word. Morganton is a great town. Our realtor has lived there a long time, used to run a downtown business and knows lots of people. We already have met a lot of very friendly people. The town just feels good. We look forward to gaining some of what we find in Orvieto here in the U.S.

Making haste slowly here!

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Americans are notably optimistic. Turns out Italians are even more so, at least according to one source. Italians also are resistant to change. This combination is one reason why travel to Italy is so interesting – particularly for Americans.

Change is a constan in the U.S.

Change is a constant in the U.S.

As an optimistic country, we Americans like optimism in others. We like to think things are good and going to get better. To be in a country even more this way than ours  feels good.

Change characterizes life, and nobody is comfortable with it. As much as we say we embrace change, we resent it as well. And this makes Italy interesting on another level because there is a palpable quality in its history and architecture. They seem permanent, which is comforting – particularly when most American’s physical environment is ever changing – new subdivisions, new retail, new schools, trees or buildings plowed under to make it happen.

One way to really experience the optimism and sense of permanence of Italy is to stay in one place. That is what we do when you travel in Italy with us. The optimism and joy of Italian people becomes apparent as you get to know folks in daily interactions for a week. And you are able to really explore the history, architecture and traditions that lend it the permanence we long for.

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I have been reading “Living in a Foreign Language.” It is about Italy, the life there versus the life in the U.S. It has got me thinking about why our Adventures in Italy trips are so meaningful to us, why we feel such sadness on returning to the U.S. It further has me thinking about technology (cell phones, e-mail, IM, twits, etc.) that I have such a love/hate relationship with, and what I consider to be a less than good way in using it here versus Italy.

In thinking about all this, I began to consider the roots of the U.S. and that of Italy, and how it influences us differently today. The U.S. was born to gain freedom from a variety of things, to be independent, to escape tradition. For much of our history there was always another frontier to the west where we could continue to pursue our independent ways. We’ve grown and prospered and are, still today, a mecca for those who suffer or feel stifled and want to escape. We have a mindset of always going forward, not looking back, escaping, moving on.

Italy, on the other hand is a place with a very long history and strong traditions. They care about their history, about their relationship to those who came before. They revere the past, believe there is value in consciously being tied to it, in preserving it. Where historic preservation has always been a struggle here, in Italy it is part of the mindset. They care about tradition, about doing things that respect the past, honor the tradition. This is precisely what some of those who have come to the U.S.  have been trying to escape.

But the U.S. is changing. We are a maturing country. Our history now extends back 500 years. Our forward forging ways are harder to achieve now. We have no unexplored geography to which we can escape. Where there had always been a new frontier, we are faced with finiteness. We also have a long enough history to begin tugging at us, just as it does in Italy. These changes have meant we are groping as we mature. We have not yet developed the anchors of Italy. Until now, we haven’t needed them.

As a result, we are not as adept as Italians at handling what technology brings on us. Italy has bent technology to the traditions, history and culture that have always guided their living. While they have every bit as much technology as we, it has been tamed by tradition, cultural mores, history.

For us, loving the new, we jump all over the latest technology. The result is a fast, disconnnected, fragmented world – without anchors. We like to call Facebook, IM, Twitter and more “social networking.” You see attempts everywhere on the web to talk about “web community.”  That’s simply, if you’ll excuse my French, bullshit.

A social network, community, a sense of place and belonging, a feeling of rootedness comes from face-to-face interaction. It comes from time spent with people, not in the ethers, but in physical proximity to one another.

In Italy face-to-face happens all the time. Cell phones are put away, time is invested in personal relationships. There is no masquerade that an ether connection is the same as a face-to-face connection. This stems from the anchors provided by their history, tradition and culture – the very thing we are just now beginning to try to define.

What I love about our trips is that our travelers gain this insight. To a person, they revel in the richness of life, at the warm interaction they are privy to and participate in. It is a first understanding of what we are groping for in the U.S. It is a window, a light, a first step in helping us move to a richer, deeper, more mature, more developed society of our own. Thank you Italy.

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My good wife Kristi made an astute observation yesterday that gets to the heart of why we so enjoy Orvieto. Her comment was that we don’t go to stores to shop or do business, we go to see people we know. Nearly every store with which we interact is a family affair with just a few people working there. When you think about it this is remarkable.


Coffee with Stefano

Today, most of us shop at stores not with people. Even the grocery store, which we frequent often, is different than Orvieto. We know people by sight at our grocery, but we don’t really know the people. We go to Target, Lowes, Blockbusters. In Orvieto we got to Senora Scarponni, Stefano and Daniella when we get a capuccino; we go to see Carlo when we want meat; we visit Massimo and Titziana if we are looking for a gift; we visit Cristian and Stefano when we want a beer or glass of wine.

Carlo selecting meat for us

Carlo selecting meat for us

I know there are still small towns in which these kinds of relationships exist. In fact, Kristi and I are planning to move to such a town sometime this year. Why? We came back from Orvieto last spring and it was hollow and empty in our suburban, big city existence. Most Americans, indeed most people in the world now live in cities. Some big cities, have neighborhood stores, where you can enjoy personal relationships. But for most of us it isn’t there.

We go to Orvieto and absolutely relish the personal relationships and interaction that we experience. We feel our humanness there, what a joy it is to interact with others on a regular basis. It is one very good reason to travel with us – it reintroduces us to some of what we are missing. We can then come home and make changes.

That’s what we will be doing.  The town we are moving too, Morganton, NC, has a nice downtown, that has some stores we will be frequenting. We plan to make downtown our living room just as all of Orvieto serves that purpose for us when we are there.

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I am reading “Living in A Foreign Language” by Michael Tucker. It is about his moving to an area near Spoletto in Umbria. In it, early on before he has actually made the move, he describes a lunch at an agriturismo near Spoletto.

What amazed me was that I could easily picture the scene. I could smell the food, hear the noisy conversation, see the smiling faces, feel the absence of pressure to get on to the next thing – absolutely focused on the present moment.

finallunchI was transported. Not because the writing was so great or compelling. It wasn’t. But because I have lived it scores of times in Italy. It is what makes the country so compellig, so magnetic. It is life lived in the moment, for the moment. It is pushing aside all the technological intrusions of our age – cell phone, computer, twits, instant messages, e-mail – to enjoy what is going on around you at the very moment. It is putting aside the newspaper and magazine and television blaring all the bad news, the economic malaise.

We can wring our hands over what the media feeds us. We can live our lives in the nether world of technology, never present, always somewhere else. Or we can open our eyes to what is around us at the very moment.

Somehow, this is what Italy does. I don’t know how it does it. It has something to do with the way Italians approach life. It is the lively, raucous meals. It is the deep human interaction going on all around you.

When you travel to Italy it quietly takes you over. Without knowing it you begin to slow down. You pay attention to all around you. You live in the moment. I can only describe it as magic, which I often do. Arrive in Italy, the fairy dust is spread upon you and you really, really live. Ahhhh.

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The news is filled with gloom. The media loves reporting on the economic malaise. Headlines of big job layoffs at big companies obscure the fact that most job creation takes place in small businesses and most businesses are small. The small business world is down a little but just a little, nothing like that of big business.

Kristi's work on display at Folk School

Kristi's work on display at Folk School

I write all this because I want to place the economy in perspective as I suggest we pay a little more attention to ourselves. In fact, many laid off people are using the opportunity to start a new business, to be their own boss – a silver lining not talked about by most of the media. I am not insensitive to the downturn or the fact that many of us are affected. I just want to remind us that it is not all bad and that paying attention to ourselves is not selfish. To that end . . .

Kristi, my good and wonderful and talented wife, teaches at the John C. Campbell Folk School in western North Carolina. We love the place, in part, because the experience there is so much like the experience we have on our trips to Italy. It combines a retreat setting, with a wonderful learning experience, and the joys of meeting new people with common interests, developing new friendships. It provides perspective on life and it brings out our latent talents, interests, and will to build on what we know and love.

Scarves with pictures applied by students in Orvieto

Scarves with pictures applied by students in Orvieto

The Folk School has a newsletter. Recently in talking about new year’s resolutions it said the following. “This year, I will spend more time for myself. I will learn a new craft. I will take my craft to a new level. I will appreciate and learn more about hand-made objects. I will strive to be more self-sufficient. I will dance more. I will surround myself with music and laughter.”

This is beautiful, meaningful, and good advice. We all have the chance to do just what the School suggests. Whether we are directly affected by the economic downturn or not, it’s occurence and prevalence in the news, provides the chance for each of us to consider, not self-indulgence, but self-development. It provides the opportunity to begin to consider how to fill our potential. It is a very real opportunity to devlop ourselves, which, ultimately will enable us to give to the world that which we are uniquely able to give. Here’s to our self-development!

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