Archive for March, 2009

The Christian Science Monitor published its last daily paper on Friday. This saddens me, not because I am a Christian Scientist, I’m not, but because it was an exceptionally good paper. It brought a lack of bias evident in most of the media, had a generally more positive view of things, and covered a wide range of subjects that I found interesting and useful.

The Monitor is adjusting to changing times, perhaps ahead of other papers. It is now going to send out a weekly issue with in depth coverage and continue what had been their print paper online. The paper’s editor, John Yemma, had this to say:

“Why a weekly print publication? Print still works at that frequency. Print is for sitting back, taking a break from the web, thinking more deeply about ideas and issues.”

Takin time to talk in Orvieto

Taking time to talk in Orvieto

I found his explanation to be an apt description of our trips to Italy. They are a week long. They are for taking a break from the web and the technology induced franticness of life. They take us more deeply into life and living.

I am sad to see the daily edition of the Monitor go, yet gladdened at their willingness to adapt. People who join us in Italy do they same. They adapt to changing times, the frenetic pace of our day. They opt to take a time out in order to nurture their creative selves, their deeper selves, their natural inclination to really take part in life. They choose to spend the time to look more closely.

As a result they gain an appreciation and love of this amazing life that they may have lost touch with. This is not earth shattering crescendos. It is quiet, subtle, wonderful, blissful harmony. We are amazingly adaptable, we humans. That is what makes our trips so popular.

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A few days ago I wrote about one of the interesting parts of an evening out. Today is another part of the evening that engendered thought:  today’s youth.

Nearly all the people at the birthday party work high up in relatively large, successful companies. In their positions they are responsible for hiring or overseeing the hiring of people. They commented on how self absorbed today’s young people are, wanting instant success and gratification. This is particularly galling for we baby boomers who work hard, have worked our way up, do what is asked of us on the job. We are and have always been productive workers. So I understand and sympathize with the sentiments of my friends.

On the other hand I have been following the trends and motivations of our young people for years, and I think there is much to be said for their approach. They have watched their baby boomer parents work long hours, be loyal to a company that turns out unloyal in return. They have grown up in a world where their parents were largely absent. This is the environment they have known and that has shaped them. Is it not reasonable for them to say that it is not one they want to replicate? To say,  “I saw what it did to my parents, I saw too little of my parents, I won’t do the same to my kids.”

They are deciding life is not just about work. It is about living this one precious life we have. Many older people take that as indulgent, selfish and unrealistic. One person at the party noted how today’s pyramid is incorrectly inverted – the older people in the workforce – management – working twice the hours of the new hires. My thought? Maybe there is a lesson there. Maybe our youth have figured it out already. Maybe we have something to learn from them. Maybe the world is changing. Maybe this recession is a reflection that working nonstop, buying useless stuff that demands we work nonstop, believing that work is all there is doesn’t make sense. What good is all the money in the world when you have no life?

Work will continue to be necessary and important. That it has to follow the model of the last 20 years is not a given or necessarily required. In the 35 years I have been working we have added 9 hours to the work week. Where we worked less than Europe in the 1960’s, we now work considerably more. Where we used to take our vacation, we now take a small fraction of it. Where we used to relax on vacation, half of us now spend part of it working. We have lost our minds!

Perhaps we ought to listen to our young people. Just because they approach work differently than we, doesn’t make them wrong. Perhaps we have something to learn from them.

And it is not too late for us. One of the things society has always gained from its retired populace is perspective. When people finally stop working, when they realize that life is not endless and how much time they spent working, they counsel the rest of us to do what really matters. Ironically the message is now being delivered by both those older and younger than ourselves. It isn’t too late. We can listen and we can change.

Come with us to Orvieto and experience life. It happens subtly, slowly, serendipitously. It is one of the reasons we do our trips. I for one, thank our youth, for opening our eyes and leading us to to Adventures in Italy.

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A new book out this year talks to the joy of life after 50, and speaks directly to why our trips to Italy have such appeal. The book is “The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 years after 50″. In the book the author, Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, looks at the new directions and paths people are taking after 50. It is an exciting time of growth, adventure, new pursuits, and following long deferred passions.

From computer . . . .

Learning computer, quilting, photography all at once in Orvieto

The book chronicles the lives of 40 people capturing what studies are beginning to reveal: People are venturing out in their later years. It is not the passive life of leisure sitting on the porch reading or playing golf that was once predicted. It reflects the fact that we humans are naturally curious, are life long learners, and love the challenge and reward of mastering something new.

Certainly this is true for me. After 30 plus years working for nonprofits in some form or other of community building, I am now doing trips to Italy! That is a bit of a switch. It most certainly taps into my international roots. But it is a significant departure from what I used to do, and I love it. I am learning new skills, making new friends, enjoying it with a freedom and passion that I never had in what was a satisfying career.

Enjoying wine while cooking in Orvieto

Enjoying wine while cooking in Orvieto

One thing I love is that our trips enable others to pursue a passion or develop their creative potential, just as I am doing. And, they get to do it all while exploring and enjoying a deeper slice of Italy than your typical tourist does. It is living, truly living that these trips are about.

The third chapter is wonderful. It is great to see us developing our potential, pursuing things we love, living life as fully as we can.

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I went to the birthday party of a dear friend last night. It was such an interesting evening on many fronts. One was the unseen impact of the technologies we employ.

I have frankly been baffled by all the “social networking” tools that people use. Facebook, twitter, linkedin and there are dozens more. Businesses now use facebook regularly. Last night I was able to talk to friends who are using these technologies. I still don’t understand them, but I do see how they become useful in business. I see how people are using them to promote their business and/or themselves as expert, or useful, or having good information.

There are two things that struck me about all this. One is how much time they take, and two is how fractured they make the day – and life.

Do we really want to work everywhere?

Do we really want to work everywhere?

I was told how twittering and Facebook can in fact save time because they are so “efficient” at getting the word out, how twits are more effective as press releases because they are read whereas press releases are not. What wasn’t said was the 60 – 80 hours these guys work each week, how you have to follow multiple facebook and twitter accounts as well as being active in these forums yourself so you maintain your “utility” in the work world.

And nothing was said of how the multi-tasking these tools demand make you bing from thing to thing, unable to concentrate or truly give things of import their just due. This, I am afraid, is simply accepted, not even thought about or even recognized anymore today.

It takes me back to David Whyte who wrote two tremendous books on work even before all these technologies. (The books are Crossing the Unknown Sea and The Heart Aroused.) He talks about the “busyness” in today’s work world, how everyone is super busy and takes it as a badge of pride that they are. He relates the story of his running around busily going faster and faster doing more and more. One day he stuck his head into a meeting and asked if anyone had seen David. The group stared at him a second and burst into laughter, for he was the only David working there. He said that question hit him because it was a question that revealed his life – he was looking for himself, lost in all the busyness of his daily activities.

This is life today. We are so busy doing, we have forgotten what it is to be, to live – really live. We are so wrapped up in the importance of our work lives, we have so let work control and dominate us that we aren’t living life, we are working life.

It is very difficult to see and understand this when you are in the midst of a frenetic, frantic, fractured life. It takes the sudden revelation, like David Whyte asking for himself, to bring us up short. And even then, where do we find the strength and courage to say no, to get off the treadmill, to begin to live life? It is particularly hard in a recession and when we all have fears of being cast out on the street.

When did you last take in a view like this without a frantic mind?

When did you last take in a view like this without a frantic mind?

There is no easy answer. I do know this: One of the things we hope for people to get our of our trips is to live, to get in touch with their deeper life, to feel what in life has import besides work. Italy is ideal for this because Italians live life better than most, reveling in the simple pleasures life offers, which cost little money yet yield such richness. We hope people taste it and return with an eye to bringing some of that richness home with them.

Last night was also revealing because of our conversation about today’s young people. But that is another story!

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campbellschlmistKristi just returned from a week teaching at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC. I went with her last year, but could not do so this time. I was sorely disappointed and her recounting of the week made me determined to go with her next year.

The school is located in way western NC, in the mountains, in the country. It has a “campus” where it teaches all kinds of crafts from blacksmithing, to woodworking, to quilting, to cooking, to painting and

Painting at the Campbell School

Painting at the Campbell School

writing. The list goes on. Its emphasis is on doing what you can with whatever skill you have, not being the greatest crafts person or artist in the world. To accomplish this its teachers have to be very nurturing and supportive.

Another wonderful aspect of the school is that it helps create a community and sense of community while you are there. There is “morning song”, a warm few minutes before breakfast of music, thought and laughter, led by “country philosophers”; country dancing and music at night; family style meals; and then, of course, the class you are taking. Contributing is a physical area defined by the buildings and open spaces

Campbell School Scene

Campbell School Scene

that the school occupies.

You slowly melt into the ambiance, pace and character of the place. You unplug from the world for a week and rediscover the simple pleasure of friendship, learning and growth, being in touch with nature, shared community.

I am really sorry I couldn’t go. Kristi came back a little softer, with a bit of a glow, quieter and more grounded in a way.

What I love is knowing we provide the same qualities on our trips to Orvieto. There is the same building of community, the same nurturing support of our participants, the same enjoyment of simple pleasures, the same contained physical environment connected to nature. And then there is the fact that you

Orvieto Appeals Too!

Orvieto Appeals Too!

are in a country where all of these things matter and are evident in daily life. Where food is simple and superb, where community is evident in the level of interaction on the streets and at the market.

Something else Kristi said struck me. The people at the school said how interesting everyone at the school is. This is true on our trips as well. This kind of trip and travel appeals to folks who are interesting, take a greater than normal interest in life, in variety, in things new and different, in exploring, in learning, in pushing the boundaries. We get to meet the most interesting folks on our trips. I am so lucky!!

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Eckhart Tolle in “A New Earth” points out that “A short attention span makes all your perceptions and relationships shallow and unsatisfying. Whatever you do, whatever action you perform in that state , lacks quality, because quality requires attention.”

I’ve written often here about the intangibles of our trips to Italy. In fact, one of the things I love most about our trips is that there slowly creeps into all of us a deeper, more fulfilling way of being. It isn’t prescribed or orchestrated. It is simply a part of the “magic” that is Orvieto. And one of those intangibles is that you come to pay attention again.

Our Normal State!

Our Normal State!

The sad truth is that we don’t pay attention today. Everyone multi tasks because there is so much to do, so much pressure. It is insane really. We completely miss life because we fill it up with busyness.

We are a founding member of Slow Travel Tours, a group of small trip operators to Europe who all are intent on traveling differently from the way we live at home. So many people when they travel are as busy as at home. They race from one site to the next, frantically taking pictures to record the memory. And it is a good thing they take pictures because they cram so much in that they can’t remember a thing.

We members of Slow Travel Tours travel to see, to pay attention. It is unbelievably satisfying to take time to truly experience and get to know a place. Many have forgotten what it is like to savor the qualities of someplace different,

Sunset in Orvieto

Sunset in Orvieto

to linger over a meal, to take in all the nuance of a setting sun, to listen to the calming peal of bells, to marvel at the artistry of medieval construction, to delight in the simple flavors of a carefully prepared meal . . . .

. . . . in short to live, to live deeply using all your senses, breathing it in so satisfyingly. Italy, Orvieto does this for you. God how I love it.

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I am not an artist. I am creative in some ways, but artist I am not. Through Adventures in Italy I have the great good fortune to be able to work with nearly two dozen amazing and talented artistic folks. Through this work I am gaining an appreciation for what artists do that I had not had before.

I’ve always understood how many creative folks are able to address issues of the day in poignant, direct, moving ways – in ways that are so much more effective than volumes of words. Through image or story or juxtaposition they drive home points.

What I am just beginning to learn is that artist respond to an internal call. They do what they love. Yes, it may be a business, or they may have to make a living from it, but they were initially drawn by something deep inside that they could not not respond to. It is wonderful, for every single one of us has that deep down call. Most don’t respond. Practicality, voices of “reason,” pragmatism all come home to lead us to what makes “sense.”

We all want to be of service in whatever it is we do. What this group of artists is teaching me is that by doing what you love, by doing what calls you, you provide the greatest service possible – you bring the real you to the world. And our own individual self is the only real thing we can bring to the world.

Of course, I admire their talent, marvel at the amazing creations they produce, am tickled by how they develop such beautiful and sometimes unexpected things. But it is the bringing of themselves to the rest of us that I am really beginning to appreciate.

So a heartfelt thanks to all those people listed on the sidebar who are partnering with us on our trips to Italy. They provide a very real gift to each and every person traveling with us. Tanto grazie!

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