Archive for April, 2009

Sometimes I wonder if I am not a Luddite. Though I have always embraced technology, I truly think it has a plethora of negatives that we just don’t come to grips with. I read this morning a wonderful op-ed piece by Emily Walshe, a librarian and professor at Long Island University.

In it she notes how technology has allowed us to stop remembering many, many things. We can use technology to find phone numbers, addresses, speeches, quotes, names of movies, etc. Much of it we carry around in a cell phone. One small child when asked for his phone number said it was 1 – the speed dial number.

Niel Postman in “Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology” points out that all technologies have up and down sides to them. Writing  for instance, like our phones, has enabled us to use our memories less. Write it down and you don’t have to remember it. (You do have to remember where you put it!)

Orvieto Full Senses Experience

Orvieto Full Senses Experience

Walshe says, “With so many of us a slave to tin can memory, our human capacity for identification is jeopardized. Because when we commit things to mind, we become the authors of experience.”

Authors of experience – isn’t that nice? By using our minds, observing our surroundings fully, embracing the life all around us rather than relating to a screen driven by binary codes we are the authors of our own lives. Our trips to Italy are all about life, living, being in the moment, using all our senses. We reconnect to life, and, I hope, it serves as platform and memory to propel us to living a full life when we return home.


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One of the things we love about Orvieto, and particularly our B&B, is the serenity. That’s not to suggest that there is no life – just that there is a calm and a peace that feel so good after what, for most people, is a hectic departure from a hectic life at home. Our B&B occupies a large former palace with God knows how many rooms to it. It includes library, ballroom, meeting rooms, valley

Our B&B Courtyard

Our B&B Courtyard

overlook, garden, piazza, dining room, two kitchens, a magnificent winding, marble  staircase to the second floor, not to mention the guest rooms. So it is big. It is home to a morning day care for young children. They add a lovely vivacity and energy, yet you can melt away into other parts of the building if you want quiet.

I say all this because we have felt that the quality

Part of the Garden

Part of the Garden

of our B&B would lend itself well to a contemplative kind of learning trip, one that takes on a retreat aspect, one focused on your own life and all you want to achieve in it. So we are delighted to add our first trip of this nature with another in the wings.

Patti Digh has written several books including Life is a Verb, and co-leads with artist David Robinson, workshops that explore the whys of life, the deeper reasons for our purpose here and what we want to achieve. So we are excited to have them lead a workshop in Orvieto that will combine their gentle, nurturing guidance with the splendors and wonders that are all part of our magic hilltop town. In Place, Color and Word: Creating Your Atlas of Experience participants will explore their own personal geographies – how they participate in creating the landscape of their lives, how they share that landscape with others, and where they want to map their future. They will leave the workshop with an atlas of their experience. The workshop is scheduled for September 26 – October 2, 2010.

This is perfect. It is taking full advantage of all Orvieto and our B&B have to offer in a new and engaging way. We will soon be sitting down with Heidi Darr-Hope to talk with her about doing another workshop along this vein. It will take place in 2011.

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My Dad sent me the following poem. It is reported to be from a teenage girl in New York dieing of cancer. I have no reason to doubt that, although you never know with what’s on the Internet. Regardless, it is a great poem that gets to the heart of living life in the moment and points to why we do our trips to Italy.

Have you ever watched kids
On a merry-go-round?
Or listened to the rain
Slapping on the ground?

Ever followed a butterfly’s erratic flight?
Or gazed at the sun into the fading night?

You better slow down.
Don’t dance so fast.
Time is short.
The music won’t last.

Do you run through each day
On the fly?
When you ask How are you?
Do you hear the reply?

When the day is done
Do you lie in your bed
With the next hundred chores
Running through your head?

You’d better slow down
Don’t dance so fast.
Time is short.
The music won’t last.

Ever told your child,
We’ll do it tomorrow?
And in your haste,
Not see his sorrow?

Ever lost touch,
Let a good friendship die
Cause you never had time
To call and say,’Hi’

You’d better slow down.
Don’t dance so fast.
Time is short.
The music won’t last.

When you run so fast to get somewhere
You miss half the fun of getting there.
When you worry and hurry through your day,
It is like an unopened gift….
Thrown away.

Life is not a race.
Do take it slower
Hear the music
Before the song is over.

Isn’t it amazing how kids can see the truth so much better than adults sometimes? And we all know how precious life becomes when there is little left of it.

It is a challenge to keep this in sight in the day-to-day slog. If we can, that slog disappears and we enjoy this amazing gift of life. Our trips to Italy enable us to slow down and to connect with life again. It certainly allows Kristi and me to do it – we are indeed lucky.

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In her book “Journey to the Heart” Melody Beattie says, “It isn’t the head that sees clearly . . . Often, it sees with eyes of fear. The heart sees clearly. It balances the mind and emotions. It takes what’s real and processes it into truth, then into action.”

One of the great joys of our trips to Italy is that they are journeys of the heart. Yes, the intellect is engaged, but you can not help but have your heart touched. Art is all around you, for Italians live artful lives. This translates into care and attention to detail that nourish you. All your senses are alive as they are stimulated by a place so much more full than what you are used to. Your heart is touched and with it your humanity. It is subtle, yet powerful, bringing you to life.

In this difficult time, with so much negative news, we need the heart to be engaged. It is a need we little recognize or embrace. Yet, in the meeting of the need we find how much it does for us.

Some see trips such as ours as an indulgence. I see it differently. It is an exercise in bringing sanity to life. We are assaulted constantly with a barrage of things that make life a trial. Yet it is not. When we look closely, when we turn off all the negative that is flying around, we find a place of beauty and serenity, a nourishing world. It  is a matter of turning to our hearts. We too often migrate to the head. As Beattie says, it is the heart that sees clearly. Join us in Italy to see and dispel the fear!

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Inspiration and creativity don’t emanate from the mind. I think I have intuitively known this for a very long time. The mind is indeed an amazing organ, capable of the most incredible things, but it is not where we create. We create, we gain inspiration when we aren’t thinking. Arthur Koestler in his book The Ghost in the Machine, reported in an inquiry of great minds including Einstein’s, that thinking only played a small role in their work.

My experience is that sudden inspiration or answers to vexing problems have come to me when I am not thinking about them. It simply materializes into my consciousness. The inspiration for learning trips to Italy wasn’t a long, thought out, analytical process. It just hit me out of the blue.

So what? you might ask. It matters to me because on our trips we believe we create an environment where creativity can blossom amongst all the inspiration  around you. It matters to me, and particularly Kristi who has devoted so much of her energy to helping people realize they have talent and creative juices, because so many of us go through life feeling we lack a creative skill or ability. Yet, it is the very unique nature of our own creative selves that each of brings to this planet. And if we don’t allow it out, it is lost forever. That is a shame and a waste.

Going with us to Italy puts people in an environment where their mind is not in overdrive. In fact, what people do on our trips is pay attention to the present moment – all the incredible sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings that are Italy. When you do that you stop thinking. And when you stop thinking you begin experiencing. Experiences touch you deep down in your heart and your soul. And that is where intuition, inspiration, and your creative spark reside.

This is why I love doing these trips. It inspires people. Italy inspires me. And it puts me and those who travel with us in touch with that quieter, yet most important aspect of ourselves.

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Giving Thanks


Chiara from LinguaSi

As we get ever closer to our May departure date for Italy, I marvel at the amazing good fortune and serendipity that brought us to Orvieto. And, I am thankful for all the people who made it possible and with whom we now work.

Serena and Pier Giorgio of the City

Serena and Pier Giorgio of the City

When I first conceived of using an Italian town as a tool to help planners understand the relationship between physical space, the uses in them, and the consequent great places for people, I was thinking about using Siena. But when I ran the idea past Janet Morris,  Aiken, SC downtown manager, who I knew had Italian connections, she suggested their sister city Orvieto. Turns out, it was a much better city for what I wanted to do.

Cristina and Signore Sciarra

Cristina and Signore Sciarra

Then, because of that sister city relationship, I met the mayor who was visiting Aiken, and received his support and help for my trips. George Custodi, long time chair of the Aiken group that developed the partnership, scouted out places to stay and led us to San Lodovico, the convent B&B we have been using ever since. He also put me in touch with LinguaSi, a language training business in Orvieto, that helped with logistics. Erika Bizzarri,

Erika Bizzarri

Erika Bizzarri

American expat, involved in the sister city relationship and good friend of San Lodovico’s Giovanna, has been a constant guide and help to us in Orvieto.



Now, in my seventh year of visiting, and after having spent nearly three months time in Orvieto, I count many, many people as friends. What is truly wonderful is that many of our friends are those we do business with. But it is an old fashioned kind of doing business. A handshake and your word is all that is needed. I know they will deliver. They are golden, absolutely the salt of the earth. Not only do they deliver, they do it in an exceptional way, always top quality, always wanting to be sure you are satisfied.

Our barista Stefano Scarponni

Our barista Stefano Scarponni

It is incredible the many people who have helped us develop Adventures in Italy. This is our livelihood, but it is much more. It is a connection to some very wonderful people who reaffirm the basic good that is the human condition. I simply can’t wait to see them all again!

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We were fortunate enough to see the news tonight and the story of Susan Boyle, who performed on Britains Got Talent. Susan is a Scott, unemployed, 47, wanting to be a singer. (This talent show was the one that inspired the American talent show with at least one of the same judges.)

In today’s cynical times this video is an inspiration. A woman largely discounted and ridiculed before she starts her performance puts everyone to silence. I have included a link to the video since they have requested it not be embedded. Click on the link as the YouTube video will not work. Then come back and see why I have linked to this video.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lp0IWv8QZY)

The reason for including this video here is this:

Every single one of us has talent. Many of us doubt it, have had it ridiculed even before we start as Susan Boyle experienced. This doubt and ridicule stops us in our tracks. Despite our desire, longing to express what is deep inside us, we are stopped by the potential “risk” – risk of being put down before we even start.

The great joy of what we do with our trips to Italy is that we employ some of the most talented, encouraging, supportive teachers on this planet. Any one will feel comfortable under their tutelage, encouraged to try, supported in what is done.

We all are creative. We all have abilities. We just need a little encouragement. Our creativity is drawn out on our trips. Honestly, Italy inspires our creative abilities. When we see the beauty of the place, when we experience how Italians infuse creativity into everything they do, when we see how important quality is to them we are inspired. Not only are we inspired, we are led to bring our own creative skills to the table.

This is why it is such a privelege for Kristi and me to lead these trips. We work with inspired people, we see inspired work, we live in an inspired place. How lucky are we?

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I was just sitting outside taking in the chirping of the crickets, the warm, night breeze, the faded glory of the azaleas in the faltering light, and had a revelation about our trips to Italy. What makes them special is that each of us is present in the moment while we are there. This is, in most cases, unusual.

Sitting outside tonight I was present – enjoying all this beautiful spring evening had to offer. Yet, I wasn’t completely there. I still had fleeting thoughts about other things – what I need to do tomorrow, chores left undone needing my attention, what to have for dinner, etc., etc.

And that’s when it hit me. When we are in Italy we are almost completely there. Partly it has to do with being in a very different environment. It happens on any vacation. But when you are someplace so very different, you pay attention all the time to what is going on around you. This is helped by the fact that we have no television where we stay. We may have our cellphones, but there is a 6 hour time difference. So making calls is a little less convenient, a little more challenging.

And, magically, as the week unfolds, being connected matters less and less. We become so enthralled with living life in the moment, enjoying all that there is to enjoy that we stop thinking about the past, the future, the problems of the world. We think about the joy of living that we are experiencing right then and there.

Then, the day before departure arrives, and it all changes. Suddenly our minds shift to how to pack what we have bought, what the time connection is for our travel, whether the hotel at our next destination has our reservation. The mind cranks in and we begin to be everywhere but where we are.

This, sadly, is the normal state of affairs in our lives, even on most vacations. What makes our trips to Italy special is that we are as present as we ever get in life. It is an absolute, complete, profound joy.

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It is terrible what has happened in L’Aquila and surrounding communities. Our hearts go out to them.

Fortunately, Orvieto was not affected by the quake. They felt a small tremor, but that was it. Orvieto is about 70 miles from L’Aquila and well to the west of the Apennine Mountains where the fault line runs.

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I read an interesting article that my good wife gave me. A woman who used to teach international business studied Toyota’s model of manufacture adopted after WWII. Previous to Toyota the way to manufacture was with “just-in-case” inventory – that is, having everything you could possibly need on hand just in case you were to need it. Toyota switched to a just-in-time model, ordering what they needed just before needing it rather than having it all on hand. It was, and is, a much more efficient, cost effective way to do business.

The author, Martha Beck, has since become a life coach and applies these models to life. Humans, by nature, by our survival instinct, tend to adopt the just-in-case approach in life. It is what you do for security in a world of scarcity. It is also what we are fed in a constant stream from advertisers – have enough just in case (and also to “be” enough). This ends up meaning we have way to much of everything including the stress of trying to have enough to cover the just-in-case scenario.

We have yet to truly embrace the fact that most of us live in a world of abundance and the just-in-case model is not only outdated, but it is making our lives more stressful than they need to be. Moving to a just-in-time model is really a leap of faith. It is not easy to do. Yet life becomes so much more satisfying if we can do it.

Enjoying Food!

Enjoying Food!

It is not easy for me to do, but I am trying, and I am doing better at it. It is one reason I love our trips to Italy so much. When we are in Italy we are immersed in life and living to its fullest. We feel the abundance from the simple fact that Italians love life and enjoy it. Food is a pleasure not a sin like it is for so many here in the U.S. They take an artful approach to everything about life. So every time we go to Italy our just-in-time efforts are reinforced, making it easier to return to the U.S. and keep that approach to life alive.

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