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Archive for June, 2009

Slow, slow, slow

It has been over two weeks since I have posted here. I actually have several draft posts, but they were written some time ago and they don’t resonate at the moment. So what’s this all about?

Well, just as there are cycles in nature, I think we humans go through cycles. There are times when the creative juices flow, the energy abounds, you are sharp. Then there are times when you just cruise along, everything going along fine, but there is no huge excitement – or angst for that matter. And then there are times when you just seem to be on hold, waiting for something to happen.

I seem to be in the latter part of the cycle. In part it has to do with the fact that we are trying to sell our house and it is slow, slow, slow. It’s not that people are looking and finding problems with the house. They aren’t looking. I truly feel this recession is on its way to ending. But the housing market, at least here, is lagging behind.

We really felt we would have moved by now, that we would be in Morganton, NC, starting on that chapter. I think being on hold for the move, more than anything, is what has put me in this quiet mode. It is not a bad thing. It is a time when you recharge, when things percolate, ferment. We need that, too, as humans. We need that quiet gestation period. We are still busy with Adventures in Italy. We had a conversation this morning with Nina Bagley who will be leading a wonderful workshop in the fall of 2010 about her class. And this afternoon we are talking with DJ Pettit who will be leading an equally compelling workshop in the spring of 2011. We are firming up the details of their trips. So we are at work.

But I’d say I am slow. It is why I haven’t posted here in a while. Who knows when it will end? I don’t, but as I sit here I already have some ideas needing expression. Maybe there’ll be a flood soon! Ciao.

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“We may live in a technical age, but our souls aren’t technical. They’re still connected to nature.” So writes Melody Beattie in Journey to the Heart. I concur.

I think one of the challenges we face today is that there is so much technical in our lives that we forget and lose touch with our souls. When people travel with us on our Adventures in Italy trips, they get in touch again with the soul. Why is that?

lodovicoviewThere are two reasons. One is intimate contact with nature. The other is intimate contact with things human, which is, after all, nature as well.

Orvieto sits on a plug of rock sticking 700 feet up above the valley floor around it. You are never far from the edge and a view out over the vineyards, farmland, and surrounding mountains. It’s hard not to be struck by the beauty of it all. It does put us back in touch with nature and its nurture. We are touched, deep down, in our souls.

Orvieto is a medieval city. During medieval times, building skills limited what could be built. The result is a very human scaled environment, one in which you simply feel comfortable. There is nothing technical about it. The street is made of pavers laid in an incredibly beautiful fan pattern. The building material is primarily tuffa – volcanic rock – that has a warm, buttery color. Doors and windows are all different sizes and shapes, so there is no engineered sameness. It makes for a very entertaining visual experience. The eye moves 100 times a minute and sees best in terms of edges. There are countless edges and numberless things to engage the eye. peopleonstreet

And so, you are lost in the interest, character, and ultimately, human nature of the place. It is so not technical. A week in Orvieto brings us back in touch with nature, human nature, and the soul.

I have recently concluded that a week with us is an investment in yourself. Each of us not only deserves it. In this technical world, we need it.

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Patience

I was thinking about phones and phone calls recently. I remember when we would wait to make long distance calls until the evening or weekend because it was cheaper. How that has changed. While there is much to be said for easy connectivity, I wonder if it is a net benefit. We used to have the patience to wait to make a call. Now, everything has to be right now, faster. It makes for a frenetic life.

Italians talk to each other!

Italians talk to each other!

Italians are farther down the road to managing technology than we. In the middle nineties I remember they always seemed to be on their cell phones. More people had them and used them than here. Today, most Italians have them, but they use them judiciously. People are not constantly plugged into their phones everywhere. You rarely see people in restaurants on their phones.

Not a scene much seen in Italy

Not a scene much seen in Italy

This may be because personal relationships are so important to Italians. They are truly present when you talk to them. It is very nice – no “continuous partial attention.”

I do think it is a matter of maturity – maturity in their having used the technology longer, resulting in a greater sophistication in its use. Our Adventures in Italy trips, I hope, provide a bit of exposure for us, and perhaps a recognition that Italians are farther down the road with phone use, and there is something to learn. Ever the optimist!

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Well, I wasn’t able to really post while we were in Orvieto since I was more content to be in the city. Here is a report written by my good wife Kristi appearing in our newsletter that just went out. You can sign up for the newsletter at our web site.

We had near perfect weather every single day which made for long, lingering picnics in the Convent courtyard and pleasant hours spent wandering the intriguing streets and alleyways of town, slurping a cold gelato or munching a hot piece of pizza bianco.

Enjoying our gelatos

Enjoying our gelatos

We love being able to share the week’s highlights with you. Always, yes every single trip, we are the lucky recipients of some powerful gem of wisdom. This year it came from Giovanna, the sister who is the heart of the Convent. In coming to love Orvieto, she said; “The tufa rock absorbs you.”

This is exactly what it feels like! Each of us arrives somewhat frazzled and bewildered to this hilltop town in Umbria. Then, slowly through wonderful experiences with earnest local artisans and experts, we find ourselves relaxing. Sharing an appreciation of fresh food, local wine, and the stunning landscapes, we feel ourselves literally melt into the tufa rock. By week’s end, we are connected to Orvieto, to the rhythms of daily Italian life, connected to ourselves. What a privilege it is to spend a week living and learning in Orvieto.

Dinner at a favorite restaurant

Dinner at a favorite restaurant

The Season

Spring was in full glory this May. Umbria has had one of the wettest winters in history making every hill and valley look its greenest. Fields were bursting with

Our B&B garden

Our B&B garden

winter wheat and spelt, just waiting for harvest. We enjoyed seeing new growth on tender grapevines during our visit to the stunning Palazzone Vineyard. Owner Giovanni showed us in detail the many steps necessary to prune and train each vine onto its support for optimum growth.

Spring mornings begin early with hundreds of swifts darting and playing in the clear blue skies. They seem to make a game of swooping as close as they can to windows and walls, superior acrobats that they are. They feast on insects morning and evening, meaning we are free to live with our bedroom windows open all through the night – no screens needed in Orvieto!

Blossoms we later cooked and ate in our cooking class

Blossoms we later cooked and ate in our cooking class

A trip to the weekly market offers a quick snapshot of what the season has to offer. Artichokes were plentiful in nearly every booth. We saw a range of sizes from huge globes to the daintiest small “babies”. A real treat this year was to find raw artichoke salad on the menu at several trattorias. Mixed with lemon and basil, it was fresh, tart and heavenly.

Asparagus was also in season. We ate it in so many variations throughout the week; as a pasta, as a soup, and combined with artichokes in the local umbricelli.

Asparagus and beans

Asparagus and beans

Deliciously decadent.

Peas, fava beans, chicory, endive and all manner of lettuces filled the raucous market stalls. It was no trouble to assemble tasty picnic fixings from the vast array of local produce. No matter what the season, we dine divinely while in Orvieto!

The Scents

May fills Orvieto with delightful scents of mock orange, fading wisteria, handsome iris, locust trees blooming on every hillside, and jasmine buds just beginning to open. Roses seem to grow everywhere; in courtyards, in vineyards at the beginning of each row of grapes, and in countless pots

Flower vendor at the market

Flower vendor at the market

throughout town. As we sadly announced we were leaving Orvieto to our friend and restaurateur Christian, he said, “But how can you leave when May is the month of the sweetest scents?” Spoken so beautifully by our macho-man friend.

The Surprises

We’ve come to expect amazing surprises when we visit Orvieto, things we couldn’t imagine planning pop up to delight our groups. Two stand out for us.

The first was an invitation to join the Convent and its nursery school children in celebrating the birthday of their patron saint, St. Giovanna. We adored seeing the tiniest of children march in an orderly procession, singing and holding hands. Later, we joined their families for a lavish pot luck luncheon where we sampled delicacies straight from kitchens in Orvieto! Being able to share a special occasion like this with neighbors adds such authenticity to our stay.

Lacemaker's work

Lacemaker's work

The second surprise was a fascinating afternoon shared with three women who meet weekly at the Convent for a class on traditional lace making. There is a long and rich heritage of this exacting art form in Orvieto. We felt so lucky to be able to view the painstaking work of these dedicated students. Through a little Italian and broken English, we were able to share our excitement and have our many questions answered. Such surprises that become priceless memories.

One Participant’s Perspective this year

“We learned so much by being in Orvieto. The time with you was educational, exciting and fun. The sisters at the convent overflowed with wit, love and service. The convent was so bright and airy. So many charming scenes to pass through our heads. The children parading to the chapel is one of the best. Seeing the lace is another. The lunches in the courtyard, still another. Your relationships with the people in Orvieto is to be envied.”

Asparagus was also in season. We ate it in so many variations throughout the week; as a pasta, as a soup, and combined with artichokes in the local umbricelli. Deliciously decadent.

Peas, fava beans, chicory, endive and all manner of lettuces filled the raucous market stalls. It was no trouble to assemble tasty picnic fixings from the vast array of local produce. No matter what the season, we dine divinely while in Orvieto!

The Scents

May fills Orvieto with delightful scents of mock orange, fading wisteria, handsome iris, locust trees blooming on every hillside, and jasmine buds just beginning to open. Roses seem to grow everywhere; in courtyards, in vineyards at the beginning of each row of grapes, and in countless pots throughout town. As we sadly announced we were leaving Orvieto to our friend and restaurateur Christian, he said, “But how can you leave when May is the month of the sweetest scents?” Spoken so beautifully by our macho-man friend.

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Simple, delicious food

Simple, delicious food

One of our participants from a recently concluded trip to Orvieto in May said upon her return it was hard to explain to people what our trip was like because it is so different, so not like a tour group.  While an inability to explain the difference makes selling our trips harder, I took her assessment as a very real positive.

We aren’t just any old travel company. We bring our individual passions and experiences to each trip. The result is something that is hard to put your finger on, hard to quantify, hard to express in a sentence or two, hard to convey when everyone has an image of what travel with a travel company is like.

Making friends with the natives

Making friends with the natives

I think it is fair to say that what we care about infuses and imbues our trips with an exceptional quality and character, making them more rewarding than you can imagine.

I bring a cross cultural history to the table. Born in Iran, having lived some of my formative years in Afghanistan, in a cross cultural family that had culture as its business, I care about connecting with other cultures. I am interested in understanding, appreciating, getting to know, connecting, building relationships in and with other cultures. As a result we connect and people on

Intersting, supportive environment

Interesting, supportive environment

our trips connect to Italy, Italians, and the folks in Orvieto in a deeper, more satisfying way than they would normally, certainly than with most other travel companies.

The second thing I care about is our man made environment and how it supports human activity and interaction. This is what I did before starting Adventures in Italy. In fact, my first trips to Orvieto were to show how its physical environment is good for us as people. While this is not what our trips are about (except a few where this is what the instructor is focused on), it is evident in the character of the trip.  Our people are exposed to the very human environment that Orvieto is. It is warm, supportive, alive, fun, energizing, enthralling, enticing. We aren’t

True friendships develop

True friendships develop

running through the streets bagging sites and oblivious to the special environment surrounding us. We are very much in tune with it. This makes the trips uniquely satisfying in a way that is hard to characterize and put your finger on. It just feels good.

Kristi has been a teacher for 30 years and brings her skills at helping people learn to our trips. Additionally, and strikingly, she believes we all have creative abilities, and deny our lives such richness by not trusting ourselves and our talents. As a result, our trips are nurturing of everyone, lifting them up, supporting their talents and abilities. They are reaffirming because this is what

Supporting and nurturing our talents

Supporting and nurturing our talents

Kristi cares about and injects into the week’s activities and attitude.

Travel with us is different. It isn’t for everyone. But for those wanting a deeper, more intimate Italian experience, those wanting to develop a talent or interest, those wanting to enjoy a nurturing, stimulating environment, our trips are for you.

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