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Archive for January, 2011

To journey without being changed

is to be a nomad.

To change without journeying

is to be a chameleon.

To journey and be transformed

by the journey

is to be a pilgrim

Mark Nepo

This is one of the things that I love about our trips and the way we do them. Staying in one place for a week offers the chance to be transformed. This isn’t to say that you can not be transformed by scurrying from place to place. But the very act of unpacking your bags signals that this is a particular kind of travel.

Staying for a week in Orvieto allows you to have the time to process what you are seeing and experiencing. It allows you to slowly, imperceptibly fall back into the natural rhythms of life. It allows your subconscious to process the very different, comparing it to the familiar and known, so similarities and distinctions are made. And it is through all this that the ability to be transformed emerges.

The beauty of travel is that it offers contrasts that shine a light on how you perceive and live in the world now. It may simply affirm what you are doing and how you are doing it. Or, it may suggest an alternative path. Either way it is transformational.

Probably, for me, it is the slowing down that enables me to truly process things and to come upon transformation. For others this may not work. But for many, in our fast paced world, slowing down is what it takes to gain the perspective we need. And it is why I love our way of travel. I like being a pilgrim!

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I was doing some reading, which I will quote here shortly, that made me think of Orvieto, our trips there, and how it is really the simple pleasures that make it such an enjoyable time. The remarkable thing about Italy, particularly once you get past the stunning history, art and architecture, is that what we love most, savor the most deeply, revel in with greatest pleasure are very simple.

It is the bruschetta with just oil and salt on it, or a simple pizza with fresh

Simple, delicious food

arugula and tomatoes. It is the morning coffee taken with a friend before you each head your respective ways. It is sitting in a piazza watching people walk by. It is the bells peeling across the city. It is stopping in the street to greet an acquaintance. It is the warm golden setting sun on the worn, buttery stone.

The passage that got me thinking about this is by Mark Nepo, and reads, “The further I wake into this life, the more I realize that God is everywhere and the extraordinary is waiting beneath the skin of all that is ordinary. Light is in both the broken bottle and the diamond, and music is in both the flowing violin and the water dripping from the drainage pipe. . . . joy is in both the front row and the bleachers, if we are willing to be where we are.”

Sunset in Orvieto

Orvieto and Italy help you be where you are, be there. On our trips we disengage from the freneticness of home, suddenly allowing ourselves to touch the simple, perhaps even mundane, yet immensely enriching qualities of life. We relearn how abundant the world is and how pleasures are found in the absolute simplest thing. And the real joy is that we bring this home with us!

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I just read a poem with commentary that got me thinking about our trips to Italy and the roles we all play there – sometimes without realizing it. The role players include Kristi and me, our travelers, the people of Orvieto, and Orvieto itself. The poem and part of the commentary:

“A blind child

guided by his mother,

admires the cherry blossoms . . . ”  —Kikakou

“Kikadou’s little poem serves as an internal parable. . . . in the course of our lives, we take turns being the blind child, the loving guide, and the unsuspecting blossom – never knowing which we are called to be . . . .”  Mark Nepo

On the surface one would assume that Kristi and I are the guides, our travelers the blind children, and the cherry blossoms come in the form of Italy, Orvieto, the food, the wine, the medieval streets. But I think what makes our trips so much fun and so interesting for us is that we share in the roles. Yes we know Italy and are guides. But in many ways we are blind, and it is through the eyes of our travelers that we see Italy with new revelations and understandings, see anew the wonder and joy it produces.

Misty Mawn Italy workshop

Chef Lorenzo & Niki: guides and cherry blossoms both!

Our travelers are every bit as much the cherry blossoms as Italy. How we marvel at the beautiful artwork they produce under the guidance of our teachers. And how wonderful it is for us as we get to know each person over the course of the week and how invariably he or she is an unsuspecting cherry blossom in his or her own right.

Italy, Orvieto and its people are more than cherry blossoms. They aren’t just there, magnificent for us to experience, but serve as guides too. It is innate in the place and her people simply by how life is lived, how the place is celebrated in its history and form and architecture and culture.

The more I think about it, Kristi and I may be the catalyst that brings us all together, but we are as much the blind child as anyone. Our travelers and Italy serve the roles of guide and cherry blossom both. Wonderful!

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I recently read an interesting article about people who don’t use cell phones. These aren’t Luddites, they are people who have decided it is a question of them taking control of their lives. The article describes it as a “power move.” The list of folks includes billionaires Warren Buffet and Mikhail Prokhorov, PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley, and a general counsel at the Justice Department.

The article points out that not having a cell, means the world runs on your time – a novel concept today in our pressure filled existence. These folks use the computer and e-mail, they just don’t have a cell.

One person, a dean of arts and sciences, said, he loves going to Italy “where everyone talks to everyone all the time.” This fact, and the fact that most Americans don’t have their cell phones in Italy, serves as a real eye opener for those traveling with us. It is amazing for them to see the person-to-person exchange that goes on everywhere, all the time. I think this is one of the reasons Americans love Italy, though few would identify it as a reason. As humans we need face-to-face contact. We don’t get it much in the U.S. In Italy it is everywhere, and we respond with delight. It is a subtle pleasure, one of many subtle pleasures Italy affords.

Many arrive in Italy with concerns about being out of touch. A week of slowing down on our trips and no one wants to get back in touch! One of the great pleasures people take away from Italy is a connection to themselves enabled by the absence of cell phone, computer, e-mail.  In many ways it is a more lasting and memorable feature of an Italian sojourn than all the spectacular art and architecture.

I love this about it Italy – its subtlety. It doesn’t hit you over the head. It creeps into your blood. It is the most seductive of places.

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