Archive for June, 2011

I have read two things recently that have me thinking about what it is that makes Italy so compelling.

The first was an article in a Sydney, Australia newspaper brought to me by my daughter, who is visiting from her nursing studies there. The author, Mia Freedman, said that we no longer get bored because we always have a cell phone, iPad, computer or other electronic device that we can use anywhere, anytime. She interviewed Genevieve Bell, director of interaction and experience research at Intel. Bell said she has concerns about always being connected because she believes we need to be bored, that it is a way to create “space for creative thought.” Though technology is Bell’s business, she worries “we won’t do enough thinking and we don’t get to spend enough time reflecting.” Her advice is to periodically turn off your devices.

Sunset in Orvieto

The second bit I read was Mark Nepo, who I have referenced here before. “Living in modern times has turned us into watchers, placing a sliver of distance between us and everything we meet.” Isn’t that what our electronic devices do? He goes on to say about listening to our deeper selves, ” . . . we each must be nourished from what lives below, if we are to survive.”

And this is why I love Italy so much: It is so compelling you put down your

Cooking Together on an Adventures In Italy trip

devices, revel in living, and have time to hear and be nourished from what lives below. It is such a welcome change from always being connected.

I believe, in this day and age of constant electronic connection, this more human connection is something we are all longing for. We may not know it because the second we get bored we connect electronically. So we never give ourselves time to reflect. In Italy we do. It is lovely.


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Sometimes life is just too wonderful. We’ve had somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 people join us on our small group trips. They have all been great, and many of them have just been so gifted in their creative abilities. This doesn’t even include our teachers with their awesome skills.

We have just heard from one of those creative talents who traveled with us in

The vineyard in Sicily

May of 2010, taking a class from Jane LaFazio.  It turns out that Denise was not only developing her creative skills, but some strong connections to the viticulture of Italy. She had said about Palazzone, the fantastic vineyard we visit outside of Orvieto, ” Of all the wine tours I have been on in California this afternoon surpassed them all. The ambiance of the winery and the countryside simply begs you to return.”

Those words must have sprinkled themselves across the land, for Denise’s “return” came in an unexpected way.  She recently let us know that a vineyard

Label with Denise's artwork

in Sicily had asked to use one of her watercolor sketches on its label! An Italian graphic designer had seen Denise’s sketch on Flickr and asked if she could use it for a client’s private wine label. The best part is Denise is being paid in wine! For those of you who have traveled to Orvieto and seen the stunning San Brizio chapel in the cathedral, you know that its painter, Luca Signorelli was paid partly in wine. So Denise is carrying on that Orvieto tradition, here in the 21st century! It really is fabulous.

You never know. Let the spirit of Orvieto touch you, and look what kind of magic could appear in your path!

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I am late getting to the final group that was with us this spring. The blog software was agonizingly slow in Orvieto so I gave up doing it there. So here I am.

Sue Spargo led ladies from Australia, Ireland, Holland (living in France) and the U. S. in a delightful week of embellishing fabric. What I absolutely loved is how completely different each piece was, and how every single person captured bits and pieces of Orvieto in their work. The other thing I love about these workshops is that the work produced reveals things about Italy and Orvieto I haven’t seen. Everyone sees different things, and to suddenly see what you have been looking at, but not seeing for these past 9 years, is always fun.

So let me give you just a bit of a taste of the week and then show you what Sue’s students produced. Before the workshop started Sue had laid things out in the classroom – color and texture hinting at what was to come.

Some of Sue's work

In the classroom

Learning a little about wine

We cooked an amazing meal with Simona

A visit to Palazzone Vineyard

Final multi course dinner at Zeppelin

And now for the beautiful work of the week.

What an amazing collection. Truly beautiful work! While some of the images you see displayed are obviously traceable to Orvieto and Italy, many are not unless you have been there. This is the beauty of what comes out of the workshops: true mementos of this idyllic city and experience. Sue is returning in 2012 on May 13-19 to lead another workshop, and her trip is already nearly full.  We are also working with her to identify dates for fall of 2013. So stay tuned to our web site.

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There is something about Italy that gets into your system, your psyche, your soul. Giovanna, at our B&B says, “The tufa absorbs you,” tufa being the porous volcanic rock on which Orvieto sits. I agree. Slowly, imperceptibly, gently, deliciously one becomes a part of the place. There are few people who escape, who are not touched by the magic of Orvieto.

Learning Vacations

Living life on the streets

It is hard to explain, hard to convey the feeling. But I will try. We are just back, and as always, I am changed. The bottom line feeling of being absorbed by the tufa is that all is right with the world. Why? I think because Italy impels you to live life, to live it fully with passion and joy and gusto. It does this by engaging all your senses:

  • The place is an absolute feast for the eyes in landscape and architecture and detail and most things man made.
  • The food and wine are exquisitely simple and satisfying.
  • The smells of jasmine and mock orange and tea olive and magnolia are sensual.
  • The touch of linen on the table, cobblestones under your feet, soft air all subtly reach your mind
  • The bells peeling and multitude of other sounds in the absence of cars – footsteps, conversations, restaurant china clanking, children laughing

These all work on you because they are all a part of life so often obscured at home.

Simple food - immense pleasure

In fact, the difference I think, is that our senses are assaulted at home rather than being caressed and engaged. We have to defend ourselves here in the U.S.  by switching off the blaring TV, getting away from the din of the automobile and the ugliness of our car-dominated cities, altering the speed at which we live. But, it takes a conscious effort, and it is easy to be submerged by the din of it all.

Being in Italy, in Orvieto, is a reminder of what it is to be alive. Kristi and I always return home determined to capture it better. In truth, we do a pretty good job. And there is much to love about our home, our town, our chosen way of life – all influenced by having been absorbed by the tufa. Sure, Italy has its share of “bruta”. The difference is that there is still a priority to attending to the things that truly give us humans a sense of what it is to be alive. Where we tend here in the U.S. to assault with bright and loud and in-your-face, Italy nurtures. Perhaps it is her ancient cities, the layers of time that they have chosen to preserve and honor, where we have always pushed forward rarely looking toward the past.

Whatever it is, it touches you deep down. We hear it over and over from those who travel with us. And Kristi and I feel it every time. It is beautiful.

Visual delights

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