Archive for March, 2013

The deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie is quoted by Mark Nepo in Seven Thousand Ways to Listen as saying that she feels the vibrations since she can’t hear, saying they are the same thing. She points out that in Italian the word sentire means to hear and to feel. In fact it also means to smell. So it encompasses many of the senses, and in my understanding of the word does really mean all the senses.

This is a characteristic of Italy I’ve often tried to capture in words and have always been inadequate in doing so. How perfectly Italian to have one word that expresses it all, though we have no equivalent word in English. I have only slowly come to understand sentire. Mostly it has been Suor Giovanna at our convent B&B, who has used this word and has slowly woken me to the multiple meanings of the word, to the all encompassing nature of the word.

Orvieto Sunset - Afterglow

Orvieto Sunset – Afterglow

To truly experience the world we engage all the senses at once, what Nepo calls the one living sense. I think this is what happens to us and to those who travel with us to Italy. You can’t help but have all your senses engaged. It is partly an outgrowth of going slow, staying in one place for a week so you slow down, absorb the rhythms, let each and every sense become aroused. And partly this is Italy and Italians and how they live.

Nepo goes on to say, “Joy is a barometer that lets us now that everything is well tuned.” I love that. I think most of us in Italy do experience joy. I’d say that those who travel with us find joy. But I never moved beyond that to say everything is well tuned. Well, it is, and I think it is because we are hearing fully with all our senses.


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Going Slow

I have another blog which is tied to my photography web site. Though I am still figuring all this out, I am thinking it will be where I do most of my contemplative writing not related to travel. We’ll see.

Anyway, I have just posted there on going slow. You can read it at


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I recently read something that brought to mind travel and how we are when we travel. This was amplified by two trips we’ve just enjoyed – one to Australia and one to Colorado.

Here’s what I read from Mark Nepo:

The moment we stray from where we are, we create a tension between two places – where we are and where we are thinking of being. It is this tension that blocks us from the sensation of being fully alive.

Having time to absorb a place

Having time to absorb a place: coffee and writing in Sydney

One of the things I love about travel, particularly to an unfamiliar place, is that we tend to be fully present. The new and different engage our every sense and we pay attention in a way we don’t when we think we know everything about all that is around us. Because all the senses are engaged it does feel very much alive, and intense, and rich.

This was our experience in our two recent trips. We were fully there and it was such a pleasure. We observe this same presence and pleasure in the people who travel with us on our Adventures in Italy trips. Interestingly, for them and for us, things change when we get near the end of the trip. At that point we are beginning to be both where we are and where we are going next. While natural, it is, for us, a bit sad to see as our new friends of a week, begin to look away to what’s next.

A beautiful pattern from downtown Sydney

A beautiful pattern from downtown Sydney

I think this dynamic is one reason to opt for longer trips, rather than the shorter, long weekend trips that seem to be increasingly the norm. The longer your trip the longer you are more fully present, the longer you are more fully alive, and the more deeply you are able to experience and enjoy where you are. If you are having to think about your return shortly after you arrive, you don’t really get to experience a place. Longer trips lead to being truly there. In today’s world this is a true gift.

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