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Archive for the ‘Living Slow’ Category

We’ve just finished our last art/culture trip. We’ve sold the business after 15 years. The last 13 of the 15 we married a variety of art courses to the inspiration of Italian life. It has been transformative.

When we began we knew only that the way Italians lived and the intimacy and beauty of Orvieto’s streets, piazzas and buildings touched a cord in us. Over time we discovered that this pairing of art and place reconnected people to their souls. It has been beautiful. Humbling. Evocative. Renewing. Affirming. Yes, transformative.

Changing times and particularly the way technology erodes the ability to be in the moment have had an impact. But even through this very last trip art, Orvieto, and staying in one place absorbing for a week resulted in many people recounting to us how life changing the experience was.

It is a struggle for people to stay connected to their souls, to that inner compass always there to guide us, to stay true to who we individually are. What we have been so privileged to witness is how a week here with us in Orvieto reconnects people to themselves. We have received countless letters, postcards and emails telling us how the trip was a blessing, a milestone, a life changer. It’s not us. It’s this place and way of fulling engaging life, interpreted through a creative medium, that opens eyes to truly see.

Orvieto as seen from Palazzone vineyard

It touched Kristi and me early. Four years in we returned to the U.S. and knew we had to make a change. After four years of biannual visits where we were deeply connected to people and life we could no longer live an anonymous, American suburban life. We began the search. Two years later our house went on the market and we moved to to a connected, soulful, rich life in a small town.

We are lucky. The people who traveled with us are lucky. We’ve all found – or more accurately – uncovered our soul – for it has always been there waiting patiently. For this we have Orvieto, her people, her way of life, and the creative pursuits that helped see it better to thank. There is no way to adequately say thank you. The many soulful lives growing out of the experiences here however, bear testimony to what a great gift this place has given.

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Pico Iyer had this to say about travel:

You’re not traveling to move but to be moved.

I’m sure this is not true for everyone, and it is but one reason to travel. But, it is an important reason. One of the great beauties of travel is that it does open your eyes: To new ways, new approaches, new beliefs, new concepts, new understandings. And these things move you.

Orvieto's mid-level walk

Orvieto’s mid-level walk

Being moved is more difficult if you are constantly moving as you travel. If you do not have time to absorb and take in a place. If you don’t allow yourself time to reflect, to simply gaze, to be unhurried. This is why I am such a fan of slow travel, and why it is how we do our trips.

We have been going to Orvieto for 15 years, twice a year, for 3-8 weeks at a time. There hasn’t been a trip where I didn’t discover something new, see something I hadn’t seen before, had a revelation of some kind. Where I didn’t have some kind of aha moment. Truly, it has been a privilege.

Early morning in Orvieto

Early morning in Orvieto

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I walk seven to ten miles a day here in Orvieto. I love it. There is a richness to life that happens when you move at the pace of a human. You are in tune with everything around you. You see more. You observe more. You hear more of all the life going on.

It helps that it is a pedestrian friendly environment. Also helpful is the fact that everything you need is right here, so accessible. The city is full of little stores. There are grocery stores – much, much smaller than in the U.S. but they have all you need. Still, it is more fun to go to the various vendors for food. One place for your veggies and fruit, another for your cheese, one for bread, yet another for meat, and one for dessert. 

At these smaller stores you develop a warm relationship with the owners. They learn your preferences, help you find what you prefer or even hold it for you. This is part of the richness, the personal relationships you develop.

On the streets you begin to recognize people and exchange greetings. it is just so personal!

Italy is a sensory place. Being on foot enables us to appreciate and savor all those sensory experiences even more.

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Orvieto is a city with incredible mosaics. The cathedral is particularly stunning and visible to all. But there are others, less visible, like the mosaics under St. Andrea church dating to the Byzantine period, and sitting on top of Roman and Etruscan ruins which are clearly visible. So we were excited to have Pam Goode back a second time to lead a mosaic workshop. She called it Postcards Home because she had her students do a postcard size piece.

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Mosaics are slow. That is one reason it appeals to Pam. And I love the notion in our fast paced world – an art form that requires you to think and be patient and go slow. And so the students started their piece but will finish them at home.

We learned a lot from Pam. She doesn’t like to use grout. Her work is meticulous, the pieces fitting incredibly tightly together – look in the image above. She is also a poet. At our closing she read a stunning piece she composed during the week about why she loves Orvieto and travel and what she will miss. I was in tears because it so beautifully captures what this wonderful town and the gorgeous people we know here do for us and give us. She is working on the poem to get it just right. But when it is done she will send it to us and I’ll post it here. I think it perfectly describes the incredible experience people get on our trips.

Pam is a beautiful soul and you can read a wonderful interview with her here: http://www.lunamosaics.com/pamela-goode.html Visit her website here.

So, pics of the group and it’s work.

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Thank you Pam, Susan, Sharon and Mary. What a wonderful week you gave us!

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We took a day trip to Gallipoli today, a fortress town on the Ionian Sea. As we boarded the train in Lecce, the originating town, and at the first two stops in Lecce numerous Africans boarded carrying large bags or packs. At the ensuing 8 or so stops along the way to Gallipoli, several would get off the train. Clearly, they were getting off at the various towns to sell their wares.

On the way to the train station we walked by the Italian immigration office where dozens of Africans and Middle Easterners were lined up and gathered. Here we saw first hand what we have read about in the U.S. of the thousands of immigrants fleeing desperate situations at home.

It reminds me once again of the value of travel. It helps us see how incredibly fortunate we are amongst all the people on this planet. It also let me see how the Africans on the train were a community, greeting each other and talking the entire time they were on the train. Too, they were not unhappy as best I could tell.

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Countryside is full of stones, stone walls and olive trees

The second revelation of the day is what the difference is to visit a place and to BE in a place. I am not a good tourist. I don’t like going to visit a place, to see the sights and sites. It is too fast, too shallow, even when seeing incredible things. I want to BE there, to know a place, to feel it, to experience it, to live it. And I just can’t do that in a day. It is why our Adventure in Italy trips consist of staying in Orvieto for a week. People traveling with us are there fully, and for me it makes all the difference in the world.

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Though a tourist destination Gallipoli is very much a working town, a fishing town.

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And it has the feel of the Mediterranean coast town it is.

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The Duomo is Baroque on the outside but dominated by paintings inside. It had lots of layers and contrasts to attract my eye.

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Happy to be back in Lecce which, having been here for four days now, we are getting to know!!

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I’ve got more Baroque googaa to show but wanted to plug this beautiful apartment we are staying in. Immaculately clean, nicely appointed, wonderful patio, great location, very reasonably priced. 1.5 baths, bedroom, loft bed, couch bed.
http://www.vrbo.com/1670149ha?

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Great kitchen with two sets of dishes, trays for taking your food to the patio, excellent stove, dishwasher.

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Lecce has many interiors with this kind of ceiling. Some are exposed stone, which is a beautiful color.

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Kristi in the doorway of the patio at night.

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The street lamp below the balcony at the end of the patio with the wonderful little crown.

As I write crickets are chirping and town is starting to come awake here on the patio. Sweet!!

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Being Where We Are

Kristi and I are just back from a fabulous trip to southern Italy – our first foray south of Rome. I’ll be posting a bit about the couple of amazing places we saw, but I read something this morning that brought to mind travel and how we are when we travel.

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.

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 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 the past 10 days which we spent in Italy. It is what we see in the people who travel with us on our Adventures in Italy trips. However for them and for us on this trip, things change when we get near the end of our travel. Because at that point we are beginning to be both where we are and where we are going next. This is natural. For Kristi and me, it is a bit sad to see as our new friends of a week, begin to look away to what’s next.

And I was aware of it in myself as we began to look to returning home two days ago from Italy. I was still engaged, but there was a part of me plotting the travel that was to come. I think what Nepo’s words perhaps allow us to do is to be more consciously aware that we are splitting our attention, and to grasp the last little bits of being able to be fully present.

Here are a couple of pictures of where we just traveled and which I will cover over the next little while.

Adventures in Italy

Trulli Houses

Matera Houses

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We just got back yesterday from two weeks in England – 9 days in Oxford where Kristi was teachingand five days in Wales. We’d not been to Wales and it was simply glorious.

 

Bodnant Garden setting

Most of our travel is to Italy and for Adventures In Italy. We go with a different outlook and mindset, since we are hosting others. In Wales, we took on the role of those who travel with us – people looking to experience a new place and its people and ways. Two incidents struck us on this trip about slow travel.

Bodnant's House - not open to the public

We stayed in Conwy, Wales, an absolutely captivating medieval fortress town with its nearly 1-mile long medieval wall, still intact along with its impressive fort built in about 1180 by Edward I. We stayed at the Town House B & Bwhere Alan and Elaine were magnificent hosts. One morning at breakfast a new group

There are a pond, waterfalls, stream and more at Bodnant

appeared having arrived the day before and who we had not met. What struck us was that when asked where they had been the day before, they couldn’t remember. Theirs is a typical journey of taking in as much as possible to the point of amnesia. Our first time to reflect on slow travel – or not!

The Pin Mill in the background

The second incident, lest you think we are immune, involved our visit to Bodnant Garden. (All the pictures here are from the garden.) These are a beautiful combination of wild and sculpted, cultivated garden set in the country with an impressive house and views to Snowdonia Park. We had taken the bus to get there and enjoyed a very pleasant several hours and lunch. But, truth be told, we had it in our minds that we also wanted to visit the town of Lladudno that day, a Victorian resort town in the opposite direction from the way we had come to Bodnant. We wanted to cram a little more in. As a result, we hurried through the gardens in a way that precluded truly savoring, experiencing and enjoying. They truly were spectacular. And we only gave ourselves the smallest taste.

Architecture and nature combined

I suppose the loss was compounded by the fact that Lladudno was, for us, a serious disappointment. We instinctively did not stay there, though it is the more popular destination in the area. We’re glad we didn’t for we found little to recommend it with its hordes of people, chain stores, and tacky tourist attractions – yes I judge!

Reflection and missed chance for reflection

Perhaps if we had fallen in love with Lladudno we would feel differently. But we know we missed something special by trying to cram too much in. Travel is a delicate balance. Time and again Kristi and I learn that the best travel is that in which you don’t rush and you savor every moment rather than looking forward to the next.

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One of the beautiful consequences of traveling with us to Orvieto is slowing down. I know, from the e-mails we are exchanging with many of the people signed up for our spring trips in May, that the crazed pace of life continues for most. What is wonderful to observe during the course of the week we are together in Orvieto is:  the slow lowering of tense shoulders, the slow melting into the more relaxed pace of Italy, the increasingly spry step. It is marvelous.

A quiet, slow moment

I read a piece recently that tells of the transformational experience such a trip can be. In this piece, the author, Catherine Foster, returned home from a trip with deep impact wondering if she would be truly changed. At first it seemed no, as she returned to the normal,  frenzied pace. But a seed had been planted, and now, she leads a dramatically different and less hectic paced life then she did before the trip.

Orvieto had a similar effect on Kristi and me. We returned from one trip recognizing we could no longer live in the soulless place we call suburbia. Ultimately, it led us to search for a community with character and soul, and to move to Morganton, NC. We’ve been here a year and can’t imagine why it took us so long to take this step.

I think, for those who travel with us, it is a combination of being out of their element in an environment similar yet dissimilar, and the deep exposure we give them to a beautiful way of life that plants the seed. People have returned and made changes – some quite modest, some more profound. But I think in every case, a place deep down has been touched. Whether it manifests itself in something visible or not, I believe it creates a shift in outlook and approach. It is the magic of the slow in Italy.

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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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