Posts Tagged ‘Culture’

Crying While Laughing

I find it difficult to put into words why it is people love Italy so much. There are many reasons why, but there is something visceral that defies definition. I read recently this little bit from Mark Nepo:

I must tell you of an old man I know who came here from Italy. He’s spent his life working as a plumber. He is a good, sweet man, and when he laughs, which is often, he cries, no matter who’s around or whether or not anyone understands. He lives out loud.

“He lives out loud.” What a perfect description of one of the reasons people love Italy. Italians do live out loud. Meaning they live fully, robustly, no holds barred. You see it when they use hands and voice to talk animatedly. You see it in their passion for food and for wine that is selected to complement food. You see it when all ages walk arm-in-arm down the street talking intimately with each other, oblivious to everything around them.

We laugh out loud on our trips too!

We laugh out loud on our trips too!

We in the U.S. carry with us a good bit of that Puritan ethic that so many of our founding mothers and fathers brought over the sea with them. We are an outgoing people and it is one of the things other cultures find both enjoyable and annoying about us. The difference between Italians and us I think is that there is still a reserve in us, a caring about what others think of us, that “be good or else” upbringing we’ve had. These characteristics seems to be absent in Italians. They’ll cry while they laugh regardless of what people think. They live out loud. Great description. What a great way to be!


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Since I started bashing technology a few days ago, I may as well continue!

Swiss playwright, novelist and architect Max Frisch said, “Technology is the knack of so arranging the world that we don’t have to experience it.” Consider:

  • People walk through the public realm plugged in to their cell phones or i-pods completely oblivious to the world around them.
  • Television and “reality” computer games mean we live vicariously rather than a real life.
  • “Virtual” everything means not real.
  • We can watch movies without even leaving the house to be with others in a theater.
  • Cars, a technology after all, separate us from the world around us and particularly people.

We embrace technology blindly. There is no question it provides benefits, but we never consider its downsides. E-mail, for instance has added an hour to the work day. E-mail, voice mail, and easy connectivity anywhere has led to nearly half of us working on vacation up from less than a quarter ten years ago. It is no wonder a quarter of us are lonely and the number of close friends we have has declined by half since 1965.

One of the things I love about being in Italy on our trips is that it is at least a little harder to be plugged in. Yes your cell phone will work, but there is a six hour time difference. And yes there are Internet cafes but it is just a little more difficult to use. And no there are no televisions in our B&B.

Over the course of the week people begin to stop worrying about being connected. They immerse themselves in living – good food, spectacular scenery, amazing history and arhcitecture all around them, interacting face-to-face with people, seeing others interacting in the passeggiata (evening walk) and at restaurants, using the art course they are taking to touch life more intimately. It’s wonderful and rewarding. It’s life. What a concept!

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The May 2008 issue of Bon Appetit is the travel issue. In it Los Angeles chef Alex Palermo cooks up a meal in Orvieto using local ingredients. The food is served in a palazzo with great views of the cathedral. The menu includes white pizza with rosemary and sea salt, pasta with favas, peas with onions, and much more.

Fava beans and peas are two of the wonderfully fresh foods we get on our spring trips with Adventures in Italy. Also in season are artichokes which come in different sizes and colors. The restaurants, all of which cook seasonally, have wonderful dishes using these freshest of foods. We had fried artichokes in

Orvieto artichokes fresh from the market

Rome – think potato chips but so much better! We usually have a picnic or two, and using fresh ingredients from the market makes them such a delight.

Eating fresh food is one of the eye openers of our trips. It is a subtle yet important way we “relearn” what it is to live fully. We have forgotten what the freshest of food tastes like, how amazingly good it is, how flavor bursts in your mouth. We have out of season produce all year long in the U.S., but not until we taste fresh to we know the price we pay. You’ll never want to eat a “vine ripened” cardboard American tomato again!!

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We are not skydiving, swimming with sharks, extreme mountain biking. There are no adrenalin pumping, heart pounding activities. So where’s the adventure? It is a different kind of adventure – adventure in self discovery, in unleashing latent talents, in finding one’s potential, in aligning oneself with what’s at your core.

It begins sometime in your 40’s. The kids may not be gone, but you can see the time when they will be. You are still hip deep in work, but retirement is something you think about. The endless years stretching out before you in your youth are no longer endless, you perceive the horizon. Slowly, you begin to ask not “What is the meaning of life” but “What is the meaning of my life.” You look at your fingertips. Nobody before you has ever had those fingerprints, and not a soul in the future will have them either. “What am I doing” you ask.

Is there any bigger adventure in life?

It is hard to describe how Italy brings focus and clarity to the questions and longings we develop. It has something to do with the human scaled environment, one in which all of technology’s manifestations – cars and television and Internet and cell phones and MP3 players – melt away, leaving you with yourself and other people relating face-to-face. It has something to do with the fact that the buildings surrounding you go back over 1000 years giving you an anchor in an anchorless world. It has something to do with Italians being connected to their Etruscan roots, nearly 3000 years deep, and we’re connected to what – our ipods?

In such an environment you begin to discover yourself. The cacophony of the modern world fades away. You hear yourself, feel yourself, understand yourself.

Another element on our trips is the cadre of unbelievable teachers we have. Through the work you do with them you look more deeply, observe more closely, listen more astutely, perceive more accurately, reflect consciously.

It is an unbelievable experience. And it truly is an adventure. That’s why we call it Adventures in Italy.

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Arthur Brooks has written a book called Gross National Happiness which echoes what I have been saying for years in speeches – not because I am so smart, but because I have been following these trends for some time. Awareness of the trends, plus my own belief that there had to be more, are partly to blame for me quitting a “normal” job. Working for someone else and the insane hours demanded of people today makes it awfully hard to have the time to be happy. So now I’m on my own – well with Kristi. The statistics are interesting stuff.

  • Mexicans have average purchasing power about one third that of France. Yet 63% say they are very happy or completely happy as opposed to 35% in France.
  • A British think tank did a study of the happiness of 180 nations. Happiest was Vanuatu in the south Pacific. Highest industrialized nation was Italy at 37. The U.S. was 152.
  • People in the U.S. at all income levels say they would need 40% more income to be happy, even though we abandon 120,000 storage units full of all the stuff we buy monthly.
  • Houses are more than twice the size they were in 1950 despite the fact families are smaller – we’ve tripled the per person space in a house.
  • We have more cars than licensed drivers.

One of the reasons Kristi and I lead trips to Italy is because in one short week our folks get a taste of what happiness is. It is so powerful. Seeing people on the street interacting, everyone participating in the evening passeggiata – the community walk, the lively conversations over meals, the complete attention one pays to another all drive home that happiness comes from our social network of friends and family. (Of course, you have to have time to see each other!) Being a witness to this, participating in it, having the awareness heightened by the art related course that drives observation – simply wakes our folks up. They come home wanting to make change. We love our weeks opening people’s eyes and having them go home renewed and determined to live better.

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We lead Adventures in Italy trips because they inspire and renew. Italy, it seems, has had this effect for millennia. “Make haste slowly” was Caesar Augusta’s admonition 2000 years ago. It’s apt advice in our hectic world today. How did he know? Inspiration from Italy’s deep past!

Make Haste Slowly, the blog, is inspired by Italy and hopes to inspire a fuller, deeper, richer, slower, quieter, saner life amongst all the din and speed of our modern world. Too, it is a place to  keep up with Adventures in Italy journeys and developments.

Visit our web site to see our line up of trips and the fabulous teachers leading our trips. You can sign up for a newsletter, published 2-4 times a year on the site.

I am reading Dawna Markova’s “I Will Not Die an Unlived Life” at the moment. It will provide inspiration and grist for this blog at least for a while. With a name like that it should!

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