Mindfulness in Tuscany

I have discovered the best place to practice mindfulness is on holiday. In Italy.

gina il pozzo .jpg

But not just any part,

I find Italy’s cuore, or heart, is best.

I’m surrounded by the uplifting, yet relaxing, redolence of lavender as a cool, gentle breeze soothes the heat from the blazing sun in the blue halcyon sky. I am lounging on a recliner by a swimming pool. Spanning out beyond the pool is the expanse of sage-colored olive groves, deep green shaggy pencils of cypress and the rolling hills that define rural Tuscany. I am completely at peace.

I am not worrying about the future nor reflecting upon the past. I am most contentedly and deeply breathing in – the now.

Last week my young daughter and I stayed at Il Pozzo a traditional and cozy agriturismo, a working farm that welcomes guests from the world over into its charmingly remodeled 500-year-old stables turned self-catering cottages run by my dear friend, the incomparable Carla Veneri.  A gracious host to all, she, after the four years I have known her, has become like a sister to me.

Il Pozzo is named for the ancient well that was found on the property when the Veneri family purchased the property more than a decade ago. It’s set in the village of Capolona, just a quick 10-minute drive from the larger Tuscan town of Arezzo where I lived for three years.

In spite of living so close for so long, and visiting several times for a dinner or an olive harvest, I had never really stayed at Il Pozzo. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s a world of difference between staying in a bustling Tuscan town to the tranquillity of the Tuscan countryside.

In Arezzo, the town’s historic center or centro storico is teeming with people during the fresh hours of a summer’s evening. Le Belle Figure, or beautiful people spill out of the cafes and bars into the piazze or public squares, laughing and talking until well after midnight.

At Il Pozzo, we also laughed and talked until late with the other guests as we devoured home-made dinners of tagliatelle, crostini, salami, roasted meats, garden-grown vegetables – including incredible fried zucchini flowers, scrumptious desserts and plenty of locally-produced wines. But instead of Arezzo’s town-square’s bright lights, we were enveloped by a twinkly, star-filled raven sky. Only the soft padding of our sandals and one of Il Pozzo’s resident cats quietly accompanied us as we trundled down the lavender and rose-lined paths toward our rooms.

Il Pozzo cooks all the incredible dishes. They also bake a heart-shaped cake as big as their own that greets each guest when they check in. On Friday’s there’s a special treat: Carla helps the children make pizzas from scratch. From flour, yeast and warm water to the wood-fired oven, a variety of pies emerge as uniquely flavoured and sometimes lopsided as the half-sized chefs who create them.

Depending on what time of year you choose to stay, you can take a cooking class, play bocce, or help harvest olives and partake of Tuscany’s famed olio nuovo – a must for any foodie’s bucket list (and which I describe in this previous essay).

Throughout my stay, I took plenty of time to look around and look within.

My tablet wasn’t with me. My phone was not turned on to respond to texts or What’s App or emails or whatever. I only turned it on to take and post the occasional envy-inducing photo. (I’m a human in the 21st century after all!)

As the father of the Swedish family who was staying for the first time as we were there said, “I’ve forgotten there is any business or other world outside of Il Pozzo. We feel as comfortable here as if we were with family – who we really like!”

Take a break from the rat-race and get off the beaten path to Tuscany and Il Pozzo. Tell Carla, Gina sent you.

A heart-shaped cake will be waiting for you.

Baci, Gina

Copyright 2016 Gina London. All Rights Reserved. 



You CAN Go Back.

After a year of living in Ireland, we have returned to our beloved former home of Arezzo, Italy.

Bentornati ad Arezzo!
Bentornati ad Arezzo!

Don’t get me wrong, we are LOVING life in Ireland.  The people and adventures there are more than terrific.  But we longed to walk the cobbled streets of Arezzo’s medieval “Centro Storico” again.

In the historic center of Arezzo
A piazzetta in the historic center of Arezzo.

How would it feel to be back for just a two-week vacation? The town and its wonderful residents would have spent a full year working, playing, dining and simply going on. Without us.

Lulu and Vincent and La Chiesa di San Domenico.
Lulu and Vincent and La Chiesa di San Domenico.

So, with fingers crossed, we called out to our former neighbors, schoolmates and pals. Would they make a little time for us? —- Guess what!?

We went to this marvelous
We went to this marvelous “Cena di Colcitrone” dinner with our old friends in Arezzo! Evviva!
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Lulu together again with her girl friends from her former primary school in Arezzo, Aliotti.
Eating “pici con cinghiale’ at one of our favorite restaurants – where they remembered us and gave us our “usual” table!
It tasted as good as I had remembered. Che buona!
It tasted as good as I had remembered. Che buona!

Lulu has gone to camp with a former buddy. She has played with her old girlfriends. We have had our nails done at our former salon. We have visited with Lulu’s Italian “nonno” Mario. We attended a great big feast in our old “quartiere.”  In short, we are happily being reunited with our favorite people and places!

Yes, life does go on.  Some shops have closed while a couple new ones have opened their doors.  Kids have grown taller. One dear friend, sadly, has passed away.  Yes, the seasons continue to change and the rain does fall – even on our Tuscan retreat.

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But no matter if you change towns, jobs or in our case, countries, you can and should stay in contact with your former friends and colleagues as best you can.

Lulu and Arezzo's Duomo bell tower in the background.
Lulu and Arezzo’s Duomo bell tower in the background.
Reunited with my dear friend Carla Veneri.
Reunited with my dear friend Carla Veneri.

Social media is terrific for doing just that.

In fact, last summer, I went to Ghana through the US State Department to train the country’s 60 spokespeople.  My co-trainer was Jeff Eller, a wonderful inspiration to me when I was fresh from college and worked under him at the Democratic Party in Washington, DC – some, er, twenty years ago.  We were friends on Facebook. And there we were together again last August in Accra!

Jeff and I together again in Accra last August.
Jeff and I together again in Accra last August.

So, keep in touch.  You never know what fun you’ll have in the future.

Looking forward to our next adventure...
Looking forward to our next adventure…

As the saying goes: Make new friends, but keep the old.

Baci, Gina

Copyright 2015 Gina London. All Rights Reserved. 

Arrivederci, Arezzo!

It doesn’t seem like nearly three years ago, when I, my husband Scotty Walsh, and our then-three-year old daughter, Lulu,stepped off the train for the first time in Arezzo.  Sometimes it seems like only yesterday – when I discover something new in Centro  Storico I never noticed before.  And sometimes it seems like a lifetime ago  – as so many places have become more than familiar and so many warm-hearted Aretini have become dear friends.

From Italy to Ireland.
From Italy to Ireland.

Piazza Grande, for example, is not only where we have watched the Giostra del Saracino four times sitting in the stands – once as guests of Mayor Giuseppe Fanfani himself. It is also where Lulu plays, where we sip coffee, enjoy aperitivi, where we climb up to the top of the Fraternita dei Laici bell-tower to enjoy the view, and it is what we admire every day as I walk Lulu from our house on Via Fra Le Torri to her elementary school, Aliotti.

Piazza San Francesco is not only famous for the fresco series, The Legend of the True Cross, it is also a vibrant center of night-life as friends spill out from haunts like Caffè dei Costanti  – where the proprietors were kind enough to let me rent a table for free where I wrote my book, Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me, about the adventures Lulu and I have had here in Tuscany.  They also graciously provided the room for my book-launch party last year.

Piazza San’Agostino is not only where InformaGiovani helps us find fun things to do over the weekend. It is also now where we meet friends and where, like last year, Lulu is a regular patron of the carousel above the fountain.

We have had dinner at the Mayor’s house, aka, “Zio Beppe” as Lulu calls him. (Honestly, he made the best fritelli de fiore zucchini I have ever tasted.)

I have toured the house of Giorgio Vasari with Aretino journalist, photographer, historian and friend, Gianni Brunacci ,as my very informative guide.  Lulu and I were asked to model in last year’s La Notte Rosa by our lovely estetician Simona Giusti, from Estetica Simona.  Lulu only has to pop in and say, “Ciao” to Alfredo at Macelleria Gastronomia Bassi Alfredo and she is handed a delicious slice of mortadella.

Lulu and Alfredo - and the mortadella!
Lulu and Alfredo – and the mortadella!


Massimo over at Bar Stefano gave me eight extra little chocolate eggs to put in her Easter basket.  Elena, Nicola and Michele at the personal training gym Moving, have worked hard to help me keep off the kilos I should be putting on because of all the great Tuscan food I keep eating.


We have eaten everything at practically every restaurant in town; there are too many memories to list here. But I can tell you that Mario di Filippo, from one of our favorite places, Buca di San Francesco, has become much more than a friend. He is now Lulu’s official Nonno Italiano.

By the way, for those of you restaurateurs with signs in English declaring, “Typical Tuscan food” – change that to “Authentic Tuscan food.”  I promise it is the translation you’re going for.

I can thank Paola di Juliis for helping us find each of the three beautiful apartments we have lived in. She also coordinated my book launch to great success.  I also want to thank Francesca Cappelletti for introducing me to Arezzo’s Tourism Department. It was through her that I volunteered to rewrite the English versions of the Giostra brochure and the Benvenuti ad Arezzo website.


I am proud to say they both read so much better than they had before. I only wish I had been asked to do more.  I cringe every time I read the new signs around Centro Storico describing the various palazzi and places of interest. They should have at least been better translated and they could have been so much more interesting and compelling.  A missed opportunity.  I also wrote what I believe is the only article published in an American magazine about last year’s Icastica contemporary art installation.  I wish I could have done more.

But, heck, we’re not moving back to the United States.  We’re only moving “down the street” to Ireland.  Not so far away at all.  If anyone would like me to help out with some marketing copy or a communications outreach strategy, I will still be close by.

I only recently discovered that the break-down of the word “Arrivederci” means to “re-see one another.”  I had mistakenly thought it was simply the same as the English word, “Goodbye.”  But, in what I believe is the more friendly Italian way, the word implies a desire to see each other again.  And that is truly my hope.  This summer, Ryan Air begins direct flights between Cork and Arezzo, so I plan to “re-see” you all again soon.

Thank you, Arezzo.  You have made my life, and the lives of my husband and our daughter, so much richer.

La Nazione 5.25.14-page-001



Countdown to departure. 2 Days to Go. Like Family.

When you first walk into a crowded coffee shop, or “bar” as they are referred to here in Italy – you are likely to be overwhelmed.  They’re often packed with people crowding around the “bar” – hence the name, ma certo – loudly calling out for their pastry or espresso “caffe normale.”  Many of these hang-outs are so small and busy – you may be tempted to turn and leave before bellying up to the bar to select an item for yourself from behind the glass.

That’s how it first seemed for me at Arezzo’s Bar il Duomo.  As its name implies, the bar is located just steps away from Arezzo’s cathedral, or duomo, along Via Ricasoli.  It is a very popular place – especially in the mornings when locals jam in to slam a coffee and a pastry, or pasta, which makes for the standard breakfast, or colazione, for most Italians.

Lulu ordering from Andrea – and beating the rush!

But the 500-year-old building Bar il Duomo is nestled in is so charming with its high arches and stone cornices, that Lulu and I braved the crowds and fell in love.  Not only with the pastries – (and for Lulu, the ice cream) but also because Bar il Duomo doesn’t only open its imposing wooden doors each morning, the Rossi family that runs it: (Giancarlo, wife Lucia and their grown-son Andrea -along with his girlfriend Franci) – also open their hearts.

When you see the doors open and the sign placed outside, Bar il Duomo in Arezzo is ready for you!
When you see the doors open and the sign placed outside, Bar il Duomo in Arezzo is ready for you!

While we lived next door to the bar, at Via Ricasoli 2, we were more than neighbors, we became like family.  Lulu and I popped in practically every morning before school for a small pastry (order a little sacchetino and you won’t be disappointed).  And after school for an ice cream.  They kindly lent Scotty a gigantic wrench when the ancient radiators at our palazzo were leaking last winter.

And I couldn’t let Christmas-time go by without snapping a photo of their awesome Nativity-Scene-in-a-Wine-Cask that Lucia proudly displayed on the bar.  Baby Gesu in a wine bottle.  Now, that’s Italian!

Lucia, and the Nativity Scene in a wine cask!
Lucia, and the Nativity Scene in a wine cask!

Their tremendous kindness, the great coffee and snacks, plus the extra bonus of a splendid open-air courtyard in the back, made for another home-away-from-home for us during out stay here in Arezzo.

As I type this, I have just dropped Lulu off at her last day of school at Aliotti.  We stopped in (as usual) for a “treccia di cioccolato” – Lulu’s favorite- and Arezzo’s mayor, Giuseppe Fanfani, who was in the bar at the time, hugged Lulu and wouldn’t let me pay for the treat.  Now I am back in the back on my computer – looking out at the bright red geraniums that Lucia lovingly cared for all winter and are now filling the courtyard with happy color.

The splendid courtyard at Bar il Duomo in Arezzo!
The splendid courtyard at Bar il Duomo in Arezzo!

I am filled with happiness too, as I look back on the many Aretini who welcomed us into our lives during our three years in Arezzo.  To them, like the family at Bar il Duomo, thank you for making us feel like family.

Baci ad Andrea e tutti!
Baci ad Andrea e tutti!

Un abbraccio!


Copyright 2014 Gina London.  All Rights Reserved.





Countdown to Departure from Italy. 6 Days to go…Arezzo’s Antique Fair!

This weekend marked another of Arezzo’s awesome attractions: the monthly Fiera Antiquaria.  It is Italy’s oldest and largest antiques fair with the entire center of town – like here in Piazza Grande  – transformed into a gigantic open air market.

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Merchants sell everything from vintage jewelry, books, paintings, furniture and linens.


We have never bought anything of substance really.  A Pinocchio wood-block print here, an antique toy there, a vintage deck of playing cards for Scotty. The giant armoires, tables and bronze statues will have to wait.


Although yesterday, Lulu really thought she needed a spare part for a chandelier.  You never know.

???????????????????????????????So, while we leave for Ireland just six short days from today, perhaps this fall, we will come back to Arezzo during the first weekend of the month. And pick up something old for our new place.

Maybe an antique mirror.  To reflect our new adventures.

Notice whose lower half is also reflected..? ;)
Notice whose lower half is also reflected..? 😉

Because, in life, as with chandelier bobbles, you just never know.

We love you, Arezzo.

Baci, Gina

Copyright 2014 Gina London.  All Rights Reserved.


Countdown to Departure from Italy. 8 days to go. Pazzi for Il Pozzo Pizza!


Last night we went to one of our favorite places – the lovely Tuscany country inn – “Il Pozzo” for a pizza-making party – hosted by our awesome friend and the coolest inn-keeper in all of Italy – probably the world – Carla Veneri!

The one, the only, Carla Veneri!
The one, the only, Carla Veneri!

Of course, Italy is synonymous with pizza, but with Carla, you get more; it’s a real hands-on experience!


Olivia, Mateo, Matilde, Eduardo, Ludovica and of course, Lulu were all provided wooden boards, flour, yeast, water and salt.  They dug in, pouring, stirring and rolling – as I marveled how those few simple ingredients combine to make such a tasty crust.


As the children marched outside – carrying their rolled-out crusts over to Il Pozzo’s stone oven, (manned by their indomitable chief handy-man and chef, Carlo) I realized that maybe it’s more than the ingredients; it is also the smoky flavor and crisp texture the oven’s wood-sparked flames provide that make the “That’s Italian” difference.

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The final result, as you can see but unfortunately cannot taste, was perfect. Topped with tangy tomato sauce, cheese and whatever-other-delectables-you-can-imagine, we happily munched away!


And, as with every gathering over which Carla presides, laughter and fun are always served up alongside.

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This was our last visit to this glorious, breath-taking 500-year-old farmhouse set among Tuscany’s rollling hills.  For this time around.  I know it won’t be our last.


We love Il Pozzo. We love you Carla.

Un grande baccino!
We love you, Carla!

And we love Pizza!

Baci, Gina

Copyright 2014 Gina London.  All Rights Reserved.





Countdown to Departure from Italy. 11 Days to Go. Arezzo’s Amazing Joust Festival!

This morning on our walk through Arezzo’s stunning Piazza Grande, Lulu noticed that the buildings overlooking the square “are wearing their costumes for the Joust!”  This means that the city has hung a colorful array of noble crests on the 500-year-old stone towers – signalling the beginning of festivities for this year’s exciting Giostra del Saracino.” 


"Hey! The buildings are wearing their costumes for the Giostra!" Lulu said.
“Hey! The buildings are wearing their costumes for the Giostra!” Lulu said.

There are two medieval joust tournaments every summer, and the first one is set for June 21.  Lulu, Scotty and I will not be here; it will sadly and notably be the first Giostra we will miss during the nearly three years we lived here.

As Kay Thompson’s Eloise might would’ve said if she had ever left the Plaza to witness Arezzo’s thrilling Giostra, “I love, love, LOVE the Joust!” 

With gorgeous photos from our friend Massimo Di Gorga, and my article I submitted last year to The New York Times for a postcard on Arezzo, I now present to you one of the most dramatic spectacles in Italy – (which, to me, whoops a** on Siena’s careening free-for-all Palio horse race in terms of pageantry and skill – any day!)



As summer flares, so too, do the resonant strains of Italy’s many Medieval festivals.  The powerful music played by a procession of men wearing vibrant tights, short black boots, and long colorful tunics is perhaps loudest heard in Arezzo, a town 50 miles southeast of Florence, in the heart of Tuscany, heralding the annual arrival of the  La Giostra del Saracino.


Since 1931, the competition has become a regular event in this ancient walled town celebrating  the time  when knights of the Crusades dashed off to vanquish the Saracini , otherwise known asinfidels or Saracens.

 As an American now living here in Arezzo, I’ve been fortunate to attend the joust four times as Piazza Grande, or the Grand Plaza, is transformed into a spectator-filled joust field.  Each of the city’s four neighborhoods enters two knights who take one turn riding a horse at full gallop with their lance pointed toward an enormous wooden mannequin named “Buratto, King of the Indies.”

Joust Santo Spirito

Buratto is mounted on a post that swivels.  He’s wound up tight as a top and holds three leather balls hanging from chains in his outstretched right hand and the score shield in his left.  For each run, hulky guards insert into the score shield a target sheet that’s divided by a red cross with a bull’s eye in the center.  Each quadrant of the sheet, including the cross lines, is worth varying numbers of points.  At five, the red bull’s eye is worth the most.

Sbandieratori WS

The knights charge toward the bull’s eye in a dramatic and dangerous contest of accuracy and dexterity. They must hit the center while at the same time avoid being walloped by Buratto’s menacing weapons when he forcefully spins on impact.

When the final run is complete and the winning quartiere is announced, a cacophony erupts as a series of cannon blasts combines with cheers and jeers from fans.

Boisterous celebrations spread out of the Piazza and up to the town’s duomo or cathedral where people congregate to congratulate the arriving victorious team and horses.  It’s quite something to be inside an ancient Gothic cathedral where, with brightly lit with electric lights and smiling and screaming sports fans, it feels more like rock concert  than a prayerful service.

Arezzo’s Giostra del Saracino is one of the lesser known festivals in Tuscany, but so filled with pomp and circumstance, it suspends time and bridges eras.


Thank you, Arezzo, for filling our lives with the excitement and splendor of your Giostra for the past three years. This summer we will remember it in our hearts.  As Lulu would say, “Aaii Colcitrone~!!!”

With love and admiration for Arezzo’s Giostra del Saracino forever,

Baci, Gina

Copyright Gina London 2014.  All Rights Reserved.