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. 

 

Advertisements

Crisis Communications: Lessons from Lanzerote

I train and consult around a range of business communications topics including how to prepare, avoid and handle Crisis. I was recently in Singapore discussing this very issue with some managers from a large multi-national.  But I was personally unprepared during my visit this week to the tiny island of Lanzerote.

lanz

My eight-year-old daughter and I joined another mother and her three children on what was supposed to be a care-free week of mid-term holiday fun on one of Spain’s sunny Canary Islands.

Yet, two far-from-care-free events reminded me that careful and consistent preparation is the number one way to avoid Crises – business and personal.

I’ll share our story along with these pointers as a refresher for us all.

“We’re stranded!”

Our first mishap was the very afternoon we landed last Saturday.

The travel agent had booked us a private shuttle which was supposed to deliver us to the doorstep of our villa. Instead, after the driver deposited us, our kids and our luggage– and departed – we noticed a stranger basking at what we thought was our pool.

While he was kind, he also insisted this was his rental villa. A group of local cleaners who were onsite tidying agreed. His paperwork all checked out.

They took one look at the paperwork my friend showed them and shook their heads. Our destination’s typed address proved a puzzle.

Yes, this villa is number 20.  Yes, “Playa Blanca” is the name of the town we were in.  But! The street name on the sheet was from a town that was apparently a 40-minute drive north. Yikes! For good measure, they observed that the zip code listed didn’t even exist in Lanzerote. Terrific.

Neither of the two phone numbers typed on the information sheet connected to a live person.  One wasn’t working at all and the other said to call back during regular business hours Monday through Friday.

Fortunately for us, the cleaners stayed to help us try and put the pieces of the puzzle together.  Since they spoke fluent Spanish, they managed to contact the shuttle service which, in turn, managed to track down a someone from the property management company who revealed that our villa was actually number 26. Six doors down.  No explanation was provided for the error.

All this, after more than an hour being stranded with four understandably confused and cranky kids.

What if we had arrived later and no one had been there to help?!?

1. Share the plan/Make sure you know the plan – It’s important for businesses and leaders to share and get buy-in around a vision.  Likewise, it might have been a good idea for the travel agent to send a copy of our villa address and other information to me, not just to my friend.  In the same vein, I should have requested a copy, but I didn’t.  I don’t know that I would have noticed the errors with the address. But at least being aware of the plan is a responsibility when you’re part of a team.

2. Verify information – Did any of us think to test the phone numbers on the paperwork before we needed them?  Routine testing beforehand might alert that something is amiss.

“There’s been a break-in!”

Our second mishap unfolded as we returned after dinner in town to our number 26 villa Tuesday night.

Upon entering and turning on the light, we saw once-tidy clothing and papers scattered about the first two rooms.  There’s been a break-in! But strangely, we then noticed that my laptop and a child’s tablet had not been removed.  Could we have interrupted the intruder?  Was he still inside?!?

My friend immediately called the police. We gathered the shaking children. And left.

About twenty-minutes later, four police officers arrived and we went back in with them.  No more intruder – but a broken window latch downstairs.  He opened it from the outside – even though we thought we had it locked from the inside.

The police guessed the intruder was only after passports or cash.  We had those with us while we were at dinner.  So the would-be robber took nothing, but gave us all a big fright.

We took the children’s mattresses from the downstairs bedrooms and huddled together upstairs for the remainder of the night.

The next day, our Irish travel agent contacted the property manager who sent a handy-man to fix the window.  Nothing more.  No words of compassion or caring.

3. Check your systems. Along with routine testing of numbers in our case, or processes in business, it’s critical to check and re-check to see what can be improved upon.  We could even have checked the windows and doors ourselves – from the inside and out – before we left.  This, clearly, should be the responsibility of the property manager. But, I don’t think I’ll passively depend on that again. Knowing that we were staying in an unfamiliar place, we could have insisted with our travel agent that all the locks on the windows and doors had been recently serviced.

 4. Be Compassionate. This one is aimed at the property manager. My friend and I are can-do mommies and we did get to the beach and see the sights. But this was definitely not the mid-term holiday that we – or our kids – had imagined.

 The fact that the property manager didn’t even offer to reduce the fee for our stay – or move us to another villa – or even send us a box of chocolates or a pizza for the kids as a sign of caring, is NOT the way to keep customers and gain business.

We are all safely aboard the plane back home as I type this with, of course, the beauty of hindsight.  But it’s hindsight that I vow to turn to foresight.  I pledge to hold myself to the high standard that I encourage my business partners to undertake.

Just as soon as I’m finished here reminding myself of what I could do better next time to avoid a crisis, I will be writing to our travel agent to avoid the property supplier who did NOT prevent crises for their customers  – and as a result – themselves.

wind

Here’s wishing crisis-free travels for us all.

Very kindly,

Gina

Copyright 2016 Gina London. All Rights Reserved. 

 

Proof you CAN reinvent yourself on a trip to Ireland’s famous Cliffs of Moher

One of the most breathtaking experiences in Ireland occurs when you stand upon the Cliffs of Moher looking out over the Atlantic while the 702 foot (214 m) stone walls are rhythmically and dramatically battered by waves and wind.

cliffs ws
The Cliffs of Moher the day we visited them

Powerful and moving as it is, as I recently trekked them with my seven-year-old daughter, the cliffs would have been mere rocks if not for the rockin’ tour provided by our local Paddywagon guide, Michael.

Michael and another happy Paddywagon guest
Michael and another happy Paddywagon guest

Paddywagon runs a fleet of tour buses –departing daily from towns around Ireland like Dublin and our home here in Cork. I had been meaning to book an excursion for months but was afraid it might be a boring waste of money. Drive you to the sights with a few monotonous “on your left blah-blahs”along the way and that’s it. But no! Our driver Michael was an absolute raconteur. He regaled us with colorful tales of Irish history, sprinkled with juicy gossip, charming jokes and kindly folksiness throughout. He even sang us a few ditties that were high in personality even if they were a bit low on songmanship!

We, along with everyone else on the bus, were absolutely enchanted.

We had a terrific time, thank you, Michael!
We had a terrific time, thank you, Michael!

At the end of the day, before stepping down from the bus, I had to learn a bit more about Michael. We chatted and he told me he’s from Tipperary and worked as a professional engineer for years before he was suddenly laid off during Ireland’s (and many other countries’ ) recession in 2010. Michael described his life afterward:

I tried everything and then a friend encouraged me to get my bus drivers permit and I never looked back,

I logged onto Trip Advisor after we got home to tell everyone about Michael. What I found was that “Bus driver Michael” was already a Paddywagon celebrity. My review joined dozens of previous brightly glowing posts about him. While Michael may no longer be building roads and bridges, now, as he drives over them and tells his stories and sings his funny songs, he is building different kinds of bridges – those of warm memories and experiences – for tourists from all over the world.

Life is not about discovering yourself, it’s about creating yourself.

Coco Chanel once said that and I think life is a combination of the both. As you go through your life and your career, things will happen that you’re not prepared for; maybe you are unexpectedly laid off or fired.

And as you force yourself to update your CV and get back into the job market:

  1. You will discover you have a fortitude and determination you didn’t think was in you.
  2. Your discovery will give you the extra-strength and confidence to adapt and reinvent yourself in ways you may not have imagined.
  3. Stretch yourself. Maybe you won’t be in the same field as you were in before, but:
  4. You can create yourself anew.
  5. You CAN do it.

You are ready for the next chapter of your life. Life is certainly a journey, and if your journey takes you to Cork, Ireland – do yourself a favor and take a Paddywagon Tour.

lulu running

Ask for Michael, the engineer-turned-singing-tour-guide. Tell him Gina sent you. You’ll be glad you did.

Copyright 2015 Gina London. All Rights Reserved.

Welcome to Ireland! Or, er, Failte!

We’re one week into our new home here in Cork, Ireland and it’s funny how the more things are the same, the more they seem different.

We now live in Ireland!
We now live in Ireland!

It’s called the Emerald Island for a reason.   You might think a simple color would not be enough to market an entire country, but as Lulu and I looked out upon the landscape stretched out before us as the bus drove us to the coastal village of Crosshaven, the word “green” is what kept coming to mind.

Greetings from Crosshaven, Cork County, Ireland.
Greetings from Crosshaven, Cork County, Ireland.

“It’s like Indiana,” Lulu said, reminded of my rural home state where we spent much of this summer getting reacquainted with family.

What with its cows and farms and pastures, indeed it does.

And yet it doesn’t.

104_0235

The architecture is different.  You’ll see fewer wood frame homes here and most are slathered in a gravelly cement coating.  Grey seems to be the predominant color with neighborhoods accentuated by a few bright creamy yellows.

Unlike Paris with a patisserie on every corner or Tuscany with a trattoria or pizzeria on the same; here on every corner blooms a pub.

104_0245 104_0226

Just a few of Ireland's assorted pubs
Just a few of Ireland’s assorted pubs

The interesting names painted on the signs outside may vary but the interiors are relatively the same. There are cozy, dark wood tables and chairs, and a collage of photos, paintings or other knickknacks covering the walls.  Menus so far seem heavy on things fried.   I haven’t had a salad in over a week but I have had plenty of cod and chips.

A sneak-peek inside this pub.
A sneak-peek inside this pub.
The "pickleback" is a shot of Jameson Irish Whiskey with a shot of pickle juice.  They tell me it's terrific. I wouldn't know!
The “pickleback” is a shot of Jameson Irish Whiskey with a shot of pickle juice. They tell me it’s terrific. I wouldn’t know!

As for the language: “Everyone speaks singy-English and says ‘Grand.’” Lulu has observed.

I can read every billboard and every newspaper. I can overhear conversations in the pub and understand them. The words don’t blur into a faint white noise like when we lived in Italy.

Our new apartment in Cork, Ireland! Failte
Our new apartment in Cork, Ireland! Failte

We moved into our new apartment a week ago today. It’s tiny but cozy and within easy walking distance to Lulu’s new school.  We had a nice visit the first evening from our landlord Liam, who, like every Irishman I have met so far, is a very easy-going and humorous person.  Having an enjoyable conversation – even when it is mainly about the heating, washing machine and other apartment things – is so much easier when you speak the same language.

In the short single school week Lulu has attended so far, she has already gone to a birthday party and had two separate play dates.  I have already been invited to go out with some of the moms this Friday to a chic trendy restaurant on the River Lee named Electric.

The people here are so kind and cheery, we make friends just by saying, “Hello.”

The friendly singer busker downtown in Cork.
The friendly singer busker downtown in Cork.

And yet, the ease with which it is all happening makes me pang a little for the rush of being in Italy.  There, I felt an extra sense of accomplishment after even the littlest exchange or transaction I managed successfully.  I sort of miss it.  There are no extra points for clearing the language barrier for me now. 😉

Hmm.  It has been unusually sunny every day since we have arrived.  I better wait until the legendary Irish rain arrives before I am convinced there will be no major challenges here.

Lulu asked why they sell sun screen in Ireland since it rains here all the time?
Lulu asked why they sell sun screen in Ireland since it rains here all the time?

As my lovely Italian friends would say, “Piano, piano” – take it slowly.   Or as my Irish friends might say, “Tis no bother at all.”

Lulu and the zip line at the park in Crosshaven, Ireland. Wheee!
Lulu and the zip line at the park in Crosshaven, Ireland. Wheee!

No matter where you are. Another day presents opportunity for another little adventure.

To adventures great and small.

Gina

Copyright 2014 Gina London. All Rights Reserved.

“You are Welcome” – My diary of Lagos, Nigeria

“You are welcome.”  “You are welcome.”  In the three days since I landed in Lagos, this is the phrase I have heard most.

From the gracious team at the luxurious Wheatbaker Hotel where I am fortunate enough to be staying –

Willie, who said he watched all my shows.
Willie, who said he watches all my shows. 😉
Cynthia cooked an amazing omelette!
Cynthia cooked an amazing omelette!
More the the impeccable team at The Wheatbaker Hotel in Lagos
More of the impeccable team at The Wheatbaker Hotel in Lagos

– to the esteemed journalists and managers of various media outlets including The Nation and Business Day newspapers and TVC and The Channels radio and television networks.

The editorial staff at Nations - One of Nigeria's top newspapers!
The editorial staff at Nations, one of Nigeria’s top newspapers.
Meeting with the Kayode Akintemi, the GM of Channels TV
Meeting with the GM of Channels TV
After being interviewed by Business Day's Kemi Ajumobi
After being interviewed by Business Day’s Kemi Ajumobi

I am visiting Lagos for the first time.  Working with my local strategic partners, Amplio Consulting and SwiftThink Limited, I’ll be conducting a series of strategic communications training sessions and workshops between now and July 18.  We kick-off activities tomorrow with the Find Your Edge Summit here at the Wheatbaker.

My incredible partners - Ayo and Folake Owodunni  from Amplio Consulting and Ayoola Jolayemi of SwiftThink Limited. Go, Team, Go!
My incredible partners – Ayo and Folake Owodunni from Amplio Consulting and Ayoola Jolayemi of SwiftThink Limited. Go, Team, Go!

On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday between 9AM-5PM participants will have an opportunity to practice real hands-on techniques and develop new skills from me, veteran CNN correspondent and international communications consultant, and my new friend and colleague Richie Dayo Johnson, a local and proven leader in communications training, etiquette and business savvy.  The Summit is open to the general public and registration is ongoing.  Click here to learn more!

http://findyouredge.com.ng

This morning, I spoke on Radio Continental to explain why communication counts – especially in the digital age where you can be instantly judged by a global standard.  And later, I met the talented hosts of “Your View,” on TVC to share some secrets of better communications to get results. At every place, the people have been warm-hearted and congenial. These first three days have been very rewarding.

Your views

Yes, it’s true we have driven through scenes of poverty. And yes, it’s true I have a machine-gun toting federal police officer riding at all times in the front seat of my car to stem off unwarranted stops.

Meet Abdul, my bodyguard, my friend.
Meet Abdul, my bodyguard, my friend.

But one by one, individual by individual, I am meeting an incredible number of accomplished people.  Nigerians who are proud of their country and are committed to making it a better place.

folake and me

I feel very welcomed indeed.

Chukwugozie onyeobula nilee (Thank you all!)  

In gratitude, Gina

P.S.  Are you Nigerian? What are you most proud of?  Are you not Nigerian? What do you think? Looking forward to hearing from you! Ciao –

 

 

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.

IMG_1697

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.

DSCN2934

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

“Arrivederci!”

http://www.arezzonotizie.it/blog_redazione/arrivederci-arezzo-gina-london-lascia-citta-ci-saluta/

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.

??????????????????????????????? ???????????????????????????????

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.