Mindfulness in Tuscany

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

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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. 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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. 14 Days to Go!

Last night, Lulu and I hosted a little aperitivo, or happy hour, to hug many of the friends we made here in Arezzo.  And I am happy to share some of the photos with you!

Grazie a tuttii!
Grazie a tutti!

Two weeks from today, Lulu, Scotty and I will board an airplane for a direct flight from Pisa, Italy to Cork, Ireland.

Lulu presented "Awards" to the many people who enriched our lives here in Arezzo!
Lulu presented “Awards” to the many people who enriched our lives here in Arezzo!

The trip will last only a little over an hour.  In that short amount of time we will move to a new country, a new culture and a new life.

Dionata Baroni, the wonderful director of Lulu's school, Allioti.
Dionata Baroni, the wonderful director of Lulu’s school, Allioti.
Simona, Lulu and Massimo
Simona, Lulu and Massimo

Fortunately – along with clothing, toys and a few keepsakes, we will be carrying a treasure of memories of our three years in Arezzo.

The incredibly inspirational and progressive-thinking, Franci Cappelletti, who made so many things possible!
The incredibly inspirational and progressive-thinking, Franci Cappelletti, who made so many things possible!

Lulu had to give away some of her larger play-things like a scooter, a wooden easel/chalkboard and this giant cardboard rocket-ship that was featured in a short Italian film (click below to see it!) – but she’s exchanging these replaceable things for the irreplaceable experiences and adventures that come from travel.

We will make new friends, of course, but we will never forget the incredibly warm, caring and loving people we met in Arezzo.

Thank you all for coming last night – and for everything else over our three years as neighbors and friends!

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And hey, we’re only a short direct flight away, right?!

Baci e grazie!!

Gina

Copyright 2014 Gina London.  All Rights Reserved.

Countdown to Departure from Italy: 16 days to go.

The Tuscan sun is not famous merely because author Frances Mayes featured it in the title of her best-selling book, Under the Tuscan you know what.  (She happens to be my neighbor over in the tiny town of Cortono here in Arezzo county; we follow each other on Twitter and have exchanged a few tweeted pleasantries, but unfortunately never had the opportunity to meet in person.)

The Tuscan sun has earned its place in the er, you know, because there truly is something different about it when you are here.  Perhaps it is because its light appears even richer when the amber, coral and peach colored buildings that surround you are absorbing it – making the colors even more remarkable if that’s possible.

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Its tingling rays don’t simply touch your skin, they kiss you passionately and deeply – all the way through to your heart – even your soul.

These girls have Tuscan souls!
These girls clearly have Tuscan souls!

I stand looking in one direction to the graceful, green hills spiked with cypress trees.  They’re even more radiant with the gold that is sparkling down on them.  I face the other direction and look up to Arezzo’s medieval stone wall which has encircled it for more than 500 years – successfully protecting it from ancient invaders (not the Florentines, but that’s another story) while it graciously welcomed the sun from above.

In fact, I think of Arezzo’s piazzas as sun-worship temples. Rooms without roofs to better celebrate the god.

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I am no poet like Frances Mayes – who actually earned her living as a poetry and creative writing instructor in the US before she gloriously described her love affair with Italy – but I know something lyrical when I see it – and feel it.

And that’s why the sun is definitely something I will miss when I move to Ireland.  That, and everybody keeps telling me in Ireland it does nothing but rain. So I better get ready.

My friend Susan wisely says, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing choices.”   So, I’m determined to go buy a bright and cheery raincoat and matching umbrella.  And for the next couple of weeks we have left – to soak up the rays of our beloved Tuscan sun.

I’ll leave you with Lulu – singing an homage to those golden rays – when she was just three years old.

May it be bright and sunny wherever you are.  If not in the sky, then in your smile.

Ciao a tutti!

Gina

P.S. How’s the weather where you are? I have been seeing some freaky storms in the US?!  Other places?  Irish friends, tell me the truth!

Copyright 2014 Gina London. All Rights Reserved.

 

Countdown to Departure from Italy. 19 Days to Go. “The Expressiveness of Italians!”

Madonna a cielo!” the two older Italian ladies near me gasped as they watched me jump down onto the tracks at the busy train station in Florence.  It was autumn. I was just returning to Italy with Lulu after a week vacation in Paris.  It had been brisk there, but now it was much warmer here in Tuscany and my arms were full with the sweaters and jackets we peeled off.   I had just finished helping Lulu up the steps to the train when her coat tumbled down onto the tracks.

Yes, it is forbidden to go on those tracks.  This is a hard-fast rule at every train station, I think.  But I promise you, the train was not scheduled to depart for another ten minutes; there was plenty of room for me to hop down and really, it was her brand new winter coat I had purchased without asking.

Lulu and her new little French coat that I saved!
Lulu and her new little French coat that I saved!

I was down and back up again with said coat safely recovered before the loudest of the two ladies could finish up with, “Non posso credere ai miei occhi!” ( I can’t believe my eyes!) as her arms bent at the elbow moved back and forth in rapid succession with upturned hands  flapping in disbelief, Mamma mia!”

What I remember most about it all is how much I love Italians and their expressions and the passion with which they utter them.

 

Yes, we actually owned this book.
Yes, we actually owned this book.

When I prepared to move to Italy, I asked my foreign language tutor to switch from French (in honor of where we had lived) to Italian (in honor of where we were heading).  He was European, so naturally he was fluent in several languages.  I continue to be so jealous of that.  Anyway, up until then, the rhythm, pitch and pacing of my teacher’s voice had been smooth, fluid and even – just like the sound, to me, of the French language.  But then, once he began to speak Italian, his calm demeanor evaporated into a surprising din of staccato vigor!  (For more on the expressiveness of Italian, please read Dianne Hale’s enchanting book, La Bella Lingua.  I highly recommend it.)

Dianne has spent more than 25 years studying Italian. Her book is a joy.
Dianne has spent more than 25 years studying Italian. Her book is a joy.

If the music of the French language is classical, then the music of the Italian language, to me, is more like hip hop.   Fun, loud, and aggressive.

Like this hilarious video of an Italian’s reaction to The Family Guy. “SEI PAZZZO!” “You’re crazy!” My Italian friends and I both love this.

For example, Tuscans often punch,  Ciao!”with a loud upward inflectioned “EH!” at the end.  And each word can extend for as many syllables as the speaker cares to give it.  So it can be a quick, “Ciao, eh!”  Or a windy, “Ciii-aaaaoooo, AAAA-EEEEE-HHH!”   I love it!

Yes, like those two old ladies in Florence, the locals really use all sorts of forms of the Holy Virgin as exclamations.  The simplest one is just her name – but it’s rapidly and roundly (‘round yon virgin? -nevermind) pronounced like this:, “Mah-DOH-nah!”   There’s also a little diminutive version that I particularly like, “Mah-doh-nee-nah!”  Then, you can take this staple and dress it up in a myriad of colorful ways like: “Mah-DOH-nah, mamma di Dio!”  (or Gesu, take your pick).  And there are plenty of ways to make this even angrier, like adding “pig” or porca at the end – but Lulu points out that saying “Madonna”  at all as an exclamation is “actually very naughty.”

Lulu and friend - ready for a party - they're in front of the Madonna - and don't make fun of her!
Lulu and friend – ready for a party – they’re in front of the Madonna – but don’t make fun of her!

Other colorful expressions that I adore – and will mightily miss hearing every day once we depart dear Arezzo in only a couple short weeks – are “Che bellissima” (Lulu and every other little girl in Italy get this all the time) and really every form of bella.  It really is not a cliché to say, “Ciao, bella!” after you have had a coffee with a female friend.  Men say it to ladies. Ladies say it to ladies.  Everyone says it to every little girl.  And it’s the same with “Bello.”

“Bravo” with itsvariations depending on number and gender of the recipient (s), is another favorite.  It’s an adjective that works with about everything.   Great  job at homework, Lulu – Brava!  Nice painting on that old church by that Renaissance master – Bravo!   All the children sang that song well – Bravi!   And on and on.   “Buono” and its variants are the culinary equivalent.  Don’t forget to really sink yourself into the first syllables of these words, roll your r’s, and open your mouth to let the vowels explode.  Did you try it?  Bravo! (or Brava!)

The boisterous Italian language accompanied by the mandatory requisite hand gestures, have combined to make for one of the most expressive and vibrant communications experiences I have had the pleasure to enjoy.   From some of the most expressive and vibrant people I have ever had the pleasure to enjoy as well!.

Baci a tutti!

Gina

P.S.  I know I barely scratched the surface on lively Italian expressions. Do you have a favorite?  A not so favorite?  Please share!

Copyright 2014 Gina London. All Rights Reserved.