Friday, October 28, 2011

Trying To Sit Still

"All man's troubles come from not knowing how to sit still in one room." (Blaise Pascal)

I've never taken a more difficult course than the one I've had to sit through this week.  An advanced course in the discipline of "Sit-Still-ology".  Never heard of it?  Most people, I think, avoid it like the plague.

The flu has knocked me out for the past 4 days.  I went to school on Monday, but have been home suffering through different (each uniquely unpleasant in their own special way) phases of this seasonal virus, ever since then.  And because of that, I've had a lot of unexpected time on my hands.

At first, that seemed a blessing...a boon...a reward, secretly savored...kinda like this...

My mind tells me:  "Yeah, I know it's no fun feeling achy and blowing your nose every 5 minutes.  But guess what you get to do!  You don't have to go to work!  You get to take naps!  You even get to spend all day fiddling around on Facebook, if you like!"  And at first, that seems fun.

Everyone likes to play "hooky", every now and then!

So I did all of the above.  And I read and read.  And I drank cups of hot tea.  And I said "Thank you veddy buch, Sweedie", to Deborah when she brought me bowls of wonderful homemade soup.  I was the "Emperor of Easy Street", resplendent in my regal uniform - my bathrobe.

But after two days, my "paradise" of ease had begun to turn into a prison.

"The only thing wrong with doing nothing is that you never know when you're finished" (Anonymous)

Wasn't that the truth!  I began to get bored...very bored.  So bored that I was too bored to do anything BUT be bored.

I caught myself pacing around the house, like an animal in a cage.

Sit in the living the newspaper...To the office...check my e-mail...To the bedroom - lay down and read...close my eyes.  Try to nap.  Up to the refrigerator - what's to eat?  Nothing.  Should I take the dog for a walk?  "No - I'm sick".  Back to the office - still no e-mail.  I should sit down and write a blog entry.  Sit.  Get up.  Back to the living room... See if I missed anything in the newspaper.  Turn on the TV.  Nothing on.  Turn off the TV.  Check e-mail again.  None - "Boy - Deborah must be busy at work".  Back to the bedroom.  Close eyes - still can't nap.  Up... And on and on I went.

Looking for something to do.  Looking to "fill time".  Looking for "my purpose".

Since I was sick, I couldn't rely on the usual activities to provide the answers to these quests.  I was left empty.  I was left "alone" with myself.

I knew there was something for me to learn in all of this.  But I could only learn it, if I was able to get myself to just sit still.  You'd think that would be easy, especially if you're sick. But it was quite a challenge.  My mind did not want to be still.  It did not want to linger in the emptiness.  It didn't want to dare to gaze into the "abyss" of a day in which it didn't know itself or what it's "purpose" was.  And it certainly didn't want to see all the empty things it was choosing to fill itself with.

But stop I did.  Finally.  And when I was willing to just sit, and let all the rushing thoughts and impulses just wash by me, like the waves around my feet when I was a little boy, I finally heard what Life was inviting me to do.

I went for a walk outside.  I enjoyed the crisp, cool air.  And I remembered to bring my camera, so I could take pictures of the beautiful leaves on the trees in the neighborhood.  I had been meaning to do this for weeks! (but had always forgotten to bring my camera and said "Next time").  For once, I remembered.  And here was the reward for finally "sitting still":

"There is nothing as certain as silence, stillness, and solitude to introduce you to the secrets of yourself." (Guy Finley)

I'm grateful for the reminder today to just slow down, especially mentally.  To work to step out of the mechanical race to "find myself" in the constant stream of thoughts, worries, plans, and fears that fill my days.

There's an entirely different and beautiful world just waiting for me if I will.

You want proof?

A picture's worth a 1000 words. :-)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Learning To Be A Student, Again

"Get over the idea that only children should spend their time in study.  Be a student so long as you still have something to learn, and this will mean all your life." (Henry Doherty)

It finally took a full blown case of the annual fall flu:  sniffly snorts and achy aches; weepy eyes and a raspy throat - to get me to sit down and dust off my blogger's pen.  Though the sun outside is bright and cheery this afternoon, I'm inside looking out... and looking in.

A question has been rattling around inside my head for the last week or so, like dried beans inside an October gourd.

Why do I say I love to write so much, but then write so little?

That's been bugging me lately.  I can come up with plenty of "reasons" and "excuses" and lists of "other things I have to do", but the truth is something far different, I'm beginning to see.

I am reluctant to be a student.

I can see that a part of me only wants to write when it has "the perfect idea";  when it's the "perfect time"; when it "knows" that it can please itself (or my tiny band of 6 followers!); when it's able to craft the "perfect piece".

I want to be seen as a talented writer.

But the paradox is I can't actually be that unless I practice the craft.  I can't be that unless I write - and sometimes struggle - and fail in the struggle.  But also LEARN in the attempt.

Jon likes to say that he likes "being a student", loves "to learn".  But I can see that as he's gotten older, the learning has become more and more limited - the ventures into something unknown, or something he might stumble at, rarer.

I love this Guy Finley quote.

"You must learn to stop thinking in terms of beginnings and endings, successes and failures; and begin to treat everything in your life as a learning experience instead of a proving one."

To be a student means to be willing to learn something, not try to prove something about yourself.  Proving only leads to protection.  Protection turns one to the past, not towards progress.  Proving tells us that "pretending" is the same as "possessing".

So, I want to relearn - to remind myself - of what it means to be a student.

When was the last time I truly remember being a student?  It was many, many years ago, when I was learning how to become a basketball coach.

That's me on the far left.  I was the Varsity Assistant coach for the Glencoe Girls' basketball team.  This team, led by my friend Mark Neffendorf, won the Oregon AAA State Championship in 1990.  It was one of my proudest moments as a coach to be part of this team, and Mark's program.  Five years later, I was off on my own.

This was my 1995 team at South Medford.  This team was the 1st girls' team in Medford to win the League championship and go on to the Oregon state tournament.  We didn't win a trophy, but I was also very proud of this team

So, what did it mean to "be a student", learning how to coach?  What did I do then, in pursuit of this love, that I've forgotten?

Being a student of "coaching" meant:
  • There was nothing that didn't want to learn about the craft.  I remember having a deep desire to grow, to absorb everything I could, from any coach I met. I coached with boys' coaches, girls' coaches; I talked with football and track coaches.   I WANTED to "know" coaching.
  • I was willing to do whatever was asked of me in this pursuit.  I spent countless hours and weeks, and months, and years at summer camps, coaching all-star teams,  in offseason planning sessions, in late night video sessions after games. I didn't care whether I was paid or not. I just knew that any, and everything I volunteered to do, would help me learn something new.   
  • I realized, without question, that I didn't already "know it all" when it came to being a successful head coach.  So whatever my mentors (Barry Adams, Barney Holland, Mark Neffendorf) asked me to do, I did.  And even though my long term goal was to become a head coach, I never remember thinking about that goal while I was doing all that I did.  I just wanted to be a "good coach", now.
To be a student means:
  • To have a real love for what you wish to learn
  • To be willing to do whatever that love leads you to do
  • To be willing to surrender the protection and pretense of being perfect already; of "knowing it all"
"I don't think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday." (Abraham Lincoln)

Relearning how to be a student means to remember that a student is an explorer; a student must be a risk taker.

Like Horatio Nelson Jackson, who with Sewall Crocker (and his dog Bud) became the first man to drive across the United States in 1903.

Here's to remembering how to be a student, and to being willing to "stick my head out the window" a little more Bud! 

I'm going to try to remember that little "Pearl"...and to practice it more often.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Things That Take My Breath Away

"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to pray in and play in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul." (John Muir)

Three weeks have whizzed by since I last wrote.  How can my days be filled so quickly and completely that they become just a blur?  Thank goodness I have the good sense to seek an "oasis" on Sunday afternoons, and to find some beauty, some healing and strength in just being still.

I recently read another blog where the writer had written an entry titled "Things That Take My Breath Away".  I enjoyed reading what they shared so much that I thought I'd use it myself.  So, let's go "wandering", and see what we see...

Things That Take My Breath Away

  • Views that seem to go on forever.  When I'm reminded that I am really just a very, very small part of a very big world.  And that all my scurrying and worrying really doesn't do much to change that world - but being willing to be a part of it, always changes me.

 View from Cape Perpetua, near Florence, Oregon
  • The pure, unadulterated (what a perfect word!) joy of children playing and exploring.  Kids are natural "masters" at this.  Why as we get older do we forget how to do this?  Too much to protect?  Too afraid to fall?  I want to keep remembering how to play - and that a "skinned knee" is just a "boo-boo", not the end of the world.

Our granddaugher Marley on the slide
  • The courage of one, standing for something true, inspite of what opposes them.  I was reminded today in class of the need for that kind of courage.  Not a courage born of strength and resistance, but a courage that because its roots are in humility, can see that in any moment of challenge all that's ever required is to take one small step.
"Tank Man" - Tianamen Square, Beijing China - 1989
  • Morning glories.  Every year we plant some in the front of our house, and I love them because of their beauty and shy optimism - always reminding me to "turn towards the light".  This year I didn't plant any.  But a half dozen plants came up anyway - and taught me an additional lesson about persistence!
Our morning glories
  • Sunrises and sunsets.  I can sit and look contentedly at them, anytime, anywhere.  Funny how I can feel so at peace with nature's daily "beginnings" and "endings", yet be so stirred up at times when I'm faced with a "beginning" (Monday morning, a new project, something unexpected) or an "ending" (a good time ends, something has to be fixed, I make a mistake).  Life's full of beginnings and endings - all can be used - for the good.
Sunset at the Franciscan Lodge, Lake Tahoe CA (a favorite spot of ours!)
A sunrise above the hills of Grants Pass, OR
  • A simple act of love.  Deborah and I just celebrated our wedding anniversary yesterday.  We had a wonderful evening at a fancy restaurant in Ashland:  ate the finest food we've ever had, were treated like royalty by white-shirted servers.  We enjoyed it all, but I also know that our love for each other has been expressed in ways smaller and simpler - but all the more divine, because they were uncomplicated and absolutely pure. 
A note Deborah left me - made with paper dots - while cleaning my office
  • The joy I feel in sharing my life with Deborah.  What a wonderful, magical mystery Life's "mathematics" are!  That "One" + "One" would = Something Far Greater than Two.  In the last six years, we have shared big adventures (Italy), painful moments with people close to us, busy times, and like today, quiet, sleepy afternoons.  All of them have been special to me.  Why?  Because they also remind me, just as a majestic oceanside view does, that I am not meant to live in a world just of, and for myself.
Deborah on a hike with me this summer.
"The most beautiful view is the one I share with you."

"Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful; for beauty is God's handwriting - a wayside sacrament.  Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky, in every fair flower, and thank God for it as a cup of blessing." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

So what't the Pearl I walk away with this afternoon?  Nothing new - but something I easily forget, or drop, as I whiz through my days.  Stop and find moments of stillness - not "whenever I can" - but deliberately, intentionally - each day.  There is beauty all around me - just waiting for me to stop and let it touch me.

Monday, September 5, 2011

"Viva Italia!" - Arrivederci, At Last

"If you want a happy ending, that depends of course, on where you stop the story." (Orson Welles)

"So, allora, my have the rest of the afternoon to explore Florence.  Shop, have fun, eat lunch at a nice cafe.  Please meet back in the hotel lobby at 7:30 pm for to leave for our final dinner together.  We will go someplace very nice - please dress up, ok?...bene, bene!"

With those last instructions from our guide, Raffaele, the rest of the Perilloistas dispersed across the Piazza della Signoria, hunting for bargains or a cool granita to sip. But Deborah and I had other plans first.  We were off to the Ponte Vecchio for an important delivery.

The night before we had enjoyed a fairy-tale like encounter with Giorgio, a wealthy Florentine businessman.  We drank champagne with him, shared some laughs, and were surprised when he offered to give Deborah an expensive leather coat.  We politely declined, and everyone left smiling.  But Deborah was afraid we had been rude.  So the next morning, she wrote a note of apology to Giorgio, thanking him again for his kind offer, and even inviting him to come visit us in southern Oregon, should he ever travel there. (What a sassy offer!  I love my wife - she's not afraid to say anything!).  After our morning tour was over, we went back to Giorgio's shop to deliver the note.  When we got there, he wasn't there, but the sales clerk recognized us ("Ah, Giorgio's American friends!") and promised to give the note to him when he came in.  We smiled and thanked her and left.  We had done the "polite thing", and could now relax and enjoy our final afternoon in Florence.

We returned to the Piazza della Signoria and sat down at the Cafe Perseo there for our final lunch:  Pizza Marguerite, a house salad, and a glass of wine.  Our friendly waiter, Joseph/Giuseppe, even took our picture.

Suddenly, Deborah leaned in and whispered to me.  "Oh, my God, Jonathan!  You won't believe who's sitting behind you!".  As I turned, Deborah chirped, "Giorgio!  Hello!  Fancy seeing you again!".  And there he was again (oddly, still wearing the same clothes we saw him in last night!).  Giorgio turned and beamed.  "Buon giorno!", he replied, and got up and came over to our table and gave Deborah an "official" Italian double kiss on the cheeks (I got a hand shake).  "I got your note!", Giorgio said excitedly, and pulled it out of his pocket.  "Thank you so much for your kind letter".  The envelope was opened, and he seemed quite touched at Deborah's sincerity.

Giorgio was seated with two other men, who he introduced to us:  a cousin who worked for him, and his lead designer.  Both men were the epitome of sharply dressed, cosmopolitan, suave Italian style (kinda like this):

Giorgio's companions were very interested in talking to us, especially about politics and current events.  Deborah scored BIG points with them when she told them she loved Ronald Reagan as President!)  "So, you are history teacher, no?", the designer asked me.  "What area was your specialty?".  I tried to tell him that I taught Economics now, but then he surprised me with a pop quiz.  "Tell me, Mr. Teacher.  This is the 150th anniversary of what event in your American history?".  Nervously, I tried to do the math in my head, searching for the answer, but alas, none came.  Where was my encyclopedic brain when I needed it!  "I don't know", I weakly replied.  "Tell me.".  "Why it's the beginning of your American Civil War.", he answered with a superior grin, shaking his head at my ignorance.  I laughed and shrugged my shoulders - and thankfully, our lunch arrived, saving me from further embarrassment.  Ah well, no worse than being shown up by a smart student back home in Medford.  Giorgio and his friends said "Buon Appetito!" and left for other urban adventures elsewhere, and we finished our lunch.

We returned to our hotel and spent the rest of the afternoon packing for our trip home the next day.  Our flight was scheduled to leave Florence at 7 am, which meant being at the airport at 5 am, which meant being up at 330 am.  A long day once again loomed ahead.  Packing to go home was also a little more difficult than packing to go to Italy - mainly because of all the shopping we had done here!  We had paintings and bags and shoes and clothes and all sorts of trinkets to bring home somehow.  So we crammed and stowed as best as we could; we lined up our clothes for the marathon trip home; checked our passports and boarding tickets for the umpteenth time.  And before we knew it, it was time to head out for our final dinner with the group.

Everyone was dressed in their finest (at least as fine as could be when living out of your suitcase for 10 days). We boarded the bus and drove up to the Piazalle Michelangelo, above the city, to the Caffe Ristorante La Loggia, for dinner.  The view up here was spectacular, especially on a clear summer night.

After drinks on the terrace, we all went in and sat down for another sumptuous 4 course meal.

For one last time, the wine flowed...the laughter poured out as we told our stories, and shared a meal with our good friends.  We promised to keep in touch with each other, as best as we could.

Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive.  ~Anäis Nin

Thanks again to Angela, Lloyd, Mary, and Diana for being such good friends and companions on this trip with us.  We were glad to share this little part of our worlds with you!

And then our dessert came... just a little something simple...

And then before we knew it, it was 1030 pm, and time for all hearty travelers to head back to the hotel.  The next day would be a long and tiring one as we all wound our way back home.

So, we said "Buona sera"... some of the men danced a jig in the Piazza as we boarded the bus, and we said our goodbyes to Italy.

Deborah and I barely slept that night.  We finally woke at 3 am and then just laid on our beds in our clothes, just wanting the day's ordeals to begin so that they could end, and we'd be back home.  

The trip home was indeed a long one.  Our flight from Florence was delayed 4 hours, and we had to stand in line for over an hour to get rebooked and on our way.  Florence to Amsterdam to Seattle to Portland.  At each stop, we endured a different challenge.  In Amsterdam, the Customs officials pulled us out of line to check some irregularity with our passports.  (Reminded Deborah too much of an episode of "Locked Up Abroad"!  She had visions of us being put in a dark cell somewhere!).  We managed to sail through and continued on.  Eight hours later in Sea-Tac Airport, TSA officials rustled through Deborah's bag and tossed out some "contraband" liquids (that somehow had made it all the way TO Italy and back, without anyone before noticing them.  Thank God the U.S. of A. was once again made safe from shampoo!).  Screaming kids sitting two rows from us on the last flight from Seattle to Portland made the last 45 minutes of our journey a special kind of challenge.  But we survived it all and finally made it back home to Oregon, and then to our quiet little house in Grants Pass. :-)

It's now been two months since we came home.  Our trip to Italy was an adventure shared that we will never forget.  We don't know when we'll ever get a second chance to return to Italy, but I know we hope we will.  A second chance to just go there and to sit in one place for a week or more, and just soak in the sun, drink some wine, eat pasta and gelato until we're full, sip a limoncello, and smile.  Perhaps to Sorrento...perhaps to parts unexplored like the Cinque Terre or the Tuscan countryside.

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” (Jawaharial Nehru)

But, regardless of where we go, or when, I know one thing for sure.  I will look forward to sharing all of the beauty, charm, and adventure that comes with my wife Deborah.  I couldn't ask for a better travel partner.  "Ti amo, bella donna!".  Thanks for being with me on a summer journey that I'll never forget...

Us at dinner in Sorrento at O'Parruchiano Ristorante in our best Italian linen

I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” 
(Mark Twain)

Friday, August 26, 2011

One Year Later: The Pearls I've Found

"If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient attention, than to any other talent." (Isaac Newton)

I began this blog a year ago.  It's not surprising that the historian in me would remember and want to "commemorate" this anniversary - my wife often marvels at how I can remember the when we first kissed; our first dates; when we moved in together; our birthdays, when I proposed, etc. (but I can't remember where I left my keys - or what she "just told me" the day before :-)...

At the end of my first entry, I wrote this in explaining the name of my blog:

"I called this "Looking For Pearls" because I am interested to see what unexpected "lessons" I will learn from doing this.  What types of "gems", of insights, will I stumble across on this journey? "  

So, one year later... what Pearls have I discovered through the 39 entries I've written so far?

  • I say I love writing, but a part of me always "panics" and "squirms" when I first sit down to write.  "What will I write about?  What will people think about this?  It's no good if it isn't perfect!  This is too hard!"  Bedeviled by the same gremlins that sit on the laps of all writers.  But I've learned to perservere - and to enjoy patiently waiting for something new and fresh to be given me.  Taking the first step in the direction of what I love, guided by what I love, has always been rewarded.
  • How the simplest things make me happy:  the Sunday newspaper, raking leaves in the fall; fixing a meal and then sharing it with my wife on our back patio; saying "Good morning" to our little dog Izzy; holding hands with my wife every chance I can.  I'm grateful to enjoy a life so full of blessings.
  • That raindrops could be gymnasts.  I loved this image that came to me in an entry I called "Nature's Reality Show"!  It was happy and magical, and reminded me of the value of simply observing the beautiful world around me.
  • The most unsatisfying entries I wrote?  The seven "Today's Tidbits".  They were things I wrote years ago that I simply added to my blog because I hadn't written anything for awhile.  I thought I'd enjoy sprucing them up and reading them again, but I really didn't (though others did).  There was nothing new in them for me - nothing discovered.  "Everyone one of us has in him a continent of undiscovered character.  Blessed is he who acts the Columbus to his own soul." (Author unknown).  So I learned the value of daring to always explore - and not hug too close to the shores of the familiar.
  • The most enjoyable entries I wrote?  The eight entries I've written (still a couple more to come!) on our trip to Italy this summer.  It's been such fun to remember and then share all the adventures and fun Deborah and I had on this trip.  We are deeply grateful for the generosity of her dad in sending us on this, and we hope we'll have a chance to return to Italy sometime in the future. (After all, there's still more gelato and limoncello there for us to enjoy!)  And I was reminded that traveling is always an opportunity for discovery - not just of things "foreign", but also about yourself.
  • The most valuable entry (for me personally)?:  "Take The Road Alone"...this entry was a difficult and emotional one for me to write - but an important one in establishing for myself why I was doing this.
  • I was surprised at how little I wrote about school and my job.  I thought I'd have lots to say during the year, sparked by all the "craziness" that working with high school students for over a quarter century would bring.  But I didn't - only 4 entries in a year.  I wonder if I'll write more about this in the future?  I wonder why I didn't?  Was I really just "too busy"?  Might be worth exploring this year.
And so I'll continue these literary expeditions... hoping as I wander along... whether in the company of others...

Me and 4 of my sisters - Summer 1967

Me and back-packing buddies Chip and Kent - 1976

Or just traveling by myself... "taking the scenic route", as I'm prone to do (God bless my wife for her patience!... it seems I've always done that, as you can see below)

Me setting out on a "scenic tour" - 1962

Along the way, I will continue to look for life's Pearls... hidden lessons meant for me to discover.

Me at Shore Acres Gardens - August 2011

Sunday, August 21, 2011

"Viva Italia!" - Appreciating Timeless Beauty

"Art is a collaboration between God and the artist, and the less the artist does the better. (André Gide)

It was Saturday the 9th, and our trip to Italy was finally coming to an end.  The eight days that we had spent in this sunny country, the home of my wife's ancestors, had passed surprisingly quickly.  Our days had been filled with so many sights seen, new experiences had, and unexpected adventures, such as our unforgettable meeting with Giorgio, the Florentine businessman, the night before.  We had one final day left in Florence - one final chance to soak up some piece of Italy to take back home in our memories - what would we do?

Our group went on our final excursion together that morning; a trip to the Accademia Gallery to see Michelangelo's masterpiece statue, "David", and then a short visit to Florence's 2nd most recognized landmark (besides "David"); the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Saint Mary of the Flowers cathedral) and its famous "Duomo" (dome).  I was excited to see both of these beautiful works, even if it meant being herded around and seeing them with crowds of others, as had been the case during all of our trip.

There was a huge line going into the Accademia, but like when we saw the Colosseum earlier in the trip, our tour guide skirted us right around the queue and straight in.  The Accademia (at least the part we were allowed in) was surprisingly small - just one hallway, lined with statues, leading straight to the "David".

As I neared it, goosebumps rose on my arms and I felt a chill of admiration.  Words just can't describe the experience of seeing something beautiful that is timeless.  As I gazed at the 17 foot tall statue - contemplating it silently before our guide started to fill my earphones with facts and history about it - I wasn't sure what I admired the most.  Was it the magic of the statue's "real-ness"?  How could the artist have created something so alive, so strong and supple, so expressive, out of cold marble?  Or was it simply admiration of his skill?  His dedication?  His daring?  Michelangelo was 26 when he accepted the challenge to carve his masterpiece for the city of Florence, and he worked on it for over two years.  Most likely, the quiet awe which filled me as I gazed at the statue was born out of all of this.

We were told to not take any pictures of "David", but I'm glad that our friend Angela was brave enough to sneak a few snapshots that she shared with us.

I'll always remember the determined gaze in David's eyes (got this pic online!)

The only other statues we saw in the Accademia were 4 pieces, also by Michelangelo, known as the "Prisoners".  These are unfinished pieces, each evidence of the artist's philosophy that:

"Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it." (Michelangelo)

I had seen two other pieces from this series in the Louvre in Paris when I was there many years ago.  And once again, I was in awe at both the skill and the beauty that was apparent in each of these works.  My favorite was the one named "Atlas" (see below)

Can you see Atlas' eyes looking at you, above his wrist, as he struggles to hold up the world?

 Deborah and I and the 35 other "Perilloistas" then hiked over to the Piazza del Duomo to see the Basilica.  We wandered through some narrow streets, lined by old buildings and shops, and then turned the corner.  Deborah said it took her breath away when she first saw the beautiful baroque church.

The pictures I tried to take don't do justice to the grandeur and beauty of the Basilica.  It, and its Bell Tower and Duomo, tower above the square.  I couldn't fit them all into my tiny borrowed camera's viewfinder.  The cathdral walls were dazzling:  green, white, and red marble stripes.  Here are a couple pics that show why the building took our breath away so.  I don't know why we didn't go inside the Basillica, or why we weren't given the chance to climb up inside the Duomo or Bell Tower (I knew you could) - guess it wasn't on "our agenda"!

Florence has the reputation of being the home of some of the world's finest art, and artists, and our final tour that morning had certainly shown us beauty that we would never forget.

After the tour ended, we had the rest of the afternoon to do as we wished in Florence.  Deborah and I wandered around a bit and did a little more shopping.  But we were tired.  I think we were ready to go home.  All that was left for us to experience was two more meals in Italy (lunch and our final dinner together that night), and then packing for the long trip back to Oregon the next day.

Time for a last gelato...on a hot bench in the piazza...(not the best one we had, even though it cost us 25 Euro!  Sheesh!)

But, wouldn't you know it?  There would be a final surprise at lunch that day; one that was a perfect way to end our visit to Firenze... (you'll never guess who we ran into again!)

Or maybe you will... see you at my next entry!


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

"Viva Italia!" - Giorgio and the Girl from Woodland Hills

"I been all around this great big world , And I seen all kinds of girls.
Yeah, but I couldn't wait to get back in the states  - Back to the cutest girls in the world.
I wish they all could be California , 
I wish they all could be California,
I wish they all could be California girls." (The Beach Boys, 1965)

It had been both a wonderful and tiring day in Florence - and the same could be said for our trip to Italy as a whole.  By that Friday evening, we had seen and done so much - what more could there possibly be to do or see?  Deborah and I were pretty much worn out - if not by all the shopping and walking we had done that day, then definitely by our search for a place to eat that night.  We had walked around in circles, looking at all the sidewalk restaurants and cafes - most of them empty (Italians don't eat dinner until after 8-9 pm - it was 6 pm!) and uninviting.  Finally, we plopped down at the Caffe Paszkowski in the Piazza della Repubblica.  Why?  Because it had a fan and shade - and because we couldn't go any further.

Our waitress was a young, dark haired Italian woman.  When she came to take our order, she semi-patiently waited as I tried to order in Italian.  Together, she and Deborah shared a not so secret "eye-roll" and "sigh".  "Do you ever get tired of listening to people try to speak Italian who can't?", Deborah asked.  And the waitress sighed, "Yes.  I just wish they'd speak English, and save us all the trouble!".  Mildly embarrassed, I did as she asked - and we all had a good laugh! (And I was reminded that it's always better to just be who you are!)

As we waited for our dinner, Deborah and I watched the people walking by.  "Italian women are just so stylish!", she said.  "Look at them.  Dresses, heels, scarves.  Always looking good.  Me - I'm just a "shlump-a-dinka" in my jeans and sneakers."  After a week of living out of a suitcase, Deborah was road-weary.  "I haven't exercised or run.  I've been eating and drinking more than usual.  I'm sure I've gained weight.", she lamented.  And like a good (and intelligent) husband, I just listened sympathetically.

"Shlumpadinka" (definition):  Word created by Oprah Winfrey referring to a woman who dresses as though she has completely given up on herself; unstylish.  (Ex. My sister is a shlumpadinka, she wears nothing but sweats.)

Suddenly, Deborah leaned in to me and whispered.  "I think that man sitting at the table behind you is listening to us.".  I turned slightly, and saw an Italian man in sunglasses - the epitome of sophistication and style - dressed all in white linen, sitting and reading a newspaper, who just smiled - so I smiled back.  We sat quietly for a bit, and then Deborah saw a group of people all standing and looking at something in the square.  "I wonder what they're all looking at?", she said.  Surprisingly, the Italian man behind us spoke up.  "They're all looking at a map of the piazza.  Many people, locals and tourists meet there to decide where they'll go next."  So, he had been eavesdropping on us!  "Hello", he said.  "My name's Giorgio."

"Hello, I'm Deborah and this is my husband, Jon", my wife replied.  We told Giorgio that we were tourists from America (Isn't it funny how tourists feel the need to tell locals that they're tourists - isn't it obvious when they open their mouths?) and just visiting Florence for a couple of days.  Giorgio immediately perked up.  "America?  I've been to America many times", he said and recounted some of his travels to both the East and West coasts.  "Where in America are you from?", he asked.  "I'm from California", Deborah said.  "Ah, California!", Giorgio replied.  "I had a girlfriend from Woodland Hills.  I used to fly her here to Florence to see me many times."

"You're kidding!", my wife exclaimed.  "I'm from Woodland Hills!  That's where I grew up and where my parents still live!".  What an amazing coincedence!  This seemed to spark Giorgio's interest in the two of us even more. "Ah, California women", he wistfully said.  "My ex-girlfriend.  She said to me once. "Giorgio.  You will never be happy with another woman after me.  I am Every Woman for you." "I love California women.", he said, shaking his head with a smile.

We continued to talk and chat throughout the evening.  Giorgio's family owned several leather goods stores, including one down in the Ponte Vecchio, the famous shopping district in Florence, and he was on the Board of Directors.  His family had been selling leather coats and purses for over a century and was quite famous.  They sold merchandise to stores like Nordstrom's and Saks Fifth Avenue in the U.S. and had dressed celebrities like Hilary Clinton and her daughter Chelsea, tennis star Venus Williams, and others.  Deborah asked him if he worked a lot, and he smiled and said "These days - not so much anymore.  Just as much as I need to."  We were "hob-nobbing" with a real, live, rich Florentine businessman!  The "Old World" meeting the "New"!

Here's a link to Giorgio's store's website.  Click below.

Ponte Vecchio Florence

We were enjoying the visit, and my wife (God love her!) is never afraid to say anything to anybody.  When she asked if Giorgio was seeing anyone special now, he bragged about having a girlfriend in Brazil.  "What's with all these long-distance relationships?", Deborah chided him.  "Ah, women.  They want so much", Giorgio said.  "Don't give me that!", my wife replied.  "You seem to have a problem with committment!".  We all laughed - and Giorgio hemmed and hawed his way to another topic.   "We should get together tomorrow.  I'll show you my shop.", he invited.  But we told him we weren't sure we would be free the next night, and that we were leaving the next day.  "Well, I'll take you there now.", he said.  How about that for an unexpected adventure!  So we paid our bill and took off walking with him.  Unbeknownst to me, Deborah would later tell me that Giorgio had actually motioned to the waitress to let him pay for our dinner - but she had forgotten and given me the check.  What a surprise that would have been!

So, we trailed Giorgio through the city.  As we walked, he pointed to landmarks and told us about the local history.  This was better than any "guided tour" with headsets.  Finally, we reached his shop.  Giorgio strolled in as if he were the King of the place - we scurried behind like two little street urchins.  "These are my American friends", he announced to the sales clerks.  "We're here to drink some champagne".  And so he took us to the back of the store and popped open a bottle of bubbly and poured glasses for all of us.  Of course, we acted like this happened to us "all the time" (not!).  We giggled and drank - and tried to not do anything silly.

Then Giorgio stood up and said to Deborah, "I want to dress you like an Italian woman!  Let me show you some of our coats.".  This flustered Deborah a little, but it seemed harmless and fun, so she went along with him.  Giorgio began to pull coats down off the wall and putting them on her.  He called for his sales clerk,Vittorio, to help.  Vittorio strode over and told Giorgio to let him handle it.  "You know nothing!", he said to Giorgio.  "All you do is come in here and drink!", and they both laughed.  And I smiled and sat there and watched these two Italian fashion experts flit around my beautiful wife, putting coats and scarves on her, and even bringing out some sexy Italian pumps to wear.  They fussed over her and spun her around, admiring how she looked.  "Bellisimo!", they said.  When Vittorio found out that Deborah was Italian, he asked where her family was from.  When she said Naples, he exclaimed, "Ah, the people from Naples!  So full of life and laughter and fun!", and ran and put some Neapolitan music on in the shop!

It was all a very "Cinderella-esque" experience.  While I watched, I snuck a few pictures of it all.

Deborah and Giorgio

Vittorio helps Deborah out

Giorgio and the "bella donna"

But, like Cinderella, at some point "the carriage turns into a pumpkin" again, and the magical evening ends.  Giorgio sidled over to me and whispered, "I have a deal for you.  This coat that Deborah is wearing - I will give it to you!".  The coat had a price tag of over $2500!  An unbelievable offer - but not one that we felt comfortable accepting.  We hardly knew Giorgio and didn't know why we would be deserving of such generosity. So I said "Grazie, but no." Deborah immediately took off the coat and thanked Giorgio for the offer, but firmly said "No" as well.  Giorgio smiled and didn't seem bothered at all.  He let us finish our champagne, and then smiled and waved goodbye as we did our best to gracefully leave his shop.

We laughed and laughed, and chattered all the way back to our hotel about what had just happened.  "Can you believe that???", we said.  "What an experience!.  Who knows what might happen when you least expect it!  People will not believe it when we tell them about this!"

This was a memory that we would never forget - two "shlumpadinkas" from southern Oregon courted, even for just a little while, by a rich Florentine businessman.  Not in our wildest dreams!

But the story wasn't over yet!  You'll have to come back for my next entry to hear the remarkable ending to this story.  Ciao!

Sweetie on the Ponte Vecchio

Me too!

Seeing The Rascal Inside

"Make yourself an honest man, and then you may be sure there is one less rascal in the world." (Thomas Carlyle)

These thoughts have been strong in my mind the last few days, spurred by a short talk that I heard at class Friday night.  I've been coming to these classes for 6 years now, and the things that I have learned from what we're taught here by Guy Finley, the director of this school, have both challenged me and changed my life.

One of the fundamental things we are taught is the importance of self-knowledge:  of being present to ourselves and aware of the thoughts and feelings that are passing through us and often driving what we do.  To be present requires a degree of detachment on our part ("See the state - don't be the state").  But most importantly, it requires honesty.  Being present challenges us to be willing to clearly and unflinchingly see things about ourselves that we don't want to see.  Only then, can we change.

"Honesty is the path to self-knowledge.  No honesty, no self-knowledge." (GF)

As part of a short talk on Friday night, Guy said the following:  "The sleeping mind has no interest in awakening."  And that spurred me to see the following things as well.

  • The sleeping mind has no interest in awakening.
  • The agitated mind has no interest in being still.
  • The nature that thinks "It knows it all" has no interest in learning.
  • The nature that lives to "solve problems" and "Be heroic" cannot imagine a life without fear or burdens, and wouldn't know what "to do" in such a world.
  • The mind that is satisfied with an imagined Life: "safe, predictable, and limited" - where it always knows itself - has no interest in real Life, which offers discovery only through taking risks, being willing to be empty, and testing one's limits.
  • The mind that believes that Growth and Change is possible simply by THINKING about it - but not DOING anything new - has no interest in hearing that it is deceiving itself and is wasting its time.
  • The nature that whispers "There'll always be time tomorrow to do what you need to do" has no interest in me realizing that the only one who gains from the delay is not me, but the nature that never wanted to change in the first place.
It's sobering to write these observations down and realize that they all can be found inside of me:  silently and successfully lobbying me to just "go along with them" for so long.

"Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom" (Thomas Jefferson)

But that's why I wanted to write them down - to do my best to expose them.  Change can only occur if I'm willing to see what needs to be changed - and see the need for change.  Too often in my life, I've avoided seeing what I didn't want to see:  about myself, about my family, about the world in general.

But that's a rascal's life: always running, always pretending, always scrambling.  Fortunately, Life in its infinite wisdom, always persists in offering chances to see that there's so much more we're meant to experience; if we're willing to be honest, and if we're willing to work - to do something different.

So that's my intention, and I'm sure I'll need to be reminded of that.  That's why I sat and wrote this - a little honest "letter" to myself... from a genuine friend... the Truth.

It's been rewarding to put these thoughts down in front of me... now I want to put them to use, and turn them into real "pearls"....

Thursday, August 4, 2011

"Viva Italia!" - If It's Friday, It Must Be Firenze

"Travelers never think that they are the foreigners."  (Mason Cooley)

Road trips.  Long, seemingly endless drives.  "Are we there yet?".  Interrupted only by bathroom breaks and occasional stops to eat junk food.  Squirm and twist in the seat, but can never get comfortable enough to nap.  Fiddle with the air conditioning.  Wish you could be a dog and just hang your head out the window.  Road trips - mind and butt numbing experiences...Not my favorite...

That's what our Thursday was like when we left Sorrento.  An eight hour drive on the bus:  4 hours back to Rome, and then another 4 hours north to get to Florence.  The Italian freeways looked pretty much like I-5:  long and straight; "Autogrills" instead of "AM/PM" minimarts.  We saw a lot of Italy that day, but mostly from the inside of a tour bus. We whizzed by much of the fabled Tuscan landscape:  fields of sunflowers, rustic villages perched atop rocky hills, ringed by cypress trees.  How I wished we could have stopped to wander through this beauty.  Ah well - another time!  Here's some pics to remind me of what we missed.

But we were headed to Florence - "Firenze" - the capital city of Tuscany.  Florence:  the fabled heart of the Italian Renaissance; home to artists, writers, and sculptors like Cellini, Donatello, Brunelleschi, Boccaccio, Dante, and of course, Michelangelo; the seat of power and wealth for the Medici family and Niccolo Machiavelli.  So, even though I was disappointed in all that we missed as we trudged northward, I was excited about all there was to see in Florence - once we got there.

Florence is a city of 400,000 people (surprisingly small to me!) that sits in a "bowl", surrounded by hills, straddling the Arno River.  As we neared it, it reminded me a lot of the Rogue River Valley, my home (missing the green fir trees though).  Before we drove to our hotel, we stopped at the Piazzale Michelangelo, a square overlooking the city.  We stretched our legs in the sun and hot air (It was 100 degrees!) and we took a group photo.  Here is the "Perillo Family", July 2011 (Can you see Deborah and I? Center left in photo)

We finally checked into our hotel, the NH Firenze, at 5:30 pm.  Deborah and I then took a long walk along the Arno River to get some exercise.  Our destination was the Piazza della Repubblica in central Florence.  We weren't sure how far it was away, but we were game to find out.  Here's a photo from our walk:  first, the Arno River, then the entrance into the Piazza della Repubblica.

It took us a good 30-35 minutes to hike to the Piazza, which didn't leave us enough time to shop and poke around since we had to get back to get cleaned up for dinner.  While we ate, we made another "executive decision".

Our group was scheduled to go to Venice the next day.  When we first saw this on our itinerary it sounded inviting, but now it didn't sound so fun.  We'd have to get up early, hop on a train for a 2 hour ride further north; spend a day walking around with a tour guide; eat dinner in the train station, then ride back, returning to Florence late Friday night.  Deborah and I had had all the riding and shuffling around as a group that we "could stand".  So, we told the group "Arrivederci!" and enjoyed sleeping in, a late breakfast, and then a whole day to ourselves in Florence.  It was a great decision!  We walked; we shopped; we ate; we drank; we really got to savor the beauty and bustle of Florence - without headsets telling us where to look.  We were two curious tourists, free to stop and go on a dime, not a herd of 40 following a guy with a flag.  I would pull out my trusty little Rick Steves map and try to steer us to our next "destination", but most of the time, we just wandered, hand in hand, laughing and smiling.  Here are some of my favorite photos from that day.

Deborah in front of a statue called "Hercules and the Lion"

Me and "Il Porcellini" at the Straw Market 
(Rub his nose and you will come back to Florence someday - so I did!)

Deborah shopping at the Straw Market (famous for it's leather goods and at the Cafe where we had lunch

The entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence's town hall and an art museum

"Clocks slay time... time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life."  
(William Faulkner)

Our day in Florence just whizzed by.  We hiked back to our hotel that afternoon - sweaty and tired - but surprisingly, ready for more.  While Deborah showered and rested, I went searching for a restaurant nearby for dinner.  After hiking for a half hour, I returned unsuccessfully to the hotel.  We could always return to the Piazza della Repubblica and eat at one of their sidewalk cafes.  So, we put on some clean clothes - Deborah opted for some more comfortable sneakers (but definitely not as "stylish"!) - and we retraced our steps back to the center of the city.

Little did we know the adventure that was in store for us... something we have laughed and talked about again and again in the month since we returned...perhaps our best memory...A night when two travelers from little old Grants Pass enjoy a magical evening...

Anything that good deserves a blog entry all to itself!  Ciao!

I didn't take this pic, but it's a gorgeous look at downtown Florence from the bell tower next to the famous Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral and its beautiful Duomo.