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.