Friday, June 14, 2013

Time Out

by Sheila Connolly

Sharon's post earlier this week put my recent adventures abroad in a new perspective for me.

View from Capitignano in Tuscany
The backstory:  I just returned from a two-week trip to Italy, planned by two of my college classmates and announced at our reunion last June.  Space was limited to forty (no spouses or partners), and since there were more people who wanted to go than spaces, the organizers held a lottery, and I was one of the lucky winners.  I put my name in the day it was originally announced, without even thinking about it.  I'd been to Italy once before, decades ago, and had never planned to go back, but when the gods drop a gift in your lap, you don't quibble about the wrapping paper.

It was fabulous, and I'm sure I'll be telling you more in coming days, but I was struck by how well the trip fulfilled many of Sharon's suggestions.

--we spent ten days without seeing a television set or a newspaper.  I assume someone would have told us if something major had blown up (especially if it interfered with air travel), but otherwise we were cut off from current events.  Ah, peace.

--there was no time to read.  Of course we all brought books (both print and digital), and we had access to plenty more, but somehow reading never fit into the schedule.  We were busy from dawn to after the late dinners, and then we fell into bed and slept. No need to lull ourselves to sleep with words—by ten most nights we had to fight to keep our eyes open.

--no marketing.  Ah, bliss. (Well, I might have to admit that the group I was with was the perfect demographic target for my kind of book, but I didn't run around flogging the books to anyone who would listen.) I had a book published on June 4th, Monument to the Dead, and the extent of my promotion for that was a newsletter to my fewer than 1,000 subscribers.  Period.  No social networks, no guest blogs.  I could get email on my phone, but no way was I going to try to respond to blogs and posts on a two-inch screen.  It was a clean break.

--Exercise.  Sound of hysterical laughter.  In northern Italy, it seems that everything is on a hill.  Uphill.  We walked, and walked, and walked.  Through towns clinging to mountainsides, through fields with Roman ruins, into the center of a mountain of marble in Carrara.  In Florence we saw at least three museums (all in different parts of the city, of course), and then took off on our own to shop or, in my case, to hunt down the perfect gelato.  We did not sit in a cafĂ© and admire the passing crowd; we were the passing crowd.

--Eating?  Amazing.  And healthy.  Lots of very fresh tomatoes, and olive oil from trees only feet from where we ate.  Incredible seafood, from the sea we could see as we sat at our tables.  Wine from grapes right down the hill. The aforesaid gelato—I tried nine flavors, sometimes two in a day.  But in small, intense portions.

--No planning.  One of the most appealing things about this whole idea was that I didn't have to organize it, past getting myself to Italy on time.  I didn't have to hunt down places to stay, rent a car, make decisions about which museums or towns to see, or where and when to eat.  It was a great relief to let someone else worry about all that stuff.

--One thing Sharon didn't mention:  Talking.  We writers are often solitary
Monterosso in Liguria--the view
from my patio
people, and there are days when my main companions are my cats (yes, I talk to them).  On this trip I was thrown into a group of forty interesting, accomplished women, some of whom I knew to some degree, others I recalled only by name.  Many I hadn't seen for forty years, so there was a lot of catching up to do.  And we did, at meals, in vans as we sped (as much as you can speed on Italian mountain roads with scary hairpin turns) from one incredible site to the next. Smaller subgroups shifted and mingled.  We sang, we toasted our tireless coordinators, both of whom deserve a medal for putting all this together.

--And one more thing:  the views.  We humans seem to define certain views as beautiful, and I'll agree—misty mountains receding into the distance, terra-cotta colored towns scattered in lush greenery, peeks of the sea.  All lovely.  Does it change your perspective to be surrounded by beauty like this? 

Did I write anything?  Nope, nothing beyond a brief email to family.  Did I miss it?  Not really, because it was important to be in the moment. Will I be using the experience in a book?  Of course.

I think it fits Sharon's definition of a break.  Is my brain detoxified?  I think so, if I can get past the jetlag.  What day is this?


Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Sounds like heaven, Sharon, and the pictures suggest you did a lot of straying off the beaten track. Where did you get your gelato in Florence? In 1962 there was a little place called the Perche No! near the Orsanmichele, and it came right up on Google just now. ;)

Sheila Connolly said...

Liz, I was roped into following a friend who had honeymooned in Florence a few years ago and just had to find her special gelato place, Vivoli ( We succeeded, but only after walking in several circles and asking four different people in our pidgin Italian. Well, that's one way to see the city! Who needs art when you have gelato?

Unknown said...

Sheila, your trip sounds wonderful. Breaks can be marvelously invigorating, even when we're taking a break from doing things we love to do.

Michele Drier said...

I lived vicariously through this! I wanted to start a tour group for women as a weight-loss mechanism. Even eating gelato, I alway lose a few pounds on trips to Europe. Maybe walking instad of sitting makes a difference!
Loved this.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

B.K. expresses my sentiments! Sounds like a terrific trip. I must go too.

Julia Buckley said...

Sounds amazing! You'll always be so glad that you went. Thanks for letting us live vicariously through you.