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What I’m Bringing Home from Italy

 

The Italians I met while in Florence have one thing in common: they are content with their lives and feel lucky to be living them.  Most of them have spent time in America – usually more than a year – and they perceive the American way as being quite difficult and angsty.  They feel we are obsessed with having the best of everything and in achieving notoriety.   My new friend, Daniel, said, “Americans have to find the best coffee, the best place to eat – here, we can just sit in a piazza that’s really nothing special and drink coffee without worrying if it’s the best or if we’re seen having the best. We just enjoy sitting and living in the beauty of that one moment.”  He mentioned that in America, he felt he couldn’t take a break just to live – it had to be consumed with work or striving or getting more.

 

 

Another man runs a beautiful leather shop around the corner from my apartment.  At the end of our shopping trip, enamored by his knowledge and customer service skills, one of us said, “Paolo, you’re going to be famous!”  He smiled and shook his head like we had offered him a shot glass full of rat poison.  “Oh, no.  I don’t want fame.  I only want to love what I do. Fame is not good for people.”  He expounded a little, and I don’t remember all that he said, but his implication was clear: Americans love fame, Italians understand that fame is too much work.

 
 

 
 

I want to agree with them, while adding a personal disclaimer for my own lifestyle.  Yeah, that’s how Americans are, but not me.  Poor, poor Americans. However, I can’t deny it’s a part of me as I wander the streets looking for the best restaurants and the best shops and the best things to bring home – and in the way I feel I’ve wasted a moment if I haven’t captured it in photos or words on a page.  I see it in myself as I enjoy the most beautiful wine country landscape I’ve ever laid eyes on, while fighting a driving impatience to get to the next vineyard and see if it’s better. I miss entire moments of my life – wide swaths of time and experience, in fact – because I’m so busy processing whether or not that experience  does or does not live up to my expectations.

 
 


 

 

And this is what I want to bring home – not from Italy, but from Italians.  I want their deep love of family and hospitality, yes, but more than that – their deep love of living in exactly the moment they’re in with exactly the things that they have.   I want to live a life that is able to sink deep roots into the rich soil of the right-here, right-now beauty I’ve been given.  I want to refuse the endless, aching longing for attention, admiration and just “more and better” that swallows the wonder of a million little ordinary blessings whole. It will be hard because I’ve been this way a long time; but contentment + gratitude = peace; and that is the goal I’m bringing home.

 

With hope and great gratitude to the people in Florence who have shared their lives with me,

 

Bo

 

October 24, 2017 - 9:01 am

Cindi - Suzanne M says it best…”Be Present”…for me it’s always my goal..& a constant learning curve

October 24, 2017 - 4:10 pm

Marnette - Ah this…thank you, dear Bo.
…living in the exact moment I am in, with the exact things that I have…
Grateful, here!

October 24, 2017 - 5:58 pm

edie - Contentment + gratitude = peace. That’s a keeper.

Yes to Italy: Miei Cari Amici

 

I haven’t been updating much lately because I’ve been busy.  But it’s been the good kind of busy which is Italian busy instead of the bad kind of busy which is American busy.  Someday I will try to write something explaining what a profound impact discovering this distinction has made on me ,but for now, I’m just living out this dream month.

 

If you’re following along on social media, you know that my best friend and her husband showed up right after Whitney and Mekenzie left and they will be with me through the end of my time here.  It has been beyond wonderful to have them here.  If you have the chance to have the same bff for 35 years, take it. And if you have a chance to also love her husband, make that happen too.  I am so lucky to have them in my life.

 

A couple of days ago, my favorite boyfriend came to visit.  We’ve planned this for awhile, but still keep having trouble believing it’s really true.  We’re really here in Italy.  It’s been so fun.  I spent my birthday here when I first arrived, and Cliff & I also celebrated our one-year dating anniversary here in Florence.  I do not kid: I feel like the MOST blessed girl who ever lived.

 

This is my little Florence tradition of watching out my window when I know someone is about to arrive by taxi.

 

This is me being very happy and Cliff being deliriously tired.

 

We had our anniversary date at 4 Leoni across the Ponte Vecchio. It was the best food, with the not-best service ever, but sometimes the strangest experiences provide the best stories down the road. That’ll be this dinner. And this moment on the beautiful bridge, walking home afterwards? Perfection.

 

Since Cliff has been here, the four of us have done lots of shopping and exploring and spent a whole day in San Gimignano and wine country.  We’ve also hung out in our sweats in the apartment, eating panini sandwiches and telling stories from 30 years ago.  It’s been quite brilliant.

As my time here begins to wind down, I’m doing two things: 1) Trying to capture all that I’ve seen and learned into words and 2) Focusing hard on the good things awaiting me at home. This trip has been…wow, I feel lost for words.  It’s been so much more everything than I imagined. More joy, more angst, more beauty, more wonder, more fun than I could have dreamed.  (Also, more money – but I’m trying not to focus on that.)

 

Thanks again for following along – your kind comments and travel tips have been a great companion for me along the way.

 

With hope,

 

Bo

Yes to Italy: A List About Today

 

October 8, 2017:

 

  1.  It is 11:18 and I am still in my sweats, have no makeup on and no immediate plans to change that situation. It’s rainy and fall-like today so I am writing and listening to Vivaldi and drinking tea. I’ve had a few of these days since I’ve been in Florence, and I’ve dubbed them my Hemingway days because they feel broody and thoughtful, except I don’t think tea was his drink of choice. And he lived in Paris.
  2. Speaking of rain: It has rained every Sunday since I’ve been here.  I like to think it’s the city’s way of convincing us to slow down and cozy in.  Also, I’ve learned to swallow my PNW pride and carry an umbrella. I haven’t learned to like it, but I’ve learned to do it.
  3. This is that odd moment in the day when I am awake, but all of America is asleep and it makes me feel alone and unanchored. I love when the clock strikes 4:00 p.m or so, and I know my people are beginning to wake up.
  4. Church bells ring so much more on Sundays than other days. And a marching band went down my street a few minutes ago and I have no idea why, but I stopped to enjoy the happy of it.
  5. Yesterday I went to a giant museum.  It was beautiful, but also just not my thing. I really want to be cultured and smart, but I find so much more joy in lingering over a cappuccino in a piazza watching real people, than I do battling suffocating crowds to see statues of dead people. I’ve done three museums here in Florence: Galileo, Palazzo Piti and Uffizi.  I think I’m going to call that good.
  6. Though it’s fall in Italy, there is a distinct absence of the pumpkin spice/maple frenzy that has come to define the season in America.
  7. Pictures!

 

Fake David, in Piazza della Signoria, just steps outside my apartment door.

 

I don’t know who this guy is, but how cool is his hair?

 

Uffizi Museum – lots and lots and lots of paintings of the Madonna.

 

My beautiful Beane friends. #worksofart

 

My favorite masterpiece in Uffizi is the view out this upper floor window.

 

The street view of my apartment terrace – the perfect place for Hemingway days and I adore it with all of my heart.

 

October 14, 2017 - 2:54 pm

Jody Collins - You’re catching up on the writing part, I’m catching up on the reading part.
I enjoy these posts very much, Bo, and look forward to hearing more about what exactly settled in your bones…that will be worth discovering once you’re back in the U S of A.

Of Shops and Shopkeepers

 

Yesterday I went into a shop owned by a woman named Eleanor, and her family.  Her dad was a silversmith, her mom created cards and prints and Eleanor is a jeweler.  I was immediately struck by her warm and welcoming way.  Florence is a city teeming with stores and shops and restaurants, and there’s a distinct difference in passion, knowledge and motivation between those who own the shop and those who work there.  Eleanor welcomed us and immediately began telling us their story.  Her father is a silversmith who bought out the inventory of a different shop and opened this one with his own crafts and those he had purchased.  Eleanor picked up his skill, except where he creates carafes and cups and pretty silver boxes, she creates earrings and necklaces and bracelets.  Now they have over 80 artists who display items there and Eleanor knows not just every artist, but each piece of their work. She can take you to any item in this crowded little shop and tell you the story behind it and why it would – or wouldn’t –  be lovely for you. She spoke with obvious pride in her store and her parents and helped me find the perfect pair of earrings and a hand painted Christmas tree ornament. I will treasure them for the rest of my life.

 

 

 

The man in the shop next door to Eleanor is an older, Italian gentleman who speaks next-to-no  English.  His tiny, tiny shop (there is only room for two or three people at a time inside) is crowded- literally floor-to-ceiling with copper pots and wooden bowls and shelves of olive oil and lemoncello.  He sells fresh grapes, figs and tomatoes outside, as well as table cloths and long wooden slotted spoons that look like they have been used by Italian mamas for decades, stirring pasta sauce or ladling soup into those beautiful wooden bowls.  It’s the kind of shop that overloads your eyeballs and senses and if you have any sort of story-reflex, you immediately begin imagining life on a Tuscan farm, gathered around a long dinner table with music and candles and delicious aromas wafting about.

 

 

He welcomed us into his shop with a warmth and affection that jumped right over the language barrier, pouring wine into plastic cups, while he and Whit used hand motions to communicate. I don’t know what he was saying, all I know for sure is: He was glad we were there. His shop was the place where his truest self lives, where he offers his work to the world, where he welcomes friends and strangers, providing something that they might need, and a glass of something they might want.  It was beautiful.

 

 

 

 

Every day of my sabbatical, I have been reading Matthew 13, for reasons that are important to me but wouldn’t be that interesting to you.  One verse that captures my attention every time is this one:

 

 

“Then you see how every student well-trained in God’s kingdom is like the owner of a shop who can put his hands on anything you need, old or new, exactly when you need it.” Matthew 13:52

 

 

When I visited Eleanor’s shop, I had read that verse two dozen days in a row. Yesterday, it came alive in front of my eyes.   I want to live like that. Like a shopkeeper, who knows the treasure hidden on the shelves and lives  to help others find what they need, when they need it.  Instead of an hourly employee, simultaneously peddling and protecting a belief system or code of conduct – I want to be the one who pours the wine into plastic cups and welcomes in the wandering and wondering.  The kingdom, it seems, is a lot like that.
With hope,

 

Bo

 

 

 

October 3, 2017 - 6:56 am

Tracy - I love following where God leads you

October 3, 2017 - 6:58 am

Claudia Lee - Bella! Beautiful! The perfect description of the Kingdom Steward I long to be. Thank you Bo — keep on savoring your sabbatical and bless you for sharing with us!

October 4, 2017 - 9:35 am

Cynthia - So beautifully put. I want to be a shop keeper too. The right choice that perfectly fits each customer, because you know the shop wares, and the Holy Spirit gives knowledge of the customer. I better get busy knowing my wares intimately. Thank you for sharing the things that God illuminates to you. 🙂

Day 8: Mornings in Florence

 

It took four decades for me to become it, but I am an official lover of morning.  At home, I get up early and follow the same routine every day: coffee, Bible, journal, planning.  I need and hour or two of sunrise and solitude in order to function well the rest of the day. Mornings are also when I do my best work creatively – all three of my books and nearly every blog post has been written in the early hours.  Occasionally, on vacation or days off, I’ll sleep in, but I almost always regret it.

 

I went into sabbatical not knowing how I would do mornings.  Would I want to switch it up and become an afternoon girl?  I didn’t know, and I left myself lots of room to decide in the moment.  But now, eight days in, I have a routine and I can tell it’s going to stick.

 

I usually wake up around 4:30 (I’m hoping that will change as I acclimate more to this time zone) and make myself stay in bed until 5:00.  Then I go out to my kitchen, open the big doors on the terrace (and the city is soooo quiet at this time) and make an espresso.

 

 

True story: I’ve never really liked espressos much.  They’re delicious, but so little.  I want more time with my coffee than that.  However, I’ve grown to really like these little guys, made in the Nespresso provided by my lovely airbnb host, Judy.

 

I sip my espresso and go through the daily page in the journal that I created for this trip. It’s sort of like a ‘solitude map’.  It asks a different “three things” question each morning and then goes on into meditation, reading, priority-setting and self awareness (that part isn’t shown on this picture.)

 

 

This process is not at all work to me; it’s so fun to have some time to connect to the big purpose for my life and to establish some small steps for achieving it.  Sometime during this part of my journaling, the church bells chime 6:00 and the city wakes up and when it wakes up, it gets big and loud very quickly. Shop doors start opening, street sweepers roll through my alley, voices rise through my courtyard filling the air around me with several languages (mostly Italian) reminding me once again that this globe is packed with people who are loved by God and I am one of those people, but only one. The quilt of cultures I’m experiencing here in Italy is breathtaking and beautiful.

 

When the bells chime 7:00, it’s time for a phone date, which is one of my favorite parts of the day.  It’s amazing how next-door everyone sounds even when we’re a world away. (Aside: since posting about the church bells, I have heard from several who are church bell annoyed and I do not understand you people.  I will defend your right to dislike them but let’s agree to never talk about this at parties.)

 

After that, I usually write for awhile, a blog post or poetry or more focused journaling in my computer.  When I feel out of words, I get ready for the day and go in search of yet more coffee.  Mostly, I make myself do this so I don’t become a hermit during my time here, also because I love seeing the city in the morning. And also because I love coffee.

 

 

This is the pretty entryway to my apartment.  I love it so much. And I even love the statue, though I don’t know who that guy is (I’ve got a pretty light grasp on art history).  And see that white chair in the photo by the table?  It doesn’t belong there, but that’s where I keep it because this is an old apartment and the fuse blows a couple of times a day. It’s an easy fix, but I’m a short girl, so that chair saves my bacon every time.

 

 

 

Aw, this is Via della Condotta – the street where I live.   It borders Piazza della Signoria (undoubtedly the busiest piazza in Florence where the fake David  and Neptune lives), but it’s filled with shops and restaurants that I visit every day and I love it – but its not my very favorite street.  My very favorite street is Via dei Neri and that’s where I’m headed.

 

 

Via de Neri has loads of lovely things to see and taste and experience.  Ditta Artiginale is so far my favorite place for coffee.  It’s the one place I’ve found so far that serves a “filtered coffee” (American = pour over) and it’s delightful and makes me feel closer to home while also being far away.  I  keep hoping Dave Beach will walk out from behind the counter, but that keeps not happening.

 

This routine of coffee/quiet/listen/write/coffee is working for me.  I know it’s working, not because I’m producing cool things, but because I feel myself becoming more myself as I move through this adventure.  I feel thoughts taking shape and dreams being born and seeds of plans being planted during this time and I’m so grateful for it.

 

This morning I woke up thinking about some of the old hymns my grandmother used to sing. Maybe it’s being here in all this history, away from all-things-modern America, but it inspired me to write something old and new. I know this isn’t what I usually write and it’s not particularly profound or well-constructed, but something about it connected me back to the foundations of my life, my truth, my love for Jesus and the people who taught me to search for Him everywhere.

 
In heavy gray
And filtered fog
When all the maps seem
broken
Your hand becomes
my stronger stay
My hope on darker days
 
When shines the sun
with stubborn cheer
When all is bright and
beaming
Your hand remains
my stronger stay
My hope on cloudless days
 
Though I can’t see
what lies beyond
what lives within
the waiting
Your hand will be
my stronger stay
My hope for
all my days

 

So, that’s today’s update. Mornings in Florence. They’re crazy beautiful.

 

With hope,

 

Bo

 

Oh!  P.S:  My oldest, blondest daughter, Whitney,  and my sweet friend Mekenzie, get here in about an hour!  How excited am I?  Infinity excited!

 

And P.P.S: Thanks to my dreamy, dreamy boyfriend for getting so many Sterns to the airport this week and remembering to take pictures because he knew I’d want them.
September 26, 2017 - 1:54 pm

Elisa - Boo to the church bell haters. Church bells and second hand smoke are in my top 5 favorite parts of traveling.

September 26, 2017 - 3:10 pm

Vicki - I’m loving reading about your time in Italy Bo. Would you tell me where you got your pre-printed journal?

September 26, 2017 - 8:22 pm

Jeannie Hignell - I love church bells. Our college campus had lovely church bells, and I loved hearing them ring. I used to go down to our kiosk in Tumalo around 10.30 on Sunday mornings so I could hear the church bells ring at the little church there. But, admittedly, I also love the beautiful, lonely sound of trains in the night.

September 27, 2017 - 11:25 am

Karen S - Oh Bo, this is just the post I needed today. I’ve been scrunched over my computer for a week squinting as I do some design work, some writing, and lots of reading and I finally STOPPED and reset my display to the setting “Intensely Huge Font for Ancient People” and so I can see your lovely photos and ready your honest words and even peek at that amazing journal page (please sell those, ok?) and oh how I love your hymn/poem. I’m copying it to read over and over.

Blessings as you sit and stay “within the ellipses”

PDX Karen

September 27, 2017 - 10:45 pm

bo - Hi Vicki, I created the journal for my trip, using some ideas my daughter had given me from her journaling strategy. I had it printed and bound Office Max for $4 and it’s one of my favorite things ever! When I get back home, I’ll try to remember to make the pdf available for others to print. I think it would work well for anyone in any season.

September 28, 2017 - 8:04 pm

Lori Greenstone - love the must do/might do

September 28, 2017 - 11:55 pm

Vangi - Bo, I second the journal request! I’m inspired to begin this practice again, thanks to your one little post! I love all that you’re sharing, the pics, recaps, it’s kinda like a little travel blog with bonus inspiration for the win. I could relate to the 4 am wake ups and how I actually kind of simultaneously enjoyed those while also trying to get switched to my regular schedule. Usually took about two weeks to straighten itself out. I’ve never woke up to church bells but that sounds lovely (tho I have woke up to the call to prayer from the mosque loudspeakers many times and grew to like that as well.) Keep soaking it all in and thanks for sharing!

September 30, 2017 - 9:44 am

Donna Hajj - Love reading about your adventures. Love church bells, too as they remind me of sitting on a porch swing at my Grandma’s house listening to beautiful hymns played by the church on the corner. It is a blessing to hold those early memories! Enjoy Florence. I was there with my family two years ago!