Practicing Reflection

Reflections on the Amalfi Coast

Amalfi, Italy

This morning as I opened my journal to write down a few thoughts to start my day, a folded piece of paper slipped out from between the pages and fell to the floor. I leaned over to pick it up and smiled as I unfolded the sheet of paper to see my handwriting scrawled across the page in all the available free space front and back. I’m constantly writing notes on scraps of paper, and they’re tucked in strange places in my books, day planner and are scattered across my desk. I love those moments when you happen across a note that can transport you back to emotions and thoughts from the past.

I had written all over this piece of paper last February or March while I was in America. I had been quite moved when I read Michelle Fabio’s post My One-Word Theme for 2011: Now, and I was writing down the thoughts that her post had challenged me to think about. What was important for me to work on this year? After falling to my feet this morning by chance, now seems to be the perfect time to share what I had written earlier this year.

I’ve been searching for my word for this year, sometimes actively thinking about it and mulling over different words – sitting with a certain word for a few days to see how it fits or being completely at a loss to find a word other days. But, as so often happens with me, it’s in the moments when my mind is occupied fully elsewhere that some of the most significant thoughts come to me. That’s when I heard a whispering as the word “reflect” settled into  my mind and sat there quietly. The feeling was so calm and natural, and that’s when I realized I had found what I was looking for in my life. There was no more thinking, no more doubting or wondering if I had found my one-word theme for the year. It had arrived.

Reflect.

I could feel immediately that this was what I was missing. I’m really good at being busy. In fact, I don’t think I’m particularly good at not being busy. My idea of relaxing is cooking, sewing, knitting, or doing something creative with my hands. I relax through motion and activities that keep me present. That’s who I am, and I’ve come to accept that I’ll likely never be the sort of person to lay in the sun on the beach or do whatever it is that other people do when they relax. I love that about myself actually.

But I do know the danger is that it’s all too easy to get caught up in the busyness of life. There are always too many things to do and too many distractions that pull me away from the beauty of every day life. I love my daily life so much, and I don’t like the feeling of falling asleep thinking that it is all going by too quickly sometimes. I’m afraid of missing what I love because I’m not paying close enough attention.

The longer I’ve been in Italy, the more I’ve been able to understand that reflection is not simply about slowing down. Yes, I must practice good habits of making time to take leisurely walks and disconnect from work. But what I’ve been searching for this year is something more than just a change in my physical habits. It’s the mental act of being in the now, of being mindful of the present moment. N0t just making dinner, but being fully aware of the sound of the sauce bubbling on the stove, the scents that waft out when I lift the lid to give it a stir, the feel of the lettuce as the cool water runs over it in the sink and the pleasure that comes from creating a meal to enjoy with your loved ones.

I’ve realized that in many ways  these thoughts are moving in the same direction as Michelle’s “now,” which is why her words struck such a deep chord when I read them in January. It’s making the choice to become mentally and physically present, and to reflect on how those moments fill our life. Every one of those present moments create our life and who we are.

While it may be August, I am happy to be able to finally answer the question Michelle posed to her readers back in January. “Reflect” is the word that has stuck with me throughout this year and served as a nearly constant reminder to come back to the present moment. And that is preciscely where I want to be!

Is there word or theme that has changed your way of thinking in 2011?

Finding Home on the Amalfi Coast

Home on the Amalfi CoastIt doesn’t take long to feel at home on the Amalfi Coast. I imagine many travelers experience the same feeling of familiarity and comfort when they first arrive, just as I did in February 2007 when I first visited Amalfi. There’s a warmth, openness and curiosity for foreigners in many of the locals on the Amalfi Coast, which is an undeniable part of that welcoming feeling so many people find here.

Speaking only a few words of Italy, it was certainly very welcome to me when I started spending more time on the Amalfi Coast! With a smile and a few words scribbled down in Italian on a piece of paper, shopping soon became a little less scary as the lady in the shop nicely corrected my pronunciation of “CI-polla” to “ci-POlla” when I needed onions. I didn’t understand anything anyone said to me, but slowly I began to learn a few words.

It was hard, however, not to feel like an outsider when I didn’t know how to do simple things that I’ve never had to put much thought into before, like interpreting the bus schedule or buying herbs at the market. Every expat goes through these feelings, I believe, and I imagine everyone deals with them in different ways as well. I chose to focus on the little victories – the first time I got up the nerve to go into the butcher on my own, the first time I carried out a transaction at the post office in Italian, the first time I felt confident enough to start up a conversation with a stranger, actually being able to figure out that blasted bus schedule. With each success, I felt a little more at home.

I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on that very feeling. What is it that makes a person feel at home? It’s a familiarity that comes only with time, but it’s something much more than simply living in a place for a certain period of time. For me, it has more to do with the way a place resonates within you through its sights, sounds and scents. Whether it’s the “invisible scent of lingering lilacs,” as it was for Proust, or simply the comforting view of the street where you grew up playing and laughing as a child, its those very personal experiences and memories that define home.

But, more than anything, I’m starting to realize that home is where you’re happy. Yesterday evening I was out running some errands on the motorino before coming home. As I was riding along a beautiful road in Ravello overlooking the Amalfi coastline, I saw very clearly how, without even realizing it, my life has become interwoven into the panorama of daily life here. That even though I’m still a foreigner, I have started nevertheless to find my place. I smiled as a swerved around a vigilessa (a local policewoman in charge of traffic and city regulations) who had stopped in the middle of the road to take a picture of a nicely dressed couple with the stunning backdrop of the Amalfi Coast behind them. I smiled and beeped the horn as I passed Gaetano, who sells the sweetest peaches I’ve ever tasted. Around the next corner came a tilting Piaggio Ape, one of those tiny three-wheeled Italian vehicles, loaded at least twice its width and three times its  height with bales of hay. I laughed out load hoping that he would make it to wherever he was going with all that hay.

This is it, I thought. It doesn’t have to be complicated or philosophical or romantic or any of the thoughts that have been going around and around in my mind lately. Although I read Michelle Fabio’s words back in February this year, they suddenly clicked. “It really is the simple, stupid,” I thought. As I parked the motorino and walked down the steps to home, I smiled realizing that I had already found my home on the Amalfi Coast without really even knowing it.

Photo Friday: A Birthday Dinner in Atrani

Summer Night in Atrani

Yesterday was a whirlwind of a day … and will be a birthday I’ll never forget! The amazing day came to a close in Atrani, where the Tour Guide and I enjoyed an excellent meal at the Ristorante Da Zaccaria overlooking the sea. You can just spot the lights of the restaurant behind the trees on the left side of this photo. The weather was perfect and warm, the fish was very good and the setting … magical! Atrani is so beautiful at night, and I stopped to take this photo on the way to Amalfi for an evening stroll. Thank you to everyone for the sweet birthday wishes and to my family and friends for making it such an incredible day!

First Annual Year End Meme: 2010 Edition

This month marks the two year anniversary of Ciao Amalfi. I’ve been looking back over the past two years and thinking about how this blog has been such an important part of my life here in Italy. It’s been with me through many of the challenges and joys of learning to live on the Amalfi Coast. By nature I tend to be a forward thinking person, but I know it’s also important to make time for reflecting on who we are and how our stories lead us along on this journey through life. Which chapters were important and which ones will we flip through hastily? Who are the characters we’ll never forget, what are the moments that changed us forever?

These thoughts were running through my mind when I saw Michelle’s 2010 Year End meme on Bleeding Espresso, and then again with Annika’s at dove mi porta il cuore. I’ve never done a meme before, but this one seems like the perfect way to start of 2011. So here goes my First Annual Year End Meme!

Paris in January

1. What did you do in 2010 that you’d never done before? Last year started out wonderfully with my first trip to Paris. I was on a podcast for the first time thanks to the lovely ladies at Eye on Italy. I drove a manual transmission car on the Amalfi Coast. (Only once… and hopefully never again!) Began writing the novel that I’m working on with my Mom – my favorite co-author and collaborator! Went to Florence for the first time and met two dear friends, one from graduate school and Katie Greenaway from Olio di Olive e Sogni di Vino. Made gnocchi from the recipe in my friend Chiara Lima’s lovely cookbook Mamma Agata: Simple and Genuine. (Thanks for being brave with me, Mom!) Launched www.ciaoamalfi.com with it’s own domain name. (Still a lot of work to be done there, but it’s a start!)

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year? I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, at least not in any concrete terms. I did achieve some of the goals I set out for myself with my freelance writing … and some I didn’t even know I had until I ran right smack into them. I’m working on my goals for 2011 now!

3. Did anyone close to you give birth? One of my dearest friends gave birth to a beautiful son, and I can’t wait to meet him in Minnesota this spring!

4. Did anyone close to you die? Very gratefully, I can say no.

5. What countries did you visit? I visited Paris, France last January and Nebraska, USA from February-March.

6. What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010? A complete first draft of the novel I’m writing with my mother.

7. What dates from 2010 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? Apparently, I’m not very good at remembering dates. Must pay closer attention!

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year? Becoming more organized and productive with my freelance writing career, and finding enough regular writing projects to cover my minimum living expenses. Onward and upward, baby!

9. What was your biggest failure? Not working hard enough to improve my spoken Italian. Sigh.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury? Worst cold of my life just before I left Nebraska in March. Discovered that the reason I was short of breath, had heart palpitations and an annoyingly long low grade fever was caused by inflammation in my bronchial tubes. (Likely due to aforementioned worst cold of my life…) A strange infection in my left thumb came back again in September, exactly one year after it happened for the first time. If you know me, then you already know that only rather bizarre things happen to me. This one is still causing me pain and is still a mystery. I know, too much information. But the meme asked me.

11. What was the best thing you bought? I don’t have much extra income to spend now, but the best thing I bought was a stack of books to plan my second trip to Paris coming up soon!

12. Whose behavior merited celebration? My mother … who worked extra hard and arranged to spend five wonderful weeks on the Amalfi Coast this past autumn!

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? I really can’t say. (And, by that I mean I could say, but that I’m choosing not to!)

14. Where did most of your money go? Paying my student loans.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about? Going to Paris last January with my boyfriend!

16. What song will always remind you of 2010? “Pick Yourself Up” from the movie Swingtime with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It always makes me smile, even during the moments when I don’t think it’s possible.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: (a) happier or sadder? (b) thinner or fatter? (c) richer or poorer? (a) Happier, most of the time. (b) Either thinner or the same. (c) When you make as little money as I do, what’s the difference?

18. What do you wish you’d done more of? Relax.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of? Worrying. (Are you sensing a pattern here? I am.)

20. How did you spend Christmas? A quiet and lovely Christmas with my boyfriend’s family here in Italy.

21. Did you fall in love in 2010? With my boyfriend … again and again!

22. What was your favorite TV program? I don’t watch TV much, but this I did discover Castle. (Writers are cool, too!) This year my Italian comprehension has also improved to the point that I enjoy watching Italian TV, and I occasionally caught an episode of Ma Come Ti Vesti? where I learned valuable words like “inguardabile.” (Literally: “unlookable.”)

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year? I don’t think I know hate. Disappointment, yes, but not hate.

24. What was the best book you read? A Thousand Days in Tuscany by Marlena de Blasi. (Thanks, Mom!) Her writing is always an inspiration!

25. What was your greatest musical discovery? Toquinho! I’ve enjoyed the music of Vinicius de Moraes for years, but never fully appreciated the talents of Toquinho, one of his collaborators and close friends. This summer I was fortunate to see him perform a concert in honor of Vinicius at the Ravello Festival.

26. What did you want and get? A new Nikon point and shoot camera. (Thanks, sweet!)

Love my new camera!

27. What did you want and not get? A car with an automatic transmission.

28. What was your favorite film of this year? Remember #22 when I said that I don’t watch TV much? That goes for movies, too. While maybe not my favorite, I did see Natale in Casa Cupiello, a film classic by Eduardo de Filippo, just before Christmas. Now I finally get all the jokes people make about the presepe here for the holidays! “Te piace ‘o presepe?” (If you laughed then you’ve spent time in the Naples area!)

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? I celebrated my 30th birthday by hiking to the Torre dello Ziro and having a picnic overlooking Amalfi and Atrani, and then having a quiet dinner by the sea in Marina di Praia.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? Security.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010? Dealing with what I have until my budget affords more shopping.

32. What kept you sane? My love, my mother and a ridiculous amount of walking.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? I’m really pleased with the career success of Colin Firth and look forward to seeing The King’s Speech.

34. What political issue stirred you the most? If you know me, you’re laughing right now at how utterly inappropriate this question is. Must pay more attention …

35. Who did you miss? My family and my good friends in Minnesota and around the United States.

36. Who was the best new person you met? My dear friend Chiara Lima from the Mamma Agata Cooking School on the Amalfi Coast. My heart is happy knowing I’ve found a lifelong friend!

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2010. There is never an end to patience.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year. “Nothing’s impossible I have found, for when my chin is on the ground, I pick myself up, dust myself off, start all over again. Don’t loose your confidence if you slip. Be grateful for a pleasant trip, and pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again.” – Ginger Rogers in Swingtime.

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I’ll add the same note as Michelle at Bleeding Espresso … Please feel free to create your own end of year meme and post the link in the comments!

Head Over Heels in Love with the Amalfi Coast

 

 

Recently, I was asked to write a guest post with the theme of “love” over at Andrea Perullo’s wonderful blog My Beautiful Adventures. The first thing that came to mind, of course, was the Amalfi Coast! Head over to Andi’s blog to read my guest post Love: Head Over Heels For the Amalfi Coast.

What do you love most about the Amalfi Coast?