Dear friends and family.
Our first 10-day Vipassana course has ended. It has been a wonderful two weeks in the spectacularly beautiful Tuscan countryside, near the tiny rural town of Lutirano.
Although it has been unseasonably chilly for this time of year, it beats the snow and freeze of Toronto. Plus, each time we walk from the teacher residence to the meditation hall we pass by the scenic beauty of the hills of Tuscany.
Our flight from Canada was smooth. We arrived at Frankfurt airport early on a clear and sunny morning.
After a delicious breakfast of small pannini and Americanos, we boarded another plane and headed to Florence. We hadn’t given our route much thought until we saw mountains off in the distance out of our windows. We were treated to the most spectacular view of the Italian Alps! It reminded us of the Himalayas. The view was incredible. And even though Karen doesn’t love flying, she could put her fears aside to take in the magnificent view.
After a couple of hours we finally arrived in Florence. Maurizio, a long-term volunteer from the Centre was there to greet us and take us to Dhamma Atala, the Italian Vipassana Centre. Driving from Florence to the Centre meant a scenic two-hour journey by car, a dilapidated little jalopy — in fact one of the same Suzuki Marutis that are ubiquitous in Nepal. We traveled over the Appenines to the other side of Tuscany and headed up into the hills.
Dhamma Atala is a hundred year-old villa acquired in 2006 by the Italian Vipassana Trust. It’s a small, tightly-bound little centre with tons of character. It has room for about 60 students, plus servers. We were horribly jet-lagged for a few days, which made our immediate entry into the course a little more chaotic than usual, but we learned to just let things go a little and everything soon settled down. The students and servers are very lovely and charming people. Not many speak English, so we rely a lot on a server named Niccolo, whose excellent English has made him a bit indispensable. However, we have conducted other courses where language was a challenge and learned that there are many ways to communicate despite not knowing the local language. Everything went very well.
At the end of the course, we got a ride to Marradi, about 30 minutes from the Centre, and boarded a train to Florence.
Our first mission in Florence was to acquire coffee and sandwiches.
Wow. Wow. Wow.
Food here is ridiculously tasty! We are not really sure how the Italians can make a sandwich taste so good. I mean, it’s just a sandwich. Nothing special. Just a plain sandwich. No ‘special sauce’. No special seasoning. But wow, the food here isn’t like food anywhere. Anywhere. It will be easy for us to put on 10 pounds this week, despite all the walking. All we want to do is eat.
There is no Starbucks. And we could care less. That’s right, you actually heard us say that. We don’t care that there’s no Starbucks. You know why? Because Italians invented espresso, that’s why. Starbucks is a joke here. The coffee is heaven. Period. People here zip in to a coffee bar and shoot back an espresso several times a day. And that’s just the best way to live. Well, that and meditation. So like meditation and several espressos every day is the best way to live.
Great food + fantastic coffee = heaven for Karen and Scott.
As we mentioned in the last post, Scott’s cousin Shannon and her husband Dani just recently moved back to Italy. What great fortune for us. We’ve been wanting to see them for so long now, especially eager to meet their son for the first time.
We’ve been here a couple of days at the Villa Romana [LINK], a hundred year-old residence for artists. The Villa is managed by a trust with a jury that makes a selection of four artists per year who are invited to live here and show their work and do research on new pieces. In 2008, Dani was chosen as a Fellow here. Then, in 2013 Shannon was chosen. It’s a very prestigious award.
The villa has a long and interesting history that is well worth reading here [LINK]. Some of most famous German artists have lived here since it was founded in 1905. We can’t wait to get in to the small exhibition here of Shannon’s work [the door has been locked… maybe it’s a big secret?]
Unexpectedly, the Villa had a guest room available for us for free. So now we have a beautiful and comfortable little pad from which to launch our assault of Firenze and to visit with Shannon, Dani and their lovely son!
We have four more nights here in Florence. And so much to see and do… most of which will involve eating and drinking coffee and thinking of ways to bring as much food and coffee back with us.
Then we head back to the centre to conduct our second meditation course. We feel very grateful to have this opportunity to serve the Italian centre and the Vipassana organization in Europe. After such a long sabbatical last year, we decided that we no longer want to just travel for the sake of it. Having the opportunity to practice meditation and help others to learn and practice meditation is a real gift. This time in Florence, in between the two courses, getting a chance to visit with family, was just an extra sensual treat.
Well, with that…. we’ll close this update for now and post more in a few weeks before we fly home on April 1st.
With all our love and kindest thoughts,