Browsing Category "Travel"
10 Jul
Posted in: Art, Practice, Travel
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To Drink or Not to Drink

I seldom drink wine any more. It’s expensive, for one thing. Plus, I take the Buddhist precepts seriously….which, in their basic form, are trainings to avoid killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct, and “the use of intoxicants that cloud the mind.”

This is not a hardship for me…usually. But there I was in Italy. With ubiquitous and delicious — and inexpensive — wine…grown locally, developed over centuries to complement perfectly the local cuisine.

There was water, too, of course. Excellent Italian mineral water. (San Pelligrino, usually, but other brands as well.) Which I love. Especially the frizzante!

But water, alone, with all those great Italian meals!?!

I couldn’t do it.

Of course I could have. But I didn’t. At most meals, I drank the wine. (And the water.)

I told myself that I was still keeping the precept because I wasn’t drinking more than a glass or two, and always with food…surely that was not enough to cloud my mind…and besides, the precepts are not hard-and-fast rules, especially not the one about “avoiding intoxicants,”….and there are plenty of Dharma teachers (some of whom I’ve witnessed personally) who drink wine (and maybe indulge in other intoxicants, too, who knows!)…but the truth is, I could feel the difference, my mind was a little cloudy after a glass or two…it was nothing major, of course, not enough to cloud my judgment about not killing or stealing or lying or having unprotected sex with inappropriate partners!!!…but still.

I’m not saying that it was wrong for me to drink the wine. I’m not even saying that I won’t do it again. Because in certain situations, under certain circumstances, I will.

But I am aware of the risks of a mind that is clouded.

And I will take care.

(The above is one of the drawings I did while I was in Castiglion Fiornetino. I had intended to do one every day…but, as is clear, I do not always do the things that I intend.)

9 Jul
Posted in: Food, Travel
By    Comments Off on Enjoy.


For today, I offer this photo of my typical “carry out” lunch while I was in Italy. I don’t have a lot to say about this Dharma-wise…except maybe to quote the “Venerable” Michael Pollan:

Eat Food.
Mostly Plants.
Not Too Much.

8 Jul
Posted in: Books, Travel, Writing
By    Comments Off on Reading about Wanting

Reading about Wanting

Here is a drawing I made of the chair in my room in Castiglion Fiorentino, where I sat to read the book I’d brought for literary inspiration: The Folded Clock, by Heidi Julavits. I thought I’d be inspired because it got rave reviews in the New York Times, and because the structure of the book is both mundane (it’s a diary) and yet it’s not (there’s no discernible order). Each entry starts with a date, which seems to have no chronological connection to the entry before, and with a sentence that begins, “Today…”

For example:
May 5. Today I met for lunch a famous German artist, the one who violates the homes of others with her personal possessions.
August 30: Today we climbed Blue Hill.
June 8. Today I flew home from Italy after living for a month with a ghost.

So you can see, this is no ordinary diary.

From a literary point of view, it was very inspiring. From a personal point of view, it was mostly disheartening.

On August 16, she writes about wanting. The entry begins: Today I browsed for skirt suits online. She ends with a beautifully written riff on wanting, which I think captures something of the delusion that keeps her (and others) forever looking for SOMETHING, always anxious, unsettled, and unhappy:

I recalled being a kid and my mom taking me to a plant nursery called Skillins. I hated Skillins. As a child I was gifted at finding objects to desire. To take me to basically any store was to court my begging for items I had no business wanting. It was desire for the sake of desire. The plant nursery, however, confounded my meta-desire mechanism. I tried and tried, but I could never find a single thing to desire at Skillins, not even in the room with the ceramic frog planters. I didn’t want anything, and because I didn’t want anything, Skillins made me anxious. In Skillins I experienced what it was to desperately want to want something, and to find nothing to want. Even as a kid, this struck me as the worst possible way to feel. I sometimes think this is why I became a writer. Here was a way to regularly exercise my desire. I could desire to do this thing that no one does perfectly, and by doing it and doing it I could learn how to desire more, and better. Here was an activity that would always leave me wanting. When I want something–that to me is not youth exactly, but the opposite of death. That to me is a way to always feel like I am nowhere near the end.” 

7 Jul
Posted in: Travel
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Only When Necessary

For today, I offer this photo of the 13th century Franciscan monastery, Convento delle Celle, which is only a short car ride from Castiglion Fiorentino.

With apologies to St. Francis:
“Speak the Dharma at all times, and when necessary, use words.”

(The proper quote from St. Francis is: “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.”)


6 Jul
Posted in: Books, Travel
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This Makes Me Happy

This is a photo of the craziest coffee maker I’ve ever seen…which appeared one day in the window of one of the shops in Castiglion Fiorentino. I love this little shop, although I never went in — partly because it seemed to be closed most of the time, but also because what need did I have to go in? I was already happy just looking at the window!

Here’s a quote that also make me happy, from The Italians, by Luigi Barzini:

“The Italians know that everything in their country is..imbued with their spirit. They know that there is no need, really, to distinguish or to choose between the smile on the face of a cameriere (waiter) or Donatello’s San Giorgio..They are all works of art, the Great Art of Being Happy and of making other people happy, an art which embraces and inspires all others in Italy, the only art worth learning, but which can never be really mastered, the art of inhabiting the earth.”

3 Jul
Posted in: Travel, Writing
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This is What I Know About Wanting

This is a photo I took during the Medieval Festival that started the first night I arrived in Castiglion Fiorentino.

And this is what I wrote the first week in response to the prompt: “Write about wanting something.”

(Note: The following is a work of fiction. This doesn’t mean it’s not true. Just that it’s not strictly autobiographical.)

This is what I know about wanting: it is painful. It is painful to feel the lack of something. And it is delusional to think that getting the something you want will relieve that pain. It won’t. There will be a moment, an instant, of pleasure in the getting, but then there will be the wanting of more. The wanting to keep what has been gotten. The wanting that turns into the fear of losing what one has. There is pain in that fear. And then sooner or later, the additional pain of the actual losing. Because sooner or later — and usually sooner than later — you will lose what you had. At the very least, it will become other than what it was. What was exciting becomes boring. What was new becomes old. What was interesting becomes tedious. Inevitably, what was wanted becomes something other than that. And then there is the wanting to get rid of it. The wanting of something new to replace what is now old, and so again, and on and on, there is still more wanting…and there is pain in that.

I wanted her to want me.

I wanted her hands in my hair and her mouth on my neck. I wanted the weight of her body. The salt. And the sweat.  

And I got it. I got it all.

The heat and the musk and the teeth and the rest.

It was sweet.

But sweet like honey on the edge of a razor.

There is no resting there.

Only danger.

And wanting.

And the pain that comes with that.  

2 Jul
Posted in: Travel, Writing
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I Am From…

Here is a photo of my favorite spot, in my favorite cafe, in my now-favorite town in Tuscany (Castiglion Fiorentino). And here’s what I wrote, in this favorite place, in response to the prompt: “I am from…..”

I am from here. That’s not exactly, literally true, but it feels true. I feel I belong here. Isn’t that what we mean when we say where we’re from? But I’m also from “home.” By which I mean that I am from my past. But where is my past? How far is it from here? And where did it come from?
We are stardust, they say. We are carbon and 
arsenic and gold. We are earth.
And air.
And water.
And fire.
These, I am from. And to these I will return.
But who is this “I”?
A word, written on paper.
A thought, born in the mind?
And no.
Because surely I am more.
What is a word? What is a thought?
Are these, too, made of stardust?
What about dreams? Where do they come from?
If the stars could dream, would they dream about us?
Does the moon dream of water?
Does the sun dream of air?
What is gravity, after all, but the longing of dust for stones?
And what about poetry?
Isn’t it poetry that sings the songs of our dreams?
What wakes us up?
Not the pull of the earth.
Or the call of the stars.
It’s the questions we ask.
And the light that this brings.

1 Jul
Posted in: Art, Books, Travel
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Visible and Invisible

One of the first things I did after arriving in the sweet little “city” of Castiglion Fiorentino was to buy an Italian copy of Invisible Cities (Le Citta’ Invisibili), by Italo Calvino, which, as I’ve said many times, is my go-to book when it comes to travel.

And one of the second things I did was to draw what I saw.

Here’s my drawing of the Municipal Building in the main piazza.

And here’s my transition of the Calvino quote at the bottom of the page: “Cities are a combination of many things: memory, desire, language; cities are the place of exchange, as is explained in all the books on the history of economy, but these exchanges are not only the exchange of commerce, these exchanges are also of words, desires and remember-ings.”


(click to enlarge)


30 Jun
Posted in: Travel
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Perfectly Imperfect

Of course it’s not perfect. There are mosquitos, for one thing. And the toilet paper is scratchy. And you can forget about ice. But I love being in Italy. I love the food, of course. And the scenery. I love the light and the art and everything else that all the millions of tourists also love about Italy…..even though I don’t love the tourists…which, of course, is part of being a tourist!

What can you do.

Here’s where I stayed.











Here’s my room.










Here’s the neighborhood.










Here’s the the view.

29 Jun
Posted in: Travel, Writing
By    Comments Off on Being. Hearing.

Being. Hearing.

Here is a photo taken at Le Santucce, the former convent in Castiglion Fiorentino, where the writing workshops were held. And here is a sample of the writing I did on the balcony there, in response to this prompt: “Be where you are and write what you notice.”

The ringing of bells.
The swoosh and roar, pause, then buzz of unseen traffic.
A crescendo, now, of tires-on-pavement.
More bells.
And now a racket of birds.
Insects: whine, snap, whiz, crackle.
Then more of the swoosh and swipe of cars on the road. And behind it all: birds.
The sputter of another motor.
More birds again: coo-ing and who-ing.
A cat appears. Soundless.
Then the sizzle of cicadas.
And now the buzz of my own blood as it sings behind my ears.
All these sounds, rising and falling, pausing, overlapping, punctuated one with another. And then a wash of sounds, points of sound — a dog barks, someone shouts somewhere in the hills — then the droning continues, rises again, some kind of machinery starts up, then desists, a sputter, then bird song — a bee startles by — traffic noise takes the foreground, then shifts — sotto voce.
There is a high whine in the distance.
Metal-on-metal, then wood-striking-metal.
More birds.
Staccato of woodpecker.
Finches — soprano — insistent, triumphant at first, then alarmed.
Wrens scolding one another.
Something metallic shifts. A percussive exchange.
Teacups and saucers.
A coda of train in the distance.
Then the chorus again: woodpecker and truck-rush, motorcycle, warble and tweeting, clicks, footsteps (canvas on stone), a car honks, that motor again (closer this time)…buzzing and humming, growling, then puttering, idling, then high and angry, then silent.
But the silence is never silent.
Or haven’t you heard?