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The Pleasure of Authenticity

We just returned from a beautiful trip to northern Italy, and lots of people are asking "How was it?"  It is funny how much more intrigued people are about travel to foreign places.  The question has a different tone to it compared to inquiries about visits to California or Massachusetts.  There is something more exotic about going to a place with a different language and culture, even if it is one that most people have some familiarity with given the prevalence of Italian influence in the American experience.  And I can say that Italy is widely visited by people from all over the world, because I saw it first-hand. 


Many of the well-known destinations in the north of Italy were part of our itinerary including Venice, Florence, Cinque Terre, Portofino and Lake Como (no, we didn't see the Clooneys).  Each place was beautiful and unique in its own way with plenty of art, architecture and history - not to mention wine, pasta and gelato!  It's a good thing we were there for a yoga retreat and walked 5-10 miles a day.  Yet, many of those experiences were in the company of huge numbers of other visitors, which added a level of distraction for me. The crowded streets of these villages were full of people taking the perfect selfie and finding the perfect shot to post on social media… it was a little surreal. Did you know that there are almost 1 billion posts to Instagram every day?!?! There wasn't a lot of savoring the sites, just recording it.  That might be why I didn't take many photos or post on social media about it while there, that would have felt a bit superficial. 


There were lots of meaningful moments on the trip including the deep dive into Mantra and Mudra on the ISHTA Yoga retreat.  I loved our tour of Florence as our insightful guide helped me understand and appreciate Michelangelo, and the Tuscan Cooking class dancing to ABBA while making fresh pasta with fellow yogis was a blast.  Yet, I have to say that the elements of our trip that most resonated with me were the ones where we connected with locals and could feel the authenticity of the country, and identify with all that we have in common as we seek human connection.


There were two places in particular that stand out for their authenticity.  The first was Bologna, an ancient city with a lively central square and almost 1,000 year old university.  This would not have been on my list of stops if it weren't for the recommendation from a good friend who studied there.  We spent the afternoon walking around and resting in the plaza with a Spritz listening to local musicians play.  One of the most touching memories of that day was as we were walking by the band, a family with a child in a wheelchair was stopped to listen to the music.  The lead guitarist walked over to him and knelt down so he could feel the vibration of the music better, and the look of bliss on the boy's face literally brought tears to my eyes.  To witness this simple act of kindness and connection was a gift.  Later that night we went to dinner at a place my friend recommended with outdoor seating and more live music.  The food was wonderful as you would expect in the place where Bolognese and Lasagna were invented, but what struck me again was the feeling of connection.  As I looked around the area of tables filled with about one hundred people, I did not see a single person on their phone.  There were couples, groups of friends, multiple generations of families all just enjoying being together on a beautiful night.  There were no famous sites for photo opportunities or people taking pictures of their food, and nobody to impress.  It was wonderful.


The second authentic place we experienced was Colico, which is on the far north eastern side of Lake Como.  Unlike Tremezzo and Bellagio which are wildly popular, Colico takes a little longer to get to, and has fewer hotels and tourist venues.  Its widely appreciated by kite surfers and outdoor enthusiasts and it has incredible natural beauty with bike and walking paths in the shadows of the Alps.  We had the wonderful pleasure of renting an apartment from a friend of a neighbor.  Aldo and his wife Rita were not only gracious hosts but also invited us for dinner for us both nights at their camp on the lake to ensure we had homemade local food.  We huddled inside their camper as torrential rains came through, and they took us for bike rides and shared stories like we were old friends.  When we left they wanted to know when we would come back.  There was a little selfie taking… Aldo loves to take selfies to share with our mutual friends, but it was not to impress, it was to connect and show appreciation for the new friendships.  It was such a gift to be able to experience Italy this way.


As you all explore this summer, whether it is at a local event or on a vacation, I invite you to collect authentic moments.  These moments can be woven together to connect us to others at a time when true connection is drastically needed.  Reminders we are all human no matter what language we speak, what food we eat or where we sleep at night.  We don't need pictures of it, because the energy we capture in those moments becomes part of the fabric of our being and stays with us long after the post is forgotten. 

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