Living in Italy has meant starting a new life. Even the best of changes, ones that we initiate with great enthusiasm and with a thirst for adventure, can challenge long-held conditioning and behaviors. In my experience, this isn’t a process that can be controlled, and the bends in the road can’t be anticipated with accuracy. More and more I gravitate to the image of life as a big river, and I am learning to let go and let the it take me. Everyone’s experience is different, but perhaps some of my musings will resonate with you on your journey of change.

Castrovalva – A Fairytale Town Clings to a Precipice

Castrovalva, Italywise

Looking up to the hill town of Castrovalva

Impossibly situated…

That’s what I thought when I first saw the tiny village of Castrovalva, perched high on a sliver of rock in The Apennines of Abruzzo. This was just last weekend and my journey there (accompanied by my dear friends Novelia and Peppe) had been planned at the last minute. My main mission was to visit La Porta di Parchi, an organic sheep and goat farm, also an agriturismo. It was late on a Friday afternoon and we were scoping out the farm and preparing for my interviews with Nunzio, the master shepherd, for the following morning. And, as good fortune would have it, we took a 45-minute side trip to Castrovalva. After all, you can see the village from La Porta di Parchi.

One access road and a population of fifteen people.

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La Giostra di Cavalleresca di Sulmona – Don’t Miss It!

La Giostra di Cavalleresca di Sulmona

The Most Important Moment – © 2018 Jed Smith

Guess who scored a press pass to La Giostra di Cavalleresca di Sulmona?

That would be lucky, lucky yours truly, thanks to Saint Novelia, my dear friend and “partner in crime” (when we get together we cook up all sorts of good trouble!). Yes, I had a front row seat to this incredible event! And, I was ready with my best equipment.

This event is held the last weekend in July every year.

La Giostra di Cavalleresca became an annual event in Sulmona starting in 1994. It pays tribute to jousting events from centuries ago and Abruzzo’s rich noble heritage.

On Saturday and Sunday, around four in the afternoon, a long, seemingly endless procession of people dressed in exquisite Medieval garb makes its way up the Corso to Piazza Garibaldi, Sulmona’s main square.

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Dealing with the Angst of Elusive Answers

Elusive answers, Italywise

Always reaching and begging for the answers?

When did we become convinced that answers should be ready on command?

In my case, I suspect it happened when I began to think abstractly (early teens?) and was taught about the prowess of the mind, relegating other avenues of discovery and knowledge (e.g., intuition) to second or third-tier status. In short, I was taught, quite successfully, that I could think my way through or around any obstacle. I could force answers.

I’ve spent too many mornings of my life waking up to a mind furiously churning to identify any outstanding elusive answers to burning questions or situations.

Why this topic of elusive answers and what does this have to do with moving to Italy?

Unless you’ve had the road to a life in Italy or any similar momentous life change roll out the red carpet of a smooth transition, then you’ll relate. 

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Pope Celestine V and the Courage to Resign

Celestine V

Pope Celestine V – © 2018 Jed Smith

The verb “resign” can be a loaded word.

The word can connote giving up or giving in. When a person is said to have resigned themselves to a situation, it often implies waving a white flag to something beyond their control or their liking.

Then, there is choosing to resign when a person realizes something isn’t working for them, or when they’ve explored a path and gracefully backed out and said, “No, thank you.”

Enter Pope Celestine V

I knew nothing about the man who was chosen as Pope during the 13th century and during the last non-conclave choosing of the Holy Father—that is until I visited L’Aquila with my dear friends Novelia and Peppe. I had, just the day before, visited Celestine’s remote hermitage in the Morrone mountains and seen the small, cramped cell where he had slept. In L’Aquila, I saw Santa Maria di Collemaggio, the inspiring basilica born of his dream. There, I learned the fuller story of the first Pope to resign.

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Pull the plug on the narrator in your head.

narrator in your head, Italywise

The narrator in your head doesn’t like to shut up.

It thrives on constantly voicing its opinions and judgments about whatever is happening. For me, it has taken becoming still to become aware of its incessant activity.

Maybe you’re different and you’ve found equanimity and balance through a growing awareness of yourself and the internal dialog and have been able to staunch the narrator’s constant stream of blah blah blah. If so, I’m envious. If not, then know you’re in good company with the vast majority of the human race.

Moving to Italy invites the narrator in your head to have a field day.

As does any significant life change, no matter how desired or loathed.

When I moved to Italy over five years ago, I had the storyline all locked and loaded. It was just a matter of it all happening according to my tidy little plans, right? I’d seen plenty of inspiring movies, read tons of colorful books. The scripts were plentiful.

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Building a New Life, Stone by Stone

Building a New Life, Jed Smith photography

Stone by Stone © 2018 Jed Smith

Building a new life means recognizing you may have to lay new stones and tear out old ones.

This realization has been smacking me in the face again and again lately. Just when I think I’ve shaken off the slumber of a lifetime of conditioning, I find myself all too often in the jaws of a repetitious past. Trying to reorchestrate my life with my move to Italy has shaken things up and challenged the status quo that remained hidden from my conscious awareness. I wanted change, and I got it in spades.

Bypassing the work and discomfort of changing one’s life just isn’t an option.

As I write this, I’m realizing that I should metaphorically duck the certain onslaught of rotten fruit and vegetables surely being hurled in my direction. Who am I to take the shine off of the nicely packaged ideas of moving to Italy or any similar major life change?

I’m one who continues to navigate the journey while discovering and stepping into the potholes of my conditioning. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade this for anything, but I wasn’t fully prepared for being pushed, actually shoved forcibly at times, out of my comfort zone.

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The Power and Perils of Being Liked

Being Liked

Being liked. Am I too motivated by approval?

This question has been percolating for at least a month. In fact, I considered making this subject the launch into the New Year. But, as with many topics, I needed a bit of reflection first. Now, I’m ready to share my musings.

Why, you might ask, is being liked relevant to this blog? As I enter year four of ItalyWise, I’ve been asking myself how influenced my writing is by a need to please other people and generate comments and subscriptions as validation. I ask myself if I’m willing to “damn the torpedoes” and be unflinchingly true to myself. Do I compare myself to others too much? Am I chasing a definition of success that is measured by likes?

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Learning to Dance with Both Life and Death

life and death, Italywise

San Michele Cemetery Angel

I believe spending time in cemeteries helps remind me to wake up to the intrinsic dance of life and death. That’s why I love, in particular, Venice’s San Michele and Paris’s Pere Lachaise cemeteries. They help me to zoom back to the present and examine my life and whether I’m living on autopilot by keeping death at arm’s length and pretending that I’ve got nothing but time.

You may be reading this and proclaiming “How morbid!”––especially as a New Year’s contemplation. Stick with me, as I believe my musings are ultimately hopeful.

Two things conspired to bring the dance of life and death to my attention.

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Trapped in a Thought Bubble?

Thought Bubble

Thought Bubble – © 2017 Jed Smith

If you’ve been following my recent posts, you won’t be surprised that my photography often ends up prompting me to write about a subject that has been commanding much of my attention. I have to laugh at how my subconscious works and slaps me, in a good-natured way, to wake up. This often happens with dreams (I sometimes keep a dream journal), but now it’s happening more frequently with my art and photography, as demonstrated by the thought bubble photo above.

A thought bubble is fine, now and then.

Yes, thinking is necessary to living and taking care of oneself. But when it becomes so habitual

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Exploring the Rich Potential of Spaciousness

Spaciousness, Folegandros

A Sea of Possibilities © 2017 Jed Smith

I was ready for some spaciousness…or so I thought.

Our long-awaited trip to the tranquil island of Folegandros, Greece, finally had arrived. This would be easy. A quick (and inexpensive) Volotea flight from Venice to Santorini, and then an hour by fast boat to Folegandros. We’d arrive, unplug, and fall into complete bliss while staring out into the vast expanse of the Aegean.

Yep, I had it all planned out. And then, like a drug addict who couldn’t really own up to his addictions, I was hit with the pain of withdrawal from constant doing and thinking. Talk about feeling slapped sideways.

A valuable wake-up call.

Consequently, during our first full day in this glorious island paradise, I was about to jump out of my skin. My personal throttle was stuck in high gear. And my mind was tackling a mess of thoughts at a velocity and ferocity that would leave Pac Man in the dust.

And then it hit me…I’d been filling up my life and distracting myself with constant busyness. When it came time to sit still, I didn’t know how. Well, not at the level being offered to me on this breathtaking island.

“Wherever You Go, There You Are.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

Crap, I was busted. What was I to do? Jump into planning or doing something to distract myself? Run from being still and avoid inviting the uncertainty of spaciousness into my life?

Then I remembered something

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