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Report 236: Our Italian Sabbatical

By Trishmael from Louisiana, Fall 2003

Trip Description: Trish' and Gary's Sabbatical: Zurich to Florence to Proceno to Cortona to Rome to Zurich, October and November 2003.

Destinations: Countries - Italy, Switzerland; Regions/Cities - Florence, Rome, Tuscany, Umbria

Categories: Hotels/B&Bs; Vacation Rentals; Art Trip; Attended GTG; Day Tours; Sightseeing; Independent Travel; 2 People

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Page 1 of 10: Why Italy, Why Slow Travel

photo by

Becket and Scout

Before I begin, I want to direct the reader's attention to the *VIDEO TRAVELOGUE* photo album link to several Quicktime videos to the right. Many of the incidents and sights and experiences referenced here are illustrated there. I know, nothing like watching someone's home movies. But they move quickly, and I originally assembled them as a sort of alternative Trip Report.

nb: I had to compress them a lot to get them to play here. As soon as I get server space worked out, I'll provide links to higher-quality versions. ----------------------------

Midway through the journey of our lives, we found ourselves in a dark wood. Italy is our Virgil, our Beatrice. It was a hard year, and that may have been the main reason for our return to Italy this fall.

I qualified for a sabbatical, and I went on leave for this trip. I'm an academic in a field nobody's ever heard of, Performance Studies, specializing in experimental film and live performance. I have no research interests in Italy beyond avocational ones. Gary's a blacksmith, and although he loves looking at other smiths' work and doing his own research while we're traveling, I go to Italy because it is the one place where I can leave all the work behind and just be, look, eat, walk, sleep, think. Just being happens to be so pleasant there. It might have been anywhere, I guess, if you subscribe to the notion that we construct our own realities. I have constructed an Italy that allows me to clear my head, get off the stage and be a spectator, look with all my eyes, think in the kind of luxuriously prolonged way for which contemporary academe seems to have no space. And I like having all the everyday things one does defamiliarized enough to appreciate them again.

That said, I know most Italians are tied up in just being too, but their ways of being seem so utterly performative to me, the minute I get over there I start analyzing their performances in everyday life. Also, insofar as tourism can be considered a performance of some kind, and since many of my colleagues have been studying just that, I wind up coming back with insight into what I do for a living, in the most pleasant of ways.

I think that's what sabbaticals are for. Golly, it worked.

Also, we both love the wines of Montalcino and Montepulciano, and Tuscan food, and Renaissance painting and sculpture, and Italian films, and gelato, and the way the language sounds and feels in the mouth, and sitting in piazzas, and I have a dreadful weakness for looking at saint relics.

I also love to plan trips. I probably overdo it on that score, but it's so much darn fun. Finding Slow Travel was like opening Pandora's planning box. I adore it. I keep referring people. It's the most civilized community I've found on the Internet. There are no town squares in our country any more; they've all been privatized into shopping malls and the space for dialogue without a profit motive is so scarce. In theory, the Internet could become the town square. In practice, it rarely does. But it does here.

Passport renewals, much email back and forth about rentals, a large map of Italy at our kitchen table for weeks, piles of guidebooks, evening reading including Goethe's Italian Journey, Mary McCarthy's Stone of Florence....hours spent in the fine company of ST, getting advice and reading reports .... I am in charge of travel and lodging, Gary's in charge of language and food. What is he doing to prepare? Reading Italian cookbooks (I can't get over this...he'll actually READ A COOKBOOK from cover to cover) and reading "Alice in Wonderland" in Italian (??!!). I suppose if we need to say "Off with her head" to anyone that will come in handy. Finally, we retain the services of one of our grad students and his wife to stay at the house and care for our 2 dogs (the only downside to all this...leaving them) and we're ready to go.

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