July 22, 2011 

Today we enjoyed a field trip to Monteriggioni – a mediaeval Tuscan town surrounded by a stone wall and fourteen towers.   At an earlier time, Monteriggioni was a protected fortress ensuring the safety of its occupants and soldiers.  Now, it is a tourist destination. There is a large courtyard bordered by delightful boutiques, restaurants, an old church and a village occupied by a handful of residents.   For a fee, you can buy admittance to walk on the stone wall that surrounds the town.  It is well-worth the price of admission to see and take photos of the breathtaking views.

As I walked along the top of the stone wall, the magnificence of the countryside overwhelmed me.  This is the Italy of my dreams:  vineyards on terraced hills, cypress reigning tall, villas dotting the landscape and large, puffy clouds filling the serene blue sky.

That’s me – breaking the rules and sitting on the wall

Stunning views from the wall

The back side of the church viewed from the wall

The talented Jade Webber painting with inspiration

Beautiful Prema & Amick

A Fun Moment with Yema, Joan & Rosemary

As I stood nearly overcome with emotions, I crafted my first, and only, poem of the trip:

Camaraderie of women with shared goals
Lives unique and varied
Similar experiences yield vastly different results
On journeys of well-travelled lives.

Moving to the courtyard, I see two elderly Italian men sitting on a bench, sharing stories and passing time.  I smile to myself as my preconceptions of old world Italy appear to be confirmed.  Later in the day, during a wine tasting in a local shop, one of these gentlemen entered the small tasting room to ask the wine manager questions about how to use his cell phone.   He turns to me and tells me he is 2000 years old and that I am beautiful.  I learn that he is in his 90’s and a local.   His grin lit up the room and his warmth made my heart dance.  John, the wine manager, helped him with his phone and I slipped into my rusty Spanish to converse with them.

John, the manger of the tasting room, gave me a history lesson as told through the wine labels of their proprietary wine and his extensive research.  He is from England.  He went to school for engineering and what began as a three month, temporary job to learn about the wine has grown to a year and progressed to management.   He has worked very closely with the owner and learned a great deal from him.   He educated me about their wine, their corks and their artistic labels, steeped in the history of the area and crafted by an artist from Siena.   His stories were very engaging and I learned a lot about the history of the region.  He is working on the company’s web site and hopes to add these stories to it.  I bought each of the bottles with the handcrafted labels. While the wine was good, the stories were even better.

I left the wine tasting and wandered around the lazy little town.  I found a park bench across from a vine-covered wall and sat down to journal my thoughts.

As I contemplated the day, I suddenly had ideas for topics and categories for my brand new blog: La Vida Trutina.  The thoughts magically appeared out of the ether. I smiled as I realized this was testimony to Rosemary’s sage advice to trust the process and life will reveal what is necessary to keep me on track.

Just last night, I was pondering the “writing” portion of this writing retreat.  My sense was I was not writing enough and I felt unaccomplished on the writing side of the retreat.   I reflected on the schedule to date.  We had a nature walk and writing exercise and then I showered and settled into my room before a painting lesson.  Dinner followed the painting lesson, which lead to the group critique and lessons. My type A personality was kicking in, again, and I didn’t feel like I had time to write, let alone be productive. I was feeling challenged since, in my mind, I wanted to make the most of this retreat and I clearly had an idea of what it should look like and I was not hitting my imagined, self-imposed standard.  Interesting that I thought I knew what it should look like since I’ve never been to a writing retreat in my life!

I shared my concerns with my roommate, Rosemary – an accomplished writer who had been to many retreats.  She gently and confidently informed me that part of a writing retreat is the entirety of the experience – the interaction with the other participants, the surroundings, the activities, the lessons, etc.  She assured me, with such warmth and genuine caring, that everything was perfect and to trust the process.  I felt assured and grateful for her sage guidance.

We left Monteriggioni after a dynamic group lunch and some writing exercises based on our observations throughout the day.  We had a couple of surprise detours on the way back to Ebbio.   We had a tour of the plant that mass produces Panforte, a renowned Italian dessert.

And to top off the day, we found a field of sunflowers and stopped for fun photos.

Once back at Ebbio, I shared with Stephen the experience I had with Rosemary, her sage advice, and my driven, type A personality trait I had to keep in check to enjoy “the process.”  He encouraged me to journal this experience as it may be relevant to help others in their journeys.  He also offered to help me with my blog articles.  I had mentioned to him that I thought the blog articles would be used to create the book that I will eventually write.  I considered his offer, but decided that I wanted to flesh out some details during tomorrow’s marathon writing session and I would meet with him the following day, Sunday.   After I made that decision, I questioned it and wondered if it would have been wise to meet with him first to help kick off the marathon writing.  No, I concluded I didn’t know enough to articulate to him my goal, purpose, game plan, etc., and I wanted to benefit from his expertise in moving these areas forward once I discerned them, rather than having his help discovering them in the first place.

That evening ended on a high point for me.  After dinner, we met in the clearing and discussed the day, our lessons and we were given the opportunity to read our work and be critiqued.   Just yesterday, the first day of the retreat, I listened in awe of these women and their creations.  I was simultaneously impressed and intimidated.  They wrote so well–all of these women should be published (some were)!  I could not imagine getting up in front of them and reading something that I wrote.  It would be so inconsequential and amateur by comparison.  Twenty-four hours later, I stood in the clearing and read the poem I wrote at Monteriggioni.  I shared with the group my insecurities from the previous evening and my high regard for them and their writing talents. I was open and vulnerable and they fully supported me.  This is the power of facing your fear and taking action in the face of it.  The rewards are always exponentially better than the fears.  I could do this.

I am a writer.