Category Archives: Travel

Fallo da solo Italian Cinema!

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This week’s Barrosse family film series continues with a bit of homemade Italian cinema…

img_2318A few years ago, my family traveled to Italy in the company our good friends, the Rashids. We’ve known each other since college and have shared a long, rich history in music, comedy and theatre. Despite all that, we still get along.

We began our two-week Italian sojourn in Florence and took in many of the incredible sights that unparalleled city offers – then made our way to Pisa, Siena, Assisi, and a variety of small towns in southern Tuscany.

img_1846Our final week was spent largely in the small, historic hilltop village of Camporsevoli, near the border with Umbria, where we rented a venerable and very comfortable house, Casa del Neri, from the wonderful Grossi family, who own and manage the estate.

Picturesque Camporsevoli is like a tiny magical kingdom right out of a Shakespearean comedy, complete with a lovely church, clock tower, winding cobblestone streets, classic statuary, imposing gates and lush gardens. It’s an ancient place (two Etruscan tombs are preserved in the village cellars), and it’s been in the Grossi family since the middle of the 1800’s.

004_displayAs soon as we saw Camporsevoli – we knew we had to use it as a backdrop for a performance of some kind.

Thus was born “La Commedia di Camporsevoli”, written and shot over three merry, memorable days in a fabulous place to which we all hope to return someday soon.

italyaThe entire movie was shot on my iPhone. Not my new iPhone, mind you – but my ancient iPhone from three long years ago. That was all the equipment we used. And if that’s not homemade enough — the owner of the estate graciously agreed to play the priest. (He stole the show!)

Simple, bare bones film making — and lots of fun.

Si prega di godere il nostro piccolo film!

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Available Adventure: Big Santa Anita Canyon

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 10.46.28 PMScreen Shot 2014-04-30 at 10.56.40 PMI’ve said it in this space before, but one of the great advantages of life in Southern California – and there are many – is the opportunity to embark on a myriad variety of grand adventures within an hour or two of your home.

From where we live in Woodland Hills, nestled in the southwest edge of the San Fernando Valley, my wife and I can arrive on a Pacific Ocean beach within 20 minutes, begin an ascent into the Santa Monica Mountains in less than 15 minutes, visit the high desert in a half-hour – and drive less than an hour into a world as rough-hewn and glorious as Big Santa Anita Canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains.

BigSantaAnitaCanyonIt’s hard to imagine that Victoria and I have lived in Southern California since 1991 and it took us 22 years to discover Big Santa Anita Canyon. We’ve often hiked Malibu Creek State Park, Topanga State Park and many of the wonderful trails winding through the valleys and along the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains. But it wasn’t until the summer of 2013 that we trekked eastward above the town of Arcadia into the fascinating valley at the foot of Mt. Wilson, below Chantry Flat in the San Gabriels.

Victoria at the trailhead, ready for adventure.

Victoria at the trailhead, ready for adventure.

Victoria and I first descended into Big Santa Anita Canyon on a day hike. And it’s a steep descent. The walk down from the Chantry Flat trailhead to the valley floor begins at the parking lot and plunges 400 feet over 8 tenths of a mile. As relaxing as it is to start a hike with a long downhill stroll, veteran hikers know it only means a tortuous uphill slog on the finish.

Once on the valley floor, we followed the wide, shady trail along Santa Anita Creek leading to the popular 50-foot Sturtevant Falls.

We hiked about 7 miles that day, enjoying the canyon’s unique, rocky, riparian landscape and the midsummer trickle that dripped down the otherwise impressive Sturtevant Falls.

Sturtevant Falls, Photo by Andy Serrano

Sturtevant Falls, Photo by Andy Serrano

Contemporary-cabin-scene1-600x450We especially enjoyed the sight of all the funky old creekside cabins, built back in the 1920’s and 30’s, when the U.S. Forest Service promoted recreational residence in the canyon. There are over 80 of these privately owned cabins, which have no electricity or running water — and they’re not available for rental. But they look cool. The whole scene reminded me of a So Cal version of Middle Earth. (Indeed one of the cabins was dubbed Bombadil’s Castle: a clear J.R.R. Tolkien reference.)DSC_4967-copy20_12638999_0_1354646330_636x435

After surviving that last, brutally hot, 8th of a mile, uphill endurance test to climb back to the trailhead — Victoria and I decided to return as soon as possible for an overnight stay at valley’s historic Sturtevant’s Camp.

ranger-cabin-signSturtevant’s Camp is the oldest resort in the San Gabriel Mountains, built in 1892 by Wilbur M. Sturtevant during the “Great Hiking Era”(1880’s through the early 1930’s) when thousands of tourists hiked into the local mountains, covering long distances over crude trails to encounter the natural beauty of their Southern California home.

Today, it’s hard to imagine many So Cal families abandoning their SUVs, highways and fast food stops to hike with a pack mule train along the strenuous 4.5 mile trail from Chantry Flat to Sturtevant’s Camp, climbing about 1,800 feet along the way. But it was a challenge Victoria and I eagerly embraced.

Store01Incredibly, those pack mule trains still operate today. One of the coolest things about Chantry Flat is that it’s home to the last pack station in Southern California: the last operation where they actually use pack mules to haul supplies into the valley. Alas, Vic and I were too late to use the mule team service, so we had to carry two day’s worth of supplies on our own backs.

Road to campOn our return visit to Big Santa Anita we blew off another look at Sturtevant Falls. After all, it hadn’t rained during the intervening two weeks. Instead, we took the trail leading up the valley to Sturtevant’s Camp. This trail wound along the rising cliffs above Sturtevant Falls, providing us with a new perspective on the falls — and some dramatic photo ops.

We made good time climbing up the trail and arrived at Sturtevant’s Camp much earlier than we expected — and too early to rendezvous with our camp host.CampSturtevant-3613

We needed our host. He was the guy who would open our cabin and turn the gas on. Without him, all we could do was peek in our cabin window and look around at the dowdy yet charming remains of what was once considered a resort destination.

CampSturtevant-3626There was a time when Sturtevant’s Camp one of five resorts in the canyon back in the 1930s. That’s not the case today. Now, it’s the only “resort” left – and its chief characteristics are a rundown, historic appeal and a basic utility. It’s a comfortable and clean enough place to rest your head (and feet) after a hard day of hiking.

But there was no rest for us yet. An enthusiastic (and annoyingly unexhausted) group of 20-somethings arrived at the camp: a matched set of three boys and three girls. We were pleased to know that we wouldn’t be alone at the camp – but we weren’t ready to get social yet. And since our camp host had yet to arrive, we made a bold decision: to climb 5,710-foot Mt. Wilson.

Trail1Since the camp sits at about 3,500 feet above sea level, our ascent of Mt. Wilson covered three miles and 2,200 feet of elevation. That’s a lot of “up”.

It’s a good thing that Victoria and I had been hiking regularly for several months before we attempted the summit of Mt. Wilson. And thank goodness we brought just enough water. The late afternoon sun was merciless, and there were several treeless stretches with little or no cover along the winding, narrow, rocky, dusty trail up to the famous observatory.Up to Mt Wilson

Even before we gained the summit our hard work was well rewarded by stunning views of the L.A. basin spreading out before us to the south. It was a clear day – and even Catalina Island was in view.

Okay, so you can't see Catalina. Blame my damn iPhone camera!

Okay, so you can’t see Catalina. Blame my damn iPhone camera!

Mt Wilson 3At the summit, we still weren’t finished hiking. The concrete roads wound past the white domes of the observatory and a series of other telescopes. Finally, we arrived at the Cosmic Café, which is open from April to October.

The Cosmic Café is not fine dining, but we were happy to indulge in a hot dog, Diet Coke and more water as we rested before our descent back to the camp.

When we got back to the camp our host was waiting for us. He opened our cabin – and, exhausted but feeling victorious, we moved in for a rustic but comfortable night’s stay. The next day, we’d be hiking for another 7 rugged miles on our way back to Chantry Flat. But first, it was a delightful evening of sipping Chardonnay and enjoying the quaint, spare luxuries of Sturtevant’s Camp.

What follows are some photos of our cabin – and scenes from our hike back to Chantry Flat.

Our cabin.

Our cabin.

Inside our cabin.

Inside our cabin.

cabin room

The kitchen in which we cooked chicken breasts for dinner.

The kitchen in which we cooked chicken breasts for dinner.

Our somewhat comfortable bed: more than serviceable after our trek up Mt. Wilson

Our somewhat comfortable bed: more than serviceable after our trek up Mt. Wilson

The pleasant sylvan view from our window.

The pleasant sylvan view from our window.

A view from the upper trail back to Chantry Flat.

A view from the upper trail back to Chantry Flat.

Close to summit

It's scenes like these that keep us coming back to the mountains of Southern California.

It’s scenes like these that keep us coming back to the mountains of Southern California.

 

 

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ObamaCare & Italy & Everything Else — Blog 2013: The Fourth Year In Review.

New Year'sObamacareitaly-banner-1 S&GFor my family and me, 2013 ended on an upbeat note with “Mr. Olsen’s New Year’s Rockin’ Neighborhood” — a raucous, sold-out celebration of comedy and rock & roll at 27 Live in Evanston, Illinois. The weather was bitterly cold but there was a delightful, enveloping warmth in our comic camaraderie with longtime friends, bandmates, fellow Northwestern University alums and members of The Practical Theatre Company.

P&EvaI even got to sing duets with my college roommate and fellow Practical Theatre founder, Brad Hall (as Simon & Garfunkel, above) — and with my daughter, Eva.

We closed the evening with two spirited sets by Riffmaster & The Rockme Foundation, the band I’ve been playing with since the early 1980’s. There’s no better way to ring in the New Year than by rocking with your best buddies. All in all, it was a wonderful way to say goodbye to 2013 and hello to 2014.

suess-graphic-cruz26nI’ll be candid. For some reason, 2013 was not a very prolific year for this blog. I don’t know whether it was the fact that the excitement of the 2012 Presidential election gave way to Congressional constipation courtesy of the recalcitrant, reactionary Tea Party bloc in the House of Reps — or that the rollout of the Affordable Care Act led to the dispiriting madness of the government shutdown. I managed to get off a few broadsides skewering the likes of Senator Ted Cruz (Tea Party, TX) — but the I should have written more in defense of President Obama and progressive politics. (Though my most commented-on post in 2013 was President Obama Goes to War.) Still, I resolve to do a better job of blogging on politics in 2014.

ItalyBThe highlight of 2013 was our family’s two-week trip to Italy and the provinces of Tuscany and Umbria in August. I tried to sum up the experience in an article entitled, Our Italian Adventure. I could easily have written a series of blog posts on each of the beautiful cities and towns we visited, the artwork we saw, the food we ate, and the people we met — but I stuffed the whole, glorious journey into one account. To make amends to my readers I promise that, before too long, I will post a link to the movie we shot on the grounds of Camporsevoli. Stay tuned…

2013 was the fourth year for this blog — and here are the year’s vital signs:

Paul’s Voyage of Discovery & Etc. has attracted 164,472 views since it began four years ago. There were 34,572 visits in 2013. I’ve posted 299 articles since this blog began. This post is #3oo: certainly a notable milestone.

This is not the real subscription sign up box. The real one is further to the right. And up a little…

I am honored that 147 subscribers have now signed on to have my posts automatically delivered to them via e-mail. (And 43 more folks follow this blog on Twitter.) Are you a subscriber? If you’re not — then look to your right at the photo of the saluting Matey and follow the simple instructions to “Hop Aboard!”

The search terms that readers used most to find this blog were “Pearl Harbor”, “Occupy Wall Street”, “trial by jury”, “Bill of Rights” and “Pickett’s Charge”. And these are the posts that readers were most attracted to this year…

What follows is a list of The Top Ten Most Popular Posts of 2013.

Just click on the title of each post to access the original article.

1. Victory at Pearl HarborPearl Harbor

Originally posted in 2010 on the anniversary of the “day that will live in infamy” – this post has become an annual event. A lot of military history fans visit this blog, but I think Pearl Harbor fascinates and resonates with Americans whether they have an interest in military history or not. The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks took more American lives – but Pearl Harbor was the shocking opening act in a drama that ultimately made the United States the world’s preeminent superpower.

2. Happy Birthday Bill of Rights!

On December 15, 2010 – the 215th birthday of our Bill of Rights – I wrote this basic primer on the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution and it’s become one of the most-read posts in the history of this blog. I guess that’s because Americans still give a damn about their rights and are keen to understand their Constitutional foundation.

3. A Childhood Memory of Kent State, May 4. 1970Kent State

On the May 4, 2012 anniversary of this very dark day in America history, I posted this personal remembrance of a young Ohioan’s earliest memories of that terrible day. Unlike the Pearl Harbor post, I haven’t re-posted this article every year — but readers still find it. “Tin soldiers and Nixon coming.” The shootings at Kent State should never be forgotten.

4. The Top Ten Rock & Roll Singers of All Time

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There’s nothing like a Top 10 list to promote discussion on a blog – and this December 5, 2011 post did just that. Check it out – and then weigh in with your own opinion. Just realize that your opinion on rock & roll singing cannot possibly be as informed as my own.

5. The Occupy Wall Street Movement Doesn’t Need Black Bloc Buffooneryblackboc

Though we didn’t hear much about it in 2013,  the Occupy Wall Street movement has inspired a lot of posts on this blog since 2011. This post, written on November 2, 2011, has proven to be the most popular. Maybe that’s because people agree that we don’t need a bunch of foolish, immature anarchists screwing up a noble movement that ultimately helped to put Barrack Obama back in office. Without Occupy Wall Street, would Romney’s attack on the 47% have evoked such a profound and spirited response? Without Occupy Wall Street, would the concept of the 99% and 1% have ever entered the Zeitgeist?

6. My Book Report: “The Battle of Midway”midway

What a great book! What an amazing chapter of world history! On January 23, 2012, I wrote this review of a book that captures all the incredible heroism, good luck, and turns of fate that made this epic World War Two naval battle an overwhelming victory that turned the tide of the war against Imperial Japan. In 2013, I write another book report on an excellent World War Two account, The Day of Battle, about the campaign to liberate Italy. A few weeks after I wrote that post, my family visited the American cemetery in Tuscany and paid our respects to the soldiers whose valor, sacrifice and victory are recounted in Rick Atkinson’s fine book.

7. LeBron: The King Moves Onlebron-banner-2

As a Cleveland native, I’ve often been asked my opinion of LeBron James leaving the Cavaliers several years ago — and my friends and co-workers are usually shocked that I’m not upset or indignant or jilted, etc. And while the blogosphere hardly needed one more commentary on LeBron James’ move to the Miami Heat, I wrote this post on July 9, 2010 to explain that LeBron James didn’t owe me anything. He’s a professional basketball player who wants to win and be remembered as the best to play the game. The two NBA championships he’s won in Miami since I wrote this post have given LeBron all the scoreboard he needs.

8. Growing Up in the Space Age

The last American space shuttle launch inspired this July 14, 2011 remembrance of my personal connection to the Space Age. This popular post salutes my fellow Ohioan, John Glenn, who served as both the first man to orbit the Earth and as a Senator from my home state. I wish that my three daughters had grown up experiencing something half as exciting and inspirational as The Race to the Moon.

9. The Wrecking Crew

Glen Campbell, Hal Blaine, Carol Kay, Tommy Tedesco, Leon Russell, Earl Palmer: the cream of Los Angeles studio musicians in the late 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s became known as “The Wrecking Crew”. I’m thrilled that my March 21, 2011 blog article celebrating Tommy Tedesco’s son’s marvelous documentary film about these rock & roll legends has proven to be such a popular post. If you haven’t done it already, do a Google search on “The Wrecking Crew”. Until then, your rock & roll education is not complete.

10. The Matey’s Log: Sailing Season Begins raceheader

This post recounted a sailboat race held on February 13, 2010.  It was a good thing that the race was being run the day before Valentine’s Day. Like golf, sailing is a sport that takes men out of the house for long stretches of time on the weekend. But sailboat racing is worse than golf because it’s never certain when you’ll be done. 18 holes of golf always take about the same amount of time to complete. The duration of a sailboat race depends upon the vagaries of the wind and conditions on the water. I don’t sail as much as I used to to — but I still love it. And I’ll continue to report on my sailing adventures in the new year.

So, that’s the best of 2013. Stay connected. Subscribe. And please keep posting your comments!

Here’s to another fine voyage in 2014!

And here are the All-Time Top 10 Blog Posts from January 2010 up to today:

1. Happy Birthday Bill of Rights!

2. Victory at Pearl Harbor

3. The Occupy Wall Street Movement Doesn’t Need Black Bloc Buffoonery

4. History & Honeymoon: Part Three

This post was the #3 post in 2010. 24 years ago, my wife Victoria and I went to Gettysburg and other Civil War battlefields on our honeymoon! I needed no other assurance that I had married the perfect woman. On our 20th anniversary, we returned to Gettysburg. Now both students of the battle, we walked the battlefield on July 1, 2 and 3, 2010 on the 147th anniversary of that critical conflict. My four-part account of our battlefield tramping became one of the most popular items on the blog. (Originally posted July 20, 2010)

5. A Childhood Memory of Kent State, May 4. 1970

6. Aliens Among Us?

I’ve always wondered where singular, epochal, “out of this world” geniuses like William Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci and Bob Dylan came from. So, on January 26, 2011, I wrote this speculation on the possible alien origin of such monumental minds. Evidently, my curiosity (if not my Erich Van Daniken “ancient astronaut” fantasy) is still shared by a lot of people who read my blog in the past year.

7. Growing Up in the Space Age

8. The Top Ten Rock & Roll Singers of All Time

9. Bazooka Joe, Jay Lynch & Me

One of the first posts I wrote for this blog back on January 9, 2010 celebrated my brief but soul-satisfying collaboration with the legendary underground comix artist, Jay Lynch, who gave Vic and I the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to write a series of Bazooka Joe comics. It was one of the great chapters in my creative career. The Practical Theatre Company, Saturday Night LiveBehind the Music, The Vic & Paul Show and Bazooka Joe. Classics all. Can I retire now?

10. History & Honeymoon: Part Four

2011 was the 150th anniversary of the commencement of the American Civil War – and the Civil War Sesquicentennial is likely the reason that two of my “History & Honeymoon” posts are still among the most-read this past year, including this one, first posted on July 26, 2010. This post covers everything from my wife Victoria and I battle tramping Pickett’s Charge on the third day of Gettysburg –to our visit to Philadelphia and the eccentric, visionary artwork of Isaiah Zagar.

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Our Italian Adventure

Italy Banner 1Italy Banner 2Italy Banner 3For two weeks in Italy this past August, the Barrosse and Rashid families shared one of the most wonderful experiences of our lives.

IMG_1782From Florence to Siena, from Amelia to Assisi, we enjoyed the sights, sounds, fragrances and flavors of Tuscany and Umbria.

We experienced famous cities with churches and monuments created and decorated by history’s most celebrated artists – and acres of gorgeous, bountiful countryside gardened for millennia by humble, unknown Italian farmers.

It’s hard to describe the beauty and history of these regions of Italy in words – which is why we took so many pictures.

Pictures like this…IMG_1672

And this…IMG_1894

IMG_1592Our trip to Italy began in the magnificent city of Florence, where there is so much fine art, grand architecture and fascinating history packed into a few square miles that the effect is dizzying. And while we did not succumb to Stendahl Syndrome, as the great French author did on a visit to Florence in 1817, we were, as Stendahl recorded, “in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in Florence, close to the great men whose tombs I had seen. Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty.”

We were dumbstruck by our first breathtaking view of Brunelleschi’s incomparable Doma and the incredible cathedral it crowns.IMG_1337

We spent many hours crossing and re-crossing the magnificent bridges over the Arno River…1239502_10202229777774500_1083724015_n…including the world-famous Ponte Vecchio.IMG_1372

IMG_1628We gorged ourselves on the bountiful artistic buffet served up during our tours of The Accademia and the Uffitzi Gallery.

We enjoyed the lovely, opulent grounds of the Boboli Gardens and the stunning views from Piazzale Michelangelo.

We embraced as much of Florence as we could in the precious time we had to spend amid its grandeur.

The experience was all the more enriching because our families were able to share the treasure of Florence with each other.IMG_1615

IMG_1437Sporting our all-powerful Firenze Cards, we traveled to Florence each morning by bus from our pleasant resort conveniently located in the nearby town of Impruneta. In Florence, exhausted ourselves with art and food and fun, and then returned to Impruneta for some countryside R & R.

1233352_10202229776694473_1644880412_nOur day trip to Pisa was a revelation.

We had imagined the famous Leaning Tower standing alone, surrounded by thousands of tourists snapping the obligatory photo: a cultural cliché that had to be experienced.

But we were wholly unprepared for the sight of what Michelangelo called “The Field of Miracles” – an architectural wonder of which the Leaning Tower is the best known but by no means the most impressive feature.IMG_1762

IMG_1776After Pisa, we headed north to the seashore at Via Reggio.

Victoria, enthralled by her study of Percy Shelley and the Romantic poets, was eager to see the beach where the drowned Shelley’s body was burned on a pyre by his friends, including Lord Byron, who, overcome with emotion at the loss of his brilliant young friend, swam in the chilly waters as the flames of Shelley’s pyre rose into the evening sky.

Alas, it’s hard to commune with the spirits of Shelley and Byron on the busy commercial beaches of 21st century Via Reggio. But it was an enjoyable visit nonetheless.66155_10202229776454467_765745900_n

In Tuscany, there was never a moment of disappointment.

IMG_1797Nearly halfway through our grand Italian adventure, we experienced il Palio di Siena – a unique bareback horse race held twice a year in Siena’s main square, on July 2 and August 16, which is the date we attended (survived) the race.

We’d been prepared for the experience by our Italian host and guide, Valentina Grossi – but the Palio was still overwhelming.

It was an impossible task to capture all the people, the emotion, the tradition, the colors, the spectacle, the pageantry, and the race itself in photos. But we tried.IMG_1848

IMG_1778Heeding Valentina’s unerring directions, we arrived in Siena early in the morning through the imposing San Marcos Gate, while the townsfolk were still scrubbing the streets, hanging bunting, dressing up their store windows, and setting out table and chairs in front of the cafes.

It was clear that something akin to a medieval Super Bowl was in the offing. There was a palpable anticipatory excitement in the air, and we could not help but be caught up in the town’s collective vibe.1234046_10202229769774300_1463206431_n

IMG_1854After lunch in the Piazza del Campo, where the race would be held, we were drawn even deeper into the festival atmosphere when I suggested we visit nearby St. Rocco’s church (the namesake of my boyhood parish in Cleveland). Each neighborhood in Siena sponsors a horse and rider. These groups are known as “contrade”.3 Pics

IMG_1919As luck would have it, we arrived just as the parish’s rider and its horse were being blessed in the church. We now had a contrade to belong to: Lupa, the she-wolf.

Then it was back to Piazza del Campo, where we camped out as tens of thousands squeezed into the square before the 7:00 start of the race.IMG_1965IMG_1948IMG_1945IMG_1996531939_10202229768494268_1772278040_n

IMG_2004The race itself was a blur. Our horse from St. Rocco’s parish led for half the race but faded to third place. But the Palio was an event unlike any other in our lives.

The day after the Palio, we headed south out of Impruneta on the road to Camporsevoli, which would become headquarters for our second week in Italy – a jumping off point to explore Southern Tuscany and Umbria.

IMG_1790On the outskirts of Impruneta, we stopped at the American World War Two Military Cemetery to pay homage to the Americans who came to Italy 70 years ago to free it from Nazi tyranny.

We paused to remember the sacrifice represented by row upon row of white crosses, crescents and Stars of David on the green, sloping lawns leading up to the monuments erected in memory of their lives, their valor and their victory.IMG_1793

After our solemn pilgrimage to the military cemetery, we continued our journey into southern Tuscany.

IMG_1846As wild and joyously harrowing as the Palio was, our weeklong stay in the tiny hilltop hamlet of Camporsevoli was the picture of tranquil beauty, peace, and relaxed, restful recreation.

Camporsevoli is a tiny hamlet built in and around a small fortress that’s been a strategic location for centuries, coveted by the Romans, the Papal State, and the neighboring Tuscan city-states.

Camporsevoli has been in the possession of our host Valentina Grossi’s family since the 1820s, but the site has been inhabited since Etruscan times. In fact, two Etruscan tombs are preserved in village cellars. Listening to Valentina’s father recall family and Italian history was one of the highlights of the vacation for me.ItalyA

ItalyBWe were delighted to add to the estate’s long and colorful history by writing and performing “La Commedia Di Camporsevoli” — no doubt the first comedy film shot on the property entirely on iPhone.

Not far down the road from Camporsevoli is the town of San Casciano dei Bagni, yet another picturesque settlement of medieval origin crowning a Tuscan hill.581236_10202229829015781_1319484394_n

IMG_2053San Casciano die Bagni charmed us with it’s splendid views, narrow streets, delightful shops, and pleasant places to dine and converse.

We returned to San Casciano often during our stay at Camporsevoli to enjoy the tranquil pace of life in a small Italian country village. We learned what Italians have always known: to slow down, feel the pleasant breeze, sip the fine wine, taste the wonderful food, meet the people – and enjoy spending time with the people you love in one of the world’s loveliest places.IMG_1890

We spent their last few days in Italy enjoying the pleasures of Umbria.

IMG_2270Our glorious days trips to Amelia, my emigrant grandparent’s hometown, and Assisi, where excitement over the new Franciscan Pope was palpable, proved to be just the right tonic for our slightly exhausted traveling party. These gorgeous, historic Umbrian cities vibrated at a less frenetic pace than the legendary Tuscan città we’d explored during our first week in Italy.

IMG_2133Going into our Italian adventure, we had a good idea of what to expect in Florence and Siena. We’d made extensive preparations for our assault on Florentine art and history and the Palio in Siena. But we were less certain of what was in store for us during our stay in southern Tuscany and Umbria.

Sallying forth from Camporsevoli, we ventured to the relatively unknown town of Amelia in Umbria.IMG_1969 crop

IMG_2097We might not have put Amelia on our itinerary if it weren’t for the fact that my grandparents, who immigrated to the United States in 1911 and 1913, were born and raised in the farmlands around this scenic hilltop town.

Somehow, my daughters challenged me to drive through the impossibly narrow medieval streets (and tunnels) of Amelia: lanes clearly meant for oxcarts not autos.

After some very narrow escapes, I managed to get our car (and my family) out alive.IMG_1975IMG_1977IMG_1983And, of course, there was the little matter of the manual transmission. I got very handy with the stick shift, emergency brake and clutch.IMG_1985

We arrived in Assisi, the city of St. Francis, on a dazzlingly bright day – and found this historic town to be filled with excitement and activity, jazzed by the fact that a humble Franciscan had just been installed as the new Pope.IMG_2034 copyIMG_2274 copy

IMG_2262High on a mountain above a vast, wide plain, Assisi is as beautiful a city as one could possibly imagine.

No shops in Italy were cuter, no store proprietors were friendlier, and no public vibe was more uplifting.

Something wonderful is going on in Assisi. Our stay there was far too short.Screen Shot 2013-11-27 at 12.55.33 PMIMG_2279

After the Rashids flew home to Chicago, our family lingered in Italy for one more day – and one more day trip — this time to nearby Cetona, just a few kilometers from Camporsevoli, right on the border with Umbria.IMG_2559

IMG_2586By now, we were well practiced in how to unwind, relax, enjoy slow-moving Italian café culture, and luxuriate in the simple pleasures of the Tuscan and Umbrian countryside.

Our final excursion was to Chiusi, where we put our daughter Emilia on a train to Rome.

Our two weeks in Italy were over.

The memories will endure all our lives.

The question is – how soon can we go back?IMG_2318IMG_1431IMG_2284IMG_1897 IMG_1899

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