This was one of only a few hilariously funny moments from our Courageous Living: Italy retreat. We were winding our way through Florence on our first day on the town. I was giving just the basic overview–Duomo, Piazza della Reppublica, Orsan Michele, Piazza della Signoria/Uffizi, Ponte Vecchio, then we were heading to a restaurant called Lo Straccotto for a lunch reservation I’d made.

All along the way, I was learning things, and first on the list was that a basic overview couldn’t possibly be basic. Florence is too beautiful. The picture taking had to start–immediately (I was cool with this). Then I mentioned the lunch place and someone said, “Well, where’s that in reference to where we are now?” and then I said, “There’s a map on the back of those business cards I gave you,” and then, one-by-one, each person said, “Uh, I don’t have my card,” “Nope, left mine,” “Oh, you did say to grab those, didn’t you?”

Then someone else had the brilliant idea: one person had brought theirs, so photograph the map on the card, and then use that map! And because this was so funny, of course I had to get a picture of the process.

It was an amazing week.

We walked (and walked and walked). We had multi-course meals–appetizers, primi piatti, secondi piatti. The villa where we stayed really knocked it out of the park with the amazing meals (though everyone agreed they were not accustomed to eating all of that food!). We went to Siena and the rain didn’t start until that evening, which felt like a gift from the weather gods, to let us have that time there. I think I managed to get everyone into Grom at some point.

I learned and learned and learned, and took it all in, and kept checking in with myself and noticing that aside from feeling anxious when we were all trying to navigate the bus system (possible perils? pick pockets! Italian locals who have no patience with tourists! someone forgetting to validate their ticket and getting fined! and, of course–forgetting someone if we got off the bus!), I noticed a pleasant sense of, “This is exactly right.”

I’d really love to create space more community space, more one-on-one space like this.

My only regret was that we didn’t get even more creative time. Though I gotta say that this night of rocking the mixed-media to the sound of excited chatter and 80’s tunes in a 16th century villa was pretty sweet:

But it was not just an amazing week because of any planned activities. More than anything, it was an amazing week because the participants created it that way. They showed up, and they showed up with open hearts, and they were incredibly patient and loving with one another. And this broke my heart open, as well. Three people were heading out early in the morning so the night before, I came to give them a final goodbye.

I said goodbye and headed back to the room I was sharing with my assistant, Valerie, and as I walked in the cool October night air, I began to cry. When I arrived at the room I cried more (and I think I startled Valerie a bit, though she held that space well–exactly what I had needed and why I was so glad that she was there). I was crying because the week had taken a toll, energetically. There were things going on behind the scenes both before arriving in Italy and during the week that had been tiring–organizing something like this is so, so much more than simply showing people where they can buy a bus pass. I cried because the week itself had been one requiring attention and presence, and that was a challenging space to maintain, much as I liked it. I cried because I was afraid that I had now tasted this really wonderful experience, and what if I never got to do it again? I cried because the three women leaving had touched my heart and their leaving signaled the end of this experience, and I didn’t want them to be gone

And I cried because it had just been this amazing experience. I was laughing and crying at the same time.

Now that everyone has left, there is a quietness that has come over the villa, and me. I confess I’m experiencing it as a kind of sadness, though I don’t share that to attract any kind of pity so much as I just want to share it for the sake of relating an authentic experience. I think the bits of sadness have to do with nothing so dramatic–just the shape shifting that this journey has taken. It’s a big adjustment to take leave of one’s life for nearly a month, and now I’ve been living in Italy for going on three weeks. I naturally miss my boyfriend, my cat, the familiar comforts of home–and it doesn’t help to have a bit of a cold.

But this is what it is–I have a few days left here, days to study Italian and eavesdrop on conversations. I will go to Pasticceria Buscioni when I need a dose of kindness and I will look up at the Duomo when I need beauty.

And, I promise, my dear liver, that when I get back to California, we will go on a nice little detox from all of this wheat and dairy.

But for now…andiamo!