Monthly Archives: September 2011

Inspirational

So I subscribe to the Runner’s World Magazine “quote of the day” email, and a few really good ones have been adding up. And by “a few”, I mean a lot, so I’ll put my favorites near the top and you can scroll through them as it pleases you.

And, as soon as I run my 18 miles this Sunday, I’ll be 2/3 of the way there! Can you believe it? Only four more reallyreallyreally long distances before I get to taper. (My weekends go: 18, 20, 18, 20, 13, 10, Marathon!!!) Think I can do it? I’m pretty sure I can. Alright. Quotation time.

My favorite:

“If I didn’t run, my writing would be very different from what it is. To be a fiction writer, the most important qualities are imaginative ability, intelligence, and focus. To keep these going at a high level, you can’t neglect your physical strength. Otherwise, you can’t accomplish anything very intricate or demanding.” -Haruki Murakami, (postmodern) novelist and translator

My second favorite:

“I run mostly to see things, to explore places I don’t know. And the places I do know, like around here, then I get a sense of the weather, the shifting light, the seasonal changes; it can be pleasurable even when you hurl yourself into the teeth of nature.” -Edward Koren, artist / New Yorker cartoonist

Some more:

“There are no real risks with running, so I can go as fast as I want and as far as I want. I like the freedom of just going. I don’t have to wait for somebody to show up; instead, it’s ‘I’m outta here.'” -Ed Viesturs, mountaineer

“Do the work. Do the analysis. But feel your run. Feel your race. Feel the joy that is running.” -Kara Goucher

“My shoes are the one thing I know I’ll take on the road besides my guitar. I’ve run in the Alps on tour with Joan Baez, along the canals in Cambridge, England, and put lots of miles behind me all over the States.” -Josh Ritter, musician

“I definitely want to show how beautiful the marathon can be. I am the opponent of all those who find the marathon bad: the psychologists, the physiologists, the doubters. I make the marathon beautiful for myself and for others. That’s why I’m here.” -Uta Pippig, the first woman to win the Boston Marathon three consecutive times

“Your body will argue that there is no justifiable reason to continue. Your only recourse is to call on your spirit, which fortunately functions independently of logic.” -Tim Noakes, author of Love of Running

“Conquering any difficulty always gives one a secret joy, for it means pushing back a boundary line and adding to one’s liberty.” -Henri Frederic Amiel, Swiss philosopher, poet, and critic

“Keeping my eye on today is about all I’m capable of. And today, I think I’ll go for a run.” -John Bingham, contributer, Runner’s World

“We all know that if you run, you are pretty much choosing a life of success because of it.” -Deena Kastor

“Those long runs cleanse my system, physically and mentally.” -Joan Benoit Samuelson

“There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get from knowing you’re in good physical condition. I wake up alert and singing in the morning, ready to go.” -Stan Gerstein, runner

And I’ll end with this one:

“Whatever you may be missing right now – a person, a place, a feeling, maybe you are injured and missing running – whatever it is, have peace and take heart – remember that any goodbye makes room for a hello.” -Kristin Armstrong, author and runner

Off to do some morning yoga, drink a huge bottle of water (RIP Nalgene somewhere in Cinque Terre) and then it’s my day to be a tourist in Florence.

Love,

Jane

P.S. RW has excellent web content as well as being my favorite magazine out there. So if you’re ever looking for running tips, inspiration, training plans, or just anecdotes, check it out.

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About Words

Top 10 favorite words in the Italian language so far. Mostly because they’re so fun to say.

10. arrivederci = “see you later” to a group

9. un francobollo = a stamp

8. zuppa = soup

7. conoscere = to know a person or place

6. una cartolina = a postcard

5. rumoroso = noisy

4. una melagrana = a pomegranate

3. assaggiare = to try a new food (yes, they have a specific word for that)

2. innamorato = in love

1. luminoso/luminosa = filled with light, luminous

(I challenge you to create a sentence using all of those words.)

And here’s something to read, in case you’re feeling philosophical. Thanks to Kelly Wilson for sending this my way.

Arrivederci (now you know what that means!),

Jane

P.S. Pictured above: (1) a view of roofs in Cortona; (2) glorious prints and maps with which I want to cover my future house– the one on top is Venetia, Venice.

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Talking to Myself

Lots of times, when my friends learn that my after-school plans include 16+ mile runs, they wonder how I don’t get bored. The thing is, I look forward to those 2-3 hour blocks of time once a week when I don’t have any assignment but to jog around this beautiful city and get lost inside my head. A long period of time when being introverted and reflective is sanctioned? Yes, please.

So what I do is think. To get warmed up, I usually listen to music because the first couple miles are always the hardest. Then I just think: about my surroundings, about my day, about the Italians or tourists I see, about things my friends have said to me, about where I want to take my parents in Florence, about where I’ve been the past weekend, about anything bothering me, about anything I’m excited about. If you can release your focus on the physical and any tiredness associated with running, and let your mind take you where it will, it passes the time. And quite productively, I’ve found. I’ve begun many a run anxious, tired, confused, homesick, frustrated, or unsure of myself, and never failed to arrive home with a peaceful, centered mind.

Also I try not to blog or write to my friends/family unless I have something to say, and runs are my time for processing the world and helping me articulate my thoughts and experiences to those who I correspond with. So, here are some of those thoughts, a couple of lighthearted lists (you know I love my lists) that have been adding up in my head recently.

Things I Love About Italy

  1. The uniformity of the architecture
  2. Eating dessert for breakfast
  3. Walking, walking, walking
  4. The ease and economy of travel
  5. The beautiful language
  6. How everyone lives outside because of the premium on space
  7. Small children speaking Italian
  8. The things it makes me appreciate about America
  9. Piazzas <– not pizzas.
  10. Views of Florence from any high place
  11. The fruit. Especially the green grapes. Yes, they have seeds. Yes, the seeds are worth it.
  12. How un-intimidating / un-official-sounding the sirens are
  13. Being spoiled. My host mom sets out a tray with a mug and breakfast pastries every morning, and leaves French-pressed coffee in the fridge for me to heat up. Then she cooks me dinner every night, cleans my room and bathroom, and does my laundry. She insists on doing all of that too! It’s Italian culture. I offer to help do dishes all the time but have never been allowed. The best I can do is thank her all the time.
  14. The fact that I’m in Italy, particularly Florence. I get annoyed with its city-ness sometimes, but forget all of that when I can just walk into the Uffizi or Santa Croce or Palazzo Strozzi in my free time.

Things I Miss About America

  1. My family :)
  2. Men with manners
  3. Peanut butter!!!
  4. Soy lattes
  5. Ice
  6. Screens on windows
  7. Video streaming– both Youtube and TV episodes online. Netflix instant doesn’t even work in this country! The injustice!
  8. Cascadian Farm granola sprinkled over WF 365 organic lemon yogurt with half a sliced banana, slivered almonds, and a drizzle of local honey. Specifically. <– you know what I’m gonna be eating as soon as I return to the US!
  9. Cooking and baking
  10. Lululemon and yoga classes and my friends at Lotus
  11. The fact that I’m going to miss Thanksgiving.
  12. The fact that most of the things on this list are food-related, even though I’m in a country renowned for its food

Things Training for a Marathon Has Taught Me

  1. Your boundaries are 75% mental. With proper physical training, diet, and TLC for yourself (see #2-3), plus an unshakably positive attitude, you can do anything.
  2. My body was telling me something by loving dark chocolate.
  3. When you’re given a day to rest, rest. Take a slow stroll. Watch a movie. Eat a plate of pasta….
  4. …..Because the next day won’t be a rest day anymore.
  5. How to listen to myself. To my inner voice, to my body, to my cravings (more for protein and veggies these days… no shortage of carbs in Italia!)
  6. How not to listen to other people. That sounds odd, but I’ve found that peoples’ inclinations (even my parents) are to tell me I’m running too much, pushing too hard, etc. With peers here at school, it’s usually because if I ran less, they would feel better about themselves. With my wonderful Mom and Dad, it’s because they’re concerned about my well-being. But whatever the reason, it’s important to ignore all of their advice and keep after my goal.
  7. That around the first 18-mile run, you no longer feel surprised about long distances. The question becomes not, can I do it, but, when will I fit these annoying long things into my busy schedule?
  8. Uphill climbs make me feel strong.
  9. Downhill slopes make me feel like I could keep running forever.
  10. All foodies should be marathoners. It keeps you trim, and knowing you earned your meal gives you a greater appreciation for it.
  11. I’m more independent than even I thought I was. The possibility of traveling to Greece on my own to run this no longer scares me.

So there’s a peek into what I talk to myself about on long runs. Sometimes I don’t even try to keep up a monologue– I just observe and appreciate where I am. Sometimes those turn out the best and most beautifully surprising, anyway.

Pictured above: View of one of the towns in Cinque Terre; mountaintop yoga; sailboats on the Mediterranean at Cinque Terre

Love,

Jane

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Meeting St. Francis

Because I promised: some reflections on my lovely day at Assisi, exploring the Basilica di San Francesco and taking in the view. I’ll be brief, because really I’m brimming over with excitement about my next post……

I apologize that there is some overlap between the messages I’m transcribing, but it’ll give you a sense of my preoccupations:

To Jeff:

“I wrapped myself in the beauty and wonder of the world by spending almost three hours in the Basilica of St. Francis. The walls and ceilings are covered with splendid frescoes by such artists as Cimabue and (it’s debated) Giotto, depicting the lives of Jesus, St. Francis, St. Martin, St. Mary Magdalene and more. The Romanesque and Gothic arches are covered in bright geometrical designs. The choir seats are made of intricately carved wood. The altar on the second story is directly above the altar on the main floor, which sits directly above St. Francis’ tomb in the crypt. Countless pictures of sick family members, scribbled prayers, and other tokens have been pushed through the iron bars on the sides and back. Several Italians were kneeling there, gripping the bars, fervently praying. When I think that they have sought out this saint, to help their loved ones or themselves, it fills me with wonder and admiration. I thought to myself walking back up the stairs, what if everyone trusted in God the way they do? The world would probably look a lot like it did in the middle ages, but supposing everyone in the 21st century world had entire, unwavering faith in whatever creed they chose, for just one day? I would really like to know what that would look like.

“I could go on and on about Assisi. I’ve attached a picture of the town from the fort on the hill. No photos are allowed in the church, which was a relief, because I was able to sit and let my gaze travel over the walls and ceilings, without worrying about the lighting or my zoom. I remember once you asked me, when I see something beautiful, do I just soak it in, or try to take a picture? Lots of times, with views and quaint things in towns, I photograph them. But I rarely carry a camera on my walks around Florence. I guess I have the luxury of plenty of time here, but as I used to tell the kids at work this summer, “your eyes are your camera. see what you can observe.” In the Basilica, the no-photography rule was a relief, because I got to really be present there. Now, not only do I have a picture in my memory of the church itself, but attached to that picture, I have all the feelings and thoughts associated with my experience of exploring it. Wasn’t finding presentness the whole point of coming to Italy and running a marathon in the first place?”

To Paul:

“The thing I crave is not grandiose gestures but people simply showing that they care. That’s what I started thinking about after exploring the glorious, bright upper nave of the Basilica of St. Francis, with its colorful frescoes, its stained glass, and its intricate wooden carvings on the choir seats, then descending to the more somber but still magnificently illustrated lower nave, and finally going down underground, to the crypt that houses St. Francis’ tomb. I got so much more of a sense of the power of God from the humility of the friars in quiet prayer, and the everyday Italians who made a pilgrimage here to grip the iron bars of Francis’ tomb on behalf of their loved ones or themselves. The three kneeling on the tomb itself were so deep in conversation with God that they didn’t even register the presence of the tourists tiptoeing around them. Upstairs, in all its glory, they had to keep annoucing over the speaker, “SILENZIO,” but in the crypt, no such measures were necessary. The presence of God was so strong that no one dared say anything.”

To Nate:

“When I descended from the colorful upper nave of the Basilica of St. Francis, filled with daylight, into the somberly lit but brilliantly illustrated lower nave, to the silent crypt that houses St. Francis’ tomb, and observed the candlelight, the friars kneeling in the pews, and the ordinary Italians gripping the bars of Francis’ tomb in desperate, fervent prayer, I experienced a longing for the kind of faith that built this magnificent church, and the kind of faith still held by those who, on bended knee, seek out St. Francis in their suffering. And beyond that, I longed for that faith and love to fill every soul in the world. That feeling, not what I felt gazing at Cimabue frescoes or the view from atop the mountain, is the one I keep returning to in the days following my trip.”

Now you can see, if you think I never shut up in my blog posts, it’s not any better in my emails. I should hire an editor.

Have any of you been to Assisi or any pilgrimage church? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Love to all,

Jane

 

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Comfort vs. Suffering

A week or so ago, in one of our email exchanges, Jeff got me thinking about a choice that was first introduced to him during the humanities program at Davidson. And that question is: “do we go out and experience the world, risking suffering, or do we stay in our “comfort zone,” at home or at any place that feels like home?” He said that Dr. Epes pointed out that experience can include reading a book we would not otherwise expose ourselves to (a plug for the Humes program, ha, ha) but Jeff and I both agree it’s unfamiliar experiences in real life that are crucial.

Take us with a grain of salt, though, because we’re both commencing extended stays abroad and are inclined to think our choices are the right ones, so before I segue into a summary of my thoughts on the subject of comfort v. suffering, I’d like to hear your opinions. Mom and Dad? Mrs. Waterman? Friends? When does going outside your comfort zone go too far? Is that even possible? What is the role of that sense of comfort and home? Does home have to be a place, or can it be a person/people? Can somewhere that was once a place of discomfort become a home? Or the other way around? What should the balance between comfort and suffering be? And let’s talk about intellectual comfort v. suffering, too; just like I’m always seeking new physical experiences, I’m always pushing my mind and hardly ever let it settle into a comfortable place. Even the movies I choose to watch for pleasure are thought-provoking.

Even the amount I’ve been thinking about this topic and my decision to try to start a discussion on the blog is an example of my inclination toward suffering. (Not suffering as in excruciating pain, mind you, but… I might be confused about that boundary too, being a distance runner. Ha.)

So.

Because I was adequately articulate on this subject in recent correspondence, here are the highlights:

To Jeff, in response to the original message:

“The reason I’m uncomfortable here at times– certainly not suffering; how can you, in Florence?– but definitely uncomfortable, is that I like order, I like familiarity, and I like things that make sense. Essentially, I like my life to run smoothly and in a way that I can easily make meaning out of it. I’m scared of the silliest things here! I’m apprehensive about buying a train ticket and traveling solo, and the only reason is that I’ve never done it before. I get so, so nervous about the marathon because it’s complicated to get high mileage in such a small city (and to keep my pace slow to prevent burning out when I feel compelled to go fast, because everything else is moving fast… but I’ll touch upon that in a moment.) I’m nervous both walking and running in the street alone because of the culture of men catcalling American students, even though I’m conservatively dressed. And mostly I’m uncomfortable because I don’t have the vocabulary to communicate even the most basic thoughts and ideas. I think we need to strike a balance between comfort and suffering. I am most certainly daring to experience, as are you, and I’d like to hear your thoughts on this once you’ve lived in France for a few weeks, but after a certain period of daring experience, I’d like to go home.”

To Paul:

“I’ve been contemplating the idea of comfort v. suffering quite a lot in the past couple of days, and come to the conclusion that we (you and I; most Davidson students) put ourselves through a lot of ‘suffering,’ namely, pushing ourselves outside our comfort zones, setting lofty goals, striving for self-improvement, etc. The idea of comfort for us registers as apathy or complacency. But I’ve been thinking and I decided that, like most other dualities in life, we need to strike a balance between them. If we keep pushing and working and striving, we’ll run ourselves down. When we take time off to be comfortable, we need to be fully present in that moment and do good things for ourselves. For me at least, I have a lot easier time being present when I’m studying or working toward a goal, than I do when I’m supposed to be taking a break. Instead, that break will be spent planning my next move towards achievement. What I was thinking about as a good example of comfort was last Christmas break (sophomore year). I completely chilled out with the family, slept in, cooked and ate, went on adventures with Dan, spent hours in bookstores, and generally did as I pleased. What I did not do was create a battle plan for second semester, and I’m so glad I didn’t, because that break is one of my best recent memories. In Italy, my consciousness of ‘suffering’ is heightened, in the cultural discomfort, so my appreciation for comfort is sharper. I realized that allowing myself to be comfortable isn’t slacking. It’s what I plan to do, and can’t wait to do, when I return to the United States this winter.”

I wrote each of those messages almost a week ago. The problem with my very diplomatic proclamation of “it’s very simple, you see, you just have to strike a balance” is that since then, Florence has become more of a home, and feels more comfortable every day. As I fall more and more deeply in love with this city, I’m already feeling nostalgic for the day I’ll have to leave it behind.

So tell me, O Wise Readers, what are your thoughts? Comfort or suffering?

Love,

Jane

P.S. The red peppers are my favorite picture I’ve taken so far.

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Signs of Fall

It’s rained a little, the past couple of days, most notably on Olivia and I when we got stuck at Piazza Signoria under a roof that sheltered a huge flock of tourists waiting out the storm among the smorgasbord of Renaissance sculpture reproductions, plus a couple of capitalistic Italians selling pastel ponchos.

Then, yesterday afternoon, it rained again. Instead of putting a damper on my 12-mile run before dinner, it energized me. I really have no words to describe the exhilaration of running along the Arno, breathing in cool air, seeing Florence’s colors muted but no less lovely, listening to Stars’ album Set Yourself on Fire. (Joe or Jordan, if you’re reading this, I know you’ll understand the music’s effect.)

As a side note, on my way back from that run, three young Italian women were heading in the other direction and guess what one of them did? She smiled at me! The grin was so unmistakable that she was probably not an Italian at all, but I’m going to believe she was. The other day, I wrote a fairly mediocre poem with the theme of desiring human connection in this city. The first couple of lines begin, “I want to smile at a / stranger.” Well, I did get my wish.

Tonight, I’m exhausted. I was just thinking that the exhaustion was unexplainable, but actually it’s very obvious why I’m tired. Three packed days this weekend, and a 12-mile run on Monday. I expect myself to be in a constant state of energy and vivacity, and that is just not going to be the case all the time. My trip to Sicily was cancelled this weekend, and instead of feeling disappointment, I feel total relief. Two burdens, of expense and of lengthy travel, were lifted off my shoulders. Now I’m counting down to this weekend: I don’t want to travel further than the surrounding area, definitely to see Olivia in Cortona, then perhaps we’ll continue to Siena, or to Cinque Terre for a day (or two..) at the beach.

Though the school workload isn’t terribly heavy, I have so much to think about all the time. Exhibitions to see at art galleries, churches to go into, how to form a sentence in Italian, how to manufacture the motivation to run day… after day… after day, planning travel, planning to receive friends in town. It’s not that I’m getting stressed by thinking about all these things, because they’re all wonderful, it’s just that they’re tiring me out. I can’t imagine what the kids who go out to bars and discotecas every night must feel like…. my host family thinks it’s funny that I study in my room after dinner, but I need the quiet time with my books and emails from loved ones to continue feeling like myself. And the weekends? A fun dinner out with my sweet girlfriends (Val, Kirsten, Laura, that’s you!), perhaps a stroll around to admire the beauty of the city at night, but then you better believe I’ll be tucked in at home by 11. (Mom and Dad, I’m not just saying that because you’re reading. ‘Tis the 100% truth.)

Maybe that’s the next adjustment and lesson on this journey: how to keep doing all the fun things in this city, in a state of exhaustion. Or how to restore my mind, heart, and soul so as to live healthfully and wholly.

Any suggestions?

Love to all,

Jane

P.S. I’ve been reflecting a lot on my experiences this weekend (Assisi more so than Ravenna) and wrote about them both in my travel journal, and in correspondence to friends, so I’ll try to take a minute to transcribe some of those thoughts in a post tomorrow morning. Until then, the first photo is of the church called San Vitale, in Ravenna. Its mosaics are Byzantine, laid at the end of the Roman Empire and influenced by the art of Constantinople/Istanbul. The second photo is Olivia and I, at the organic farmer’s market we discovered (my idea of heaven), with sandwiches from Florence’s best-kept secret, an out-of-the-way panini bar.

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Scusi, signora, dove Via Giuseppe Giusti?

I’ve got to start marking my street signs. A woman stopped me today to ask directions (this is a good sign for my ensemble! I was not running, mind you, and looked very stylish) but I was forced to reply to her, “Mi dispiache, sono americana.” I’m sorry, I’m an American. It seems like a funny apology to make, but she understood that I had no idea what the streets were named. Even though I did know that one! I had a gut feeling it was the major street I cross every day on the way to school, and when I checked my map just now, I was right. Agh.

Oh well, getting pegged as an Italian is a step in the right direction.

Also, my family won’t believe their eyes reading this, but I’ve come to stop noticing cigarette smoke, at least in the open air. Yeah. Tease as you like.

Xo,

Jane

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