Lessons from my dogs: Sacredness

This post is by Kay Pfaltz, Founder of Beyond Ordinary Travel. 

Buds grace the ends of bare branches as I stand in the first light sipping the morning’s cup of tea, and watching birds find seeds. It’s a routine I perform each day, the scattering of seed, and often accompanied by my tea. It is the basic nature of the act, providing for others, which gives it the sacredness, and for me a form of meditation; all else stops and I stare silently as the birds peck and flutter, mates sometimes feeding each other or flapping off intruders.

Sacredness can befall us in the lightest of moments. Nietzsche spoke of how little was necessary for happiness: “The least thing precisely, the gentlest thing, a lizard’s rustling, a breath, a wisk, an eye glance—little maketh up the best happiness. Be still.”

Be still.

I stand still and wonder what will happen to all the awakening buds—sacred every one of them—appearing at the ends of January’s branches when they would in past come out in March. But nature sees the bigger show, feeding stars and seas, watching over us, yet oblivious to small human needs. I want the purpled spill and sugared smell of the wisteria in spring. Or my favourite scent of all, the spicy sweetness of April’s viburnum…but that, is budding now.

Yet I know that nature’s ways are sacrosanct and have proved the test of time, reaching far beyond my little life. I stand amidst her, humbled and learn look beyond what meets the eye. Behind the anger and the fear lies a universal desire for goodness, a sharing of compassion. Behind the hatred and the violence lie millions of lives brushing up against one another simply trying to connect—for the doorway to our sacredness is our human heart, and sometimes we find that touch of love in the oddest places.

I have held my animals as they died in my arms, surrounded for those few untouchable moments by a sacredness so vast it pushed away all fear, all grief and what was left was grace. Until the mind regained the heart’s upper hand at which point grief and pain returned. Sri Nisargadatta said it beautifully: “The mind creates the abyss; the heart crosses it.”

“What is sacred?”

Pondering the question in our small home, I see life covering my windowpanes. Maligned by most, these bugs who buzz about my house are sacred in themselves. There is sacredness in the tiniest ant, or the most unwanted body of the stink bugs, just as there is in the majestic trees of shade we love. There is sacredness in the spider who hangs out in my shower. It is the same sanctity found in all life.

“What is sacred?” I turn and ask again aloud. Three pairs of eyes looked back at me in answer.

IMG_6338-19

“Of course! You are.” As time rushes forward—scientist proving the earth’s velocity truly has increased, it’s not just our crazy lives—my dogs lead sacred lives each day.

For them each day is new. A joy to stretch, to sniff, to savour. A day in which to rejoice. The quiet brown eyes still regard me, speaking silently their wishes. We walk up into the woods and I stand still at the confluence of two streams. I watch the clean water spilling over earth and rock, and as it catches and holds the sun’s light, I know that it is sacred. The lacy ferns and soft moss that from their sidelines wave the water on are as sacred in their stationary lives just as the water is in flowing. The rocks worn and wise over which the water runs are sacred. The forest around us is sacred and the beings it holds in outstretched arms are sacred. Our four lives are sacred, defined, but not limited, by death on one end. A tree has fallen that once stood by the banks of the stream. I am saddened by its death, but it leaves a space where light shines through.

IMG_6343-24

Perhaps it’s up to us to lead sacred lives—to think and speak and act with sacredness, for sacredness is not only “out there” but also it is in us, every moment of every day.

Back home I take off harnesses and again three pairs of eyes regard me. It’s time for cookies. Yes, sometimes we find love in the oddest places. And that is sacred.

Sacredness originally appeared in LaJoie. Kay Pfaltz is a writer and animal activist. When you purchase Lauren’s Story: An American Dog in Paris you are supporting the animals. Pprofits are donated to animal organizations. For other books Kay has written, visit: http://www.kaypfaltz.com.

This is the blog of Beyond Ordinary Travel, an organization providing tours and experiences for travelers who enjoy high quality travel.  If you’d like to join our group of travelers, please visit beyondordinarytravel.com.  

Wine Harvesting in Emilia Romagna

This post was written by one of our travelers, Lauren.

Our second day of the Italy trip with Kay, we took a trip down to the Emilia Romagna region which is famous for parmesan, grana podano, parma ham, balsamic vinegars, olive oil, copa and of course, wine.

Our leader, Kay, is friends with the owner of La Stoppa, Elena Pantaleoni, and so we shared a beautiful autumn afternoon with her at her family vineyards near Rivergaro.

Elena runs a completely organic operation, and we learned about the hard work required for this designation, but how very important it is for the preservation of the land. Gabe and I are both California wine lovers so it was interesting to hear the New World vs. Old World philosophies in wine. My biggest learning from both Elena and Alberto the evening before was how the Old World / European believes more in the terroir, and the wine is a result of the land, where New World believes the result is in the creativity of the winemaker, in the cellar.

Next, we tasted their different varietals. We started out with six on the table for tasting, but realizing how into their wines we were, they started making cellar trips to give us different vintages of our favorites and their new creations straight from the barrel.

The line-up of the wines was as follows :
-Dinavolino, Guilio, the wine maker’s creation from his estate
-Macchiona – 2005, then 2006, then 2007, then the 2002 which was a notoriously rough year
-Barbera del Stoppa
-Ageno – 2007, then the 2010 out of the tank

We tasted the wines alongside local meats like copa (the neck of the pig), salami and grana podano cheese. I enjoyed the flavors of the wine alongside the regional specialities of Emilia Romagna. The whites really were accentuated with the food.

In the end, I bought a Barbera and a Macchiona 2005. Unfortunately, I was limited to 3 to take back so only the Barbera will make it back to Geneva in the end as the Macchiona was the group favorite so was opened for sharing in Firenze.

It was a delight to spend this day with the wonderful people of La Stoppa. While I love learning about wine from all over the world, this special passion and pride is special to any other experience I have had in the States visiting vineyards. We felt like we were their family that day and are so grateful to Elena, Guilio and Francesca for their hospitality and inviting us into their estate. What an amazing place.

This is the blog of Beyond Ordinary Travel, an organization providing tours and experiences for travelers who enjoy high quality travel.  If you’d like to join our group of travelers, please visit beyondordinarytravel.com.  

Tuscany: Siena, San Donato and San Girmignano

This post was written by one of our travelers, Lauren.

My first time to Tuscany, I remember feeling like I was driving through a Van Gogh painting. I loved witnessing with my own eyes the way the cypress dotted the landscape and gave protection to the rolling hills of vineyards and olive trees.

This trip, I was lucky that I got to see four new places in the Tuscan region.

SIENA – Beautiful hill town, a continual rival of its neighbor Florence. Verdict: I prefer Florence. Although, maybe I should visit Siena again when we aren’t so pressed for time and I’m not hungry.

POGGIBONSI

Since this trip was a terroir trip to experience food and wine, one of our stops was a tasting with a local Tuscan butcher, Filipo. He explained the history of the family business which was quite interesting, and then invited us to see the cinta pigs roaming on the land. Cintas are a different type of pig – they are striped – and they also graze on nuts, forest foliage, and berries.

On the trip over, we discussed how important we think it is to see the source of our food. Too often you forget. Filipo shaved our fresh prosciutto off the leg. This is a big reminder to me how we should respect our food and not waste. Also, the way that his free range cinta are treated is a lesson for how important these practices in when selecting what products we purchase.

I found it ironic I wore a white dress on the pig farm visit day.

SAN DONATO

San Donato is a tiny medieval town in the Tuscan hills. We had a wine tasting at Fattoria San Donato of local wine – vernaccia (white) and chianti (red) as well as their beautiful olive oils. A highlight was walking through the familial home to find our courtyard tasting in the groves.

SAN GIRMINGNANO

San Gimingnano is another charming Tuscan hill town, instantly recognizable by its peaking bell towers.

We tasted more tuscan wine and olive oil at La Marronaia, another friend of Kay’s who had a sumptuous cellar. We tasted basic vernaccia, visila, chianti colli sennesi, intenso and quattrossi. I brought back some olive oil to accentuate my Italian dishes.

This is the blog of Beyond Ordinary Travel, an organization providing tours and experiences for travelers who enjoy high quality travel.  If you’d like to join our group of travelers, please visit beyondordinarytravel.com.  

How to speak like a true Parisian

This post is by Kay Pfaltz, Founder of Beyond Ordinary Travel. 

Traveling to Paris? I offer these tips to the first time traveler.  A few French phrases will get you far along that chic boulevard without having to rent a Yorkie or poodle or shell out the Euros on the Hermès scarves. And a few dos and don’ts never hurt either.

The French are polite, and the French are more formal than we Americans.

Therefore when entering a boulangerie or shop of any sort, always say, “Bonjour.” If there is one woman behind the counter, even if she giving your tattered clothes a disdaining eye as you dare touch her elegant rows of lingerie, say, “Bonjour Madame.” If there are several people waiting in line in the boulangerie when you enter, say in your best singsong voice, “Bonjour Mesdames, bonjour Messieurs.” A smile is optional if not all that common, but I have found in France as elsewhere on the journey of life, that a smile has taken me farther down that same boulevard than mere politesse, flattery or any other sort of adulation ever has. Upon leaving utter the simple words: “Merci” and “Au revoir.” These simple words are the gold keys with which you’ll begin to narrow the chasm that yawns between the American mentality and la mentalité française, and banish for a few moments in time, if never forever, the image of ugly American.

A typical French patisserie

A typical French patisserie

Please. Your mother may have taught you this one, but she was, mais bien sûr, right again. S’il vous plait or please. Saying please, like a smile, will not hurt and will in fact if not exactly open doors, help you to keep them from slamming in your face. If asking for a coffee, you can do it many ways but the easiest is: Un café s’il vous plait. If someone does you a favour, say thank you, merci. And if you do someone a favour for which you are thanked you may reply, Je vous en prie, formal for, literally, “I beg of you.” Or if it is a friend or someone you know casually, you reply, Je t’en prie or De rien, it’s nothing.

The French are very logical. And by that I mean, of course, illogical. Never mind that theirs is fundamentally a Cartesian society, their very thought, intellectualism to the tenth degree, founded, for better or for worse, by Descartes.  Therefore, you must be prepared for their illogical logic. For instance if you have business to do in a France Telecom office and are told to wait, beware the small increments of time. If you are told to wait for “un moment” (a moment) you’re probably okay. But beware the moment that “un moment” becomes “un petit moment” (a  little moment)  for that is longer still or, horrors of all, “un tout petit instant” (a very little instant/moment). You might as well get out the sleeping bag.

Coffee, black or white.  Where coffee is concerned I have to admit I think the French are quite logical. In the morning, they like it with milk or cream, as in café au lait or café crème. (If you are a cream lover, be warned that many café owners will simply give you steamed milk no matter what your desire.) An express (short for espresso) or un café are also acceptable at breakfast. These are small, strong coffees…espresso. At what hour is the bewitching hour when you would never find a Frenchman asking for a grand crème? Well, at tea-time it is still permissible to have the milk, although a thé, tisane or infusion is often more fashionable. (But don’t look at me, I love my crèmes as much as my doubles.) After dinner, however, you always order un café or un express, unless of course you order un double or un double express in which case we know you’re either an insomniac who wanders the streets of Paris instead of sleeping or that enviable youth who can still imbibe large quantities of alcohol and strong coffee and sleep like a bébé.

Awaiting a cup of coffee in Provence

Stay tuned….

This is the blog of Beyond Ordinary Travel, an organization providing tours and experiences for travelers who enjoy high quality travel.  If you’d like to join our group of travelers, please visit beyondordinarytravel.com.  

Umbria: Assisi, Tili Vini and Orvieto

This post was written by one of our travelers, Lauren.

Just a bit lower than Tuscany, Umbria also has a remarkable landscape. It’s slightly drier and more rustic than its Northern neighbor, but still quite capable of amazing things.

One of the towns we visited was Assisi which is the famous birthplace of St. Francis. I adored the town and its classic and simple pink stone. The pink is a naturally sourced stone from Umbria and used to decorate the basilicas simply without too much adornment, as was restricted in St. Francis’s day.

The reason for the simplicity is that St. Francis believed in peace and the renouncement of material things. The basilica contains simple frescos instead of ornate stones and gold.

In fact, Kay had encouraged us all to say a prayer and to do one act as St. Francis would do in this experience, rather than be a typical tourist. She encouraged us to slip some coins to the poor and forgoing the traditional souvenir. It was a beautiful mindset in which to enter this holy place. Adding to this experience, we witnessed a peace rally marching 20km from Perugia to the basilica. This peace celebration only happens every 3 years and it was a coincidence that we were able to be a part of it.

On our ride home that evening, we witnessed a little peace as well when we saw this rainbow on the Umbrian landscape. What a nice souvenir.

Also in Assisi, we had the opportunity to visit a few Umbrian locals at Tivi Vini, a winery near Assisi. The same pride we’d seen from Elena at La Stoppa and Filipo of Fattoria della Cinta, also poured out in the mother daughter combo Tili and Maria.

We tasted their Assisi biance (chardonnay and pinot), the Grechetto (95% grechetto, 5% pinot), Pinto Nero (90% noir and 10% sangrantino — Rosie’s favorite), a Young (blend of 3 reds — Gabe’s favorite, a Rosso (Lauren’s favorite) and a 100% Sagrantino aged for 8 years.

We returned to Florence that night, but the next day, we had the pleasure of dining in Orvieto. The meal at Restaurant Maurizo, just off the main square, was hands-down my favorite meal of the trip. We started with a great antipasti, then a truffle and cheek umberchelini, then pasta with lamb ragu, a secondi of pork with herb rub and roasted potatoes and then a selection of local cakes for dolce. I am a sucker for any type of mushroom but the truffles put me over the edge. What a meal!

Umbria might be my new favorite over Tuscany.

This is the blog of Beyond Ordinary Travel, an organization providing tours and experiences for travelers who enjoy high quality travel.  If you’d like to join our group of travelers, please visit beyondordinarytravel.com.  

Château de Ségriès

This post was written by one of our travelers, Lauren.

A gem in the Côtes du Rhône / Lirac / Tavel wine region of France can be found by visiting the de Lanzac family’s Château de Ségriès.   Located off a dirt road in the little Provençal town of Lirac, the estate is run out of an old chateau.

Our group, on the grounds of the château

When we visited this Fall, Anne, her brother Laurent, and her husband & wine-maker Frederic taught us that making wine isn’t about making money.  In fact, not at all.

We tasted six of their wines, ranging from Lirac white, Vin de Table rosé, Tavel rosé, Côte du Rhône, Lirac red, and my favorite, Clos de l’Hermitage.

Frederic gaves us a taste of many different Château de Ségriès wines

Our group. Santé!

Every taste brings you a glimpse of what devotion they pour into their creation.   The care they take with the vines, the worry that comes with the changing weather, the joy and strife of the harvest, and the careful monitoring of fermentation.

Trying the 2012 – just harvested the week before

Between all the wines, they give the world 250,000 bottles a year.

In the cellars with Anne, visiting some of the vintages

Wine making is an art that leaves such a special legacy…for immediate consumption and for generations to come. However, a downside of providing such joy to others is the hard fact than in a small family run winery, there is not much time to vacation.  The group enthusiastically begged our gracious hosts to come to Virginia, yet they reminded us the vines know no break!

Their family home rests just a short walk from the chateau, surrounded by ancient trees and their vineyard.  They prepared an amazing lunch for us of traditional dishes.  We loved sitting on their patio and enjoying the autumn day. The family pets, Flash, Sara and cat came out to greet as well.

Our group at the farmhouse for lunch

The ladies enjoying the spread

Frederic preparing delicious grilled lamb & sausage

Our leader, K, and Anne

Cheese and fruit salad were the selections for dessert.

Château de Ségriès quickly became my favorite Southern France winery!

This is the blog of Beyond Ordinary Travel, an organization providing tours and experiences for travelers who enjoy high quality travel.  If you’d like to join our group of travelers, please visit beyondordinarytravel.com.