If you haven't already read part one of this interview, you can do so here
Last week I interviewed Chandi, the author of the fantastic book Return to Glow - A Pilgrimage of Transformation in Italy,
It's a fantastic book about how she dealt with both a terrible illness and a divorce and decides to walk Italy’s historic pilgrimage route, the Via Francigena, for forty days to Rome.
I mentioned in the previous interview how much I loved this book! In this interview we get to find out more about Chandi and about Italy.
You undertook the pilgrimage to get your glow back. It makes me wonder how you managed to lose your glow. Looking back if you could offer yourself advice as you were getting married, what advice would you offer?
I lost my glow when I allowed my head to lead instead of my heart. My head was in the drivers seat when I was heading into my marriage. I was not paying attention to what my spirit really wanted.
This what I would say to my younger self who was heading into that marriage:
“Does your spirit really truly feel nurtured by this?”
I would tell myself firmly that rationalizing with the head is not allowed and that in order to answer the question, the head must not enter into it. I would tell myself to take a few days if necessary, to quiet the head, and to get in touch with my spirit in order to answer truthfully, devoid of rationalization.
Do you still have your glow now? What advice would you give to someone who has also lost theirs? (Readers: You may have to read the book to know what we are going on about here)
On the pilgrimage I made a decision for myself that it’s OK to let my heart lead, that it’s OK to make decisions from the heart. This helped me to get my glow back and it has helped me steer myself on a path that’s the right one for me, and that’s connected with my glow.
If someone has lost her glow she’s probably making actions in the world (with where she’s living, where she’s working, who she’s in relationship with) that are not in line with what her spirit really wants and needs. Life can be complicated and I realize that one cannot just wave a wand and be able to be living their passion, but if someone has lost her glow, I’d say that getting in touch with what her spirit really wants is the first step. One way to do it this is follow the exercises in the book The Passion Test.
What made you decide to write the book?
My grandmother was one of my favorite people in the world and I felt that I got in touch with her on the pilgrimage (which was 16 years after she passed away) and I decided that I wanted to dedicate a book to her.
In the book you spoke a lot about spiritual connections and finding faith, talk to us about your views on spirituality and how it helped you along.
My views on religion/spirituality are a bit of mishmash. My Grandmother always talked about being a citizen of the world and how to create peace in the world, and that influenced me to have a universal outlook. When I went on my first trips through Europe and Asia, between the ages of 19 and 21, I focused on learning more about the various religions I came across, and finding the aspects of them that were peaceful and tolerant.
What helped me spiritually on the pilgrimage was the way I felt closer to my female ancestors. This turned out to be quite important— not only did it make me feel less alone, but it helped me undo the male voices that since childhood had labeled me in negative ways that suggested that I was flawed and that I made them suffer. I realized that this was a narrative that had gone on about my female ancestors too.
One of the great gifts of the pilgrimage was understanding that I, and my female ancestors, were not these labels that had been put upon us.
I realized that my female ancestors were survivors, and were the ones who held up 90% of the emotional sky. They had a deep capacity to extend themselves to others, and some of them were profoundly deep thinkers and highly creative. I understood that these were the things they’d passed on to me and that I needed to connect to that narrative about them and about where I had come from and who I was.
You’re very talented with your writing. Do you have plans to write anything else?
Thank you! There may be some talent but it was a lot of dogged determination and a willingness to fail and to keep trying. Writing the book and learning to craft memoir demanded WAY more of me than I expected when I started the project. It took quite a few years of trial and error to learn the craft of memoir: Learning what a narrative arc is; learning what advances the story and what doesn’t; Learning what to cut out.
I had strong skills with academic writing so I thought I could write but I had to unlearn or at least shift away from the academic style in order to learn memoir. There were footnotes in my drafts through the first few years until a beta reader said to me very clearly "Footnotes have no place in a memoir!”
Yes, I have another memoir in process, about my time in Qatar.
What was the reaction of your family and friends when you returned from the pilgrimage?
I was living in Colorado which was not the state where my most long-time friends and family lived. My best friend in Colorado, (called Kari in the book) was interested and supportive, as was my housemate, and as was my sister from a distance.
However, upon returning to the co-housing community where I lived, (see my book for further info on what that is) most people did not ask me about the pilrimage. When I got back one community member, whose house was about 20 feet from mine, said, “Oh have you been away?” That stunned me for a minute. But, just because my pilgrimage and my huge effort to heal, was important in my life, that doesn’t mean it was important for anyone else.
I did however, share about pilgrimage with my immediate neighbors Phil and Lydia. Lydia had Italian parents who were visiting and who loved it that I spoke Italian. At a dinner with the four of them, there was space for me to share some stories from the adventure.
By the time I saw family in California, I shared a bit but they had long ago gotten used to me going to Italy and so it wasn’t a big deal.
Let’s talk Italy!
Chandi is an encyclopedia on Italy and in fact, she has recently moved to Italy and offers Trip Planning Services on her website: http://paradiseofexiles.com/
With her in-depth knowledge, she plans trips in Italy so I decided to get some advice: (You’re welcome readers, thank me later).
Where is your favourite place both on the pilgrimage route and off, somewhere that our readers may not have heard of?
Along the Via Francigena I went to places that are perhaps less familiar to tourists, and that contain historic sites worth discovering.
In the northern Tuscan town of Pontremoli was new to me. (It’s where I arrived after crossing the Apennines.) It’s a world away from the highly touristed Tuscan towns and it has a museum with mysterious cargo: the Stele Statues. The stele are highly unusual male and female stone figures from an unknown civilization.
In the region of Lazio I was charmed by Bolsena, a town next to Lake Bolsena which is the largest volcanic lake in Europe. It felt genuine, un-touristed, and peaceful.
Italy has so many amazing places to discover that my favorite off-the-beaten path places probably change yearly. Two that I have visited in the past year which stood out to me are the Monti Sibillini in Umbria/Le Marche, and the town of Pietrasanta in Tuscany.
To learn more you can read my write-ups about them:
You spoke about some amazing wines on the pilgrimage, give us some of your top recommended Italian wines. (Girls, I’m going to come clean, this is personal, my favourite wines are Italian)
If you have a basic concept of Italian reds you know that Barolo from Piedmonte and Brunello from Tuscany are super stars. So I’ll mention a few reds that aren’t as well known, that I think are great:
There’s a winery in Sicily I admire called Donnafugata and I recommend their red called Tancredi. Charmingly the producers recommend drinking Tancredi "while reading a book or listening to music.”
Around the town of Bolgheri on the Tuscan coast there are some fabulous reds that use the classic Tuscan sangiovese grape blended with merlot, or cabernet sauvignon, or cabernet franc. This creates a more modern and smooth red as compared to the more traditional Tuscan reds that are 100% sangiovese grapes and can be quite tannic. The winery Ornellaia makes one called Bolgheri Superiore that’s quite special.
For a white wine I recommend a Friulano from the north east region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Try a Collio Friulano by the Toros Winery.
Some parts of Italy suffer from over tourism. How can tourists balance seeing the main attractions and discovering the real Italy?
I understand that first-timers to Italy want to see the big three (Florence, Venice, Rome) and in the past 10 years the Cinque Terre have come close on the heels of the big three, particularly in the minds of north Americans. My thoughts on what’s happened to the Cinque Terre are in my book, but suffice to say that I don’t recommend it to my clients due to the extreme overcrowding. The big three cities can better handle massive onslaughts of tourists. The tiny towns of the Cinque Terre cannot.
When I have clients who want to see the big three, I always recommend adding in a countryside stay too, so that they are not only in cities that are inundated with tourists and so that they can slow down (I’m a big advocate of slow travel) and savor a slower pace of life (which is one of attractive things that Italy offers) by staying at an agriturismo in the countryside.
A balance is what I recommend. A balance between the known places and lesser-known ones. In short, don’t just go to all the big name places because everyone else talks about them. Pick maybe two of them and then go somewhere really different. If you have no idea what that might be, that’s where I come in.
I find out what clients like to do. Do they want a mix of art and history with outdoor activities? Do they like to hike, or swim in the sea, or horse back ride? What about foodie festivals, seeing how olive oil is made, joining a grape harvest, etc.
On my website I offer a free eBook about the Chianti zone in Tuscany for those who sign up for my newsletter. The intro to it is all about slow travel and my recommendations for it, and how not to fall into the trap of visiting only the touristed places.
I loved hearing about your travels in your twenties, you had some crazy, wild adventures as one does in their twenties. Talk to us about your first overseas trip: Your thoughts, discoveries, and how you fell in love with travel.
My first trip overseas that was not with my family (we had gone about every three years to England as a family because my mother is from there) was with a girlfriend, when we were both 19. This was in the ’80s before the online world and we did not even take a guide book. We just showed up with our backpacks and our youth hostel cards and our budget of ten dollars a day. My biggest concern, I remember voicing to my friend was: “How are we going to know what train to get on?”
I had no concept of solo travel at that point. Without the internet, you had to have read a travel memoir by a woman who had done it, or you had to know another woman who had done it, to even have the concept. Now the internet is awash with blog after blog saying, “Rah rah! You can do it!” But my friend and I didn’t have access to anything like that.
We traveled together for four months and then she had to go back for a job. A whole new world had opened up for me and I was not ready to go back, so I found myself suddenly solo traveling. I was in Istanbul when I became solo, and I traveled on my own through Yugoslavia, and then back to Italy where I’d been a few months prior with my friend and where I’d fallen into utter enchantment.
I was in love with travel for so many reasons: for the personal growth it gave me, for the cultural and historical knowledge and the perspectives on my own country that I gained, and for the way that travel “is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness” as Mark Twain said.
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