gratitude-a-thon day 2076: the unusual (part two)

A trip as interesting as the one we took a few weeks ago has to go through the great food processor in my mind before it can be discussed properly. And amidst regular life and work and Halloween and my daughter ending her soccer season after 17 years and my son’s 25th birthday, it’s been up there in my brain on “chop,” just waiting to be gratitudized.

A display of wares (little storage baskets) in Otranto.
The Nona who was teaching us how to cook was slightly disappointed in us, but you should have tasted our focaccia! Joe (left) has promised to make us all some really soon. HEY JOE, WHERE’S THE FOCACCIA?
I tried. I really tried to get into this gorgeousness, but in the end, my incompatibility with cold water got the better of me. But here are Linda who willed herself in, Stephen, or as we like to call him, Tarzan, and Elaine who could star in the female version of the movie The Swimmer (She would literally do the crawl in your kitchen sink).

The ladies of Lecce at a wine tasting pop-up. I bought us all rings, because you know, jewelry.
Our guide pointed out faces in the front of the Basilica di Santa Croce, which all of us nodded our head we could see, but not a one of us was telling the truth. What faces?
Polignano a Mare. Like a great movie you watch and want to go to where they filmed.

It’s so hard not to post all my pictures from all our amazing adventures, but if I did, you wouldn’t have time to Christmas shop (and neither would I). 

I could drone on about all the insanely adorable small Italian towns we visited, and the Nona who taught us how to make the most exquisite focaccia from scratch and the color of the green, not blue, not gray, but green, water, and being in just the perfect place where the Ionian sea was on one side and the Adriatic on the other, and all the other I-think-I-might-be-trapped-in-a-postcard sights we saw, but one place, stood above the rest and so you don’t fall sleep in your meatballs, I’ll just tell you about that place.

I know this is a blurry pic, but it was my first peek at this magical city. Breathless.
Right outside our room. Yeah, like this wasn’t perfect for me?
Our first night. I was falling in love.

As I wrote about here, the first place we stayed at was the unique and totally one-of-a-kind (or, as I like to call it, one-of-a-find) Il Convento. Our next destination was called Matera. Again, let me just say (and who does this–not really know where they”re going–I do and you would if you were busy and booked a trip with the Queen of curated travel, Linda Plazonja of Morso Soggiorno because you were confident that wherever you were going was going to be as fabulous as she is) that I went in blind, which was actually spectacularly fun, because when we rounded the corner from regular life, life in 2019 Basilicata, and I saw the town of Matera, I literally screamed, like Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween. There in the distance was a mountain of houses that shone with the patina of antiquity. I had simply never seen anything like it and it took my breath away. It was a serious CPR moment.

We arrived at Sextantio Le Grotte Della Civita and I was still not breathing. The hotel was located inside  Sassi (translated as “the stones”) di Matera, a landmark complex of ancient cave dwellings carved into a mountain. What I’m saying here is we stayed in a cave. A high-end cave to be sure, but still, WE STAYED IN A CAVE. Just call me Toni, the troglodyte. Our room was cavernous and lit by only candles, with two or three dull bulbs hidden inside of little cave holes in the wall. (I noted the soft lighting, as I thought I looked rather good in it and must reconsider home lighting asap)! Things were clearly updated and luxury-ized, but just to say, our sink used to be a horse trough.

So, the very abridged story goes (although read this for a more complete story of Matera’s fascinating history) that Matera dates back to the Paleolithic Age, when about 1,500 caves burrowed deep into a steep ravine, gradually becoming living spaces for peasants and artisans throughout the classical and medieval eras. By the 1940’s Matera’s population of mainly peasants and farmers were living in the Sassi, with up to 10 children, as well as their animals (for fear they’d be stolen). I love my dog, but we’re not using the same space we cuddle in to go to the bathroom in. But I digress.The infant mortality rate was 50%. People were starving. There was natural light, no running water, electricity or ventilation (which I guess means no blow drying your hair, either). Malaria, Cholera and Typhoid ravaged the population. This only became widely known when Carlo Levi published the book, Christ Stopped at Eboli. In the book, Levi says, “I have never seen in all my life such a picture of poverty.”

Considered “the shame of Italy, in 1950, the Italian prime minister Alcide De Gasperi, called the Sassi “a national disgrace”, which made the government take drastic steps to change the lives of those living in such dire and inhumane conditions. Financed through the postwar Marshall Plan, the population was evacuated and moved to new homes on the outskirts of town. This was a difficult transition for the people, most of who were used to living with one another and had never even seen running water. For 16 years the caves lay empty, ravaged by thieves and the environment. Unesco named it a World Heritage Site, and in 1993 called it “the most outstanding, intact example of a troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean region, perfectly adapted to its terrain and ecosystem.” The town had a competition to decide what to do with the site and the winning idea was to bring the caves back to life. The government-subsidized restoration work. Film productions began to take notice, like The Passion of the Christ. And the rest, as they say, is history (or rather, all of it, is in fact, history) In 2019, Matera was named the European Capital of Culture. Talk about a Cinderella story.

My visit to this amazing place was comprised of doing yoga up numerous steep flights of stairs, in a convent, touring the city with a native Materian, eating and drinking. A lot. In restaurants with no windows, which were lit up on the inside like the Vegas strip (we soon realized the impact of a cave not having windows). And of course, laughing, because if you’re on a trip and you’re not laughing, you’re on the wrong trip.

The astounding and unusual beauty of this city that is the third-longest continually inhabited city in the world never got old (no pun intended!). Every day I looked forward to seeing more of it, or just staring at it like a good hair day. The “you’re not getting older, you’re getting better” adage was clearly written about Matera. I had never even heard of this place before and now I am crushing on it like a school girl.

So, if you want to go somewhere steeped in the past, where you literally feel like you could see Jesus walking down the street on his way to dinner, (the last supper?) where every corner you turn is another you’ve-got-to-be-kidding moment, go to Matera, before the rest of the world catches on (apparently, you’re already late, as 25% of Matera’s housing is on Airb&b). This is next level off-the-beaten-path and I have a suitcase full of gratitude for having been lucky enough to go there with traveling companions who were just as grateful as I was. 

gratitude-a-thon day 2075: the unusual (part one)

Our travels took us through Puglia and Basilicato, the heel of the boot.

I feel as ancient as the 9,000 year old city we just came back from! But the jet lag is a teeny tiny price to pay for such an extraordinary trip.

So, just to give credit, where credit is due, and boy is it due, I must call out Linda Plazonja of Morso Soggiorno. She is the reigning Queen of curated travel. This is the second trip I’ve taken with her company and it will not be my last. Check out her website, for future trips, or just because it’s so pretty. Not all her voyages are yoga retreats, but this one was, as was my first. Our gifted yoga teacher Roni, of Roni Brissette Yoga is so enormously adept at inspiring while gently nudging us each toward our potential, I feel like Iyengar himself after each class.

I had never been to Southern Italy before, that place right at the heel of the boot. I also hadn’t done much research on our itinerary, because I knew I was in good hands (Linda’s) and it would be awesomeness and work and life took over, so I just went with it.

You can’t judge a book by its cover and that goes for monasteries, too.

Which is what actually made it even more stunning and even more fun. Our first few days were spent staying in a former Franciscan Monastery,  ll Convento di Santa Maria di Costantinopoli . No none of the monks were there, but you wouldn’t believe what was.

Opening the door of Il Convento, a splash of red and then, a bajillion artifacts from all over the world.

Every corner, equally interesting and provocative.

On the outside, it’s just a simple stone building, nothing-to-see here kind of architecture, (except I find even the dullest anything in Italy gorgeous) but then you feel like Alice dropping into Wonderland, opening the door into a seriously interesting and quirky art collector’s mind. Artifacts and folk art and textiles from Africa, Mexico and India, and other places the owers have visited on their extensive travels. Antiques, carved figures, paintings, sculpture, and more than 1,000 books make each of the theme rooms and common areas a visual party. No nook, no cranny has been left unadorned. There are unlimited places to read, meditate or just take in the atmosphere and chill.

And then there are the plants and flowers. Every outdoor space is filled with pots of lavender, succulents, colorful blooms. There are pomegranate trees, palm trees, and cactus. An Olympic sized pool beckons, surrounded by a drool-worthy setting you’d find at a spa you couldn’t afford.

The garden near the pool, of the many, many gardens, both container and earth-bound that made this place so spectacular.


Breakfast of champions. I was hoping this would be waiting for me when I arrived home, but no such luck.

A typical dinner. Salad was fresh and beautiful. Prawns, not my thing, but our table was swooning. Not photographed was the simple homemade pasta with a Pomodoro sauce and basil. Delizioso!

Did I forget to mention the food, Pierluigi, the warm and talented chef creates a full breakfast buffet burgeoning with pastries and irresistible breads and 10 jams and homemade granola and just made juices. Dinners were beautifully prepared and attentively served and careful thought was paid to the finicky (me). If this is how monks live, sign me up. I’d be remiss not to mention Athena, the owner of this property, who lovingly restored the convent, with her husband, the late Lord Alistaire McAlpine, to its current perfection. Shortly after it was finished, she lost Alistair to heart disease, but his design aesthetic and love of art, books and curio are present everywhere. And then there was Gloria. Gloria is a warm and lovely mid-sized white shepard-ish looking dog, who guards her home and welcomes guests like the concierge she is. She even did yoga with us.

Gloria, overseeing the fabulous food coming out of the kitchen.

Stacks and stacks of earthenware on a shelf in the kitchen. I wanted to steal it all.


The cozy room we all retired to after dinner to talk and laugh and yup, drink more wine.

This is a unique and magical and crazy amazing hotel. The kind of place you might see in a wacky movie, or in a dream. The kind of place you just have to visit to really believe. And pictures do not replace a thousand words here. There was no way to capture this oasis on film or video. The grandeur can only be appreciated in person.

Our wonderful little group of intrepid travelers who all love yoga laughing, food, wine and the out-of-the ordinary.

Gratitude for the unusual. I live for an experience like this, that both surprises, amuses and leaves you breathless.

Linda and Jonathan of Morso Siggiorno, saying goodbye to Athena, the owner of the unusual and extraordinary Il Convento.

.gratitude-a-thon day 2068: yoga

This is my incredible yoga teacher, Roni Brissette, who has taught me yoga, which is not an easy task, I can tell you. She is just amazingness. I have tried to do this pose and well, I can’t write anymore because I’m laughing too hard…..

I started doing yoga about three years ago, although just writing that shocks me, since I still don’t know my Ardha Chandrasana from my Prasirita Padottanasanaa. I’ve never been good with languages. I flunked Spanish I three times, well, maybe just twice, but still. Anyway, I love yoga. For so many years, my back issues (sciatica caused by L4 S1 herniation) made me think that yoga would throw me into an “episode” of searing pain and the inability to do anything but moan, a sad and not infrequent feature of my younger life. And no, I can’t do all the poses, but I give it a good go. And I’m fucking grateful for every single pose (that I don’t know the name of) that I can do a close proximity of. Fucking grateful.

I am generally a total student during class, paying close attention to the pretzel shapes my body is trying so hard to emulate.  But there are days when my focus isn’t quite as clear and I have a running dialogue in my mind of what some of the poses should really be called. Like when my teacher says to (and let me just stop and say here that I have the best, most wonderful, most knowledgeable, gifted and adorable teacher ever) get into dog pose, I am thinking (in my head, or at least I don’t think I”m saying out loud,or Jeez, I hope I’m not) why don’t they just call it  “Ass in the air Pose”? Because that’s what it really is. Your. Ass. Is. Sticking. Straight. Up. In. The. Air. (And the higher, the better). In. The. Air.

Or like, tree pose. Why isn’t it just called”Stick Your Foot in Your Vagina” pose? I mean, this is exactly what’s happening. Me: I’m pregnant. Friend: Who’s the father? Me: “The heel of my left foot.”

And speaking of me not knowing the names of the poses, you should see my head swivel when she tells us what to do and I quickly, but nonchalantly scan the room for someone who actually knows the pose. I am Linda Blair in The Exorcist, I tell you.

My teacher will also say to look up from the eyes of your chest. I always want to scream, “Some of us have bigger “eyes” than others to hoist on up.” Because really, 32 E.

And then there is the pose, which my teacher does with ease, because she is a yogini in the first degree, but also weighs like 4 pounds, that I don’t know the name of, but I will just call “Impossible.” You get into criss cross apple sauce and then you pick yourself up with your arms and swing your body. PICK YOURSELF UP WITH YOUR ARMS. Hahahahahah, that’s happening. I couldn’t pick up my 32 E’s plus the rest of my body weight anymore than I could pick up my SUV. So, yeah, the “Impossible” pose is something that’s probably never going to be possible for me.

I love yoga. And the people I’ve met in my yoga community are exceptional, like really wonderful and generous and amazing. And like I said, my teacher is the best. I adore her. But you know, every once in a while my head can’t help but laugh at what I’m doing. Because like everything else in life, if you look at it just the right way, it’s  just funny.

If you want to go to a fabulous yoga class, go to Roni Brissette Yoga.  But if you can do the “Impossible” pose, please do not let me know.



gratitude-a-thon day 704: stretching yourself

Roni Brissette. Um, yeah, this isn’t me.

A few weeks ago I started taking a beginning yoga class. I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time. My body, not so much.

Well, that’s not really true. True is that I have a not so good back, and that not so good back has been shepherded along by a trainer for the last eight years. She got to know my body so well that I stopped trying to figure out on my own what might set  off my intricate spinal system, and just trusted that she would know. And she did. And she made me stronger and taught me that I could actually do things I didn’t think I would ever do again. She was the most awesome. Until she moved to California. Yup, another one bites the dust to the West Coast (as if it’s not enough that my boy is there). That goddamn state is killing me.

Back to yoga. The trainer who I’ll call Colleen, (because that’s her name!) did a mixture of yoga and core work, and weight training with me. But see I never really thought the yoga was real yoga. But then I got to this class, and I saw that it was indeed real yoga. And that I was actually familiar with many of the moves already.

Only a funny thing happened.

I understood them in a sort of different way. This is a theme for me. Maybe for everyone, if you turn on your awareness. It depends on where you stand, physically and mentally as to how a piece of information reaches you, affects you, makes you act. This class and wonderful teacher is explaining to us all what to do to strike a pose, and my little pea brain, is being able to hear it in a way that allows my body to dig deep into its Colleenmemoryarea and create it in a deeper more aware  way. I’m not explaining this well at all, but let’s just say, I can do this shit, in a more thoughtful way and I’m loving it!


Today I have a head cold that will prevent me from going to my class, but not from trying to do my little tree pose (which I’ve been practicing (I’ve decided to be a Magnolia), on my own.

Gratitude to the excellence of Roni Brisette Yoga. Namaste. Sneeze,cough, sniff.