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LIKE a siren, the beautiful little island called to us. And so we swam, like crazed Olympic sprinters, from a cobblestone Italian town square to a serene island monastery in the middle of glittering Lago d’Orta.
It started as a bet among three wine-happy men, one of whom was my husband. But I don’t blame them, really. The bewitching beauty of Orta, a secluded jewel of a lake just a mile wide and to the west of Maggiore, tucked in the Italian Lakes District, is well chronicled: Friedrich Nietzsche, Honoré de Balzac and Robert Browning all wrote about how sublimely gorgeous the lake and its surroundings were (Balzac called Orta’s island “a spot coyly hidden and left to nature, a wild garden”). Was it any wonder we were drawn in, too?
These days, everyone flocks to flashy Lago di Como and Lago di Maggiore, but Lago d’Orta is the secret little sister. It’s popular as a weekend destination from Milan, but little known outside Italy. During the visits that my husband, Matt, and I made to the lake over the last two summers, we saw mostly Italians, a few Germans and Dutch, and a handful of British. And there are plenty of Italians who don’t know about its quiet, forested shores, peppered with sleepy medieval towns, or that distinctive monastery on the tiny island about a quarter-mile from Piazza Motta, the main square on the water in the town of Orta San Giulio.
The island, Isola San Giulio, is home to a 12th-century basilica and a 19th-century seminary-turned-monastery. The island and the town are largely pedestrian-only, which makes for romantic, leisurely daily life in umbrella-filled piazzas lined with cafes, markets and little family-owned restaurants. And the friendly, small-town vibe is a huge part of its charm.
“When I was growing up, we would drive up every school holiday,” said Yasmin Schwitzer, a Londoner whose parents fell in love with the lake two decades ago. They were looking for a weekend retreat from Turin, where they were living at the time.
Fluent in Italian, Ms. Schwitzer now lives in a small village just above Orta San Giulio and works in one of the few hotels in town. She loves the slower pace of life. “The people here are so much friendlier and so much less superficial than back in London,” she said. “I feel like I can make friends with everyone, old and young.”
There are sumptuous palazzi and old buildings, but Orta San Giulio’s most architecturally significant piece of history is the Sacro Monte di San Francesco, one of nine “sacred mountains” in northern Italy that are collectively designated a World Heritage Site. At 1,200 feet above sea level and perched on a hilltop, Orta San Giulio’s sacred mount is a complex that includes a series of 20 beautiful chapels built over two centuries and dedicated to the life of St. Francis of Assisi.
A walk here is a lovely, meditative experience, with exceptional views over the town and lake. The frescoed chapels spiral out around a tranquil, wooded site — it holds “special nature reserve” status in Italy — and encompass a range of architectural styles, from the classical influence of the late Renaissance to the ornate rococo of the 18th century.
There is certainly a lot of history here, but Orta has some surprisingly avant-garde draws, too. Serious home-design aficionados make the pilgrimage to the northern end of the lake, where, amid the no-frills headquarters of other Italian cookware companies, they’ll find a temple to modern international design: the Alessi factory, whose namesake family set up shop here in 1921.
What has remained the same throughout is that the pleasures of Orta San Giulio and its lake are as easygoing as ever. On our most recent visit, in July, we swam, strolled and napped. We spent hours sipping wine at Al Boeuc, an enoteca housed in a 500-year-old wine cave, and frequented Agri-Gelateria, a shop serving creamy gelato made with organic milk from its own dairy farm. We lounged at the Orta Beach Club, where most patrons were heavily oiled and impressively sun-bronzed. At our most ambitious, we typically managed to swim a few lazy laps from one buoy to another before climbing onto shaded lounge chairs with books for the remainder of each afternoon.
In keeping with this theme, we’d been content to gaze out at Isola San Giulio from our apartment window, three floors above Piazza Motta and with a direct sight line to the island. For such a fantastically clear, calm lake in the heat of summer, Orta was remarkably free of boats (we probably saw one water-skier a day, at most). A handful of ferries plied the waters between the town, the island and the tiny villages on the lake’s opposite shore. But this being Italy, things didn’t get started until about 8:30 each morning — including the ferries.
But, as it will in a place like this, the conversation — fueled by wine and friends — took a turn for the imaginative. One evening, Matt made a bet that he could run downstairs, swim to and from the island, and end up back on the couch, all in under 21 minutes. A longtime swimmer, I was appointed his companion and scout. A couple of mornings later, we went for it.
Signora Irene, as she insisted that we call her, the shopkeeper at Orta Market, told us to be careful. “É pericoloso!” she cried as we dashed past. “Attenzione per le barche!” (You have to appreciate the neighborly concern — that’s pure Orta.)
And so we swam, with me paying particular “attenzione” to those boats and popping my head up every once in a while to make sure we wouldn’t be run over by an errant ferry. But the water was glassy and cool, a perfect mirror to the bluebird-sky above; it turned out there wasn’t a boat to be spotted, save for one slow-moving launch that gave us a wide berth.
After a while, I relaxed and began to enjoy the fish-eye view. After all, how often does one get such a unique perspective on such an utterly enchanting spot? As we neared the island, we could spy tantalizing evidence of everyday life in the homes that, from land, seemed so cloistered: toys on a garden patio, an inflatable water trampoline floating near one of the private docks. As a small boat putt-putted away from one of those docks, the man driving it swiveled his head to greet us.
“Buon giorno!” he called, and he and his young daughter waved heartily. I returned the greeting with a grin, before Matt and I turned and busted our tails back to the line of bobbing boats by the town jetty. We emerged from the water to find an elderly paparazza in red pants clicking away with her camera. As I toweled off, Matt sprinted upstairs to our apartment and was back on the couch, less than 18 minutes after he left it.
Later, when we stopped downstairs to get dinner fixings with our 2-year-old son, Felix, Signora Irene greeted us with claps and a hearty “Bravissimo!” Not only did the dreamy vision of Orta move us to jump in and do the unexpected — swim to the monastery and back as fast as we could! — but we were cheered on by the locals. She handed us our reward: lollipops for Felix.
IF YOU GO
Orta San Giulio is 28 miles from Milan Malpensa International Airport, and most major rental car agencies operate from there.
WHERE TO STAY
There are a handful of small hotels in the central town of Orta San Giulio, where you’ll want to base yourself.
The most elegant of these is Villa Crespi (Via G. Fava 18; 39-0322-911-902; hotelvillacrespi.it; from 284 euros a night, or about $360, at $1.25 to the euro), a 14-room Moorish confection built in the 19th century by an Italian trader upon his return from the Middle East. Don’t miss a meal at its two-Michelin-starred restaurant — the chef, Antonino Cannavacciuolo, sends out a whimsical parade of modern Mediterranean creations, including a salpicon of fish with zucchini, all served under a cloud of sea foam.
Some short-term apartment rentals are available, though you’ll have to do a little digging; we rented our lovely two-bedroom apartment from Holiday Homes at Orta (lakeorta.com).
WHERE TO EAT
A recent opening near the train station, Agriturismo Il Cucchiaio di Legno (Via Prisciola 10; 39-322-905-280) is a terrific place to sample the region’s dishes.
Oenophiles will want to duck into tiny Al Boeuc (Via Bersani 28; 39-3395-840-039) for pre-dinner wines by the glass and platters of bruschette.
WHAT TO DO
Tanned ferry captains wait by the jetty to run you across to Isola San Giulio, where a pedestrian path loops around the Benedictine monastery. For a more strenuous climb, head up to the Sacro Monte di San Francesco(sacrimonti.net) and enjoy the spectacular view.
And spend a leisurely afternoon at the Orta Beach Club (ortabeachclub.com), where you can swim, rent kayaks or just pass out on a lounge chair.
When Myles Eckert found $20 in a Cracker Barrel parking lot, he thought about what he might buy with this newfound fortune, but he changed his mind when he laid eyes on the man in uniform. Steve Hartman reports on what happened..
Dear Friends, this time of year may very well be the most stressful, tiring, unhappy time of the year for many and the most joyous, wonderful time for others. How can we have such a diametrically-opposed situation? One thought is that we at times don’t see that being happy and sad can exist in the same plane, the very same situation and sometimes at the most crucial moments in our lives. Children, I feel, are truly a light that help us as we get older to see in our darkness. To remind us how simple life can and should be. To remind us of what needs to be a priority. These things have impact to our health and I would like to share that with you.
Being thankful for all you have will make you feel healthier, happier, and more connected with the world…..
Be grateful in general, for it helps to create abundance.
- Boosts immunity: Reduces your stress and supports your immune system.
- Abundant thinking: Staying open to new and unexpected sources of prosperity helps you see new opportunities when they show up.
- Inspires joy: Erases your worries, turning frowns into smiles.
- Appreciate work: Thankfulness for work helps you do a better job – turning it into a job you love or attracting the career of your dreams.
- Increases energy: Helps you sleep better at night.
Be grateful for your health, for it is truly the most important thing you have.
- Take care of you: Practice self-care daily, even in little steps.
- Eat well: Drink more water, eat more plants, and reduce processed food.
- Sleep: Dim the lights before bed and make your bedroom comfortable.
- Exercise: Choose activities you love and walk more.
- Find happiness: Prioritize joy, make time for play, and think positively.
Be grateful for relationships, and cherish and nurture them, for they define much of how we live and who we are.
- Share time: Visit extended family and spend quality time together.
- Call them: Give your parents a call – they’d be thrilled to hear from you.
- Meet up: Reconnect with dear friends.
- Express yourself: Give hugs and tell friends and family you love them.
- Celebrate all wins: Cheering on successes of friends, family, and colleagues helps you recognize and attract your own successes.
Be grateful for everything, for it is a healthy choice.
I am thankful for my health.
It’s more valuable than money or any superficial wealth.
I am thankful for my family and friends.
Their support of me is heart-warming and knows no end.
I am thankful for children and time.
My youth I will cherish, but for it, I will not pine.
I am thankful for the food I eat.
It, among other things, sustains me – whether it’s a big hearty meal or just a tiny tasty treat.
I am thankful for my warm bed in my home.
It’s the place I rest and dream, and can call my very own.
Be grateful for our blessings by giving to others, for this is truly the reason for the season.
- Give: Do something nice for an unassuming stranger. Simple gestures like holding the door, giving up your seat, or letting them pass you in line can brighten their day.
- Volunteer: Read to the elderly, clean up local parks, serve food to the homeless, or use another special skill you have . Search for volunteer opportunities on idealist.org.
- Mentor: Be a positive role model – help a child by becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister or show the way to success by mentoring someone starting out in your field.
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas,
and a Prosperous and Healthy 2014
The George Bailey Technique: Mentally Erase Your Blessings for Greater Joy and Optimism
by BRETT & KATE MCKAY on DECEMBER 3, 2012
Lately, I’ve been looking at ways to be less cynical. Not that there’s anything wrong with a bit of healthy cynicism, I just have a tendency to go overboard with it so that it devolves into bitterness, pessimism, and passivity. I’m sort of morose by nature, so I’m constantly battling my inner Oscar the Grouch/Eeyore.
One thing I’ve read that’s supposed to help you overcome cynicism is starting a gratitude journal. You’ve probably heard of these things; some of you may have tried it yourself. There’s not much to it. Every day you write down the things you’re grateful for. By counting your blessings like this each day, you’re supposed to feel happier and more optimistic about life.
So they say.
I’ve done gratitude journals a few times throughout my life and I’ve never really gotten much out of the exercise. Which is really frustrating because I don’t understand why. I can flip through pages and pages of stuff that I’m thankful for and I think, “Man, I’ve got so much going for me. The world is great! Why don’t I feel any happier or less cynical about life?” On top of that, I know several folks who report that writing in a gratitude journal really helped them, so that made my failure at becoming happier through counting my blessings sting even more. I started to think that my extreme cynicism cankered my soul so much that I would never be able to feel happy or idealistic again. This of course resulted in my feeling more cynical, pessimistic, and bitter…
The Extraordinary Becomes Commonplace
A few months ago I was reading a book called Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change by Dr. Timothy D. Wilson. (It’s a really good book — I highly recommend it.) One little vignette in particular really stood out to me because it addressed my old nemesis: the gratitude journal.
Psychologists have actually researched the effectiveness of gratitude journals and the results are mixed. For some people, they live up to the hype. Writing down what they’re thankful for does indeed make them happier. But psychologists also found that for many people (like myself), gratitude journals have no effect on their happiness.
Researchers blame the ineffectiveness of gratitude journals on the “pleasure paradox.” Studies show we actually experience more and prolonged joy from an event when there’s a bit of uncertainty and mystery associated with it. It’s why randomly finding a measly $5 in a street gutter can make your week, but getting a long expected $1,000 raise might just cause a shoulder shrug. Because we’ve had a couple of months to think about and understand getting the raise, we’ve grown accustomed to the idea and so we don’t get much of a rise out of it. “The extraordinary becomes commonplace,” as author Ian McEwan put it in his novel Enduring Love. And therein lies the paradox, according to Dr. Wilson: “People want to understand the good things in life so that they can experience them again, but by so doing they reduce the pleasure they get from these events.”
According to Dr. Wilson, this pleasure paradox sabotages the effectiveness of gratitude journals for some folks because “people typically spend a lot of time thinking about the good things that have happened to them, and thus by the time they sit down to write about these events they have already achieved an understanding of them and robbed them of some of their mystery.”
So my inability to feel happier from my gratitude journal(s) isn’t because I’m a heartless Scrooge. I have become so adapted to having the things I’m grateful for that they no longer hold any uncertainty in my psyche, and according to research, uncertainty is the very thing that makes events and blessings in our lives more joyful and pleasurable.
Okay. Now I understand why gratitude journals don’t work, but is there anything I can do to feel more grateful for the things in my life, and as a consequence, a bit less cynical?
Thankfully, yes. There’s a simple trick to get around the pleasure paradox so you can feel happier and less discouraged about life, and more grateful for the people and things you have. Psychologists call it “The George Bailey Technique.”
A World Without George Bailey
“You’ve been given a great gift, George: A chance to see what the world would be like without you.” – Clarence Odbody, Angel Second Class
Yeah, that George Bailey from the classic Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life. George Bailey, if you recall, is a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy who constantly has his dreams thwarted because he’s always looking out for his friends and family. Ever since George was knee high to a grasshopper, he wanted to travel to exotic locales and build big things like skyscrapers and airstrips. Just when it seems he’s about to get started on making his dreams come true, some crisis happens that causes him to put them on the back burner so he can take care of other people.
Things come to a head one Christmas Eve when George’s absent-minded uncle misplaces $8,000 of the Building and Loan’s cash funds. Losing the money would mean bankruptcy for the Bailey Building and Loan and criminal charges for George. At the end of his rope, George decides to commit suicide so his family can cash his $15,000 life insurance policy and pay off the $8,000 debt.
Just before George leaps from a bridge to his icy, watery death, his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody, jumps into the river and pretends he’s drowning. George, being the big-hearted guy that he is, saves Clarence. While they’re drying off, Clarence tries to talk George out of killing himself. When George bitterly wishes that he’d never been born, Clarence sees a way to convince him not to commit suicide. Through angelic powers, Clarence is able to show him what his family and Bedford Falls would have been like if George Bailey had never existed.
It’s a hell hole.
George’s younger brother dies because George wasn’t there to save him, quaint Bedford Falls turns into sleazy Pottersville, his mother is a bitter widow, and people are living in slum apartments instead of the nice homes George’s Building and Loan funded. Worst of all, George’s wife is an old maid and none of their beautiful kids exist.
As you can guess, George sees the light and begs to live again. His wish granted, he runs joyously through the streets yelling “Merry Christmas!” to everybody. He arrives home to find the authorities with a warrant in hand for his arrest, but George doesn’t care. He’s just happy to hold and kiss his kids. His wife comes in shortly after, followed by what seems like the entire town. The townsfolk all donate enough money to save George and the Building and Loan, George’s old childhood friend Sam Wainwright (hee haw!) lends George $25,000, and George’s war hero brother arrives to declare George “the richest man in Bedford Falls.”
Among the giant pile of cash, George finds a copy of Tom Sawyer that Clarence carried around with this inscription: ”Dear George: Remember no man is a failure who has friends. P.S. Thanks for the wings! Love, Clarence.”
It’s at this moment that George realizes what a wonderful life he really has. By seeing what the world would be like without him, he comes to a greater understanding and appreciation for the true richness of his blessings.
The George Bailey Technique in the Real World
In It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey experiences what the ancient Greeks called anagnorisis: the sudden realization of truth — of where things really stand and one’s true relationship to others. A few curious psychologists wondered if real people could experience the same kind of anagnorisis that George Bailey did when he saw a world in which he didn’t exist. So they did some experiments.
In one experiment, researchers formed two randomly selected groups of people. They asked one group to write a narrative on how they met their significant other; they asked the other group to “George Bailey” their significant other out of their lives by writing a narrative on ways in which they might not have ended up with them.
The folks who were given the George Bailey condition — writing about the ways they might nothave ended up with their romantic partner — reported more happiness with their relationship than the folks who simply wrote about how they met their partner.
According to Dr. Wilson, the pleasure paradox explains the different results. The people who wrote about how they met their significant other ”had undoubtedly told that story countless times, and telling it again had little impact.” But for the folks who had to imagine their wives and husbands out of their lives, the exercise “made [their relationship] seem surprising and special again, and maybe a little mysterious — the very conditions that prolong the pleasure we get from the good things in life.”
Heartened by this study, I gave the George Bailey technique a try by thinking about the ways in which I might have never met Kate and what life would be like if I didn’t have her in my life. You can really get lost down the rabbit hole imagining the various possibilities, but envisioning my life without Kate makes me all the more grateful for her. I tried the George Bailey technique on other stuff in my life and I’ll be darned if it didn’t make me feel great about living and a whole lot less cynical.
The George Bailey Technique in Your Life
If you’re like me and want to reduce some of the cynicism and pessimism in your life, I challenge you to give the George Bailey Technique a try. What do you have to lose except for maybe 20 minutes? Pick one person, place, or event in your life that brings you happiness and satisfaction, and write down in your journal the various ways it might not have happened. Then imagine your life without that person/place/event and write that down, too.
As you do this exercise regularly, you’ll begin to feel more grateful for the blessings in your life and more hopeful and optimistic about life in general. At least it has for me.
Here’s to a merrier and less cynical Christmas, gentlemen.
Change Your Life – Earl Nightingale – The Strangest Secret 1956 – Documentary | Motivational Video. Earl Nightingale (March 12, 1921 — March 28, 1989) was an American motivational speaker and author, known as the “Dean of Personal Development. He was the voice in the early 1950s of Sky King, the hero of a radio adventure series, and was a WGN radio show host from 1950 to 1956. Nightingale was the author of the Strangest Secret, which economist Terry Savage has called “…One of the great motivational books of all time”.
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