Saturday, April 22, 2017

Book Review: Return to Glow: A Pilgrimage of Transformation in Italy

Book Review:  Return to Glow: A Pilgrimage of Transformation in Italy

When a book comes to you effortlessly, you know there is a reason. This happened to me in January 2017. I scrolled through my emails and stopped when I read this subject line and title: 
“One woman’s solo pilgrimage along Italy’s Via Francigena brings challenge, healing”

In Award-Winning Memoir, Novice Hiker and Huffington Post Blogger 
Tackles Italy’s Historic Pilgrimage Route, Mending Her Soul Through Travel

I recommend this book to my fellow women travelers. The memoir is an easy read, and follows Chandi Wyant’s journey through one of my favorite regions — Italy.  My own favorite themes tugged at me throughout the work — a woman and solo traveler reconnecting with herself, and reawakening with every step she took on the pilgrimage. I also relished the Italian countryside, the ancient tales of Italian art and history intertwined with everyday living, and the local stories found in small Italian villages. 
I sat down for a week immersed in this book during the intense February rain we had in Northern California, and read Return to Glow from cover to cover. I absorbed each page of Chandi’s journey as she mended her soul through Tuscany. I noticed a strong emphasis on these three themes, and received more answers from Chandi regarding her spiritual discoveries, as well as the conversations she had with the people she met, and the history of the Italian regions she walked through.

I felt the struggles she was going through before the pilgrimage, specifically with how her life was in the beginning — a challenging operation in Italy, immediate emotions of separation from her spouse. I appreciated how she received affirmations of the journey both before and during the trip.

Tuscany Italy Credit to FunTourGuru
 A Gripping Read on Travel and Self-Discovery

This is an engaging and readable book. Below I will share my favorite part of Chandi’s journey, along with more of her reveals.

My favorite scene was when she was in the village of Pontremoli, and documented her stay with B&B owners Adriana and Lorenzo. The trio engaged in an in-depth conversation on the local Italian war history of nearby villages while eating an Italian dish of testaroli al pesto and enjoying homemade wine. This couple intuitively assisted and encouraged Chandi through the daily physical struggles that came to her feet during her stay. I actually felt the aches when she detailed this foot injury.  

FTG: Is there one place (or person you met) that was the most powerful and resonated with you for this spiritual journey? 

Chandi: One experience that I found powerful was in the town of Sutri, where I stayed at a convent of Franciscan nuns and watched them hold a service in their garden in front of their chapel. I felt that I had stepped out of my world and into theirs for a few minutes, and experienced their way of surrendering. I realized that they have learned to surrender in a way that many of us in the west would like for ourselves, but don’t know how to achieve. 

FTG: Your pilgrimage went through many unknown villages and popular towns we know today like Cinque Terre. What was your favorite place on this journey? 

Chandi: The region in southern Tuscany called the Val d’Orcia was stunning to walk through, from San Quirico d’Orcia to Bagno Vignoni, and from there to Radicofani.

Bagno Vignoni is unique in that it’s the only town in Italy where the main piazza is a pool of steamy water. While the Etruscans may have known of the thermal waters at Bagno Vignoni, it was the Romans — great connoisseurs of hot springs — who developed this as a spa town. When the Western Roman Empire fell apart, Bagno Vignoni fell with it, but the town perked up again when pilgrims began to come through on Via Francigena, stopping to rest in the hot, healing water. 

The rectangle of water in place of a piazza makes for an evocative sight in winter when the hot steam rising from it contrasts with the cold air. It equally appeals in summer when the homes around the water are bright with flower boxes and warm, sunny stone.

FTG: What changes have you made to keep following the intuitive direction you found? 

Chandi: I have learned not to block myself from listening to my heart. I have learned in fact, to block the chatter in my head about duty to allow my heart to have room to speak. 

FTG: I enjoy going on trips by myself, and get questions from other women asking me about walking solo. How would the spiritual journey have been different if you had not been by yourself — if a friend had gone with you?

Chandi: It would have been very different if I had not been solo. It never occurred to me to seek out a companion for this particular journey. I wanted the outer journey to facilitate an inner one, and I felt that to get the most out of the inner one, I needed to be alone.

Italy Buildings Credit to FunTourGuru
 FTG: I know one challenge is when one does not speak the language, and I am fortunate to consistently find connections who speak English. I also use my own honesty and authenticity to communicate. What advice do you have to be comfortable with this barrier?

Chandi:  Yes, it would have been different had I not known the language. Knowing the language allowed me to have a deeper experience with the locals I met, whether it was a chat with a man giving me a ride, or conversations about God with the nuns I stayed with.

Try to learn at least the basics in the language. In Italy, the Italians tend to be incredibly gracious and encouraging when foreigners try to speak even a bit of Italian. 

FTG: Most of the people Chandi encountered were men on the pilgrimage except the nuns she described above. There were reveals of women in her family who played roles. 
This sentence from the book spoke to me: “Truth is how we feel, it is about expressing our emotion in an authentic way.” Why are so many women reluctant to express the truth?

Chandi: I want to encourage women to speak their truth even if they fear being shamed. 

Today, despite all our advancements, women still receive strong messages about conformity — mostly about conformity to what the patriarchy has deemed acceptable.
“Don’t have too loud of a voice, don’t be too assertive or you’ll be called bitchy, don’t make strong boundary statements when you find yourself in an unhealthy situation because you have to be nice no matter what. Don’t put yourself first because you were placed on this earth to cater to everyone else. Stay silent when people make jokes or comments that are derogatory to women because if you say something you’ll be told you cannot take a joke, or that you are making too big of a deal out of it.”

I do see more and more women breaking free of being boxed up like that. But I also see that despite our strides in empowering ourselves, that those messages and that kind of boxing us in will exist for as long as the patriarchy exists.

To avoid the patriarchal trap, one of the best things we can do is to constantly and actively support other women with their empowerment.

Support women speaking their truth. Don’t fall into the patriarchal trap of dissing on other women who you could in fact admire. Memoirists who became famous, like Cheryl Strayed and Elizabeth Gilbert, received quite a lot of shaming comments. Strayed was called a slut and Gilbert called whiney. But in fact, it would be just as easy to call those women courageous for expressing their innermost emotional life on the page and presenting their most vulnerable self to the world.

It is an act of speaking one’s truth, and in that act is one’s empowerment.

We need to recognize when women are being courageous, and encourage it. We need to recognize that what the patriarchy has historically defined as courageous (conquering other countries) may not be courageous in the female world.  We need alternative ways of being courageous, and we need to hold these up for each other.

Chandi’s Self-Reflection

Chandi: I found that focusing on opening my heart, keeping it open, and making unexpected choices from the heart were vital to connecting with the spiritual gifts that my journey held.

I also knew that a pilgrimage was not going to be a panacea for all life’s troubles. But in discovering my resilience on this trek, I gave myself the tools to face challenges with an inner steadiness and a clear knowledge of my resilience, which has served me well.

A Modern Italian Pilgrimage 

Chandi is realizing her manifest of 30 years and vision she spoke of in the book, and moving to the Tuscany region where “she is immediately applying for the permesso di soggiorno (a special permit to stay which is needed in addition to the visa) to help others learn about Italy.”

Chandi: I will be leading short stints on the Via Francigena (two days walking on one of the prettiest parts). This is something people can add to their trip to Italy. It will get them off the beaten path; allow them to walk off the pasta, wine, and gelato; and give them the opportunity to see the gorgeous countryside at a pace that allows them to slow down and savor, which is what Italy is all about!

I agree! Thank you Chandi Wyant for this additional information. This is a fun and inspirational book to read and share with friends.  ~ The FunTourGuru

Chandi Wyant is a historian, foodie, writer, and passionate world traveler. She runs the Paradise of Exciles website, where you may purchase Chandi’s memoir on the this web  page

Or purchase on Amazon: Return to Glow [Ad] 

You may sign up for her newsletter, to learn of offerings in Italy, in the sidebar of her site: Paradise of Exciles.

Another resource to use is The Via Francigena website. Be sure to click on the interactive map of the route.  

Ed. Note: Italy pictures are credited to the FunTourGuru and Return to Glow book cover image credited to Chandi Wyant. I did receive a complimentary book for this review, I received no other compensation. 

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Tuscany Italy Credit to FunTourGuru