Past Travel Pursuits Trips

2013

Talking Turkey – Where East Meets West

We have become fascinated with the world of the East – the Muslim world. We know how little we know, which, regrettably, has not prevented us from forming strong impressions.

Turkey is singular in the Muslim world as a country that is situated partly in Europe and partly in Asia. It is both modern and secular in ways that seem familiar to us. It is also exotic, foreign, and strange and, for reasons we little understand, seems to be choosing to become less Western, even as it becomes both more progressive in some ways and more traditional in others.

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TAKING YOUR SOUL FOR A STROLL – 160 kilometers on the Camino de Santiago

The crown jewel of Spanish walking trails, the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela began as an act of faith as Europeans crossed Spain to visit the sacred tomb of Saint James. One thousand years later, the Camino continues to draw the spiritual seeker as well as the traveler looking to enjoy the beauty of the green rolling hills and small hamlets of north-western Spain’s Galicia. The biggest problem when considering the Camino to Santiago is the amount of time required to walk the whole way in one go – four to six weeks.

Classical Pursuits offers a Camino experience better suited to many people’s holiday time and comfort requirements.

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LA BELLE ÉPOQUE IN PARIS

After a humiliating military defeat by Bismarck’s Germany, a brutal siege, and a bloody uprising, Paris in 1871 was a shambles. Yet out of this demoralized rubble, 19th-century Paris became the centre of European culture. Out of the political and social tumult, ideas collided and a creative dynamism took root, beginning with the Belle Epoque and continuing for a hundred years. From Classicism and Romanticism to Realism, Impressionism and Art Nouveau, all the arts blossomed and flourished. The siren call of Paris also drew many Americans to the La Ville-Lumière.

We will be returning to the Trianon Rive Gauche, a lovely small hotel right next to the Luxembourg Gardens. Bien sur, we will eat and drink in wonderful cafés and restaurants, many retaining their Belle Époque opulent décor.

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READING CHICAGO

It’s a crossroad, a place of rough politics and a “can do” people. It’s a town that loves its winners. WWI hadn’t happened when “the ball team” last won The Series. It’s a broad-shouldered city that makes no small plans. Its river runs backwards and its buildings were the first to scrape the sky. Its people play in a 30 mile lakefront park, own the largest collection of impressionists, and serve up a pizza that dares you to finish. If the belly craves it, it’s cooking here. If your ears long for it, you’ll hear it here. It’s home for some 2.5 million and annually 36 million make it a vacation. It has a great story to tell and it tells it well. It’s a great read. It’s Chicago.

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THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR

What is it that draws so many people to study the American Civil War, visit its battlefields, revere its generals as some of America’s greatest heroes? What if it was the quality of the literature written during and after the war that created this reverence, this sense of tragic poetry that seems to surround the era like an atmosphere? After all, this was a time when even the generals and the presidents were extraordinary writers. One of America’s greatest poets, Walt Whitman, was there. He was a pacifist deeply moved by the suffering of the soldiers.

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2012

VIETNAM VOICES: A BALANCED OPPOSITION

A necessary first step to understanding Vietnam is to recognize that “Vietnam is a nation, not a war.” It is a complex mix of contrasting landscapes, languages, cultures, religions, values and voices. It is a society that rests on a system of yin and yang, a balanced opposition.

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TAKING YOUR SOUL FOR A STROLL

The crown jewel of Spanish walking trails, the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela began as an act of faith as Europeans crossed Spain to visit the sacred tomb of Saint James. One thousand years later, the Camino continues to draw the spiritual seeker as well as the traveler looking to enjoy the beauty of the green rolling hills and small hamlets of northwestern Spain’s Galicia. The biggest problem when considering the Camino to Santiago is the amount of time required to walk the whole way in one go – four to six weeks. Classical Pursuits offers a Camino experience better suited to many people’s holiday time and comfort requirements.

 

MYSTERY & MANNERS IN SAVANNAH – Selected works of Flannery O’Connor

Our base will be Savannah, Flannery O’Connor’s birthplace and childhood home. Here we will hold our discussions, visit the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home Foundation and explore it this beautiful antebellum city’s striking architecture laid out around twenty-four squares. We will travel by private coach to Milledgeville, where we will be received at Andalusia, the O’Connor family farm by a close personal friend of hers and Andalusia Foundation director, Craig Amason.

 

CONFOUNDED & BEWITCHED – The Strange Rise of Modern India

India Video

India – Ganga Arti Ceremony in Varanasi – Click to view video

The startling array of sensual, spiritual and intellectual riches of India resists generalizations. We will explore the dizzying contrasts of the world’s largest democracy from throbbing metropolis, to sleepy village, to the great regal excess of the famous Raj, to the restorative calm of the holy city of Varanasi.

Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie, is at once a fascinating family saga and an astonishing evocation of a vast land and its people– an historical chronicle of modern India centring on the inextricably linked fates of two children born within the first hour of independence from Great Britain. Thirty years after its publication, Midnight’s Children stands apart as both an epochal work of fiction and a brilliant performance by one of the great literary voices of our time. It has won the Booker, the Booker of Booker and the Best of the Booker Prizes, the only novel ever to be so awarded. Edward Luce’s In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India might well be subtitled Midnight’s Grandchildren. Published in 2011, it is a series of acutely observed vignettes, held together by a single theme, and an overriding question: India will soon become a great power; what kind of great power will it be?

We will return with a deep appreciation of the ancient roots that still nourish the flourishing growth of modern India as it moves towards its new position as one of the major political forces of today’s world order.

Click here for Slideshow: A Poor Indian Hamlet That is Rich in Spirit

Click here for Slideshow: Animals in India

Click here for Slideshow: Colourful India

Click here for Slideshow: Fellow Travellers in India

Click here for Slideshow: Oddities in India

Click here for Slideshow: Grooming in India

Click here for Slideshow: Indians at Play

Click here for Slideshow: Indians at Work

Click here for Slideshow: Man-Made Beauty in India

Click here for Slideshow: Indian Opulence

Click here for Slideshow: Natural Places in India

Click here for Slideshow: Several of Our Indian Shepherds

Click here for Slideshow: Indians at School

Click here for Slideshow: The Many Faces of God in India

Click here for Slideshow: Vela – An Indian Word for Someone Who Has Nothing To Do

Click here for Slideshow: Indian Music and Dance

Click here for Slideshow: Wedding Season in India

 

DYSTOPIAS, UTOPIAS, AND IMAGINED WORLDS – Key West, Florida

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Key West and January – an attractive pairing. So too, The Handmaid’s Tale and The Baron in the Trees. Apparently so dissimilar, and yet when set beside one another, they couple perfectly. Atwood’s tale is a dystopian fable of the near future. It is a harsh nightmare set in a totalitarian theocracy, the former United States. It is a story of subjugation. Calvino’s tale is a utopian fable of a not-too-distant past. It is a gentle dream set in the lush tree tops of 18th century Italy. It is a love story. Key West in the winter coupled with extraordinary books, lively discussions, walks and talks, and plenty of time to play – it feels utopian.

Populated in the early twentieth century by an eclectic mix of fishermen, spongers, rum runners, and cigar makers, this tiny island was more Caribbean than American. Over 100 miles from mainland Florida and the southernmost point in the US, Key West has attracted numerous artists and writers, including Ernest Hemingway, Wallace Stevens, Ralph Ellison, Elizabeth Bishop, Tennessee Williams, Robert Frost, and James Merrill, with its remote location, tropical setting, and wild spirit.

The Key West Literary Seminar, which has been drawing lovers of literature to this small island in the subtropics for 30 years, explores Yet Another World: Literature of the Future, this January 5-8. Classical Pursuits will piggyback on this venerable institution. You may wish to double your pleasure by attending the Key West Literary Seminar.

 

2011

SACHERTORTE AND PAPRIKASH

There must be something in the Viennese pastry. How can one medium size city keep producing so many composers and conductors of note? Willkommen to Vienna, the world’s music capital! More renowned composers have lived here than in any other city – Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Strauss Jr., Bruckner, Mahler and Schoenberg all found inspiration for their music here. Nowhere else on earth are there more first class musical performances in a concentrated city core than in Vienna.

Gustav Mahler (1860–1911), the genius of the fin de siècle, studied and launched his career in Vienna and for ten years served as director of the Vienna Imperial Opera. Music lovers all over the world will celebrate him in 2011, the 100th anniversary of his death.

And Üdvözöljük to Hungary, which has made many contributions to the fields of folk, popular and classical music. Hungarian folk music is a prominent part of the national identity and continues to play a major part in Hungarian music. Considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world, straddling both sides of the Danube, Budapest today is a thriving metropolis, rich in history, tradition and culture. The Kodaly Method of musical education creates a high level of musical literacy throughout the country. In addition to Franz Liszt, Zoltan Kodaly and Béla Bartók, the fiery and virtuosic Romany Csárdás are heard everywhere.

 

ART AND LIFE IN RENAISSANCE FLORENCE

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Come to the source for a full immersion experience of the Italian Renaissance.

This rebirth of learning based on classical sources occurred throughout most of Europe at the turn of the fifteenth century but emerged first in the Italian city of Florence and continued to be more pervasive there than anywhere else. The city’s economy and its writers, painters, architects, and philosophers all made Florence a model of Renaissance culture.

During our time together, we will engage with the artistic masterpieces of Michelangelo, Leonardo, Botticelli, Fra Angelico and others in an unhurried and attentive way. Sean Forester, a classical painter who resides in Florence, will help us better understand how composition, style and symbolism of individual paintings work on our emotions. We will even have an opportunity to try fresco painting in a private workshop. We’ll meander through the streets of Florence where Dante’s poetry is carved on buildings and the concept of the dome first emerged in the form of Brunelleschi’s architectural marvel that tops the cathedral of Florence. We will retire to a formal Renaissance garden to try to discover why Machiavelli is considered the father of modern political science. And we will probe the life and work of Leonardo da Vinci, the quintessential Renaissance Man — an incomparable master of “both” worlds of art and science.

This trip offers the opportunity to step into one of the most creative and determinative eras of human history. Together, we will learn about the forces that brought about the Renaissance, to relish, first hand, many of its consummate creations and to appreciate its continuing legacy.

And, of course, we will enjoy the fresh and incredibly varied regional cuisine and stellar wines with typical Tuscan gusto and convivialitá.

 

In Search of the Newfoundland Soul – Tales of Survival and Celebration

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Newfoundland is like no place you’ve ever been. This remote and craggy piece of landscape gets under your skin. Rugged beauty co-exists with a brooding melancholy as the raw ingredients of rock, sea and sky combine in endless variation. But, in the end, it is the people — a unique maritime sub-culture — that work a special magic on those from away.

St. John’s, the provincial capital, has one of the most spectacular natural harbours on the eastern coast of North America. Carved out of the formidable granite that gives the island its nickname (The Rock), the city is a photographer’s dream. Here, we will spend five days starting to unpack the social history of Newfoundland, meandering St. John’s winding lanes and by-ways with its candy-coloured clapboard houses. We will meet descendents of the English and Irish stalwarts, dreamers, and adventurers who originally settled Newfoundland. We will spend time at The Rooms, Newfoundland and Labrador’s largest public cultural space, where history, heritage and artistic expression all come together.

 

Made in Germany – Tales of Three Cities: Dresden, Weimar and Berlin

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Over the last two hundred and fifty years, Germany has been the incubator of many of the most sublime achievements of Western art, music, literature, and science. It was also the center of one of the most brutal political regimes in history, bringing down destruction not only on other nations, but on itself as well. Contemporary Germany, now a leader of the European Union, is still coming to terms with its place in modern history, with how it can move forward and still acknowledge its sometimes troubling past.

Dresden, Weimar, and half of Berlin, once part of the Soviet Bloc, are again part of a reunified Germany and each city has a unique story to tell about a different aspect of the triumphs and failures of German history and culture underlying today’s vibrant, flourishing country.

Destroyed by Allied forces in the firestorms of 1945, reconstructed Dresden now has the distinction of being one of the “greenest” cities in Europe. Weimar may be small but for a century it was the spiritual centre of Germany, home to the great poets Goethe and Schiller and the original Bauhaus. World War II left Berlin sandwiched between East and West, a literal and metaphoric wall dividing the city. Berlin is now once more the capital of a reunified Germany and one of Europe’s great cities, brimming with creativity and optimism.

 

Founding Farmer – Charlottesville, Virginia

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Few of the founding fathers have the fascination of Thomas Jefferson. His achievements across so many domains dazzle us and his personal life continues to fill many volumes of controversial history.

But in Charlottesville itself, the town he essentially created, we can explore the life and writings of Jefferson in a rich and evocative way. What did he have to say about himself and about his home, the Commonwealth of Virginia? What did he have to say about the institution of slavery and about African Americans, the people who surrounded him in his daily life and whose labor made all of his accomplishments possible? He never resolved the contradictions between revolutionary and slaveowner, imperialist and farmer, but all of his works were intended to exemplify his ideal of how a good life ought to be lived. We can explore these contradictions in his more intimate writings and consider how his struggles influenced the development of the United States.

Charlottesville frequently wins popularity contests among American cities, even though it’s really a small town. It owes much of its glory to its historical richness. The University of Virginia still preserves at its heart “Mr. Jefferson’s academical village,” which he considered his greatest work. The tour of Monticello, his grand home includes his magnificent garden. Just now central Virginia is undergoing an archaeological renaissance in the investigations at Monticello, Montpelier (the home of James Madison), and Charlottesville itself of the lives of slaves and freed African Americans which until now were literally paved over, and we will have opportunities to visit these sites.

April is the kindest month here, when the dogwoods and azaleas bloom.

 

2010

Rocking the Cradle of Civilization

Click here for the slideshow – Egypt Trip

Click here for the slideshow – Trip extension to Jordan

The land that gave birth to the first great civilization has fascinated travellers from the time of Herodotus, who wrote the first surviving comprehensive account of the ancient land. Indeed, the sheer antiquity and breadth of Egyptian civilization cannot but reduce the visitor to awe.

On this trip we will step back and forth between the monuments of Ancient Egypt and the culture and people of Modern Egypt.

With the aid of an expert Egyptian guide we will try to discover what natural and human factors combined to create the pinnacle of Ancient Egypt, the New Kingdom. We will step into a world of mighty pharaohs and deities as we visit the legendary sites of the sphinx and pyramids of Giza, the necropolis of Memphis, the world’s greatest outdoor museum of Luxor, The Valley of the Kings, the Hatshepsut Temple and the Colossi of Memnon. And, of course, the Cairo Museum.

We will seek insight into Modern Egypt through its literature and visits to contemporary sites, such as the haunts of our authors, Naguib Mahfouz and Adhaf Soueif, and the Aswan Dam and the spectacular new library in Alexandria. Along the way, we will meet Egyptians from various walks of life.

David Schmitt will lead us in discussions of Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz’s masterpiece Palace Walk and Adhaf Soueif’s The Map of Love (short-listed for the Booker Prize in 1999).

We will begin and end our travels in Cairo, then fly to Luxor and cruise the mighty Nile River to Aswan, fly to visit to Abu Simbel, and travel by private coach to fabled Alexandria before returning to Cairo.

Resource: http://www.guidetoonlineschools.com/library/ancient-egypt

 

The Poesy of Key West

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Edges, islands, a beach with a view… Poets are often drawn to landscapes where different kinds of being meet and separate, where people experience their true solitude. Key West has been such a place for more than a century. Elizabeth Bishop and Wallace Stevens both saw it as a profoundly meaningful borderland, one where questions about identity and geography, life, death and creativity become richer and more mysterious. Mark Strand also, influenced by both of these poets, explores the edges of consciousness, and his dark, plain-spoken work will help to illuminate the works of the earlier two.

The Key West Literary Seminar, which has been drawing lovers of literature to this small island in the subtropics for more than a quarter century, will celebrate 60 years of American poetry this January 7 – 10.

And Classical Pursuits will piggyback on to this venerable institution with its own in-depth exploration of selected poems of Bishop and Stevens, who called the island city home, and of former US Poet Laureate Mark Strand, who will be present at the Key West Literary Seminar.

A good seminar is rather like a group of jazz musicians improvising freely together: both exciting and relaxing. We’ll also visit literary landmarks, see a vintage movie set in Key West, and have plenty of time left for whatever we choose.

 

2009

A More Perfect Union – Philadelphia

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Occasionally, it is worth thinking about how we should live together. The year following a pivotal presidential election is such a time. In the cradle of American democracy, we will examine seminal writings throughout American history in an effort to answer that question.

The New England Puritans were the originators of America’s political culture and rhetoric. They laid the foundations of national consciousness. In a 1630 sermon, John Winthrop warned the colonists that their new community would be a “City Upon a Hill” divinely ordained and watched by the world. This identity wed privilege to responsibility.

More than a hundred years later, the Declaration of Independence became the nation’s most cherished symbol of liberty. But the Founding Fathers were not utopians, and they recognized that expansion was a matter of survival for the young republic.

By the late 18th Century, democratic values which championed money-making, hard work, and individualism had eradicated most vestiges of old world aristocracy and values in the North. It was then that French political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville attempted to capture the peculiar nature of American political life. He saw both an industrious population yearning to amass vast fortunes and a political culture that promoted a relatively pronounced equality, but also, as he put it, a middling mediocrity.

In his book, The Real American Dream: A Meditation on Hope, Columbia University professor and acclaimed social critic, Andrew Delbanco revisits America’s history and its literature and prods readers to think about how the idea of the nation relates to their deepest desires and hopes.

We will stay in Philadelphia’s Old City, home of Independence Hall and the new Constitution Center. We will explore historic sites, wander the nation’s oldest outdoor market, and tour the famed wall murals.

 

“Fooling” around in Russia

Click here for the Imperial Russia slideshow

Click here for the Soviet Russia slideshow

Click here for the Free Market Russia slideshow

Click here for the Daily Russia slideshow

Click here for the Religious Russia slideshow

Click here for the On Board the Ms. Tolstoy slideshow

In Russian culture, the holy fool has a lofty role as a traditional guide, mentor and savior. It found expression in numerous fairy tales about Ivan the Fool and was continuously exploited by dozens of Russian writers, including Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Pushkin. This flamboyant Russian type and literary character serves as our guide to Russian metropolises, Moscow and St. Petersburg, and the enchanting towns in between.

We will sail through history and culture in style and comfort on board a floating hotel, the 150-passenger MS Tolstoy. Built in Austria, for Kremlin officials, the Tolstoy is the most luxurious and comfortable cruise ship ever built for Russian rivers.

We will spend several days in legendary Moscow, then cruise north and visit the picturesque Golden Ring towns of Uglich, Kostroma and Yaroslavl. These towns feature monuments of Russian architecture from the 12th – 18th centuries, centuries, including kremlins, monasteries and cathedrals. We continue along the Volga-Baltic waterways to St. Petersburg, one of the world’s most beautiful, culturally rich cities, often referred to as the Russian Venice. We will experience a kaleidoscope of Russian life and literature.

 

Talking Turkey – Istanbul, Kusadasi, Ephesus, Konya, Kas, Bodrum, Antayla, Cappadocia and Ankara

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Turkey is the only country in the world to sit astride two continents, a unique position that has given rise to a culture where European aspirations and Asian traditions comfortably coexist.

The legacies of the Hittites, Greeks, Romans, Christian Apostles, Byzantines, Ottoman Turks, and the other civilizations that have called this land home have made Turkey a vast outdoor museum full of beautiful, intriguing sites, and a culture steeped in a diverse history. Today Turkey is undertaking yet another massive political reform in an effort to achieve full membership in the European Union.

We will discuss the literature of this fabled land to help us better understand its soul, its aspirations and its conflicts. Our readings will include Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, selected works by 13th century Persian mystic, Rumi, and Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk’s novel Snow, a work that tackles the tensions that Turkey faces today between east and west, ancient and modern.

We will travel through Turkey’s complex history and splendid scenery and experience its hospitality in Istanbul, Kusadasi, Ephesus, Konya, Kas, Bodrum, Antayla, Cappadocia and Ankara. Along the way, we will savour the abundance of its fields, farms, orchards, flocks and fishing boats as Turkish chefs take full advantage of this bounty.

 

Death in Venice – Venice, Italy

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From Charlemagne to Capote, writers have given us their impressions of Venice. Perhaps surprisingly, Erica Jong’s description is especially affecting. “It is the city of mirrors, the city of mirages, at once solid and liquid, at once air and stone.”

Venice itself is arguably the seductive and atmospheric protagonist in Thomas Mann’s beautiful and enigmatic 1912 novella Death in Venice and in its cinematic and operatic adaptations. Mann was moved, after seeing the composer Gustav Mahler break down in tears on the train departing Venice, to create a multidimensional story that explores the moral transformation of an artist in search of perfect beauty.

Mann’s novella inspired Luchino Visconti, in 1971, to make his acclaimed and memorable film, Death in Venice. In the burnished images of Venice, the precise, tormented performance of Dirk Bogarde, and the rapturous surge of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, Visconti inscribed his own sense of erotic longing and impending end.

Benjamin Britten also seemed to be making a conscious summation of his life’s work through his operatic adaptation. Composed in 1973 while he was in declining health, it would be his last opera. Britten is likely to have strongly identified with the main character, Gustav von Aschenbach, a middle-aged writer who seeks inspiration by travelling to Venice but instead succumbs to both his obsession with a beautiful young Polish boy and the cholera epidemic engulfing the city.

We will examine Mann’s original work and its two artistic adaptations by Visconti and Britten, making our home in a restored 14th century monastery which faces the Giudecca Canal. And we will explore on foot and by vaporetto the unsurpassed riches of Venice’s art, architecture, music and literary history.

 

Mystery and Manners in Savannah – Savannah, Georgia

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To read Flannery O’Connor’s fiction is to be amused, provoked, and pushed to reconsider ourselves and our place in the world. A Roman Catholic and a native of Georgia, O’Connor created stories that inimitably blend humour, horror, and the mysteries of faith. While her writing is richly specific, evoking the dusty back roads and quirky characters of the American South, it deals powerfully with universal questions: What does it mean to be good? How should we live? What is the meaning of death? How can the divine penetrate the everyday world? In her relatively short lifetime (1925-1964), O’Connor created a powerful body of work, including two novels and a number of short stories and nonfiction pieces.

Our base will be Savannah, O’Connor’s birthplace and childhood home. Here we will hold our discussions, visit the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home Foundation and explore this beautiful antebellum city’s striking architecture laid out around 24 squares. We then travel by private coach to Milledgeville, where we will be received at Andalusia, the O’Connor family farm by Craig Amason, Director of the Andalusia Foundation. We will also have the opportunity to talk to Dr. Marshall Bruce Gentry, editor of the Flannery O’Connor Review and professor of English at Georgia College and State University and Mary Barbara Tate, a close personal friend of O’Connor. Craig Amason will then guide us through historic Milledgeville, including a visit to O’Connor’s grave and the church where she worshipped.

 

Wild Things – Ecuador’s Amazon region & Quito

From the time we are small children we seem to have a preternatural relationship with Wild Things – being alternately, and even simultaneously, lured and terrified.

What better place to explore what “The Wild” means to us than the Sacha Jungle Lodge, a 5000-acre private ecological reserve in Ecuador’s Amazon region. Sacha Lodge offers a true jungle experience in safety and comfort. Our journey begins and ends in Quito, Ecuador’s capital city, a maze of colonial splendour. A short flight takes us over the majestic snow-covered Andes Mountains to the port town of Puerto Francisco de Orellana, where we transfer to a covered motorized canoe for a two-hour trip down the sediment-rich waters of the Napo River.

During the ride we will spot handsome shore birds such as herons, kingfishers, spoonbills and ospreys between the scattered native huts as we travel steadily away from civilization into The Wild. The lodging at Sacha has been carefully designed to offer comfort to the traveller yet preserve the environment and rainforest ambience.

Our days will combine discussion of wilderness literature and excursions into the rainforest’s several distinct but equally splendid habitats.

We will decide as a group the difficulty and duration of our outings, led by local naturalists. Wherever the destination, our excursions will proceed slowly in order to appreciate the fascinating details that our guides point out around us. Favourite activities include bird watching and paddling dugout canoes along tannin-rich black-water creeks and lakes, where luxuriant lianas, orchids, bromeliads and palm trees thrive.

 

The Alelexandria Quartet – The island of Corfu, Greece

Anglo-Irish novelist, poet, translator, travel writer, and dramatist Lawrence Durrell (1912-1990) was born in India but lived in and celebrated the Mediterranean world. In 1935, Durrell moved his family to Corfu to live more economically and escape the English winter. Life in Greece was a revelation; while in Corfu, he wrote a plan for The Book of the Dead, a forerunner to what may be his greatest literary accomplishment, The Alexandria Quartet. The experimental tetralogy of mystery, love, and espionage explores memory and knowledge, contrasting in its story the love affair of a young writer with the recollections of other people.

Lawrence Durrell is the brother of the equally celebrated naturalist, conservationist, and author Gerald Durrell (1925-1995). The
Durrell School was established in 2002 on the brothers’ beloved Corfu to celebrate their work and provide a learning experience steeped in the culture and history of the Mediterranean.

Classical Pursuits is delighted to hold The Alexandria Quartet: An exploration in modern love in the crucible of the Durrells’ Corfu – where the arts and literature mix with zoology and ecology and conservation biology.

Corfu, controlled by the Venetians for centuries, charms the visitor with historic forts, narrow streets, arcades, a Venetian-built Town Hall, flower-filled gardens, wrought-iron balconies and the Church of Saint Spyridon, the island’s patron saint.

We will make our home in centrally located Kerkyra, staying in a mid-19th century hotel overlooking the harbour in the heart of the ‘Old Town.’ We will visit many natural and architectural wonders on the island and make a day trip to the UNESCO Heritage archaeological site of Butrint in Albania.

 

Reading Fairy Tales – Walters Falls, Ontario, Canada

“Of the various types of mythological literature, fairy tales are the simplest and purest expressions of the collective unconscious and thus offer the clearest understanding of the basic patterns of the human psyche. Every people or nation has its own way of experiencing this psychic reality, and so a study of the world’s fairy tales yields a wealth of insights into the archetypal experiences of humankind.”

— Marie Louise von Franz in her classic book, The Interpretation of Fairy Tales.

Fairy tales represent truths so far from human consciousness that the psychologist Carl Jung believed that if you interpreted a fairy tale  thoroughly, you would need a full week to recover from the process. The deceptively simple nature of these tales belies their power to reveal the inner workings of our emotions.

Join us for four days at the new and beautiful Falls Inn on the site of Walter’s Falls historic sawmill on the spectacular Bruce Trail. In exquisite natural surroundings, we will discuss The Interpretation of Fairy Tales by Marie Louise von Franz, one of the world’s foremost authorities on the psychological interpretation of these mythological gems. We will apply the theories explored in this book to a number of fairy tales from different cultures and from all stages of life. Some of the fairy tales – like “The Three Feathers” and “Briar Rose” will be known to many. Others, especially tales dealing with the second half of life, will be less familiar.

All will be read and discussed with a view to determining how we navigate our way through life’s transitions.

We will walk along the scenic Bruce Trail during the peak of fall colour and admire the many waterfalls along the Niagara Escarpment. Leader Béa Gonzalez will give several talks to enlarge on our understanding of the power of fairy tales.

 

2008

Alice’s Wonderland – Bayfield, Ontario

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Alice Munro has been repeatedly hailed as one of our greatest living writers, a reputation that just keeps growing. Often compared to Chekhov, Munro enables readers both to see clearly the details of daily life and to see beyond them, to the human riches that lie beneath. Munro’s incomparable empathy for her characters, the depth of her understanding of human nature, and the grace and surprise of her narrative add up to a richly layered and capacious fiction. Her stories appear frequently in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Paris Review.

We will discuss a selection of stories across her distinguished career; favourites selected by Munro herself and gathered together in Carried Away. Whether she is describing a woman writer struggling with her father’s attitude toward her, in “The Moons of Jupiter,” or the metamorphosis a librarian’s life undergoes over decades, in “Carried Away,” Munro excels at creating characters whose often surprising decisions are powerfully moving. In deceptively simple prose, Munro takes us into the lives of characters at all stages of life, from childhood to old age and the landscapes through which they move.

 

The French Resistance – Lyon, France

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During War II, Lyon was both a centre for the occupying German forces and also a stronghold of French resistance. Here Albert Camus edited Combat , the leading underground paper and Jean Moulin united the scattered elements of spontaneous French resistance to German occupation. The traboules (hidden passageways to protect silk as it was transported between buildings during the rain) were used by Resistance fighters to escape from the Nazis.

Through French literature of the time, we will explore the nature, extent and significance of resistance in Occupied France. Camus’s The Stranger (1942) was a groundbreaking exploration of ‘the nakedness of man faced with the absurd.’ Vercors’s novella, The Silence of the Sea (1942), is a patriotic tale of self-deception and of the triumph of passive resistance over evil, was published clandestinely and served to rally a spirit of French defiance. Lyon native and pilot for the Free French Air Force in 1944, Antoine de Saint-Exupery reflects in his luminous memoir Wind, Sand and Stars (1939) on what makes life worth living and who we are or should be.

 

In Search of Arthur: a walking tour – Cornwall, England

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King Arthur, Guinevere, and Sir Lancelot may never have existed, but their names conjure up a romantic image of gallant knights in shining armour, elegant ladies in medieval castles, heroic quests for the Holy Grail in a world of honour and romance, and the court of Camelot at the centre of a royal and mystical Britain. The epic story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table never fails to rouse the imaginations of readers everywhere. It will capture our hearts anew as we immerse ourselves in the legend and lore of Arthur. We will be based in the unspoiled fishing village of Looe with its quaint old buildings, twisting streets, smugglers taverns and Cornwall’s finest restaurants. We will discuss the most stirring tales from Sir Thomas Malory’s definitive classic Le Morte d’Arthur and some of the more literary and cinematic adaptations. We will spend a day at the iconic Tintagel Castle, the fabled birth place of Arthur the site of Merlin’s cave. We will spend another day exploring Bodmin Moor, an ancent granite moorland of outstanding natural beauty with Mark Camp, an experienced Cornish walking guide and life-long lover of Arthurian magic.

 

Jewish Montreal – Montreal, Quebec

When Mordecai Richler died, there was a tremendous and perhaps unexpected outpouring of affection for him given his ambivalent relationship with Montreal’s Jewish community, English Canadian nationalists and Canadian separatists, and his reputation as a contrarian provocateur. And yet Richler is memorialized as one of the most respected literary figures in Canada and one of the first internationally renowned Canadian writers. His breakthrough novel, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, explores the rise of an ambitious young Jewish man determined to be successful in the 1930s and 40s.

The Montreal Jewish community produced a great number of writers in the mid-20th century. In addition to Richler, the writings of Leonard Cohen, poet, novelist and singer-songwriter, and poets, Irvin Layton and A. M. Klein are steeped in Jewish themes. Their unique and personal literary expressions of Jewish identity often leave the observer considering where fiction ends and autobiography begins.

 

Mystery and Manners in Savannah – Savannah, Georgia

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To read Flannery O’Connor’s fiction is to be amused, provoked, and pushed to reconsider ourselves and our place in the world. A Roman Catholic and a native of Georgia, O’Connor created stories that inimitably blend humour, horror, and the mysteries of faith. While her writing is richly specific, evoking the dusty back roads and quirky characters of the American South, it deals powerfully with universal questions: What does it mean to be good? How should we live? What is the meaning of death? How can the divine penetrate the everyday world? In her relatively short lifetime (1925-64), O’Connor created a powerful body of work, including two novels and a number of short stories and nonfiction pieces.

In O’Connor’s stories, deceptively ordinary situations – a bus ride, an encounter with a traveling salesman, a family automobile trip – erupt into life-altering revelations. In her essays, O’Connor delves deeply into the mystery of writing, why people do it, struggle over it, sacrifice so much of themselves in order to do it.

 

Galicia: A journey through the animated forest – Galicia, Spain

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After a magical trip to Galicia in 2007, we have decided to return to the animated forest once again. Galicia is the least known region of Spain, lying in the north-west corner of the peninsula over Portugal. It is a Celtic land where the bagpipes reign and the hills are verdant and fertile. Eleven per cent of all Spanish forests lie in this small region which has its own language and distinct history. The Sacred Riberia region of Galicia was home to the most important wine growing regions of the Middle Ages. Today, it is rising once again, producing some superb white and “toasted” wines which are gathering attention worldwide.

 

2007

The Labyrinth of Solitude – Yucatan, Mexico

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Set between the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula is a region forged by the fusion of Mayan, traditional Mexican and Spanish influences. We will explore this unique and proud culture through guided and independent excursions and in-depth discussions of some of Mexico’s most creative literature. In addition to leading our discussions, Toronto novelist Béa Gonzalez will give informal talks on various aspects of Mexican culture and history. Andrew Graham, a knowledgeable and experienced birder, will be on hand to guide birdwatching tours for those who are interested. While there we will also be introduced to all things Yucatecan by our spirited local guide, Braulio Rosales.

Our trip begins in the historic and artistic centre of the beautiful colonial city of Mérida, known as the “cultural capital of the Americas.” From Mérida we will take day trips to the magical town of Izamal and to the estuary at Celestún. We will also be spending one night at the Hacienda Chichen Resort in Chichen Itza where we will tour the spectacular Mayan ruins. In Mérida, we will visit the main attractions, take a Yucatecan cooking class and rejoice in the many cultural offerings of the city.

 

Mystery & Manners in Savannah – Savannah, Georgia

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To read Flannery O’Connor’s fiction is to be amused, provoked, and pushed to reconsider ourselves and our place in the world. A Roman Catholic and a native of Georgia, O’Connor created stories that inimitably blend humour, horror, and the mysteries of faith. While her writing is richly specific, evoking the dusty back roads and quirky characters of the American South, it deals powerfully with universal questions: What does it mean to

be good? How should we live? What is the meaning of death? How can the divine penetrate the everyday world? In her essays, O’Connor delves deeply into the mystery of writing, why people do it, struggle over it and sacrifice so much of themselves for it.

Our base will be Savannah, O’Connor’s birthplace and childhood home. Here we will hold our discussions, visit the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home Foundation and explore this beautiful antebellum city’s striking architecture, laid out around
twenty-four squares. We will travel by private coach to Milledgeville, where we will be received at Andalusia, the O’Connor family farm, by a close personal friend of hers and where we will watch a movie of her short story, “The Displaced Person.”

 

To Hell and Back with Dante:

The Flowering of the Late Middle Ages in Italy

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Florence is one of the world’s most beautiful cities, with its domes, towers and frescoed palazzos. The home of Leonardo and Michelangelo, here the Italian Renaissance was born. Yet for many Florentines, the city’s most illustrious son is not an artist, but a poet: Dante Alighieri.

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita

mi retrovai per una selva oscura

che la diritta via era smarrita.

In the middle of the road of our life

I awoke in a dark wood

where the straight way was lost.

Thus opens The Divine Comedy, an epic journey thorough hell, purgatory, and paradise. Along the way, Dante sees the full range of the human soul, from sin and sorrow to love and wisdom. We will follow this remarkable journey by reading excerpts from the Comedy, which weaves together myth, theology, history, and vivid portraits of Dante’s contemporaries.

Two of his contemporaries, Giotto and St. Francis of Assisi give a fuller picture of Dante’s faith and times. Francis, with his mystical vision, vows of holy poverty, and love for all of God’s creatures, continues to have a profound influence. Giotto, often called the ‘father of Western art,’ painted a series of frescoes that gave visual form to the new humanism of Dante and Francis. With a bold new naturalism he modeled the outer form of men and women to reveal their inner feelings.

We will spend six nights in Florence and four nights in a villa in the surrounding hills. We will be guided on foot through the medieval city Dante might have known and explore Renaissance churches and renowned museums. We will discuss The Divine Comedy and the poetry of St. Francis and Jacopone da Todi. We will make excursions to Assisi, the beautiful hill-town of Francis’ birth, to view Giotto’s frescoes and to talk with the Franciscan friars and sisters, and to Siena to see its magnificent cathedral and civic square. And naturally, we will enjoy fine Tuscan food and wine.

 

Galicia – A Journey into the Heart of Mystical Spain

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In the northwest corner of Spain lies Galicia, a land of mist and green, the end of the world for the Greeks and where Homer thought that the sun completed its circle. This is Celtic Spain, an interior land where myths and poetry abound and one is never too far from a monastery. The continent’s highest cliffs are to be found here, but also the fertile unions of sea and land which are

the rias, remarkable formations where the ocean calms and penetrates inland to bring life. Old prominent hills worn down by erosion abound and lush valleys appear here and there carved out by a thousand rivers. In the remotest spots are the briars, the ancient, mysterious forest.

Galicia is also home to one of the most important pilgrimages of the Catholic Middle Ages – the end of the road along the Milky Way that has as its destination the spectacular Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Along the cobble stone streets of this beautiful city the bagpipes sound out, merging hauntingly with the ringing of church bells.

To help us unearth the mysteries we will be discussing selections from Spain’s best loved mystical poets – St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa de Avila. We will also be reading the poetry of Galicia’s greatest literary luminary, Rosalia de Castro. Together we will visit the Roman cities of Lugo and Orense, the spectacular medieval city of Santiago de Compostela and the town of Ribadavia, whose old Jewish quarter has been declared

a cultural monument. Our lodgings will be in the countryside, surrounded by the natural splendour that makes Galicia so

distinctive. We will be accompanied on our trip by Rob Castle, Cantor at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, who will give short Gregorian recitals and talks about monastic life and history.

 

The American Southwest: The Power of Place – Santa Fe, New Mexico

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Discover the power landscape has on how its inhabitants live, think and see the world in Santa Fe, America’s oldest capital city: a city whose beautiful, brown adobe architecture blends with the high desert terrain and whose great art and culinary tradition are recognized world-wide.

We will discuss the epic novel, Angle of Repose, in which Wallace Stegner exposed the myth of America’s West as a land of golden opportunity and fearless cowboys. The landscape becomes a character in its own right, deserving of fear and respect, and forcing its will on the people who carve their homes out of its resistant rock and soil.

One morning we will visit Stan and Rosemary Crawford, founders of the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market and garlic farmers, at their home in rural Dixon. They will tell us about how their environment colours their lives, including how their neighbours conserve and share scarce water. In the afternoon, we will travel along the scenic Taos High Road to the tiny old Spanish village of Chimayo, where we will be guided by local novelist and photographer, Don Usner, through the Santuario, a legendary church thought to have healing powers, and thence to the workshop of award-winning traditional rug weavers, Irvin and Lisa Trujillo. Another day, we will pay a visit to a local pueblo and then drive on to Abiquiú where we will tour the high desert home of Georgia O’Keeffe and behold her beloved painted landscape of dramatically coloured, enormous cliffs and hills.

Fall is a perfect time to come to New Mexico. The whispering aspens turn the mountains gold and the air is sunny, clear and crisp. There will be ample unscheduled time to wander through the back streets, the public squares and the many museums and galleries.

 

2006

Vive le Québec Libre!

“Je me souviens”

For 400 years, the sun has risen and set over the cradle of French North America – Quebec City. This historical city is the only urban area in North America to be added to the prestigious list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Our aim is to slip into the sabots (traditional wooden clogs) of French Quebecers and come to understand better how they see themselves and the vast English world that surrounds them. We will discover the emotional meaning of the motto appearing on Quebec license plates, “je me souviens” (I remember). And we will eat fabulously well.

We will explore the vast impact on Quebec society of the “Quiet Revolution” The Quiet Revolution is the name given to a period of Québec history extending from 1960 to 1966, a period of intense social change, of modernization and of a profound redefinition of the role of Quebec and French Canadians within Confederation.

One of the most important books to come out of Quebec, Thirty Acres traces the course of one man’s life as he enters into the age-old rhythms of the land and of the seasons. At the same time, it is a novel on a grand social scale, spanning and documenting the tumultuous half-century in which a new, industrial urban society crowded out Quebec’s traditional rural one.

A landmark of nationalist fiction, Hugh MacLennan’s Two Solitudes is the story of two races within one nation, each with its own legend and ideas of what a nation should be. In his vivid portrayals of human drama in prewar Québec, MacLennan focuses on two individuals whose love increases the prejudices that surround them until they discover that “love consists in this, that two solitudes protect, and touch and greet each other.”

Quebec physician-writer, Jacques Ferron was a fabulous storyteller. Two decades after his death, Dr. Ferron’s voluminous body of writing, much of it based on his experiences as a rural family doctor, continues to amuse and bemuse. “He was very imaginative and a very good observer of people, life and society. He was also very engaged socially, and he had something to say about almost everything, from Quebec nationalism, which was one of his major preoccupations, to medicine and education.

 

The Other Poland – Krakow

A land of imagination and longing

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Poland is a country of contradictions. Oppressed by just about every neighbor from Nazi Germany to the USSR/Russia, many in the West associate Poland only with a dark and tragic history. Perhaps this history provided the seeds of Poland’s rich tradition of literary, musical, and artistic expression. The miracle years following the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1989 signaled a new awakening for this former Soviet satellite and a new and spirited flourishing of creative culture.

The ancient city of Krakow, founded over a thousand years ago, is a wonderful place to consider the imaginative expression of the Other Poland. This beautiful city represents much of the historical, cultural, and intellectual heart of the nation. Krakow escaped destruction during the Second World War, making it possible to walk and marvel in a city where the stones truly tell the stories of its past. Krakow’s wonderful museums and living history are complemented by a vibrant café life and a multitude of summer festivals. Other areas of Krakow hold painful memories: Spielberg shot Schindler’s List on location in the original Jewish part of the town, Kazimierz.

Through the works of outstanding 20th-century Polish poets (Milosz, Rozewicz, Zagajewski, and Szymborska), novelists (Hanna Krall), filmmakers (Zanussi, Wajda, and Kieslowski), composers (Gorecki, Penderecki, and Preisner), and graphic artists (Nowosielski, Wyspianski, Lenica, and Rybczynski) we will acquaint ourselves with the Other Poland.

 

A Piece of the Rock

Literary Newfoundland

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Tiny Quirpon Island, one of “the world’s most secluded destinations” according to the London Sunday Times, affords you the opportunity to be at home with whales, icebergs, the sea and your self. As North America meets the Atlantic Ocean, at the northernmost point in Newfoundland, overlooking the Viking site of L’Anse aux Meadows, meet with your only (human) neighbors to discuss two novels of Newfoundland. Experience the importance of remoteness on the culture of Newfoundland at one of its most beautiful and solitary spots. The Quirpon Lighthouse Inn is a superb location for iceberg viewing and whale watching, a place to slow down in the (nearly) midnight sun of the summer solstice, at the edge of the world.

Several thousand of the icebergs produced by the Greenland ice cap reach the Newfoundland waters each year, starting in the north at Quirpon Island, known as “Iceberg Alley.” June is considered the best month for iceberg viewing. The ice that makes up an iceberg is believed to be at least 12,000 years old.

Many bird and whale species spend considerable time around the tip of the Northern Peninsula near Quirpon Island. Humpbacks are very common and favourites of viewers due to their spectacular tail displays. Minke are also plentiful and other species such as Orca and Right whales visit these waters. Boats, kayaks and the Lighthouse itself offer excellent opportunities to spot the whales. With the right light you can actually look down through the water and see the Humpbacks as they swim by and feed at your feet. Many days it is quiet enough to read in the new indoor whale watching station and still hear the whales as they surface.

 

2005

Irish Literary Genius

ReJoyce! in urbane Dublin; Yeats and Synge on the wild and mystical Aran Islands

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We will focus much of our attention while in urbane Dublin on James Joyce, arguably the 20th century’s most influential novelist. We will discuss Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and “The Dead” from Dubliners. And we will not be able to resist Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest. We will take full advantage of Bloomsday, a kind of literary Holyday celebrated around the world, and especially in Dublin. It is a celebration of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses, in which Leopold Bloom, a Dublin Jew, goes about his life in the city of Dublin on June 16, 1904. We will hang out with local actors, writers, and musicians.

During the second week we will decamp to the wildly beautiful and mystical Aran Islands, where we will make our home in Kilronan village, right beside the pubs and the shops and the music sessions. We will spend the week discussing and reading aloud the poetry and plays of some of Ireland’s best, especially those with a special affinity for the West, e.g., W.B. Yeats, John Millington Synge, and Martin McDonough.

 

On Persephone’s Island – Sicily

A place apart

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Our group will convene in Rome for the first night and then travel together by air Palermo. For five days we will be based in Palermo, the resurgent capital city of Sicily that combines the Baroque, Arabic, and Byzantine within a warren of medieval streets and ancient marketplaces. From Palermo, we will make the short excursion to the extraordinary medieval mosaics at Monreale, a fitting tribute to the accomplishments of the Norman conquest. The second leg of the journey will be by private coach to the medieval mountaintop town of Erice, a place imbued with mythological associations, and an ancient site dedicated to Venus. In this western part of Sicily, we will visit one of the world’s most perfectly preserved Greek temples at Segesta and the old world city of Trapani with it’s Graeco-Arabic roots, and world-famous salt flats. We will then decamp to the Ionian Sea coast town of Siracusa (ancient Athen’s great rival, Syracuse) for our remaining five days in Sicily. Our route to Siracuse by private coach we will allow us to tour the breathtaking Greek temples of Agrigento and dine in the sparkling baroque city of Ragusa Ibla. Siracusa, settled by early Greek colonists in 733 BC, is the Sicilian city best manifesting a visible continuity with its ancient Greek past, both in historical and mythological terms. From Siracusa, we will make a special excursion to the honey-coloured tuffa built town of Noto, completely reconstructed after one of Sicily’s many devastating earthquakes and now a treasure trove of baroque architectural stylings. We will also allow time for optional day trips to such marvels as Mount Etna, the famed Taormina and the splendid Roman mosaics of the Villa Imperiale del Casale. We will return to Rome by air from Catania for our last night together with a farewell dinner.

2004

The Glory that was Rome

Look at the architecture of almost any city hall, trace the roots of innumerable English words, consider the structure of our legislative bodies and legal codes, and you will find the Romans. From obscure beginnings as a small local community in central Italy, by the first century BCE the Romans had reached a political crisis the outcome of which would profoundly shape all subsequent Western history. Join us for two glorious weeks while we explore together this era, both through the words of the Roman writers who most deeply understood their world, and through the architecture and landscapes where they vividly left their mark.

We will make full use of splendid resources, fully alive and long dead, to appreciate the Rome’s political, military and cultural legacy and to understand what can go wrong with progressive programs when a people who fail to rule themselves become the willing subjects of a man with an army.

The Elixir of Andalucia

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Long considered the heart of Spain, Andalucia is the region that has provided the world with the most potent symbols associated with the country – bullfighting, flamenco dancing, olive groves and the white villages that lie there still untouched by time.

Successive invaders, including the Phoenicians, Romans, Visigoths and Moors, have all left their indelible mark. Although the Christian rulers of Spain ejected both Jews and Moors from their kingdom, they could not remove their influences on the country – let alone on Andalusia. Centuries of Moorish occupation and the inevitable mingling of blood have created a race and culture different from any in Europe.

You will find abundant physical evidence of the Moorish legacy, in the splendour of the Alhambra in Granada and the Mezquita in Córdoba, and in ruined fortresses and elaborate tile work. Andalusia was also an important center of Jewish culture, with significant settlements in Seville, Granada, and Córdoba, the birthplace of Maimonides, and home to the country’s second oldest synagogue.

No writer has plumbed the depths of Andalucia more profoundly than the twentieth-century poet, Federico García Lorca. Fascinated from an early age by Andalucia’s mixed heritage, he adapted its ancient folk songs, ballads, lullabies, and flamenco music into his poems and plays. His tragic death in the early days of the Spanish Civil War marks a turning point for the nation itself.

Join us for ten intoxicating days as we focus on several of the ingredients that make up the unique Elixir of Andalucia.

 
 
 

Thoughtful Vacations for Inquiring Adults with
The world's best literature, art and music as our guides.