Thursday, October 10, 2013


Happiness is a full cellar. I'm grinning ear to ear because our ideal location on the southwest slopes of Montalcino has allowed 80% of our Sangiovese grapes (for Brunello di Montalcino) to make it into the cellar - perfectly ripe and mature by Friday, Oct 4th afternoon. Just in time to beat the torrential rains of Saturday.

Amazing color; perfumes to die for; tannins, acidity and PH perfect. Many say it's the best Brunello vintage in the last 30 years.

The remaining 20%? Something for the birds in winter.

Thank you Patron Saint of Vintners, whoever you are!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Want to vicariously travel the seven seas? Need a calendar for 2014? Ours just came out! 

"The Seven Seas Calendar will take you to the last reaches of natural beauty, solitude, and silence. Sail away to another time, to where there is only sea and sun and the night sky thick with stars. Anchor at islands with names like Orkney, Tonga, and Huahine. Nautical charts enhance each journey to hidden coves and magical archipelagos."

• 31st year as North America’s #1 sailing calendar
• Highest quality, suitable for framing

Order from W. W. Norton or

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Glow of Dawn, Venice

The glow of dawn. The mystery of the darkness seeps into the stones, the canals, the lagoon. In windows, the first lights shine; looking forward to the promises of the day, but still—or already—longing for the night.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Rick Steves Interview

Check out a fun interview I did with Rick that recently aired about my historical adventure novels. The first, Ghost Sea, takes place in British Columbia's wild northern islands and the second, Sea of Lost Dreams, unfolds in Tahiti and the Marquesas.

Romance, Anthropology and Sailing - all in one thrilling series! Stay tuned for the third installment of Dugger & Nello's adventures.

"It's Joseph Conrad meets Elmore Leonard."—Vancouver Sun

and the sequel...

Reviews for Ghost Sea:

“A great read; not only a gripping story but also one of the most dramatic and detailed sailing adventures of all time.” —Walter Cronkite

“Ferenc Maté has re-invented the genre we haven't seen since London and Conrad; polished writing, humanism and sheer adventurism.”—WoodenBoat

“An hypnotic tale written by a master mariner and story teller… Sure to be a treasured classic.”—Pacific Yachting

“What a novel! I loved it from the first pages….a novel of substance and a page-turner.”
Cruising World

“An action-packed sea adventure that's also an anthropological thriller.”—John Rousmaniere, author of The Annapolis Book of Seamanship and After the Storm

Reviews for Sea of Lost Dreams:

“Gut-wrenching action, characters so beautifully damaged that your heart will ache for them, with a storm saga that could only have been written by a deep water sailor. The best ‘Tahiti’ novel since Mutiny on the Bounty.”—Mark Anderson, Adventure TI

“Profoundly moving, deeply disturbing and terrifyingly beautiful. The characters are strong yet mysterious; the action is never-ending and compelling. Ferenc Maté is the leading sailing adventure writer of our time”—WoodenBoat

Sea of Lost Dreams will be a timeless classic. Mr. Maté has taken the baton handed him by Joseph Conrad and Herman Melville.”—Primo

“One hell of a storm-tossed voyage full of intrigue, romance and surprise. You won't put down Sea of Lost Dreams once you've cracked the cover.”—Cruising World

“A thrilling page-turner. A gripping search in a violent world of revolution in the South Seas of the 1920s.”
John Rousmaniere

Monday, August 19, 2013

Fountains of Sparkling Light

On a hot July evening - the night of the Savior - Venetians drag their kitchen tables and chairs onto the shores of the lagoon and sit down to a meal that lasts into the night. 

Near midnight, the sky comes alive. Fireworks bathe the ancient city in fountains of sparkling light.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Venice Nights

A midnight walk on a summer night along twisting canals, over graceful bridges. Such silence. 

So good to be lost. To lose yourself to the darkness.

Recent photos of Venice which appear on this blog are from Ferenc Máté's upcoming work of photography, VENICE NIGHTS (coming out in 2014)

Friday, July 12, 2013


The Dolomite mountains are a dramatic break from Tuscany’s paradise. I love the ancient hamlets, flower laden pastures, and soaring pink-rocked mountains with snow-bridges and waterfalls. 

No other place makes me feel as vibrantly alive.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Tiny chapel

A tiny chapel in a green sea of Tuscan hills. Each time I pass, I stop and linger. Something about its simplicity lifts my heart and soothes my soul.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Tuscan Treat in June

June's warmth coupled with brief, pouring rain produce one famous Tuscan treat: mushrooms.

Tall, pale parasol-looking things called pupoli—so good rolled in flower and fried in oil - appear. Then of course porcini, great anyway you want it: grilled whole or chopped fine for sugo.

Last—and perhaps best—is Candace’s favorite: chanterelles. At dawn, she ventures out into the still-wet woods, and comes back flushed, her basket full of strangely shaped orange things that soon fill the house with their pungent perfume.

She stir fries them with garlic and serves them over Nunsi’s hand made fettucini. Nothing compares to the explosion of redolent earthy flavors in that first bite.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Colors of a Tuscan Spring

With the lush spring rains, nature in the Tuscan hills puts on her festive best.
The almond trees bloom first, then the ditches and roadsides burst thick with wild flowers.

Blinding green meadows of wheat, fields of rapeseed as yellow as buttercups.

In late afternoon, poppies with the sun behind them glow like flames. On warm days the air is thick and sweet; a deep breath of it is food for the soul.

Recent photos which appear on this blog are from Ferenc Máté's upcoming work of photography, The Seasons of Tuscany (coming out in 2014)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Spring in Bloom

We discovered an old stone cistern hidden behind the house. Cut into the hillside, it was covered by a dome of brambles that took two of us three long days to clear. Spring-fed and the size of a backyard pool, it had been built to gather water for pigs and cows and to irrigate the big orto—vegetable garden—beside the courtyard.

I had always admired Japanese gardens: their serenity, simplicity but especially their ponds, and thought our carrots, spuds and tomatoes wouldn't mind being watered from a cistern full of fish and water lilies, so I set to work. In February, I built two wooden planters for what the nurseryman swore would be dazzling pink and white water lilies but for the moment were slimy, wet roots. With incredulity, I watched the muddy planters sink to the bottom.

Next, I bought some fish. I imagined they’d be wonderful to gaze at, swimming gracefully among the flowers. I bought eight of them. Each the size of a child’s finger. They had looked golden and lively in the pet shop aquarium, and sparkled in the sun as we slipped them into the cistern. But then, instead of entertaining us with their grace, they vanished into the mud. Day after day, I scattered flakes of fish food but the only ones to show up were a frog and our cat, who watched for the fish with a gastronomical eye.

Then April arrived. Spindly green shoots sprang out of the mud, and the eight fish darting about had tripled in size—three of them with bellies like pregnant sows. By May, the shoots unfurled into lily pads with fat little buds that bloomed the next week. And the fish? Hundreds of them: tiny, gold and black, and pearl, swarming in schools among the lilies, racing to the surface when I came to feed them, then playing under the waterfall that tumbled from the spring.

Now, sitting on the wooden bench in the shade of the old oak and watching them—the lilies, the fish, the frog on the lily pad—you breathe deeply as you escape the day’s petty troubles.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

On Sunday Afternoon

I set out on my favorite kind of trip this morning: a broad loop through the countryside on the back roads of Tuscany. It was to be a 40-mile journey—all open country—through two tiny villages, from the first hills beyond the Albegna River’s delta up to where it springs from the mountainside. After the village of Marsiliana, I turned off the narrow road onto a single lane that wasn't even on the map. I couldn't resist. The hand painted sign read Colle di Lupo. Hill of the Wolf.

Banks of wildflowers brushed against the car. With the top down, the sun and their fragrance whirled around me. I stopped here and there to photograph the scenery, bales of hay and a big white long-horned Chianina cow; to talk to a man with a sickle cutting erba medica for his rabbits; to a lady herding a big rooster across her yard; and for an orange cat lying in the middle of the road. The cat stared intently at a deep crack in the pavement; it wouldn't move. I shut off the motor and went to photograph some sheep.

I soon stumbled onto a hilltop of Etruscan ruins. From there, I had a bird’s eye view of southern Tuscany. It was almost the end of the day. 

Total distance covered: just over 3 miles.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Grilled prawns

On Tuesday and Friday mornings a family of fisherman come to our town from the coast. They set up a stand in a former cellar under Piazza Padella and we line up to buy freshly caught dentice, spigola and delicate calamari, mussels from Sardegna and vongole from Orbetello.

The best are the prawns, that we skewer, douse with fresh olive oil, chopped parsley and garlic, then roast over the coals of our kitchen fire. 

Heaven.  If life has a meaning, the taste of those prawns paired with a bottle of Ansonica from the Island of Giglio, might just be it. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Wide Open Spaces

I have never seen a wide open space

as welcoming and reassuring as the heart of Tuscany. 
You can see the centuries of love that went into working this land: 
Respect for the gentle knolls, for a lone tree here, 
dense woods there, or a ditch that winds among them in the shadows. 
All that care makes you feel at home.
It is a place of great solitude but never loneliness; 
its beauty simply fills your soul.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Tuscan Landscapes

Springtime. The air is fresh, clear and warm. The clouds sail on the breeze and paint the land with fleeting shadows. Few things make me feel as exuberantly alive as putting down the top of our old sports car and heading out on the winding, silent, wildflower-lined backroads through the hills of Tuscany. The roads are empty. You can stop, sit on a pasture’s edge, and with some bread, cheese and a bottle of rich red wine, gaze at the wavy fields, the tiny cops of woods, rows of olives and, here and there, an ancient stone house nestled among them. Looks like a 15th century painting. One of God’s masterpieces.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Merlot Award

Máté 2010 Merlot: the Best in Italy!

Our Máté 2010 Mantus won top honours as the number one Merlot 
in the Merlot d'Italia/Mondo Merlot 2012 competition

It's one thing to love your own wine, quite another to have it win expert acclaim. Most of you know our Brunello (scoring 95 pts) and our beloved Syrah that grows on 2,000-year-old, south-facing terraces, but now our Merlot—named "Mantus" after an Etruscan God of Wine—has won 1st prize at Italy's 10th Annual "Mondo Merlot" Awards.

We had a bottle of the 2010 Vintage last night, and it sure is easy to fall in love with. 

To Candace and Buster for their dedicated—near obsessive—work in the wine cellar, a big, heartfelt, "Salute!"

Tasting Room Radio Interview

Check out a great interview with Candace about our wines.

To listen, visit:

Wine Spectator Interview

Monday, April 1, 2013

"Children should be allowed to get bored..." from BBC news

When our son Buster was 5 years old we decided to spend the summer sailing aboard a boat we had built and lived aboard for years. Our destination was the wild and empty archipelogos and mountainous fjords, of the British Cloumbia coast. We provisioned for two months: supplies, spare parts, food, wine and clothes for heat, wind and rain. What we completely forgot were Buster’s toys.

In his pocket he had one little car and that was that. By the time we realized this, we’d been a whole day at sea, far from civilization. We felt horrible thinking he’d be forever bored.

But Buster didn’t care. The boat and everything on it became his toys. He wanted—and learned instantly—to steer, set the sails, follow a compass course, locate us on the charts and, mostly, how to row our little wooden dinghy once we anchored.a

And there was the rope. A three-foot piece of rope became his best friend, his toy, and his pet that he took for walks. He also learned to tie it into ten different knots. He took it with him when he went to greet each and every sailboat that came into the quiet anchorages we found along the way. He got to know everyone, was loved by all, invited aboard by most.

Late that summer a former attaché to the United Nations rowed over to tell us he was sure that Buster, with his love for and interest in people, would one day be the UN’s Secretary General.

All because we forgot his toys at home.

Children should be allowed to get bored, expert says
By Hannah Richardson, BBC News education reporter

Children should be allowed to get bored so they can develop their innate ability to be creative, an education expert says.

Dr Teresa Belton told the BBC cultural expectations that children should be constantly active could hamper the development of their imagination.

She quizzed author Meera Syal and artist Grayson Perry about how boredom had aided their creativity as children.

Syal said boredom made her write, while Perry said it was a "creative state".

The senior researcher at the University of East Anglia's School of Education and Lifelong Learning interviewed a number of authors, artists and scientists in her exploration of the effects of boredom.

She heard Syal's memories of the small mining village, with few distractions, where she grew up.

Dr Belton said: "Lack of things to do spurred her to talk to people she would not  otherwise have engaged with and to try activities she would not, under other circumstances, have experienced, such as talking to elderly neighbours and learning to bake cakes.

"Boredom is often associated with solitude and Syal spent hours of her early life staring out of the window across fields and woods, watching the changing weather and seasons.

"But importantly boredom made her write. She kept a diary from a young age, filling it with observations, short stories, poems, and diatribe. And she attributes these early beginnings to becoming a writer late in life."


The comedienne turned writer said: "Enforced solitude alone with a blank page is a wonderful spur."

While Perry said boredom was also beneficial for adults: "As I get older, I appreciate reflection and boredom. Boredom is a very creative state."

And neuroscientist and expert on brain deterioration Prof Susan Greenfield, who also spoke to the academic, recalled a childhood in a family with little money and no siblings until she was 13.

"She happily entertained herself with making up stories, drawing pictures of her stories and going to the library."

Dr Belton, who is an expert in the impact of emotions on behaviour and learning, said boredom could be an "uncomfortable feeling" and that society had "developed an expectation of being constantly occupied and constantly stimulated".

But she warned that being creative "involves being able to develop internal stimulus".

"Nature abhors a vacuum and we try to fill it," she said. "Some young people who do not have the interior resources or the responses to deal with that boredom creatively then sometimes end up smashing up bus shelters or taking cars out for a joyride."

'Short circuit'

The academic, who has previously studied the impact of television and videos on children's writing, said: "When children have nothing to do now, they immediately switch on the TV, the computer, the phone or some kind of screen. The time they spend on these things has increased.

"But children need to have stand-and-stare time, time imagining and pursuing their own thinking processes or assimilating their experiences through play or just observing the world around them."

It is this sort of thing that stimulates the imagination, she said, while the screen "tends to short circuit that process and the development of creative capacity".

Syal adds: "You begin to write because there is nothing to prove, nothing to lose, nothing else to do.

"It's very freeing being creative for no other reason other than you freewheel and fill time."

Dr Belton concluded: "For the sake of creativity perhaps we need to slow down and stay offline from time to time."

Sunday, March 24, 2013

"You Phone vs. Your Heart" by Barbara Fredrickson

Friends, here's an important article from today's NY Times by Barbara Fredrickson. 

Another reason to connect face to face instead of phone to phone. 

Your Phone vs. Your Heart

CAN you remember the last time you were in a public space in America and didn’t notice that half the people around you were bent over a digital screen, thumbing a connection to somewhere else?
Most of us are well aware of the convenience that instant electronic access provides. Less has been said about the costs. Research that my colleagues and I have just completed, to be published in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science, suggests that one measurable toll may be on our biological capacity to connect with other people.
Our ingrained habits change us. Neurons that fire together, wire together, neuroscientists like to say, reflecting the increasing evidence that experiences leave imprints on our neural pathways, a phenomenon called neuroplasticity. Any habit molds the very structure of your brain in ways that strengthen your proclivity for that habit.
Plasticity, the propensity to be shaped by experience, isn’t limited to the brain. You already know that when you lead a sedentary life, your muscles atrophy to diminish your physical strength. What you may not know is that your habits of social connection also leave their own physical imprint on you.
How much time do you typically spend with others? And when you do, how connected and attuned to them do you feel? Your answers to these simple questions may well reveal your biological capacity to connect.
My research team and I conducted a longitudinal field experiment on the effects of learning skills for cultivating warmer interpersonal connections in daily life. Half the participants, chosen at random, attended a six-week workshop on an ancient mind-training practice known as metta, or “lovingkindness,” that teaches participants to develop more warmth and tenderness toward themselves and others.
We discovered that the meditators not only felt more upbeat and socially connected; but they also altered a key part of their cardiovascular system called vagal tone. Scientists used to think vagal tone was largely stable, like your height in adulthood. Our data show that this part of you is plastic, too, and altered by your social habits.
To appreciate why this matters, here’s a quick anatomy lesson. Your brain is tied to your heart by your vagus nerve. Subtle variations in your heart rate reveal the strength of this brain-heart connection, and as such, heart-rate variability provides an index of your vagal tone.
By and large, the higher your vagal tone the better. It means your body is better able to regulate the internal systems that keep you healthy, like your cardiovascular, glucose and immune responses.
Beyond these health effects, the behavioral neuroscientist Stephen Porges has shown that vagal tone is central to things like facial expressivity and the ability to tune in to the frequency of the human voice. By increasing people’s vagal tone, we increase their capacity for connection, friendship and empathy.
In short, the more attuned to others you become, the healthier you become, and vice versa. This mutual influence also explains how a lack of positive social contact diminishes people. Your heart’s capacity for friendship also obeys the biological law of “use it or lose it.” If you don’t regularly exercise your ability to connect face to face, you’ll eventually find yourself lacking some of the basic biological capacity to do so.
The human body — and thereby our human potential — is far more plastic or amenable to change than most of us realize. The new field of social genomics, made possible by the sequencing of the human genome, tells us that the ways our and our children’s genes are expressed at the cellular level is plastic, too, responsive to habitual experiences and actions.
Work in social genomics reveals that our personal histories of social connection or loneliness, for instance, alter how our genes are expressed within the cells of our immune system. New parents may need to worry less about genetic testing and more about how their own actions — like texting while breast-feeding or otherwise paying more attention to their phone than their child — leave life-limiting fingerprints on their and their children’s gene expression.
When you share a smile or laugh with someone face to face, a discernible synchrony emerges between you, as your gestures and biochemistries, even your respective neural firings, come to mirror each other. It’s micro-moments like these, in which a wave of good feeling rolls through two brains and bodies at once, that build your capacity to empathize as well as to improve your health.
If you don’t regularly exercise this capacity, it withers. Lucky for us, connecting with others does good and feels good, and opportunities to do so abound.
So the next time you see a friend, or a child, spending too much of their day facing a screen, extend a hand and invite him back to the world of real social encounters. You’ll not only build up his health and empathic skills, but yours as well. Friends don’t let friends lose their capacity for humanity.

Barbara L. Fredrickson is a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and the author of “Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become.”

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Strangers in the Night (and Day) (excerpt from A REAL LIFE)

Strangers in the Night (and Day)

The universal adman’s image of human closeness is two lovers on a promontory, backs to us, entwined, sun going down, golden light bursting, and mood music effusing. What we don’t see or hear are their cell phones vibrating, their fingers twitching over text messages and the cords of their MP3 players hanging from their ears.
As if our social exile wasn’t quite complete by dividing us into marketable age groups, sticking us into isolating houses, and isolating jobs, we are driven apart even more by attention-demanding electronic gadgets. I’ll give but two short examples of how it all began.
We lived in Paris in 1982. Parisians love to talk—their whole economy is based on it; bars, bistros, and restaurants survive only because people get together for an espresso or un verre or meal, but mostly for intense conversation: personal, philosophical and invariably probing. Hence most encounters between friends end up being memorable, exhaustive events.
A dear friend was driving me to a soirée and, as always, she talked about, what else: lovers, sex, lies, loss, and new lovers. We were having a good talk, open and honest; we were confidants, just she and I in that little Citroen, and all of Paris a backdrop. Then all of a sudden—for the first time in my life—a brand new device, her car phone rang. She answered and chatted. She might as well have pushed me from the moving car. Our intimacy, solemnity, the deep trust of the moment was no more. A distant had come between us; suddenly there was someone else with us in the car.
I hope you don’t think me melodramatic but the shock of that moment is still with me today.
Of course now our cell phones ring any place, any hour, whether we’re dining, or driving, in bed or on the moon—and we almost feel like social outcasts if it doesn’t. So we say we are now used to our social moments being interrupted, we say it’s all part of life, we adapt, we go on. But do we? The next time you’re having a special moment with a lover or a friend and his or her phone rings, close your eyes. Don’t listen to their conversation but listen to yourself—how does that make you feel. Happy? Joyful? Or ignored? Even betrayed? Just see if your heart sinks, and your spirit sags as the preciousness of that moment is lost.

The second electronic blow to social intimacy came a year later. We were living in New York in an old loft in Soho at a time when Soho was still nothing but boarded-up storefronts and garment sweatshops. Candace and I shared the loft with her best friend at art school, Giovanna. New York went through hard times then, the Lower Eastside was a near war-zone, the subway stops were reeking dungeons, many a subway car without lights or with doors that wouldn’t shut, the only reliable thing inside and out was graffiti.
But there were also truly good times, outrageous, spontaneous art, an explosion of impromptu galleries and eateries all over the East Village, late nights in bars, great blues music, deafening sounds in discos, wide open rowdy parties, and vivacious street life at all hours among the gutted buildings.
My shock came one Saturday afternoon. My head was throbbing with a hangover and my jaw sore from an altercation with a drunken yuppie who had insulted a painter friend. Giovanna decided we needed a quiet getaway on a boat that circumnavigated Manhattan. It was a beautiful spring day and the sights were fine. We laughed a lot, which made my sore jaw sorer, but it was fun traveling with two rowdy, pretty women. During a lull in conversation, Giovanna pulled out her newly acquired pride and joy, a Walkman. She put on her headphones and turned it on. To us she might as well have jumped over the side. She was gone. She no longer talked to us or heard us, or saw what we saw, or felt what we felt. It was as if she had slammed a door in our faces.
Twenty years later, these invisible doors are slamming in our faces dozens of times a day. When the cell phone rings, we tell ourselves that we’re tough and stoic, we can withstand these small rejections, but it’s these minuscule letdowns which strung end to end make up our lives and form us.
Whether we verbalize it or not—they affect us, harden us; bit by bit, they close us. And as they close us from each other, we drift apart, our conversations become more shallow, our laughter more mechanical, our sympathy more feigned.
If we can become thus distanced from our friends, just imagine how distant we are with perfect strangers. Not only do we no longer know or love our neighbor but, quite frankly my dear, we don’t give a damn. And if we don’t give a damn, why would the banker, who is about to foreclose on our house? Why would he even blink before he kicked us into the street? The banker sees his position clearly in the world: he’s all alone doing his job, looking out for Number One.Many would object, saying that these small isolations, the weakening of social bonds, have no great effect on the world, that more important things affect our daily lives. Think again. Take what happened to politics for instance. As a vast majority of Americans agreed in the 2010 midterm elections, Congress and Senate were doing a dismal job. The Democrats and Republicans had developed so much animosity that dialogue was almost impossible: everyone ranted, no one listened. This intransigent partisanship was not a condition that developed overnight; it snuck up over the years, like global warming, like the rabid financial system, like our dying neighborhoods.
Retiring Senator Dodd, who joined the senate thirty-six years ago, lamented that over the past two decades there has been a “stripping of the socialization, which is always what made this place function.”
He remembers the late hours in the members’ dining room, where senators mingled, where he sat enthralled listening to the old bulls. “As a new member, you just sat there and absorbed it as they would rib each other and sometimes have a heated debate about a subject,” he says. “It was as good an education as you could get about the place.”
Today, “there’s no one in that room.”

While some gadgets drive us apart, others keep us from ever coming together. The best example is that true marvel, the GPS. You just tell the little lady in the box where you want to go and she will get you there; all you have to do is turn on your ignition and turn off your mind.
The reassuring female voice tells you to slow here, turn there; it’s like directing an old cart horse but with electronic reins.
I admit, there is a relaxing brainlessness to the process, and most often the thing will get you safely where you were heading, aside from a few notable exceptions like the lady in Canada who, obeying her GPS, drove miles into a bog; and another in England, who drove into a river. On a daily basis, more than half the people coming to our house from Florence or Siena using GPS get lost; the last family so much so, that at one point their GPS fell into a coma.
For most of us, the GPS can turn travel into a disorienting void. A friend drove from London to his house in Tuscany using a GPS and said at journey’s end that half the time he had no clue where he was, and, upon arrival, felt as if he hadn’t been anywhere at all.
Others complain of going numb, with no thought and no reasoning; just sitting, waiting for the next command. One friend did notice that his GPS cut down marital fights; instead of shouting at his wife, he now shouts at the lady in the box. And she, instead of responding by crumpling up the map, just murmurs sweetly, “Turn left at the next right.”
A GPS, aside from shutting down your brain, keeping it from attentive observation, from doing basic arithmetic and simple problem solving, also tends to set your trip in stone. Once you key in your destination, you tend not to improvise, to veer off and take some small road on a whim, or head off toward some intriguing hillside town on an isolated coast.
But apart from that, there is a social sacrifice: the human contact you miss out on when you’re undecided or lost. I have traveled worldwide on author tours or just for the pure love of it, and have learned to rely on a simple electronic/voice device: I push a button, the car window goes down, and I yell out, “Where am I?”
It works every time—invariably someone, eventually, responds.
Some very fond memories are from encounters of the lost kind. I’ll never forget the dapper young Italian who stepped from his car into the pouring rain to explain the complex streets of the historic center of Ravenna to me, only to end up laughing at his own confusing instructions, jumping back in his car and shouting, “Follow me.”
In Guatemala, Candace and I were taken under wing by three brothers and, not only given directions, but also ushered into their mother’s house for lunch, then taken on a guided tour around a magnificent lake. Or the time in Sicily, when undecided between two roads, one along the coast and one inland, both marked green, meaning cenic, we stopped in a small town to ask local advice. Candace got out of the car and asked a local lady. The lady considered, looked at the map and gave longwinded directions. A gentleman passing by stopped and waved his arms. “That road there?’ he exclaimed, “I wouldn’t send my in-laws on that mule-trail.” The crowd grew. Soon there were six of them explaining, cajoling, countering, “Yes, but this has the view . . . but that one has the lake . . . but on this you can stop at Luigi’s for pranzo.”
Last Sunday we drove out to the sea to visit some Etruscan ruins near the town of Follonica. We arrived just before lunch and looked for the place a friend had suggested for excellent seafood. We got lost so we stopped at a small car repair place. Not only was the old mechanic happy to help, but also began advising on the best dishes on the menu. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a sign marked “Closed for holidays.” Back to the garage. The mechanic began to scratch his head then his eyes lit up. “Va bene,” he chimed. “I have it. Great food and romance,” and he described a place on piling jutting into the sea. He yelled after us, “And tell them to treat you right because Mimo sent you!”
The view was stunning, the owner friendly and gossipy, just the way we like it. The tagliatelle di mare and the pinci with clams in pesto sauce were to die for, the mixed seafood grill fresh as the sea, the bottle of Vernaccia was superb and the bill came discounted nearly 20 percent.
I’ll never forget Mimo’s smiling face, or the setting, or the meal. Not something the lady in the black box could have arranged.
These are admittedly small, fleeting events. None of the people became lifelong friends, or lovers, or sent us birthday greetings, but the memory of those meetings—brief human encounters, that come when you need them most, when you’re the most lost, forlorn or hungry—are encounters that restore your faith in human warmth, in simple generosity, in unremunerated caring.

Then there’s the pride thing. Candace and I have sailed many coasts and open waters, starting decades ago when all we had was a sextant and a compass. Nowadays, especially offshore, or off an unknown coastline, Candace, who navigates, wouldn’t be without her beloved GPS. I, on the other hand, never learned how to use it. Twice I had to sail big boats without her, solo.
Once was on a borrowed boat, sailing from the island of Raiatea to Bora Bora—about twenty miles. A storm had come through the previous night and big seas still ran in the morning, so from the trough of swells, all I saw was sky. The wind stayed high throughout the day and the sloop ran with all her might. From the top of the swells, I could spot the mountains of Bora Bora, but I couldn’t for the life of me see the only entrance to its lagoon: a narrow cut in the reef now covered by breaking waves. The trip, with a lot of gybing to avoid running wing and wing, took me seven hours. I made three runs at the reef to find the opening, twice I had to turn just boat-lengths from the coral, but, when I finally made it, I felt as proud as if had just circled the globe alone.
In a life as regimented and “safe” as most of ours tend to be; where we are seldom challenged, or called upon to think afresh, invent or improvise, I’ll happily take some chances, even risks, get lost, make mistakes, try again, just so that at day’s end I can have that incomparable sensation of having made it on my own; of having used all my senses, and been completely “alive.”

Then there are the games and apps our children appear to be attached to night and day, whether in cars, in their rooms, or at the dinner table. Exactly what positive contribution parents think they are making when buying them this stuff, I have no clue.
Parents rave about how new apps keep their children from getting bored on drives. Hello? What ever happened to gazing out the window, looking at the scenery? And even if the scenery isn’t always majestic, even if it’s a ghetto or industrial slum, is it not a good idea that they see it and think about it, so when they grow up and run the world they can remember how awful those places tend to be?
Even at the dinner table, game apps and iPads seem to be the norm. I saw a Russian family in Verona, sporting all the right jeans and longed-for shopping bags, sitting down in a good restaurant with their two children of around ten years old. They had barely pulled in their chairs when one child whipped out his iPad and the two of them started watching a movie. Not only did they not interact with their parents or each other, or barely notice the food they were shoveling into their faces, but the volume of the movie disturbed adjoining tables. Did the parents mull it over before Christmas to come up with the best package for teaching their children social isolation, culinary ignorance, absolute disregard of others, and how to be the most obnoxious children in the room?
Is it any wonder that some of our children grow up self-centered, uncaring, bored, and socially inept? How could they be anything else when parents put such antisocial weapons in their hands?
So what’s the solution? Turn the gadget off. Or, better still, don’t buy it in the first place. Brett Arends, a financial columnist for The Wall Street Journal, a paper about as conservative and technology-admiring as there is, wrote recently “I dumped my iPod Touch . . . The scarcest resource in life isn’t money, land, fresh water or gold. For singles under 25, the scarcest resource is sex, and for the rest of us it’s time.”

A REAL LIFE: Rediscovering the Roots of Our Happiness is available through 
W. W. Norton and or wherever books and ebooks are sold. 
For more about the author, please visit