118. Solo in Salento

She watched the sun rise over the Tuscan landscape and she wept.

IMG_3823It was the last day of her first journey to Italy, and she simply did not want to leave.  She and her husband had traveled widely, but somehow,  the spirit of this place grabbed hold of her.

Several years and many journeys later, she felt this growing need for reflection, healing and rebirth. In men, we might call it a midlife crisis, ending, as the stereotype goes, in an affair or an ill-considered sports car purchase.  But Donna Keel Armer knew what she needed. She needed a month of solitude and retreat in Italy, a time of quiet contemplation. And perhaps surprising herself most of all, she proceeded to make it happen.

She found herself drawn to Puglia in the south, and settled on the ancient walled city of Otronto, known for its 12th century mosaic floor in the Cathedral. IMG_8648She signed up for a week-long mosaic class there, more as a way to link herself to a concrete daily activity than an aspiration to master the craft. She got herself a beautiful little apartment with a view of the sea from her terrace, made friends with the locals, and just lived life there for a month.

kitchen - my favorite room
What a great kitchen – all my favorite colors!
Donna’s terrace with a view of the sea

One of her goals for this experience was to write about it, which ultimately became her newly-published book, Solo in Salento. She reached out to me through this blog to see if I would be interested in reading it, given our mutual love for Italy. Would I? She had basically lived the dream, my dream.


I enjoyed her book so much, I reached out and asked if she would chat with me a bit about it. Why did she feel that this was the answer to what she was seeking? After all, there are many less dramatic ways one can seek spiritual harmony than leaving husband and daily obligations behind and moving 4000 miles away. But Donna decided that she needed to go that far so she would not be tempted to throw in the towel at the first setback, or to run home when someone needed her. She wanted to be cut off from everything she knew — to force herself to speak the language, navigate the transportation system, shop in the markets, master the complicated recycling system, and even make friends. And it turned out that wherever she went, she found people eager to help her, and she felt a connection with everyone she met, except for two supremely clueless American tourists, who sometimes intruded on her time.

Donna with new Italian friend

I asked her what surprised her. She told me every day was a surprise. Thinking about it further, she found the mosaic class very challenging — it’s hard to cut those little pieces of stone and her final product includes spots of her blood — but she found a calm and peacefulness in the work that she didn’t expect. Flow, I think it’s called.

Donna’s work of art – If you look closely you can see little drips of her blood

I asked her what disappointed her.  Nothing.

What’s next? She has a beautiful little apartment on the sea in Sicily reserved for a month in the spring, in the hopes that it will be okay to travel then. This time, she’ll write a mystery.

What advice would she have for anyone (me!) who would contemplate such an adventure? “Do it! You won’t regret it.”

Dare I?






4 thoughts on “118. Solo in Salento

  1. What I also wouldn’t give to be able to do what Donna did and is planning to do. And if that’s the case for me, multiply it by 10 for you. I’m looking forward to reading all about it.


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