Weekend Reads: When in Rome . . .
“We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again — to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.” — Pico Iyer, “Why We Travel“
Feeling somewhat wistful this week, I found myself drawn — yet again — to the opening sentences of Pico Iyer’s beautiful essay. No matter how many times I have read those lines, they remain as timeless and relevant as when I first read them. Iyer’s words remind me why it’s important not to lose one’s sense of adventure.
In a new podcast, Carl Richards, also known as the “Sketch Guy,” tells Robin Powell what drove him and his family to move from Utah to New Zealand for a year. “We as a family, we really value adventure, and by adventure I mean navigating wild landscapes, if you will, whether those are cultural, or emotional, or environmental, or physical,” he says. After Carl’s wife nearly died in a climbing accident, he wrote a column about regret: “On your deathbed, it’s too late to make wish lists,” he tells readers, before challenging them to consider, “What’s on your wish list? What might you regret if you don’t do it soon?”
I’ve been thinking a lot about travel and adventure these past few weeks as I recently returned from a two-week holiday in Italy. This trip marked a first for me in one key respect: I decided not to check work email, Twitter, or to read the news media, for the duration. It was tough at first, but I was resolute and returned with a few insights:
- You’ve got to stick with your out-of-office message. If you say you’re not checking email but respond as soon as you receive one, nobody will believe what you say and you’ll be expected to reply throughout your so-called time off. And guess what? When I returned after two weeks, the building was still standing, the team was still working, and the world was still turning.
- Garbage in, garbage out. In tech, this is known as GIGO and refers to the idea that a computer is “only as good as the data it receives and the instructions it is given.” For me, GIGO refers to my psychological state. The more negative news I consume, the more jaded and negative I feel. I usually say “junk in, junk out,” when applying the phrase to my mental temperament. A good example is when I’m pushing myself during a hard workout. The moment I succumb to “junk,” or negativity, my willpower shrivels and I give in. Old habits die hard. I’ve been a reporter for most of my career, so checking the news is baked into my DNA. But freeing myself from my compulsion made me feel happier and allowed me to focus on reading.
- Less social media, more bibliotherapy. As Ceridwen Dovey put it in her essay, “Can Reading Make You Happier?” “Bibliotherapy is a very broad term for the ancient practice of encouraging reading for therapeutic effect.” Reading remains one of my greatest pleasures, but over the past few years, I’ve struggled to stay focused on the page. I can barely make it through one or two pages before flicking through my smartphone to check email, Twitter, and Facebook. There is more than a hint of irony that one of the books on my nightstand — that I have yet to open — is The Distracted Mind. So when I headed to Italy, I had to make a conscious choice to rid myself of distractions. As Shane Parrish writes, “As simple as it sounds, finding time to read boils down to choices about how you allocate your time.” I’m happy to report I made it through Christopher McDougall’s best-selling tome about running, Born to Run, (no doubt distinguishing myself as close-to-the-last runner on the planet to read it), and David Grann’s fascinating true-crime narrative, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI.
- I have a gaping hole in my education when it comes to the history of ancient Rome and want to learn more. Have any good suggestions for what I should read? Leave a comment below.
- It’s the simple things in life that count: lashings of extra virgin olive oil; a Bialetti stovetop espresso maker; quality coffee beans; fresh, seasonal local produce; freshly baked bread; a fine bottle of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (after all, In Vino Veritas, “There is truth in wine”); rest; and books.
And now, on to some articles and multimedia I have enjoyed in recent weeks, in case you missed them:
- “Adventurers are being sought for the first attempt by an all-woman team to walk to the North Pole. . . . Applications are invited from women of any age, background, and occupation, but they will have to prove fitness and commitment. They will have to put up with real pain and discomfort. They will wonder every ten steps what they are doing but they have the opportunity to take part in an epic endeavor.” So read a notice that appeared in the classified ads of The Telegraph that ultimately led to “The Amazing Story of the First All-Women North Pole Expedition.” (Smithsonian)
- After spending time walking around the Colosseum and Roman Forum, I had a desire to learn more. One of the first things I found is this video simulation, “Visualizing Imperial Rome” around the year 320 AD. (Khan Academy)
- When in Rome, eat amatriciana, one of the city’s staple pasta dishes. But never, ever make it with garlic. For if you do, you risk shame. According to officials in Amatrice, real amatriciana contains only six ingredients: pecorino cheese, white wine, guanciale (pork jowl), tomatoes from San Marzano, pepper, and chili. (The Guardian)
- “Nowhere in Italy, where calamity comes embellished with rococo gestures and embroidered in exclamation points, is there a crisis more beautifully framed than Venice. Neither land nor water, but shimmering somewhere in between, the city lifts like a mirage from a lagoon at the head of the Adriatic. For centuries it has threatened to vanish beneath the waves of the acqua alta, relentlessly regular flooding caused by the complicity of rising tides and sinking foundations, but that is the least of its problems.” See “Vanishing Venice.” (National Geographic)
- A look at Venice, Italy, during a flood and a short video about how La Serenissima, Bride of the Sea, works with its intricate web of canals, bridges, and wooden polls. (Boston Globe, Venice Backstage)
- “A Brief History of the World’s Most Influential Art Exhibition” (The Atlantic)
- If you are a regular reader, you will recall that I’ve included Oliver Sacks’s essay “Speak, Memory” in at least one roundup. It’s a fascinating piece about Sacks’s surreal discovery about this own memories: “I accepted that I must have forgotten or lost a great deal, but assumed that the memories I did have — especially those that were very vivid, concrete, and circumstantial — were essentially valid and reliable; and it was a shock to me when I found that some of them were not.” Even though I’ve read about how notoriously unreliable our memories are, it was still shocking to read “Remembering the Murder You Didn’t Commit“: “DNA evidence exonerated six convicted killers. So why do some of them recall the crime so clearly?” (The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker)
- In a recent blog post, Ben Carlson, CFA, outlines the reasons why he believes simple beats complex in the investment world. (A Wealth of Common Sense)
- Thinking about penning a book? Jason Zweig offers “Ten Tips for Writing a Book Without Making Your Head Explode.” (Jason Zweig)
- Speaking of writing, Barry Ritholtz makes an excellent point about the art of curating content: “Curate viciously,” he says. “What you choose to omit is crucial to making any list special.” (Bloomberg View)
- I enjoyed Patrick O’Shaughnessy’s recent post on lessons learned from a year of podcasting. Two of those lessons apply beyond podcasts: Conversation is an underused method of learning, and “preparation and careful listening are everything.” (The Investor’s Field Guide)
- “Exercise is king. Nutrition is queen. Put them together, and you have a kingdom.” Nice quote from Jack LaLanne in “How Aging Research is Changing Our Lives.” (Nautilus)
- Chief Justice John Roberts of the US Supreme Court gave an unconventional speech to his son’s graduating class that has been doing the rounds on social media. If you missed it, it’s worth a read. (Time)
- For something completely different, a beautifully written essay: “The Fish: A Story of Love and Letting Go.” (On Being)
- This week marked Henry David Thoreau’s 200th birthday and so it seems appropriate to close with this quote from Walden: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” (Washington Post)
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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.
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