Friday, January 19, 2018

My essay on Tabucchi's Viaggi ed altri viaggi

"It’s a travel writer’s job to enchant us with tales of lands we’ve never seen—and which we may never see. But it seems like a particular phenomenon when the travel writer is enticing you to visit a land where he, too, is a foreigner. 

"So infectious is Italian novelist Antonio Tabucchi’s account of his travels in Portugal in the original Italian that one cannot wait until the book is translated into English to write a “review” of it. Not that Tabucchi sounded like a foreigner when he wrote lovingly of Portugal and of his second tongue, Portuguese. Quite the opposite. But that’s often what acolytes and converts sound like: They are more fervent than the natives."

To read the rest of this essay on Tabucchi's book of travel essays, Viaggi ed altri viaggi , please click here to visit Three Percent's web site.


Saturday, December 09, 2017

The Year in Writing -- 2017!

I began writing an annual 'Year in Writing' roundup after I discovered a piece by the writer Alexander Chee from 2014 in which he cataloged the many career milestones he'd wracked up that year. A year in review, as it were, but for writing. It looked incredibly impressive (he was the guy who came up with the Amtrak Writer-in-Residence idea) and something I wanted to do, probably because he is an extremely accomplished novelist who also publishes some fantastic travel writing! (He is).

Nonetheless I took the plunge, even though I'd never before written a post summing up the year in anything, writing or otherwise. As I wrote last year at this time, "You manage what you measure, right?"

For a long time, as I said then, I wasn't in any way measuring how much I wasn't accomplishing in the world of writing. 

But I'd say Bennington pretty much changed that. Once I enrolled in the MFA program there, I began to see possibilities -- and to use the words of Charles Bock, an author and Bennington alum, I also began to see writing as my permanent side job.

I've now begun to set writing goals for myself each year -- concrete objectives, some of which are definitely within reach. 

(There are also 'non-concrete' goals, like collaborate with Bono on a project. Yes that Bono! And no, it's not a joke! For me, at least).

This year, I wanted to publish something in a national magazine and I also wanted to publish some travel writing.

And....I did both! Although I should I say I did both with ONE assignment, rather than two.

I wrote two long stories, including a destination piece on Atlanta, for Delta Sky Magazine (you know, the mag in your seat pocket when you fly on Delta). As a longtime Delta flyer, I was thrilled to land a piece in a magazine I've cheerfully read many times! Plus, it was truly travel writing! You can read those pieces, plus a short profile of Mayor Kasim Reed, here.

There was another bit of travel writing that inspired an equal measure of pride because it was for CNN Travel (whose stories I occasionally edit as a contract editor for CNN) and because it was an honest-to-God personal essay about Italy (you pretty much can't beat an assignment that allows you to wax poetic about your version of heaven). I'm also proud to say the piece, entitled "You Can Return to Italy," gave me a chance to lay out my personal traveling style -- what I call nostalgia tourism. Where you have a private list of stops that allow you to take the pulse of a place you know so well. You can read the piece here.

A few other milestones:

*On the literary translation front, I published my first translation (for Drunken Boat).

*I also reported on Italy's largest book fair -- and the positioning of Italian women authors -- for the bookworld website Literary Hub. It's called, "Where are all the great Italian women writers?"

*I said goodbye to Atlanta through a 3,000-word personal essay for the AJC's Personal Journeys rubric, which appears on Sundays. What an honor! As soon as I knew we'd be leaving Atlanta, I began writing the essay in my head. To have an editor actually want to print some of those thoughts, well, it's cool (Thanks, Suzanne!). You can read it here

I wouldn't want to paint too rosy a picture. I think you'd all know already if I were some super successful writer! I didn't publish anything in The New York Times this year, which, after the high of my essay and reported piece last year, was a grave disappointment. I was hoping The Gray Lady needed me! She does not. But you can still read the essay I wrote (about recording Leo's first sounds and words) here

There were many other writing milestones I did not reach, such as polishing a short story and moving forward on a longer project I've begun.

As I've said before, it wasn't an Alexander Chee year (he's so successful now, he doesn't write his year in review anymore!). But there's no question that as a writer, I'm not where I was a year ago or two years ago. A little more than five years ago, I wasn't even writing every day outside my job as a journalist.

And besides, taking stock of the year that's about to end isn't an exercise in comparing yourself with someone else. That won't work. And it isn't the point, is it?

So about those fiction projects I didn't get to: Shall I put them on the list for next year? I think I will.

Last but not least, where is YOUR 'Year in Writing'? You know who you are. Post it here in the comments or on Facebook. 


Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Dear Marie Kondo

Dear Marie Kondo,

I know that your book has helped many pare down, and since a relocation has consumed me for much of 2017 – moving away from my Atlanta home of 9 years to begin a new life in Connecticut – I thought it might make sense to seek you out.

If I got it right, you tell people to ask -- as they inventory their things -- does it “spark joy”?

Except, Marie -- can I call you Marie? -- you don't understand how many things spark joy for me.

Or merely incite some kind of emotion inside.

Or, in the case of Elmo Peter Elson, represent a line in the sand. He’s my childhood teddy bear – and he’s dressed in my childhood clothes (a blue windbreaker with a faulty zipper and riotous 1970s toddler pants).  I can’t throw him out now. (No, I don’t know why his name is Elmo Peter Elson.)

Elmo’s making the journey along with a cassette tape of U2’s “Boy” album that’s unspooled, and half-used notepads engraved with the name of my deceased uncle and a button for a failed political campaign where I volunteered 20 years ago, plus a vintage pin from Bayonne, N.J., my father’s hometown (because sometimes other people’s mementos, especially one’s parents, are even more potent than your own) and the pregnancy tester stick – positive! – that forget ‘changed my life’ – it gave me the life I didn’t know I was even craving. Also: bus, train and plane tickets, mainly to and from Italy, and a lot of Lira – Italy’s old currency -- that can no longer be used. But they’re like my bank statements from Cassa Di Risparmio di Firenze, which remind me that I was lucky enough to live long enough in the city of Dante to open up an account at the Florence Savings Bank. (I’ve also kept the Enrico Coveri scarf Melanie gave me and the plastic shopping bag she used to give it to me because while it is a relatively ordinary yellow and green plastic bag it is also instantly recognizable as a bag not produced in the US or used by a US retail establishment. Reason to keep it.)

Plus writing journals.

Lots and lots of journals, including ones from grammar school that I find unreadable (some thoughts should be kept inside, I’ve concluded.)

Lots of letters, too, including the one from a very dear friend that remains unopened and will likely stay in that virgin state until we die. You see, Marie, it’s a condolence card. Everything there was to know -- and everything we didn’t want to know -- is discernible on the outside of the card. Her careful handwriting, our names, the date stamp the week Mike’s father died -- without any need to open it. She is sorry and we are sorry and nothing can be done to erase the death that occasioned the card. To paraphrase the poet Donald Hall, the dead stay dead. So it’s still sealed but my God, Marie, how can I throw it out? Her kindness can’t be discarded.

I also still have Doug K.’s business card. In fact, I have two of them. I know what you're thinking -- who uses business cards anymore? Especially one for a man I last spoke to back in 2000. No, I don't need it. But you see, I do.

We named Doug Security Director of the Year in 2000, back when I was an editor on a trade pub that covered security systems and metal detectors and locks with audit trails.

He'd done such a bang-up job in his position as security director of -- wait for it -- the World Trade Center, that he won the annual contest that year. Security Director of the Year. In Doug’s case, it might as well have said ‘of the decade.’ His picture was on the cover and everything, with the two towers looming behind him. And then on Sept. 11 – you know the year -- I tried calling the number on the business card but I couldn't get through. You see what I mean, Marie? I've got to keep his business card. I need something to remember him by. Just like the page I ripped from an old calendar of New York. The last image I have of those Twin Towers. Where we went after we saw "Annie" on Broadway with Uncle Pat and Aunt Maureen, before they had children -- a thousand years ago, give or take.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Read Delta Sky Mag (& fly Delta jets!)

If you've flown Delta anytime this month, you might have read one of the stories I filed for Delta Sky Magazine about Atlanta!

If not, you can find there here.

I wrote a destination piece about Atlanta, centered around the Beltline rails-to-trails project (called "City in the Forest") and a snapshot of Atlanta's economy, which you can see in the photo here.

I also wrote a short profile of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed (where I compare him to a competitive athlete).

Thanks to all of my friends who snapped photos of the magazine while in the air!

As the sign at Hartsfield says, Fly Delta Jets!


Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Italy and Nostalgia Tourism for CNN Travel

A trip to Italy for me? Swoon.

A trip to Italy that leads to an essay in CNN Travel? Days and weeks of swooning.

Read it here! There you'll also find my very own photos, from my trip earlier this year to Torino and two years ago to Rome (including the one above).



Sunday, August 20, 2017

Jacket made of wind

A lost entry from the Leo diary: "I wish I had a jacket made of wind." Me, too, my imaginative friend, me, too. 


Saturday, July 08, 2017

Dear Leo: Happy Birthday!

Dear Leo,

Five years ago, I looked like the person in the photo -- I was that person.

Atlanta was gripped in a heat wave -- I learned at Fernbank the other day that we set a record of 106 degrees shortly before you were born! -- and I was gripped in a revolution. In the final days of my pregnancy, I had moments in which I almost felt as though I were going insane, unable to sleep and still unable to peer into the little face I so longed to see.

It wasn't all bad, though. Indeed "adventures in mind-expansion" is what I called the final month. As I wrote in the journal that would soon become my constant companion, "My mental acuity is sharpened if only in the sense that I seem more able or maybe just more willing to study all angles of a situation. At the same time, I appear keener to let minor annoyances or concerns go."

Monday, June 26, 2017

Dove sono finite le scrittrici italiane?

Colleghi italiani!

Ho scritto un brano per un sito Web, Literary Hub, il quale parla di libri e il mondo delle lettere. Per precisare, intendo: il mio brano è dedicato al mondo di lettere italiane!

E quel brano pone una domanda importante: dove sono finite le scrittrici italiane più importanti?

(In inglese: "Where are the great Italian women writers? Jeanne Bonner visits the Salone del Libro to look beyond Ferrante." Quell'ultima parte -- 'oltre Ferrante' -- è importante)

Cioè, esistono le scrittrici brave ma come mai non hanno piu' successo in Italia?

Come mai la maggior parte degli autori su quasi qualsiasi elenco dei libri piu' importanti dell'anno sono uomini?

Con questa domanda in mente, sono partita per il Salone del Libro a Torino il mese scorso -- alla ricerca, appunto, delle scrittrici italiane.

L'articolo l'ho scritto in inglese, ma qui voglio fare un piccolo riassunto.

Nel brano cito alcuni esperti, comprese Loredana Lipperini e Tiziana De Rogatis, le quali hanno partecipato ad un incontro durante il Salone dedicato ai libri di Elena Ferrante.

E durante la discussione, è saltato fuori qualche commento che mi ha colpito molto.

Tipo: In Italia "pesa lo sguardo dei maschi nei confronti delle scrittrici."

La Lipperini ha aggiunto che Elsa Morante, riconosciuta ora come una delle scrittrici piu' importanti del secolo scorso e della letteratura italiana, "venne accusata di sentimentalismo" quando le sue opere furono appena uscite.

De Rogatis invece ha messo fuoco sul fatto che quando si parla di un protagonista di una prospettiva cosidetto 'universale,' in Italia più che altro, si parla di un protagonista maschio.

Puo' essere una sfumatura innocente ma quali sono le conseguenze per le lettrici? Dove lascia le lettrici (e lettori) che cercano protagoniste che rispecchiano la vita da donna?

Per precisare, De Rogatis ha fatto questo commento su "I giorni dell'abandono" di Ferrante, ad esempio, "Ho provato delle emozioni enormi."

E certo!
 La Lipperini ha detto che all'estero "è consueto parlare del genere," ma della possibilita' di parlarne in Italia? Nulla da fare. O perlomeno, c'è ne meno entusiasmo -- e meno collaborazione.

Dopo la discussione, ho intervistato De Rogatis, e lei mi ha detto che certo, le cose stanno cambiando un po', con lo spunto della Ferrante, ma è "un processo piu' lento in Italia."

Ha aggiunto che c'è ancora "una casta maschile" letteraria e academica che si occupa del settore dei libri (che lo gestisce).

Insomma, ha detto, c'è "ancora strada da fare."

Inoltre vorrei accennarvi un brano che ho citato diverse volte nel mio articolo per Literary Hub: "Maschilismo e letteratura, cosi ci perdiamo noi uomini?" L'ha scritto Luigi Spagnol per Il Libraio e pone una domanda importante che ben o male solamente uno scrittore maschio potrebbe porre.

E non solamente quella domanda. C'è anche questo: "Perche' ci ostiniamo a non voler leggere il mondo attraverso, anche attraverso, gli occhi di grandissime artiste che hanno l'unico difetto di appartenere a un sesso diverso dal nostro?"

Poi lui controlla i vincitori di tutti i premi più importanti letterari. Indovinate un po' che ne vince la maggior parte?!

Io ho aggiunto un'altra cosa al mio brano per Literary Hub: E' da 2003 che una scrittrice non vince il premio Strega!

Si che le cose stanno cambiando. Basta dare un'occhiata alla cinquina per il premio Campiello (comprese Alessandra Sarchi e Laura Pugno -- che bello!).

Ma come ha detto Tiziano De Rogatis al Salone del Libro, c'è ancora molto strada da fare.

Vi invito di dare un'occhiata al questo mio articolo (potete trovarlo qui) -- e fatevi sentire!


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Italian trip 2017: post #12 -- What I bought in Italy

Summary for this post? How about: What you buy in Italy when you're an Italophile, traveling mainly for the nostalgia, with the sure knowledge that the things you really want to purchase are mainly found at the supermarket, the newsstand, the bancarella of used books under the portico by the church, et al.

Or as I've said before, my favorite souvenirs are my receipts -- a trail of all the good places to eat, drink, read books and browse other wares that I found along the way. And of course, Italian receipts, like everything else in Italy, are slightly different than American receipts. (Printed on a slippery paper stock, and imprinted with the shop logo in a way that you'd like to make a t-shirt from one.)

What's in the picture? Oh the usual:

*Lots of Caffe Kimbo (which actually comes from Naples but which luckily can now be found throughout Italy (and online), yay, thank ya Jesus);
*Italian biscotti because, really, you just have to have what they have; we have not mastered the art of the Italian biscotto, when we're talking about the breakfast cookies they dip in their coffee
*Lots of copies of Bell'Italia magazine;
*Fancy schmancy chocolates from Venchy's outpost at the main Torino train station;
*A copy of Dylan Dog, the seminal Italian fantasy comic, for Il Nostro Inviato, aka Mike, who I think didn't even knew how great a gift it was;

*And, of course, a few new Moka coffee pots from the fantastic Bialetti home store in Torino because really I cannot have enough of them (I have one stashed at my mother's, one stashed at Mike's sister's house, and it's helpful to have a travel model to bring along on get the picture).

It used to be that one of the best parts of the post-trip ruminations was taking this "group picture" of acquisti (I even wrote about it for Catapult!).

Now it might just be having "someone" model items that you bought! Like a super cool Milano jacket for my super cool Leonardo (Milan is an important city for a guy named Leonardo, after all!).

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Italian trip 2017: photo-a-day #10 Parole italiane

Best of Italy: parole italiane. Italian words. Any Italian words. All Italian words.

In this case, it's a two-fer. A sign commemorating the 150th birthday of the Italian daily La Stampa in Piazza Castello in Torino.

Not my paper, but what of it? I'm a newspaper lover from way back. So I love that this sign marries two sides of my life: the news business and the Italian language business (as it were).

Il Futuro E' Quotidiano. Literally: The future is daily. Bello, proprio bello.