venerdì, giugno 24, 2016

Bennington journal - June 2016 - #2

Back in big sky country (Vermont edition).

Walking in the wild-flower filled fields this morning, I think about the lessons I’ve learned and those I can impart, perhaps, to students of my own some day. And it’s this: seek out hard work and start doing so now. Pursuing hard work entails a monumental shift – a conversion, occasioned by the process of learning something new, something vital while aiming at an objective (a goal). You may quickly abandon your original goal or add new ones. You may have to adjust the measurements of your project – instead of one year, it may take two to reach your goal, for example. It matters not – in setting a goal and striving to reach it through hard work you are transformed. I was. And that’s hard work’s gift to each of us.
I’m sitting in Tishman casually analyzing my lecture, given yesterday morning, through the prism of today’s lectures. Comparing delivery and topic, etc. Then I see it in my mind – the moment Leo (and Mike) entered the lecture hall. The moment during my lecture when my heart leapt, and I was moved to murmur, “My son is here,” (or something to that effect – in the preciousness of the moment the words have been erased, the singular, stunning emotion of being a mother remains). There was a catch in my voice, a momentary loss of control. The vision of him holding Mike’s hand, his smile as he watches me, then looking down at the stairs so he can watch his steps – it’s fixed in my head, like a favorite movie scene, something I’ll cherish and relive for a long time. Like breathing in his scent, instead I’m searing forever in my memory his gorgeous face and the joy it has given me.

That’s it right there – the boy whose sheer presence, whose birth (deemed by me miraculous) set this journey in motion was there to see its fruition. The lecture is now part of our shared life together.

On the mother-child bond, writer Vivian Gornick tells us during a lecture, “This is how we become human.”
Other indelible moments: David Gates reading from "Banishment": “Reader, she dumped me.” 

June 21
What I’m reading/browsing from Crossett Library
The Moro Affair, Leonardo Sciascia (in English, argh)
Italian Women Poets – including Patrizia Valduga!
A book of Lorrie Moore short stories
The Complete Works of Primo Levi

The latest issue of Paris Review

Spot the Bennington Monument from different vantage points around campus, breathe it in, the majesty of a simple obelisk off in the distance, soaring over the trees and green hills, then try to capture what your eye sees with a camera and fail miserably.

June 20
Nothing about the frequency of my visits to Bennington’s campus in the past two years has diminished its startling beauty. Startling perhaps because restrained and natural (they allow the landscape to take its cue from Mother Nature, not a Burpee catalog). Standing behind Tishman, I gaze across the fields and the pond toward the elegant, stone building that I will only ever think of as the French Chateau. I realized this residency that it reminds me of Wyeth’s painting, Christina’s World. I’d say as campus compliments go, that’s a good one.

June 18
For the record, Bennington is heartbreakingly beautiful. The fields of wild flowers, the simple old wooden buildings painted red or white, the achingly blue sky, mountains in the distance and if you’re lucky, you catch a glimpse of the Bennington Monument. 

Yet to say it is beautiful and to describe even a bit of it here is do nothing, not in any way do the place justice. The grass is greener somehow. Everything has been created for human enjoyment but with perceptible and lovely restraint. An incredible vista is improved simply by a nice wooden bench. A field of flowers is ornamented and adjusted slightly with a paved path….

lunedì, giugno 20, 2016

Bennington journal (June 2016 edition)

My beloved classmates – those who are graduating with me – are giving their lectures as we prepare to complete our MFAs in Creative Writing at Bennington College.

And per my usual, I’m jotting down notes about anything that interests me. 

Snippets of their lectures, lines from the poems they are reciting or stories they are reading as part of the graduation requirements.

And I’m finding wisdom, I’m finding mastery, I’m finding love for this world of writing, this world we finally realized we had no choice but to occupy, to stake out as our own.

Some excerpts (including a few choice bits from professors' lectures and readings):

“The little headstones of a season we will never sip” (Lucas)

“I was paralyzed by my own desire to be good” (Liz)

“All that chatter of being good or better than someone else fell away by not looking at the page” in a drawing class (Liz)

Advice to a young poet: “Listen to how people talk….Love what’s available” (Ed Ochester, professor)


"I cried out, 'My son, my only son'" (Ochester, again)

“Hers was a past I felt I had a right to know” (Rowena)

"That was so long ago." "Not for her." (Rowena) 

Paraphrasing: “Put people somewhere…given them a passion, an obsession” (Julie quoting Amy Hempel)

“Worm girl” (the name of a belittled childhood friend from an essay – Gwen) 

"Write about what you fear is true" -- not what is true (Bret Anthony Johnston, professor)


giovedì, giugno 09, 2016


My thesis!

For Bennington!

“He” looks at the massive pile of printed pages that is my thesis and he says, “That looks like a book.”

God-willing, kid. God-willing.

Kind of amazing how you set a goal and then get so busy moving toward the goal that when you reach it, or are about to reach it, you hardly pay it attention. Yes, I guess I'm about to get that graduate degree I've always wanted. Yes, I guess I've completed a 120-page thesis containing six short stories written in a genre -- Fiction -- that until three years ago I never thought I could even attempt.

But my goodness, I still have to finish writing my graduate lecture, and I have to print out the thesis, and plan the post-graduation trip to Montreal (if I really do graduate, which is so hard to imagine) and I have a dozen other writing and translation projects I'm working on in one way or another, and I'm thinking about my next freelance journalism pitches and where I will work when my contract gig at HLN/CNN finishes up this month. 

And yet look at the picture. 

It says: Refugees and Other Stories. Jeanne Bonner. 



lunedì, giugno 06, 2016

Italian Books by Women We Want To See in Eng.

I've written a piece for the Website Literary Hub called "10 Italian Books by Women We'd like To See in English." That's the kind of story that writes itself since there are so many wonderful Italian books that for many reasons have not made it over into English (in some cases published decades ago and winning Italy's top literary prizes.

Here's the intro to the piece, subtitled, "Reading Beyond Ferrante":

As more attention is paid to literature in translation, more tools emerge to aid us in trying to bring new (and in some cases, old) foreign works to an English-speaking audience.
Sometimes, however, those tools tell us things we don’t want to know. To wit, the wonderful database of translated works maintained by Chad Post of Three Percent shows us who is being translated – and by process of elimination, who is not.
My interest, of course, is: what Italian language books are being translated? And when I scan the names in the excel spreadsheets one can so handily download from Three Percent’s Web site, I see men’s names in line after line of the entries for Italian books translated and published.
Of course there are exceptions – and I don’t only mean Elena Ferrante. Europa, for example, has also published two works by Viola Di Grado in recent years (the second of which, Hollow Heart, translated by Antony Shugaar, was shortlisted for the PEN translation prize this year).
But it’s clear that the vast majority of Italian authors breaking through to English-language audiences are still men. The usual suspects, including Andrea Camilleri (the noted suspense writer) but also Umberto Eco and Antonio Tabucchi -- usual but also deserving suspects. Indeed, in trying to compile this list, I consulted Italian lists of ‘best books of the year’, plugging in 2012, 2013, etc., and found these lists were almost inevitably dominated by men (no wonder many in Italy don’t believe Ferrante is a woman – ahem).
Here, instead, are some of the women authors we’d like to see translated. The list is a mix of recent titles along with some galling omissions of writers who won a Strega – the Italian equivalent of a Pulitzer Prize – and have yet to see their works translated into English, in some cases decades later.
To read the rest, including the specific books by Lalla Romano, Erica Barbiani and Ubah Cristina Ali Farah that need to be translated, go here.

mercoledì, giugno 01, 2016

How I re-decorate

I print some new quality photos, I put them in frames, and I enjoy. That's how I re-decorate the house.

My zillions of mementos have already been arranged (and I don't really shop). So new sunny photos are all I need.

martedì, maggio 31, 2016

'Bits' journal (March-April excerpt)

As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm obsessed with what poet and FSU professor David Kirby calls the 'bits' journal. The little observations one makes, the asides, the day-to-day activities one jots down, just because. I've begun posting excerpts of mine here. But what I really want to do is collect OTHER writers' 'bits' journals. Who's in?

April 1, 2016
Leo and I make quiche together. And yesterday as we stirred the bacon together with wooden kitchen spoons, he says, “It’s like a little hand touching the bacon.” Yes, a wooden “hand” held by an actual hand (that happens to be the world’s cutest hand).

March 22, 2016
On days I stay home with Leo, every minute of every hour someone wants to talk to me. And that’s what makes it so hard. It’s what makes going to work much easier. The moment you begin your journey towards work, someone stops talking to you, stops waiting for your reaction, stops asking you the same question over and over. Someone stops trying to seize every moment of your attention, every breath you take.

March 17, 2016
From one of Leo’s children’s books: “Where do months and years go when they’re gone?”

March 16, 2016
The African violet in the bathroom is blooming after a lengthy dormancy. Yay!
A train is-a comin….what does it mean to hear the trains on and off at any time of the day or night (I ask as a train moans in the not-so-distant distance)? Is there any connection to hearing the Long Island Railroad from my bedroom in Hicksville? I enjoy it. I imagine it tunneling through the brush by the Beltline. If that’s the train I am hearing. Hard to know how far sound carries.
A classmate has died. Someone who was in my Bennington MFA program. She had a son, too, and she once told me, “Little boys are so affectionate.” A chance remark that remained with me, a thought pinned to the wallpaper of my mind. I often think about it, and revel in the notion because it’s true. I just love lavishing affection on Leo and I think of her often when I do.
Darkness at 7 a.m. again – thank God! Or thank you, Daylight Savings.

March 15, 2016
I don’t care who Elena Ferrante is. (But some people really, really care). Mike brought home the Corriere della Sera from Switzerland and there it was, a front-page article about who Elena Ferrante might be.

I’ve never cared who Elena Ferrante is. I think I’ve submitted just as much as anyone to #FerranteFever. I read the entire quadrilogy, one book right after another in the original Italian. I’ve been inspired by Ferrante to seek out other Southern Italian female authors who I believe will have similar success.

I’ve read La Frantumaglia, I’ve begun following the output of her publishing company e/o (and its English arm Europa) very closely.

In other words, I’m a fan. I’m someone, I guess, who should care. And I simply don’t.

(Editor's note: the first stirrings of an essay for Asymptote Journal's blog. Read the full essay here.)

March 14, 2016
“At that age, all they have is their habits.” Liz, quoting a friend who’d gone to visit his elderly parents, and wound up living with them for three months.

March 10, 2016
Mr. Funny Pants (after some homemade calamari, courtesy of Mike and his surprisingly inexhaustible birthday wishes and gifts) wakes up and says, “What about a slinky made of squid?”
The Tabucchi essays I started? Unfortunately someone else has already signed up to translate them.

Feb 26, 2016
Parent helper today! Leo is so cute, even Anders’ DAD – a Dad, not a Mom – said he should be a model. 

In other news, he 's still on a regular milk strike. Quoting him, “I will never drink regular milk!”

That’s his new formulation: I-will-never. I will never wear pants! I will never go out on my bike!
From an interview with David Kirby, Florida State University poet and lover of Italy: "I make my students keep what I call a “bits journal” where they store up the hundred trivial things we see every day that are pregnant with potential. Save 'em up, students! The good ones will turn into poems before your very eyes."
Mike is back from Turkey. Pleased to find leftover pizza in the fridge. What to make for him so he can have a snack, post-flight? And the solution I land upon: go out somewhere for pizza and portare a casa qualche fettina.

Jhumpa – you know, Jhumpa, my Italian pal? – didn’t get great reviews from everyone. And as I tossed and turned after Leo woke up at 4 a.m. (flinging open his door, per his usual, whereupon the door bangs on the uscio when it swings back around a few seconds later), I think, well perhaps the problem is people are reading the work in English. It was not meant to be read in English. That’s why she wrote it in Italian.

The achievement here is this: she writes in Italian. And because she is writing in Italian, she is dispensing with every pretense of propriety or modesty or privacy. She is showing us that Italy makes her weak in the knees, like a schoolyard crush, a May-December romance, what have you. The joy in the narrative is her use of sensuous Italian words, of feeling around in this new language and finding friendly words that match the euphoria she feels.

This is what I know having read excerpts. The hardback – so satisfyingly solid and heavy – arrived here this week and I will begin to read it properly.


venerdì, maggio 27, 2016

My quick-hit guide to Florence

The wonderful, exciting, taking-over-the-world writer Alexander Chee put out a call on Facebook for tips on Florence. I was happy to oblige and emailed him some suggestions.

And then I thought, well, I may know some other people shipping off to Florence for their summer holidays. So here are some ideas for how to spend your gorgeous Florence days....


From my first blog post during my trip last year at this time, click here for some ideas on where to eat, including my first visit to Trattoria Cammillo.

From a few years ago (in some ways Florence never changes so these restaurants are still open and still good, even if the post is from a while back), you can find a guide here to eating in Florence. I visited many of these restaurants last year and remained impressed and full (Ignore the Italian and just go to the middle of the post where the list of restaurants is).

ALSO: There are essentially three branches of Cibreo (the expensive version, the less expensive version and the club version that gives you access to a buffet plus a performance -- I've never been to any of it but Cibreo is quite well known so worth a try)

You know the biggies (the Uffizi and L'Accademia) so let me mention Museo del Novecento (for modern art). I'm personally really interested in 20th century Italian art (Futurism, i Macchaioli, Italian impressionism), and you may want a break after all being submerged in Medieval and Renaissance frescoes.

Produce Markets:
Go to the Sant-Ambrogio Market, slightly off the beaten path, in a neighborhood behind Santa Croce. That said, San Lorenzo was recently renovated and now has some great restaurants so also worth a visit but in a very touristy, crowded part of the city.

There's also usually a weekly flower market on Fridays in Piazza della Repubblica that's visually interesting even if you have no interest in buying flowers.

Neighborhoods (and WALKS):
Don't miss San Niccolo on the other side of the Arno (and of course, Sant'Ambrogio).

In fact the best walks are on the other side of the Arno. You can do the requisite walk up to San Miniato or you could walk to Forte Belvedere, strolling up a road called Costa San Giorgio (which you access just off the Ponte Vecchio). Walks along Via dell'Erta Canina (nearby) are also lovely. They'll help you work off your Florentine diet!

I don't care for leather goods so I can't give advice. My interests are household items (placemats, new Mokas, coffee canisters) paper goods, some clothing and of course, BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS. So, respectively, I visit the supermarkets and the casalinga shops (literally 'housewife'), Il Papiro, Barone near Piazza Beccaria (which had expanded when I went last year) and any of the Feltrinelli branches (including a fantastic one in the Santa Maria Novella train station -- peruse books while you wait for a train? Don't mind if I do!).

Field trips:
Lucca. In case you haven't been, it's a walled Tuscan city where you can even ride your bike on the ramparts of the wall. Also, there's tower in the center of the city with a tree growing on top. Plus some of the best food in Tuscany.

Local blog
Elena is a marketing expert who keeps the best blog ( on what to do in Florence. She no longer updates the English version regularly (
but I'll include the Web address because there are some great links to restaurants and other attractions that are still up-to-date.



martedì, maggio 24, 2016

Donna Leon on Italian men

I've been urged to read one of Donna Leon's detective series books. And maybe I will. But in the meantime, I've picked up a book of her travel essays.

She's capable of some pretty fine insights. Here's what she has to say about Italian men:

"Most interchanges between a man and a woman here [in Italy], whether they take place between a woman and her lover or between a woman and the man who sells her cheese and prosciutto, are charged by some mutual recognition of, at however wild and improbable a distance, sexual possibility.

"This might st first sound like the ravings of frustration, the wild imaginings of a sex-starved spinster, but any woman who has lived here has surely often been aware of the sexual charge that fills the air at the most seemingly innocuous exchange with an Italian man."

Yes! Ecco! Ding ding ding!

That's it. Leon has nailed it.


giovedì, maggio 19, 2016

Re-posting: A Girl's Gotta Eat (Tutto)

I'm re-posting entries from May of 2015, when I went back to my beloved Italy.

Is it wrong to say I didn't eat everything I wanted to eat in Italy? That I left wanting more? I suppose who doesn't?

(I also left with an ungodly number of books and yet I still wanted to buy more!)

Of course, I had a mental list of the things I had to eat. And topping that list:

A ciambellina.

Not just any ciambellina. A fresh one. An airy one. An obscenely large one, or just simply, a very good one. With just the right amount of sugar crystals dusting the top.

There’s a reason it’s the name of this damn blog. These donutesque delights (above left) are the best pastries you can possibly put in your mouth. Especially if you like something that’s uncomplicated and pure. And honestly I would say that’s the essence of Italian cooking: not fussy, not overloaded with a thousand ingredients or dependent on some tricky sauce or filling. Just the genuine article.

I also ate a lot of savory foods, too, of course. Here's a partial list:

Pici al granchio (in photo above; pici is a type of thick spaghetti often found in Siena and granchio, well, just ask Leo. It's crab); Fiori di zucca fritti; prosciutto crudo; paccheri sul coniglio (photo at top); a selection of cheeses one evening as a second (which included a lovely gorgonzola, of course, that when spread on a piece of crusty Italian bread became a snack worthy of the Medici), crostini with chicken fat and carmellized onions, and so on.

Oh and gelato. Nocciola, of course, the only gusto worth my time (even if the others are pretty good, hazelnut ice cream? You kidding me? Bring another coppetta over here, right quick please!)

And I could have eaten a lot more. I didn't get around to having anything with cinghiale -- wild boar -- which amounts to a felony in some parts of Tuscany. I also didn't have suppli (or arancini) in Rome, which produces a pretty good fried rice ball, if you ask me.

I also didn't have a Conca D'Oro, or enough red wine or fettunta with pomodorini or spaghetti alla carbonara or spezzatino (stew).

But I guess that will have to be for the next time.

martedì, maggio 17, 2016

Re-posting -- Why We All Love Italy

I'm re-posting entries from May of 2015, when I went back to my beloved Italy.
It rarely fails. Tell someone I used to live in Italy and the swooning commences.

And these days, right after the person I’m talking to swoons, he or she launches into tales about upcoming or recently-completed trips to Italy.
Americans are in love with Italy. And understandably so. It’s a country of such exquisite beauty – not hidden, not at certain times of the year or limited to one particular feature or area – that you’d have to be somewhat immune to human charms in general to resist.

As it turns out, we can map some of the reasons we all love Italy.

1. The country is actually organized.
Hard to believe, right? You tried ordering a coffee at a caffe in Italy during peak morning hours and felt as though you were at the running of the bulls. Or worse, you rented a car in Italy. Yikes!

But it’s organized around public transportation, and divided, for the traveler at least, into two neat spheres of interest: country and city. To be sure, Italians themselves often live in drab, modern apartment blocks in the suburbs. But visitors are able to move fairly quickly and easily on the public transport system between stunning cities and the gorgeous Italian countryside to take in the best in urban and rural life.

2. Rituals remain at the center of Italian life.
Italian life is still dictated by rituals, and delightfully so. There’s a time of the day, week, year or season to do something.

And many Italian rituals are ours for the taking. You can do your own evening passeggiata, strolling past shop windows and stopping to admire the view or chat with someone. You can browse the flower stalls at the market or order un’etto of prosciutto crudo (but don’t slice it too thin, please). You can learn when to order a cappuccino and when to limit yourself to an espresso.

Italians. The people who not only invented the phrase buon appetito, but also a specific corresponding response: grazie, altrettanto!

3. What a visual culture it is!
It’s a visual culture. They understood #travelpics and click-bait long before the Internet arrived. My recent trip to Florence and Rome left me astounded by the gorgeous flowers tucked into every crevice. Gelsomina spilling over the walls of the city, geraniums hanging in flower pots, and quite a few other plants I can’t even identify. I, too, have house plants and tend flowers on a veranda. But they look nothing like this.

And don’t get me started on shop windows. The Italians are geniuses at arranging shop windows (along with the prices, thank you very much). So well-organized are Italian shop windows that they lure even someone like me, a confirmed non-shopper, into all kinds of stores.

They still live life outdoors -- unlike most Americans.

4. Italians are born communicators -- and remain so.
During my visit, my Italian friends expressed the same concerns I have about our digital culture, and the cult of the devices we have in our pockets, or really in front of our faces all day and all night. But, I can see, even in just the short while I touched down in Italy, that if given the chance, Italians would still prefer to talk to people face to face. Why else would the Italian coffee bar exist? They can make coffee at home.

And thank God they don't because there's nothing more entertaining than watching them as they kvetch with the barista over the partita or politics!