Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Atlanta's Italian film fest -- my pick: "La Scelta"



Every year I attend the Italian film festival in Atlanta (at the beloved Plaza Theater) and each year I mean to handicap the festival for Italophiles and folks who love Italian film....but half the time, I plan the post without ever writing it.

This year, I'm getting myself organized early, as you can see since it's still a month away.

I don't know how film festivals work but my guess is the answer is: not like Atlanta's Italian film festival. In other words, the movies at this "film festival" are not new (to wit, my recommendation, "La Scelta," came out in Italy in 2015), although they may be looking for foreign distributors.

In some ways, though, that critique is besides the point. The festival is most likely featuring films most of us have not seen. I mean, I love Italian film but don't really get a chance to see many movies, period, much less those from Il Bel Paese.

One other critique I have of the festival is that it now tends to favor comedies oriented around the lowest common denominator (in earlier iterations, it focused more on serious dramas).

Also, there's always a film missing from the lineup. This year, I would say it's "Perfetti Sconosciuti," ("Perfect Strangers") an interesting film about what secrets husbands and wives are hiding on their cell phones (texts from an old boyfriend, say).

OK, but this film appears to be worth seeing, "La Scelta" ("The Choice"), if for no other reason than Raoul Bova is in it. Longtime actor who happens also be bellissimo! Check it out!

More info at the link at the top of this post. See you next month al cinema!

Friday, March 17, 2017

The story of us -- with noodles

Last night, Leo says to Mike over a dinner of spaghetti (which falls under the amorphous category of ‘noodles’): 

“You were in Italy and you were looking for another noodle lover and then you found Mommy.”

He went on, with our encouragement and word suggestions, saying “And then you decided you needed another noodle lover and you had me and now we are three noodle lovers.”

Yup -- that's the story of us, in noodle form.

-30-

Thursday, March 16, 2017

"Was I supposed to comb my hair?"

Entry #1:

"Was I supposed to comb my hair?"

File under: Titles of memoirs I could write.

-30-

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Japanese art, brisk walks & other joys in Hartford

Was it that I had slept well? (OK very well). That it was sunny, with a dry kind of cold that's tolerable (even pleasant!) if you've layered up and are engaging in a brisk walk?

Was it indeed that brisk walk, a rapid tour of West Hartford on a sleepy Sunday morning at 9 a.m.?

Or the injection of art, occasioned by a visit to the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford?

Perhaps my reverie owes itself quite simply to the Wadsworth, which insiders surely know is the very definition of a gem, an old world artifact that has miraculously survived into our present age. Or maybe it's the joy in general we humans take in beautiful objects, exquisitely presented. And the small treasure of a museum that turns out to be not so small after all (in any way, given the museum's staggering collection of 50,000 works of art).

I cannot tell you precisely what lifted me up off the ground Sunday and seemed prepared to send me into orbit, I only know the look of pure wonder on my face as I walked through an exhibit on Kitagawa Utamaro's art was genuine.

Indeed I can only say that after walking quickly through the Japanese art exhibit following a tour of the permanent collection, I returned to Mike and Leo and I said, "Quasi quasi sono sopraffatta." Meaning: I'm practically overwhelmed. On top of the museum being positively crammed with art, the exhibit on Japanese ukiyo-e works was so well-done, so engrossing that I instinctively grasped the fever some Westerners feel for Japan and other Asian cultures (I'm thinking especially of some Italian friends who are enamored by Asian imagery and cuisine).

Some of these notes I scribbled while Mike and Leo made their own ukiyo-e landscape prints at a D.I.Y. station for kids beside the exhibit.

As I watched the two at the drawing table, I scribbled about the museum and I scribbled about the mental attack I was having. Of course "attack" doesn't sound like the right word but I felt almost besieged by happiness! Besieged by creativity and possibility!

At the risk of repeating myself, I guess I could write out a recipe (or a prescription). Take one night of 8-9 hours of solid sleep, add one cup of Southern Italian coffee (I recommend Caffe Kimbo or Guglielmo or if you're visiting Puglia, buy Quarta caffe), an hour of writing, breakfast with Super Boy, and, wait for it, wait for it, an hour's brisk walk (in this case, around West Hartford) on a cold but sunny Sunday morning.

But back to the museum: What a treasure. In some rooms, the paintings are stacked one on top of another -- like Palazzo Pitti in Florence -- comprising every genre and era.

In a rather unscientific summary, can I say there appear to be an insane number of masterpieces for a "small" museum?

Obviously, cognoscenti do not consider the Wadsworth Atheneum a small museum. But nonetheless it is not always spoken of in the same breath as the Met or the MOMA or the Art Institute of Chicago.

Still for me, it joins a small list of lesser known museums -- like the Museo del Novecento in Florence -- that can entice you to while away the hours of a Sunday again and again. Because the hours spent among these masterpieces will turn into entire days of reminiscing with wonder and joy.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

"Tomorrow's tomorrow"

That's how he says the day after tomorrow.

Leo, of course. My little linguistic research subject.

And two days from now? He calls that tomorrow's tomorrow's tomorrow.

You know, like, if tomorrow had a baby, it would be tomorrow's tomorrow.

It reminds me of how Italians express the same concept: domani l'altro. Literally that means: the other tomorrow. [Or really literally, tomorrow the other].

And the day before yesterday? Yeah that's l'altro ieri in Italian. The other yesterday -- of course.

I like to say language is capable of an alchemy that can't be explained. Why am I so enchanted by tomorrow's tomorrow or the "other" tomorrow?

Shoot, I don't know. Maybe they are just intrinsically enchanting? As in: super cool, no matter who you are.

Also, you have to hear the way he says tomorrow's tomorrow (I could argue the same thing with the Italians. The way they say things has mesmerized me for years!). He's completely confident that it's the correct way to say it. Confident that everyone knows what he means.

Well, I do. And it's one more little phrase to savor. One more little phrase that's bound to vanish one day, and whose very disappearance will result in some kind of grief on my part. (You know where this is going. And if you don't, please consult my essay in The New York Times!)

Language. Absolutely stunning in all of its forms.

Foreign languages. Baby languages. My baby's language, which sometimes is like a foreign language that I am fluent in.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Dear LEO: New project? Maybe

Dear Leo,
Ten days before you were born, I wrote something on the back of an envelope that had been sitting on the side table in our bedroom.

“I can feel my brain changing. Is it permanent?”

I couldn’t know in that moment that the answer to the question was yes. Yes, in fact, Jeanne, your brain is changing and it’s a transformation that will alter everything from when you wake up to how you architect your days, and which will likely last forever. 

But it may not be what you're thinking, son. Or more than what you're thinking.

The thoughts I jotted down hinted at what you might call “creative writing,” though no one would probably have said as much if they happened upon the envelope. Plus, I simply never wrote for myself, never wrote anything outside of my job as a journalist at that time. 

Something was burning inside of me, dear Leo, but I didn’t know it was the need to be writing anything and everything, all the time. Or that this need, this vocation, would accompany me throughout maternity leave and the first years of your life so much so that I would come to see July 9, 2012 as the day you were born and the day my writing life was reborn. A twinned birth -- the two passions that saved me.

Indeed, writing would become an obsession during maternity leave when -- trust me -- I sometimes needed a break from the new love of my life! (That's you). Writing, in fact, anchored my first year as a working mom. It quickly became my escape; more than that: a necessity. If I had free time I wanted to write. A notebook became -- along with you! -- my constant companion. I wrote everywhere; in the car while snarled in traffic and when you were snoozing, in parking lots. I can even remember writing in church on Easter Sunday in the first year of motherhood. A tectonic shift was taking place. Until then, I'd always confined my writing life to my dayjob as a journalist.

But let's go back to that original thought -- that my brain was changing.

In the days before you were born, I often had prodigious amounts of energy. Although the word "prodigious," the way it conveys industry, hardly seems right – a form of mania was what I was feeling. I was almost possessed at times. One night, I jotted down this thought at 4 a.m.: “Look at the time! I have too much energy. I know it’s hard to believe that could ever be a curse but I find it to be just that. Perhaps because there does not appear to be an “off” switch! I have more energy than sense right now.”

This burst of energy and this sudden mania for writing only served to thicken the plot, since pregnancy is nothing short of an insane journey. (Just imagine, dear Leo, if you can, a creature kicking the inside of your stomach. Do you have that sensation in your head?)

But however you slice it, I will never not see the two things twinned, bound, married to each other. I owe my writing career to you because you awakened me from a deep creative slumber. Perhaps just a slumber in general, as if I were living my life with the flag at half-mast.

What in the heck am I talking about? Well, I’ll tell you all about it. But first, here’s that first entry, transcribed from the back of the envelope into a computer file:

June 30, 2012 (~ten days before Leo is born)

I can feel my brain changing. Is it permanent? Is it only because of the hormones or am I finally beginning to care only about what’s essential?

Is my brain improving?

My concentration is acute. I keep thinking of the phrase, ‘The rough places made smooth.’ It’s as though obstacles haven’t been so much surmounted as removed by the person who planted them in the first place (me). I feel as though the impossible is now slightly less so. 

Oh and one more thing: time moves more slowly. I busy myself in some activity, and when I look at the clock hardly any time has elapsed. Now how could that be?!

-30-

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

From the Archive: Falling in love with 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!

Sunday, February 05, 2017

When Bell'Italia publishes your letter to the editor

I still can't believe my favorite travel magazine, Bell'Italia, published my little ol' letter to the editor!

The magazine celebrated its 30th anniversary last year, and I wrote in to say I was celebrating my 20th anniversary of reading the magazine.

And lest the editors doubt my sincerity, look here and here to see all the times I've gushed over the magazine!

In addition to being a supremely beautiful magazine, Bell'Italia is also incredibly useful. The articles contain fairly detailed itineraries for city walks, hikes, visits to wineries, etc. To anyone wanting to get an idea of where to go in Italy -- even if you don't read Italian -- order yourself a copy online or pick one up when you travel abroad. It's like the ultimate insider's guide -- instructions on visiting places in Italy but... FOR ITALIANS.

Thanks to a fellow Italophile, John of Alpharetta (an Atlanta suburb), for alerting me to the letter!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Archives: the cuisine of Puglia's Gargano peninsula


NOTE: I'm reposting entries from my time in Puglia -- one of the best trips I've ever taken.

Let's talk about food, shall we? Specifically the meals we had in the Gargano region of Puglia, in southern Italy.

Not trying to make anyone jealous -- in fact, maybe by posting these photos, we can tempt America into fully embracing Italian cuisine! (We are getting there, yes, but some more work still needs to be done)

The meal up top -- a simple but delightful bruschetta -- was on offer at a bar at a beach near Peschici. I posted the photo to show you its killer location, and to make a point: the Italians are eating spaghetti and bruschetta and drinking house wine and enjoying many other gastronomic marvels at their beaches while we Americans eat hot dogs on the boardwalk! What's up with that?!

It sure made for a wonderful day at the beach. Just because we were not near a great restaurant did not mean we had to suffer through some subpar beach food.


We managed to squeeze in one more restaurant listed in the Gambero Rosso guide. It was La Collinetta in Peschici (if you are keeping track, that's our fourth meal of the trip at a restaurant listed in the prestigious guide).

You see in the photo above I just had to order spaghetti alle vongole one more time. What's not to love? Tomatoes, clams and spaghetti cooked al dente.


What else? Oh right, Il Nostro Inviato had orecchiette, the classic Pugliese pasta dish that's almost always homemade (in this case it was al pomodoro). Sorry that the photo is not National Geographic quality. But you can almost about make out the name of the restaurant on the plate so there's a slight silver lining!


We also ordered calamari fritti, which were as always buoni buoni buoni! And I ate scampi alla griglia, which were also quite good.


It was not the best meal, and we felt slightly rushed. But it certainly was adequate. We of course also ordered a bottle of local wine: Primitivo Salento IGT Rosso 2005 Tenute San Marco. Excellent!

Can't beat Primitivo, which is beginning to appear on wine lists outside of New York and other large American cities.

And we finished the meal with limoncello made by the owner's wife.

Those are the food highlights of our time in Peschici. I will leave you with a photo of a very ordinary meal...which gives you an indication of how well we ate on the trip. Here was the lunch we enjoyed one day on our little patio at the Locanda della Castellana: local crusty bread, local tomatoes, prosciutto and mozzarella di bufala. Can you beat it? No you can't.



Grazie per averci seguito! Arrivederci!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Elena Ferrante's La Frantumaglia and wounds

I'm a big Elena Ferrante fan. In particular, I like two of her earlier novels -- The Days of Abandonment and The Lost Daughter.

But the words of Ferrante that have captivated me the most aren’t, in fact, in her novels. It’s something she wrote about writing in the book La Frantumaglia, a collection of interviews and manuscript drafts curated by Ferrante’s publishers. There, the reclusive Italian author says what distinguishes The Days of Abandonment from other books she’s begun writing but abandoned is that it “put fingers in particular wounds of mine that were still infected.”

Wounds of mine that were still infected. I underlined the sentence, then bracketed the paragraph. In my journal, I found myself returning to those words, in the original Italian: ferite (wounds) ancora (still) infette (infected).

How does one write about the ferite ancora infette? How does one locate them?

You can read more about this at Asymptote Journal's Blog where my essay on Frantumaglia was published recently. Go here.