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.

Friday, January 13, 2017

When you write a fan letter to a translator

I nearly called it a "love note," which may be an exaggeration, but after I returned from a conference on literary translation in Oakland last year, I found myself with a new habit on my hands, thanks to the books I'd spirited away from the conference. Namely, I found myself reading over and over a book of poetry by Eduardo Chirinos, which had been translated from the Spanish by G.J. Racz.

The Spanish is on one side, and the English translation on the other, and for fun (literary translation world fun!), I've been reading the Spanish version first and then marveling over the word choices the translator made (and also finding out in some cases what the poem really means, since I am not fluent in Spanish).

And since I was having such fun, and since I also felt like I had uncovered a new micro-hobby (is that a word?), I decided to write an email to the translator, to thank him for bringing this wonderful work of Spanish poetry to English-speakers like me. It's particularly important given that Chirinos died last year age 55. (Someone needs to keep his voice alive).

So what happens when you send a note like that to a translator?

This happens: Racz ("Gary"!) insists on sending me two other books of Chirinos poetry that he's translated.

When I return from my Christmas holidays up North, a little package of books is waiting for me -- like Santa had to come back because he forgot a gift.

Maybe I'm a bit TOO into the "small things," but honestly I am thrilled!

Send a translator a love note, and who knows what might happen? He or she just might send you another book.

(And a book for a book-lover is the paper equivalent of chocolate.)

Thank you thank you thank you, Gary.

And thanks also to the American Literary Translators Association for a lovely conference and for stocking the book room with so many wonderful titles.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The (Writing) Year in Review!

Last year, I discovered a piece by the writer Alexander Chee from 2014 in which he summed up his year in writing. A year in review, as it were, and I thought, oh I want to do that!

I'd never before written a post summing up the year. You manage what you measure, right? Well, for a long time, I didn’t want to know what I wasn’t achieving. 

Now I do.

So I took a look at the year Chee had written up -- it was quite a year; you can read about it here (he was an Amtrak writer-in-residence -- after he thought up the idea himself! -- and finished a novel, etc) -- and for some crazy idea, I wasn't discouraged. As I said last year, this ain't no Alexander Chee year (this year or last year). But there's no question that as a writer, I'm not where I was a year ago or two years ago. A mere 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 here are a few things that happened in my work life this year:

I had an essay published by, wait for it, The New York Times! Yes, the paper I read every morning religiously and which serves more or less as a personal bible (oddly enough, given my family's solid Catholic pedigree, it's the document even my parents quote the most often). Best of all, it was about Leo's words! You can read the essay about recording Leo for The New York Times here.

(I also published a news story about models with Down syndrome -- my first bylined news article in The New York Times, the paper I grew up reading -- ooh tingles).

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

From the Archives: Puglia in Tavola

I'm an inveterate book lover -- you probably are, too -- and I'm a sucker basically for all books, especially if they come with a simple but soulful packaging.

That means, even cook books, despite my well-known aversion to cooking (as I like to say -- to myself and now to you -- I have a man to do those things).

I think I only want to write this post because I've fallen in love with the cover of this book. Perhaps you can judge a book by its cover!

Thursday, December 01, 2016

From the Archives: Time for the Panettone

I've always thought about panettone at this time of the year, even back before you could find the little Italian Christmas loaves everywhere in America. And I'm reposting this essay -- about the ritual of going to buy a panettone in Florence -- from a few years back:

I opened the panettone.

I wasn't going to. I bought it last week at the Whole Foods store on Ponce in Atlanta with the idea of bringing it somewhere as a special treat.

But then I thought, well, I would like a special treat. Right here, right now.

So I opened it, and still mulling over a long-awaited email I had received from a British friend this morning, I had a flashback to the days when I lived in Florence and I would buy a panettone to bring for Christmas dinner.

(Yes, a flashback to Florence -- what do you expect? Chalk it up to my living in Florence just after college. I think those early years of adulthood, no matter where you spend them, remain disproportionately impressed upon the brain, perhaps because it's then that we launch our own independent lives, with their own rhythms and routines, separate from Mommy and Daddy).

Specifically, I remembered going to order a homemade, artigianale panettone from a bakery on Borgo San Iacopo to bring to my British friend's family in Luxembourg.

They had invited me to spend Christmas with them that first year that I lived in Florence, and as I counted down the days until I boarded the overnight train from Santa Maria Novella station, I made the rounds of neighborhood stores to pick up treats and gifts.

I remember walking over to the bakery along the narrow, cobblestone streets on the other side of the Arno from the Duomo, and pausing a moment in front of the glass storefront.

You know the type -- either from movies or real-life.

It had a large front window through which you could see a display case full of Christmas delicacies and everyday pastries, I believe the baker had stuck his head out of the kitchen for a moment to share a laugh with the girl behind the counter, and condensation had formed on the window from the heat of the kitchen.

There was a clutch of older women, in their quilted jackets, identical grey, knee-length wool skirts, and sensible brown leather shoes, issuing with authoritative tones and gestures specific instructions about the items they wanted.

I felt simultaneously integrated and assimilated, fully in the stream of Italian life as I waited to place my order, and forever locked out -- I would never be like one of those women.

It all seemed so evocative of city or village life: the neighborhood bakery. Ever since, I've always wanted to live in neighborhoods that are anchored by a bakery, but alas it's not so easy in America.

And while I was cutting myself a piece of panettone this morning, I wondered why that chore had remained lodged deep inside my mind. Living in Italy, one would not find it unusual to buy a panettone.

But I think the idea of rushing around town, preparing for Christmas, crossing chores off your list -- it all constitutes such a fundamental activity that it almost seems like a scene out of Dickens.

Going to the neighborhood bakery and ordering a Christmas treat is as far as you can get from the suburban shopping mall or car traffic or the incessant intertwining of romance with the birth of Jesus (doesn't that seem a bit odd?).

And it was enough just to breathe in the scent of the panettone this morning to unearth this memory.

Now if you buy a panettone this Christmas, you won't remember the same thing, but you'll have the same sensation of enjoying a seasonal treat. And Lord knows, nothing is more Italian than eating a particular dish at a specific time of year -- and then not again until next year.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Leo Journal: "Dreaming about dreams"

Lost entry from the Leo journal:

Sept 23, 2016

My little genius bounds up the stairs at 7 a.m. yesterday, and while Mike steps into the shower, Leo and I cuddle on the bed, which spurs him to say: 

“I dreamed about dreams. What did you dream about?”

This one little sentence, for me, tells a long story. A beautiful and complex story. Not only is Leo smart enough to talk about dreams, and to either recognize the themes of his dreams or realize it’s tricky to suggest one could dream about dreams, but he’s also learned to ask other people their opinions. 

He wants to dialogue with others. He doesn’t simply want to talk about himself. 


Monday, November 21, 2016

The Reader's Lament

I’m in heaven and I’m in hell. And it’s a very specific form of heaven and hell.

What I mean is, my partner has just returned from Italy and he’s come back loaded down with every periodical known to man, specifically to Italian man (everyone but Nuovi Argomenti, that is, the one I asked for. Pazienza, he’s not a writer. He’s just an engineer.)

For someone who is a writer and an aspiring Italian translator such as myself, the bounty is Christmas-morning worthy. 

I now have the joy of looking forward to reading the Saturday editions of Il Corriere della Sera (with the culture section, yes!) and La Repubblica, plus a special edition of Bell’Italia (the most beautiful magazine I've ever seen, as I never tire to say) and a copy of Io Donna.

But mind you, a few weeks ago, I'd returned from ALTA (the American Literary Translators Association conference) where I snapped up a book of poetry by Eduardo Chirinos, a Patrick Modiano book and a literary travelogue of Mexico.

All of these reading materials arrived on top of reading I was already doing, including The Best American Short Stories of the last 100 years and E' Tutto Vita, a mass-market fiction book by the well-known Italian author (and TV personality!), Fabio Volo.

So what am I getting at?

Well, I want to dive right into the periodicals. I’m translating a book right now that is full of slang and I know that the magazines and newspapers will help me place certain expressions in the current moment of Italian popular culture.

It’s also just fun. Like an archeological dig for someone obsessed with the Italian language. I enjoy even reading captions of the articles on applying makeup and styling one’s hair (topics I normally have no interest in). Why? Because I love the otherness of Italy. I love the way they say “classe 1980” to indicate someone was born in 1980. In the class of 1980.

So what’s the problem?

Well, I have a lot of other reading to do. A lot. Like anyone who wants to translate, I’m constantly reading new Italian novels and perusing Web sites and lit mags for info on up and coming short story writers. (Finally finished Nadia Terranova's Gli Anni al Contrario).

I also have reading to do as an adjunct college professor. (I've assigned "Nickel And Dimed" by Barbara Ehrenreich to my Freshman composition students).

In other words, how does one balance all the reading one needs to do to remain in touch with his/her culture of obsession? (Or just one's intellectual obsession).

Does anyone have strategies to share? One that I often fail to adopt is to bring a book everywhere with me. I'd love to hear other ideas.