Saturday, May 27, 2017

Italian trip 2017: photo-a-day #1: Piazza San Carlo

So we're in Torino, here, in Piazza San Carlo. But which photo is the best? Which photo makes you want to jump on a plane right now?

Piazza San Carlo is one of seemingly dozens of broad open squares that invite you to stroll-bike-boogie across them. Young people, old people, toddlers.

I found myself just wandering around, almost whirling around, taking it all in, as if I were a camera.

And in some ways that's what my eye needs to be. I need to store up all these pictures of Italy in my head -- until I can go back.

Italian trip 2017: photo-a-day #1.5: TRAMS!

I'd like to inhale this tram (see other post for explanation). The way it moves down the street, barreling through tight spaces between buildings, under arches, across rivers, I'm in ecstasy. Next trip, I want to simply spend the day on a tram in Milan or Turin (this picture was taken in Turin).

Friday, May 26, 2017

Italian diary, May 2017


I’m back in the “in-between” world, the space where sentences begin in one language and end in another. 

It’s a world that I inhabited for many years and then withdrew from (in Allentown, when I resigned myself to being stateside, which was not a completely unfortunate occasion since it was also when I discovered that Mexico, for example, is marvelous and that wherever I live, even Allentown, a part of that place will stay with me forever).

The in-between world is one I love and I loathe – loving it because Italian quickens my pulse! I become Italian Jeanne -- who has the luxury of walking everywhere, yes everywhere, every day, which only serves to ratchet up my already overflowing reserves of enthusiasm and energy. I might just walk someone to death in Italy, purely out of the joy of movement in my adopted country!

I also loathe the in-between world because it plunges me into saudade. What was, what could have been, what wasn't. America is the land of opportunity -- but it is not, for the most part, a land with an excess of perfectly-planned, grand public spaces linked by achingly beautiful cobblestone streets to other perfectly-planned, grand public spaces, where you can be both with and without people. Where you can see something heart-stoppingly beautiful outside of yourself and something deep inside of you, too.





I walk through the streets of Torino (or insert here whatever Italian city that I happen to be visiting) and I want to consume everything. Not merely a panino or a gelato, the things one normally consumes, but buildings, nooks, mossy courtyards, caffes, signs – especially signs, any vehicle for the Italian language that falls under my sight. Also: cobblestone streets and the tight juxtaposition of shops and restaurants, piazzine, too, which are tiny, often hidden lands frequented only locals. Yes, I want to consumer those piazzine, those cortili (which especially in Torino seem to give access to worlds unseen), I want to mainline the way bikes cross piazzas and how content and confident the riders appear. I want to inhale how toddlers bound across the grand squares of Torino without a car in sight -- how Italian cities are made for children to be children.

I want to gobble up how homey some of the cafés appear – their singular arrangement of product and signage and sumptuously-arranged display window and ancient door, making me want to eat and drink items I don’t even like or simply don’t care for at the moment (no I don't need another caffe or brioche, and yet, well, while I am here...).

Seeing these homespun creations, I want to order 3 cappuccini,, 4 ciambelline (like donuts but not), and also some other pastry that looks yummy and appena sfornata, a glass of acqua gassata, un bicchiere di vino rosso and maybe something else (I actually had breakfast twice every day I was in Italy this trip -- che golosa!).

It’s almost tender, how beautiful Italian cities are (and how welcoming their public and consumer spaces are). Made to be lived in, made for life outdoors, in the streets, in public. As if the Italians’ need for picturesque boulevards and quaint eateries is something they can’t help wear on their sleeves, as if it’s a remnant of the warm, coddled world of their childhood. That need to be welcomed and wanted by the world around us, by the barista, the giornalaio. That need for human contact.

At the risk of repeating myself, it will never be anything else but thrilling that Italy is a place I’ve called home, a place that’s still home to a very significant part of my mind. Somehow I am lucky enough to know this foreign country in the most intimate way. I didn’t simply live in Italy – it lives in me. Every time I’m here, I’m thoroughly inhabited by this bewildering, beloved, bedazzling country. 
Inhabited in a way that makes me spring to life, as if in Atlanta or America in general, I’m merely treading water, moving ahead instead of bursting onto the street and through piazzas as I do in Italy.

You may grow tired of reading this, and other posts that are similar, but I, at least, never seem to lose that thrill of contact with the culture. Even in moments of difficulty – where Italians insist on something absurd – this is still my Italy.

-30-

Friday, May 12, 2017

Map my brain

I have this fantasy about what I call "mapping my brain." In other words: pouring my thoughts out to an illustrator so that he or she can translate the recurring contents of my mind into a drawing. 

A constellation of thoughts is how I imagine it. 

Headlines, warnings, prayers, snippets of songs that have remained impressed and the layouts of the family homes I’ve visited so often that the furniture arrangements have been internalized -- I have them on 'speed dial,' is how I put it. Ten East (my grandfather's house in Bayonne). Peach Lake (my grandparents' house in what we called 'Upstate,' a.k.a. Westchester). 

Why do I remember that moment when one of my Italian students in Florence said to me, "Ma se non tu lo sai?" (Is it because it's slightly ungrammatical?)

Why do I picture myself, again and again, as a toddler, pouring the bottle of Prell shampoo on the brown, linoleum floor outside of the upstairs bathroom in Hicksville? I can see the blue green gel spreading out into a large puddle by the linen closet. 

Or the songs on permanent rotation. That French one, "Du Nord au Sud," for example, which is sung in Spanish, too. Or "Bus to Baton Rouge," by Lucinda Williams where she's moved to return to a childhood home with some rooms kept locked because they contain precious things that she could never touch. The first words of the Aeneid, chanted like a mantra: Arma virumque cano. I sing of arms and the man...

The headline I saw on the newsstand in Siena the day after the 1993 Italian referendum was held, during my study abroad program: "Italia E' Desta." (Translation: Italy is awake).

The map of my brain also includes -- ahem -- actual roads (mainly from Florence). Indeed, I find the video camera in my head is frequently livestreaming various viuzze, vicoli and strade from my beloved city (so many hours spent wandering the centro storico and climbing the hills outside the city walls, clearly my brain was absorbing every cobblestone even while my thoughts were elsewhere). 

Such that it mitigates the distance; in my head, I am often in Italy so what of it if my body remains stubbornly in Atlanta?

I jot ideas down now and again, in the hopes I somehow meet an artist with whom I could partner.

Map my brain. Who can help me? What will I find when we map my brain?

But better yet, why do I want to map my brain? Just another form of intellectual narcissism?

Monday, May 08, 2017

Italy trip prep! Alessandro Gassman interview



I try to immerse myself in the Italian language before embarking on a trip to Italy. That means loading up on podcasts, watching films and in this case interviews with famous Italians. Who said it needs to be work? Alessandro Gassman is one of the most successful and best-known film actors in Italy (thanks in part to his father, Vittorio) and someone who gives a good interview.

Note, the one from the show Le Iene is much better but I can't link to it easily.

Friday, April 21, 2017

I.Am.Going.On.a.Trip. Me. Si, si!

This is a travel post about a trip I haven’t taken yet.

But I know how it’s going to go. It will be more or less the trip of a lifetime, in fact (another trip of a lifetime, as it were). I know already what I will savor, and it won’t be the monuments or the special museum tours or even really the scenery.

I am going to a place where I need no friends, no itineraries, where I need nothing more than people in the streets speaking the native language, which feels at once thrillingly novel to me and cozily familiar.

I am going, but of course, to Italy -- where I once lived (and thrived, as only one can in Italy). And I plan to feast on every encounter with every barista, every bite of my favorite ciambellina pastry, every tinkle of spoons as I stir a cappuccino in a caffe, every moment at the bus stop chiacchierando with an older signora about what’s keeping the bus from arriving.

I wouldn’t normally be so cocky about the future – as anyone knows, life has a way of surprising you, especially life on trips.

But two years ago, I spent 5 days in Italy and the mind-blowing, mind-altering success of the trip was evident within a few hours on the ground, when a man holding a motorcycle helmet walked into a coffee bar by the Campidoglio in Rome. Clearly a regular, he jutted out his chin and exchanged a look with the barista that wordlessly conveyed, “Do you see what I’m saying?” and “Can you believe that?” Where both parties knew exactly what “that” referred to. For his part, the barman, drying a glass behind the counter, shot the customer one quick glance that seemed to say, “Oh finally you’re here!” and “What a day we’re having!” 

I nibbled on my schiacciata with prosciutto crudo, and watched, in hopes the conversation-cum-afternoon chronicle would continue.

Then I returned to the hotel in Rome where I would be staying just a single night, and sitting in the window sill of my second-story room, I looked out over the narrow, cobblestone street below as a Roman toddler biked back and forth in front of his mother’s shop. I wondered for a moment, what could someone do with only 24 hours in Rome? That was all the time I had given myself in the Eternal City before moving on to Florence.

Watching through the spaces of the ‘H’ and the ‘O’ in the vertical hotel sign attached to the building, as the toddler wheeled around on his bike and his mother and grandfather offered commentary, I concluded you could do so much in 24 hours

As for the particulars, well, I am going to Torino (with quick stops in Milan and the countryside outside of Torino).  I've kept the trip largely secret from American friends -- what I call a 'pearl in my pocket,' an idea I trot out for a precious audience of one, savoring the thought that I will soon be there -- largely because any time I am going to Italy, it feels impossible. Impossibly wonderful, impossibly special, impossible that it will really happen. When you want something so much, you fear anyone could pry your little dream from you. Italy will never be a casual tourist destination for me -- like that old boyfriend of yours whom you cannot see without wondering what could have been (in my case, quite literally, the 'boyfriend' in question IS Italy. Hence the analogy).

In any event, I will be going there in May to attend one of Italy's biggest book fairs, il Salone del Libro

But really I will be going there to eavesdrop on conversations, to saunter through the streets, to wait expectantly at the counter of a caffe in the hopes a man holding a motorcycle helmet comes by to entertain me with a little display of the Italian national character. It's worth the plane fare, alone.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

From the Archive: Mommy's Book of Moods

I feel sometimes as though I could write an entire book about my moods. Is everyone this way?

Join me as I indulge this fantasy.

I could write it along the lines of Bridget Jones' Diary, but oriented, in my case, for the older mother of a toddler (ahem). OK, here's a good day -- a really good day:

Sleep: 7 hrs, 45 min sleep
Caffeine intake: 1.5 caffelattes
Time to write in the morning: 1.5 hours solid work
Mood as of 8 a.m.: "It's A Wonderful Life" (last scene, obviously)

Now here's the night-time edition -- as in, I'm still in an amazing mood:

Sleep: 7 hrs, 45 min sleep
Caffeine intake: 1.5 caffelattes
Total time writing: 4 hours
Exercise: Ran three miles
Book I'm Reading: Henry James' "The Portrait of A Lady"
Alcohol in-take: Two glasses of red wine 
Wine quality:
 We were drinking aglianico so fan-fuckin'tastic
Funny things Leo said: "Whatta happened?" and "Look at that Mommy face!"
Mood as of 8 p.m.:
 This feeling should be illegal

OK, reality check. The day for this first entry happens, oh, maybe once a year. What about “The Book Of Moods” entry for the bad days? Here it is. Call it The Scary Mommy Book Of Moods entry, for days when I’m just barely able to do any kind of mothering that doesn’t include videos.

Sleep: 6 hours, 15 minutes
In one long stretch or two sittings? Slept 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., then 2:45 a.m. to 6 a.m. SUCKS!
Caffeine intake: 2 lattes, plus a little bit from my partner’s cup. And an Excedrin. Shh!
Time to “write”: 1.5 hours, spent mainly on Twitter
Soundtrack: “No Government” by Nicolette on the way out of daycare, and I’m ready to do an Angela Bassett to the car
Book I’m Reading: Can a magazine be like a book? If so, I'm reading my alumni mag (I cannot believe the number of people who have named their kids Cumberpatch), Travel & Leisure (ogling nice vacations I’ll never take) and Parents (I’m planning to cut out the pictures of the perfect little parents featured and throw darts at them while I down a margarita. At lunch.)
Mood as of 10 a.m.: I can sleep standing up. In fact, I am sleeping standing up. Right now.
Funny things my son said: “Why you not turn right back there?” Except it wasn’t funny. The first time or the eighth time. I didn't turn right because I missed the turn -- isn't that obvious, Lil Einstein?
Mood as of 10 p.m.: Need to start looking for a full-time work. A job would be way easier than this.

Just me? Or is anyone out there ready to pre-order? Bulk discounts will be available.

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.