Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Why blog? Here's why

I often wonder why I keep this blog when I could just continue to practice my religion of Italian studies fetishism privately.

I could continue to write in my journals (plural -- the one in my car, the one for fiction, for nonfiction, et al).

I could post curiosities to Facebook and Twitter, and leave it at that.

But as Anna Clark so eloquently puts it on her blog, it's to "practice the public art of writing and reflection."

When someone expresses it that way, it sounds so lovely, so noble.


Monday, February 22, 2016

Two reasons I love Italian newspapers

They always have an interesting take on American politics. To wit, the political cartoon about Hillary Clinton showing the Statue of Liberty blow-drying her hair.

In the case of La Repubblica, the newspapers are so colorful! And often covering intellectual topics that betray a deep interest in other cultures. Here they're writing about Spain under Franco, with some harrowing pictures to boot.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Bassani on his characters (Nuovi Argomenti)

"Basically, in my novel, every character worth considering is a manifestation of my own personal feelings."

“Nel mio romanzo, insomma, ogni personaggio degno di questo nome e’ una forma del mio sentimento.”

This statement comes from an interview Italian author Giorgio Bassani (The Garden of the Finzi-Continis) gave to the Italian Cultural Institute of New York, and which was published last year by Nuovi Argomenti.

Bassani is talking in the interview about what portion of the indelible characters he created in the novel, Il Giardino dei Finzi-Contini, are real. But if there is an easy answer, he eschews it.

"What's true?" He asks. "Did these characters actually exist?"

He continues, "I could talk on and on until tomorrow morning about how the shorts Micol is wearing really belong to a young woman I saw one day who made a big impression on me when I was a boy. Or the sweaty face of Malnate, which really belongs to a friend of mine who isn't called Malnate but rather Vincenzo Cicognani, who lives in Lugo. His face sweats when he argues, and he's also very tall."

At the risk of being repetitive, Bassani summarizes his thoughts in this way: "Basically, in my novel, every character worth considering is a manifestation of my own personal feelings." (Original Italian above)

To wit, he says, "The main characters are manifestations of feelings of the person who wrote the novel, which is to say, more or less Micol is me, Professor Ermanno is me, Rovigatti is me, the father, it's me."

In the Italian, Bassani has a novel way of putting it -- he actually uses French to express himself: "Sono tutte forme del sentimento di chi ha scritto questo romanzo, cioe’ effettivamente Micol c’est moi, il professor Ermanno c’est moi il ciabattino Rovigatti c’est moi, mio padre sono io."

Here's the original Italian which I transcribed from Nuovi Argomenti:

"Cosa c’e’ di vero? Questi personaggi sono effettivamente esistiti?"


“Potrei trattenermi fino a domani mattina a dire che gli shorts di Micol appartengono a quella tale signorina che io ho visto un giorno e mi ha colpito quando ero ragazzo, oppure che la faccia sudata di Malnate appartiene veramente ad un mio amico che non si chiama Malnate, ma che si chiama Vincenzo Cicognani, il quale sta a Lugo, ha la faccia sudata quando discute ed e’ anche molto alto.”


"Quindi da un lato, ognuno di questi personaggi ha un rapporto col vero oggettivo – e molti si sono offesi per questo – pero' da un altro lato sono tutte forme del sentimento di chi ha scritto questo romanzo, cioe’ effettivamente Micol c’est moi, il professor Ermanno c’est moi il ciabattino Rovigatti c’est moi, mio padre sono io."


“Nel mio romanzo, insomma, ogni personaggio degno di questo nome e’ una forma del mio sentimento.”


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Louise Attaque - Du Nord Au Sud

Lost entry from my car journal -- Here and there

Oct 12, 2015
From the journal I keep in my car 

The babysitter calls me at work today and I hear his voice down the phone line, tiny, bewildered, “Mommy.” Then again, “Mommy.”

As if that were a whole sentence (and it is, I suppose).

Nothing's wrong.

It's just that I'm here and he's there.


Sunday, February 14, 2016

What I'm reading (literary schizophrenia)

I want to record life exactly as it happens. But that's not easy.

I mean, these days, you would need, in any given moment, to write down what you're thinking, what you're doing, the texts you're writing, the emails you're sending, the stories you're scrolling through online.

In fact, your reading life is probably like your real life. Mine is. I'm reading some books start to finish. Others I'm re-reading. Still others I'm skimming, almost like a few pages or a chapter packs the punch of a quick pick-me-up. 'Oh! I needed that dose of Hemingway.'

Okay, so here's 30 days in the life of Jeanne reading (books only).

Books read for Bennington:
Raymond Carver, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
Denis Johnson, Incognito Lounge (poetry)
Denis Johnson, Jesus’ Son
Antonya Nelson, Female Trouble

Other books read:
David Gates, Jernigan
Alice McDermott, Charming Bill (re-read parts)
Antonio Tabucchi, Viaggi e altri viaggi (re-reading parts)

Also reading (for book reviews):
Viola Di Grado, Hollow Heart

Reading excerpts of:
Jhumpa Lahiri, In Other Words

Started reading, then stopped:
Ben Lerner, 10:04

Books I've started to read and plan to finish:
Jane Austen, Emma

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Anche tu, Jhumpa? (Jhumpa Lahiri loves Italy)

Jhumpa Lahiri has somehow read my thoughts – and my diary. Yikes! 

She doesn’t just love Italy. She lurves it. Like me. The Pulitzer Prize winning author has taken the almost unprecedented step of ceasing to write in English, the language of the works that catapulted her to success, and instead has begun a new literary career in Italian. She does so because, as she’s admitted in many interviews, she’s become obsessed with Italian, and feels almost ill whenever she must be away from Italy.

O, guarda, Jhumpa, anch’io. Me, too. I’ve already confessed as much in an essay published last year on Catapult. I think crying over Italy after you drop your son off at daycare qualifies as some kind of illness. Who knew I had such august company?

Today’s the official launch day for her new memoir, In Other Words, written in English and Italian (or rather I should say, written in Italian, her Italian, and then translated into English). I don’t have my copy yet but I’m reading an excerpt of it in the Italian literary magazine Nuovi Argomenti, and that’s just fine with me. I’m not sure I really need to read the English version, right?

Nonetheless, certain words from Ann Goldstein’s translation stand out. In The New Yorker excerpt of the work, Lahiri says she “felt a sense of rapture” in Rome. Yep, rapture, check.

Here’s what she’s in for the rest of her life:

When I returned briefly to Rome last year, I quickly realized I had paid for the Nostalgia Tour. 

I spent five days retracing my steps. I stumbled into a tiny piazza and stumbled back nearly 20 years to a weekend getaway to the Eternal City – my first with my partner. I looked up at the street sign – Piazza San Pantaleo – and my mind, photographic for things like street names and addresses and the dates important moments happened – recalled instantly that we had stayed maybe two nights at a small pensione on the piazza. Two nights or a lifetime.

I revisited old stomping grounds like Campo dei Fiori and the Pantheon, taking the temperature of the city. Eavesdropping on conversations, watching the interactions between the barista and the regulars at the coffee bar. Listening along with the taxi driver to the Juventus game on the radio, and returning his smile in the rear view mirror as he pumped his fist over the key goal. Looking in the shop windows, including the pharmacy, hoping to find the house shoes I used to wear when I lived in Italy. 

Observing with a loving glance Italian children, shouting out commands and observations to their mothers while they lick gelato and haul their heavy backpacks home from school (“Oh! Mamma! Vieni qui!”)

Then returning from Italy and your mind is already bifurcated, split down the middle between Italian and English. Forever translating. Get used to it (she probably already has).

She’ll forever be tethered to Italy. Wishing she was “there” while failing to make the most of her time “here.” A creative tension, to be sure, but one full of heartache.

Rapture, indeed, Jhumpa. We’re in for it.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Fall arrives 'via FedEx' (Lost diary entry)

From my diary:

Sept. 24, 2014 

Nothing comes gradually anymore. I say this as fall appears to have arrived in Atlanta via FedEx, rather than snail mail.

Friday, February 05, 2016

From my Bennington journal

Nostalgia is a kind of fictionalization. We're often nostalgic for things that never happened.

(Mark Wunderlich lecture)


If you've ever cried while reading a book, it was probably because of a period.

All creative writing is about silence.

(Mark Slouka on the use of silence in writing)