Sunday, October 30, 2016

Aubade by Phillip Larkin

Here's what my "English 101" students at Clayton State University will be reading this week:


Related Poem Content Details

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.   
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.   
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.   
Till then I see what’s really always there:   
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,   
Making all thought impossible but how   
And where and when I shall myself die.   
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse   
—The good not done, the love not given, time   
Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because   
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;   
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,   
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

Read the rest of the poem here at The Poetry Foundation's Web site.

We've also read "Now" by Denis Johnson and "What the Living Do" by Marie Howe. 

Poetry rocks!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Here's your Italian itinerary (prego!)

Once a year, at least, someone hits me up for recommendations in Italy. Oh I'm going to Italy. What should I do? Where should I go? (said breathlessly, of course) And it makes sense.

I live and breathe Italy! Even after all of these years back, stateside.

Often the questions are the same so I figured it might be worth setting down some basic suggestions.

(For something similar on Florence, you can go here).

Given the topic and potential permutations of a trip to Italy, this post is scandalously brief and glossing over all kinds of amazing Italian cities and destinations. Also: light on detail about the specific cities and regions I recommend but I figure this can be your starting point. I'll always be happy to add info later if the same question keeps coming up!

Skip down to the bottom for the real skinny but in the meantime here are the answers to "the usual suspects" for Italy trip-planning purposes:

What to do in Florence

Is it enough to say walk around and marvel? Probably not. I'll assume you're going to hit all the biggies (the Uffizi, for example, the shops on Via Tornabuoni, the glory of Piazza della Signoria and Piazza della Repubblica) and suggest you also roam around the Oltrarno section.

You'll find other ideas in my quick-hit guide to Florence.

Tuscan countryside excursion?

I usually suggest Lucca because of all the cities in Tuscany, it is truly unique. It's a walled city, for Chrissakes! There is a piazza that is a perfect oval. And a Medieval tower topped by a tree.

Obviously, Siena (where I spent a semester, studying abroad) is gorgeous as is Volterra. But honestly that's just scratching the surface. There are all kinds of other delightful little cities and no I don't mean San Gimignano.

When in Rome

I personally think you can do just about anything in Rome and you will quickly understand why it is the Eternal City. Just walk around Piazza Navona or Campi dei Fiori. Look up. Eat (especially in Trastevere or Testaccio). Drink. Spend an ungodly sum at the store with the Vespa gear (ahem).

Or better yet, here's my specific advice: Stand in front of the Pantheon, then go in. You could easily fly back home after that. Leave it to the Romans to know the only way to top (literally and figuratively) a gorgeous building with a cupola is to insert a window on the sky.

Seriously, Rome seems to lend itself to any kind of trip. I spent a mere 24 hours in Rome last year and was so thoroughly enchanted, I can't stop thinking about the visit. Needless to say, three days in Rome would be great, as would a week.

More information on Rome here.

What about Venice?

Yeah, what about it? Okay so I am not an expert on Venice or even a frequent visitor. I believe I've been there twice. It's stunning because it's unique but overrun. And I don't mean overrun and hence I judge it and everyone who goes there. I mean overrun, as in, you might not enjoy it that much because it is a tiny city thoroughly overwhelmed by tourism.

That said, the streets are made of WATER. Hard to beat that as a concept. Also the Peggy Guggenheim Museum is quite interesting. Plus if you go, you can read John Berendt's City of Falling Angels as trip prep.

Wildcard (BOLOGNA)

Maybe try Bologna. It's a small, centrally-located city with gorgeous porticos on just about every building. Oh and the food is insanely good. About an hour by train from Florence so you could easily make it a nice day trip. It's in Emilia-Romagna, the so-called "bread basket" of Italy. And you'll be eating a lot of bread there. And pasta.

Wildcard #2 (MILAN)

Milan is an amazing city, and one often overlooked by Americans (although more and more are making it part of itineraries). It's amazing how, you ask? The food, the architecture, the fashion, the ART.

In fact, my favorite Italian painting (Rissa in Galleria by Umberto Boccioni) hangs in Milan's Pinacoteca di Brera museum (there's also another great painting, ahem -- Da Vinci's The Last Supper. But good luck getting a ticket!).

Other absolutely breath-taking places to visit: the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, which is near the Duomo (stunning) and La Scala. The area called the Navigli is chock full of cool restaurants and bars, which are canal-side. Have a glass of Oltrepo Pavese for me!

Le Cinque Terre/Italian Riviera

I would be remiss if I didn't mention Le Cinque Terre/Italian Riviera, although I only visited once and it was years ago. The five little cliffside towns are overrun with tourists but also stunning. This description applies to Vernazza, in particular -- the most picturesque of the five villages. You may want to make your base another town in the region -- like Lerici or Portovenere -- but either way, nothing beats traveling by train to these tiny towns, watching the Mediterranean streak by from the train windows as you traverse vertiginous tunnels that seem perched on the side of the cliff and ready to tumble into the sea...and then hiking around the region (also grab a pesto pizza and a bottle of Schiaccetra').

My real advice?

Head down to Southern Italy. The food is so good you will wonder why you didn't come sooner. Most incredible region I've visited. In particular I would suggest Puglia. You can divide the province into three parts, choosing one to visit or as I did, sampling all three: the Salento peninsula, the Gargano promontory, and the area around Taranto. Oh and take along Italy's version of the Michelin guide (the Gambero Rosso) -- you'd be surprised how many entries show up for places like Bari (but you won't be spending a lot because everything is cheaper down South).

In the Salento peninsula, you'll find two types of beaches: spiaggie rocciose and spiaggie sabbiose (rocky vs. sandy beaches), you may eat horse (I did), you'll drink the local wine (the only wines I drink now, including primitivo and negroamaro) and you'll never miss Tuscany's tourists.

Click here for where to eat in Trani, and what to do and eat in Lecce, -- a regional capital that is sometimes called the Florence of the South.

Hit me up with questions in the comments or on Facebook (where I'll be posting this).

Oh and buon viaggio!


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

From the archives: "Do polar bears fly?"

In  light of the kind reception to my New York Times essay about recording audio snippets of Leo, I'm re-posting excerpts from what I call the "Leo Journal." This installment is intermixed with my normal "bits" journal, a diary of ideas and observations. Here it is:

November 2016
I only have to hear "eleventeen" once for it to instantly become my favorite number.

The best number that has never existed.

I've written about this topic before (notably here and here). And even if you love me, you may be blanching right now from boredom and pity (for me).

But, oh God, it is so awesome!

Is it the writer's equivalent of someone learning to walk? Run?

When Leo says "eleventeen," I don't correct him. (Probably not something I should admit.)

It's just so cute. Eight, nine, ten, eleventeen.

I do the same thing when he says "fi-ruh" (for the word fire). Ditto: lello, and hangerburger (to go with your hotdog).

It's the greatest blooper reel ever created, as far as I am concerned.

And besides, why correct him when he says, "I want to swing very higher"?

Swinging "very higher" sounds like something I'd like to do, too.

March 17, 2016
From one of Leo's children's books: "Where do the months and years go when they're gone?"

April 15, 2016
6:33 a.m.
I have to think Atlanta is some kind of bird sanctuary. I’ve never heard so much birdsong or such loud tweets anywhere else. My God! Lots of red-feathered cardinals – the only bird I know to recognize.
It gets light so early these days. Which means SOMEONE wakes up early. Cutting severely into Mommy’s writing time. I put these words down to give a sense of my life, not really to complain. It’s the change of the seasons wrought into a specific detail: Here’s what early spring means to me…abbreviated writing sessions, and also one of the few times of the year when the morning darkness dissipates quickly here. 

Atlanta, city of darkness. Lately I’ve been tweeting that it’s a city of murals. And it really is. It’s one of the few distinguishing characteristics. I guess thanks in part to Living Walls. And maybe also the specific geography of Atlanta: lots of train tunnels. The Living Walls in Cabbagetown, after all, are along the train wall that leads to Krog Street Tunnel.
I hear a voice outside – which turns out to be cat – and I look over my shoulder to see the pinkening sky through the transom window. This image = my life in Atlanta. My early morning writing life in Atlanta. The pinkening sky, glimpsed briefly through the transom window.

April 26, 2016
Leo: “My head is so full of questions.”

He asks a fairly mundane question, and then says, “My other question is: do polar bears fly?”

No, but nice try.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Where you can find Jeanne's writing

I'm not always sure who visits my blog and for what purpose but in light of the wonderful well wishes I received for my New York Times' essay (see link below), I'll take a chance that a few new faces are headed this way.

And in case you'd like to read something else of mine of that's been published recently, here are some handy links:

An essay about recording Leo for The New York Times

An essay about the sometimes painful nostalgia I feel for Italy (for Catapult)

An article about ten Italian novels I'd love to see translated into English for Literary Hub

Is Italian Literature Having Its Moment? (online at Asymptote, a journal about lit in translation)

An essay about how much this particular mother loves working (in an essay collection published this year called So Glad They Told Me)

And one recent journalism clip for a story for CNN:

Hollywood's Struggle to deal with AIDS in the 1980s (CNN)

Recording Leo for The New York Times

Every word in the title of this post fills me with joy.

Recording -- yay! Leo -- yay! For, the, wait for it...New York Times?!

Yes, you can hear the sweet strains of my little Leo's voice on The New York Times' site. A sample "interview" accompanies an essay I wrote about one of my little passions -- recording audio of how Leo talks and his language development, in an effort to, as I write, "capture the linguistic shooting star of early speech."

You can read the piece here.

Contact me if you want to interview my little 'lello'-loving audio superstar!