Saturday, December 09, 2017

The Year in Writing -- 2017!

I began writing an annual 'Year in Writing' roundup after I discovered a piece by the writer Alexander Chee from 2014 in which he cataloged the many career milestones he'd wracked up that year. A year in review, as it were, but for writing. It looked incredibly impressive (he was the guy who came up with the Amtrak Writer-in-Residence idea) and something I wanted to do, probably because he is an extremely accomplished novelist who also publishes some fantastic travel writing! (He is).

Nonetheless I took the plunge, even though I'd never before written a post summing up the year in anything, writing or otherwise. As I wrote last year at this time, "You manage what you measure, right?"

For a long time, as I said then, I wasn't in any way measuring how much I wasn't accomplishing in the world of writing. 

But I'd say Bennington pretty much changed that. Once I enrolled in the MFA program there, I began to see possibilities -- and to use the words of Charles Bock, an author and Bennington alum, I also began to see writing as my permanent side job.

I've now begun to set writing goals for myself each year -- concrete objectives, some of which are definitely within reach. 

(There are also 'non-concrete' goals, like collaborate with Bono on a project. Yes that Bono! And no, it's not a joke! For me, at least).

This year, I wanted to publish something in a national magazine and I also wanted to publish some travel writing.

And....I did both! Although I should I say I did both with ONE assignment, rather than two.

I wrote two long stories, including a destination piece on Atlanta, for Delta Sky Magazine (you know, the mag in your seat pocket when you fly on Delta). As a longtime Delta flyer, I was thrilled to land a piece in a magazine I've cheerfully read many times! Plus, it was truly travel writing! You can read those pieces, plus a short profile of Mayor Kasim Reed, here.

There was another bit of travel writing that inspired an equal measure of pride because it was for CNN Travel (whose stories I occasionally edit as a contract editor for CNN) and because it was an honest-to-God personal essay about Italy (you pretty much can't beat an assignment that allows you to wax poetic about your version of heaven). I'm also proud to say the piece, entitled "You Can Return to Italy," gave me a chance to lay out my personal traveling style -- what I call nostalgia tourism. Where you have a private list of stops that allow you to take the pulse of a place you know so well. You can read the piece here.

A few other milestones:

*On the literary translation front, I published my first translation (for Drunken Boat).

*I also reported on Italy's largest book fair -- and the positioning of Italian women authors -- for the bookworld website Literary Hub. It's called, "Where are all the great Italian women writers?"

*I said goodbye to Atlanta through a 3,000-word personal essay for the AJC's Personal Journeys rubric, which appears on Sundays. What an honor! As soon as I knew we'd be leaving Atlanta, I began writing the essay in my head. To have an editor actually want to print some of those thoughts, well, it's cool (Thanks, Suzanne!). You can read it here

I wouldn't want to paint too rosy a picture. I think you'd all know already if I were some super successful writer! I didn't publish anything in The New York Times this year, which, after the high of my essay and reported piece last year, was a grave disappointment. I was hoping The Gray Lady needed me! She does not. But you can still read the essay I wrote (about recording Leo's first sounds and words) here

There were many other writing milestones I did not reach, such as polishing a short story and moving forward on a longer project I've begun.

As I've said before, it wasn't an Alexander Chee year (he's so successful now, he doesn't write his year in review anymore!). But there's no question that as a writer, I'm not where I was a year ago or two years ago. A little more than 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 about those fiction projects I didn't get to: Shall I put them on the list for next year? I think I will.

Last but not least, where is YOUR 'Year in Writing'? You know who you are. Post it here in the comments or on Facebook. 


Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Dear Marie Kondo

Dear Marie Kondo,

I know that your book has helped many pare down, and since a relocation has consumed me for much of 2017 – moving away from my Atlanta home of 9 years to begin a new life in Connecticut – I thought it might make sense to seek you out.

If I got it right, you tell people to ask -- as they inventory their things -- does it “spark joy”?

Except, Marie -- can I call you Marie? -- you don't understand how many things spark joy for me.

Or merely incite some kind of emotion inside.

Or, in the case of Elmo Peter Elson, represent a line in the sand. He’s my childhood teddy bear – and he’s dressed in my childhood clothes (a blue windbreaker with a faulty zipper and riotous 1970s toddler pants).  I can’t throw him out now. (No, I don’t know why his name is Elmo Peter Elson.)

Elmo’s making the journey along with a cassette tape of U2’s “Boy” album that’s unspooled, and half-used notepads engraved with the name of my deceased uncle and a button for a failed political campaign where I volunteered 20 years ago, plus a vintage pin from Bayonne, N.J., my father’s hometown (because sometimes other people’s mementos, especially one’s parents, are even more potent than your own) and the pregnancy tester stick – positive! – that forget ‘changed my life’ – it gave me the life I didn’t know I was even craving. Also: bus, train and plane tickets, mainly to and from Italy, and a lot of Lira – Italy’s old currency -- that can no longer be used. But they’re like my bank statements from Cassa Di Risparmio di Firenze, which remind me that I was lucky enough to live long enough in the city of Dante to open up an account at the Florence Savings Bank. (I’ve also kept the Enrico Coveri scarf Melanie gave me and the plastic shopping bag she used to give it to me because while it is a relatively ordinary yellow and green plastic bag it is also instantly recognizable as a bag not produced in the US or used by a US retail establishment. Reason to keep it.)

Plus writing journals.

Lots and lots of journals, including ones from grammar school that I find unreadable (some thoughts should be kept inside, I’ve concluded.)

Lots of letters, too, including the one from a very dear friend that remains unopened and will likely stay in that virgin state until we die. You see, Marie, it’s a condolence card. Everything there was to know -- and everything we didn’t want to know -- is discernible on the outside of the card. Her careful handwriting, our names, the date stamp the week Mike’s father died -- without any need to open it. She is sorry and we are sorry and nothing can be done to erase the death that occasioned the card. To paraphrase the poet Donald Hall, the dead stay dead. So it’s still sealed but my God, Marie, how can I throw it out? Her kindness can’t be discarded.

I also still have Doug K.’s business card. In fact, I have two of them. I know what you're thinking -- who uses business cards anymore? Especially one for a man I last spoke to back in 2000. No, I don't need it. But you see, I do.

We named Doug Security Director of the Year in 2000, back when I was an editor on a trade pub that covered security systems and metal detectors and locks with audit trails.

He'd done such a bang-up job in his position as security director of -- wait for it -- the World Trade Center, that he won the annual contest that year. Security Director of the Year. In Doug’s case, it might as well have said ‘of the decade.’ His picture was on the cover and everything, with the two towers looming behind him. And then on Sept. 11 – you know the year -- I tried calling the number on the business card but I couldn't get through. You see what I mean, Marie? I've got to keep his business card. I need something to remember him by. Just like the page I ripped from an old calendar of New York. The last image I have of those Twin Towers. Where we went after we saw "Annie" on Broadway with Uncle Pat and Aunt Maureen, before they had children -- a thousand years ago, give or take.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Read Delta Sky Mag (& fly Delta jets!)

If you've flown Delta anytime this month, you might have read one of the stories I filed for Delta Sky Magazine about Atlanta!

If not, you can find there here.

I wrote a destination piece about Atlanta, centered around the Beltline rails-to-trails project (called "City in the Forest") and a snapshot of Atlanta's economy, which you can see in the photo here.

I also wrote a short profile of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed (where I compare him to a competitive athlete).

Thanks to all of my friends who snapped photos of the magazine while in the air!

As the sign at Hartsfield says, Fly Delta Jets!


Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Italy and Nostalgia Tourism for CNN Travel

A trip to Italy for me? Swoon.

A trip to Italy that leads to an essay in CNN Travel? Days and weeks of swooning.

Read it here! There you'll also find my very own photos, from my trip earlier this year to Torino and two years ago to Rome (including the one above).



Sunday, August 20, 2017

Jacket made of wind

A lost entry from the Leo diary: "I wish I had a jacket made of wind." Me, too, my imaginative friend, me, too. 


Saturday, July 08, 2017

Dear Leo: Happy Birthday!

Dear Leo,

Five years ago, I looked like the person in the photo -- I was that person.

Atlanta was gripped in a heat wave -- I learned at Fernbank the other day that we set a record of 106 degrees shortly before you were born! -- and I was gripped in a revolution. In the final days of my pregnancy, I had moments in which I almost felt as though I were going insane, unable to sleep and still unable to peer into the little face I so longed to see.

It wasn't all bad, though. Indeed "adventures in mind-expansion" is what I called the final month. As I wrote in the journal that would soon become my constant companion, "My mental acuity is sharpened if only in the sense that I seem more able or maybe just more willing to study all angles of a situation. At the same time, I appear keener to let minor annoyances or concerns go."

Monday, June 26, 2017

Dove sono finite le scrittrici italiane?

Colleghi italiani!

Ho scritto un brano per un sito Web, Literary Hub, il quale parla di libri e il mondo delle lettere. Per precisare, intendo: il mio brano è dedicato al mondo di lettere italiane!

E quel brano pone una domanda importante: dove sono finite le scrittrici italiane più importanti?

(In inglese: "Where are the great Italian women writers? Jeanne Bonner visits the Salone del Libro to look beyond Ferrante." Quell'ultima parte -- 'oltre Ferrante' -- è importante)

Cioè, esistono le scrittrici brave ma come mai non hanno piu' successo in Italia?

Come mai la maggior parte degli autori su quasi qualsiasi elenco dei libri piu' importanti dell'anno sono uomini?

Con questa domanda in mente, sono partita per il Salone del Libro a Torino il mese scorso -- alla ricerca, appunto, delle scrittrici italiane.

L'articolo l'ho scritto in inglese, ma qui voglio fare un piccolo riassunto.

Nel brano cito alcuni esperti, comprese Loredana Lipperini e Tiziana De Rogatis, le quali hanno partecipato ad un incontro durante il Salone dedicato ai libri di Elena Ferrante.

E durante la discussione, è saltato fuori qualche commento che mi ha colpito molto.

Tipo: In Italia "pesa lo sguardo dei maschi nei confronti delle scrittrici."

La Lipperini ha aggiunto che Elsa Morante, riconosciuta ora come una delle scrittrici piu' importanti del secolo scorso e della letteratura italiana, "venne accusata di sentimentalismo" quando le sue opere furono appena uscite.

De Rogatis invece ha messo fuoco sul fatto che quando si parla di un protagonista di una prospettiva cosidetto 'universale,' in Italia più che altro, si parla di un protagonista maschio.

Puo' essere una sfumatura innocente ma quali sono le conseguenze per le lettrici? Dove lascia le lettrici (e lettori) che cercano protagoniste che rispecchiano la vita da donna?

Per precisare, De Rogatis ha fatto questo commento su "I giorni dell'abandono" di Ferrante, ad esempio, "Ho provato delle emozioni enormi."

E certo!
 La Lipperini ha detto che all'estero "è consueto parlare del genere," ma della possibilita' di parlarne in Italia? Nulla da fare. O perlomeno, c'è ne meno entusiasmo -- e meno collaborazione.

Dopo la discussione, ho intervistato De Rogatis, e lei mi ha detto che certo, le cose stanno cambiando un po', con lo spunto della Ferrante, ma è "un processo piu' lento in Italia."

Ha aggiunto che c'è ancora "una casta maschile" letteraria e academica che si occupa del settore dei libri (che lo gestisce).

Insomma, ha detto, c'è "ancora strada da fare."

Inoltre vorrei accennarvi un brano che ho citato diverse volte nel mio articolo per Literary Hub: "Maschilismo e letteratura, cosi ci perdiamo noi uomini?" L'ha scritto Luigi Spagnol per Il Libraio e pone una domanda importante che ben o male solamente uno scrittore maschio potrebbe porre.

E non solamente quella domanda. C'è anche questo: "Perche' ci ostiniamo a non voler leggere il mondo attraverso, anche attraverso, gli occhi di grandissime artiste che hanno l'unico difetto di appartenere a un sesso diverso dal nostro?"

Poi lui controlla i vincitori di tutti i premi più importanti letterari. Indovinate un po' che ne vince la maggior parte?!

Io ho aggiunto un'altra cosa al mio brano per Literary Hub: E' da 2003 che una scrittrice non vince il premio Strega!

Si che le cose stanno cambiando. Basta dare un'occhiata alla cinquina per il premio Campiello (comprese Alessandra Sarchi e Laura Pugno -- che bello!).

Ma come ha detto Tiziano De Rogatis al Salone del Libro, c'è ancora molto strada da fare.

Vi invito di dare un'occhiata al questo mio articolo (potete trovarlo qui) -- e fatevi sentire!


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Italian trip 2017: post #12 -- What I bought in Italy

Summary for this post? How about: What you buy in Italy when you're an Italophile, traveling mainly for the nostalgia, with the sure knowledge that the things you really want to purchase are mainly found at the supermarket, the newsstand, the bancarella of used books under the portico by the church, et al.

Or as I've said before, my favorite souvenirs are my receipts -- a trail of all the good places to eat, drink, read books and browse other wares that I found along the way. And of course, Italian receipts, like everything else in Italy, are slightly different than American receipts. (Printed on a slippery paper stock, and imprinted with the shop logo in a way that you'd like to make a t-shirt from one.)

What's in the picture? Oh the usual:

*Lots of Caffe Kimbo (which actually comes from Naples but which luckily can now be found throughout Italy (and online), yay, thank ya Jesus);
*Italian biscotti because, really, you just have to have what they have; we have not mastered the art of the Italian biscotto, when we're talking about the breakfast cookies they dip in their coffee
*Lots of copies of Bell'Italia magazine;
*Fancy schmancy chocolates from Venchy's outpost at the main Torino train station;
*A copy of Dylan Dog, the seminal Italian fantasy comic, for Il Nostro Inviato, aka Mike, who I think didn't even knew how great a gift it was;

*And, of course, a few new Moka coffee pots from the fantastic Bialetti home store in Torino because really I cannot have enough of them (I have one stashed at my mother's, one stashed at Mike's sister's house, and it's helpful to have a travel model to bring along on get the picture).

It used to be that one of the best parts of the post-trip ruminations was taking this "group picture" of acquisti (I even wrote about it for Catapult!).

Now it might just be having "someone" model items that you bought! Like a super cool Milano jacket for my super cool Leonardo (Milan is an important city for a guy named Leonardo, after all!).

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Italian trip 2017: photo-a-day #10 Parole italiane

Best of Italy: parole italiane. Italian words. Any Italian words. All Italian words.

In this case, it's a two-fer. A sign commemorating the 150th birthday of the Italian daily La Stampa in Piazza Castello in Torino.

Not my paper, but what of it? I'm a newspaper lover from way back. So I love that this sign marries two sides of my life: the news business and the Italian language business (as it were).

Il Futuro E' Quotidiano. Literally: The future is daily. Bello, proprio bello.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Italian trip 2017: photo-a-day #9 Room with view

My room with a view -- at a friend's house in Florence during my trip to Italy last month.

(Was it really last month, already?)

The view? Well, I see the hills outside of the city in the background and the gorgeous garden of the Four Seasons Hotel in the foreground.

I see orange tiled roofs and greenery. I see Mediterranean sunlight.

I see and hear Italy: the birds chirping, the clatter of utensils as someone sets the table, the distinctive whir of the carabinieri vehicles.


Saturday, June 03, 2017

Italian trip 2017: photo-a-day #8 ... Caffe + dog

They love their cafes in Turin, they love their coffee and I guess they love their dogs.

Snapped at Caffe Vittorio Veneto two weeks ago, as I embarked on one of my countless early morning marathon strolls.

The Vittorio Veneto is considered one of the city's historic coffee bars. It's also, I note for early risers like myself, one of the few in the Piazza Castello/Via Po area of Torino that opens at 6.

I drink coffee first thing, without exception! So does the signora in the picture -- who also apparently walks the dog first thing.


Friday, June 02, 2017

Italian trip 2017: photo-a-day #7 Hiking Pistoia!

I want to say the highlight of my trip to Italy last month was hiking with my friend, Giovanni! Talking about forest cleansing.

How can that greenery be real? Oh but it is. Where we went -- the mountains outside of Pistoia -- well, I would not be able to re-trace my steps easily but that's the whole point.

Let the Italians take me where they want!

Which Italians? These Italians. These super awesome Italians. Mille grazie Veronica e Giovanni!

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Italian trip 2017: photo-a-day #6 Crazy dry cleaner

Lots of stops when I return to Italy, and most are of a very personal kind of tourism. Like checking to see if "the crazy dry cleaner" is still in business.

Suffice it to say, he is (or at least his business hasn't -- yet -- been replaced by another "snack stop" for tourists).

Phew! For a moment -- I mistook the block -- I thought he'd closed.

He was our dry cleaner when we lived in Florence -- his shop is located just around the corner from our old apartment, near Piazza Santa Croce.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Italian trip 2017: photo-a-day #5 Torino courtyard

Will someone tell me if I've failed so far to make the case that Torino is astonishingly beautiful?

That hidden treasures await you?

What do they do in this courtyard? Who lives in this gorgeous building? Whose days begin looking out of that window at the grassy little field in the center of the courtyard?

To be sure, all Italian cities are riddled with tiny hidden courtyards -- but the key is "hidden." One rarely sees them. In Turin, just turn your head while heading down Via Po toward the river or Via Roma toward the station. They're there. They sometimes even house businesses like florists.

One can imagine someone wheeling into the cortile on a bike, gleefully putting an end to the commute (such as it were) by hopping off the bike and sniffing the air, with a premonition about dinner...I have a premonition that I may never return to Torino, if only because it seems almost ridiculously lucky to get two chances to explore such a wonderful city! More to come.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Italian trip 2017: photo-a-day -- #4 Fresh peas!

Just follow them. Go where they go, do what they say, ask questions but don't obstruct.

Those are my unspoken rules for being with Italian friends. It was a strategy that when I was a student in Siena reaped such travel gold that I insisted on going to live in Italy full-time. My Senesi friends took me to places that I could probably never find again -- some abandoned castle in Vescovado di Murlo, thermal baths in Southern Tuscany, a discoteque all'aperta out by a small airport in the countryside.

When I was in Italy last week, I had the chance to go hiking with my friends Giovanni and Veronica and again, they took me to a place that I could probably never find again. Two places, in fact. The second, in the low mountain range outside of Pistoia, that was so silent, so remote and hidden, that I felt as if my footsteps were trampling over the footsteps of the ancient Romans who'd sown the path. No tourist signs, no official place to park where you fed money into slot. Just the most intense greenery I've seen in a long time, and a serenity befitting the Buddhist converts who have taken refuge in this corner of Tuscany.

Oh and of course after you hike (or really do anything in Italy), you eat. In our case, a tiny restaurant in an old mill beside a stream (where else would they have put a mill?) where the waitress read out the menu, which is to say, read out the menu in her mind. We left a small window by our table open so we could hear the babbling creek below us.

We were hungry so we had pretty much everything, including these fresh peas (stunningly good) and a swiss chard involtino filled with baby veggies, plus I had the fresh pasta with a ragu of rabbit (don't tell Leo!).

Buon appetito!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Italian trip 2017: photo-a-day -- #3 Fiori!

Sure, we have flower boxes in our windows, too, in America but they never look like this! What exactly is the Signora or Signore feeding these flowers in Milan that they look like something you'd bring to a wedding?!

I became obsessed with window flower boxes during my last trip in Rome when I photographed several in Piazza Navona, and it might even have been the moment I decided to admit (once more) that I had it bad (for Italy) and it wasn't good, to quote the old blues song.

I cannot for the life of me understand why more tourists don't visit Milan. It's stunning beautiful, like any major Italian art city, but also chic and modern!

I had really only a few hours there, before bedding down for the night, and catching my return flight to the US. But I made the most of them, strolling before dinner from my hotel down via Brera into the Brera arts district, where I took this photo, past La Scala (where fancy Milanesi were filing in the famous theater for the 8 p.m. symphony performance), through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele (oh if our malls could look like that), around the Duomo, and then ultimately down Via Orefici and Via Dante toward the Castello Sforzesco. Troppo bello! Especially for a walking enthusiast, such as myself. I basically threaded my way through the city from one pedestrian area/piazza to another.

(I really think American cities could take a page from this book -- we have beautiful buildings in our downtowns, even if they may be abandoned or underused. Can we give people a place to stroll? Can we build some squares? We'd have to contend with the homeless population, but then again, in Milan, you're contending with the strolling vendors who seem to think I need a woven bracelet of the kind I wore when I was 12).

Cheers to the gardener who lives at this home in Milan! You made my day.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Italian trip 2017: photo-a-day -- #2 Breakfast

Una ciambellina. Oo-nuh chah-m-bell-eena. The name of my favorite Italian pastry, hands down. The name of this blog, in fact!

I did something this trip to Italy I almost never do -- I ate breakfast twice every day! Meaning, two pastries. I usually adapt myself to the very Italian habit of moderation (something visitors often overlook in the Italian character) when I visit il bel Paese but this time, I wanted to try other pastries without giving up my beloved ciambellina.

Che golosa!

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.


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.


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.


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?!