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?!

-30-

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

From the Archive: Falling in love with Italy

It rarely fails. Tell someone I used to live in Italy and the swooning commences.

And these days, right after the person I’m talking to swoons, he or she launches into tales about upcoming or recently-completed trips to Italy.

Americans are in love with Italy. And understandably so. It’s a country of such exquisite beauty – not hidden, not at certain times of the year or limited to one particular feature or area – that you’d have to be somewhat immune to human charms in general to resist.

As it turns out, we can map some of the reasons we all love Italy.

1. The country is actually organized.
Hard to believe, right? You tried ordering a coffee at a caffe in Italy during peak morning hours and felt as though you were at the running of the bulls. Or worse, you rented a car in Italy. Yikes!

But it’s organized around public transportation, and divided, for the traveler at least, into two neat spheres of interest: country and city. To be sure, Italians themselves often live in drab, modern apartment blocks in the suburbs. But visitors are able to move fairly quickly and easily on the public transport system between stunning cities and the gorgeous Italian countryside to take in the best in urban and rural life.

2. Rituals remain at the center of Italian life.
Italian life is still dictated by rituals, and delightfully so. There’s a time of the day, week, year or season to do something.

And many Italian rituals are ours for the taking. You can do your own evening passeggiata, strolling past shop windows and stopping to admire the view or chat with someone. You can browse the flower stalls at the market or order un’etto of prosciutto crudo (but don’t slice it too thin, please). You can learn when to order a cappuccino and when to limit yourself to an espresso.

Italians. The people who not only invented the phrase buon appetito, but also a specific corresponding response: grazie, altrettanto!


3. What a visual culture it is!
It’s a visual culture. They understood #travelpics and click-bait long before the Internet arrived. My recent trip to Florence and Rome left me astounded by the gorgeous flowers tucked into every crevice. Gelsomina spilling over the walls of the city, geraniums hanging in flower pots, and quite a few other plants I can’t even identify. I, too, have house plants and tend flowers on a veranda. But they look nothing like this.

And don’t get me started on shop windows. The Italians are geniuses at arranging shop windows (along with the prices, thank you very much). So well-organized are Italian shop windows that they lure even someone like me, a confirmed non-shopper, into all kinds of stores.

They still live life outdoors -- unlike most Americans.

4. Italians are born communicators -- and remain so.
During my visit, my Italian friends expressed the same concerns I have about our digital culture, and the cult of the devices we have in our pockets, or really in front of our faces all day and all night. But, I can see, even in just the short while I touched down in Italy, that if given the chance, Italians would still prefer to talk to people face to face. Why else would the Italian coffee bar exist? They can make coffee at home.

And thank God they don't because there's nothing more entertaining than watching them as they kvetch with the barista over the partita or politics!

Sunday, February 05, 2017

When Bell'Italia publishes your letter to the editor

I still can't believe my favorite travel magazine, Bell'Italia, published my little ol' letter to the editor!

The magazine celebrated its 30th anniversary last year, and I wrote in to say I was celebrating my 20th anniversary of reading the magazine.

And lest the editors doubt my sincerity, look here and here to see all the times I've gushed over the magazine!

In addition to being a supremely beautiful magazine, Bell'Italia is also incredibly useful. The articles contain fairly detailed itineraries for city walks, hikes, visits to wineries, etc. To anyone wanting to get an idea of where to go in Italy -- even if you don't read Italian -- order yourself a copy online or pick one up when you travel abroad. It's like the ultimate insider's guide -- instructions on visiting places in Italy but... FOR ITALIANS.

Thanks to a fellow Italophile, John of Alpharetta (an Atlanta suburb), for alerting me to the letter!