Wednesday, November 29, 2023

How Italy Ruined My Life (sort of -- for The Millions)

The way Italian plunges me into an intoxication of sound and thought is something I've wanted to write about for a long time.

The way the Italian language is like a person in my life, "a twin who accompanies me everywhere -- for better or for worse," the way knowing a foreign tongue "confers a special passport" or how my attempts to convince Florentines I had mastered their language -- la lingua di Dante -- devolved into nothing short of high school hazing ... yes I've wanted to explore this topic for so long.

And now I have! Thanks to my editor, Sophia, at The Millions.

You can read the essay here:


Saturday, September 23, 2023

What women Holocaust survivors can teach us

When I went to study at the New York Public Library in connection with a short fellowship I'd won, my intention was to study the author whose work I was translating (Edith Bruck). Sure, I planned to look at other analogous works in translation.

But I wasn't expecting to uncover a trove of information about how women's experiences of deportation and imprisonment by the Nazis differed from men's experiences -- and more importantly, differed from the accepted notion of the Lager in the public imagination.

What I mean is: what we know about concentration camps comes largely from the accounts of men, including authors I prize such as Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel.

Their stories are essential, of course, but so, too, are the stories of clandestine pregnancies in the Lager and the fates of so many children which hung on whether their mothers chose to save themselves or accepted dying along with their little ones (since children were typically slated for immediate elimination). 

The only universally known story of the Holocaust not penned by a man is The Diary of Anne Frank. But there is so much more we need to learn -- and as the number of living witnesses dwindles, there's no time to lose.

Please read more at the American Scholar:

And thank you.


Sunday, August 27, 2023

First Boston Globe book review pubbed -- YES!

Thrilled to land a book review in the Sunday Boston Globe!

I am a fan of the Globe's arts coverage and besides, it's not easy to find good places to publish book reviews these days that actually pay something.

Thrilled the topnotch art staff came up with a custom illustration that illuminated the book's theme with the signature image (for many Holocaust memoirs and related books) of barbed wire.

Here's hoping a lot of Boston Globe readers took my advice to heart and read the book. Lord knows, I read a lot of book reviews and don't ever get around to read the actual books!

The piece ran last month. I meant to post this sooner! Anyhoo, here's a link to the book review:

Monday, July 10, 2023

For your trip to Florence -- buonviaggio!

When my aunt and uncle embarked on a trip to Florence last year (after an absence of 40 years!), I realized I have slightly skimped on travel tips here on Ciambellina or in some cases not organized the posts with tips well so I am going to try to unite everything here in one post. Everything you -- my friend, my Ciambellina reader, my cousin, my uncle -- need to know in order to have a special trip to Florence, Italy (where I still live in my heart). You can thank Aunt Maureen and Uncle Pat!

Before I get to specific tips and itineraries, let me mount my linguistic soap box: learn some Italian before you go

Not to be nice or cosmopolitan, and not to improve the American image abroad. 

But rather because: speaking Italian with an Italian is one of life's special pleasures.

The other major bits of advice:

*Walk as much as possible

*Visit the main produce markets

*Have a ciambellina (and bring a few back for me).


OK, sermon over.

Where to go

Assuming you will tick off the major sites listed in your guide book or online (the Duomo, the Uffizi, l'Accademia, San Marco, Cappella Brancacci, etc.), I will move onto advice about other attractions in Florence.

One of the main recommendations I want to make is: Visit the Villa and Giardino Bardini. Most people visit Boboli Gardens, which is quite lovely but I think the Bardini is even better. The gardens are gorgeous [terraced in some parts] and the views stunning. When I was in Florence last summer, our ticket somehow got us entry to both, though I don't know how you would visit both in one day and see everything. 

(Note, they are both on the other side of the river).

Also on the other side of the river: Forte Belvedere and Piazzale Michelangelo. I recommend walking to both, but have your walking shoes handy. Both sights are gorgeous, with views equally as gorgeous. There's likely some important historical note someone else could tell you about.

There are also specific corners of the city that I love. I'll start with piazzas: 

Piazzas I love (to walk through, to stroll through, to gaze at, to sit in)

Piazza Santo Spirito

Piazza del Carmine

Piazza dei Ciompi

Piazza della Repubblica (now with a carousel)

Piazza della Signoria

Quirky neighborhoods

Santa Croce: the area across from the piazza and the church was originally settled by Etruscans and it's one of the few places in the city where roads curve. There are some tiny, hidden piazzas and viuzze here that are fun to discover.

Piazza Torquato Tasso: Real people live in this neighborhood! Locals gather to play soccer in the park at the center of the piazza and you could go over to Al Tranvai if you wanted authentic but decidedly unfussy Florentine food.

Speaking of which...

Where to eat

I mentioned Trattoria Cammillo (Borgo San Iacopo, #57R) in a previous post about restaurants in Florence because it's a place that I like (and Beyonce also liked it!).

Cibreo is also good -- there are actually multiple Cibreo storefronts in the same basic area, depending on your budget (Via Andrea del Verrocchio #8R). Here are some other recommendations:

Note, a lot of the places I like are on the other side of the river and two are in Piazza Santo Spirito: Trattoria Casalinga and Borgo Antico. The piazza is also quite lovely (see above) and the church was my father's favorite (designed by Brunelleschi).

I also love Ristorante Caffe Italiano on my old street, Via della Vigna Vecchia.

Where to eat and shop for dinner

I really like going to the public produce markets in Florence and the two main ones in centro are the Mercato di San Lorenzo (by the station; it is the best-known) and the Mercato Sant'Ambrogio; this last one is where I did do my shopping. It is east of Santa Croce -- and has fantastic cheese, sliced meats, veggies, etc. 

The San Lorenzo produce market -- the main market -- is now a wonderful place to dine and shop. You have to wade through the outdoor flea market surrounding the market to reach it but it's worth it.

Not just where to eat but what

People rave about pasta but here's a secret: Italian sandwiches are divine. Note: in the Old Country, they are nothing like a sub or a hero. Freshly made and reflective of all the Italian culinary acumen we've come to expect in pasta dishes, the Italian sandwich you can buy at a bar is something not to miss. Antico Noe is one of the best places for sandwiches, and not only because it is literally tucked inside a medieval arch a half-mile from Piazza Santa Croce (with a view of a medieval tower I once lived atop, but that's neither here nor there).

Other highlights:

Crostini -- as an appetizer. In the event these are new to you: little toasted slices of bread with toppings, including chicken pate, freshly-chopped tomatoes, mushrooms, etc.

Prosciutto crudo -- I believe it's part of Italy's culinary patrimony and I am not joking. Salty, silky, delicious. I don't care if you're a vegetarian -- my Italian friends certainly didn't when I pretended to be one in college and they kept urging me to eat prosciutto!

Cinghiale -- Wild boar. It's used often as the main ingredient of an amazing pasta dish that I suggest you order: pappardelle al cinghiale. It's available everywhere!

Porcini mushrooms -- if they are in season

Fiori di zucca (zucchini flowers) -- fried or stuff

Italian pastries -- Forget gelato. The real treats in Italy are pastries. Look for bars that say 'produzione propria' (that means they make their own pastries) or head to a pasticceria.

(Also grab a chocolate bar at the supermercato/alimentari if it has whole nocciole in it -- the big nut at the center of the baci candies. Why have one nocciola when you can have an entire chocolate bar full of them?)

Where to walk...

In addition to "everywhere," I also recommend walking to the other side of the river -- often. From there, as I've mentioned, you can walk to Forte Belvedere, Piazzale Michelangelo and the Bardini gardens.

Indeed some of the nicest walks are in the area around San Niccolò (the other side of the river) because they allow you to get outside the walls of the city and go up into the hills. One place you could try walking to is Forte Belvedere.

Where to have a coffee and step onto a page of A Room With A View:

There are old-school caffes that make your morning coffee feel royal and four of them are on Piazza della Repubblica, of which Caffe Gilli is probably the best (coffee/pastries/aperitivo etc); also the Rivoire on Piazza della Signoria will make you feel as though you're a wealthy landowner.

Where to drink wine

Everywhere! That's one of the things that makes Italian coffee bars special -- you can order a caffe latte in the morning and un bicchiere di vino rosso in the evening!

But I will give one recommendation of a place to drink: Rose's on Via del Parione; it's on one of the more beautiful streets in the center city. Drink outside at one of the tiny tables where you can watch fancy Florentines walk and bike by.

Look for a place called 'enoteca' to sample some good wine. I also love the hole-in-the wall (literally) kiosks where you stand on the street at a counter and order a glass of wine and maybe a sandwich.


You'll find an entry for gelato below but as I mentioned, I think paste or pasticcini [pastries] are the unsung sweets of Italian cities (unsung, I should say, by Americans. Italians know). And really, by now, you should know my favorite: la ciambellina (looks like a donut if a donut was baked in God's kitchen). Also good: un bombolone (similar but without the hole and typically filled with crema). 


Vivoli (Via Isola delle Stinche) around the corner from our old apartment is very popular and also very good but so is Festival del Gelato right off of Piazza della Repubblica (down the block from the Duomo). Also good (and popular): Gelateria Carraia and Gelateria Santa Trinita (both are stationed on the other side of two consecutive bridges across the River, Oltrarno side).


I still buy souvenirs and so should you! I favor paper goods because reading in Italian is my passion (and paper was an ancient Florentine art) so my suitcase is always loaded down with novels and magazines but the category also includes notepads, calendars and the like, which would appeal to anyone.

I find some of the best souvenirs can be had at the big bookstore on Piazza della Repubblica: Libreria Edison (there are also lots of kiosks right in front of the bookstore that may have something you like). In addition, I highly recommending visiting the Bialetti store for the classic Italian Moka coffee pot (and coffee cups and other accessories).

Lastly, I know some of you out there are real foodies so I recommend checking out a website published by a local Florentine food writer who knows her stuff (and has Catholic interests -- hugely into sushi, etc.):

She recently published a guide on her blog to choosing a restaurant in Florence:

Note, it's in Italian but all the addresses you see everywhere (on maps, for hotels, etc) are in Italian anyway and the names of restaurants are in Italian on the sides of buildings so if you really want to go somewhere, you'll figure it out. I suggest choosing something from her guide under the category 'Trattorie tipiche' ('local, traditional eateries'), with the name of the restaurant in bold at the start of each entry (then Google the name of the restaurant and figure out where it is). She also has a heading for fine dining (in English) and if you have the euros, go for it!




Wednesday, July 05, 2023

A day in the life of this American Man at age 10

There is a seminal profile, well-known in literary journalism circles, about a 10-year-old boy and his world.

Published in Esquire in 1992, "The American Man at Age 10," by Susan Orlean, twisted the notion of a journalistic portrait and more importantly foregrounded how 10-year-old boys think. (Link below).

I have so much to say about one particular 10-year-old boy -- but not much time to say it because he will soon be 11! Yep -- double hockey sticks.

In this past year -- his final before middle school -- I made a particular effort to jot down moments that reflected our routine and his state of mind.

How he spoons with our dog, Caramel, every morning before school (as you might with your college boyfriend). How he weaves in and out of the dotted lines on the bike trail in our town -- he reads them as an invitation to zig zag. Do you?

I took note of a certain Sunday evening -- a perfect one, by my standards -- where we biked to a nearby restaurant for dinner, then watched the Mets game, followed by our ritual Harry Potter reading. That night, while I read Harry's adventures aloud, Leo looked up curse words in my Italian dictionary.

So what does the American man, age 10, think about? Pepperoni pizza.

Fifth grade was full of special activities to mark the final year of elementary school -- including a whopper of a field trip: a visit to Lake Compounce, an amusement park in Connecticut.

Except it got canceled. So to make up for it, the school arranged a pizza party for the 5th graders. And my American man, age 10, intoned, "I hope they have peperoni pizza. They better have it."

Not that Leo is only focused on the mundane -- far from it! He's a dedicated reader of The Week Junior (as I call it, "the best magazine you've never read" -- because you're not 10) and regular peruser of the front page of The New York Times (especially on the days something ghastly has happened and I am trying to confiscate the paper but on the sly).

Over Memorial Day Weekend, Leo and I were talking about American presidents as we walked to the beach, and when the conversation turned to Pres. Obama (an important figure to him for many reasons, not least of which: he was born when Obama was president), I said offhand that he was such a nice person. 

To which Leo, somewhat dismissively, replied, “Of course! You have to be nice to be President.”

Whoa, stop the presses. This is a missive from the “other side” that stuns me. The other side being childhood (my side, regrettably, broken-down adulthood).

I thought: Does he know what he said? Is that really how he sees the world? That a qualification for an important job such as President -- or maybe specifically for the job of President, not just any important job -- is you have to be nice. Age 35 or above, no criminal record, lots of stamina, oh and you have to be nice. 

A child’s perspective on the world. One more reason children are superior to adults.

I check on him while he walks Caramel down the block, and peering down the sidewalk, I see he's a tiny figure in determined motion with a bobbing white blur next to him. Something about their frenetic, untamed movement tells me childhood can still be Paradise Island.

Similarly, when he bikes, he is unwittingly trying to break my heart out of cuteness. With his still petite size, shaggy hair and ubiquitous grin, he forever reminds me of Elmo from "Sesame Street" when he's on two wheels. Perhaps it's the delight he feels that becomes like a current, emanating toward me?

(We biked twice to school in May, a goal I'd set years ago, and it turned the morning drop-off into a magical errand for this mama).

(He also ran a 5K this year -- not his first!)

He still lobs a lot of questions my way -- and when they stop, a part of me will die. In the past year, quite often, these questions consisted of car choices. Specifically, "Mommy! Would you rather have an MG or a Triumph?"

Perhaps because for Christmas last year, my American man, age 10, received a book called, "Classic Car: The Definitive Visual History," and I swear to you he spent more time flipping through this book than he spent moving the joy stick on his little Gameboy (the particular art of the coffee table book can take a lot of credit).

(He also asked me one day if I would prefer being a dog rather than a human. I had to tell him that I think being human has the edge).

What else does he like? Well, he likes to fish. In fact, in the spring, he and his pal, Nicolas, went fishing in the woods behind his school. As they traversed the packed, after-school playground with their rods, they were followed by a small army of curious onlookers, all of whom had opinions about what to do fishing (use the bobber, no don’t use the bobber, get a pack of worms, no, no worms).

Oh and he reads. A lot. Of the many books he's read so far this year, I will brag about THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER, which I’m thrilled to say we bought at the Mark Twain House in Hartford.

He's also begun reading collections of Calvin and Hobbes comic strips.

Leo loves baseball and hates the Houston Astros because they cheated.

He still likes chit-chatting, with his mother, though he might not admit it -- though he would enjoy teasing me about the verb 'chit-chatting,' which he would probably pronounce with the exaggerated Brooklyn accent he's learned from me when I am mimicking my mother (he does a good impression of Pat, too).

He likes staying up late ("Mommy! I've got a question for you! What's the latest you've ever stayed up?" That was Wednesday morning's question).

He likes New Yorker cartoons, pancakes, oreos and hot cocoa even when it's hot outside. He enjoys collecting Pokemon cards and baseball cards, plus he likes TV! Shows like "The Adventures of Gumball" and "Scooby Doo" and revamped versions of Looney Tunes.

And I hope he likes being 11.


Sunday, June 04, 2023

Stepping Stones Reveal a Path into Italy's Dark History -- for PBS site

Writing stories culled from your travels is a dream assignment. I rarely get paid to do it! But in this case I did, and what's more, the topic is tied to the work I do as a literary translator.

For the PBS website, Next Avenue, I wrote about tiny public memorials to victims of the Holocaust and other targets of the Nazi-Fascist forces. These memorials are copper-plated cobblestones embedded in the streets of Italy, Germany and other countries. I learned about the stepping stones while researching Italian women writers -- and others -- who have borne witness to the Holocaust.

And last summer while I was in Italy, I was able to visit some of these stones in Rome, Milan and Florence. 

The stones in some ways are a paradox: tiny but powerful, open to the public at all hours for free but especially poignant when you're able to do some additional research. Under foot -- which some object to -- but also in the way, in your face, in a way that supporters like. You can't avoid this historical moment -- it's right under your foot.

You can read the piece here:

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Leo's Coronavirus Journal

Well, it's not really his Coronavirus Journal -- it's an excerpt of my own journal that features pithy comments from Leo.

May 12, 2020

Leo is learning about poetry this week and will even have to write two poems. Out for a walk, we’re discussing the types of poems he’s studying and suddenly he says, “What kind of poem is the one by Sean O’Casey? Where he says, ‘An I assed meself, what is the stars?’”


It shows he’s reading the walls of our house since that's where we have the famous poster about Irish writers, which features 12 quotations (including the one from O'Casey). But still! My 7-year-old American son said the name ‘Sean O’Casey.’

We then went back to my parents' house to study their version of the poster. Truth: as often as I looked at the poster, I never actually studied the rhymes in the quotations! Never studied the meter! And there we were counting syllables in a poem by Sean O’Casey. 



WE ARE ALL POETRY PEOPLE when we start out reading.

August 9, 2020

Leo picks up a long, curved stick, and says, “This could be a good steering wheel for animals.”

Nov 2. 2020

Leo: “Your brain is like a library.”

Nov. 3, 2020

Leo and I talk a lot about fur. What’s lined with fur. Like sweatpants and hoodies. When he calls something “super furry,” my brain becomes cozy. I yearn for all things furry. And I’m thankful for this lovely little boy who makes lovely little observations. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

What I'm reading? Often Modiano

Yep, I read a lot of Patrick Modiano -- thank God he is so prolific!

So I figured why not review his latest work from Yale University Press?

It's not his best, as I say in this review below for Cleaver Magazine, a lit mag based in Philadelphia and run by some fellow Bennington Writing Seminar alums, but you won't regret reading it (and in the review I tell you which books to seek out, including the title in the picture).

Here's a link to the full review:

As I mention in the review, the action in Scene of the Crime revolves around a character called Jean Bosmans who stumbles upon a series of coincidences involving his childhood home and a group of shady individuals who are alarmingly interested in his past.

The plot is par for the course for this French Nobel Laureate who has dedicated his literary career to exhuming the ghosts of wartime Paris through semi-autobiographical fiction.

The plot is also beside the point—and in some ways, I love that.

Nearly all of Modiano’s works touch on memory and childhood, as the author pieces together fictionalized episodes with his father, a shadowy figure who was on the run during World War II because of his Jewish heritage and willing to get his hands dirty to stay free. Born in 1945, Modiano has trained his gaze permanently on the war years that immediately preceded his birth, and the post-war years that are often referred to as the Thirty Glorious Years. As Alice Kaplan noted in a 2017 article for the Paris Review, Modiano likes to say he “is a child of the war.” She quotes him as saying: “Faced with the silence of our parents we worked it all out as if we had lived it ourselves.”

Modiano has been accused of writing the same book over and over. Many writers have been the subject of such an accusation and it’s probably true, but few are as magnanimous about it. Indeed, Modiano has admitted it during interviews, perhaps because he doesn’t see it as an insult or a problem.

Similarly, I enjoy reading his work because I'm always hoping he will add to the portrait he's been building of his father. And of course he always does. Sometimes more satisfactorily, sometimes less so.

But he's sifting through the wreckage of memories, and using fiction to uncover something that's even truer than fact.

I enjoy Modiano so much that I've begun reading one of his books in French -- desperately relying on knowledge I stored up for the most part back in Junior High School! I keep the English translation in my lap and refer to it every other sentence -- what passes for fun in my world.


Monday, March 20, 2023

Coronavirus Journal, three years later

A publisher put out a call a while back for Coronavirus diary entries and I happily obliged since, of course, I'd been writing in my journal during those initial dark, confused days. I've heard nothing from the publication so I am publishing the entries here. In our particular corner of the world -- by which I mean, the Bonner sisters and their families -- we were simultaneously handling the initial phase of my father's decline. It feels individual and unique and yet I have the sensation so many of us were juggling two problems -- two pandemics, as it were. The wider emergency of Covid taking over the planet, and the personal imprint of a local tragedy, complicated by the restrictions and the terror of those early pandemic days.

March 25, 2020

Leo yesterday had a Zoom meeting with his teacher. The same Zoom software I am using to teach my class at Wesleyan, except it’s not actually at Wesleyan anymore.

He’s above average in reading and he likes Math a lot so perhaps we are lucky in some ways because I don’t fear he will miss out on as much.

Nonetheless, a part of me grieves that he’s been robbed of the fundamental social nature of school, particularly as an only child.

Yet I am always of two minds. I mean, quite literally always -- before coronavirus and probably since I was born. (Or) I think of it as an occupational hazard as a journalist.

He should be in school, but in my home school, he can rock in his chair or even slump (for a while at least). He can stand up to do math problems, and he can walk around the computer room on the third floor while he explains fables to me. Oh, and we have gym every day, multiple times a day.

And yet – the other mind weighing in again – he has not played with a friend in a week.

March 27, 2020

My coronavirus diary walks side by side with my Daddy-Is-Sick journal. I spoke with him yesterday and it was not the same person I knew. It was like talking to a hybrid of Mommy and an exhausted Daddy. He kept repeating certain key details of his fluid transfusion – that it took four-and-a-half hours hours, for example. He told me there are good days and bad, and the bad ones are when he wants to pull the blanket over his head. What was yesterday, I asked? A pull-the-blanket-over-your-head kind of day.

March 28, 2020

Yesterday I edited all day for CNN, and it being Friday, Mike, of course, worked his normal schedule and so honestly, we didn’t really home school Leo at all. I mean, sure, he read most of the day, and since the weather was Spring-like and gorgeous, I joined him on the porch (where we’ve now moved a bench!). He did a grand total of one work sheet about Math, and zero other work sheets. I gave him no assignments since I was consumed with editing stories about coronavirus (every story I edited yesterday was about coronavirus, and I suppose I edited 10 to 15 stories).

Is that OK? Should I make up for it today, a Saturday? Christ, if I know. The days all run together, don’t they?

This will be a journal of clichés, this Coronavirus Journal. But that won’t mean the words aren’t sincere or the emotions keenly felt. It’s just everything we might have feared about stopping our lives and hiding inside is true. We’ve seen the Zombie Apocalypse and now we’re living it. OK, fair enough no zombies roaming around West Hartford but since I shrink from anyone whose path I cross while walking or jogging, the people I see might as well be zombies! I am treating them as such.

But let’s take a trip to the Silver Lining Room. I go there a lot, Coronavirus or not. I want to read or re-read classics this year, and something inspired me to take Dante off the shelf for the umpteenth time. So I began re-reading “Inferno” and hope to finish it in a few days (it can be slow-going when I toggle back and forth between the English and Italian editions). Appropriate, no? Dante, in this time of scorched Earth politics, and plague-like living. But, Lord does it show his hatred for the arrogant! Filippo Argenti didn’t stand a chance. Even Virgil encourages his enmity toward the former pol, now stuck in the muck in Hell, all because of his preening, me-centric, me-first attitude (it helps he was in the “wrong” political party, too). 

April 1, 2020

Raced down here to Avon yesterday, and OK fine I was doing 80 mph most of the way but still made it down in less than 3 hours. Left a little before 4 p.m. Drove over the Tappan Zee and through northern New Jersey during rush hour  -- without the rush.

I have to take Dad for an appointment today. Meanwhile at 5:30 this morning, I awake to a plea coming from the stairs. It’s Dad and he’s decided that, though it’s still dark, he wants to come up the stairs and sleep in his real bed, with Mommy.

He has no strength. I can see his legs – once fat with muscle, now almost skeletal. There’s a touch of folly to it all, as if lack of sleep has made him crazy, and it can, so maybe it did. He’s still sleeping on the couch most nights, even though there is now a hospital bed. That’s not a good longterm solution.

The Daddy-Is-Sick Journal within the Coronavirus Journal.

My students meanwhile are really responding to the Coronavirus Journal on the Moodle. I am trying to reply to each entry and some other students are also replying, and wow, it’s like we somehow have created way more community just via the online forum. It’s so obvious and clichéd but I would never have proposed something like this had we not taken the class online because of the pandemic. I felt it was incumbent upon me to come up with some computer-learning tricks for the class so I took a second look at Moodle.

The power of words, the power of sharing thoughts, of admitting vulnerabilities. It’s like they were hungering for it. Am I reading too much into it? Almost no one is posting some brief, phoned-it-in entry.

April 4, 2020

In Avon

Do not go gently into that dark night. I think about that line of verse over and over. And I imbue with great meaning the fact that about a year ago, I said to Daddy off-hand, “I imagine you’re going to be one of these people who ‘do not go gently into that dark night.’” And he pulled out his 50th anniversary graduation booklet, something he had himself produced for his class, and the [Dylan Thomas] epigraph was none other than ‘Do not go gently into that dark night.’

When I was there the other night, I looked in one of the full-length mirrors that are everywhere in their house and nowhere in mine, and I thought, I’ve gained weight. And then I thought, if only Daddy would comment on my gaining weight. If only he would antagonize me, ask me about my career, zero in on some flaw of Leo’s that triggers my existential dread … if only he could be well enough to act like a jerk.

April 6, 2020

The doctor says if Daddy’s wound doesn’t heal, he’ll lose part of his leg.

If I don’t write down the sentence like that, it will never be recorded. No way to embellish -- no point either. Yet writing it down does nothing to dent its awesome power, its raw awfulness. The pure absurdity of it. When does that ever happen?

It’s the opposite of Larkin talking about death – this is one thing that WILL happen, death that is.

But amputation?

April 8, 2020

The moon was enormous last night, and we went out in the fields to gaze at it. 

But so many things feel off.

One small pleasure? Saying (or really thinking) the word apocalypse. A-poc-a-lypse. 'Apocalyptic' is even better. Not only because the bread aisle is barren, but also because the one intent on not going gently into that dark night seems poised to do just that, nestled under an avalanche of blankets on the couch in the living room where he remains day and night.

April 10, 2020

I was in touch with Andrea Acciai in Florence on Facebook about when the coronavirus lockdown will end in Italy and he says everyone is very anxious and he fears that without a vaccine or a cure, everyone will be forced to live apart and with masks for a very long time (something akin to death in Italy, let's be honest).

(Irene, for her part, says they are "seppelliti in casa" -- buried inside of their homes).

April 11, 2020

Found on Twitter ... The first line of The Great Gatsby in Italian:

"Negli anni più vulnerabili della giovinezza, mio padre mi diede un consiglio che non mi è più uscito di mente. 'Quando ti viene voglia di criticare qualcuno,' mi disse, 'ricordati che non tutti a questo mondo hanno avuto i vantaggi che hai avuto tu.'"

(From the Church of Small Things)

April 15, 2020

In Avon

Yesterday Leo wandered by himself through my father’s garden. It’s an ode to Poppy in a second grader's steps​​. ​One of the few silver linings of bringing him down the Shore while Daddy is sick, if we can't go to the beach: he likes to walk around the backyard. He likes to hide under the trellis or behind a bush. He likes to climb my father's trees. He likes to visit all the little "stations" my father has built into the garden.​

They commune with each other even though they are not together and maybe don’t know each other the way I would have liked.

April 22, 2020

We woke up today and cut out paper hearts to send to friends. Then we blew bubbles and chased each other around the yard.

Leo's questions never stop. He asks, "If you could have any car in the world, what would it be?" And: "If you could live in any house in the world, what would it be like?"

Then he asks, "If you could be any imaginary creature, what would it be?" He suggests mermaid, knowing I love to swim. Yep, I say. 

Next up: "If you had to have only one eye or one ear, which would you choose?" I went with only one ear.

Leo goes outside and within a few minutes hatches a new game. Not to say he goes outside voluntarily. For some reason, it is still a struggle. And yet I watch him outside with magical eyes. Yesterday we blew bubbles, and he distributed points based on whether it was a double bubble or a triple bubble. We even had a few quad-bubbles and penta-bubbles.

Yesterday he also set traps for the squirrels. By which I mean he located holes in the yard and covered them with sticks and flowers that he hoped would attract the squirrels, who will then, if all goes according to plan, fall into the holes. Except they are too shallow for them squirrels to truly fall into – but I did not tell him that. I sometimes let him think what he wants to think. Life will tell him if his supposition is right.

A few days before, we stood under the cherry tree, which is in bloom, and he proposed that we try to walk through the branches without touching any flowers. Meanwhile, the tiny little petals rain down upon us.

We play soccer now a lot – he’s quite good. He gives me lessons at 4:15 on Fridays. We also play basketball and have occasionally taken our tennis rackets to the back parking lot of the science museum.

Yesterday Mike said, “Every day is like a weekend now.” And it’s true.

I have adjusted to almost zero free time/personal time/private time pretty well. I mean, I don’t shrink from my usual treats – granola bars, Mommy cookies, chocolate, writing, short bouts of exercise, wine – but still, all in all, I have accepted the quarantine for what it is. A weekend every day, but not one you’ve looked forward to per se, not one followed by a week of school days that afforded you a break from 24-hour parenting. Nope. But still, I do enjoy being with my Leo.

I had in fact thought earlier this year that school robbed me of time with Leo. That in truth, when he was at school, I had very little quality time with him. Best on best, five to six hours a day. Of which, an hour was devoted to playing after school with friends, and not with me; an hour of TV, not with me, etc.

It's not a problem anymore!


Tuesday, March 07, 2023

When I like to write

I like to write in the morning after a fractured night’s sleep has left me feeling so emotionally fragile it feels like a form of grief. I’m overcome and on the verge of tears, and my brain suddenly alights on a thought, then 10 thoughts, then 100. The words quickly filling my mind need a space to live. Feelings I left festering under the surface emerge and demand to be heard. I’m running on adrenaline, and at my wit’s end, and too tired to be careful. What makes me ache, what tortures me, what I truly think comes pouring out. I confess that I feel as though I am in mourning at fall’s first warnings, when the sudden chill in the morning air is so jarring since until yesterday, there was nothing but heavy, humid air mugging my every breath. Or I whisper to the journal I keep in my car, “I think I’m losing my fingerprints.”

I wrote this gush of words above after beginning a graduate writing program in my early 40s. I was finally attempting to fulfill my third-grade teacher’s prediction that I would be a writer when I grew up. Trying my hand at fiction for the first time, I had the zeal of a convert. I’d deferred my writing dreams (and my vague grad school plans) for so long, I never thought I’d be someone who lived to write. Then a series of unforeseen events – motherhood in my late 30s, among other things -- lead me to the magic door. I found the more I wrote, the more I wanted to write – like an itch you keep scratching or better yet, a lover you can’t stop kissing. If I showed up to write, I would write, then write a little more. Later after I’d taken a pause, a new thought might occur to me and I would race to my laptop to record it.

In the early days of this writing frenzy, which began during my maternity leave, I convinced myself it was all tied to breastfeeding and post-pregnancy hormones. (My true religion is a combination of Catholic guilt and jinx theory.) Plus, writing felt magical, too good to be true. I feared it would all disappear once I ceased to nurse and my body went back to its old self.

When this pessimist’s fantasy lifted, I found I wanted to write fairly often; some days, every spare minute. Not that every day produced the same kind of writing or quantity. Oh no.

So while writing after a night of broken sleep unleashes in me highly emotional, highly unstructured thoughts, writing after I’ve had eight hours of solid slumber produces an excess of energy that converts my mind into a trampoline, and I find myself revising multiple pieces in one sitting, organizing notes for a future piece and gathering details on, say, a fellowship for writers. I’m full of wonder and confidence; I have something to prove and I want to fight – on the page.

(Note to young writers: Sleep is cool if it allows you to go wild in your writing).