Thursday, April 08, 2021

"Love, Leo and Caramel"

I’ve asked Leo to write birthday cards this year to my mother and to Liz, and I noticed that he signs them now, “Love, Leo and Caramel.” (Editor's note: Caramel is a dog!)

I find it heartbreaking, in so many ways. I mean, heartbreakingly beautiful, of course, and tender and joyful, but somehow also just plain heartbreaking.

Last night, Leo and I were reading aloud from the book Who was Albert Einstein? when we came to a line that reads more or less like this: "Albert as a boy believed there were two ways to live life: as if nothing were a miracle or as if everything were a miracle."

And unprompted Leo said, "I want to live my life as if everything were a miracle."

I don't know if he said it, thinking that’s what I would want to hear, 

I can only hope he is really sincere.

And I said, "Me, too."


Monday, April 05, 2021

Question about the radio in your brain

March 24, 2021

Do you cue up the song on your computer or stereo and threaten to permanently dislodge it from your head?

Or do you lean into the loop your mind keeps replaying, even though it’s only your mind’s version of the song, and only the snippet your mind insists on replaying? 

(In this case, “The Street Only Knows Your Name,” by Van Morrison)


Saturday, April 03, 2021

The Great Gatsby -- in Italian!

I tell myself I should read English and American classics in Italian just for fun, yet I rarely do. I tend to want to read the works written in English in English and the Italian works in Italian. But I stumbled upon the opening line of The Great Gatsby in Italian on Twitter and I must admit I was enchanted!

''Negli anni più vulnerabili della giovinezza, mio padre mi diede un consiglio che non mi è mai 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.'"


"In my younger and more vulnerable years, my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. 'Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,' he told me, 'just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had.'"

(It's interesting to see how other American classics get translated across the pond. For example, Gone With The Wind? In Italian, it's "Via col vento.")

In this case, I am especially mesmerized because I often think of The Great Gatsby as my favorite novel, and it's a book that I sometimes re-read around my birthday as a gift to myself. What's more, it may be the translator's prerogative to consider what's lost in translation (more is gained typically, just to be clear). Here it catches my eye that the phrase 'turning over in my mind' becomes something in Italian more like 'has never left my mind.' I love the frission of this idea continually circulating, re-emerging, in Nick's mind.

One classic I did read in Italian was The Diary of Anne Frank (called simply "Il diario.") That may be a perfect book to read in any language because it's less about prose style than pure feeling.

I am always looking for ways to continue my study of Italian, and also to deepen my study of other languages. It seems quite obvious that I would want to know the opening lines of my favorite novel in any language I come across, much less my beloved second language. 

But life has a way of distracting us, doesn't it?

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

For Dantedi & always

The Accademia della Crusca, the venerable institute based in Florence that studies, promulgates and safeguards the Italian language, is on its "A" game for Dantedi as it prepares for the holiday dedicated to Italy's greatest poet, Dante, on March 25. The institute makes phenomenal use of Twitter, tweeting out for example "parole di Dante" every day (parole = words).

What's even more engrossing is the series of lessons based on specific cantos. One of the institute's learned scholars, Giovanna Frosini, reads and provides comment on a particular canto (above). The text of the canto appears alongside the video, so it's really a teaching moment, but not only for Italians living in Italy but anyone who studies Italian. 

Hear her read the canto, and see the words simultaneously. A pretty perfect foreign language study scenario.

Not surprising given the special edition of Dantedi that's underway this year, what with the 700th anniversary of Dante's death. But still I like to give praise where praise is due, and the institute's general efforts, and notable embrace of modern technology to celebrate an ancient text are inspiring.

We'll never stop studying Dante, and luckily there are a lot of people on-hand, even from this great a distance from Florence, to help us out. Mille grazie agli studiosi dell'Accademia della Crusca!


Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Pandemic journal, one year later

March 16, 2020

I have asked my students to keep a Coronavirus Journal, and so I will, too. We are all shell-shocked by the turn our lives are taking. Please tell me they will see writing in the journal as “therapeutic,” to quote something one student said the first night of the course, all the way back in January – when we met in an actual classroom on campus and began something together.

March 18, 2020

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. 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.

Let’s take a visit 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” yesterday 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 plague-like living.

March 20, 2020

I’m calling this the Coronavirus Journal, but it’s also the journal of my father’s illness. I spoke with him yesterday and it was a replay of the conversation from the day before. Small grievances, no desire to read, the TV is “broken” but he knows it’s just some small quirk that if someone were there would be fixed instantly. I pine for the obsessively sharp, needling Daddy. I pine for some rebuke -- enough of this fog.

March 21, 2020

On Saturday, I texted Cristiano, Ilaria, Chiara, Irene and every other Italian friend I hadn’t already contacted. Irene said living under quarantine there was like being “seppellita a casa,” buried inside your house. And they ask, ‘What about in Connecticut?’ 

Today I go to learn about conducting a virtual lesson and setting up a virtual classroom. YIKES!

March 23, 2020

My coronavirus diary exists alongside my Daddy 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 a very tired Daddy. He kept repeating certain key details of his blood transfusion – for instance, it took four hours. 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.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Loneliness & loss in the works of Natalia Ginzburg

I love Natalia Ginzburg so I couldn't turn down a chance to write about her for the site Reading in Translation as part of a special online issue completely dedicated to one of the most important Italian writers of the 20th century. 

One of my favorite Italian books -- one of my favorite books, period -- is Lessico Famigliare, and I was even able to review, for the Kenyon Review, the most recent English translation of the book, Family Lexicon, published by NYRB in 2017. The special issue actually features an interview with the translator, Jenny McPhee! I give McPhee the highest praise I can give for her translation of LESSICO: I forgot it was a translation while I read it. That's how smoothly, fluidly it reads.

This time out, I was tasked with writing about two novellas I'd never read before: Family and Borghesia, translated by Beryl Stockman (and with an afterword by Eric Gudas). And what I loved about the assignment was it added to the nuanced portrait of Ginzburg I already carry around in my head. A pioneering woman writer who was nonetheless a traditional wife and mother. Someone who broadcast the interior lives of women at a time when they were completely overlooked and yet someone who made it sound as though she had to scribble lines for a book while stirring the sauce for the pasta.

This paradox, which I wrote about in my essay for Reading in Translation, extends to the depth of loss and loneliness lurking beneath Ginzburg's cheerful veneer. She was able to feed both instincts in lines like this, c/o Stockman's translation: “Pietro said that, in fact, he had come to a halt with his memoirs some while back. He only wanted to remember tranquil, harmless, light-hearted things.”

She gives us the line like it was some throwaway thought in a long conversation about other, more important topics, and the final part of this thought contains these words: light-hearted things. And yet the ache inherent in those lines! I ache just thinking about the ache. He'd given up writing his book about his life, this character, because -- sottointeso -- when he thought back over everything that had happened to him, there were too many painful moments. Too many moments that were the opposite of tranquil -- harmless -- lighthearted. Or at the very least, not tranquil, harmless or light-hearted enough.

Isn't that the way?

And I tip my hat to Ginzburg because without being lugubrious, without shouting from the rooftop the inanity of knowing we're all going to die and what's more, we don't know when or how, she's managed to telegraph just how insanely painful and difficult life on earth can be.

I believe that's reason enough to read Ginzburg. And if you do, too, read the essay here:

And read every other essay in this special issue because our fearless leader and editor, Stiliana Milkova, recruited some heavy hitters, including McPhee, Minna Zallman Proctor and Lynne Sharon Schwartz (pinch me, my old Bennington MFA prof!).

Which is only fitting since Ginzburg was a heavy hitter. A heavy hitter, even though women writers in Italy continue to be overlooked. Even though when I taught a course called Italian Women Writers at the University of Connecticut, a grad student IN ITALIAN, a young guy (!), told me quite candidly he could not think of enough books by Italian women or women authors to make up a whole syllabus. I think he'll get his PhD sooner or later -- bless his heart! -- and yet he seems unaware of Elsa Morante, Grazia Deledda, Dacia Maraini, Sandra Petrignani, Anna Maria Ortese, Anna Banti, Elena Ferrante and of course close to my heart, Mariateresa Di Lascia, who wrote the masterpiece I have the privilege of translating: Passaggio in ombra (the privilege, I should note, even if there's no publisher as yet sharing/sponsoring/honoring the privilege).

All of this to say, you won't ever regret reading Natalia Ginzburg. While it won't always be tranquil, harmless or light-hearted, it will be engrossing and beautiful. The consolation that life -- and literature -- offers us.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Gomorrah & Angelina Jolie (c/o the archives)

For the final day of my February blog-a-thon, I am a linking to a piece from the archives and one that I wrote in Italian ... tanto per cambiare.

When I first started blogging, I wrote fairly often in Italian, and I still think about what I might one day want to publish in Italian, beyond the blog. Probably something short.

As for this particular post, I'd looked back to see which posts had generated the most views and this was one of them.

It's a review of sorts of Roberto Saviano's nonfiction book, Gomorrah about the Neapolitan mafia, which many Americans will know from the TV series of the same name based on the book.

This section of the book, which takes place in Naples, oddly enough has a significant Angelina Jolie angle:

Saturday, February 27, 2021

This one's for Brenda and Eddie (c/o the archives)

For the second to the last day of my-sharing-writing-every-day-in February jag, I've reposted for friends a piece I wrote after we visited Italy in 2018. 

It's been an interesting look-back at some of the topics I've covered here, and I have inspiration for new writing. Maybe you do, too?

Anyway, from the archives, you can find today's piece, which I posted to social media, here:

Friday, February 26, 2021

His first step was right here

Lost diary entry archive (Atlanta)

I was tidying Leo’s room last night and a vision appeared in my mind, a quick cloud of remember-when ... where I was entering Leo’s room in the middle of the night and comforting him because he was crying. And I realized – or really the point was just crystalized – that if we move (WHEN we move), we will move away from the rooms where those moments happened. 

We will leave behind the love seat where I nursed Leo every night for a year, or at the very least the room where the love seat now sits. And so the love seat -- even in a new house -- will be shorn of its context, its purpose. Shoot, it might even end up neglected in a basement. And oh mercy, mercy mercy me, that is so wrong. I might even be willing to stay here if I begin to be convinced that leaving Atlanta will somehow alter the legacy or my memory of the most important year of my life, the most pivotal, the most blessed.

So many memories – I mean, should I go around and take pictures of the rooms?! Take a picture, say, of the spot on the carpet – it's by his crib, mind you – where he took his first tentative step. 


(Editor's note: We moved. And the moment of where he took his first step lives on only in my mind -- and this blog post. The love seat? It's in the sun room in the new house. Shorn of its context, just like I thought. I guess that's life. But for a memoirist like me, whoa it's a blow to the head. Remembrance of things past, ahhh).


Thursday, February 25, 2021

Texts I sent in 2020

I am a committed diarist (and yes, diarist is a word. Apparently). But the raw deal? What I really think, what I really do -- what *you* really think and do -- it's all in the texts. 

The year 2020 in texts

“Supplies needed for the weekend: please get Mommy wine and cigarettes.”

“Complicated scenario – I’ll explain later.”

“When you say ‘another ambiguous death,’ who do you mean? I’m scanning the news right now.”

“He was vivid one night, vigorous even – but delusional. Where does that vigor go during the day?”

“Biden is being tested for coronavirus, too.”

“The aide says she fell asleep last week while smoking and wound up burning the sofa.”

“One or two packs should be left.”

"Va bene ma West Virginia? Ma come mai?! Va be' me lo racconti dopo."

“Please no weird texts tonight. It wasn’t personal.”

“She tells me watching Sophie attend kindergarten via computer is the saddest thing she’s ever seen.”

“Those items will be provided as is. No protests, please, and no nit-picking.”

"Driving home from NJ now and I just stopped for gas so I have to tell you the radio just played, ‘Train in Vain,’ I promise – you were here with me."

"Sinceramente mi sono emozionata molto."

“Don’t feel obliged to say yes.”

“Where are you hurting?”

“I don’t have $1,000 in cash on me.”

“Leo asked me this question the other day: Mommy, what do you like better, addition or subtraction?”


(Photo: a favorite magnet. Inscription translation: "I like Heaven for the climate and Hell for the company.")