Monday, December 02, 2019

Time for the panettone -- from the archives

I've always thought about panettone at this time of the year, even back before you could find the little Italian Christmas loaves everywhere in America. And I'm reposting this essay -- about the ritual of going to buy a panettone in Florence -- from a few years back:

I opened the panettone.

I wasn't going to. I bought it last week at the Whole Foods store on Ponce in Atlanta with the idea of bringing it somewhere as a special treat.

But then I thought, well, I would like a special treat. Right here, right now.

So I opened it, and still mulling over a long-awaited email I had received from a British friend this morning, I had a flashback to the days when I lived in Florence and I would buy a panettone to bring for Christmas dinner.

Read the rest of the post here.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Dear Marie Kondo -- from the archives!

Dear Marie Kondo,

I know that your book has helped many people 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.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

After the translation conference

I study the program, zeroing in on the participants' bios. The section where the gold is hidden.

That's what I do after the conference.

This is especially so of the American Literary Translators Association conference, which concluded in Rochester on Sunday. I still have the program from the 2016 edition, and until a few months ago, I would occasionally pore over the bios on nights when I desperately needed a distraction (and a dream), nights when I would climb into bed with a piece of chocolate.

I read the section with the participant bios like you might the box scores or the obits. They brim with details of a particular kind, details that are literary catnip.

Oh she published a translation there?

Oh he won that award?

Oooh, she studied there?

Like take this one above -- of Chad Post (I know Chad won't mind).

Doesn't he sound fancy?! Interesting? The cool thing is the ego factor is at a minimum at ALTA. People are truly nice and helpful -- even some of the ones who have accomplished the most.

Maybe it's because we all know we're beholden to a mission that is pretty difficult -- making Americans/Anglophone readers care about books written far away and in some cases long ago, in a different language.

Monday, November 04, 2019

The Map of Jeanne's places

May 2019
I was out for a walk the other day before an early editing shift and I strolled over to the old cemetery -- the small one, the one I love, the one no one notices, the one with very old tombstones. And I thought, this is one of my places here in Connecticut. I don’t have many – I haven’t had time or the inclination to build up walking routes in my “new” town. And I thought, I need a Map of Jeanne's Places.
It would be an unassuming map, for sure. The small pocket park you dead-end into if you make the left after Cosmos on Farmington. The UCONN Law School campus, a lovely Anglican-style (or so it seems) place buried in a neighborhood by Elizabeth Park (itself, another "point" on the map). 

And this cemetery, with its cherub-faced tombstones. 
Lost Diary entry

Friday, October 25, 2019

On Leaving Atlanta

Aug. 8, 2017
I write on a kitchen counter cluttered with all the items that were removed from side tables that have also since been removed – the house is empty and I think we are, too. We are for all intents and purposes departed – most of the goodbyes have already been said, the personal effects carted away. But we are lingering in a skeleton of a home so we can clean. 

Strange to think I don’t like goodbyes since with all the moving about over the years, I say them much more often than the average person.
How do I feel? Well, I've dipped into Van Morrison (“St. Dominick’s Preview”) so I am courting the ache. Plus, all the reporting for Delta and the AJC Personal Journeys essay. I am stewing in nostalgia, by choice, as if to throw a bucket of cold water on my face: You’re leaving, you’re leaving, you’re really doing it, Jeanne. 

Lost diary entry

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Book list -- 2019

I've set myself a goal of reading 50 books this year. Not sure I will make it! (I note, sadly). I started off with a set of particular books I planned to read but have had quite the year of exploring new books and of deliberately seeking out books in the genres I most interested in cultivating (books from the Fascist period in Italy, for example). That means that I often will put aside a book I am reading to make room for a new arrivel. Hence, the best laid plans of mice and men....But here's what I've been reading and here's what I plan to read:

Books I've already read:
L'Isola di Arturo -- Elsa Morante
La Lunga Vita di Marianna Ucria -- Dacia Maraini
Sagittario -- Natalia Ginzburg
Le voci della sera -- Natalia Ginzburg (re-read)
Happiness as Such -- Natalia Ginzburg
Suspended Sentences -- Patrick Modiano
Paris Nocturne -- Patrick Modiano
Villa Triste -- Patrick Modiano
Suspended Sentences -- Patrick Modiano
L'uomo che non ho sposato -- Rossano Campo
Country Girl (memoir) -- Edna O'Brien
Harry Potter, Book #4
Wide Sargasso Sea -- Jean Rhys
Best American Essays, 2018
Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewell -- Pico Iyer
Starting Out in the Evening -- Brian Morton
A Girl Returned -- Donatella Di Pietrantonio

Books I've begun to read
Menzogna e sortilegio -- Elsa Morante (insanely long -- may take a while!)
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous -- Ocean Vuong
Lost in the Spanish Quarter -- Heddi Goodrich
Le parole tra noi leggere -- Lalla Romano

Books I'd like to read but unsure if I will find
A Stranger's Pose -- Emanuel Iduma
A Small Place -- Jamaica Kincaid

Books I planned to read when I began this list:
Tutti i nostri ieri -- Natalia Ginzburg (AGAIN)
Cattiva -- Rossella Milone
Il Partigiano Johnny -- Beppe Fenoglio
County Girls (fiction) -- Edna O'Brien
“The Brutal Friendship” by Deakin
“War in Italy, 1943-1945” by R. Lamb

Annual re-reading
A Christmas Carol -- Charles Dickens (have read it now several years -- we'll see if I get to it)

Books I'm re-reading for my Literature of Travel class (not sure they count -- b/c skimming in part)
Tropic of Cancer -- H. Miller
Il Giorno della Civetta/Day of the Owl (first time reading it in English!) -- Sciascia
Out of Africa
Aran Islands -- Synge

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Montreal memento shrine

I create memento shrines when I return from Italy (or when Mike does) -- carefully-arranged piles of all the precious Italian goods I'm about to enjoy. You've probably seen them on this blog. Until now, I reserved that personal activity for one and only one place (Italy) but now Montreal is becoming one of my beloved places and as such, it's getting the shrine treatment. This one sits on my desk and I can't bear to dislodge it. Paradoxically, it means I am not actually enjoying in full the bounty I brought back. But I find just looking at the cover of the children's book "Je suis terrible" (reflecting in every way my level of French!) or glancing at the Montreal t-shirt fills me with coziness, with a sense of being sated.

To be clear, Italy remains in the top position. And yes, my house is a mess because there are probably  mini-shrines all over the place, if not to cities I love then to groupings of books, and also plant displays and mementos that escaped the shrine.

Is this where I shrug and say c'est la vie?

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Libri & livres (or What I bought in Montreal)

I've fallen in love with Montreal of late for many reasons, and certainly chief among them is the possibility of buying actual Italian books and even bilingual editions of Italian books where the second language in the language pair is French! (Yes, I go to Montreal to buy Italian books, ci mancherebbe)

But I also buy books (and magazines) in pure, straight French, even though I don't speak or read the language fluently. Truth be told, narrative French (as opposed to the French of newspapers or websites or menus) outstrips my comprehension abilities.

All is not lost, though, because I came upon a solution this trip:

Graphic novels!

In this case, a short one by Julie Delporte, an emerging Montreal-based writer and cartoonist originally from France.

During these three-trips-in-three-years to Montreal, I've found that I simply still love languages, and in particular, any language that I can master a bit.

I yearn for them, and for the possibility of speaking, even if only briefly, in another language (it helps that I've let go the pretense that I must speak perfectly).

I cherish the interaction I'm able to conjure with merchants or other people I meet. Sure, they can typically speak English but speaking to them in their native tongue opens a particular door into their lives.

I certainly feel that way in Italy and when speaking Italian with Italians. Pamela Druckerman warned recently in a column for The New York Times about the dangers of the ubiquity of English everywhere in Europe (one interesting observation she makes -- Americans may begin applying to colleges in Europe that are much, much cheaper!).

I found her piece interesting and would add one word to the list of things lost in the all-English world: TONE. Italians, for example, are quickly polishing their English skills. But transferring their tone? Duplicating the cadence they use when they speak Italian? Not so easy. And I live for the tone Italians use when they speak. The exasperation one hears in the voice of the barista who's Monday-morning-quarterbacking a soccer game -- it's worth every bit of trouble one might encounter learning or maintaining one's Italian.

So when I am next in Montreal (and I hope to be there frequently in the coming years), I will be tossing around phrases like "bonne journée," without caring about being fluent or sounding good. I only care about having an insightful interaction with the Montreal French-speaking population.

And I will be buying books like this one (which I found at the lovely Drawn & Quarterly bookstore).

Friday, July 26, 2019

On Keeping a Notebook (for Longreads)

The fine editors at Longreads let me write about one of my true passions -- keeping a notebook.

Or lots of notebooks. The one in my car, for example, plus specific journals for trips to Italy and a fancy leather-bound number for fiction (aspirational, to be sure) that my sisters gave me when I finished my MFA at Bennington.

I write by computer, of course, and I even keep a notebook-style journal in my Dropbox account. But I’ve come to cherish my notebooks, and perhaps especially my car journal which I use, as I mention in the Longreads piece, often by leaning it against the steering wheel, my eye moving between the page and the road. 

Those entries tend to gush with emotion because if I’ve bothered to record a thought in the car diary, it’s an urgent one, often scrawled while the car is still coming to a halt, and the handwriting attests to it. 

It’s a jumble of information, a place, for instance, to write down lines for stories I may never finish, like, “’I wouldn’t kill him yet,’” I say as I meet her at the front door.” The entries are often short out of necessity; one from October of 2013 reads simply, “I think I’m losing my fingerprints.” The next day, the babysitter called me at work, and I wrote in the journal about talking to my son: “I hear his voice down the phone line, tiny, bewildered. ‘Mommy.’ Then again, ‘Mommy.’” 

Anyway, you can read my piece for Longreads at their site by clicking this link.