Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Italy on my mind (more than usual)

I keep thinking about Italy, about being in Italy, about walking the streets of Italy. 

It's the thing I want to do most right now, not simply when the quarantine is lifted. But right now. It's visceral. And also not possible, and not practical. 

So instead, as I mentioned in a previous post, I am listening to programs like Prima Pagina and watching videos on Facebook (especially The Jackal) to gain even just a glimpse of il Bel paese.

I am also thinking back to the last time I was preparing to return to Italy, and re-reading old posts ... like this one:

Un abbraccio -- ci vediamo presto!

*&*&*&*&*& --30-- *&*&*&*

Thursday, May 14, 2020

My students are still keeping a journal

As I mentioned in a previous post, I asked my students to keep what I called a Coronavirus Journal when our course went from live lessons to remote learning, and they continued to post in our journal up until the last class.

They wrote about so many things -- anxiety, boredom, hope, love, and the big things that seem small and the small things that seem big, to paraphrase the memoirist Beth Kephart. One student wrote about being the product of a divorce, which meant during her childhood she didn't know her half siblings very well. Now they are sharing a house under quarantine and catching up on the lost years. Heart breaking -- mine is.

Some treated the diary -- which we posted to an online forum that's part of the course's cyberhome -- as a private account where they could say anything. Indeed, one student remarked that he would probably never see any of us again and so he divulged his most intimate preoccupations, his failures, his worries. Then he would write that he hoped no one was reading his posts. Still, they were there -- and I read them.

These students are graduate students, not undergrads. But the tenderness, the loneliness, the fear inherent in their posts rendered them more like high school students, and I say that as a compliment. They didn't hold back. Didn't posture.

Here's the post I contributed to Brevity magazine's Nonfiction Blog about it:


Sunday, April 19, 2020

Poetry translations published!

Asymptote Journal has published four poems by Edith Bruck that I translated from Italian. It provides me with a much-needed respite since last week I should have been studying her works (and the Italian works of other women writers who survived the Holocaust) at the New York Public Library as part of a fellowship I won last year.

Instead, we are all home (the NYPL postponed my fellowship, and understandably so) ... but we can read poetry. And that is no small comfort.

You'll find on the journal's site not only my translations but also the original text of the poems in Italian, a Translator's Note in which I attempt to characterize Bruck's poetry, and recordings of Signora Bruck reciting the poems in Italian.

You can find the poems at this link or read the shortest one below:



Of the men who count
In life
There’s only one:
The father who is missing


Tuesday, April 07, 2020

"Prima Pagina" -- an ode

When I launched this blog, I wrote to reflect my own joy in knowing Italian, studying Italian and speaking Italian and also to inspire that joy in others.

Now I write here about everything that sparks joy (to steal a line from Marie Kondo, my letter to her over on the right side of this blog, notwithstanding).

Yet Italian pleasures remain paramount, especially now that my beloved adopted country is suffering so much on account of COVID-19.

One small joy in these dark days has been listening to *Prima Pagina*, a RAI radio program where – I kid you not – a journalist reads and discusses the front pages (= prima pagina) of all of the major Italian newspapers.

Each week, a different journalist is asked to read through the Italian papers aloud, commenting on each article he or she finds on the front page. Commenting, but not commentating. The journalist is presenting the news, at times pointing out relevant facts or dates, but not giving an opinion on anything beyond noting, say, that a particular subject is covered by each paper or covered in different ways by the various pubs.

I imagine Italian housewives listen to it, but it would appeal to anyone who wanted to follow the news without sitting down to read the newspaper -- or really, every major paper in the country! 

I suppose for a news junkie/news industry professional like me, it's an obvious draw. But I think it would benefit students of Italian because the program deals heavily with the headlines, which are short combinations of words that, if you wanted, you could even find online. Meaning, you could read along as the journalist of the week reads, reinforcing comprehension.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Coronavirus Journal ... for the Brevity Nonfiction Blog

I've asked my students at Wesleyan to keep a coronavirus journal -- a diary of their days as they navigate what are truly unprecedented times. (I asked the "student" in the photo here, too, but so far, no go).

I see it as a tiny, silver lining to the crisis and the quarantine because while it will be a new assignment, it's likely to be one that taps into writing (or at least thinking) they are already doing. I say "tiny" because I hesitate to wax poetic about the "good" that will come out of the pandemic since it almost seems anathema, but there's no question these extraordinary times will inspire us to do things we normally don't do.

Indeed, at the start of the term, I asked them to keep journals but had the sense few were writing in them outside of class (it's a course on memoir). Now I suspect they are galvanized. This hot-house atmosphere of illness and fear has them living in new ways, with inspiration a-plenty, and a desperate need to vent their frustrations somewhere. And their entries are LONG!

I was so inspired by their writing that I pitched a column to the Brevity Nonfiction Blog about it and the editors, I'm thrilled to say, decided to run it. You can read it here:


As I say in the piece for Brevity, "An unusual moment in our world has created an opening for me as a teacher to reinforce the very principles I've been trying to convey (write whenever you can, track details, take your mental temperature). But ... how to replicate next time?"

In any event, my students so far are capturing exactly what I imagined, as I mentioned in my piece for Brevity; "the small changes, the absence of one activity or obligation creating space for something else, the repercussions of our new routines (one student fears the increased screen time from working virtually is interfering with her sleep and I would agree!)."

I don't plan on sharing their entries but here are two of mine:

*March 26, 2020*
File under, Thank God/silver lining/finally: I am in love with James Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son.”

In an introduction to the older edition I am reading, borrowed from Olin, Baldwin writes, “I love America more than any other country in the world, and exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

*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 AT Wesleyan anymore.

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

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 – literally always, before coronavirus and probably always, and 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, 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.


Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Review: A GIRL RETURNED by Donatella Di Pietrantonio

Finally, my review of one of the best Italian novels of 2019 has run! You can find my whole review of A GIRL RETURNED here on the Kenyon Review's site, and a short excerpt of the piece here below:

"In the gripping new Italian novel in translation A Girl Returned, a young girl’s adoptive parents suddenly bring her back to her birth mother, thirteen years later, as if she were an expired item. Adoptions are typically permanent, no? Not in this novel by Donatella Di Pietrantonio, who deftly grapples here with the holy trifecta of human emotions (and thus, fiction): love, longing and loss.
"The stunning turn of events propels the girl into a new world. The first person she meets in the other home is Adriana, a sister whose existence she has heretofore known nothing about. The move to the new house forces her to exchange life as an only child for a home where she shares a bedroom with four siblings, including three teenage boys. Her sense of alarm (and the reader’s) is underscored when she tries to escape by pretending she has left something in her adoptive father’s car. Once inside the car, she activates the locks, begging him to take her back. As he forcibly removes her, the narrator comments, “In his grip I no longer recognized the hand of the taciturn father I’d lived with until that morning.” It seems an act of unmitigated cruelty by the father—and in one way, it surely is—but maverick plot twists revealed later in this startlingly suspenseful book will somewhat attenuate that verdict."

Monday, March 16, 2020

From the Leo Journal: ROAR!

Feb. 22, 2017
2:17 p.m.
While he plays by himself, I overhear him as he says again and again one word: “Roar!” He loves to pretend he’s a baby puma. Whence the obsession? Also, who cares?

Hearing a child yell "roar" must be one of life’s tender mercies. Oh wait, there's more. It’s my child, the one I think hangs the moon.

Dept. of Lost Diary Entries

Sunday, March 08, 2020

This one's for Brenda and Eddie (or post-Italy blues)

Driving home in a trance from JFK, some 20 hours after leaving our hotel in Rome, Mike prowled the radio dial for anything that would keep him awake while behind the wheel. Before long, the unmistakable bars of Billy Joel’s "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" came across, serenading us through our disorientation and regret as only the Piano Man can. Oh it felt right to this former Long Islander. Just as Brenda and Eddie went back to the green (even though “you can never go back there again”), we, too, had returned. To our green. Italy. 

Billy got it wrong – you can go back, but you probably can’t stay. That’s the catch. And fate will have you driving across the Whitestone Bridge, commiserating with Brenda and Eddie  who started to fight when the money got tight and just didn’t count on the tears – but it will be another grievance that you’re nursing. 

A grievance that torments inasmuch as it pulls you in two different directions at once. 

Forget time travel. I want to be here – and there. Qui ma anche . At the same time. And 20 years is a long time to be pulverized by this particular type of Italian torque. 

So what will it be, a bottle of red or a bottle of white?

Lost diary entry

Monday, February 10, 2020

Octopus arms

Dec. 31, 2017 -- From the Leo journal:

“It would be great if people could live on Earth forever --”


“-- and have octopus arms.”

Lost diary entry