Read any good books lately?

Sometimes you just get lucky. Getting ready to go on a flight down south I found not one, but two Donna Leon books. That I hadn’t read! They are not heavy reading, always set in Venice and perfect for a day at the beach or a day in the air. Guido, the police commissario, is so erudite and engaging, as is his family.

And the author has many nice turns of the phrase. Well, I like the stories. Harmless entertainment.

book james joyce trieste

DonnaLeonBook

Particularly, when it happened in my own post-Joycean world. Go ahead, paint me a Philistine. I tried. I wanted to like old James. He and I both love Trieste. So, my first choice on our last flight was “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” Written early in the century in Dublin and then started over and finished in Trieste, ten years later. Clearly Mr Joyce was miserable times seven when he initially wrote it. Hopefully, finishing it in Trieste, he was crying on the outside, on the pages of the manuscript but laughing it up on the inside, having survived and escaped Catholic boarding school in Ireland to sunny Trieste!

Beautiful Ruins is a surprise. I bought this book for my wife awhile back. We both like books set in or about Italy and it had a cool Cinqueterra-looking cover so that was enough for me to want it for her. Mid way thru our trip she said “I’m almost done with this, I think you will like it.”

Half way thru it I’m ready to break a Cardinal Red Rule which is “don’t brag on a book until its over.” Which is just what I’m doing. I like it a lot. It has complex, interesting characters, over laid with each other in surprising ways, lots of specific “voices,” just a myriad of things to like. I’m already plotting to try more of Jess Walter’s books.

Speaking of books: What good books have you read lately? Either set in Italy or about Italy or by an Italian? Anything, even marginally Italian-oriented, would be considered. If I get a lot of responses, I might like to share them here. Which will drive me to update my Favorite Italian Books List on the web site.

Thinking about our upcoming September trip to Venice, Umbria and hopefully Trieste already. Which makes me want to keep repeating

See you in Italy! See you in Italy!

Stew Vreeland

ESTATHE. A TWISTED LESSON IN ITALIAN

thealone2ESTATHE. The small plastic cup spins around in my brain. I stare at it again. That doesn’t look right. But there it is, perched on a skinny shelf in a Formica cupboard over our stove. Next to the breakfast cereal and a box of pasta. We are in the midst of a ruthless search and destroy cleaning frenzy. Things left in closets, under beds, behind doors, things left alone for years were now being looked at with suspicious eyes. Especially food.
As we all know, in a cleaning situation, any distraction is a good distraction. So, Even though I knew this was a ready to go cup of tea, I got to thinking about its name. And thinking what incredible hoops we poor Innocents Abroad have to go through to digest this. Funny thing about language. We’ve been looking at Italian words for years before we started studying them. Usual suspects, pizza, piazza, paparazzi, these are all words that are so popular and omnipresent that they became bigger than Italian and spilled over into English. There are dozens and dozens of them.

INTERNATIONAL WORD GAMES.

And then you have words in Italian that you don’t really have to learn, you just pronounce them a bit different. “Idea”, for example in Italian, or French for that matter, looks just like “idea” in English. It just sounds different. But you still see it and get it. Same with aeroplano for airplane. I can kind of work out words like that out for myself on a good day. Words like these give you hope that maybe, just maybe, you could kind of wing it, bluff your way to fluency. But when you wake up from that dream, you notice that for every airplane (aeroplano) there’s dozens, no thousands of works like “seat” (sedia) that don’t ring any bells of recognition at all. You just have to grab a sedia, somehow force it into your memory banks and use it until you own it.

And, of course, keep a dictionary nearby. We’ve bought any number of them over the years. But couldn’t find a single one in the house this trip. I could not for the life of me parse out a couple of the lame, round about, pun-based jokes Groucho was making in a new Dylan Dog comic. (My idea of a fine Italian text book. I know, grow up Stew) Very hard, I’ve found, to bluff your way around subtle, double entendres. So we buy another dictionary. Maybe in the false hope that by having the right word in our hand, that that by itself would make us more fluent. You know how getting a health club membership conjures ups vision of friends asking if you have been working out?

booksalonert2(Have you seen, for example, the trailers for the new Di Nero movie “Limitless?” The hero takes a new potent pill and suddenly he can do almost anything. He’s quick, he’s smart, he’s rich. Girls coo “Since when do you speak Italian?” He shrugs modestly. Where can we GET these pills!?! In the movie the pusher friend says they are “fda approved.”)

FALSE FRIENDS BETTER THAN NO FRIENDS AT ALL

Meanwhile back on Planet Earth we’re still stuck with using our new Garzanti Hazon dictionary. Which is interesting because instead of being lets say “English/Italian” it was more of an “Italian/English” thing. Which is not surprising since we bought it in a book store in Umbria. And it had a feature I’ve never seen in a bi-lingual dictionary. It is called “False Friend.” Just like that, two words, in English and they were call outs in blue boxes on nearly every page, in both the English and Italian halves of the dictionary. I thought that was funny too. But it’s clearly presumed both English and Italian readers would grasp the concept of a False Friend. Made quickly sense to me and soon found myself looking for these small blue islands of clarity in a sea of words, words, words.

False Friends’ main job is to make you pay attention. And not go off thinking you knew a word when you really are just making a quick leap, a logical assumption.

Take the bookstore in Castiglione del Lago where we got the dictionary for example. Book stores and libraries have a lot in common at some level, no? What with both of them being full of books and all. Guess which one is a “Libreria?” That’s right. Not the Library, but the bookstore. Accident / Incident strangely enough don’t equal Accidenti / Incidenti at all but in fact are double-dealing False Friends of the best sort. They mean exactly the opposite of what you might logically expect. In other words, when in Italy, you have car incidents instead of accidents.

Which brings us back to the plastic cup. A cup of what is evidently by context a cup of “THE.” Italian is truly a wonder to pronounce, as it is perfectly phonetic. See a letter, pronounce it the same. Every, single time. Once you get the hang of it, it is not at all impossible to see a page of Italian and rattle off a few sentences at normal talking speed. And not have the least idea what you are saying. But still be pronouncing somewhat as if you had a clue.

THE AGONY AND THE ESTATHE

But then there is the letter “H” It is consistent, I’ll say that for it. But consistently silent. It sometimes affects other letters near it, but even then in a regimented way. Ci is pronounced chee but chi with an allegedly silent “h” is suddenly “key”. But, here, in this word, “THE” it is just plain silent. So the word “the” could just as well be spelled “te” but that word is spoken for and means You in a familiar sense. But “the” with an “h” in it means tea in Italian. And ESTATHE is a brand and a cute play on words. (Giocchi di paroli) Pronounce the “esta” and “the” and you have a word that looks like estathe but which, because of that silent “h” in Italian, sounds like “estate.” And despite how that word may look, it doesn’t mean your ancestral home in the country. In Italian “estate” simply means “summer” and what could be better in the summer than a nice iced tea?

Cheers, and See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

IF ON A WINTER’S NIGHT . . .

A TRAVELER’S GUIDE TO LIGHTWEIGHT NEW BOOKS ABOUT ITALY

Welcome to shortest, darkest day of the year. Grab a couple books, it’s going to be a long, sunlight-impaired season. Why don’t we pretend we are in Sunny Italy for a few hours?

LITERARY ALERT– Do I hear an Ecco in here? Well, no. Neither of these books are up to Umberto’s level or Dante’s or Calvino’s. These two new books aren’t even by Italians. But they are about Italy and Italian life as seen through two foreigners’ requisite rose-colored glasses. If, for the sake of comparison, you say Umberto Ecco is a nine course meal with fine wine and, stand back! flaming deserts, well these two tiny morsels are snackish-like things that drop out of vending machines in brightly colored foil bags. But, in the putting-money-where-mouth-is department, I have to say I’ve liked both of these books enough to walk up to the check-out counter with them. And to read them. And to gift them to friends. Sure, gift is a verb. Why not?

PLAYING FOR PIZZA AND LIVING IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE.

That seems like a good title for one book. But it is two. And both are perfect for sampling by the open fire. So, feet up on the couch, pillow punched into shape. Open at page one.

playing for pizza john grishamPlaying for Pizza first. It’s light but tasteful. Light, even by recent John Grisham standards. I rather think he’s newly discovered Italy’s fulsome charms, like so many people out there in the world. But unlike the rest of us, he’s figured out how to get his publishers to bend to his request for research time on their dime. In Italy. Sometimes his Italian connection is a stretch. The last book I read of his, The Broker, started in the U.S. President’s office and ended in the middle of Bologna. As if there wasn’t plenty of that in Washington. Fine, fine, whatever it takes. As long as the plot ends up with some trite, fairly obvious Italian words in italics sprinkled here and there, we’re good. In our house we have shelves and shelves of books of, by, or for Italians. And (gasp!) some even in Italian. Ok, those are mostly Dylan Dog comics. We had a whole small room set aside for Italian themed books in our previous house. Maybe that was extreme. Fear not, we haven’t thrown any Italian books in the dumpster, but just have all our Italian books in the same room with books on all subjects in one bigger room with more shelves. Still segregated, of course.

But enough about me and my book stacking habits. In Playing for Pizza, Grisham has an interesting premise: minor NFL player backs into the lineup of a huge game and being an idiot, blows his big chance, the game, and his career just like that: one, two, three. And he is consequently now so roundly hated all across America that he goes to one of the few places where they actually don’t care: Italy. In fact, in some quarters of Italy where they haven’t gotten the memo yet, he remains a bit of a big shot. But still, being Italy, where our football is teenie tiny minor eccentric leaning sport, our hero basically has a metaphoric sign around his neck reading “WILL WORK FOR FOOD”. Which, at this point in his life/career, he’s grudgingly willing to do. He’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, and you don’t have to be either to see how this will pan out. Othello it’s not; nobody dies. But it was a pleasant passa tempo even so.

And yes. They DO have “real” football in Italy in addition to that popular imposter they call football, but which any right-thinking person can tell you is soccer. Be that as it may, Italians call our football “fooootball Americana” to differentiate it from their football/soccer/calcio thing. And why on earth would I actually know this semi-useless fact?

Padova saint he ain't Stew Vreeland in Padova Saints american footbal club jacketThat would be Alexia’s fault. She was our foreign exchange student and her family owned the Padova Saints. I still have a Saints jacket as you can see. Oh, you wish you had that. And oh, the things I learned from Riccardo, Alexia’s wild card of a dad. The main thing we had in common was that he and I both hated any boy she brought home on either side of the Atlantic. “You let her go out with HIM?” he said just a bit too loudly (but at least it was in Italian) while pointing to the insolent, bad intentioned rogue slinking through the door under the porch where we were standing. “She’s YOUR daughter” I yelled back. “YOU should have raised her to know better.” Ecco il pappa. Times two. Of course Riccardo knew full well what bad American boys were up to. Because he “owned” a bunch of them and hung out with them as much as he could. Bon vivant barely covered this mischievous, wise cracking ad guy. As soon as we got to Padova he introduced us to his friend Prosecco. By the pitcherfull. I think that bottles, what, inhibited, Riccardo? He poured us Prosecco in dives high and low as we followed him around Padovatown. Hanging on his every fast-moving word. And he had lots of them. He could, and did, tell stories ninety miles an hour in all known European languages, blisteringly funny; subtle and not so subtle jokes and story lines spilled out across Prosecco- and pizza-covered tables. Occasionally there would be a gap in the blanket of Marlborough brand smog surrounding Riccardo. That is when you would see more cat-that-ate-the-canary eye twinkle than is surely legally allowed.

This was the “capo” of the football Americana team we knew. The Head Saint as it were. A character much larger than life, so any you meet in this book, just assume Grisham met some real ones and toned them down.

NEXT BOOK, PLEASE

Can I pass you Living in a Foreign Language while I’m up? Still comfy? Slippers? Anything we can get you at all? Quick trivia question before cracking the cover. What show was just like, but predated Ally McBeal? Don’t give me that look. Don’t tell me you only watch PBS. Here’s my theory: if there is a TV plugged in somewhere in your home you probably (just a guess) have at least occasionally watched the same shallow stuff we do. And you probably have secret favorites like all the other Neilson Families out there. LA LAW was one of ours. Michael Tucker, remember him? Played a short, soulful, over-sensitive lawyer in the show. In fairness, he probably didn’t actually play short, he probably just is short. Like his book.

living in a foreign language michael tucker life in umbria by hollywood tv starIt is the typical, misty-eyed, Isn’t Italy Amazing genre. He’s clearly happy, happy, happy with his new lifestyle there. The food is fresher, the sky bluer, people friendlier, the sun sunnier, you know how it is. The usual. We liked book. My wife bought it in an airport and elbowed me awake to say “We KNOW all these people in the book”. Awake now. And it was a gas to us. We do know, at least by long term email relationship, the people who sold the author his dream house. And we are pretty sure we know the people who drove him to it. They used to own a wild B&B we visited a few times with friends of friends. Their place was so over-the-top Michael bailed out after one night even though he had paid for several nights in advance. Could totally relate. He left Tuscany with his shirt tail flapping after him and headed out across Umbria to find a place to stay. Any place just a little more Italian and a little less kitsch. And in true novel tradition, he immediately stumbled over the traditional diamond in the rough, way off the beaten path that had never been on the market and was available to him that day. And it came with a full set of built-in friends for life.

I thought he had a nice, breezy, open, accepting, non-judgmental way of jumping into la dolce vita with both feet. Seems very in touch with himself, doesn’t do the “star” thing where the author puts himself in the center of the universe. And hey, he’s an actor. And an actor from LA. Even so, he still really seemed like the kind of guy you could party with. I know! He hasn’t called you either? What is up with that? I’m American, he’s American, we’ve both been to Italy more than the one time. Why aren’t we being handed the plates piled high with local indigenous treats baked to perfection in his massive wood burning oven? Think he’s lost our number? That’s it.

I’d say it again, this book is a light and tasty treat. You sense the people, you smell the food. Every few pages I feel, just for a moment, sigh, that I’m there. Sitting at a plank table under Christmas lights strung through low-hanging grape vines. Glasses clinking. People laughing, telling stories. And here’s the Stew Personal Opinion: at the end of the day, on the slowest page of this book it’s metric tons more fun than Under the Tuscan Sun ever was. That’s right. I admit that I watch junk TV and that Under the Tuscan Sun is pretentious twaddle. Michael talks constantly about food. But does he slap in an impossible bet-you-can’t-do-this-where-YOU-are, you-poor-saps recipe every few pages? Thank heavens, NO.

Why in the name of everything that is good and sane and logical would I want a recipe? In a book. In a book I’m reading. Am I standing in the kitchen wearing a gingham apron with frilly trim? No. I’m on the couch, in my favorite purple NU Wildcats sweatshirt, shoes off. I’m r-e-a-d-i-n-g. Is this a book, or a cookbook already? Decide. Get back to me.

Oh. Did I go off on a tiny momentary baby-rant there? Sorry. We’re back from the dark place now. I liked Michael Tucker’s book. He’s surprised that he finds himself in Italy. He’s not strutting and posing, or worse, condescendingly gloating about his exquisite and well-deserved good fortune. He seems like a kid in a candy shop, honestly tickled to pieces to be there, basking in the moment. It’s infectious and fun. And he knows he’s living the dream. Thanks for sharing, Mike.

There you have it. Two book reviews for the price of one. Unlike real reviewers who get free pre-release books backed up to their office door by the semi-trailer-load, I’ve bought both these books, I’ve given them to friends, and I may buy them again for other friends. And I still want a copy on our bookshelves. I’m just not putting them up on the same shelf with Lampedusa’s Gattopardo.

Italy: The Ultimate Shiny Object?

Columbus discovered America. But, I ask you, doesn’t every American feel they have ”discovered” Italy from the moment they first wash up on her sunny shores? Of course, I’m being egocentric when I single out Americans. And, of course, I mean to include all us foreigner invaders from the Goths and Vandals right on down to whatever Ryan Air discount flight just landed this morning in Pisa. Italy seems to whisper its siren song in everyone’s ear. For me, it seemed like a personal revelation. The skies parted, the message was written there clear as a bell: Look at the art, taste that food, listen to the people talk, I have found the Promised Land. I think, like everyone, I assumed I was the only one shrewd enough to fully appreciate Italy for what it is really worth. But, if you look around at the crowds trying to get in the Uffizi or book a room in Venice during Carnevale you realize, it is a secret we share with a whole lot of other wide eyed tourists.

Yes, I know. I may be preaching to the choir here.

I read somewhere a scientific explanation for part of Italy’s eternal charm and magnetism. The light really IS different in Italy. Thing DO look different there. It turns out we are wearing a natural version of rose colored glasses when we are in Itly. The working hypothesis of the book, as I recall, was that the Mediterranean is a relatively dead sea. Sorry if that seems harsh and un-romantic, but look at the ocean at a beach in Maine, for example. It is black and forbidding looking. That is because the Atlantic is chock full of seafood, seaweed, fish and marine life. The Med is comparatively empty. But, an incredibly pretty shade of blue. The whole empty basin is a giant solar reflector, picking up and reflecting the color of the sky. And the lovely Italian peninsula is stuck like a long, skinny pier, out in the middle of that pond. So, the light over Italy is refracted from the water on all sides of it in an actual, unique sort of way. And that affects what we see and how we see it and maybe it even reflects somewhat on the famously sunny Italian personality.

A couple weeks ago, I saw a note in the Boston Globe about dream travel destinations. A question had been posed, and it was: Where in the world would you go, if money were no object at all? According to the survey, done by an affiliate of Expedia, Italy would be in the All Time Top Three Ultimate Destinations. Hawaii and Australia were right in there, too.

But consider this evidence as well: There are two new long-awaited books coming out right now. One is by Jonathan Harr. You may remember that 10 years ago he wrote his first big, successful book ”Civil Action”. Since then, he has published nothing at all but was evidently searching around for a new subject and came up with his real life mystery/adventure ”The Lost Painting”. It is the story of a famous Caravaggio that had been misplaced for a couple centuries.

The other author, John Berendt, was also a first time author when he published his wildly successful ”Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” (272 weeks on the New York Times Hardcover Bestseller List!) a decade or so ago. Loved his casual, bemused, fly on the wall, observational style. His new book, like Harr’s is also somewhat of a real life mystery. It is called ”The City of Falling Angels” and it goes behind the scenes of the famously, devastating fire at the Fenice Opera House in Venice.

I’m not really ready to do book reviews of either of them, as they just came out. But the subjects attract me and I’ll probably get both of them this weekend. The point is, that both Jon and John were first time, out of the box literary stars. And what was the first thing they did when they could? Well, sure. They did the first thing any right thinking person would do: they took off for Italy and used writing the next great novel as an excuse to hang around for a few years ”doing research”.

Can you blame them?

A July in Umbria


Whew. Made it. Arrived. Just ahead of a dramatic summer squall. Dark trees in waving seas of sunflowers. Bathed in bright sun one moment and dense shade the next as white clouds traded places with black ones every few seconds. Changeable as our rental car radio. It’s a Lancetti. Well that seems properly Italian now doesn’t it? But it is a Daewoo. And the radio just comes on full blast whenever it feels like it. If I could only find the off button but it all seems to be in Braille and you know how it is when you jetlag yourself off the plane and first insert yourself back into polite society. More airline stories later.

We are so easily amused. Or another way of putting it is that small pleasures are often the best. One of our great treats in Italy is to arrive dog tired and stay awake long enough to get to Masolino’s restaurant and have the Belfico family cover us in comfort food and then go climb into blissful sleep coma and get two night’s sleep in a row almost and gently get acclimated to this time zone.

When we arrived at Masolino’s on Sunday night there were a couple tables full and then ours with the tiny gold Reservato on it waiting for us. I asked our friend Andrea if it had been a busy summer for him. Over his shoulder he said ”non ti credi”. Within five or ten minutes I saw what he meant as the place filled solid including the outdoor balcony. Which was grand for everyone until the mother of all summer storms hit with wild wind wild rain lightening all at the same time. Waterfalls pouring over the awnings drove balcony dinners running into the already full restaurant with their plates in their hands and napkins flapping like speed streaks behind them. And no place to go till they set up places for them in the bar. We have eaten there a million times (conservative estimate) but never had Mamma Brunna’s Sunday lasagna special and special it was. A drop of prosecco please and lights out.

NOW ATTEMPTING RE ENTRY INTO EUROPEAN TIME ZONES

I can’t really make sense or talk the first day back so seeing houses and trying to take pictures immediately is almost counter productive so I gardened like a maniac the whole first day and got everything how it wanted it. I can garden and prune in my sleep. And sort of did I suppose.

The next two days Midge and I went around like crazy seeing houses with Katia from Citta della Pieve in the south to Cortona in the north. What a fun whirlwind and you will eventually see the results in This Just In and on the web pages. One townhouse in Cortona really rings my bell. Neither words or pictures will ever do it justice. 490,000 euros and well, just totally down town and just stupendous, classy, chic. Architect designed and finished with such good taste. And views out to Tuesday that include high lake views. Won’t tease you any more with that till I have all my photos organized.

MORE MORE PERFAVORE
(more MO ray, pear fa vore ray)

Before gardening the first day we needed artificial stimulation in the form of our morning cup or two of cappucchino our favorite caffine delivery system of choice until they invent a convenient IV drip system for home use. Good trip. Between cafe Masolino and cafe Bar Gallo (they are four doors apart) we got two dinner party offers and one was for that very night. Life is good.

Post gardening Midge did the right thing and took a siesta. I did what was right for me and went for gelato. What’s this? Looks a new flavor to me. MOray. OK, Moray. I’ll bite! And lick too. Black berry is written ”more”. I can remember a yogut in a store with the engaging headline ”piu more” which I kept wanting to translate as more more. But in reality is more blackberry.

This is my flavor du jour for the trip. Must totally be the season. I have at least one blackberry gelato a day and love each new one as much as the first one. That is Aldo at the top of the page handing one of many. Last night I completed the MOray Trifecta. Totally by accident. My favorite dessert is Stefi’s famous Panacotta. Cooked cream never tasted so good. She can do it with chocolate, with a carmel or my favorite Frutti di Bosco. Wild berries. And at this season that means more MOray. Say it with me now! MOray. MOray. And after dinner Andrea brought us complimentary after dinner drinks and asked what we tasted in it. Midge got it on the first try MOray. More more more. I really can’t get too much of this good thing. And the Recioto della Valpolicella classico Domini Veneti was a very good thing.

TUTTO E’ POSSIBILE

Everything is possible in Italy we have found to our delight. The culture is so accommodating. I feel guilty admitting how often our friends here fill needs we didn’t even know we had. We are undeservedly covered with kindness. Just yesterday a neighbor passing by our house noted our highest figs seemed mature and that we needed to harvest them. I agreed in concept and (trying to get out of manual labor) said my ladder was too short.. A couple hours later Bruno was calling over the garden wall with a gigantic ladder and was soon up in the tree. But first he whipped out a bright red train engineers oil can and oiled all our shutters’ tie back mechanisms. When we got to our terrace we saw he had delivered, unasked, a waist high pot of basil. I protested we were only going to be here, as he well knows, a couple more days. He just shrugged and smiled. The next night when we got home, this bouquet of artichoke flowers was on our coffee table. Not for you. For your wife, Bruno said with a wink. Is this a great country!?!

MUSIC IN THE AIR.

We can see a baroque church from our house and today we could see it and hear it. A group of flutes was practicing for a concert later in the afternoon and their notes were wafting magically through the air over our garden and into the streets for anyone who was quiet enough to separate them from the swallows and cicadas. Another day in Panicale. Or. We have died and gone to heaven. Watching the literally unbelievable pink pink Hollywood sunset over the village church and the lake a couple hours later, we started believing that maybe we had slipped off terra firma and into another more peaceable kingdom.

HIGH. AND DRY?
Up in the air over the wide, wet Atlantic. And surrounded by water. In the plane. In the airport. In sport bottles of every size and shape.

Water water everywhere indeed. When did this start? Did I NOT get the memo, again? Every person, on every plane I’ve taken lately has had a bottle of water ready for their use at a moment’s notice. Bottles in their hands, sticking out of pant’s pockets, snugged into special holsters, hung on belts and on all sides of back packs. Ok, how incredibly under-hydrated am I? There are drinking fountains in the airports and places to buy and drink water all around in the airports. And on the plane the waitresses in the sky are handing out drinks rather non-stop. Water, coffee,tea, and excuse me, excuse me. Must step over sleeping giant on aisle seat to go to the bathroom. Now. After 20 hours of being forced fed liquids almost constantly, if anything I’m feeling OVER hydrated. And my hands are full. I would so sit on my bottle and look more out of control than usual.

Lance Armstrong. Middle of France. On a mountain. Several hours into the ultimate aerobic exercise. Now, HE needs a water bottle. I saw whole families with a bottle bolted to every member from baby to teenager to parents with their hands and arms full of strollers and diaper bags. But if we crash into the Sahara, then who will have the last laugh?

SPEAKING OF ALL WET. HERE’s A REAL CORKER

We landed in London. Lines for passports, lines for shuttles. And then we had some off line time waiting for our gate to be announced.

A nice looking middle aged man pulled his bag over and sat across from us. Business man? Manager? Computer technician? Who knows.
As soon as he pulled out a plastic bag and began rooting through a minor league cornucopia of candy and chocolate odds and ends. Wait. now what’s he doing? Yes, I think he has just pulled out a wine glass. A glass wine glass. With a stem on it. Short stem, ok. But a stemed wine glass. Now he is polishing it intently with a Kleenex it appears. And out of a grocery store shopping bag comes a half full bottle of wine. The cork is sticking partially out. He pulls the cork, pours himself a glass of red, crosses one knee over the other, swirls the wine around takes a sip like he is on the Via Venato on a summer evening. Except this is Heathrow. At 5:15 a.m. I was a bit sleepy and confused at the time. But I really don’t think I could have made that up. Later, I thought, do you think maybe he started out by having a sport bottle habit and just took it up to the next obvious level?


IF YOU ARE IN THE MOOD FOR SOME BOLOGNA

Wow. This Grisham book is quite different. No court rooms. Just barely any lawyers. And surprise. It is all in Italy. Just like we are. Full of Italian dialog and characters and places.

It gives the sense that Grisham himself is in the midst of learning the language and the rhythms of the streets as he is writing this. And like his character in a witness protection program, changing into and becoming a real Italian. Good summer beach chair ”thriller” or ”giallo” as they say. (three layer and ja al low. That comes close to how you say them. Well, in StewWorld.) OK, it is not Shakespeare, but it kept me turning the pages much later in the night than I may have intended.

Allora, I hope this stream of consciousness wasn’t too random and maybe gives a peek at one tourist’s week in Umbria.

See you in Italy!

Stew