Running Away to Home, La Bella Lingua, Dune, and the Woman Who Laughed at God

I keep starting more books, and can’t seem to finish many of them. But here are a few reviews to start off the year:

Running Away to Home by Jennifer Wilson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Having done a very similar thing myself, I enjoyed reading Jennifer Wilson’s account of how she took her family to the Czech Republic in search of her ancestors. I loved all the little details of their acceptance into her ancestral village, and how she and her suburban American family learned a different way of living and seeing the world. However, the book lacked a certain internal consistency and completeness. At times, Wilson simply rambled. And she kept bringing up interesting themes and then dropping them without warning, never to be revisited. The concluding chapters read a little insincerely, almost as if she’d written them before she ever went, and been planning to write the book all along. read more

Italian Christmas Memories

Well, we’re going on three months now, and cultural acclimation is progressing. I still can’t figure out why I keep seeing people walking around in shirt-sleeves when it’s almost December. My mother-in-law says it’s because all they have to do is walk from warm cars to warm buildings. I (and my children, according to me) can’t survive outside without sweaters, coats, scarves, and hats. I guess this is how the Florentines felt seeing my bare, scarf-less neck in springtime. read more

Italians and their food

As far as I know, all Italians love good food. However, what seems to set Sicilians apart is the sheer quantity of food they love. In Sicily last week, we went to a restaurant in Agrigento, ordered what we thought was a normal meal, and received four plates, each one containing enough pasta to feed our entire family. Tony’s is pictured above. It was tasty, although I just couldn’t shake the feeling that there was a gigantic insect sitting next to his tagliatelle. We also ate gelato four times in the six days we spent there, as well as sundry other sweets. Needless to say, after a week in Sicily, I feel like I should go on a diet, and stop eating pasta, pizza, and gelato. Fortunately for me, while all of those can technically be found in Tunisia, none are close enough to the genuine Italian article to really tempt. In fact, during one of our first weeks here in Tunisia, we were eating at a well-recommended restaurant in Hammamet. An Italian family walked in. They were seated, and one asked for a recommendation from their waiter. The waiter suggested a dish containing mozzarella cheese. The Italian was instantly suspicious, and asked to see the mozzarella. When taken back to the kitchen and presented with the cheese, he shook his head: “That’s not mozzarella.” read more

In the Valley of the Temples

In the Valley of the Temples

I have now visited ancient Greece, although we have not left the Italian island of Sicily. I can happily report that “one of the most important archaeological sites in Europe” lives up to its reputation. Magnificently. Even glimpsed from a distance, as we have seen it every day on our walks through the eucalyptus grove near Stathis and Elettra’s house, the “Valley of Temples” looked like something so lovely and classical as to seem almost unreal. And actually standing in the shadow of those temples was even more awesome than I had imagined it would be. Ancient Roman ruins impress me, but ancient Greek ruins move me. read more

Happy Hour, Italian-Style

It’s the Bohemian retreat you’ve always wanted to visit. Our delightful friends, Stathis and Elettra, have invited us to spend our Sicilian week at their house, and the house is as interesting and hospitable as the hosts. On the desk where I’m writing this, a small Yoda stares across my computer at an eight-inch-high Eiffel tower. Nearby, a lava lamp presides benignly over a miniature zen garden that hasn’t been raked in weeks, and is now home to a large cowrie shell and a lavender silk rose. Elettra is an artist, and her colorful paintings decorate every room, paired with movie posters, photos of her all over Europe, and hand-lettered quotes. A huge mural of an idealized Sicilian landscape (trees, gentle hills, and a waterfall into a pristine aquamarine Mediterranean) dominates the balcony. Their library, too, is eclectic, multil-lingual, and fascinating. An Italian version of The Little Prince shares the shelves with a Greek cookbook, a large coffee table book on Frank Lloyd Wright, and Ursula LeGuin’s handbook on writing. Or anyway, that’s what I’ve pulled down as interesting reading so far. read more

Italian Flashbacks

Apparently, our internet company has reached a deal with our landlord. For the next week, our internet will be on from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. every day. Too bad we haven’t had jet-lag in over a year. But I guess it’s better than nothing. Fortunately, my clever husband already schedules some of his work time from 5-8 a.m., so it’s not completely wasted. We’re spending next week at a friend’s house in Sicily to rewind our visas, so hopefully everything will be straightened out by the time we return. Just for fun, I checked to see if my Italian residency document is ready to pick up yet, but no dice. Looks like it may well be expired before it’s ever issued. Or perhaps it’s been gathering dust for months in the Cuneo Questura, and just hasn’t made it into the snazzy state-of-the-art electronic notification system yet. At least we’ve been out of Italy for more than three months, so I am fine to enter with just my passport. read more

A Dream If Ever There Were One

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas break. Mine was a little complicated, for reasons which I will hopefully be able to elucidate during the next week or two. In the meantime, though, I’ll tell you about our magical Christmas Eve, which we spent in a quaint mountain village a century or two ago. We had been planning to attend this event for nearly three years, ever since we had to leave Italy just as the holidays were approaching. In the end, it was even more fascinating than we had imagined. read more

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Last night was our church Christmas party. The whole thing was a little surreal. It was originally my idea, but it didn’t turn out quite as planned. Since I am the branch music chairperson, a few months ago I realized I should probably plan a few special musical numbers for the church service the week before Christmas. My husband is in the branch presidency, so I asked him what the President had in mind. He responded that the President didn’t have anything in mind yet, so I should put something together and present it for his approval. Because our branch is small, and we don’t have a choir or a lot of extra time and resources after we barely manage to accomplish the essentials, I went online and got the simplest Christmas Sacrament Meeting Program I could find. It was just excerpts from the Christmas story in Luke interspersed with Sally DeFord hymn arrangements that I could find online and print for free. I wouldn’t have to translate anything into Italian, and the only thing hard about the music was the piano accompaniment, which I could do myself. We were set for a stress-free Christmas program. Except that I live in Italy. read more

The Blood of the Soul

Once while out on an evening walk, Tony and I decided to cut through the cobblestone stillness of our little town square. At that time of day, with the bells striking and mists curling up around the church tower, the town resembles nothing more than an Italian Brigadoon, about to disappear again into a hundred-year enchantment. However, on this particular evening it just so happened that the entire square was full of chairs, and a stage had been erected on one end. A local acting troupe was performing a play to the rapt attention of what must have been half our little village. Never ones to pass up an impromptu cultural occasion, we decided to stick around for a while and test out our budding Italian skills. Much to our dismay, after ten minutes of listening intently, we had failed to distinguish even one recognizable word. Finally, we gave up and returned home, thoroughly deflated. Was our Italian really as bad as all that? read more

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire

After a long morning deep cleaning and organizing the house, we had finally piled everyone into the car last Saturday at noon, almost two hours later than I had anticipated. Coats were off, our lunch was stowed in the back, and the children were buckled when we looked up and saw our 62-year-old widowed neighbor out chopping a gigantic pile of wood. She had her automatic splitter hooked up to the tractor, but still. Tony and I looked at each other, hesitated a moment, and then acknowledged we’d better get out and help her. So much for our already postponed outing. read more