The Hunter’s Wife

Northern Lights and trees

“That night he drove her all the way north to Sweetgrass, on the Canadian border, to see the Northern Lights. Great sheets of violet, amber and pale green rose from the distances. Shapes like the head of a falcon, a scarf and a wing rippled above the mountains. They sat in the truck cab, the heater blowing on their knees. Behind the aurora the Milky Way burned.”     “The Hunter’s Wife,” by Anthony Doerr

I liked All the Light We Cannot See so much, I got a copy of Anthony Doerr’s short story collection, The Shell Collector, and read “The Hunter’s Wife” (astonishing) while I had tea at Wegman’s today. One reviewer said about this collection: “Eight stunning exercises in steel-tipped feathery fineness….[Doerr is] able to pin down every butterfly wing and fleck of matter in the universe, yet willing to float the unanswerables….”

The snow was really coming down this afternoon. I watched people buying groceries for the evening’s dinner, rushing about and remarking on the weather, telling each other to drive safely. I bought some juniper boughs, white button mums, a ruby-red poinsettia. (And a meat loaf for supper.) The snow was still falling when I left. I swept about four inches’ worth off my car.

White mums, berries, snowman, pine cone

 

All the Light We Cannot See

“At dusk they pour from the sky. They blow across the ramparts, turn cartwheels over rooftops, flutter into the ravines between houses. Entire streets swirl with them, flashing white against the cobbles. Urgent message to the inhabitants of this town, they say. Depart immediately to open country.”     All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot SeeWhen she is six, Marie-Laure LeBlanc goes blind. Her widowed father, a locksmith at the Natural History Museum, constructs a miniature replica of the Paris neighborhood where they live so Marie-Laure can memorize nearby streets and landmarks.

Some years later, when she and Monsieur LeBlanc flee to the coastal city of Saint-Malo during the Nazi occupation, Marie-Laure’s father constructs a replica of that city, too, so Marie-Laure can make her way around independently. Eventually, Marie-Laure joins the resistance, along with her uncle, Etienne, who is a shell-shocked World War I veteran. She finds herself quite alone on the eve of the massive American bombing of Saint-Malo in August of 1944.

In the meantime, German orphan Werner Pfennig takes a keen interest in building and fixing radios. Eventually, he is recruited by the academy for Hitler Youth. During the war, Werner tracks the resistance by searching for secret radio broadcasts. Werner detects illegal broadcasts coming from Saint-Malo, and the very street where Marie-Laure lives.

All the Light We Cannot See was a 2014 National Book Award finalist. Anthony Doerr, who grew up in Cleveland but now lives in Idaho, is a writer I intend to follow. I’ve put his memoir, Four Seasons in Rome, on my holiday wish list, and am enjoying his collection of short stories, The Shell Collector. His prose is breathtaking, poetic. (I’m studying favorite sentences from the novel as a writing exercise.)

When I read World War II European-front fiction I try to imagine where my father would have been at the time. He arrived in France and Luxembourg a few months after the bombing of Saint-Milo and fought during the weeks leading to the Battle of the Bulge.

Here is a 9-minute video I found on YouTube of Americans bombing and entering Saint-Malo. There were about 850 buildings in the town, and after the bombing only 150 or so remained standing.

A couple of my favorite passages from All the Light We Cannot See:

“She places a ration coupon on the counter. ‘One ordinary loaf, please.’

‘And how is your uncle?’ The words are the same, but the voice of Madame Ruelle is different. Galvanized.

‘My uncle is well, thank you.’

Madame Ruelle…reaches across the counter and cups Marie-Laure’s face in her floury palms. ‘You amazing child.’

…the loaf comes to her: heavy, warm, larger than normal. ‘Tell your uncle that the hour has come. That the mermaids have bleached hair.’

‘The mermaids, Madame?’

‘They are coming dear. Within the week.'”

++++++++++++++++++++++

“They cross the Channel at midnight. There are twelve and they are named for songs: Stardust and Stormy Weather and In the Mood and Pistol-Packin’ Mama…

Inside each airplane, a bombardier peers through an aiming window and counts to twenty. Four five six seven. To the bombardiers, the walled city on its granite headland, drawing ever closer, looks like an unholy tooth, something black and dangerous, a final abscess to be lanced away.”

++++++++++++++++++++++

“But God is only a white, cold eye, a quarter-moon poised above the smoke, blinking, blinking as the city is gradually pounded to dust.”

Delancey

Delancey book cover“There were many moments early on when I wondered if it wouldn’t be better to be eaten alive by a wild animal than to show up for work. But in the midst of those hours, there was one that I always loved. It begins around 3:30 pm, when the servers set up the dining room. They set the tables, light the votives, and fill the water glasses. On the surface, it seems pretty mundane….But…for that hour, the room has this calm, consistent thrum to it, a sort of potential energy that feels peaceful and reassuring. I looked forward to it every day, and I still do.” Delancey

Delancey is a funny, beautifully written memoir about the founding of a wood-fired pizza restaurant in Seattle. It would make an excellent holiday present for readers who appreciate good food and frank, inspiring accounts of what it takes to start a business from scratch.

I loved Delancey because I grew up in our family’s floral shop, and the book is an authentic depiction of what it takes to establish and run a small business – the successes as well as the moments of despair when you question whether all the effort and sacrifice is worth it. Molly Wizenberg is frank and honest about the good and the bad. She is the author of the hugely popular blog Orangette, as well as another memoir, A Homemade Life. Orangette is one of my favorite blogs; Molly depicts her everyday life of cooking at home (recipes included), raising a daughter, and running Delancey with her husband, Brandon.

In the memoir, I especially enjoyed Molly’s descriptions of how Brandon developed and perfected their pizza recipes and the day-in, day-out routines and rituals of running a restaurant. They reminded me of days in the flower shop that began at the crack of dawn and sometimes ended after midnight, especially during the holidays.

Molly writes about the behind-the-scenes drama in the life of Delancey, but she also beautifully depicts her search for meaning in what she and Brandon are building. After the adrenaline of inspiration began to wear off, Molly got off the treadmill for a bit to take stock.

Here is one of my favorite parts, when Molly travels to London, dines with friends at the River Cafe and has an epiphany:

“…we watched the lunch crew set up their staff meal, a buffet along the bar. They filled their plates and began to stream past us to a lawn next to the patio, where they sat together, at least twenty of them, to eat. They smiled and gestured and leaned into each other, and the whole scene was eminently civilized, idyllic, the kind of vignette you find in an MFK Fisher essay about a restaurant in the French countryside in the first half of the last century. I couldn’t stop staring at them, watching the way they were with each other, the way they clearly enjoyed being there…These people, I thought, are making something here. ….These people know, and they care, that what they’re making is beautiful. They aren’t just going through the motions; they’re going after it. It was spectacular to watch: calm, precise, quietly exuberant.”

Oh, and, by the way, Molly includes twenty recipes for simple, homemade food she, Brandon, and their daughter June eat at home. This is a yummy, inspiring memoir.

Station Eleven

Station Eleven book cover“On Day Seven the networks began to blink off the air, one by one. ‘So that all of our employees may be with their families,’ a CNN anchor said, ashen and glassy-eyed after forty-eight hours without sleep, ‘we are temporarily suspending broadcast operations.’ ‘Good night,’ NBC said an hour later, ‘and good luck.’ CBS switched without comment to reruns of America’s Got Talent. This was at five in the morning, and everyone who was awake watched for a few hours – it was nice to take a quick break from the end of the world – and then in the early afternoon the lights went out.”     Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel

I’ve been reading dystopian fiction lately and looking forward to the third installment of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. When neighboring Buffalo was buried in over 70 inches of snow this week, I thought of Cal in the futuristic novel California, whose parents were lost in a massive snowstorm that destroyed Cleveland. And just as I dipped into pandemic-ridden Station Eleven, Ebola was front and center in the news. Reality and fiction are getting too close for comfort.

California book coverIn California by Edan Lepucki, it’s post apocalypse: climate change, inequality, and societal decay on a massive scale have pushed civilization over the edge. The “haves” live in fiercely guarded gated communities, while others band together in communes and cultish groups, and some eke out a living in the wilderness on their own.

It’s Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven I want to write about here, a National Book Award finalist. Of the two novels, I prefer this one, though both have gotten excellent reviews. In Station Eleven, a flu pandemic kills 99.9 percent of the population in a matter of days. We see the end of advanced civilization through the eyes of five characters, and the first decades after the collapse.

One of my favorite characters is Clark, a corporate consultant who specializes in coaching problematic executives and CEOs to change their behavior. Days before the outbreak of the Georgia flu, Clark interviews an especially perceptive employee to see what others think of a particular manager. I love this exchange:

“‘….it’s like the corporate world is full of ghosts. And actually, let me revise that, my parents are in academia so I’ve had front-row seats for that horror show, I know academia’s no different, so maybe a fairer way of putting this would be to say that adulthood’s full of ghosts.'”

“‘I’m talking about these people who have ended up in one life instead of another and they are just so disappointed. Do you know what I mean? They’ve done what’s expected of them. They want to do something different but it’s impossible now, there’s a mortgage, kids, whatever, they’re trapped. Dan’s like that….but I don’t think he even realizes it. You probably encounter people like him all the time. High-functioning sleepwalkers, essentially.'”

What was it in this statement that made Clark want to weep?

“…you go on like that, looking forward to five o’clock and then the weekend and then your two or three annual weeks of paid vacation time, day in day, and that’s what happens to your life.”

“Right,” Clark said. He was filled in that moment with an inexpressible longing.

“Guys like Dan, they’re like sleepwalkers,” she said, “and nothing ever jolts them awake.”

Clark, of course, is jolted awake in a very big way when his flight to Toronto is diverted to a small Michigan airport after the pandemic explodes. He and his fellow passengers, untouched by the flu, watch the end of life as they know it on television. They never leave the airport – it becomes their settlement, their home. Eventually, Clark establishes a Museum of Civilization, where people donate iPads and smart phones and other remnants of their now-lost advanced culture.

“Like educated children everywhere, the children in the airport school memorized abstractions: the airplanes outside once flew through the air. You could us an airplane to travel to the other side of the world, but….when you were on an airplane you had to turn off your electronic devices before takeoff and landing, devices such as the tiny flat machines that played music and the larger machines that opened up like books and had screens that hadn’t always been dark, the insides brimming with circuitry, and these machines were the portals into a worldwide network. Satellites beamed information down to Earth. Goods traveled in ships and airplanes across the world. There was no place on earth that was too far away to get to.”

Meanwhile, a roving theater troupe travels from town to town performing classical music and Shakespeare for groups of survivors living in abandoned Walmarts and gas stations. In this troupe are characters we’ve met earlier in the novel.  The younger members only dimly remember a world with electricity and and other marvels, and some were born after the collapse. One day, they arrive at Clark’s airport settlement, and there is a poignant reunion of sorts for Clark.

Station Eleven, among other things, asks whether art can save and redeem humanity. I can’t help but think of this outpouring of dystopian literature as the proverbial canary in the mine. A wake-up call for those of us who, like the characters in Station Eleven, may need it. Ursula Le Guin, in her stirring National Book Award speech the other night, said we will need more writers who can imagine a different way of being. Six minutes well worth listening to.

Redeployment by Phil Klay,  a veteran of the Iraq War, won the National Book Award for fiction, so this collection of short stories is on my reading list.

 

Mysterious Elena

“I concluded that first of all I had to understand better what I was. Investigate my nature as a woman. I had been excessive. I had striven to give myself male capacities. I had thought I had to know everything, be concerned with everything. What did I care about politics, about struggles. I wanted to make a good impression on men, be at their level. At the level of what, of their reason, most unreasonable. Such persistence in memorizing fashionable jargon, wasted effort. I had been conditioned by my education, which had shaped my mind, my voice. To what secret pacts with myself had I consented, just to excel. And now, after the hard work of learning, what must I unlearn. Also, I had been forced by the powerful presence of Lila to imagine myself as I was not. I was added to her, and I felt mutilated as soon as I removed myself. Not an idea, without Lila. Not a thought I trusted, without the support of her thoughts. Not an image. I had to accept myself outside of her. The gist was that. Accept that I was an average person. What should I do. Try again to write. Maybe I didn’t have the passion. I merely limited myself to carrying out a task. So don’t write anymore. Find some job. Or act the lady, as my mother said. Shut myself up in the family. Or turn everything upside down. Home. Children. Husband.”      Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Elena Ferrante

My Brilliant Friend book cover

 

I don’t often read books in translation, but when I visited Sicily this summer I decided to bring along a contemporary Italian writer. I chose Elena Ferrante and her trilogy of Neapolitan novels – a fourth novel will be published next year – not realizing what an incredible reading experience it would turn out to be.

Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym. The author of My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay does not grant in-person interviews. She does not do book signings or promotional tours. Even her translator, Ann Goldstein, has never met this international literary sensation.

There is a rumor that Elena Ferrante is a man, which many female readers find absurd. A myth, they say, spread by condescending males who think a woman wouldn’t write about male-female relations in the way that Ferrante does. I would be surprised and disappointed if Ferrante is ever revealed to be male. Certainly, such a thought never occurred to me as I read her novels. To me, she seems authentically female, though one who is remarkably uninhibited and self-revealing: a kind of brutal honesty born of the harsh, corrupt city where her novels are set.  It could be that professional anonymity gives Ferrante the freedom to write in this unfettered way. But I have the feeling that Ferrante’s strong, unusual voice would prevail regardless of her circumstances.

The Story of a New Name book coverThe Neapolitan novels span the 1950s to the present, depicting the fraught friendship of Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo, who live on a violent, poverty-stricken Naples stradone, and the fates of their neighborhood friends. Elena manages to become educated and lift herself out of poverty. She writes a bestselling novel, marries an esteemed professor of literature and “escapes” the old neighborhood. Lila, who Elena views as the more brilliant and talented of the two, is not permitted to attend school beyond the fifth grade. She fashions a very different kind of life that remains enmeshed in the corruption and conflict of Napoli.

The friendship between these two women is arresting, electrifying. Lila and Elena love each other but visit treachery and betrayal upon one another, too.  Lila takes the lead with bold, unconventional action; Elena reacts, making important life decisions almost in the wake of Lila. Elena senses Lila is the true, more talented writer, the one more deserving of success; she consciously crafts her own writer’s voice from a story Lila wrote as a child. No one knows Elena better than Lila, and vice versa. If one woman were to die, the other would lose her identity, and her life would be stripped of much of its meaning.

These novels remind me of the movie The Best of Youth in its depiction of an Italian family caught up in the cultural and political upheaval of the 1960s. Feminism is a strong theme, but as the decades pass, in these Neapolitan novels, men and women do not seem to make any progress understanding each other. Do you remember the vitriolic scene in The Godfather when Connie (Talia Shire) hurls the wedding china at her husband, Carlo (Gianni Russo) and they scream at each other? I thought of them when I read Ferrante’s riveting depiction of Lila’s wedding night. Returning from her honeymoon with a black eye, Lila visits her mother, who looks the other way, saying nothing. Such a thing was not out of the ordinary.

If you appreciate complex psychological portraits of women and female friendships, you will like these novels. I enjoyed them, too, for their depiction of Elena’s emotional and creative challenges as a writer, and because they helped me better understand the problematic history of women’s roles in Italian family and culture. The novels will resonate for anyone who has reinvented themselves through geographical distance or education or immersion in a different stratum of society.  We see Elena renouncing the rough dialect of Naples for cultured Italian, yet reverting to the aggressive language of her childhood when she’s angry or upset. Elena hovers between two identities: alienated from her people and place of origin, yet never really at home in her new life.

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay book coverThis article in Slate is one of the better reviews I’ve read of Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. There is an excellent discussion of Elena Ferrante by her translator Ann Goldstein and others in this New Yorker: Out Loud interview.

I plan on reading the fourth novel next year when it is published. Have you read any novels by Elena Ferrante? If so, what do you think?

 

 

The Stone Boudoir

The Stone Boudoir book cover

The Stone Boudoir, by Theresa Maggio.

 

My pictures. Her words.

 

Shrine

“I was on a mission: to find the smallest mountain towns in Sicily. Tiny jewels, remote and isolated, these are places tourists seldom see. But they are the island’s hidden treasure and the secret spring of Sicilian endurance.”

 

 

Two men walking

“Maybe I am so drawn to Sicily because I am half Sicilian and the island is hard-wired into my genes.”

 

 

Window with curtains

“‘I’m looking for a room,’ I said. ‘You have the face of a paesana, a countrywoman,’ she said. My grandparents’ gift to me, I thought. She was sure she recognized me from somewhere.”

 

 

Deep fried artichoke on a plate

“…there used to be a dark bottega that smelled of salami and strawberries….the owner once invented a panino, a little sandwich, just for me: pecorino cheese, pickled peppers, capers, and fresh tomatoes on fragrant yellow bread, chewy as steak and smeared with olive oil. He wouldn’t let me pay.”

 

 

Procession in church

“Men who pulled her all night touched their hankies to the saint. I stared at her back as she floated above our heads down the cathedral’s nave, slowly, like a Norman queen under the pointed Arab arches….She was glorious. An amazing silence fell in the half-filled church.”

 

 

Water in stone fountain

“These mountains make water,” he said.

 

 

Sea, beach, sky

“This island was deadly beautiful, very old, most powerful and strange.”

 

Windowsill Art

“For me, windowsill arranging is almost a spiritual practice. When I am looking for materials to display and placing them on the windowsill, I feel more like a poet placing words in a haiku than a floral designer placing stems in a vase. I love the limited space, the double connection to the outdoors (through the window and my materials), and the structure that repeating the same activity over and over provides.”   Nancy Ross Hugo, Windowsill Art

Vase of borage blossoms on windowsill

I was inspired by Nancy Ross Hugo’s delightful new book, Windowsill Art, to create this for “In a Vase on Monday,” the blog series by Rambling in the Garden. I used borage and pachysandra. The borage blossoms had flopped over from heavy rain the night before, so I decided to snip them off and enjoy them indoors.

 

I wrote about flowers and flower-themed books this past summer to commemorate the Ohio floral shop I grew up in (we just sold the building where my parents had the business for some fifty years) and to chronicle a renewed desire to have more flowers in my life. When St. Lynn’s Press asked me to review their new book, Windowsill Art, by Nancy Ross Hugo, I was thrilled. There is much, much more to this small, hand-sized book than meets the eye.

Windowsill Art book coverWindowsill Art is, first of all, about discovery: using seasonal blossoms and other easily accessible gifts of nature all around us – seedpods, cones, leaves, twigs, foliage, fruits, and vegetables – to make simple, striking designs we can display in the modest spaces of our windowsills.

Secondly, it is windowsill art as artist’s practice. Hugo writes, “Windowsill arranging can be to floral design what pen and ink drawing is to oil painting: a way to strip the art form to its basics and distill the essence of it.”

Nancy compares her windowsill practice to the work of a vegan cookbook author she once heard speak. The cookbook author focused exclusively on vegan cooking even though she was not a vegan.  “She limited her universe in order to investigate a small part of it more deeply.” The simple art of windowsill arranging, Hugo writes, can be “a path back to….innocence and [the] beginner’s eye….And it can help focus a lifetime of practice and observation.”

The author is a naturalist and floral designer who, for three years, created floral windowsill art every day and posted photographs of it on her blog, Windowsill Arranging: Creating Nature on the Windowsill.  She learned that her work greatly increased her readers’ sense of artistic freedom: techniques and ideas they hadn’t thought of before opened up new creative paths and possibilities.

Hugo offers instruction in how to find plant material and choose containers; ways to explore the process, including combining and shuffling materials and letting arrangements evolve; and experimenting with styles and techniques. She is suggestive and encouraging; there are no hard and fast rules. Nancy wants you to feel artistically uninhibited, free to try new things. Windowsill Art is generously photographed, featuring a gallery of Nancy’s arrangements through all four seasons.

You’ll want to keep Windowsill Art close to your work area for inspiration.

windowsillart1

April’s Lenten rose blossoms on the left, set against Japanese kerria blooming outdoors; daffodils and violas on the right. Windowsill Art features nature on the window ledge for every month and season. By Nancy Ross Hugo.

 

Windowsill Art has inspired me to try some arrangements myself. I’ve noticed bits and pieces from nature in our yard I would have overlooked for use in an arrangement. We have a great deal of moss because of shade from our huge hemlock and beech trees, so I hope to use moss in my next arrangement.

I’m expanding my collection of vases and containers, too. At a local dairy, I bought large and small glass bottles of milk and cream; the empty bottles are terrific vases. I recently put aside a small jug that was filled with maple syrup, as well as an empty balsamic vinegar decanter.

 

Leaves and foliage in vases on windowsill

By Nancy Ross Hugo

 

If you happen to participate in Rambling in the Garden’s “In a Vase on Monday” meme, consider trying windowsill art for your next creation.

 

Blue bottles, white flowers

Winter: paperwhite narcissus bulbs, mustard and moneyplant leaves, by Nancy Ross Hugo

In Sicily

“I had found my island, and I wanted to stay forever.”  Theresa Maggio, Mattanza

Villa window

 

Mattanza book coverWhen I visit Sicily, I enjoy following in the footsteps of Theresa Maggio, author of Mattanza: The Ancient Sicilian Ritual of Bluefin Tuna Fishing and The Stone Boudoir: Travels through the Hidden Villages of Sicily.  

My family and I first travelled to Sicily 14 years ago, in part to re-connect with my father’s relatives. That was when I discovered Theresa’s splendid books.

Reading them again on our recent trip was like meeting up with an old friend. When I see Sicily through Theresa’s eyes, I see the island so vividly, with a more nuanced understanding of the complex people, culture, and history of this stunningly beautiful place.

We usually stay on the outskirts of Scopello, a small fishing village that is now a quiet, secluded haven for tourists. On this trip, we rented a villa halfway up a mountain on the edge of Zingaro Nature Reserve. Once the home of a tonnara (tuna factory), in years past Scopello celebrated the mattanza, the ritualized killing of bluefin tuna, every May and June. The mattanza was first practiced by the Arabs, or perhaps the Carthaginians before them.  The custom died out in the 1980s when industrial over-fishing made it obsolete.

 

Former tuna factory in Scopello

Scopello’s former tonnara, converted to tourist apartments

 

Theresa’s book is a love letter and an elegy to the mattanza and the people whose lives were intimately bound to it. During one of the last years of the mattanza, Theresa befriended the fishermen (tonnatori) on the island of Favignana and accompanied them on their boats as they watched and waited for the tuna to become trapped in their underwater chambers of ropes and nets. When several hundred tuna had been captured, the tonnaroti lured them from one chamber to the next, while chanting thanks and prayers to God, the Virgin Mary, the saints.

The bluefins’ final destination: the chamber of death.

“After a while huge black shapes rose up into the backlit square. Their slow rising was mystical, like a birth. They rose higher. Dorsal fins swirled, wild animals drawn up from a silent abyss.

They were giants, eight feet long, some bigger, and there were hundreds of them. The net was drawn taut and they skittered in front of us, half out of the water. I looked into their glassy black eyes. The fish were as big as men, some bigger than four men. When their tails slapped the water it rose in columns above our heads. I remember the din, the thunder of falling water, and their frantic thrashing. They darted to the corners of the net, but there was no way out.

The crowd went wild. People were soaked, screaming and cheering….The fish were churning the sea into a white froth, and then the froth turned pink.”

Rusted anchors

Tonnara anchors

 

At one time, these hand-made tuna traps were in Spain, France, Algeria, Tunisia, Turkey, Dalmatia and Corsica, as well as Italy; some sixty tonnaras dotted the Sicilian coast.

“Gone, all gone,” writes Theresa.

The old tonnara in Scopello is beautiful, but I didn’t like seeing it in the hands of tourists. In their heyday, the tonnaras employed, directly or indirectly, thousands of men and women; some even had child care centers on site. Theresa writes with great sadness of the tonnaroti who netted fewer and fewer tuna each year until they had to stop.

I don’t like a world where men and women who love working on or near the sea, who make their living by physical labor, can no longer do so because it is not profitable. I’ve never seen a mighty bluefin tuna, but I’d prefer to have our seas teeming with them.

Theresa Maggio is a compassionate and keenly intelligent traveler. Her passion for discerning the heart and soul of a people and a place will enrich your own explorations.

Scopello sunset

Scopello sunset

Sunset photo by A. Hallinan.

 

 

Love on a Plate

“When I’m on the road in Sicily I eat street food. It’s cheap, it’s good, and it’s a way to watch Sicilians. Street food feeds a need in them much deeper than hunger – their need to be close. Sicilians telephone each other from the back of the bus to the front, and seek out the crowded beaches, the piazzas packed with people, and markets where they’re likely to get mauled. They must have company, or at least an audience, for whatever they do. In Sicily, where food is love and the street is a stage, street food is more than a cheap meal, it’s Communion.”   “Love on a Plate” from The Stone Boudoir by Theresa Maggio

Fritters made from chickpea flour

Filomena’s panelle di ceci

 

We’ve been in Sicily visiting family and I couldn’t wait to post something about our trip.

I decided to begin with Filomena’s wonderful panelle, made from chickpea flour, which she prepared for us and we enjoyed one night after our cousin and friends took us sightseeing in Terrasini. We drizzled the fritters with lemon juice and ate them in sandwiches made from thick, soft rolls.

Theresa writes that in Sicily you can buy bags of small, crisp panelle squares, which are great with beer.

During our stay I read once again Theresa Maggio’s lovely The Stone Boudoir: Travels through the Hidden Villages of Sicily, an old favorite. No one captures the poetry and romance of the island quite like Theresa, whose grandmother is from Sicily. More about her writing, and about Sicily, in my next post.

I agree with Theresa. Food is love.

 

 

The Summer Book

“It was a particularly good evening to begin a book.”   The Summer Book, Tove Jansson

 

Reading a book in the hammock

Reading in the hammock

 

I’m discovering Tove Jansson this summer, thanks to Claire McAlpine and her blog, Word by Word. I don’t know how I went this long without delving into this amazing Finnish, Swedish-speaking writer and world-renowned creator of the Moomintroll comic strip.

Next week I’ll show you her Moomins, but today I’m reading The Summer Book, a novel about a girl spending the summer with her grandmother, who lives on an island at the end of the Finland archipelago.  The island in the book is like the one Tove lived on with her partner for many years, a wild and beautiful place superbly evoked in this story.

I’m lazy on these idyllic summer weekends, so I’m going to borrow the copy that’s written on the back of the book, which captures the novel much better than I could:

The Summer Book cover, Swedish

The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson

“….Jansson distills the essence of the summer – it’s sunlight and storms – into twenty-two crystalline vignettes. This brief novel tells the story of Sophia, a six-year-old girl awakening to existence, and Sophia’s grandmother, nearing the end of hers, as they spend the summer on a tiny unspoiled island in the Gulf of Finland. The grandmother is unsentimental and wise, if a little cranky; Sophia is impetuous and volatile, but she tends to her grandmother with the care of a new parent. Together they amble over coastline and forest in easy companionship, build boats from bark, create a miniature Venice, write a fanciful study of local bugs. They discuss things that matter to young and old alike: life, death, the nature of God and of love.”

This slim paperback, a New York Review Books Classic, was originally published in 1972. I love the cover illustration by Tove Jansson, which was on the original jacket cover. Jansson’s simple, black and white sketches are scattered throughout the book.

Her novel has inspired me to begin planning a summer vacation in Sweden, where my grandparents are from. It would be fun to stay in a fisherman’s cottage like the one Sophia’s grandmother lived in, perhaps near to the farm where my grandmother grew up.

To come: Jansson’s memoir, Sculptor’s Daughter; her collection of stories about the artist’s life – Fair Play; and the Moomins.

Mushrooms next to tree

I don’t know if you’d find these mushrooms on Tove’s Finnish island, but that’s what I thought of when I saw these in our neighborhood.

 

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