Monthly Archives: September 2011

Buona sera, Mt Etna

Cinque-cento

1. Moving into our permanent housing for the next three years!
2. Watching Maki and Panther explore the new surroundings.
3. Exploring a bit of our neighborhood; you know, like where we take our trash (end of the block) and our recycling (a short drive).
4. Freshly washed and dried sheets on our first night in our new house.
5. Sleeping the moment my head hit the pillow.

Terrace view of Mount Etna as I type.

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In our bedroom, we have the standard Italian wooden shutters that block out 99.9% of light. This makes going to sleep very easy, and waking up not so easy. For example, last night I was physically, spiritually and mentally wiped out and happily sank into my dark oblivion. I awoke still tired but looking forward to the day. I am looking forward even more to Saturday morning. When I first stir, I will rise to open the shutters, gaze on the sea for a moment and scurry back to bed where I will read until hunger or sleep overwhelms me.

Maki appreciating the terrace and his new favorite bug hunting grounds.

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Book Review: “You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down” stories by Alice Walker

Personal Blurb-style Intro (aka “Why I picked up this book”):

I picked up this book because I loved the title, respect Alice Walker, and was in the mood for a book to make me think (which I expected from Walker). Incidentally, Alice Walker also penned “The Color Purple” which is an oft-challenged, sometimes-banned book. This post, by Insatiable Booksluts, asks us which “subversives” we’re reading as Banned Books Week was approaching (September 24 – October 1).

By the way, check out the most challenged books of 2010 and be SHOCKED to see that Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America “ made the list. I am really amazed by this and it actually frightens me that anybody could convince an institution, even a school library to BAN this book. I mean, what is the standard you have to reach to justify banning a book from an institution that exists to make books easier to access? Frankly, it blows my mind that anybody had enough power to persuade even one other person that this book should be banned. How did it come to this? I realize the list represents the most “challenged” books, as opposed to the most “banned” books, yet I am still flabbergasted. I read this book and found it a truly enlightening insight into the treacherous system of poverty in the U.S. Yes, I said “treacherous,” just like a slippery rock path alongside a plunging waterfall.

This collection of Walker’s short stories shows characters on sometimes treacherous trajectories; yet, no matter the subject matter, hints of optimism dominate this book. It is this overall feeling of optimism in the collection that supports the title choice.

Summary:

The book contains fourteen short stories:

Nineteen Fifty-five

How Did I Get Away with Killing One of the Biggest Lawyers in the State?

Elethia

The Lover

Petunias

Coming Apart

Fame

The Abortion

Porn

Advancing Luna–and Ida B. Wells

Laurel

A Letter of the Times, or Should This Sado-Masochism Be Saved?

A Sudden Trip Home in the Spring

Source

The best way for me to summarize this collection of short stories is to extricate a steady theme that emerged as I read and contemplated each story as part of a whole. From start to finish I read stories about self-assured women who faced life with 100% certainty that terrible things would happen to them (and they did), that they could endure such events (often with grace and aplomb), and that they are as much entitled to pleasure and moments of happiness in this life as anybody else.

I enjoyed reading the stories for the quality of this theme, but I did not come away with the sense that I would return to this book time and again. The stories provide a glimpse into the development of an author and seem to be stepping stones on her path of self-discovery as a writer. You can often predict the plots and foresee the grit and determination that will be a part of the resolution. Yet, they also offer a glimpse into a different era and provided me the chance to think about how times have changed and to appreciate some of those changes. More often, the simplicity and predictability shows that traits of passion and youth transcend time, culture and technology.

Best Excerpts:

I didn’t mark many excerpts as I read along. Here are a few that stood out to me as I paged through the book after finishing the stories.

From “Nineteen Fifty-five”

“It don’t matter, Son, I say, patting his hand. You don’t even know those people. Try to make the people you know happy.” -p. 19

From “Advancing Luna–and Ida B. Wells”

“We believed we could change America because we were young and bright and held ourselves responsible for changing it. We did not believe we would fail. That is what lent fervor (revivalist fervor, in fact; we would revive America!) to our songs, and lent sweetness to our friendships (in the beginning almost all interracial), and gave a wonderful fillip to our sex (which, too, in the beginning, was almost always interracial).” -p. 86

From “Laurel”

“I was never interested in working on a newspaper, however radical. I agree with Leonard Woolf that to write against a weekly deadline deforms the brain.” -p. 105

ISBN-10: 0156997789

ISBN-13: 978-0156997782

http://www.amazon.com/Cant-Keep-Good-Woman-Down/dp/0156997789

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Arrivederci Motta Residence Hotel

5-100

Uno. Check-in at our new house!
Due. Mangled Italian, hand gestures, and itranslate helping me communicate with my landlord, Filippo.
Tre. Started Season Four of Mad Men. I like pieces of this show and it comes together well, but there is always a point in the episodes when it drags for me. I can’t decide if I care about the characters anymore.
Quattro. Sweet pull-down screens for our terrace doorways.
Cinque. Saying good-bye to Motta Residence Hotel. It was a sweet soft landing and the staff provided us a warm Sicilian welcome.

We lived in Motta Sant’Anastasia for fifty-six days. In many ways it is difficult to believe we have been here that long. Time moves slowly when you are waiting for special moments to arrive. (Remember waiting for Christmas as a kid?!!) Now, I found a job, our U.S. car arrived and we made it through the registration process, roundabouts and Sicilian driving are habitual and we moved into our home for the next three years. We are still waiting for our household goods, my first day of work (and my first paycheck), and terrace furniture; we buy that this weekend!

Hommage to Motta Residence Hotel

A well posted sign is super helpful when you just arrived and the world is whirling around you.

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This had become a familiar sight at the end of the day. We usually parked on the street, though the hotel has a garage with a gate. A night-blooming jasmine was in blossom near the pedestrian gate the first several weeks we were there. Lovely smell.

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“M” for Motta!

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Our Motta kitchenette. Stylish and practical. Perfect for an extended stay.

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Good-bye Motta! Grazie Mille!

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Oy vey!

5-100

Cinque:

1 (uno). Morning meeting to discuss publicity duties. Sometimes meetings like this stress me out because the first meeting sets a certain tone. Great tone at this meeting, yay!
2 (due). Lunch meeting with my new colleagues! See above for my anxieties. This also had the group dynamic and I prefer getting to know people one on one. The colleagues are all good conversationalists and it went well.
3 (tre). Oy vey, paying a parking ticket I got in Catania. See below.
4 (quattro). Marriage is work. Having the tough conversations is the hardest work for me. I am grateful for my own fortitude and for Dave’s candor, compassion and commitment to staying in the conversation until it is over for both of us.
5 (cinque). PC or Mac? I still can’t decide!!! I am so excited to get a sleek new machine no matter what.

100/Cento

“Ooh, there’s a spot! Sweet.” You know this feeling when you score a precious free parking spot. It’s the feeling that life is going your way. The sign to take a few risks, am I right? Luckily I enjoyed this euphoria for a few hours before returning to find the ticket. And, in turn, looking further down the block to find the ‘no parking’ sign. Oy vey. A little crestfallen, I returned to base, got help filling out the ticket and later on paid it – at the post office. Yep, you can pay parking tickets at the post office. Neato.

Here we go! I hope it’s as much fun as the US post office.

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Wow. A ticket. This feels familiar. Like at the DMV. I hope I don’t have to wait like it’s a DMV.

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Ah, some nice chairs for waiting. And, just look at all those windows open. Great! This should only take five minutes.

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It did only take five minutes. It was great. The post office charged a small fee on top of the ticket price and the convenience was worth it. I didn’t have to track down an agency office or find a municipal building in an unfamiliar part of town. I just went a five minute walk from our residence hotel and took care of the ticket. Look what I spotted on my way out – Postamat! Sweet.

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PC or Mac???!!!

In this time of technological strife, I find myself asking the age old question: PC or Mac?

I have been laptop browsing for a couple of months and have a few PCs picked out with super fast processors and long lasting batteries that will take me into the new age.

But then I saw the MacBookAir in the store. It is so pretty and lithe and lightweight. I could easily imagine slinging it in my purse and heading to the bar (in Sicily that’s the coffee shop!).

Which do you prefer? And why?

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“I Cannot Live Without Books”

5-100

1. Coffee with Damsel in the morning.
2. Got honked at – and not the friendly beep beep- but it’s okay, the driver was pazzo (crazy), which made me laugh.
3. Shopped for a new bit of clothes appropriate for work. I am still wearing a 90% sundress wardrobe.
4. Healthy cats! Maki had been a little under the weather.
5. Healthy Jill! Well into my second week of deliberate practice, moderate portions and no alcohol (just for a little bit). Starting to realize increased energy, yay!

Few things in this world are as exciting as a new book. The opportunity to read of adventure without taking much risk. To take time to stretch your brain around a new concept, or new culture, even a new perspective, is its own reward. To read a set of words and phrases on a page and turn them into people and places, to empathize and live vicariously with a set of characters is to gain new friends and family. Sure, Barbara Ehrenreich isn’t going to pick me up from the airport, but I feel community when I read her books.

*Title quote written by Thomas Jefferson*

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Movie Review: “Gates of Heaven” Errol Morris 1978

Documentary

Personal Blurb-style Intro (aka “Why I picked up this book”):

Errol Morris made a huge impression on me when I watched “Fog of War” in the former theater at Midvale (Mall?) in Madison Wisconsin. The theater has since been torn down, but the memory lives on.

I have always been sensitive to animals. My mom grew up on a farm, so she was very sensible about animals, though perhaps more matter-of-fact that appealed to me. Though my allergies limited my pet access as I muddled through undergrad, traveled and domineered law school, I shortly thereafter indulged in pet ownership and have never looked back. Maki and Panther are a part of the family, and though I prefer cremation or another natural form of decomposition (as opposed to internment), they will be honored in death as they have been in life. I am grateful that I live in a time and society afforded such luxury.

When I met my husband, Dave, he loved Errol Morris and has been introducing me to his other work over time. The subject matter, a pet cemetery, intrigued me – more or less because I love my pets and because of my 80s fascination with Pet Semetary (remember the little boy, Gage?).  This movie is amazingly brilliant, with a simple and direct display of human understanding, emotion and complexity…ah, but now I’m slipping into review-mode. On we go!

Summary:

*This is a pretty long review for the relative amount of content in the documentary. However, the bits I’ve included are just a small part of what makes this documentary amazing. For the best results, just rent it /buy it and watch it for yourself. If you still need further persuading, re what I’ve said below.

Errol Morris portrays opposing sides, a rendering company against a simple farmer animal-loving sensitive soul, Floyd “Mac” McClure.

But don’t be mistaken that Floyd is so animal friendly as to be vegetarian, or vegan. In one scene he bitterly describes how the fumes from the rendering company interfered in his dinner;

Then, we slowly watch the plans for McClure’s ideal pet cemetery disintegrate as the financial interests conflict with the sentimental ones. We also see the tensions arising between pet-owners in the community over the status of their pet graves.

One of the most interesting parts of watching this documentary is the way the characters bare their souls, largely without agenda. It is easy to see that even the businessmen are operating without an agenda, especially when the manager of the rendering plant admits they lie about rendering zoo animals. In this day and age of reality TV, it is refreshing to watch these characters. Don’t worry, there are still the eye-roll-inducing characters – like the sons of the California pet cemetery owners. Maybe it was less pathetic back then? Or maybe just less awareness of the way entitled children sound so pathetic? (btw, I actually adore the younger son, he is so earnest.)

Best Lines & Watch for’s:

Floyd “Mac” McClure:  North Dakota guy (with suspenders and red pen in his lapel, scales of justice visible behind him on his right side and the bronzed shoes behind him on the other side) “[That]…was the most beautiful piece of land, as far as I was concerned, in the whole valley. And boy, I knew what to do with it. Make it into a pet cemetary.”

Watch for: Guy with the Coors can and ashtray in front of him every time he’s featured in the documentary.

Rendering Industry Man: “Rendering is one of the oldest industries. It dates back to the time of the Egyptians.  They can trace it back this far. Rendering. In the bible, ya know, way back in the old testament, the guy cut off the sheep skin, right? And put it over’im. Put the lamb fat on’im ta keep ‘im warm. It could be the oldest industry in the world. It could be. It’s possible.” [Jill says: keep an ear out for this guy, all of his words are gems. Probably because of his sunglasses on his desk, his matter-of-fact demeanor, and the amused look on his face. Genius play, Mr. Morris.]

“I want my mama!” (Woman holding dog on lap, singing to prompt dog’s response).

“And the next day you go out, take flowers,  maybe meditate a little bit, think of how often, maybe, you cried into her fur. ” (Woman in green and white, with poodle portrait displayed behind her).

Watch for: Artistic depiction of putting one’s heart over the dollars in a project.

Floyd: “I was not only broke, but broken-hearted.”

Woman in pink apron over blue/brown print housedress: “But you know he (her son) should help me more, he’s all I got. He’s the one who brought me up here. And then put me here by myself among strangers. It’s terrible when you stop ‘n think about it.” [Watch this entire segment! Amazing.]

Successful pet cemetery owner, (Bubbling Well Church of Universal Love, Inc. 1977), in straw hat and blue button-up shirt: ” “I would say that the pill is largely more responsible for the pet explosion than any other factor…It’s very simple…today the husband and wife both work…when the young mother comes home, she has to have something to fondle, something to mother, something to love.”

Watch for: The “R2A2” formula and it’s red-phone poolside inventor.

There are so many other rich characters and moments that I have to pause now and recommend that, if you are hooked by now, you should just go ahead and rent the movie.

Wait! The Eagle trophy guy just said “People never really get negative and they never really get positive.” GEMS, people! I tell you, gems.

Watch for: Prickly pear cacti behind the yellow-shirted and orange-tank topped couple – just like in Sicily!

IMDB Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0077598/

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