Tag Archives: #DPchallenge


Small wonder that it looks muddy green in the daylight..

There are books I keep in the bathroom, not for the purpose you are all thinking of, but to read while I brush my teeth. Since electric toothbrushes became the norm, with their mandated two minutes of brushing, multi-taskers like me needed to fill that empty space. Two minutes are a very long time to stand by the sink, contemplating one’s wrinkles, or to sit on the toilet at one with one’s toothbrush

The books of choice for this task are small volumes, mostly poetry, that can be opened at random, or short essays that can be digested in a few dental sessions. The current one, that prompted me to sit down and share my thoughts with you, was bought years ago but, strangely, never opened. It’s Joseph Brodsky’s “Watermark” and I say “strangely” because his meditation on Venice and its effects on humankind and himself in particular travelled  with me at least twice, during my pilgrimages to Venice.

My love affair with Venice, the city on water and not its Californian counterpart, started a long time ago and it is by no means over. That I opened this book only now, when Venice’s weather is turning cooler and the city is preparing for another grey, humid and foggy winter while I am still enjoying balmy days in Los Angeles, has turned out to be a gift in disguise.

Short on physical descriptions and depictions and long on literary meditations, personal adventures in the city and metaphysical thoughts on Venice and its place in the collective imagination, every time a particular shade of light, a fondamenta or a feeling are mentioned, images of this wondrous place come alive.

Check out his description of the water:

“[..] For water, too, is choral, in more ways than one. It is the same water that carried the Crusaders, the merchants, St. Mark’s relics, Turks, every kind of cargo, military, or pleasure vessel; above all, it reflected everybody who ever lived, everybody who ever strolled or waded its streets in the way you do now. Small wonder that it looks muddy green in the daytime and pitch black at night, rivaling the firmament. A miracle that, rubbed the right and the wrong way for over a millennium, it doesn’t have holes in it, that is still H2O, though you would never drink it; that it still rises. It really does look like musical sheets, frayed at the edges, constantly played, coming to you in tidal scores, in bars of canals with innumerable obbligati of bridges, mullioned windows, or curved crownings of Coducci cathedrals, not to mention the violin necks of gondolas. In fact, the whole city, especially at night, resembles a gigantic orchestra, with dimly lit music stands of palazzi, with a restless chorus of waves, with the falsetto of a star in the winter sky. The music is, of course, greater than the band, and no hand can turn the pages.”

It is such clarity and poetry that make me run into a hole and never want to write another word and, conversely, push me to express things as my truth makes me see them.

If you have never travelled to Venice in winter, Brodsky will make you pine for a void in your life you didn’t even know was there. If, like me, you are thinking of Venice as a future place of residence, the book will remind you of all the reasons, good and bad, why such a move would be difficult and transforming. It takes a tortured soul and a literary genius to set aside clichés when it comes to describe a city that has become a cliché in itself.

And, as I unwittingly discovered, there are books that are better read two minutes at a time.



Filed under Books, Venice, writing


Photo credit: Wikipedia

Every Sunday, for the past 17 years, my mother’s garrulous voice has greeted me at the end of the phone line. I will have just waken up, most likely to a sunny Californian day, while she will be getting  dinner ready, in her cozy apartment in Italy, the curtains drawn, the tv humming in the background. For 17 years, her voice has embodied my connection to a home that is no more, to a family than hangs by a thread and a love that has survived intact the wrath of my teenage years and my many moves.

The slight shrill in my mother’s “hello” will let me know immediately that everything is fine, while a more subdued and lower tone will presage unpleasant news. A brief humming just before she speaks, her trademark hesitation, conveys trouble, somebody else’s trouble typically, while the mention of my full name prefaces a question she is loath to ask.

That voice that praised me, scolded me, lulled me to sleep, admonished me and, above all, loved me is the voice I hear in my head every time I think of my mother. It’s part of my being as much as my own voice belongs to me. Someone told me that,  when a loved one dies, the first thing we forget is the sound of their voice. No photograph can give it back and, while recording devices can preserve a sound for posterity, they are a far cry from  accessing a memory at will as we go through our day. If all goes according as nature intended, my mother will die before me and the morbid thought of the loss of those Sunday phone calls has crossed my mind as I watch the two of us age.

After much prodding on the part of both her daughters, we convinced my mother to spend a couple of months  in Los Angeles with me, rather than her customary two weeks. As I write or make dinner or even while I putter in another room, I can hear my mother softly singing or talking to the dogs as she stubbornly cleans and irons and tries to make herself useful. It’s hard to resist her happy sound, not to yield to the high tones or the broken notes, especially when she ventures outside to shout for the dogs, who probably disappeared chasing a rabbit or a squirrel. The concern I hear in her calls is the same she couldn’t disguise whenever I tiptoed through the front door, late at night, back from another revelry in my college years, letting me know she had waited up (although she always denied it in the morning).

And then the more placid “Good night” or “Here you are, you scoundrels” will follow, her worries assuaged by our return, everything and everyone once again where they belong.


The sound of her presence has brightened my house and made those who inhabit it, human and canine, happier and calmer. I believe it’s because the melody of her speech is irresistible and has the power to draw us in. It will be a much emptier shell when she leaves – the dogs’ snorting, the bubbling of the fish tank and the humming of the fridge will go back to being my day’s soundtrack. Until I reach for that phone and wait for the long, ringing tone of Italian lines and the shrilly “Pronto” will let me know everything and everyone is where they belong.



Filed under Parenting, women's issues


Pippo means Goofy in Italian

The door clicked shut behind the wheels of my carry-on. “YOU ARE LEAVING ME BEHIND!” the shriek pierced my brain loud and clear and my heart started pounding, as I fumbled with those credit card look alike’s that pass for door keys in most hotels, always making me pine for the heavy brass keys of old to be dropped with the concierge on the way out. Of course I was checking-out past my due time and my credit card-key had been deactivated. A mad rush to the front desk had the door promptly reopened and there he was, lying among the crumpled white sheets, all ready to go, had it not been for my forgetfulness.

I stuffed Pippo into my carry-on and, on the way to the airport, I vowed never to bring him on another trip with me. That had been too close a call.

Linus had a blanket and I had Pippo, with the slight difference that Linus probably  outgrew his blanket at age 10 while I, at age 30, was still shuttling around the world with a teddy bear. And not just any teddy bear. Not a teddy bear from a long ago boyfriend or anything with a remotely romantic attachment to it. I actually stopped liking teddy bears at age 6, always recycling well-meaning boyfriends’ gifts of a stuffed toy nature as Pippo had no competition.

Old black and white photos celebrating my birth and my first few years prove that Pippo was indeed my first toy – his face bigger than mine sitting next to me on the high chair, his fur as shiny as my black hair, his eyes as alert and as big as mine. It wasn’t always a cozy relationship – abandoned for fancier toys for long stretches of time, Pippo would wait patiently in a corner of my room, awaiting my need for him to become my sleeping companion again. He always knew such need would arise and he would be there to fulfill it.

His relationship with my sister was contentious at best. To get back at my meanness, the little devil pulled Pippo’s eyes out during a particularly fierce fight and his world went black for many years. No matter. He still had me to tell him bedtime stories and recount my adventures once the lights went out. He made it to London with the few possessions I took when I left home and, at this point inured to his ragged appearance, Pippo had to depend, if not on the kindness of strangers, at least on that of friends and family.

It was a friend who,  moved to pity, restored his sight with a bright new pair of fancy eyes from Harrods and it was my mother, during one of her visits, who sewed his dangling neck and hid the wound with a red scarf. His fur was still a bit worse for wear but he was very pleased with his new lease on life. Besides, his globetrotting days had started in earnest: wherever I slept, he slept (or nearby at least) and, as my job demanded a busy, if not constant, travelling schedule, Pippo got to know very many hotels around Europe and beyond, until that fateful day in Cologne, Germany, where my lack of sleep and tardiness left him screaming between the sheets.

Pippo was retired from flying, unless it involved a full-on relocation. He flew business class to Los Angeles with me when I moved, my only friend and calming presence in a city where I virtually didn’t know a soul. Gradually, he started spending more and more time at the foot of the bed, rather than in it,although, when alone, sometimes I still resort to the warmth of his presence on the pillow next to mine. In his 50 years, he has not uttered a single word of complaint. He knows his lot has been much better than most of his contemporaries. He still listens patiently, he spends his days on a comfy pillow on a beautiful chair and still gets to talk to me. We have both grown up and aged gracefully. His Harrods eyesight is still going strong and the red scarf gets washed periodically. I even thought of sending him for a make-over to a toy repair laboratory but he reminds me he is not a toy, and shouldn’t be treated as such. And he is right: fancy toys have long come and gone while he endures, gentle breeze from the window tousling his fur, memories of fun trips taken together to liven up his days. And, still, my bedtime stories.





Filed under pets, self-help


Red ones are impossible to find
Photo credit: asouthernmomtreasures.blogspot.com

What I have come to collectively consider “my morning gestures” are more of a morning routine. Sleepwalking down the driveway, dogs in tow, to retrieve the paper; filling the little terrors’ bowls in front of their eager eyes; switching the cell phone on and, finally, putting the kettle on the stove. While waiting for the water to boil, I will reach for my precious African beans, drop exactly two tablespoons in the coffee grinder and apply pressure for exactly twelve seconds. Twelve, short seconds. Then the bird will hiss and my one and only addiction will be tamed, the same way and at the same time as in millions of other kitchens all over the country.

Coffee made an appearance early in my life. A few teaspoons of it were added to my milk at the age of 8. As soon as I was able to cook some basic stove top snacks, age 12, I “invented” coffee sabayon, a delicacy that would power long afternoons of homework. Nowadays, child protection services would probably have a word with my mother and cite her for child endangerment.

I have always been a morning person but not a social one. Happy to get up before the sun does, try not to speak to me for the first thirty minutes, unless the world is coming to an end and I should be informed. To avoid my parents and my sister, as a teen-ager I would set the alarm way earlier than necessary so I could sit in my mother’s large, yellow kitchen, skinny legs dangling from the chair and a cup of milk and coffee (or, more elegantly, a cafe au lait) in front of me. I learnt to be really quiet while assembling the mocha machine and even opening the front door to retrieve the paper was done inaudibly. That’s how much I didn’t want to see anyone.

Little Italian coffee machine

The espresso was kept in a large tin jar, with a tiny spoon buried in the velvety ground beans. We always bought the coffee already ground and I don’t think I ever saw the coffee grinder that sat on one of the counters being used. I loved that object that would look so quaint and anachronistic next to my 12 seconds whiz. It looked like a red wooden box, the paint chipped in places, topped with a large metal handle one had to turn to get the grinding process going. I can’t quite remember where the beans entered but I did love the tiny drawer that collected them, with a small, round wooden button to open it. My imagination was stirred countless times, as if the grinder contained a world of its own, with tiny coffee people living in it. I always opened that drawer expecting to find something precious while it was just an old, utilitarian object my mother couldn’t part with.

But part she did, long before I started looking for it as an adult when, as a chef, I loved collecting antique or just old kitchen gadgets. I even got mildly irritated when my mother told me she had disposed of it when she moved to smaller quarters and had no use for a coffee grinder nobody in their right mind would still use. Being her daughter, I inherited  her practical ability of letting go of what no longer has a purpose. The upside is a house where junk does not accumulate but also slightly empty of such small memories. Funny that, as a child who firmly believed that all objects had a life of their own, I grew up to be a woman who so easily condemns them to death. I hope they don’t resent me from the other side.




Filed under Italy, Parenting