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A year of reading

Jan. 2nd, 2012 | 07:00 pm

Under the cut, the final list of all I read in 2011. It was my year of intense, nearly obsessive reading, my year of literary Ireland and the literary American South. High points: deep dives into Faulkner, Welty, Nabokov, the various Irish writers especially John McGahern and Eugene McCabe, and a reread of The Chateau by William Maxwell.

Writers new to me who particularly stood out: Seamus Deane, Edward St Aubyn, Jim Shepard, Maile Meloy, David Vann.

A few real gems: Denis Johnson's Train Dreams: A Novella; The Springs of Affection by Maeve Brennan; One DOA, One On The Way by Mary Robison.

This year I finally read The Ambassadors by Henry James in its entirety, after a history of false starts over the years, and best of all, read a good deal of it, which is set in Paris, IN Paris.

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Sep. 19th, 2011 | 11:58 am

Books I finished reading since last post:

Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s Frederick Lewis Allen
Home From the Hill William Humphrey
The Damnation of Theron Ware Harold Frederic
The News from Paraguay Lily Tuck
The Power of the Dog Thomas Savage
Be Near Me Andrew O’Hagan
The Cut George Pelecanos
I Married You For Happiness Lily Tuck

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More books read

Aug. 26th, 2011 | 11:20 am

I've been reading more than anything else except sleeping, I guess.
76 books read so far this year.

Here's the list since last post:

Paper Doll Jim Shepard
Some Hope Edward St. Aubyn
Borrowed Finery Paula Fox
Saints and Sinners Edna O’Brien
Yesterday’s Weather (short stories) Anne Enright
Mother’s Milk Edward St. Aubyn
Light in August William Faulkner
The Robber Bridegroom Eudora Welty
Delta Wedding Eudora Welty
The Optimist’s Daughter Eudora Welty
Losing Battles Eudora Welty
As I Lay Dying William Faulkner
By the Lake John McGahern
Go Down Moses William Faulkner
Cannery Row John Steinbeck
The Hamlet William Faulkner
Flags in the Dust William Faulkner
The Sound and the Fury William Faulkner
Amongst Women John McGahern
The Wig My Father Wore Anne Enright
The Unvanquished William Faulkner
Love of Sisters Eugene McCabe
Sanctuary William Faulkner
The Barracks John McGahern
Absalom, Absalom! William Faulkner
One With Others [a little book of her days] C.D. Wright
The Town William Faulkner
The God of Nightmares Paula Fox
The Saint and Mary Kate Frank O’Connor
Intruder in the Dust William Faulkner
The Leavetaking John McGahern
The Dark John McGahern
The Empty Family Colm Toibin
Charlotte and Emily: A Novel of the Brontes Jude Morgan
Fair Play Tove Jansson
A Spirit Rises Sylvia Townsend Warner
The Chateau William Maxwell
Barren Ground Ellen Glasgow

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Books finished since last books finished post

May. 30th, 2011 | 06:25 pm

Nosferatu Jim Shepard
The Last of the Duchess Caroline Blackwood
Poor George Paula Fox
Selected Stories William Trevor
Liars and Saints Maile Meloy
A Family Daughter Maile Meloy

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May. 28th, 2011 | 10:59 am

The routine use of "home" when what's really meant is "house" drives me nuts too. Multiple times a day. It's a kind of verbal kitsch, this calling of, say, new, never occupied houses "homes". It's not a home until it's someone's home. Prior to that, it's a house. As an object in space, as a thing destroyed by a tornado, it's a house, even if it's a home also. Yeah, it's subtle, but what I love about English is it's scope for subtlety, and what I rue about it is how easy it is to muck up the vernacular with schmaltzy over-sentimentalized usages. Before you hit the link, hit this one.

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May. 21st, 2011 | 09:54 pm

Spent the day reading The Last of the Duchess by Caroline Blackwood, a very curious little biographical portrait of both Wallis Simpson and the headstrong female French lawyer who came to control her life and finances during her last decade, and who kept the ailing duchess in strict seclusion. My copy came from the library; some previous borrower, an angry Tory clearly obsessed with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and furious with both the lawyer, Maitre Blum, and the author Blackwood herself, has liberally festooned the book with marginal comments written in heavy pencil script (s/he was really bearing down!). Some of these comments are -- unintentionally, I'm sure -- hilarious, and made the book even more fun to read. A sample: Feminists HATE good manners--feminist c--ts hate feminINE women who know how to use men and are glad to have privilege & would never stoop to 'equality'.

Blackwood is a wonderful writer -- a couple months ago I loved her short autobiographical novel Great Granny Webster -- and she manages to be both scathing about the two women she describes so vividly and, at the end, to still succeed in presenting Wallis Windsor as a figure of credible pathos, which, frankly, takes some doing.

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Books read 2011 to date

May. 17th, 2011 | 05:40 pm

Nothing Right Antonya Nelson
The Curse of the Appropriate Man Lynn Freed
The Pornographer John McGahern
Troubles J.G. Farrell
Notes From No Man’s Land: American Essays Eula Biss
The Man Who Loved Children Christina Stead
Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self Danielle Evans
Varieties of Exile Mavis Gallant
Love Among the Greats And Other Stories Edith Pearlman
Caribou Island David Vann
We Have Always Lived in the Castle Shirley Jackson
Citrus County John Brandon
Travels in Siberia Ian Frazier
The Legend of a Suicide David Vann
The Diary of Alice James Alice James
The All Of It Jeannette Haien
Swamplandia! Karen Russell
The Imperfectionists Tom Rachman
Bound Antonya Nelson
Death and Nightingales Eugene McCabe
The Wings of the Dove Henry James
Female Troubles: Short Stories Antonya Nelson
Mildred Pierce James M. Cain
The Postman Always Rings Twice James M. Cain
Double Indemnity James M. Cain
Open City Teju Cole
The Collected Stories John McGahern
One DOA, One On The Way Mary Robison
Their Eyes Were Watching God Zora Neale Hurston
The Ambassadors Henry James
Iphigenia in Forest Hills Janet Malcolm
Benito Cerano Herman Melville
The Tiger’s Wife Téa Obeht
You Think That’s Bad: Stories Jim Shepherd
Kiss of the Wolf Jim Shepherd
Broken Glass Park Alina Bronsky
Memoir John McGahern

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Rome redux

Nov. 3rd, 2010 | 06:13 pm

I have one more full day in Rome, and I can safely say I'm ready to come home. In fact I'm not entirely sure what I'll do tomorrow. I've sort of had it with wandering around. I'm tired! And the downside of being in a foreign city and dwelling in hotel rooms is now looming larger relative to the pleasure of seeing so much art and beauty.

Cut for images ....Collapse )
Alas my attempts to take a picture of it didn't come out well, and my hopes of finding a postcard in the giftshop were foiled when I exited the museum straight into the basilica and therefore couldn't double back to the museum giftshop. (The souvenir stands outside the Basilica only had postcards of the pope.) So I have no postcards from the Vatican Museum at all. Once you've exited, you can't go back in unless you pay again -- though I might have been able to get to the museum bookshop near the entrance for free, but that would've involved a huge hike around the periphery of the Vatican walls to get to the entry again, and ... yeah, no way. The place is just too damn big.

After my streetcar adventure into outer Rome, I went back to look at the St Theresa statue again, and then wandered around a bit wishing I could just sink into an armchair somewhere and be plied with cocktails. I find the restaurants in Italy sort of intimidating, and though I passed a couple of places where I could've sat at a sidewalk table and had some wine, I just somehow couldn't. Now I'm back in the hotel room, but will go out again around 7:30 and find some dinner. After that awful lunch I want something nice.

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Goodbye to Siena

Nov. 2nd, 2010 | 01:12 pm

The weather gods took pity on me after yesterday's utter drenching, and gave me mixed clouds and sun but no rain for my valedictory look at Siena. An utterly charming town to which I hope to return.

This morning I got up before 7, got breakfast in the hotel, then went out to see as much as I could. Of course nothing was open yet at 7:40, but I wandered around and finally went to the Civic Museum on the Piazza Il Campo which has marvelous frescoes, and back to the Duomo for another look there, and I stopped in at a very intriguing food shop for a piece of cheese to eat with some apples on the train, and also succumbed to one of these muffins, which is called a Mushroom, and which contains sausage and cheese. I've never seen anything like it. I'll report back later about how it tastes.

The hotel people kindly gave me a late check out, so I'm resting my tired tootsies in the room before I finish zipping up my cases and gird myself for that marathon of stairs at the train station.

NK at hotel room window, Siena

The rest of the Siena pictures are here. I'll title and tag them later.

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Soggy in Siena

Nov. 1st, 2010 | 07:21 pm

... so as I mentioned, it's raining in Siena. Nonstop, all day. Still raining now. I'm going to keep this post short because I'm tired and I want to get up early and see more of the town before I have to leave on an afternoon train.

The trip here by train from Florence was only 1.5 hours. The train station was annoying -- like pretty much the rest of Italy, it's not set up the handicapped or people with heavy luggage -- there was an elevator which was out of order so I had to haul my 60ish lb bag up and down a flight of stairs to exit. (The desk clerk at my hotel tells me this elevator has been broken for at least the last six months. I guess no one in a wheelchair ever comes to Siena. Actually, the trains aren't handicapped accessible either, so I guess it doesn't matter if the stations are. To board a train you have to climb three steep steps.) Also annoying was the lack of signs indicating where to pick up a taxi.

So now I've complained about all that, I'll tell you that Siena has the most beautiful cathedral I've ever seen or am likely to see. And the town itself is straight out of a fairy tale. It's entirely medieval, pretty much frozen, architecturally, in the 14th century. The main piazza is stupendous and when you're there you realize that every place should have a piazza like it. No other place does.

My travel agent booked me into a very swanky hotel -- they claim they're the only 5-star hotel in Siena. Which is fine, but meanwhile the complimentary fruit platter they put in my room, which I really didn't want, contained a nectarine that when I picked it up proved to have a big ugly rotten moldy gash on it, so, uh, no thank you.

The room reminds me of my old apartment on Morton Street, where the ceilings were higher than the width of the rooms themselves. But it's very nice, and the view! This is the Italian window view people dream of.
Siena seen at dusk from my hotel room window
Here's a link to the other pics I took today, inside the duomo and out.


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Rainy Sunday in Florence

Oct. 31st, 2010 | 05:15 pm

So I spent over 20 minutes on the line
Ticketing room, Florence train station
at the train station to change the time of my train to Rome only to be told it was impossible because the ticket was done in the States. All-righty then. I'll just have to have that Tuesday morning in Siena. I'm sure my hotel will keep my luggage for me until I need to go to the train, so it'll all be fine.

Jumped on the little electric bus that goes from the terminal to the Oltrarno, and went for a second look at the Pitti. This time I had to wait in another loooooong line (in the rain) for a ticket. The place was too crowded, my feet hurt, and so seeing it all again lacked sublimity. Cut for images ...Collapse )I limped around the Oltrarno area for a while, had some gelato (dark chocolate and cheese cake) but it was pouring and the arch of my one my feet that's been achey for a few days was really hurting me, so I waited again for the little bus, which was a long time coming, and rode it the long way around, which gave me a further glimpse at some Oltrarno neighborhoods, where 99% of everything was shut up for Sunday, and then back to the train terminal.

On Via Nazionale near my hotel was a cheerful cafe where I sat for a while with a hot chocolate (only on vacation can one have gelato followed an hour later by hot chocolate), and got into chatting with an old man who was a retired firefighter from Weehawken New Jersey. He thought I was a mindreader when I asked him about this, but it said so on his belt buckle. We discussed the beautiful views of New York you can get from Weehawken (which is up on a bluff on the west side of the Hudson and indeed is a great place to view Manhattan), and how hard it is to climb the tower of Pisa when you only have half an hour before the tour bus leaves, and then he wanted me to tell him how to walk to the Ponte Vecchio, but I said there was no way he could do it without referring to a map as he went. (There is no such thing in Florence as going directly anywhere. It's all twists and turns.) I was a little apprehensive that he was going to try to pick me up, but no such thing. We parted amicably and I came back to the hotel to put my feet up.

I'll go out for a restaurant meal later, maybe back to the place where I had the boar sauce the other evening. Last night I bought apples and a small hunk of cheese at the supermarket and ate them in the room for supper. I couldn't get the cheese I wanted because the counter woman said she couldn't cut me a smaller piece, which didn't quite make sense, as she cut me a small piece of a different (less expensive by quite a bit, too) cheese. Not that we're talking about anything special here anyhow -- it was just a supermarket, and everything there looked just like everything at the cheese counter in Westside Mkt.

Checkout time at the hotel isn't until noon, which will give me a chance to squeeze all my stuff back into the case in a leisurely way tomorrow. I have an open ticket to Siena and there's a train every hour, so I'll just go when I'm ready. I was excited about Siena when booking this trip, but now that I see the weather forecast is for more heavy rain, I'm a bit disappointed -- Rick Steves mentions especially that it's a beautiful town at dusk, but there isn't really going to be a dusk tomorrow. Well, I'll do my best.

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Next to last full day in Florence

Oct. 30th, 2010 | 06:44 pm

... which sort of feels like the last day because a) I'm very very tired; b) I seem to have seen everything at least as far as the Rick Steves guidebook would have it, and some things twice, and c) tomorrow (Sunday) we are in for heavy rain, so I'm thinking I'll take it very slow. Touring is hard work! So I think I'll give myself a day off -- Monday will be about dragging luggage around in the rain.

Cut for wittering about ways and means and trains and taxis and inter-city connections ....Collapse )

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In which I took photographs in lots of places where it wasn't allowed

Oct. 29th, 2010 | 08:30 pm

How I managed to get off those snaps in the Bargello last weekend without getting caught is a mystery, because when I return there today and started taking (non-flash) photos in the Della Robbia room, I was told I mustn't. After which of course I just did it very sneakily. I also did it sneakily in the Museo San Marco, the Accademia, and Orsanmichele. Because I mean, c'mon, if you're not using a flash, and you're not in anyone's way or making a noise, why the hell not?

Here's where I went today:Cut for images ...Collapse )

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It's all starting to blend together

Oct. 28th, 2010 | 07:59 pm

Impressions. I feel like I've been in Florence for weeks. How weird is that? The city is also starting to make sense to me geographically, a little bit, not at all in the sense that I don't need to look at the map every 3 steps, but just in the sense of understanding what is where and in relation to what else. I've gone from having no mental image to a pretty good one.

The language continues to defeat me utterly, my utterances being an ungodly mishmash of Italian, French, Spanish, which I don't even know any of for God's sake beyond lo siento and la via del tren subterraneo es peligrosa, and English, all in the same sentence, and of course without any articles or pronouns because I don't dare. Still, I am understood, if secretly or not so secretly disdained.

Everything I've seen for the last week is blending together, like it was all just one big basilica with everything crammed into it, and outside of which is just one big piazza ditto. It kind of might as well be. I take all these photos and then at the end of the day I look at them and realize I can't remember where I took them or who was the artist. It really doesn't matter. It's just delicious to be here in this place that combines so many things I love all in a small walkable place, it feels very tailored to my particular interests and pursuits. Though, don't tell anyone, but I have to confess that the pastry is much better in Paris, as are the cafes in general. (I can't get a good croissant here, and I don't know why I don't just stop trying.) In fact, except for the art itself, I think I like Paris better. I blush to admit it. Paris is prettier. And also has excellent ice cream.

As I feared before I came, I haven't found anyone to talk to, but whereas I was worried it about before I left home, now I'm here it's really not a problem. I've called my folks, and last night I called my pal D, and had a good yak. I have a VoIP app on my phone that lets me call anywhere for free if I'm on wifi, which in the hotel, I am. I had hoped to strike up some little conversations here and there with my fellow travelers, but so far, no. I'm not actually Miss Gregarious 2010 anyhow.

Other than the three churches that were the main destinations of the day, I also shopped for an important gift, successfully, ate some lovely spaghetti carbonara for lunch, drank warm caffe latte served in a glass (like the way my ancestors in Poland drank their tea!) in a pretty cafe outside S Croce, petted a dog in a paper shop (I am very dog-hungry after over a week away from the Chuffster, who according to J, doesn't seem to miss me at all, bless his little haid), ate a banana/chocolate gelato cone, walked across the Arno on two new (to me) bridges, and ate a sandwich in my room for dinner. A completely satisfying day.

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Frescoes a-go-go

Oct. 28th, 2010 | 07:11 pm

Did the round of the churches with important art in them that I hadn't yet hit, starting out with Santa Croce, which is all the way east, then crossing the river to Oltrarno and walking all the way west to Santa Maria del Carmine which houses the Brancacchi chapel, then back across the river to Santa Maria Novella which is close to the train station and therefore my hotel. So essentially today I circumnavigated the whole of the central city. Apart from having to share the Masaccios in the Brancacchi with a school group -- why was the place stuffed with multiple school groups of 11 year-olds at 3 in the afternoon? Don't they usually do field trips in the morning??? -- it was all blissful blissful blissful.

Here's some images of what I saw that I wasn't allowed to photograph:

Adam and Eve expelled from the garden, by Masaccio.

Christ and St Peter faking out the tax collector.

Ghirlandaio's fresco of the birth of the Virgin Mary

Filippino Lippis self portrait included in a fresco in the Brancacchi chapel. Filippino was son of Fra Lippo, and much influenced by Botticelli.

Here's Filippino's part of the fresco in the Brancacchi, St Peter being sprung from jail by the angel. I like the sleeping guard.

Some saint is curing somebody in this one but the really great part is those two well-dressed Florentine gents in the middle. Check out their outfits!!!

Giotto's fresco of the death of St Francis, which is famous for being among the first depictions of real human emotion in art after the end of the ancient world.

This is in the church of Santo Spirito, so I saw it the other day, but I just found this pic. It's a wooden crucifix by Michaelangelo -- who didn't often work in wood. The photo doesn't begin to do justice to the subtlety, nuance and deep emotion of this one.

I took a whole bunch of photos today and I'm not going to include them individually here. I'll just tease with these gorgeous, dramatic leather gauntlet gloves I saw at Madova, a beautiful glove shop in Oltrarno. IMG_1915
The rest of my photos can be seen here at my Flickr stream.

I've bought about eleventy-million postcards of the art.

Oh, and here's another Italian cat for cheesygirl:S Croce courtyard with cat
He (or she) is in the courtyard of S Croce basilica.

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