Tuesday, September 23, 2014

PLÉNITUDE? ABBONDANZA? FULFILLMENT?:EVER IN SEARCH OF "LE MOT JUSTE"


As a lover of language, I'm fascinated by the nuances of difference among these three words, and also by the cultural differences they evoke.

While all of these nouns refer to something very good, as is usually the case, perhaps the visceral, hedonistic Italian is winning out over the more cerebral French and English. And maybe that's why I live here. 

THE GIFT OF TIME--"IL FAUT CULTIVER SON JARDIN," SAYS VOLTAIRE


WHILE MY COLLEAGUES ARE BUSY EDUCATING BRIGHT, YOUNG MINDS, I HAVE THE PRIVILEGE OF WORRYING ABOUT WHAT TO DO WITH OUR TOO MANY WHITE PEACHES AND THREE VARIETIES OF APPLES THAT, DAILY, FALL FROM THE TREES. IN THE PROCESS, ITALY IS EDUCATING THIS NOT-SO-BRIGHT OLD MIND. I USED TO THINK OF FALL AS HERALDING THE END OF THE WORLD, WITH ME POISED ON THE EDGE OF A PRECIPICE. IT'S GOOD THAT IT'S POSSIBLE TO TEACH AN OLD DOG NEW TRICKS.

And speaking of dogs, our rescue dog, Murray, now 91 dog-years old, whose rascally misadventures you may have read about before (See 


He's come a long way from being abandoned on the streets of Puerto Rico, where he was a monolingual "sato," Spanish for "street dog who needs to survive by his wits." Now he's a suave multilingual dude who understands, but only responds when he feels like it, to commands in English, Italian, and Slovene (especially when my skilled daughter-in-law gives him training sessions with the encouragement of a sausage tucked into her bikini top.)

Yes, Murray and I are both so grateful for this gift of time.

Monday, September 22, 2014

COMINGS AND GOINGS--THE LIFE OF THE EX-PAT? OR JUST THE BUSINESS OF LIFE?



I'm looking at where I left off at the end of the past summer here in Umbria. A year of teaching French and helping others write has intervened.

I had a large number of pieces pretty much ready to go, but they have been hibernating in my "Notes" Box awaiting the time I could actually finalize and post them. I think this is what can happen to anyone who writes but who also tries to deal with the business of everyday life.

Further, maybe others are able to look on transitions as opportunities for excitement, whereas I tend to view them with anxiety and dread. Now who could complain about having the luxury of getting to live in an Italian-style paradise for a good chunk of the year? Non è logico in any language! Yet to write in fits and starts like this makes it hard to decide where to pick up the thread. One thing that's for sure: it's time to stop hoarding these pieces and stop obsessing about the order in which they will go.

As an aside, I have to admire my friend Susan for not only what she puts in her great blog, but the discipline with which she manages to post twice a month entries on her Half-Year Italian. 

ON CONFESSING TO SOME ODD LOVE AFFAIRS:THE THRILL OF THE ITALIAN GERUND



DESPITE BEING MARRIED TO THE SAME MAN FOR DECADES, I CONFESS TO STILL FALLING IN LOVE QUITE REGULARLY. BUT NOT WITH ANYTHING OR ANYBODY ANYONE COULD BE JEALOUS OF.
PAR EXEMPLE/AD ESSEMPIO/FOR EXAMPLE, THE ITALIAN GERUND, AND FRANZ KAFKA. Not to mention Albert Camus and Voltaire, with whom I'm in constant communication by letter.

And lest you think I only fall for long-dead guys, I'll add the already married Andre Aciman, who had me from the first line of "Lavender" (See 
DEAR ANDRE ACIMAN). And also my friend, Jacqueline Raoul-Duval, whose "Kafka in Love" is a revelation.

I'm also torn between having an affair with two quite different literary detectives. At first I could never imagine the Sicilian Montalbano having a worthy rival. But then Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti came along, and now I don't know what to do. (See 
THE MYSTERY OF HOW I FELL UNDER THE SPELL OF WRITE...) 

And on the topic of quirky love affairs, I used to be in love with France, but am surprised to find myself having given my heart to Italy--another long story that I have been writing  about throughout this blog.


I'll be getting back to Franz eventually, but I'll start by confessing my infatuation with a part of speech that I would never like in any language but Italian.

Although an academic himself, my writer son likes to make fun of us. For example, he spoofs the title of many an academic article by labeling them ON GERUNDING THE COLON IN ????

Of course he's right. Guilty, as charged, I've done it frequently, even in this blog: See the title of this very post and also my 
ON THE PERILS OF LACKING THE CONFIDENCE TO DRIVE B..., OR  ON BECOMING THE SEMI-ITALIAN GRANDMA I'VE SAID I .. OR  ON TRYING TO HELP REPAIR A WOUND THAT WILL NEVER H... OR  ON VISITING OUR LOCAL ITALIAN HOSPITAL OR  ON THE REBIRTHING PROCESS:DECEMBER 25, 1946-2012 OR  ON DRIVING INTO DITCHES AND MARKETING PLUMS (EXCER... OR  ON MINDING THE GAP BETWEEN SELF-AWARENESS AND BEHA... OR  ON BEING A PRINCIPESSA (OR IMAGINING THAT YOU ARE)...       )
Now why would something so abhorrent as the gerund in English be so irresistible in Italian?

Why is it so much more fun to say, "sto pulendo la casa" than "I'm busy house cleaning"? And with respect to this strange summer that never really arrived in my neck of the woods in Italy, instead of saying "what the hell happened to my summer that never showed up and for which I'm still waiting?",  I feel much happier saying, "sto ancora aspettando questo estate che non è mai arrivato." My beloved French doesn't have anything that would hold a candle to that. Maybe that's one of the reasons I live here in Italy. I'm still trying to figure that out.

I mentioned "quirky" above, in the context of my love affairs. Although I have taught for more than 30 years at a rather traditional elite university where quirkiness is not always valued in someone of my rank, the word "quirky" has come up more than once in my course evaluations over the years. I've decided, however, that this was meant as a compliment.

AVANTI! EN AVANT! ON WE GO!:LIFE LESSONS FROM THE GARDEN AND THE POWER OF WRITING--A NON SEQUITUR?

A dear friend who has suffered a lot of hard knocks in recent years has resumed gardening and has even begun to take some lovely nature photos. He sent me these which he took with his Iphone. He called them "Various critters attracted to the deck flowers," and pointed out the bee's pollen sacs.




I wrote back immediately:Wow! Bravo! These are amazing! That includes those pollen sacs, which I would not have been able to identify if one bit me on the butt ! (And since I am pretty butt-less, for a bumblebee to find mine would be quite a trick.)

And while we're on the topic of butts, if one bit J on the bum, he probably wouldn't feel a thing, after all that his pinched nerve-treated posterior has been through.

BTW, the Italian word for "holes" is "buchi," and when J dropped his pants for the umpteenth time to get his ultima puntura (final injection of cortisone), the doctor seemed pretty impressed to see such a butt full of buchi.

It's now pretty clear that if I want to minimize adventures with the Italian medical system 

(See FERRAGOSTO HOLIDAY IN ITALY ) to give injections is a skill I need to cultivate. However,
after carefully studying the various jabbers' technique (and the varying degrees pain that they cause), and after reading articles like "How to give an
injection in the bum," I'm thinking that maybe it's not so straightforward.

Heck--this is a person who can barely use a computer, drive in a straight line,
or understand Facebook. I'm not sure I would  trust my hind quarters to such a person.

But to avoid yet another trip to the Guardia Media and their guasto elevator admittedly has some appeal.

Here's to a respite from any and all injections for a while!

Keep the photos coming !--xxx, d 


FOR SOME REASON, ON THE SAME PAGE AS I NOTED THE ABOVE EXCHANGE, I ADDED THE BIT BELOW, ABOUT MY FAITH IN THE POWER OF WRITING

In my naive way I tend to think that writing can save anybody, and that clearer writing is evidence of (and a path toward) clearer thinking. I even had a fantasy that I could help the drug-addicted son of dear friends who has minimal impulse control and is constantly at odds with the law. But that's probably a pipe dream. It's just that it's hard not to feel their pain every time he disappoints by falling off the wagon and landing in jail. On the other hand, even though they keep trying not to give up hope, they are at the point where they think that jail gives him a sense of order and discipline that he can't sustain on his own. I still wonder what would happen if he had access to a computer and would agree to write to me.

On the theme of losing a family member, yesterday was the unveiling of my brother's headstone. While J and I were celebrating our 44th anniversary, the other members of my family were present at that milestone. I think it's the first time my other brother's kids had been on a plane. I guess that for the reasons of this confluence of events, none of us will be forgetting this date any time soon.

As my wise son likes to say, "you've gotta carpe those diems while you can.


There was a old beer ad that said it more simply:"you only go around once in life, so you've got to grab for all the gusto you can." AVANTI! EN AVANT! ONWARD!

PLANNED OBSOLESCENCE AND "BUT I SEE THE POETRY IN EVERYTHING," or "THE HOARDER'S LAME EXCUSE" or HOW YOU FEEL WHEN YOUR YOUNGER BROTHER IS FOUND DEAD




I remember when I first heard about the concept of planned obsolescence. It was in the eighth grade when I read for a book report Vance Packard's "The Hidden Persuaders." I was horrified. But now I'm changing my tune. I see that many of my clothes and personal effects are wearing out, and I kind of like that idea. It has definite appeal for a clutteroholic like me who is missing the throwaway gene and who says, in feeble self-defense, that she sees the poetry in everything. It's hard for me to get to the second step of discarding the "dead" item. But instead of making excuses, I've begun to ask myself, where would I be if everything lasted forever?

I'm realizing that the same is true of my old body. As any gardener knows, to give a declining plant a new lease on life, some serious cutting back is necessary. We all get our moment (as my Italian neighbors like to say, "E' suo tempo") and then it's time to make way for new blood. As good as I like to think I am at my work, I admire the youthful energy I see in the next generation getting ready to step into my shoes.

I can also say that other families than mine seem to do better with the concept of "game over."  That is something we just never learned. So when my brother died unexpectedly at age 63, following in my father's footsteps, it was a terrible shock. 







I now see what a tricky business it is to try to protect a child from the truth of the life cycle. A number of dear friends have currently been hit with some very bad prognoses. We hope for the best, but need to ready for whatever comes.

DON'T WATCH THIS!: "Remember Us"



That was the name of the 1960 documentary that as an impressionable kid I was not supposed to watch. The screen was only about a 12-inch window, one of the first console TVs--a blond-wood box with green leather surrounding the minuscule screen, the height of 50s elegance and technology. Maybe there were little holes poked in it, the better to let the sound escape.

There they were staring back at me in their striped pajamas--emaciated stick-bodies dominated by gigantic, dark eyes that had seen far too much. It's a wonder they got to see anything ever again, and they would not have, had the liberators not come in time.

When my religious doctor dad caught me staring back at them, he did not know what to say. I felt that I had been caught doing something shameful, and in truth I never got over it.

But now, six decades later, I know that it is something that should never have been gotten over. And although well-intentioned, my father's plan really backfired. A lifelong hoarder who justifies her pathology by saying she sees the poetry in everything, I have never stopped thinking that I could be on the next train to Auschwitz.

My dad loved his work--wanted to die on the job with his boots on, and to a certain extent, he did. A devoted doctor who loved his work, he often, despite a heart condition, saw as many as 50 patients a day, probably working through a number of mini-heart attacks  to do it. His own doctors, when they saw the autopsy report, could not believe how a man with so little evidence of heart function could have had any heart left to give to his patients.

ARBEIT MACHT FREI. He was a believer.

While remembering the forbidden "Remember Us," I remember him.