Archive for March, 2011

No…we didn’t experience one (I don’t think…).

Miracle in Milan is a film by Vittoria de Sica – you have probably heard of The Bicycle Thief – one of the most famous expressions of Italian post-war Neo-Realism.

About a month before our trip, a Twitter acquaintance wrote about seeing it. He graciously offered to send me a DVD copy made from an old VHS tape – because, unfortunately, there’s no DVD version for Region 1 (that’s us).

(It was – not surprisingly – featured right at the entrance of the Society of St. Paul bookstore that’s behind the Duomo.)

I meant to watch it before our trip, but didn’t, and I think I’m glad. I finally got to it this past weekend, and my enjoyment of it was enhanced by having been to Milan.

Not that most of the action takes place in the middle of the city – not at all. Most of it occurs in the outskirts (of the time – 1951) – where those displaced by war have settled in shantytowns. Miracle in Milan is a fable.  An old woman finds a baby in a cabbage patch, raises him for a few years, then dies. He’s sent to an orphanage where he lives until adulthood. After he leaves the orphanage, he ends up in that shantytown and emerges as a cherub-faced, cheerful leader.  There’s conflict involving those who would purchase the land on which the poor and displaced have created community, and a quite astonishing climax at the Duomo which is, in its own way, eschatological. Really.

Not the final scene – but one of the most arresting scenes in the film:

Toward a Kingdom where “Good morning!” really means Good Morning.


An interview with de Sica about the film.

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That’s the word I used on FB to describe my mental search for ithe third book in the trilogy I’d been meaning to blog about.  I hadn’t read it too long ago. I thought it would fit into a blog post with the other two. I could remember that it was not a memoir like the other two but more memoir-ish.  But I’d read it a couple of months ago and just couldn’t remember.

Then this morning I was reading the WSJ – and – okay.  That was it. Got it.

So a brief blog post on that trilogy of memoir-ish books and one other, read this week for a book club.

Chinaberry Sideawalks is singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell’s memoir of his pretty hardscrabble childhood down in Houston and environs.  I enjoyed (doesn’t seem quite right to use that word to describe the reading of a book about abuse and anger…appreciated?) much of the book although it left me with questions.  The writing was a bit too self-conscious and as is the case when I read any childhood memoir I wonder how useful the piece is as memoir.  I can barely remember last month, and without aid of a journal, couldn’t write much beyond the basics about anything that happened over ten years ago without continually questioning my own memories. How much is my memory and how much is me remembering remembering?

So deeply detailed childhood memoirs – even those recounting memorable events – often leave me wondering – not about retention of external details so much as descriptions of the author’s childhood inner life.

I was also puzzled by Crowell’s stance toward his parents.  Perhaps I read it too fast – that’s always a possibility – but I didn’t get it.  His father was quite abusive to his mother – who was no silent victim, but still. Abuse is abuse.  As the book goes on and Crowel moves into adulthood, while he certainly doesn’t approve of his father’s behavior – far from it – he still characterizes his father as a hero of sorts to him, and unironically. In my mind, he doesn’t explore this tension enough .

Breakfast with the Pope is Susan Vigilante’s account of life and spiritual struggles: infertility, illnesses of family members, death, the dynamics of friendship and vocation.  I’m often asked for book suggestions for (particularly) women’s groups in Catholic parishes, and I think this would be a good choice that many would enjoy.

Crazy U that’s the one I couldn’t think of until I was reminded by Andrew Ferguson’s op-ed in today’s WSJ (essentially an excerpt for the book.)  The book didn’t merit slipping from my mind – it’s very good!

As a very long-time Andrew Ferguson fangirl, I was excited to see that he had written about the topic of college admissions – one that absorbs me in a cyclical sort of way.  In the book, Ferguson chronicles the year (+) he spent with his son on the college admissions train and does so not just through personal narrative but through – not surprisingly – presenting the fruits of his research into various areas  as well.  There’s more of the latter than I expected, and since I’ve spent enough time studying up on the vagaries of college admissions and the games of the College Board as well as its history and critics, I wasn’t terribly interested in those parts – although the Ferguson Take on any subject is always enjoyable.

What I enjoyed most in Crazy U was the personal narrative, especially Ferguson’s descriptions of the way parents of the college-bound converse and suss each other out, as well as his conflicted feelings about his oldest flying the coop.

The sections that made me laugh the most in recognition were the accounts of the actual application and essay-writing process – I mean, thinking about that period makes me shudder even now, a year and a half later – as well as Ferguson’s descriptions of his forays into the College Confidential Message Board. Oh, Lord, yes.  Ferguson was told to avoid them, but disobeyed the advice, as did I.   Repeatedly.  Every time I’d venture over there, I’d be filled with the same feelings of horrified intimidation, inadequacy and shame as I do when I ignore my better instincts and venture to  the blogs of uber-homeschoolers and uber-DIY-crafters. There’s only so many cheerful but clearly strained posts-from-the-edge of overachieving Tiger Cubs pleading for fellow posters to “Chance Me!” (shorthand for: tell me if my 4.87 GPA/Seattle Symphony 1st chair/Haitian orphanage directorship will get me into Harvard) that you can read before you go over the edge.

If you’ve got a child toddling up to that stage in life, I’d recommend Crazy U – in fact I recommended it just today to someone in my book group. After I gave her the stern advice to not allow her child to apply to more than five colleges – at the very most.  Better yet – just one. One is good.

Now for the non-memoirish book: The Imperfectionists. It’s a novel about an English-language newspaper based in Rome – its rise and fall, interspersed with individual narratives of various reporters, copy editors and publishers.  The book received high praise from some quarters and I’m baffled why.  There are a number of faults (flat writing, superficial characterization, a couple of particularly bad chapters playing not on character but on caricature)  but the one I’ll hone in on is the missing opportunity of place – Rome.  Landmarks and the general shape of Rome are accounted for, but not much about living in Rome, especially for the ex-pat.  My “experience” of this is second hand, but I’ve known several Americans who’ve lived in Rome for a time, including one of my sons, who lived there for almost a year and a half.

From what I’ve absorbed from the stories, the experience of living in Rome is characterized by a specific dynamic: loving the Italian lifestyle  while being constantly and deeply  frustrated by..the Italian lifestyle.   I just don’t think you can write about American ex-pats living in Rome without reference to that tension.  As it was, aside from a few cultural references, The Imperfectionists could have been set anywhere, and I was disappointed at that, for I was looking forward to reading it because I’m so intrigued by Italian life myself as well as the way non-Italians navigate within it.

*I’ve also spent about two months now reading a Google e-book of a 2-volume 19th century translation of a  biography of St. Charles Borromeo by one of his contemporaries. I had hoped to have it finished by the time I went to Milan, but that didn’t happen.  I’m about halfway through the second volume.  Although it’s hagiography, it’s still interesting.  I’d really love to read a relatively modern biography as well – although there doesn’t seem to be one in English?

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Alton Brown was in town tonight – on tour promoting his Good Eats 3.  

As always, he was patient, entertaining, and generous with his time. Bullet points, because after a year and a half-long truce, whatever it is that floats in the air in these parts that hates my eyes has gone to war again.  And they just want to shut. 

  • As Brown fans well know, Good Eats is done except for a few specials in the can.   Repeats are now the highest-rated programs on the Cooking Network (not to be confused with the Food Network.) He’s trying to get FN to reach agreement to stream them on Netflix – and any and all fan encouragement is..encouraged on that score.
  • He’s got a new series in the works called Alton Brown’s Food Files.  He’ll also continue with the Iron Chef franchise.  He remarked that his one appearance on The Next Food Network Star – during which he was (after the fact) accused of being “mean” to contestants  –  was so popular that he’s been asked to work on all the episodes of the next go-round of that series.  Not a surprise – that program is so wretched and the potential “stars” are so weak that Alton’s presence lifts the whole sad affair up almost enough notches to watch it.  Sometimes.
  • He might write a book about his diet.
  • He’s a licensed pilot and drives (?) his own plane around the country to these events.
  • He answered a question about what his favorite vegan recipe was with a lengthy discourse about how vegans were pretty easy to bag because they are tired all the time and ended the answer with “spit-roasted.”
  • He was very patient with the endless series of questions about what’s your favorite…….?  or who’s your favorite…….?  
  • He’s a fan of bourbon.
  • Said he’d thought he might do an international version of Feasting on Asphalt, but ultimately decided that Anthony Bourdain has cornered that particular market. I don’t know about that – they are quite different personalities, and I could enjoy both men exploring the exact same cultures, knowing that both would emerge with slightly different takes and emphasize different aspects.
  • Brown took some online heat for his Fanifesto – setting out the limits for Alton-Fan Interaction and the reasons for them. But it’s really very reasonable – and especially so since he is so generous with his fans. He wants to be fair, to give everyone some time – and if a few monopolize that time with excessive demands, then it’s harder for him and for everyone else.  People with younger children (ahem)  and women who were pregnant were brought to the front of the signing line, and – as he said – he’d sign anything that wasn’t a body part or wasn’t alive.
  • Oh, and in answer to a question about kitchen renovation he told a young couple to not waste their money on fancy tile and such, but to spend that money on a really boss stove.
  • And then he fought Godzilla.

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Been back since Tuesday night.  Then real life took over again – school/karate/Stations/speaking/Mass/etc.

I have a speaking engagement tomorrow at a local parish so that’s where my mind is this evening.  So just a picture so this will qualify as an actual blog post:

The first is as I took it (badly)- the second is the same photo Picnik-ized so you can better see the dismayed demons in the lower corners.




Santa Francesca Roma.

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Lake Maggiore waterfront, Stresa.

Gorgeous. Gorgeous.

It was between this and Lake Como for today.  In studying up on both, it seemed to me that there would be more to entertain my traveling companions in Stresa. I had big plans for the day – I wanted to do the Parc (previous post) and the funivia to Mattarone and take a boat out into the lake, preferably over to Santa Caterina, where there is a monastery built into a mountainside and/or Arona to see the humongous statue of St. Charles Borromeo. (Private boats and a few public were running to the Borromean Islands but the sites on them don’t officially “open” until next weekend so I didn’t put them on the list.) Well, we didn’t rise as early as I had hoped so we ended up not arriving in Stresa until 12:30. The Park took longer than I thought it would – we probably could have squeezed in the funivia but I decided it would be better for us to get back to Milan closer to seven than nine, so the Parc was all we managed of that over-ambitious plan.  It was fine. It was enough.  It is astonishingly beautiful there – I imagine it must be crazy in the summer, but today, though busy, was just right.

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The potential culprits:

Nothing about the donkeys or llamas, though:

Parco della Villa Pallavicino.


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Chiesa SS. Redentore – 10 AM Mass.

Packed. Every seat filled, side walls and back wall three people deep.

It was obviously the children/young people’s Mass, for many of them were seated in the first rows together without parents. Young people provided the music – folk/pop – but there wasn’t much of it because there was an 11 AM Mass coming up right after this.  The priest was young and very dynamic and self-aware of that fact – very dramatic during the Eucharistic Prayer, moving out into the congregation during the Sanctus which involved some sort of hand motions as well as clapping, it probably goes without saying.  It could have irritated me but I preferred to not allow it to, so glad was I to be there among so many others, so many young people, in this gorgeous setting, in Christ.

No Creed.  Sign of Peace after the Prayers of the Faithful. I think the Agnus Dei was before the Lord’s Prayer.

So is this that “Ambrosian Rite” you people speak of?


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