Sunday in the Park with Nancy

Life in Italy

Originally published in BoomerCafe.com

Nancy and John Petralia are two lucky baby boomers: although their home is in Ft. Myers, Florida, they spent a year living in Italy.  John even co-wrote a book about it, called Not in a Tuscan Villa. But what he has written about for BoomerCafé isn’t from the book — it’s from his life during that splendid year, on particular one Sunday in the Park with Nancy.
Why can’t I simply enjoy the moment? Here I am, in Parma, Italy, with Nancy. It’s a beautiful Spring day. Sunday. We’re having a picnic in Parco Pace. The Felino salami, Parmigiano, and wine are all exquisite. Birds are singing. Flowers are in bloom. Folks are walking by chatting, smiling, laughing.

John Petralia

John Petralia

Here comes a family on bikes. Cute kids. Oh, no. The mom is smoking! That doesn’t fit the picture.

A man in a white top-hat. That’s more like it. And, these two pretty girls walking hand in hand. Very Italian. Perfect.
What’s this? Two guys with blue Mohawks. Blue Mohawks with orange tips! Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! I ask for Seurat and they give me surreal.
Nancy’s approving laugh is all the permission I need to reprise my rant, the one I was on when the scenery changed the subject.

Denizens of the park.

Denizens of the park.

So here it is again because it’s true. The USA is the only advanced country without a true national health system. If national health is so bad, why do Italians outlive us by 2 1/2 years? They also have a far lower incidence of obesity and diabetes. Probably has something to do with breast-feeding. Women here breast-feed in public. Get it? Diabetes. Obesity. Life Span? Interesting, eh?
John Petralia’s book – Not in a Tuscan Villa – is available at Amazon.com.
My little fill-in-the-blank quiz would drive any ordinary woman crazy, but Nancy simply smiles, sips the Lambrusco, pretends to listen, strokes my hand.
Her touch puts me into high gear.

An afternoon in Parco Pace, Parma, Italy.

An afternoon in Parco Pace, Parma, Italy.

So, okay, everybody knows about the beneficial effects of red wine. The Italians certainly have us beat there. But listen to this. Yesterday, I read in the New York Times about a Harvard study that proved lonely people die younger. Look at the Italians. Hell, it’s not unusual for three, even four generations, to be living in the same house. There are four generations at my cousin Claudia’s. The place is a virtual commune. Anyway, here, fewer women work outside the home. It’s got to be easier to breast-feed if you’re living in a commune and not working. No?
Don’t get me wrong. I am not obsessing about breasts. The only points I’m contemplating are these: as a percent of GNP, we Americans spend three times as much on healthcare as do Italians, yet our outcomes, life span, and infant mortality, are not nearly as good. It makes no sense.

John and Nancy Petralia

John and Nancy Petralia

Okay, okay, here it is if I’m ever President: My fellow Americans, based on scientific evidence gathered by our crack research team in Italy, starting immediately all nursing women will be shipped to communes where they will receive full pay… and… a daily ration of red wine… and all the cigarettes they desire. Thank you for your cooperation. May God bless you and your families and may God bless the United States of America.
Nancy laughs. I smile. We hold hands. We’re in the moment.
Now, snap the picture.

Touring the Blogisphere

Writing can be a lot of fun. Or not. John and I have both been writing most of our lives, although not the kind of writing most people want to read. Business writing, a lot of it marketing copy. For a long time, reviewing the books we read was our creative writing outlet. Then a number of years ago we started a series of science lectures on the barrier Island where we lived. They turned out to be very educational and we thought all the island residents should be aware of the ecological facts and issues of our habitat. We pulled together a little team and wrote The Island Blue Pages: A Guide to Protecting the Waters of LBI. Our first experience with publishing a book was a good one.

Not long afterwards we moved to Italy for a year, fulfilling a dream. While living in there, we posted to a blog every few days, with photo albums to accompany each post. It was great fun for us and brought our friends along on our adventures. But we didn’t want it to be public. It was just for all of us. When we came home we felt compelled to share the joy and perspective we gained from our experiences in a book.

Writing Not in a Tuscan Villa sucked up our creative energies for a long time. We set up this site and posted a few things, but…there was other life stuff. We have to admit, we’ve been ignoring the blog for a while.

Photo: librarian.net

Photo: librarian.net

So when Nora Vasconcelos was kind enough to ask us to participate in this Writers’ Blog Tour, it was the kick in the pants we needed to get re-energized. Nora’s blog, The Traveling Book Club’s Blog, is a delightful mix of book reviews, beautiful photos, and commentary about the writing and publishing world.

The Writers’ Blog Tour is sort of a chain letter of people all answering the same FOUR questions. It’s a chance for us to talk about why we write and how. I’ll pass the baton to Sara Salih, Kim Trotto and Colette Cornatzer. You can read more about them below. So here goes.

1) What are we working on?

At the moment we’re plotting (and not in the novel sense) our next book. John got interested in Giuseppe Garibaldi while we were in Italy. He’s the fellow who led the Red Shirts who united the country in 1862. We found his statue in every major city, his name on a plaque in small villages, and everywhere there is a Via Garibaldi. He’s a kind of real-life Indiana Jones who loved adventure and was always looking for a noble fight.

There’s been plenty written about his exploits, but we wondered about the man. So we’re visiting as many of the places he lived and fought as possible to see if we can discover more about him than just his battles. We’ve already visited Sydney and the place he lived on Staten Island. The tour will take us to Sardinia this spring. Uruguay and Argentina are on the list, and perhaps a few other places too.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Although we’re travel writers, we don’t write travelogues or the typical memoir. We like to emerce ourselves in a place and comment about what we see and how it might be different from what is expected, or illuminates another part of life. Making discoveries and connections is what interests us.

3) Why do I write what I do?

Nancy: I enjoys bringing the reader along with us. I try to capture the ordinary rather than the grand and I’m happy to share my misconceptions and process of enlightenment.

John: Everything is part of a system and systems are different. I comment on those differences. An creating a story within the story is my goal. It’s like Hemingway, there’s the obvious story, and then there’s the underlying bigger commentary.

4) How does my writing process work?

Neither of us writes every day. Nancy keeps notes, journals and take hundreds of photos when we travel. John keeps his own notes too. All that helps when we’re putting the details into the work. Publicly blogging about our latest adventure will be one way we’ll test ideas. And we’ll join another critique group to get continuing feedback.

Now it’s time to introduce you to our next trio of bloggers. Be sure to check them out next Monday, April 28, to read about their writing.

Kim Chicago (2)

Kim Mary Trotto has written two novels, GOODLANDS, for younger young adults,
and NED THE MAGE KNIGHT, for middle-graders. Kim is currently seeking agents
for her novels. Her young adult story THE LAST MEMORY OF BALLY will appear
in the Webzine Frontier Tales. She has published features and news stories
in weekly New Jersey Newspapers and Air Force magazines. Kim is a member of
the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and attends two very
dynamic critique groups. She has a degree in Journalism and continues to
pursue her interest in writing for children and young adults though venues
like Gotham Writers’ Workshops in New York City. She is married and lives on
the Jersey Shore. She blogs and posts some of her charming illustrations at Kim Trotto.

sararosesalihaboutme-t
Sara Rose Salih is the author of the new juvenile fiction series, Life As We Note It. This past November Sara celebrated the official release of the first book of the series, Tales of a Sevie.
Born and raised in Texas, writing has always been Sara’s passion. She enjoys writing books, short stories, novels, poetry, and anything teen. In her free time Sara enjoys music, photography, and baseball. She blogs at Sara Rose Salih.
Colette Cornatzer

Colette Cornatzer lives in New Jersey and began writing when she was ten years old. Colette’s first book, Entertaining Thoughts was published in April of 2013 and since then, she has explored new avenues of publishing with, The Reform published in January of 2014, and Dying to Live published in March of 2014. Colette is thankful to not only be able to do what she loves, but also to share her passion with the world. She blogs at Collette Cornatzer.

 

Taxing your tattoo?

Italy is obsessed with aesthetics. Every shop window, no matter how small, is beautifully arranged. Cities and villages aren’t cluttered with utility poles because everything is underground. Italians dress with studied personal style. The county lauds architecture both classic and modern. And every producer of cheese, salami, olive oil and wine will tell you that only the freshest, purest and best ingredients go into their product. Italians prize beauty and quality. Despite this, their country is covered in graffiti. Ask an Italian how it got there. He’ll most likely say it’s the product of foreigners.

Photo: n petralia

Photo: n petralia

So now the country has decided to extend that pursuit of beauty to the bodies of their population. In the process Italy has figured out yet another way to tax its citizens. In a posting, the Giornale del Corriere explained the new tax on tattoos and piercings. What a terrific way to finally get some money out of all the young people who are unemployed!

photo: Giornale del Corriere

photo: Giornale del Corriere

The Health Aesthetics tax is due by June 30th. Tattoos are to be taxed at 1.58 Euros ($2.19) for each square centimeter of covered skin with an additional 19.85 Euros ($27.48) for any design that is violent, sexual or racist. Piercings will cost 6.42 Euros ($8.89).

So what happens if decorated Italians respond as they do to most government taxes and ignore their responsibility? If payments aren’t made, inspections will be made on beaches by the State Bathers Control, and in random stops along highways by Citizens Sanitary Inspectors. And we though Stop and Frisk was invasive!

Something tells me these two are in for an exam.

Photo: n petralia

Photo: n petralia

Ok, ok. It’s all a joke. The Giornale del Corriere is a satirical site, and this is the equivalent of a story Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. But to be honest, I bought it at first.

Truffles anyone?

Truffles, the marvelous, musky fungus that can be shaved over scrambled eggs, pasta, or fries, tucked under the skin of a roasted chicken, infused into expensive oils, or folded into sabayon for and extraordinary dessert, are hard to find. You need a sensitive nose. That’s why for centuries pigs were used to sniff them out. As a youngster I recall reading about French truffle hunters, their harnessed pigs on leashes, scouring the forests in search of black gold.

photo: macro.org

photo: macro.org

So when we first met Silvano and Claudia back in 2009 we were surprised to learn that the family dog was a truffle hunter. “Italians in this area have bred the Lagotto Romagnolo for centuries,” he said. “They’re very good hunters, but their specialty is truffles.” Silvano is an avid hunter. Over the fireplace in the gathering room on the top floor of their Traversetolo home hangs the head of a cingale, wild boar. And if you’re as lucky as we were, you could find cingale sausage on your plate.

“Pigs are difficult to manage,” Silvano told us. “They love the truffle, and can easily gobble the prize. Dogs don’t care so much. They’re happy to please by locating what their human wants.” Ruby looks up at him with light-brown eyes. Medium sized and hypo-allergenic, she’s got a waterproof coat of curly white hair that looks like an uncut poodle and her tail doesn’t stop wagging.

photo: n petralia

photo: n petralia

“She’s a wonderful family dog too,” added Claudia. She’s gentle with the children and loves to play.”

“Sounds to me like Americans would love these truffle dogs, ” I said. “Even without the truffle hunting. And besides, we have plenty of truffles…the chocolate kind…in America.”

So I was surprised to read recently, that some Americans are training truffle dogs to root out an American-cultivated fungus. At the recent Oregon Truffle Festival, dog owners signed up to teach German shepherds, labradors and a poodle. A trained Lagotto Romagnolo sells for $6000. Not surprising. European white truffles sell for $2000 per pound. The Oregon ones, which have been compared to the finest Italian Albas go for just $400 per pound. Still a pretty profit for a subterranean tuber.

photo: winewatch.com

photo: winewatch.com

That means we may see more of this exotic shavings on American plates. I hope so. Claudia’s linguini with shaved Alba was outrageous.

photo: europeupclose.com

photo: europeupclose.com

 

 

Review: The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr

Aside

Nancy says:

We saw this painting while in Italy and I was fascinated with the premise of The Lost Painting. The story, which follows a young art researcher, a painting restorer and an international art expert, reveals the mysteries of the art world as well as the mystery of how “The Taking of Christ” was lost and found. When we lived in Italy I was constantly struck by all the tiny slips of paper the Italians keep–the record of every single transaction. Now I understand how valuable they can be.

I loved Jonathan Harr’s A Civil Action and was anxious to see how he handled this new topic. While the story isn’t quite as compelling (nobody’s going to die) I learned so much about the process of discovery, preservation and the politics of the art world that I found this latest book fascinating.

If you enjoy seeing great art, or just an interesting real-life mystery, you’ll like this book.