Tuesday, April 29, 2014

April 29: Florence Report!

Well, it was an amazing, wonderful, memorable trip. It's now Tuesday, so I can barely keep my eyes open after two days of classes (!!) but I want to write up what I can remember so that it's recorded. So let's see. 

The trip over was cake, as far as I was concerned. I slept well on the plane--it felt like a 3 hour trip, maybe. We'd taken the bus down from Bangor, so we had plenty of time at Logan (I saw Rob Liebow chaperoning a group of his Rockport students to Ireland!), and then a 6 hour layover in Zurich, but things all went smoothly. 

In Florence, the big surprise for me was how much I loved the city. Its center is pedestrian-only, so it is far more accessible and mellow feeling than most big cities, and rubber-necking and/or people watching was easy and pleasant. There is art, lovely architecture, and fascinating history everywhere. Even though it was Easter weekend/week and the city was jammed with people (especially on Easter Sunday for the Explosion of the Cart in front of the Duomo), it was super easy to get away from the hustle and bustle and sit somewhere (with or without food/drink/gelato) to relax for a bit. 

Our hotel was about 10 mins' walk down the Arno, and though we had possibly the tiniest room ever to house two people, the mattress was heavenly, and we had a balcony with a lovely view. 

(The river is behind the trees.) We'd eat breakfast in the hotel and then set off for whatever awaited us: a trek through the Cinque Terre and National Park, blowing up a cart and then wandering through the Rose Gardens, general museum going, dinner with Lyle's host family, a food tour or a fishing trip, or just lots of wandering around enjoying Florence, the weather, and the pace of life. 

One of the best parts of the trip was seeing how Lyle has blossomed: he is nearly fluent, and very willing to interact with people and try his Italian. Our two tour guides and his host family all raved about his linguistic skills and his general character! We got to see one of his shows and meet one of his professors and have dinner with four of his friends at a favorite trattoria--all a treat. He's working hard, learning a lot, and appreciating everything deeply: isn't that the combination we'd all wish for each and every child in the world? He'll be off to the Etruscan dig in Siena in three weeks, and home June 22. I miss him now after seeing him nightly for five days! 

Our trip home was slick as well. We flew Lufthansa, and had a 45 min. layover in Munich, which concerned us a bit, but when we climbed down the stairs, there was a man with a "Bangor--New York" sign waiting with a van. He whisked us (about 8 people) off to a labyrinth of back doors, private access elevators, and expedited passport control, and we made our connection with an easy 20 mins. to spare. We also had tons of movies and lots and lots of food during the (really long) trip (made more tedious by the loud, immature 15 year olds behind us returning from a home stay in Germany of 10 days. Sheesh. They had no plane voices and overused "literally".)--all in all, Lufthansa is a win for me! 

Our overnight with Janey and Geo and our trip back to Bangor were both convenient and easy. Janey even gave me the pick of her bookshelves. . . heaven! So we're home after a great trip. I have a "favorite city," and we're waiting Nate's return from Florida late tonight. We were so lucky to get to do that. What a great experience! 

Monday, April 14, 2014

April 14: Books!

Instructions for a HeatwaveInstructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Zipped through this one--enjoyed story, characters, and outcome. Wished it were longer, in fact! Liked how even flawed characters could love others whole-heartedly.

Love Walked InLove Walked In by Marisa de los Santos
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a reread--I LOVE it! I can see how some readers would find it overdone and sappy (looking at you, JLH!), but I find it redemptive and wonderfully written. Lovely turns of phrase. HIGHLY recommended.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

April 11: A Lovely Day!

Code Name VerityCode Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

WOW. Code Name Verity is not my usual book: it's got torture, for crying out loud! It has pain and sadness and moral conflict and you just don't know how it's going to turn out!

But it is a dazzling read. The two readers of the Bolinda Audio version are amazing, and the story itself is well written, exciting, and historically and morally illuminating. I've always wondered about how I'd deal with torture (my hunch is that I'd spill my guts in the first moment) and what it would've been like to live during WWII--this books deals with both those questions, intently, honestly, and thoughtfully. The characters are great; the two halves of the book work well together, and the conclusion (there are actually several conclusions) is satisfying. Though Wein's afterword makes it clear that this is not really a historical novel, it illuminates a time period and a situation (life in Occupied France) extraordinarily well.

Again, I am amazed at how much I enjoyed this book. That said, I am not going to listen to Wein's new novel about life in Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. I may read it so I can skim!

View all my reviews Well, the weather change heralded by our two hour delay on April 1 continues: we had heavy rain on Tuesday, followed by some warmish sunny days and a noticeable diminution of our snow pack. Yay! Road-side ditches run with water; crocuses are up at the school; buds are swelling. AND: in less than a week, we'll be in Italy! I am very excited!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

April 5: Back to Gloomy

Saturday morning: I'm about to head out for a run, so the current drizzle will probably beef itself up to a downpour just in time! Ah well. Not much snow, so A's and my loose cruise can still happen, I think, and Spring does seem to be coming still.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest TrailWild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I gobbled this book down, even though I was skeptical about it at first. As I just said to my dear friend (whose taste in books is such that we often hate what the other one loves), I found the book very interesting and readable, but I wouldn't say, "Oh, it was really good!" or "I loved it!" I felt about Wild and Strayed herself (yes, she picked her own last name; it's no coincidence) the way I feel about strong personalities that I may work with or meet at a dinner party or something: they may be deeply involving and fascinating, but I know that there are many things that would drive me crazy if we spent too much time together.

Overall, two things about the book made it interesting: first, one of the reviews hit a huge truth (and I wondered if it was written by Anne Lamott, in fact): "By laying bare a great unspoken truth of adulthood--that many things in life don't turn out the way you want them to, and that you can and must live through them anyway--Wild feels real in many ways that many books about 'finding oneself' . . . do not." Strayed, before she became "Strayed," suffered some devastating losses, and her story about recovering from them and putting herself back together is deeply human and moving in many ways.

In addition, Strayed doesn't make a lot of apologies for what she does or did. Heroin, infidelity, sins of omission or commission. . . she just states what unfolded and leaves it there. I would imagine that some people might find that approach hard to take (and I did notice that her concern about her relatives' drug use seemed a little misplaced when she was a fairly regular heroin user there for a while), her matter-of-fact retelling worked for me. "This is what I did. This is why it seemed right at the time. I can't really explain the logic from where I am now, but. . . . " That philosophy, in her case at least, worked for me, keeping the memoir interesting and helping me to withhold judgment.

However, I'm not ready to rush out and read her novel, which seems like a thinly fictionalized version of her autobiography (which, in some ways also reminds me of Anne Lamott!). Still, I'm hoping several friends read Wild so we can discuss it. I'm curious what other people think!

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Friday, April 4, 2014

April 4: Friday. Yay!

It's the end of a lovely Friday (I think: I didn't actually get outside much today), and I am tired but happy. I had a lot of meetings: formal ones, informal ones, ones involving lots of people, ones with only one other person, and I also acquired a student observer/helper from COA, which brings a certain other level of awareness to what I do, but,


it's been a good week. Nice to see Nate more, with show choir pretty much done, and nice to dream about what we'll do in Florence a bit (I may get a purse. Or linens); also nice to have a two-hour delay on April 1 so I could swim at leisure and then run on a much more pleasant and quite light Wednesday morning with Nate!

Terrific family news about unexpected (but apparently 100% healthy) impending babies when we thought there'd be none--delivered, ironically, when I was struggling to shake off a petulant mood--there's a life lesson for you, especially as I had just shared my petulance with friend Megan who said, "You just have to go home with an open heart," and I ran right into joy. Wise advice.

And I am reading and enjoying Cheryl Strayed's Wild, which I didn't expect to (library book sale find!), which nearly makes up for not being able to find my ipod after our trip last week. Must fix that!

So: tomorrow A and I plan a "loose cruise," depending on the weather. . . but featuring lunch for sure. Which will be nice. I'll knit on his very loud socks. I also hope to read a lot!


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April 1: And It Didn't Snow!

though March's final snowstorm (6"!) did mean that we got a 2 hour delay, followed by 40 degree temps and lovely warm sunshine. Yes!

This Is the Story of a Happy MarriageThis Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wish I could give this a slider rating: I really like Patchett's writing, but somehow the way the book, a collection of various essays she's written over quite a span of years and for various purposes, was put together made it hard to "really like" the book as a whole. The title is one thing; the longest essay is the one about her (second) marriage, but that's at the end of the book. Before that, we get police academy, the Lucy Grealey controversy, opening Parnassus Books (one of my favorites; her wit really sparkles), taking care of her grandmother, a big flood. . . . I'm not sure what made this collection so hard to get into at first: perhaps an intro to each giving its date and purpose might've made the experience less disjointed. As it is, I'd say that the individual works are very strong, but the book as a whole feels uneven.

  The Ivy TreeThe Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have read this several times in my youth (!!), but once again I found I remembered very little of it, and found a distinct pleasure in rediscovering it. Stewart's writing is skilled and descriptive, conjuring up the romantic setting of the nearly-ruined farm and its various characters. The plot is developed and, although she's more overt about who the bad guy is with this book than with some of her others, quite suspenseful. It's a highly enjoyable fluff novel: I felt I was in good hands throughout. Cultural note: so much smoking!!!! 1961 and tobacco is king, I guess!

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