Friday, September 25, 2015

Our Baby-Kissing Pope

One Wednesday eighteen months ago in Rome (well, the Vatican City), my daughter and I stood outside the barricades (well, pieces of flimsy wood that we could have broken with our fingers) in Saint Peter's square (well, it's more round) to wait for Pope Francis to come into view.

I, the most sarcastic of ex-catholics, had to be talked into this by my daughter, who I raised with no religious education at all.

Expecting  Il Papa to come out of the basilica and wave from afar, we we stunned to hear yelling as a white open jeep headed our way through a path in the crowd. And there he was, the man who apparently loves his job more than anyone, waving and smiling and receiving all manner of swag from the crowd and tossing is all into the back of the jeep with a practiced hand (we assumed he later sold it all on eBay). The guy also grabbed any  glass of anything offered and took a sip, not the least bit concerned that he might get a cold from some stranger.

His progress through the crowd was rather stop-and -go because the driver was apparently under standing orders to "break for babies." Any kid that could be lifted by the security detail was offered up to the Pontiff. A kiss, a smile and back the babies went, the same baby but blessed forever by a really cool guy.

We got the feeling the Pope would have liked to put those little ones in his tiny jeep and give them a joy ride through the crowd, all of them laughing. But only if he could drive.

 I was tempted to offer up my 16-year-old, but I can't life her anymore. For years I had warned her about advances and kisses from strangers and there I was ready to hand her over to this elderly man with the most pleasant face on earth. I was also startled to find that I listen to his sermon on reconciliation and later even acted on it, obeying the Pope for the first time in, say, 45 years.

That day I was also confused by my cheery enthusiasm, my yelling along with the crowd, my rubbernecking to get the best glimpse of the Pope, my tip-toe-excitement at seeing him in person.

When I bought his up to my daughter she said, with a practiced cynical eye, at least when it come to her mother, "Mob violence." Indeed.

My daughter and I now consider Pope Frances a "good friend," "our" Pope, as it were. And with his visit to the US, I have been tickled by the secret service and the NY Times commenting on the Pope's instance on kissing babies and how that's a security nightmare. Too cute.

What I say is we got ourselves a baby-kissing Pope. It doesn't get any better, or more meaningful, or more hopefully, than that. When humanity is at its worst, we have this guy to make us feel better. And to tell us to work at getting better.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Made in Itlay

I haven't posted for a while because I had nothing to say....or I was busy. Really, who cares?

But then I came across these books about shopping in Florence and they awakened memories of our three months there in 2012. That's right, a shopping guide triggered my past. If only I had had these book back then. Great food. Great art. Great times. Great shopping. Great everything.

Laura Morelli knows her stuff. And I mean stuff, Italian stuff.

 And she is giving a few of them away: a Rafflecopter giveaway

To me, I hope. I am so ready to get on a plane to Italy.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Stop, Look, and Listen

Sometimes I am asked to review or write blurbs for books about parents, caretakers, and kids.

I have to admit that I haven't read many parenting books, except for two skinny ones on teenagers and how to cope with messy rooms, safety issues and such. My 17 year old recently told me she had read them as well, perhaps before I did, so she knew what was coming. There they sat on the shelf, so why not get a jump on Mom? The books forgot to add a section on wily teenagers and how to get a jump on them.

Today I am looking through Susan Newman's Little Things Long Remembered, which is essentailly a list of  hints on how busy working parents can remember that they have kids. Apparently, the kids are "little things" long forgotten.

Open this slim book and hit on concise tidbits to put into action. The action is basically to turn off your cell phone and do something with or for your child.

Yes, there are lots of specific ideas about trips and treats, or making some craft together, but overall this is a book for adults who are too busy, self-absorbed, and frazzled to even remember they have children.

Many parents will find it useful, but I found it to be a depressing statement about parenting in Western culture.

Do we really need to be reminded, for example, to "act silly" (p. 31), talk to kids while we ride in the car together (57),  or "come home early to be with a sick kid"(p.92)?  

I chose these three examples randomly but imagine 135 pages of such sadly obvious hints.

I'd like to believe that this is an unnecessary book, that all parents and caretakers routinely take time out of their days and nights to be with their kids, to interact with them, because that comes naturally, because that's what it means to be a parent or caretaker. If not that, then what? 

In my worst moments, like when reading this book, I also wonder if we are, as a culture, at risk of inflating the self-esteem of our kids with the inane phrase "good job" for some tiny achievement while ignoring everything else about them, the good as well as the bad.  

It seems to me that parenting can best be summed up not in a list of cloying advice but in the very words we use to teach children how to cross the street: Stop. Look. And Listen. 

 Stop. Look. And listen to the best days of your life. That's all you and they need.

Sure, we all get busy and preoccupied sometimes and if you need a book to get back on track as an engaged parent, try this one. Skim a few pages and then drop it and get back to being a parent.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


Last summer I spent a month in Venice and one night, as a rain storm approached (la tempesta), I had to go out on the tiny balcony and retrieve my laundry. Yes, that's my laundry in the foto below, the line with the long sheet and blue towel.

The wind was blowing and howling, but over the sound of nature I also realized that someone was speaking to me. Looking across the courtyard I saw a man in an apartment at the same level as mine. He was at his window offering me his opinion about the storm. So we chatted.

This was one of my best moments in Venice, something I will always remember because I live in a culture where a stranger wouldn't dare converse with someone across the courtyard, or street, especially at night, in a storm, and especially if you were a woman and he was a man. It would seem creepy instead of normal and friendly.

Why is it like that in Venice? Sure, this tiny city is more tightly packed than my town, and everyone knows every else because they walk everywhere and stop and talk. But Venice is also special because it has a very long history of community spirit.

From the time Venice was established in the lagoon in the 800s to the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797, its citizens have banded together for the greater good of La Serenissima, The Republic of Venice.

Although there were social classes from patricians to servants, everyone operated within an interwoven network of neighborhoods, classes, churches, and service clubs. And they did so, made a cohesive dedicated social whole, because this was a vulnerable nation surrounded by water.

But more important, Venice was a city based on commerce and everyone worked hard, even the aristocracy, to make money.

That history of banding together to make money informs everything in Venice today, from the gondolieri hawking rides to the cost of public toilets for non-Veneitians. It also informs the friendliness of Venetians if you make an effort to see the city and be part of the life.

For one quick moment as I took in my laundry, I felt just a little bit Venetian. It was so cool.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

It Takes A Binder

I've started another book. I know this because I've taken a binder (one of those old old clothes covered faded blue ones) and put in separators with color tags which represent chapters.

(OK so this isn't actually my binder but a foto of someone else's binder. You can tell because it would never occur to me to put  a plant on my binder. Chocolate, yes, but leaves?)

This binder thing is both ritual and practical. Ritual because this is always how I've started a book. Practical because even in the age of writing and taking notes on a computer, there are always odd bits of stuff that have to go somewhere.
That step can't be done until the whole book makes sense to me, somewhere deep in my brain. Oh, it will change before it's done, but the basic format is there.

And then I have to organize it in that binder before I go further.

So "Venetians Invented Everything" has its binder now, and there are pages in there with notes, and some articles, and some jotted ideas. Even a few pages of real live writing.

I am off and running. It feels good, but the organization also brings me to the knowledge of how much work there is when you write a nonfictions book, especially by jumping into the history of another place, another culture, and another language. But that's what makes it captivating.

Next post: the joy of  index cards. Or for some of you younger folks, an explanation of what an index card might be.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Why Am I Not Living In Melbourne, Australia?

First to all, it's the rock and roll. No American believes me, but the good rock now comes from Down Under. Give me three of Diesel's albums (and one more song here) on a desert island and I'll live forever, dance forever, and sing along badly forever.

Then there are the people—everyone seems to be really funny. Self-deprecating humor at it's best. I should live there just because they "get" my jokes. And the accent. Can I get that accent too?

Of course there are the cool and weird animals, the Great Barrier Reef, The Daintree Forest and all that.

And today I am happy because an article I wrote for Child Magazine Australia just came out and there' a video of the editor, Karen Miles, introducing the issue and saying our how Our Babies, Ourselves changed her life.

It's doesn't get any better than this, unless I were in Melbourne, eating a sausage roll, living in one of those great Melbourne terrace houses, with friends making fun of me or themselves...

with tickets to a Diesel concert in my hand.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Rhythm of Life

The leaves are not yet turning here in Central New York, but the temperature has fallen and the the humidity is gone (thank goodness).

And school is in session.

Although I am in the middle of retiring from Cornell University (one more class to go), I still feel the rhythm of the academic year. I also have a teenager in High School which underlines the schedule of our days. I no longer have to wake her up, make a lunch, or hand her a backpack and take her to school, but the house still vibrates each morning with her shower and hairdryer and the slam of the door as she rushes out to AP Biology.

Many who write a blog take a break, or have nothing to say, for a while and that's the case here too. What's my excuse?

Oh, the rhythm of life, I guess.

I was in Venice, Italy, for a month this summer and then home working on this and that. Then I got Lyme's Disease and that sort of took over my energy.

In the next few posts I am going to write about the book I've started: Venetians Invented Everything or I Veneziani Inventarono Tutto.

And they did.