What I read in 2015



For years, I’ve been logging the books I read in a Moleskine notebook. The arc of a year is often recollected and I am transported to where I was (mentally and physically) when a book was consumed. I also note the books I particularly liked so I could recommend  (or warn against!) them to other readers.

As we turn the last page of 2015, I thought I’d share my year in books with * to denote particular favorites.  Just typing my list online was a Proustian Remembrance of Things Past!

My year in books:

Colorless by Murakami
The Year She Left Us by Ma
Let’s Just Say it Wasn’t Pretty by Keaton (agreed)
Snow Queen by McCullogh
The Golem and the Jinni by Wecker (slow to start but builds amazingly)
This Book will Save Your Life by Homes (probably not!)
*Frog Music by Moore
*The Rosie Project by Simsion (delightful, insightful)
*Etta, Otto, Russell and James by Hooper
Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Sloan
*Me Before You by Moyes
Do the Work by Pressfield  (Skip it)
**All the Light You Cannot See by Doerr (My Best Book of the Year!)
*Ruby by Bond
*Brooklyn by Toibin (yes this was made into a wonderful movie!)
Leaving Time by Piccault
Delicious by Reichl (not as much as her non-fiction )
Dark Places by Flynn
Lisette’s List by Vreeland (if you love books about art/artists)
Canada by Ford
Day after Night by Diamont
Seven Good Years by Keret (funny, moving and great for parents)
A House in the Sky by Lindhart (harrowing true story of survival)
Boston Girl by Diamont
Festival of Insignificance by Kundera
Suddenly a Knock on the Door by Keret (clearly I’m a new fan of his!)
**Just Mercy by Stephenson (if you read just one non-fiction book, this must be it!)
*A Deliberate Season by Shields (inventive story of a marriage)
*Museum of Extraordinary Things by Hoffman (she never disappoints)
Fun Home by Bechtel (graphic novel now a hit Broadway show. Genius!)
The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Murakami (confession…it has taken me months to read this despite being a long time fan. I’m not done yet but dammit, I’m so close!)

Here’s to happy reading in 2016! Let me know what books made your year. I might add them to my New Year’s reading list.

Want details, reviews of any of these books? Just cruise on over to http://www.amazon.com

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Tales from the road: Lake Como and Bellagio


Now I get what the big deal is!

Our last day in Milan before the long slog home, we decided to take the one hour train ride to Varenna to see Lake Como and see what all the fuss was about.

The weather in Milan was finally turning cooler and the day was overcast. We took the train and sat, as directed, on the left side so we wouldn’t miss the first views of the famous Alpine lake.

Once off the train, we hustled down the hill to catch the ferry to Bellagio, allegedly the prettiest lakeside town.

The lighting was spectacular with the mountains shrouded in blue and black and capped with white clouds as you gazed across the endless vistas with cozy towns tucked along the lapping shores.

And then we saw Bellagio just as the shroud of overcast lifted and late day sun danced across the water and tinted the town yellow. Debarking, we walked the promenade past stately hotels, cafes and the inevitable tourist trinkets.

And then I spotted it. THE Money Shot! The elegant Bar Florence had a trellised cafe at water’s edge. The views were brilliantly lit and it was the perfect moment for us to imbibe the perfect drinks: a negroni for him and a prosecco for me! The late day sun, the gentle warmth and breezes and ohhhh the Lake Como views that launched a thousand digital clicks. That’s how we spent our hour.

It was the perfect, peaceful end to our glorious, galloping journey across the northern cities of Italy.

We took the ferry back to Varenna, retracing our steps all the way to the same restaurant in Milan, Prime, we ate at our first night for our last feast before travels toward home.

 

 Bellagio comes into view



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Tales from the road: Milan style, shopping and EXPO


   Above: Sacred and profane side by side in Milano

Milan is the perfect place to imprint all the experiences of our journey through northern Italy. We arrive by train to a bustling, stylish metropolis full of contradictions.

After settling in our b&b, Room Inn, tucked behind gates in a hip area of downtown jammed with bars and cafes, we walk to the Duomo to see the number one Milan attraction, the white church with its dozens of gorgeous Gothic spires. But first we passed through another kind of church– the unbelievably glitzy church of wholly consumption– a gallery of high end shops under arcaded roofs and packed with global shoppers. I stood at the corner of Louis Vuitton and Prada dumbstruck that there could be such a paean to shopping right next to the holy see. It was surreal.

Following  a quiet dinner of local specialties near our place, we tucked in early. Thursday was to be a marathon of eating, learning and eating at Milan EXPO 2015— a world’s fair dedicated to food and water sustainability, biodiversity and feeding the world. If that sounds dry you can’t imagine the global spectacular we experienced.

From around the world, countries showcased their cuisine, culture and food/water technologies in architectural exhibitions by their most creative architects and artists.

The US and Israel showed innovative vertical farms as part of their exteriors, showing how water and space can be conserved. The mammoth Russian exhibit showed off the scale of their country in gorgeous exhibits but they totally wowed us with generous samples of black bread crowned with tender smoked white fish.

We had lunch in Morocco, sampled raw cheeses in the slow food/biodiversity exhibit and were wowed with creativity in the Spanish pavilion and a remarkable musical performance in the Argentina showcase. We ended the day in the UNESCO exhibit where everything we saw came together. There IS enough food to feed our planet if we conserve, improve farming methods, reduce waste and cherish our biodiversity of plant and animal species.

We walked 10 miles that day following wherever our eyes and ears led us. What an incredible visual and cultural feast with crowds from around the world sharing this special space. It seems just right that Italy should host an EXPO dedicated to food. After all, it is a place where eating local is their heritage and pride in every region. It is also the home of the Slow Food movement that has swept the world.
Vertical farm

 Moroccan exhibit hall

 Russian smoked fish

 Raw cheese tasting

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Tales from the Road: Genoa- where pesto and seafood rule


Genoa: not your father’s salami

Sept 7 & 8

   Arriving in Genoa at night, our first impression of this maritime city was “what a dump.” Every cliche of seedy harbors sprung to mind with visions of whores, hustlers, homeless, heroin and hookahs. We loved our historic Hotel Continental Genoa with its  antique glass elevator but we weren’t sure we’d want to wander the city’s dark corridors.

Instead, we decided to grab a train to Cinque Terre in the morning and get the hell out of Dodge.

A two hour train ride the next day took us to the seaside village of Monterosso. It looked good to me but we were on a mission to hike the trail to the next town of Vernazza which was arguably (online) the prettiest postcard of the five towns.

So we climbed the trail and pretty much kept climbing for two blazing hours. I’m pretty fit but 20 minutes in and my heart was pounding. The trail is a narrow ridge along the cliffs facing the sea. It’s mostly natural stairs with just a few flat areas. Almost at my respiratory limits, we spied a leanto with an entrepreneurial fellow inside selling freshly made lemonade for just one Euro. It was not a mirage, it was a miracle! Best lemonade ever.

We resumed the climb. Two sweaty hours after we left Monterosso we climbed down into Vernazza. The photographic views as we descended were not lived up to when we actually hit the main– and only– drag. It was crammed with trinket and pizza shops. We rehydrated and refueled at one of them, took a few pix of the town and their minuscule beach and took the next train back to Monterosso.

We rested our tired feet in the warm Mediterranean waters and just chilled for a bit. Then, a seaside seafood pasta dinner at sunset and back onto the train for our two hour ride back.

Today, we figured we’d see what Genoa had to offer but we didn’t have great expectations.

We were in for a big surprise. Or surprises. The old harbor is lively by day with historic vessels and modern boats alike. The port is actually new as it was designed by architect Renzo Piano, a native son. There are also interesting museums and historic sites strewn like confetti throughout the city.

Our lunch at Eataly at the harbor was traditional Pesto Genovese with beans and potatoes. If we could have licked the plate we would have! Pesto Genovese is the local sauce of choice. Also fresh caught fish and seafood of every variety from tender baby octopus to clams, mussels, sea bass and more. This pescaterian is now revelling in her food Nirvana.

After lunch, we explored the old town which is a UNESCO cultural site. Impressive, historic churches, piazzas and cultural buildings everywhere you look. The church of San Lorenzo is the most spectacular I’ve seen this trip with its patterns of grey, black and white stonework.

And then we turned onto Via Garibaldi which is the street of palazzos–the palaces of the early city’s rich and connected. We wandered past one over-the-top Italianate, Renaissance and Baroque building after another. Our cameras were breathing hard from their work out!

And now, after five hours of exploration, we lie legs up against the bedpost in our room as I write this post and A. figures out which wonderful Ligurian seafood/pasta palace we will dine at tonight.

By the way Christopher Columbus is another native son of Genoa and his statue presides in the piazza right outside our window. Certainly a fitting image for a city built for exploration,
  Octopus   San Lorenzo  a palazzo Genoa by night

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Tales from the Road: Listening to Klezmer in the Ghetto


Bologna
Sept 4 & 5

One of the motifs our of Bologna stay besides indulging in vast gluttony was discovering the Jewish ghetto area. We spent some our first day wandering the maze of  medieval alleys where we thought the ghetto was. But, alas, we found nothing. Why? Because Google really sucks at navigation in medieval cities.

That night we researched the ghetto more deeply seeking locational guidance and history from local sources.From Bologna Welcome: “The layout of Bologna’s 16th century ghetto can still be precisely traced amid the narrow streets in the medieval heart of the city: here, a maze of alleys, covered bridges and small windows tells the story of a whole community forced to live in a specific area of the town by order of the Papal State beginning from 1556.

In Bologna, Jews lived in the ghetto until 1569, when they were expelled for the first time.In 1586, they were allowed to come back to town and lived here again until 1593, year of their final expulsion: 900 people left Bologna and no Jewish community was allowed into town for more than two centuries. ”

The Jewish ghetto was, of course, located in the shadow of the church so they could keep an eye on the community. The trouble for us is that Bologna is littered with churches!

The better locational cue we discovered the next day came when we walked to the “fraternal twin towers” in the center of the city then headed under an arch on Via Zamboni. When we found a street named Purgatorio, it was no surprise to us that that was where the Jews were sequestered.

It also helped that walking from this direction,  signs for the Ghetto Ebraico were now clearly marked with the hamsa (hand) symbol and easily noted. It being Saturday, the Museo Ebraico in the heart of the ghetto was closed. However, we learned that this very  Saturday night was the first in a series of Jewish Jazz concerts at the Museo and we wanted to experience it. We were now fully equipped to navigate our way back.

After a fresh grilled fish dinner at the local’s fave Il Saraceno, we wandered back to the ghetto along its narrow, quiet streets. Arriving just a few minutes before start time we were amazed–and daunted– to discover a long line waiting at the gate. About 250 people had the same as idea as us.

At nine, the  gate opened to a stone courtyard and somehow we all fit. We stood near the back. And then we waited. And waited.

My claustrophobic thoughts during the wait flitted to what it might have like being corralled in this quarter as a medieval Jew. And then I reflected on all the tragic Jewish ghettoes of the twentieth century. Then, my thoughts meandered to more modern terrors. I wished the few police stationed nearby had inspected our bags and persons as we filed into this crowded gallery. There were no inspections.

Finally, my thoughts drifted to the amazing human migration occurring right now in neighboring countries. The refugees from war and privation in Syria and other conflicts were walking across Hungary to Austria and Germany by the thousands. And they were welcomed! Different times for sure.

Suddenly the music began. Lively uptempo klezmer interpretations of Kurt Weill filled the night air with joy, creativity and life. Couples cuddled in the tight quarters, enjoying a free concert and community. The musicianship of the Gabriele Coen Quintet was engaging with their modern touches of tapping, slapping and funk to Weill’s classic works.

Filled with music, we wended our way home passing piazzas filled with other night musicians playing under the stars. This city loves music.

Today, the Ghetto Ebraico is a place of art and culture for the city of Bologna. Yet, still, the echoes of history can be heard if you listen to ghetto walls ghetto concertthe walls.

-http://www.thejc.com/travel/holidays/107805/italy-ghetto-life

The ghetto of Bologna

For more details about this area:http://www.bolognawelcome.com/en/places-to-see/suggested-itineraries/params/Percorso_6/Luoghi_331/ref/The%20former%20Jewish%20ghetto

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Tales from the Road: Bardolino & Bologna


 Chilling in Bardolino

Bologna: where a non-meat eater goes off the reservation

We picked up our rental car in Verona airport and headed to our day at the lake– Lake Garda. We were told it’s a more beautiful lake than Como and not filled with Americans desperately seeking a sighting of Amal Clooney’s husband. In fact, we stopped at a charming lakeside town of Bardolino with quaint alleys of shops and restaurants and postcard views off the lake as you strolled the boardwalk. The water was warm and clear and we dawdled too long before beginning the long drive to Bologna.

Why Bologna? I don’t know why we picked this town originally other than it’s in the heart of Emilia-Romagna country where lots of great food products originate. But we are so glad we did. We are staying at another lovely, arty hotel in the old city: Art Hotel Novecenti. Thank you Booking.com for all these great spots and all in our budget.

Bologna is a real city with a large medieval center brimming with gorgeous architectural details from archways to painted ceilings, to impressive piazzas to warrens of streets and alleyways with shops, bars and restaurants tucked in every corner.

There is no end of foodie venues but the big thing here is, of course, bolognese sauce with every type of pasta. There’s also unbelievable charcuterie from the happy pigs of Parma. And, apparently, the cows are happy too as this is also where Parmesan cheese originates. So this normally veggie/ pescaterian eater decided to go awol and eat like a native for a couple of days. I guess that’s where the expression “when in Rome …” comes from! Meat whoring commences.

We have so far enjoyed green lasagne bolognese, prosciutto and for lunch today homemade tagliatelle bolognese and tortelloni with butter and sage. How do we consume so much, you ask? Well we’ve already walked 6 miles today through piazzas and lost passages that including climbing a medieval tower of 46 staircases or maybe 47 but I’m not going back up to recount. The views of the city, its medieval, gothic and Romanesque churches and countless red roofs were worth the climb.

It’s still pretty damn hot and we returned from lunch for a nice rest before we plan dinner at a hip charcuterie stop along the bustling bar scene of Bologna. 

   
   
Meat whoring and tower climbing in Bologna

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Tales from the Road: Mmm My Verona


Two Gentlefolk of Verona

Sept. 1 & 2

European train travel is amazing. Six air conditioned hours from Zurich to Verona. Gorgeous vistas of lake Lucerne, alpine forests, tunnels burrowed through mountains and first Italian views at Lake Lugano. We amused ourselves on the journey with torrents of photos shot and lots of tasty snacks ingested. 

And then we arrived in Verona which couldn’t be more different from big city Zurich ( although also blazing hot). First stop, our historic bnb, Corte Rialdi Verona, smack in central old town. We have a private suite with a balcony that puts Juliette’s to shame (more on that later). Antiques, chandelier, gilded mirrors, breakfast in our quarters, and did I mention our garden balcony!

Verona is like Venice’s shy little sister. It’s cobblestone, winding streets hold mysteries to lose yourself for hours. But no crowds, no sewage and no gondoliers. It has roman ruins, period churches and an ancient Roman arena where we will go tonight not to be thrown to the lions but to be serenaded with opera. Aida to be exact.

Our first night in Verona we wandered the Medieval alleys in sunset light looking for a restaurant. Today we explored all the other tourist spots, stopping to ooh ahhh and shoot gorgeous nooks and corners of Renaissance and other architecture and to cross all their bridges and trod all their stones. And we had wonderful pizza in a hidden galleria. An, of course, gelato. We are back in the land of Mimidom where every vacation day includes at least one serving of decadent gelato ( of which one scoop must be coffee for Andy)

Oh yes, about that balcony of Juliette’s. The town guides freely admit that neither Capulet nor Montague every set foot in fair Verona. Nor did their creator, one William Shakespeare. However, legend has it–and lovers believe It– and so one porch has become the designated balcony of the fordoomed lovers. It’s a lot less aggravating a myth than the “Seven Sacred Falls” of Hana that took all day to drive to in Maui. Here it’s just a few steps off the Piazza Erbe. The biggest draw is the graffiti that lovers scrawl in the crowded archway. We only stopped by this last tourist spot just so we could tell you “don’t bother.”

We were told Verona is a fair city. It absolutely is. It’s a respite from hurried cities and tourist hordes. It hides its beauties behind corners and cornices and cupolas. 

I would never sit through an opera in the U.S. Yet I’m looking forward to tonight’s open air performance. We saw some of the props being loaded to the stage this morning. It should be amazing. And hey, Janet, there’s an Opera Museum here! Just saying…. 

   
 

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