Monday, August 3, 2015

Summer Reading List - Homework

Stories and summer go hand in hand. Teachers assign summer reading, vacationers cradle novels as they bake on the beaches, and airport bookstores offer all sorts of options for passing the time after take-off. It was summertime when I read my first novel in Italian, The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles.

My approach was to sit down with a book and a pencil and underline the words I didn't know. If I could understand the gist of the story without these words, I would continue reading, but if I was missing too much. I would put the book back and get another one. Finally, I found one that was OK. I could understand enough to figure out what was going on.

However, when I started looking for a dictionary, I was appalled! We were staying with my inlaws in a house that belonged to other relatives who did not own any sort of reference books - and this was long before Internet and wifi - so I had to ask the mother-tongue Italians I was with to define words that I didn't know. That turned out to be quite entertaining.

Think about it for a minute. Do you know the true meaning of every single word you read? I've been speaking Italian for almost 30 years now, and I still learn a new word occasionally. That summer, armed with my pencil, I would ask about meanings of obscure words and my father-in-law could answer every question. My husband couldn't though, so just for laughs, I would to to him first. As I worked my way through the book, I learned what a ciuffolotto is and why my closet could be defined as farraginoso, in addition to a thing or two about Italian grammar.

The Italian language has different past tense verbs for the "near past" and the "far away past". In English, I can say I ate a piece of chocolate cake yesterday or that I ate it two years ago, but in Italian I would technically have to use two different words for "ate" that reflect their respective time periods. I say "technically" because people don't often use the far away past tense when speaking. It is always used in writing, though, and that was one of my biggest obstacles in reading The French Lieutenant's Woman.

Now, of course, Italian verbs aren't a problem, as I discovered last year during the Giallo Milanese literary contest (read Coma here on my blog). It's about that time again. The game starts in September!

This summer I'm planning to read one book on Internet marketing (I haven't decided which yet) and to finish How People Change by Timothy Lane and Paul David Tripp. What are you reading this summer?  

Monday, July 13, 2015

EXPO 2015 - What is a Universal Exposition anyway?

Shows, food, discussions and lots of people are all going to converge to hopefully bring a much needed surge of business to the local economy. We're counting on it, I'd say, but there is more to it than that. Universal Expositions are actually fairs to promote international tourism, industry, design and exchange. If you want more history, I suggest you hop over to Wikipedia for a quick brush-up.

What is EXPO Milano 2015? 

Tourism, farming, food, music, art, architecture: these are the more obvious themes of this year's Expo. Pavilion styles reflect cultural differences with a definite slant in expression towards food and perception of natural resources. Several countries have independent constructions to illustrate their commitment/contributions towards the world's food supply. Many have interactive tables or video games to let people playfully explore topics like crop production, sustainability and innovation.

Argentine beef salad

Feeding the Planet...

Italy is the perfect place to talk about food, and the choice of this theme for Expo 2015 was a stroke of genius. Italian food is renowned worldwide; the myriad of styles, flavors, and available dishes is mind-boggling. Each pavilion along the Cardo (the main north-south avenue at Expo) are lined with small restaurants where they serve Italian food. 
Eataly, a huge supermarket that deals in authentic Italian food, has it's own area with several different regional restaurants. They've made "Made in Italy" an adjective phrase that denotes not only the place of origin of a food or object, but also an implied concept of quality. "Made in Italy" food is good, authentic and special. It's a source of national pride. 

Farming, harvest and distribution of food in the face of rising world population is a humbling problem. I saw moveable vertical gardens, ideas for crop rotations and desalinization plants for desert irrigation systems that could provide remedies for hunger and poverty. 

Cultural expression through food frequently helps us identify and understand other cultures. I've eaten Chinese spring rolls with chopsticks, and torn off pieces of Eritrean injera bread to sop up different types of stews without silverware, as is their custom. I'm so used to the idea of a fork that it's hard to think of doing it another way, but that is part of the beauty of trying new dishes. 

Spices, coffee, cocoa, rice, cereals, fruit and legumes: at Expo they're called Clusters. These pavilions group together different countries that share the same crop. They have chocolate scuptors, courses to learn how to make great coffee, and excellent rice dishes. And that's only what I've actually seen so far. Every day there is something new to learn.

...Energy for Life.

Where else could you see unfinished particleboard on the sides of pavilions?

Recycling, reuse, donations, green technology, smart glass and plywood: materials and technology used to build Expo pavilions reflects this part of the theme. In addition to food related issues, our planet's growing population uses resources, and we are going to run out of something sooner or later.
Learning how to reuse materials and, in my opinion, getting over the idea that if something is wrong if everything we own isn't brand-spanking-new otherwise will help us live longer with the resources that we have.

The rusty brown of CorTen steel contrasts well with the white tarpaulins shading the Decumanus (the central east-west thoroughfare), and many pavilions have orchards, meadows with wildflowers and typical plants. The Rice Cluster is surrounded by rice paddy flowerbeds, and I saw honeybees and butterflies at more than one place. The rooftop terrace of the Russian Pavilion is simply covered with grass. The resulting atmosphere is peaceful - and it's not to say that there are no people. Thousands of visitors are there on any given day, but I always have an impression of peace and quiet when I'm there.

The Belgian Pavilion has an aquaponics installation: huge round wheels on top of fish tanks that use the rich fertile water to grow plants and raise fish for human consumption. Truly remarkable, and self sustaining with just a little care, I think these units are perfectly suited to modern life, though I admit I'm not sure I'd want one of my own.

Belgian Pavilion Expo 2015

As you can see, this year's Unversal Exposition in Milan, Italy has got a lot going on. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

May Reading List: Food, Food, FOOD!

Farinata with an interesting white wine at the #Eataly Pavilion.
That's all everyone is talking about right now.
I live in Italy, and Italian food is ... well, do I really have to explain that?

The main reason that food is on everyone's minds is that Expo2015 is all about food, so it seems obvious that this month's book list should discuss the topic.

How many cookbooks do you own? At last count, I think I had between 40 and 50. Some of them are really small paperbacks, and some are nice big treasures with lots of pictures. A few were given to me as gifts, and one or two are legacies from grandmothers.

My favorites?  They're oldies but goodies.
The Microwave Guide and Cookbook by General Electric Company.
La Cucina, edited and adapted by Myra Street with a wine section by Serena Sutcliffe.

Chocolat by Stephan Lagorce is absolutely fabulous!
Of course, my copy is in Italian.

This very creatively packaged book looks like a wrapped chocolate bar, with a label listing its weight, storage instructions (keep in a dry place at a temperature between 16-30°C/60-86°F), and even an expiration date.  It covers everything from recipes to tasting instructions.

Aside from my paper cookbooks, I also pull recipes off the Internet whenever I need something specific, and I mix and match recipes to form my own original concoctions. This process has led to the creation of a whole range of Cookie in a Mug recipes, which I'll share with you next month.

However, not all books about food are cookbooks, though, and I wanted to mention a couple that I've read about nutrition and food-related topics.

Modern society has a lot of problems in dealing with food: waste, nutrition, wholesomeness, and excess consumption are the main ones. Did you know that it is possible to be obese and still be malnourished? We don't eat the right things and we eat too much of the wrong things.

These two books will point you in the right direction. The only catch is that you actually have to follow directions to get results.

In Defence of Food by Michael Pollan
The Family Nutrition Workbook by Patrick Holford

Please feel free to mention your favorite cookbook, or book about food, in the comments.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

April Reading List

It's absolutely crazy at work! Every business in Milan is preparing for either (or both!) the EXPO or the Salone del Mobile - which is only the biggest international furniture fair in Europe.
My translation business is involved in the preparation for these events, so I'm doing lots of furniture or tourism related text.

It's interesting to get to know the history of a thriving company, and the passion that helped it get where it is now. At this difficult time for the economy, companies are looking to attract customers and, naturally, sell their products.

The buzzwords? Natural, environmentally friendly, innovation, convenience, comfort, timeless beauty, durability, and my personal pet peeve for this year: avant-garde. Why o why has every copywriter starting using that word?

Anyway, have you read any good business books lately?

Business books are filled with marketing tips and encouragement, and they don't beat around the bush. It's as plain as day that no matter how good your idea is, you still have to study and work hard to be successful, so in addition to the three books below, you might want to sign up on Read Cheaply to get others for free or with a discount.

Leave a comment to tell me the title of your favorite business book.

Mrs. Moneypenny's Careers Advice for Ambitious Women
Writing for Dollars: 75 Tips for the Freelance Writers by John McCollister
The Writer's and Photographer's Guide to Global Markets by Michael Sedge

Thursday, April 2, 2015

What's going on this spring?


I decided to work on a short story for this round of Camp NaNoWriMo, though I already know it's going to be hard to finish. This time of year, I've always got a ton of work to do, especially at the beginning of April. We'll see what I can manage to get done.

My story is about a woman who makes a big decision when she is young, without really realizing how important it is until much later. I'm trying to explore our need to give and receive advice, and why we are willing to believe certain things or people.

What do you think about advice? Leave a comment and tell me about it.

EXPO 2015

The World's Fair will be opening on May 1st in Milan and everything is really crazy. Some of the construction work isn't finished yet, and there have been the usual accusations of politicians spending all the money before things were actually paid for. In fact, last year I saw advertisements for volunteers to work the stands! It seems that there is no money to pay people to work, but I really don't know. You can't believe half of what you read in the newspapers.

There are so many things going on that I'm having trouble deciding what to do at EXPO 2015. The theme "Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life" is kind of a catch-all for environmental and health issues.

I love food. Maybe I'll just concentrate on eating....


I will definitely be going to the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at Palazzo Reale. It is going to feature the biggest collection ever put together of Leonardo's artwork and writings.

Leonardo left many pieces of his artwork in Milan, such as the "Sala delle Assi", which is room in the castle with the ceiling and walls painted to look like a forest. It's really impressive.

This fresco pictured above, the Last Supper, is probably his best known work worldwide. It is absolutely marvelous. It's located right here in downtown Milan at the church Santa Maria delle Grazie, and I've seen it several times.

It's right in season too, isn't it. Happy Easter!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Looking back...

Sometimes we get nostalgic. Poetry is a good way to express those feelings and give them a particular weight.

This is a piece that I sent to the 2002 edition of the "Montagne d'Argento" contest from Keltia Editrice, and it was chosen for publication. The theme was childhood games and toys, and so I chose this and translated it.  

Dolls in the Closet

As I look at them today,
They seem to ask:
Where have you been, little one?
You used to pay close attention,
And care daily for us-
Dress us, and brush our hair.
What toys are you playing with
Now that you are grown?

A window to childhood –
These dolls in the closet.
Lifeless creatures of plastic
That once were so real.
The sisters I never had,
Or the children I would have someday.
They played these roles, once-
Long ago.

Now, as I brush their hair again
And wipe away from their eyes
The dust of the years-
Their faces shine beautiful
As always.
And after I’ve fixed them
All up again, with ponytails
And changed clothes,
Back into the closet they go-
To await the next time
I come to play.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

March Reading List - In Public

What are you reading now?
Do you read on the bus, at the mall, or anywhere people can see what you're reading? On my commutes to and from work, I like to take a paperback or read from my cell phone e-reader, but sometimes I do stick a hardback in my briefcase just because I'm on the last chapter. (The issue with that is weight, not subject matter. My briefcase is heavy sometimes.)

Here are a few of the books I have read on the bus.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Six Other Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Indescribable by Louie Giglio and Matt Redman
The Ultimate Prescription: What the Medical Profession Isn't Telling You by James L. Marcum
God on the Streets of Gotham by Paul Assay
Love Isn't Supposed to Hurt  by Christi Paul
Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching by Diane Larsen-Freeman

... and finally, a book that you should all read because it's fun ...
Night of the Living Dead Christian by Matt Mikalatos

I don't notice what others are reading that much (especially if I've got my own nose in my own book), but I think they read the same things on the bus that they would at home. We read for our own interests or study needs, and after work it's really nice to sit down with a good book.

Leave a comment and let me know what you've read in public.