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Food & Recipes Italy (Venice) Reviews of Books/Music/Films

During COVID-19, Take Your Tastebuds to Venice

My daughter ordered this from Amazon to try some new recipes from Venice, also known as La Serenissima. The region may be under lockdown, but our fascination with all things Venice isn’t.

“A Table in Venice” by Skye McAlpine Takes You There

Last week, my daughter ordered this beautiful cookbook, A Table in Venice: Recipes from My Home, by Skye McAlpine from Amazon. Its 287 pages showcase 100 recipes from Venice and the greater lagoon.

Yes, the region may be under lockdown, but our fascination with all things Venice isn’t.

The book’s preface titled “My Venetian Pantry” (her first must-have staple is amaretto biscuits) precedes six chapters such as “Sweet Breakfast Recipes,” “Recipes for a Venetian Aperitivo,” and “Fish and Game from the Venetian Lagoon.” Each recipe is accompanied by down-to-earth commentary to guide you through replicating some of Venice’s most renowned local specialties.

In “Vegetable Recipes from the Rialto Market,” British author Skye McAlpine, @skyemcalpine, describes the frank personal service you’ll experience if you visit the iconic market.

For example, she writes on page 69…

“No vendor at the market will let you take a bag of artichoke hearts home without pressing into your hands a bunch of fresh parsley to fry in the pan with them.” Expect this gesture to be accompanied with detailed instructions for how to best prepare the produce as well.

McAlpine also keeps it real.

A resident of Venice since the age of six, she suggests substitutions when needed. If a recipe calls for a certain type of radicchio that’s unique to the Veneto but hard to find elsewhere, she lets you know.

She writes on page 103, “If you can’t get hold of Tardivo radicchio, which can sometimes be tricky to source outside of Italy, then red chicory works well instead. It has a slightly different texture but a lovely, bitter flavor.”

Photo: Pixabay

Of course, the book sizzles with fabulous photography; however, it’s clear that the dishes are the star of the show. A photograph of “Gnocchi with cherry tomatoes and crab” on page 138, for example, shows the dish plopped on a plate without much overt styling.

The result? It’s not the cutlery, the plants in the background, or the vintage china you’ll want to stare at. Instead, like the towering campanile in Piazza San Marco, the Venetian foods dominate the table setting.


Thanks for reading! Tried any new recipes while you practice social distancing? I’ll follow up this post soon with a report on our experiences with some of McAlpine’s recipes. Become a follower to catch that post. Take care!

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Reviews of Books/Music/Films Travel Tips & Gear

A good carry-on for Volotea Airlines’ baggage policy

This bag is sized right and counts as one of your two free carry-ons

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Last spring, I bought this little bag specifically because I knew it would qualify as a carry-on for an upcoming flight I would be taking on Volotea Airlines.

Later in June and July, we traveled on Volotea for one round-trip from (Skiathos, Greece to Venice) and a one-way trip from Athens to Heraklion, Crete.

Volotea requires the following measurements for the two carry-on bags each passenger is allowed. According to this page on their website, carry-on bags must be no larger than 55 cm high (21.65″), 40 cm wide (15.75″), and 20 cm deep (7.9″).  Also, each bag cannot weigh more than ten kg (22 lbs.).

In case you’re unfamiliar with Volotea Airlines (as I was a year ago), it’s a regional carrier based in Barcelona that connects eighty small- and medium-sized cities in Europe from thirteen hubs. For a listing of the cities Volotea serves, click here.

Volotea is a low-cost carrier; your ticket gets you to your destination. Period.

Extras—and there are plenty, wink-wink—add to your ticket price.

For example, make sure you get the right bag. If you attempt to check in with an over-sized bag, it will be placed in the hold and cost you 60€ (approx. $67) PER BAG. Ouch.

I plan to write another post about other ways to keep your Volotea ticket price low, so follow this blog to get that post.

This little bag worked perfectly for me. It’s made by OlympiaUSA, and is called the Nema 18″ Under the Seat Carry-on. It measures 18″ high, 12″ wide, and 8″ deep. Clearly, it has plenty of room to spare. Last summer, this particular bag, which I bought at a local TJMaxx store for $50 (suggested retail $200), easily fit into the overhead bins on Volotea’s aircraft, which includes Boeing 717s and Airbus A319s. This bag gave me the option of placing it in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of me.

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A bag like this one worked perfectly for me then and now. I continue to carry it on short weekend trips, for example, when a canvas tote or small duffel would work as well. It’s so easy to pack and roll around.

Its hard sides provide better protection to your belongings, and allows, in my opinion, for better, more efficient packing. Soft-side luggage just doesn’t travel as well.

Yes, you’re able to jam-pack lots of stuff inside, but it becomes just that… a jam-packed, lumped together mass of clothing, toiletries, souvenirs, and whatnot.

Here’s an inside view of the bag below. There’s a plastic bag with zipper for wet articles or things that need to be kept separate. It’s amazing how much stuff I jammed into this little case. I took it, along with my purse, on a five-day excursion to Venice and it held more than I actually needed.

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Other benefits to this bag:

  • It’s light, weighing only 5.7 pounds.
  • It’s sturdy.
  • It is deceptively roomy.
  • The handle is aluminum and always felt sturdy and strong.
  • The wheels roll smoothly.  The only time I didn’t roll this bag was when I needed to carry it over a gap in the walkway or over cobblestones.
  • It contains a TSA-enabled three-dial lock. You can lock it, but TSA personnel can still open it for an inspection. But honestly, I never locked it. I took this bag so I wouldn’t have to check it for storage under the plane; as such, I was present whenever the bag was looked through.

 

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Look for the Olympia label if you want to find this exact suitcase; however, there are many manufacturers that make this size and similar others now.

I plan to use this bag—and only this bag—on my next overseas trip. Yes, that might be a challenge, but based on my experience, I think I can do it. After all, it’s roomy enough, yet small enough, to take on any airline… even other regional carriers similar to Volotea. It will also save so much time and hassle at baggage claim.

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And just think, because I won’t have to check any bags, lost luggage will be an impossibility! Won’t that be great?!


Thanks for reading! Follow  my blog for another post about how to keep your Volotea Airlines ticket prices low. The company is a stickler for printed boarding passes.  Here’s are some links about my trip to Venice and also Heraklion.

 

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Memoir & Narratives Reviews of Books/Music/Films

Madeline, Me, and the Cathedral of Notre Dame

The classic children’s book caused me to feel and understand the tragedy of the fire when I wouldn’t have otherwise

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Photo: Ldorfman; Ldorfman [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D
I don’t possess any personal connection to the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. I’ve never even been to the City of Light. I don’t have a selfie to post or a brochure or keychain from the grand gothic masterpiece that was nearly destroyed by fire last week.

I do, however, have a copy of Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans, the classic 1939 children’s book, somewhere in our house.

At least, the book supposed to be here. I vaguely remember stowing it away in a box several years back in the attic for safe-keeping with other beloved and well-worn children’s books my daughter and son read with me in recliners and on couches some twenty years ago.

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Photo: Unsplash

It was a sweet story to savor about the adventures of Miss Clavel and the eleven little girls plus Madeline, who wasn’t afraid of mice and “loved winter, snow, and ice.” The story’s closing lines, “‘Good night, little girls! Thank the Lord you are well! And now go to sleep!’ said Miss Clavel,” ended the tale every time with poignancy and satisfaction.

Because my only association with the cathedral is through Madeline, my thoughts returned to the 1940 Caldecott Honor-winning book upon hearing of the fire that swept through Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral on April 15.

Somewhere within my copy of Madeline, if I could find it, is Bemelmans’ illustration of the cathedral’s front facade with its nearly identical towers. I remember that the picture looms large on the over-sized page and appears dreary, especially since the church is depicted during a downpour.

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I do have a “copy” of Madeline inside an anthology of classic children’s books from the 20th century. The full-size images are printed four to a page, so the illustrations don’t have the presence that they do in the stand-alone storybook. 

Like thousands of others last week, I was saddened by the images of the violent flames raging through the ancient timber roof, toppling the spire, and bringing a centuries-old structure to its knees within minutes.

Seeing any building burn is difficult, but as I watched Madeline’s cathedral burn last week, it was especially so. And yes, I realize that part of my endearment to the cathedral could be chalked up to nostalgia for my kids’ childhoods; however, there was much to lose in that awful fire when one considers…

Despite the damages and loss of important areas of the cathedral, however, I do know that I gained this: a deeper appreciation for the power that a children’s book can possess. Last week, Madeline helped me to connect with others around the world saddened by the cathedral fire.

No, I haven’t been to Paris, but a classic children’s book–and not a selfie–transported me there. Thanks to Madeline, I felt and understood the loss of the fire when I wouldn’t have otherwise.


Books can provide more than just entertainment. Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave a comment and follow my blog for more stories on travel, art, and education.

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Ed Sheeran Reviews of Books/Music/Films

Ten reasons why Ed Sheeran needs to slow the heck down

He’s starting to act like the megastar that he is.

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Dear Ed:

Loved your concert at Arrowhead Stadium. Really great show as per usual. I appreciated the changes you made to the setlist since your 2017 arena tour, which provided returning fans like us with some variety. Everyone, for example, needs to hear “Tenerife Sea” performed live, so thank you.

But… and I hesitate to say this because it was such an awesome show, but at times, there was a little too much “star power” in the air. Things seemed a little rushed, a little hurried. But just at times, though. Were you bored? (That’s understandable.) Had you performed a few fan favorites a few too many times? (Probably.)

So before you pack your bags and set out for Brazile to continue the tour in February, think about slowing things down a smidge. Here are ten reasons why you might want to do that…

1. Because a stadium concert is not a race. You are not being timed. While you may have performed your setlist 3476249 times on this tour, your fans (most of them, anyway) will only hear it once. Respect that.

2. Because “Perfect” is only perfect when it’s performed perfectly. This ballad recently spent its 52nd week on Billboard’s Hot 100. It may feel dated to you, but it’s still fresh to thousands. Don’t rush the soul You know this.

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The Wibbles, Ed’s cats on Instagram.

3.  Because if you slowed down, you might be able to figure out a way to include live cats in your show. You know you want to.

4. Because if you would just slow the heck down, you might know where you are. And then you wouldn’t have referred to us several times as “Kansas.” I wasn’t going to mention this not-so-minor detail, but you should know that it was a little irritating because you were actually in Missouri. But I get it. Long tour. Different city every night. Okay, done on that one.

5. Because those moments during the concert when you casually talked at length to the audience were the best. More of that, please. The part about the two groups of men in attendance, disinterested boyfriends and super dads? Kinda true and kinda funny.

6. Because “Thinking Out Loud” deserves better. Don’t speed through this song for the ages. After all, this is the only Ed Sheeran song that many poor, misguided souls can name. Don’t disappoint them (even though they deserve it, dang it, for not knowing your full repertoire.)

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Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium fills up prior to the show.

7. Because if you slowed down, you might think about performing some earlier songs from Plus or Multiply. Runaway? Nina? The Man? But thanks again, by the way, for that sparkling performance of “Tenerife Sea.” That song truly is one of your best-of-all-times. The silence that enveloped Arrowhead was key, and I’m glad everyone obliged (okay, except for that one guy) when you asked for quiet so we could hear every note.

8. Because seeing you leave was a little harsh. Your exit felt like the ultimate brush-off. As you descended the ramp, you simultaneously tossed your mic, shrugged off your Chiefs jersey, disappeared into your waiting SUV, and sped away to the next gig. And you did all that in less than ten seconds. That hurt, Ed.

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Ed in flannel, back when flannel was his thing. Photo: Drew de F Fawkes–Ed Sheeran, V Festival 2014, Chelmsford, CC by 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52317768

9. Because if you slowed down, you might be able, for old times’ sake (or just for me), to throw on a flannel shirt. After all, it was mid-October… prime flannel season. If I was ever to see you perform live in your signature flannel, October was it. Oh, well. Your layered Hoax t-shirt was fine, I guess.

And the final reason you need to slow the heck down…

10. Because many of your fans suspect you’re readying yourself for another long hiatus from the stage, social media, and society in general. Face it: many of your fans still suffer flashbacks from 2016, the first time you did this. Even though I understand the break helped you stay grounded and sober, please slow down and think hard before evaporating again. True, a break would allow you time to create your next album, and I’m all for that, so if a hiatus is what you need, then go for it.

That’s it. Those were my ten mostly serious reasons to slow down, Ed. Three points to summarize: 1) give your songs (and your fans) the attention and time they deserve, 2) star power does not become you, and 3) cats.


Thanks for reading! Click like if you enjoyed this post and feel free to leave a comment. Here are two links to my other Ed Sheeran concert reviews.

T-Shirts Work, Too |  Ed Sheeran 2017 Divide Arena Tour Review

The First Time I Met Ed Sheeran | Ed Sheeran 2015 Multiply Concert Tour Review

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Reviews of Books/Music/Films

Someone doesn’t like Laura Ingalls Wilder

The quest for the “universally embraced” author

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By NBC Television Network [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In July, I wrote a  post called “Punishing Laura Ingalls Wilder.” This post was about the recent decision by the Association for Library Service to Children to change the name of its Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award.

The name change was made, according to this document from then ALSC President Nina Lindsay to the group’s board of directors, because “Laura Ingalls Wilder has long held a complex legacy, as her books (the Little House on the Prairie series) reflect racist and anti-Native sentiments and are not universally embraced.”

My mind fixes on “not universally embraced” over the words “racist” and “anti-Native,” since those two elements would preclude the approval, and I ask myself, So is that what this is all about? Being approved by all? No dissension? No variety of opinion? No provocation?

Wouldn’t that make for boring reading?

Diversity in literature is what I would rather see. Latino perspectives. Native perspectives. African perspectives. European perspectives. Historical perspectives. Contemporary perspectives. I want to read it all.

And I would think the ALSC does, too. Here’s what Lindsay wrote in a bio on the organization’s website, “At its best, the public library enables a freedom of the mind that is foundational to social equity.” Sounds like an open and appreciative mind. Sounds like someone who values all perspectives.

So why the snub to Wilder? Why deny inclusion to Wilder? Because someone somewhere disagrees with her perspective? Because someone somewhere in the universe doesn’t embrace her?

If the ALSC wishes to honor only an author who is universally embraced, well, no thank you. And good luck finding one.


Even though it’s been a few months since the ALSC changed the name of its award, I’m still mulling it over. Leave a comment with your thoughts on this topic. Thanks for reading!

Categories
Reviews of Books/Music/Films

Punishing Laura Ingalls Wilder

Write inclusively… or else.

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Photo: Carl Newton on Unsplash

Little House on the Prairie, Ch. 11—Indians in the House

By Laura Ingalls Wilder

“Laura was frightened. Jack had never growled at her before. Then she looked over her shoulder, where Jack was looking, and she saw two naked, wild men coming, one behind the other, on the Indian trail.

‘Mary! Look!’ she cried. Mary looked and saw them, too.

They were tall, thin, fierce-looking men. Their skin was brownish-red. Their heads seemed to go up to a peak, and the peak was a tuft of hair that stood straight up and ended in feathers. Their eyes were black and still and glittering, like snake’s eyes.”

I remember reading this excerpt as a young girl when prairie mania reigned in one small slice of American pop culture. The craze for all things “prairie” owed its popularity to a series of nine volumes collectively called the Little House books. Written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the series’ popularity was aided by the launch of a TV drama, Little House on the Prairie, starring Michael Landon. I owned the entire Little House set and a pricey collectible wall calendar. I even visited Mansfield, Mo. with my family to tour Wilder’s final home where she wrote her books.

Spellbound through that breathless chapter where the Indians later entered the Ingalls cabin for tobacco and cornbread prepared by the girls’ mother, I considered how vulnerable the Ingalls were as they settled into the frontier of the Osage Indians who lived nearby. Based on my own background and Wilder’s perspective as told through the eyes of Laura, I never considered the vulnerability of the Osage and their culture. I just wanted to keep reading and turning the pages, so I could finish the book and dash off to the bookstore to buy the next.

The sage was enthralling and heart-breaking: white settlers making a home on the American frontier, occasional clashes with the Native Americans, Laura’s coming-of-age, tenuous friendships with the Olson family, Mary’s blindness.

Diverse? Not at all. Inclusive? Nope. It was 1975. As such, Wilder’s Little House series was considered a darn good story and was deemed worthy of recognition.

Until last week.

That’s when the American Library Association (ALA) and its branch, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), decided to change the name of its prestigious Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. Inaugurated in 1954 and awarded to Wilder herself for her book series, “This award honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a significant and lasting contribution to children’s literature,” according to this ALA newsletter.

Sounds reasonable. Few would disagree that Wilder’s books indeed made “a significant and lasting contribution to children’s literature” over the years, albeit not universally among readers.

Here’s how ALSC President Nina Lindsay explained the name change in a letter to her board of directors: “Laura Ingalls Wilder has long held a complex legacy, as her books reflect racist and anti-Native sentiments and are not universally embraced…”

She continued, “Today, this award elevates a legacy that is not consistent with values of diversity and inclusion—something we did not fully understand as a profession when we created the award. While many of Wilder’s books received Newbery honors, (and one may easily find other books within our award canon that don’t live up completely to our current values), we recognize that the name of an award itself holds significant power… The ALSC Executive Committee noted that the name of the award is a currently potentially significant barrier to achieving our goals, and is within our power to change.”

It’s a change many authors, publishers, librarians, and teachers advocate. Debbie Reese, founder of the comprehensive website American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) and a Nambe Pueblo Indian woman, believes the images contained in Wilder’s books of “Native people, cultures, and history work to misinform young readers.” One example of misinformation is the dehumanization that appears in Chapter 11. Here’s one instance:  Wilder writes the Osage Indians’ eyes were “glittering like snake’s eyes.”

To counter these messages that misinform young children, the AICL website recommends works “by Native authors who write books that provide children with accurate information about American Indians.”

After all, Wilder’s books do contain racist depictions and stereotypes (in Chapter 11 of Little House on the Prairie and in other books in the series) of Native Americans and Africans. In addition, Reese cites Wilder’s recurring descriptions of the land as “empty” and her arguable notions that Indians were primitive beings without civilized, autonomous societies.

Therefore, to celebrate contemporary authors with an award named for an author whose perspective is found objectionable, seemed incongruous for some members of ALSC, which exists to engage “communities to build healthy, successful futures for all children.”

And let’s not forget this: the ALSC is not censoring Wilder’s work. Anyone can still purchase her books or find them at their local library. The ALSC merely removed Wilder’s name from its prestigious award.

It should also be noted that the decision does not appear to have been made hastily and members did not unanimously favor the change. An ALSC task force conducted a survey of members and ALA ethnic affiliates. The results: 305 favored the name change; 156 did not. Still, according to the ALSC task force’s recommendation, “We believe that this decision serves the best interest of our Association, its members, and all of those they serve, not only now, in 2018, but in the long term.

But what about history? Is it wise to attempt to remove evidence of the prejudicial attitudes from our past by denigrating the authors who recorded them? Wilder’s works were clearly set in the past and while they contain objectionable content for some, they remain a historical account. According to a statement from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum in Mansfield, Mo., “Mrs. Wilder believed her books to be historically accurate and reflect American life during the Western Movement. However difficult it may be to agree with social mores within these years, the fact remains that was a different time and what was accepted then would not be today.”

Even so, the quest for diversity and inclusion in historical literature takes precedence. With its action, the ALSC is indirectly controlling authors by condoning the events, characters and the actions of the characters those authors write about, historical or otherwise.

Regardless, the end result of all this is that now Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name comes with a warning label attached. And so does the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. This is what that label says:

  • Your characters will speak and behave with respect for all.
  • Your plot’s conflict must offend no one now nor in the future, and include the diverse views of all parties.
  • Your character’s thoughts and impressions must not be their own, or the author’s, but of those with the ability to make institutional change within the prevailing culture.

In short, write inclusively or you will be punished.


Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts? Click like and leave a comment so more people may see this and be able to weigh in. 

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Reviews of Books/Music/Films

Kin Types reveals one way to understand your family history more fully

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“She can’t keep going, but she does. She and the fire column in movement, she forward. It spins upward a hallucinatory dance. The neighbor and her children have forgotten motion; their screams have left them behind

swirling

charging

the tin ceiling

Did she take note here?

This is the moment my life changes. I can’t finish the dishes, wash my unmentionables, get dinner ready for Dirk and the children before it’s too late. It’s going to happen. It’s happening now.”

This is an excerpt from “An Account of a Poor Oil Stove Bought off Dutch Pete,” one of nineteen chapters from Kin Types, a 30-page book of prose and poems by author and fellow blogger Luanne Castle. Follow her blogs here:  The Family Kalamazoo and Entering the Pale. 

With Kin Types, Castle enters the lives of her ancestors by exploring their pasts through genealogy and the family stories, photographs, and ephemera that reveal that genealogy. Just take a look at Luanne’s blogs to see her comprehensive family explorations.

However, because the past is often defined by what little we know of our ancestors, that knowledge can be scanty. That’s my situation.

So I ordered Luanne’s book to gather ideas for my own family history writing project about a 1930 barnstorming airplane crash that killed my grandmother’s two younger brothers.  (Read this post for more about the accident.)

All I have left of the tragedy are photographs, letters of sympathy, yellowed newspaper clippings, locks of hair. How can I ever understand this history fully? Perhaps by doing what Luanne did, that is, entering the lives of her ancestors via genealogy, photographs and ephemera.

Kin Types will inspire you if you wish to research your own family history or simply desire to connect with your ancestors through the power of writing.


 

If you enjoyed this post, click “like” so others may find it more easily. Follow this blog for more articles and updates on my project regarding the 1930 airplane crash. If you are a middle school teacher, check out my teaching blog. 

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Reviews of Books/Music/Films

Anyone Who Has Time to Clean is Not Reading Nearly Enough

Books, books, and more books that I have read

 

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Photo by Annelies Geneyn on Unsplash

 

Here’s a list of books I have read off and on over the past year or so… all of which were excellent distractions from the writing I should have been doing. I have a hard time reading and writing simultaneously. I’m either reading all the time, or writing all the time.

These books are listed in no particular order. You can see that my interests are far-reaching. I can read about a TV sitcom one week, and ISIS the next. As a result, I know a little bit about a lot of things. It’s just who I am and I’ve come to accept it.

Categories
Italy (Venice) Reviews of Books/Music/Films

What’s It Like to Live in Venice?

Read “The Politics of Washing” to Find Out

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While I was surprised to learn that 16.5 million people visit Venice, Italy each year, I was even more surprised to learn that the city claims a mere 55,000 permanent residents, according to this article in The Guardian. That’s 300 tourists for every resident.

With numbers like those, I can see why Polly Coles, British author of The Politics of Washing may share the despair of native Venetians when she calls for moderation and sustainable solutions to the problems that unbridled tourism creates in a city many believe to be among the most beautiful in the world. Those sentiments are dispersed throughout Coles’ 206-page tome, an account of her year-long move to Venice with her Italian husband and four children.

Coincidentally, the title of the book refers to the unspoken rules of laundry etiquette in a city where everyone hangs their clothes out to dry. For example, if you’re sharing a line, and it’s full of your neighbor’s dry clothes, do you ask them to empty the line? What clothing items should you dry indoors? What if the skirt you wish to hang blocks your neighbor’s view?

Coles uses the drying of laundry as a symbol for the many rituals of daily Venetian life that, as a foreign-born resident, she was required to discover haphazardly, adapt to, accept, and ultimately appreciate about this unusual city. For example, she recounts enrolling her children in school, meeting with teachers to discuss school work and behavior issues, finding a home, getting lost, learning the social customs and morés, learning Italian, buying groceries, getting lost again, and visiting the hospital.

My daughter purchased Coles’ book on a whim a few days before she left Venice in early May after serving a semester-long internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a modern art museum located on the Grand Canal.

My husband, our son, and I visited Venice for one week in March over spring break. While it was an all too brief vacation, we actually spent more time there than the day-trippers who take a gondola ride, visit St. Mark’s Square, call it good and leave. I feel that we were able to actually get to know the city, at least a little. (Read my lists of ten ordinary things I found in Venice in March here and here.)

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The approach to St. Mark’s Square and Basilica

We enjoyed winding through Venice’s maze of streets (actually walkways) and crossing its bridges to see cathedrals and numerous campi, those open squares that at one time served as city centers of the assorted islands that compose Venice. We visited the grocery store daily, shopped the pharmacy for an Ibuprofen equivalent, accompanied my daughter to get her hair cut and styled, ventured out at 5:45 a.m. for the train station, bought Clementine oranges at the Rialto Bridge markets, and shopped for Command strips that were never found.

If we had been able to stay a week longer, I would have sought out a library, found the local university, and asked someone what happens if one has a heart attack or other medical emergency. (Seriously, what’s the procedure in a city without cars, motorcycles, or even bicycles?)

So when I found The Politics of Washing on the kitchen table after my daughter had returned home, I grabbed it and read it in just a few sittings to learn about how native residents live in this “movie set” city.

Besides satisfying that curiosity, the book offers glimpses of Venice’s history as a wealthy trading link between East and West that reached its height in the late 1200s. It also recounts the city’s survival in the 1630s of the Black Death that’s still celebrated with an annual pilgrimage to the iconic and beautiful Santa Maria Della Salute.

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At end of the Grand Canal stands Santa Maria Della Salute. Photo: Katherine Yung

Coles balances this history by showing readers Venice’s contemporary citizenry and its “groups and committees promoting local events and activities. There are youth groups, community groups, dance companies, theatre companies, choirs, rowing clubs. There are associations working for residents to change policy on housing, transport, the environment. Events that come from outside are also, of course, part of the real life of the city. The rich influx of the arts is enthusiastically embraced by many of the people who live here; the Biennale exhibitions, visiting speakers, concerts, opera and theatre are all part of the lives of Venetians.”

Coles continues, “But the difference between Venice and any other city, the reason why there is so much sensitivity and debate about what is and is not Venetian, lies in the uniquely critical problem of numbers. The citizens of Venice are so vastly outnumbered by the visitors to Venice that there is no balanced relationship between the city and the world at large. There is no equal exchange in which the city offers up her history, and her beauty in return for the cultural riches brought in from the outside world. Not surprisingly, this leads to a deeply ambivalent, not to say confused, reaction to outsiders.” This is the delight and the quandary that Coles reveals in this captivating tale of her temporary life in Venice.

As rushed tourists ease away from the magical city on their mammoth cruise ships, I hope that they will have spent at least enough time there to cause them to wonder, What’s it like to actually live in Venice? When those tourists read The Politics of Washing, they’ll learn just that, as well as gain an appreciation of the benefits and costs of tourism to this ancient, sparkling city on the Adriatic Sea.

Categories
Reviews of Books/Music/Films

T-shirts Work, Too: Ed Sheeran’s Divide Concert

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Photo Credit: Katherine Yung

I’ve seen Ed Sheeran twice in concert and neither time was he wearing a plaid flannel shirt. What’s going on, universe?! Two years ago, at his Multiply concert in St. Louis, he wore a red t-shirt sporting the logo of his opening act, Hanson. Read about that experience here. On June 29, at his Divide concert at Sprint Center in Kansas City, he wore a black t-shirt sporting the logo of Hoax, a British surf and skateboard maker. (Ed, you’re such a marketer.) The black was definitely a better choice, since it didn’t clash with his ginger coif, but I’m still a little annoyed that I haven’t seen Ed in his quintessential attire. Oh well, I’m being shallow, and Ed, the king of acoustic sounds, and lovely romantic ballads, would not be pleased with that.

But maybe he’s just branching out with his clothing choices. Kind of like he’s done musically with his Divide album released last March. When compared with his two previous albums, Divide contains a bewilderingly diverse array of musical styles, and exhibits a long leap from when he quietly made his mark with Plus and then followed that with Multiply, where he solidified his status on the world stage as arguably today’s most popular male solo artist.

Divide was such a diversion from his normal fare that I was confused at first. I mean, don’t tell anyone, especially Ed, but I didn’t really care for his song, “Castle on the Hill,” until I saw it performed in concert. The song sounded like something by U2. And even though I’m a big U2 fan, I like my Ed Sheeran to sound like Ed Sheeran.

However, seeing him stride purposefully onstage while strumming the introductory frenetic chords, approaching his loop pedal, then layering the various instrumental parts, sealed the deal for me and I thought to myself: Enjoy this moment. Take it all in. You’re at another Ed Sheeran concert and this is gonna be so great.

And it was. The opening number began after show-opener James Blunt left the stage at 8:30 p.m. It was an enthusiastic audience that contained more men and couples in attendance than I remember two years ago on Mother’s Day when it was clearly a girls-night-out crowd. As he began his second number, Ed even mentioned that he could tell he was now in the States because “everyone smiles here.”

That made Sprint Center erupt in an ear-splitting roar as it settled in for the concert it had waited two long years for. Two long years, people, including one when Ed disappeared from social media and high-publicity events. One long, cold year that would be marked on world history timelines as the dark age devoid of life’s most basic need: cute pictures of Ed’s cats. Sheerios (and mom-fans like me) were ready for this show.

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Photo: Ed Sheeran Updates on Twitter

The set list then included the following in this order:

  1. Castle on the Hill (perfect show-starter, love it now)
  2. Eraser (lots of rap, sweeping chorus)
  3. The A Team (the song, crumbling pastries and other sadness)
  4. Don’t (keep hands and feet in the car at all times)
  5. New Man (those lyrics!)
  6. Dive (soulful, bluesy, awesome)
  7. Bloodstream (drug reference, dang it)
  8. Happier (how-can-I-go-on-living reference),
  9. Galway Girl (Ireland reference)
  10. Feeling Good (yes, we are)
  11. I See Fire (from The Hobbit— I can play this on my guitar, kind of)
  12. Supermarket Flowers (ode to his grandmother, beautiful)
  13. Photograph (again, and of course)
  14. Perfect (someone proposed– Ed advised “Say yes!”)
  15. Thinking Out Loud (required on setlist for duration of career)
  16. Nancy Mulligan (Sheeran genealogy lesson)
  17. Sing! (okay, if we must)

Around 9:50, he said something along the lines of “Kansas City, you’ve been great!”  My daughter and I looked at each other, and then at our phones to catch the time. What?! It’s over already??

We couldn’t take him too seriously, of course, because we knew he still hadn’t performed one certain song. So, toying with our emotions, he strode off the stage, and the whole place yelled in a panic. And then in true Ed style, he sheepishly returned and finished the show with:

18. Shape of You (something like a billion streams and counting) and

19. You Need Me, I Don’t Need You (a reference to “the industry,” not his fans)

As usual, the stage contained one person: Ed. He performed below a mammoth video projection apparatus that resembled the shape of a carousel. It combined giant, crystal-clear live images of Ed interwoven with colorful animations and photography for each song in the concert. So even though our seats were in the upper reaches of the venue, we watched Ed perform in close-up. Totally cool.

It was even cooler when he noticed a child about ten rows back crying apparently over the noise level. He then located a set of headphones for the boy or girl and even ventured down into the audience and adjusted them for the child. The five-minute act of kindness earned a lot of “Awwws!” and Ed likely did it because he knew what was coming: an especially raucous, loud, and long version of “Bloodstream.” That Ed. What a guy.  As thoughtful as ever… even if he’s moved on from his flannel-wearing days. It’s okay, I’m over it. T-shirts work, too.

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Photo: Impose Magazine

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