Stories from the City of God

Stories from the City of God: 

Sketches and Chronicles of Rome, 1950-1966storiesfromcityofgodcover

Pier Paolo Pasolini
Ed. by Walter Siti, Translation by Marina Harss.
Handsel Books, an imprint of Other Press, NY. 2003, ISBN 1-59051-048-8

In the years after World War II, Rome supported a scrappy demi-monde ravaged by the invasion and aftermath. Pier Paolo Pasolini lived that tooth and claws existence, scraping together food and work when he could, begging when he couldn’t. Later he would use those experiences to drive his creative products – films, novels, stories and articles.

This mix of short fiction and non-fiction sketches explore Roman people of that time.  What’s ugly and squalid shows its beauty to Pasolini.  He cuts through the outwardly pleasing cowards and hypocrites that repel him and celebrates successful thieves and  crafty con artists. The stories mark incremental successes in modest lives where the big picture is only to stay alive for another day.

The short pieces succeed as portraits of people and place during a certain time.  It’s full of timeless portraits of the fleet stealthy underclass that every big city hides.  The stories feature Roman boys — canny youths wise beyond their birthdays.  The author opens up a window on hidden Rome, a part of the city that continues to exist in certain dodgy corners and presumably always will. 

He also notices the timeless landscape of Rome. “Delirious Rome” (p. 25, uncorrected page proofs) opens with two trolley antennae sparking at a track crossing.  The image propels the author to a meditation that compresses time as he thinks about workers commuting all week, and then relaxing along the Tiber. The Roman landscape takes on mythic proportions in Pasolini’s reflection as he skips through history during the trolley ride. The story starts with a spark, a moment in 1950, yet the details of Roman life as illuminated by Pasolini remain. Decades later, the sparks still explode when trolleys cross track lines, sending a rider’s thoughts cart-wheeling beyond the immediate.  Pasolini captures ten seconds of mental musing in pages of robust description.

Pasolini captures smiles and smells, the empty places where the downtrodden hole up to sleep or sell their pilfered wares. By using dialect of the under class, Pasolini thumbs his nose to aristocrats and the fascist enforcers they so recently embraced and supported.  Still, he was no hero to the left, who saw his attention to the less savory aspects of poverty as a perversity.

-This book review originally appeared in The Bloomsbury Review.

Overbooked

Overbookedoverbooked-cover

By Elizabeth Becker . Simon and Schuster, Trade paperback edition 2016.

Elizabeth Becker spoke to an audience in the Ralph Bunche Library at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, DC about her latest book, Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism, as part of the Library’s ongoing Speaker Series. 

In 1980 there were 250 million tourists. In 1995, 500 million. By 2012? Wait for it…. One billion tourists rove the planet in search of something different than home. Then there’s the environmental impact of the mammoth cruise ships, idling buses, trains, planes, ferries or cars they rode in on. Where ever that place may be, there’s an impact – sometimes positive, often negative.

A large eager group listened to Elizabeth Becker discuss the research and analysis behind her new work “Overbooked” The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism published by Simon & Schuster this year. Becker pointed out that tourism provides opportunities for advancing public diplomacy and ran us through the efforts of savvy countries like France, Costa Rica, China and others with national marketing programs. Attracting tourists from BRIC countries – China mainly- France harnessed the power of tourism decades ago. The “well-heeled, educated tourists” leave their RMB, reals, and rupees and rubles throughout France, not just Paris. The country has an integrated win-win marketing strategy that drills down to agricultural networks so provincial inns will have enough succulent organic lamb chops for the menus. Every week, a cultural festival in different regional towns ensures steady stream of visitors. The tourism ministry even issued a marketing report on how to attract Chinese tourists.

Alas, the US government abandoned the promotion of US tourism around 1995. There’s no national tourism marketing program. Since 2011, tourist traffic to the US has flat-lined, called “the lost decade” by travel industry professionals, said Becker. During the same decade, the number of tourists nearly doubled. In 2009, more Chinese went to Paris than anywhere in the entire USA, including Hawai’I, Becker pointed out. US efforts to leverage tourism for public diplomacy are lightweight or non-existent. Tourism marketing is left to the states, Becker pointed out, but most states don’t have the resources to integrate with regional or national travel networks.

Anyone who’s been out and about in the world during the 21st century knows about the crowds of people – in the baggage scan line, traveling and spending money. Too bad they aren’t spending that moola in the US, even if they do stand on the wrong side of Metro escalators. The impact of gigantic cruise ships damages the ocean ecosystem and shore environments. Fragile Venice receives 20 to 24 million tourists a year. Angkor Wat took in 800,000 tourists in the first quarter of 2013, yet the province of Siem Reap is now Cambodia’s poorest with devastating environmental degradation and declining water resources. I wonder if there is an internal migration issue as well, as in China, Mexico and elsewhere, farm families go to the tourist destinations for hotel construction work or service jobs, but can no longer afford to live in their own region. I’ll have to read the book to find out.

It’s not all bad though – Costa Rica practically invented eco-tourism and maintains highly sustainable programs. African game safari tourism is key to protecting animals and communities, Becker commented.

The Q & A session opened with discussion of what can be done to tap into tourism revenues and how can public diplomacy leverage tourism to support its goals. Becker mentioned that in the past Embassies offered information about travel in the US, helping to promote the US tourism industry. She mentioned that the US could encourage residents and citizens to learn foreign languages to be better hosts for those potential visitors. At the request of one participant, Becker recalled her celebrated war reporting career, a strange interview with Pol Pot followed by a desperate escape from Cambodia.

Students Staying in Sevilla

Let’s Stay Abroad in Sevilla

holeinthedonut.com
Sevilla street scene at night. Image courtesy: holeinthedonut.com

By Anna Alexander

 

 

Anna Alexandra writes in “Let’s Stay Abroad in Sevilla” a trove of practical tips for a successful stay in a lovely town of hidden treasures. Many of her travel tips can be applied to other regions of Spain.

Her clever footnote tips are handy for those unfamiliar with the language, culture or the area. The enthusiastic descriptions of the numerous eateries make planning a trip there very enticing. A short list of more elegant restaurants and lodgings “for when mom and dad come” is certainly a thoughtful and necessary point in a student’s guide. The language clarifications and foods are also well documented in most cases.

However, students staying longer than three months won’t find a section about visas and renewals for long term stay. It is a pity this important procedure is lacking in an otherwise complete guide to living abroad.

The author has made an ambitious attempt to clarify some cultural and local oddities from her personal point of view, which other residents of Spain could certainly contest. However, given her evident limited personal experience, these minor misinterpretations can be pardoned. She writes: “barmen and taxi drivers and hotel workers do not expect tips, but you should in nice restaurants”…when actually tips are very welcome and customary everywhere. Refrigerators are locked in boarding houses not because “the kitchen is the Spanish woman’s domain” but because in a boarding house for students specific meals might be included, but American-style “all you can eat, anytime” situation is not the rule.

This quick, easy to read guide can give a future visitor an overall view of what is awaiting in sunny Spain and most likely make adaptation a bit easier and more fun.

Contributors include Linda Casanova, an American resident of Spain for 30 years, is an interpreter and former exchange student from Salamanca.  She has traveled extensively through Spain and gives seminars on adaptation to the Spanish culture for business transferees and student groups.

Climbing Chamundi Hill

Climbing Chamundi Hill
Climbing Chamundi Hill
Chamundi Hills, Mysore, India photo: www.wikipedia.com
Chamundi Hills, Mysore, India 

Climbing Chamundi Hill ~1001 Steps with a Storyteller and a Reluctant Pilgrim

Ariel Glucklich‘s stories lead one into the next, step by step.  Like climbing a hill, the dance of life and human thoughts, there’s a path to the light through the dark, on and on around the great metaphorical wheel.  In this particular story, P. L. Shivaram, retired librarian for the Karnataka Power Thermal Corporation Ltd., leads the reluctant pilgrim, a biologist recovering from a long illness, up Chamundi Hill. The librarian nudges, explains and entertains during the long climb. The American pilgrim listens and comes to terms with various types of pain in his life.  The hill  serves as symbol and fact:  representative of life’s path and a  real homage site that people climb barefoot to honor the deities.  Each twist of the route upwards offers the storyteller another opening to tell a Hindu parable. The pilgrim spills his share of stories too, balancing the librarian’s narrative of mythology with obtainable lessons gleaned from the shocks of an examined life.  This charmed book could be Aesop’s fables – Indian style — with a week of dandy bedtime stories for grownups.

HarperCollins, 2003, ISBN 0-06-050894-9, Cloth bound, 246 pages

A slightly different version of this review appeared in The Bloomsbury Review, Celebrating and Serving Literature since 1980.

Stones of Sicily

The Stone Boudoir
Book Cover

The Stone Boudoir

Travels Through the Hidden Villages of Sicily

Theresa Maggio

Perseus Publishing, 2002

ISBN  0-7382-0342-4

246 pages  $25.00

Reviewed by  Peat O’Neil

Theresa Maggio is a story teller.  New Jersey born, the author is of Sicilian heritage and has lived in Sicily off and on for a considerable time, researching Mattanza, her book about tuna fishing.  In this book, she returned to explore Sicily’s mountain villages.

Maggio steps behind the shuttered facades of crumbling Sicilian hill towns.  Behind the gates and stone walls there’s vibrant culture and the ebb and flow of family life.  Some women she meets are drowning in it, other women are thriving on the challenges of building professional careers as pharmacists or architects in a quixotic culture rooted in fidelity to feudal hierarchies and long dead saints..

The chapters describing her several visits to Santa Margherita form an image of stone  everywhere – the houses, cool cellars, stone barns, caves where wine and food are stored.  Also the embedded-in-granite way the women can be entombed alive, apparently willingly, in service to the family.  Nella in the village never married, certain that “men just want a slave.”   But she cares for her aunt full time and is a housewife in every way, though in a female household.

The writing is clear and straightforward. Maggio was previously a science writer and does not waste a reader’s time in self-indulgent digression. But if the narrative is lean, the telling is rooted in poetry and human emotion.  By chapter three, you’re a member of the family peering over her shoulder at a plate of pasta while an older relative urges you to eat more.  We’re back  in the old country, in the remote hill towns where families gather for meals, unmarried adult children live with their parents and a biggest party is a saint’s feast day.

Maggio befriends many Sicilians during the course of her several visits — architects, pharmacists, artisans, café owners and farmers.  The writing shines when she’s describing the landscape and the people.  “We ascended past olive groves, hazelnut trees, and almond and pear orchards in bloom.  We saw the deep-wrinkled necks of older farmers in straw hats who hacked at the soil between trees. March is the season for cultivation in the mountains of Sicily, before the sun gets too hot in April.  I stuck my heard out the window and sniffed the air.  Up here it was chilled champagne.”

If you look hard enough there are cooking recipes in the narrative  “She added chopped walnuts and parsley to the veal and wrapped the mixture in triangular patches of pounded turkey cutlets.  She poked holes in these and inserted tiny cubes of ham, then tied each packet up with string, ready for the frying pan.”

And instructions for making the polished stone mosaics “A pile of semiprecious stones ground flat and thin as crackers lay in the sunlight on the work table, their frosted colors full of promise: matte turquoise, lapis lazuli, … The stones interlocked like a jigsaw puzzle in a marble slab chiseled to hold them.  Later he would polish the stone painting.”

The festival to St. Agatha in Catania in the shadow of Mt. Etna might be the high point in the narrative.  “Every year on February 4 and 5, the men of Catania pull her relics, housed in bejeweled life-sized effigy, through the city’s streets for two days and two nights, the duration of her martyrdom.  It is said to be the second largest religious procession in the world..  Half of the women here are named after her, but it is really a feast for the men, who have claimed the girl saint for their own.”

I hated to finish this superb book with characters fully sketched in their setting and scenes so real that even a reader who has never been to Sicily can absorb the way of life.  I have traveled in Sicily by car, thumb, bus and train.  It’s a wonderful place for the voyager with a knack for connecting with people and enjoying life.

Book review by L. Peat O’Neil, author of Pyrenees Pilgrimage and teaches writing for The Writer’s Center and UCLA.

Travel in Sicily Resources

Pyrenees Travel Guide Books

Pyrenees Pilgrimage

L Peat O’Neil

Amazon BookSurge Publications, 2010 – Kindle and Print on Demand

Solo walk across France from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean

through the Pyrenees Piedmont.

Walks and Climbs in the Pyrenees
Kev Reynolds
Cicerone Press, 2001
Detailed guide for serious backpackers.

Trekking in the Pyrenees
Douglas Streatfeild-James
Trailblazer, 3rd edition, 2005
Friendly tone and easy-going route makes this a good guide for the first timer.

This is the book I used on my trek.

Long Walks in France

Long Walks in France

Adam Nicolson

Harmony Books, 1983

British traveler sets off on foot to tour various regions of France.  He’s interested in people, customs and history and tells unusual lore in a cheerful voice.  Thirty pages of the book mix history and writer’s experiences in a vivid tour of 180 kms through the Pyrenees, from St. Jean Pied du Port to Arrens.