Faces in the Stone

I’ve been having doubts about my hat. It’s a hiker’s hat, with a full brim all the way around, and a drawstring that hangs in front of my ears and can be cinched under my chin. I bought it sort of on the fly. It was a careless oh-what-the-hell purchase. I knew I would need a hat. In three weeks time we would be walking eight National parks.

Unlike my wife, who looks great in hats (and she will tell you so, and it is true), a hat on my head can look ridiculous. When I buy a hat, attention must be paid. Continue reading

Me and Velociraptor and Forrest Gump

There it is, a dinosaur footprint. How about that?

We’ve just finished the lower Antelope Slot Canyon tour, outside Page, Arizona. Along the way our guide, Ryan, has been giving us a short course in geological history, which my wife translates from English into Italian for our friends Luigi and Adele. Her translations are brilliant, embellished by her impressive knowledge of American Indian culture. Continue reading

Rock Me

I’m eating my second push-button pancake in the hotel breakfast room. On the television I can see something festive is happening. It’s a bicycle race or a foot race, or a parade.

The pancake is not a pre-cooked, warmed-up, ersatz mistake. Inside a machine the size of an old-fashioned breadbox, is a plastic bag of pre-mixed pancake batter. You push a button on the left, the box emits a quiet hum, and after three minutes, a perfectly round, medium-rare comestible gradually rolls out of the side of the machine. Think pancake fax. Continue reading

Last Food

Over the next few weeks my wife and I will be traveling with friends from Italy. We’re doing a tour of the canyon country in the American Southwest. The night before she and her husband left Italy for the U.S., Adele posted this photo of her last pizza.

“Whenever I take a trip,” she says, “I always go out for pizza the night before.” She wants a good pizza because wherever she’s going, it’s a safe bet the pizza will not be as good as the ones at home.

“That’s not all,” she says. She holds up a hermetically sealed foil lunch bag. “I always bring Parmigiano-Reggiano.” Her cheese man at the market in Rimini vacuum-packs slices of cheese for her. “If the food is terrible where I’m going,” she says, “I can always eat some Parmigiano. It’s my salvation.” Continue reading

On Wine Tasting and the Limits of Winespeak

lounging

How do you quantify a qualitative judgment?

“You taste wine the same way I do,” the guy pouring says.  “We all have the same equipment: nose, mouth, tongue, palate.”

Technically, yes.  And it’s nice of him to say that.

It’s my last day in Sonoma. I’ve had a head cold all week, so none of my “equipment” has been working very well.  Thus far I’ve had only a few sips of wine with lunches and dinners. This afternoon I’ve decided to visit some tasting rooms, to open my mouth and let the wine in. There are over 425 wineries in Sonoma County, 15 or so within a few miles of where I’m staying. This one is known for its chardonnays and pinots. Continue reading

Going Minimal: Writing on the Road

For years now, along with my wife, my most faithful traveling companion has been a laptop. For a while it was a heavy dude–a Lenovo Thinkpad with a version of Windows; the hardware was bulky, the software balky. I nested it in a leather bag I slung over my shoulder and lugged it through terminals, into and out of hotels. Then came a MacBook, a lighter load, a faster operating system. Sleek, fast. But still: heavy.

Next generation writing tools are more minimal (or less maximal): my IPhone and an iClever portable keyboard, a tri-folding device only slightly larger than an iPhone. In a bar or coffee shop I can prop my phone up on a bag of sugar. I can draft in GoogleDocs on an actual keyboard, post text to my blog, and upload pictures. One device to ctharge at nigh. No limits, as far as I can tell right now.

Foreward Indies Finalist

March 20, 2018
For Immediate Release
UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS

American English, Italian Chocolate is named 2017 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards Finalist

As part of its mission to discover, review, and share the best books from university and independent publishers (and authors), independent media company Foreword Magazine, Inc. hosts its annual awards program each year. Finalists represent the best books published in 2017. After more than 2,000 individual titles spread across 65 genres were submitted for consideration, the list of finalists was determined by Foreword’s editorial team. Winners will be decided by an expert team of booksellers and librarians

“Choosing finalists for the INDIES is always the highlight of our year, but the job is very difficult due to the high quality of submissions,” said Victoria Sutherland, founder/publisher of Foreword Reviews. “Each new book award season proves again how independent publishers are the real innovators in the industry.”

Winners in each genre—along with Editor’s Choice Prize winners and Foreword’s INDIE Publisher of the Year—will be announced June 15, 2018.

I’d Rather Be Writing

writingWriter in residence? I’ll give it a try.

I stayed four nights this week at the Moshin Vineyard in Healdsburg, in Sonoma county. The program, Writing Between the Vines, is directed by Marcy Gordon, from nearby Sebastopol.  Along with Moshin Vineyards, residencies were also offered this year at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards in British Columbia. You stay four nights, give a reading on the first night. The rest of the time is dedicated to writing and residing.

reading

At Moshin I was welcomed by Jan Moshin and Julia Lander, and by Colleen, who has a expert pour. From everyone at Moshin, I felt nothing but all-around wonderful hospitality.

I showed up just in time for rain, which is an inducement to stay inside and keep your butt in the chair.  And I did. Still sleeping on Detroit time, I was awake every night at 2:00 a.m. That’s a great time for office hours.

Daylight hours, sprinkles notwithstanding, I got outside and toured around Sonoma, an area I had never visited. In the far west, at Bodega Head you can do some whale watching. The experience turned out to be whale waiting. Alas, no whales. No matter. All that northern California rocky coastline, the jagged western edge of the continent, never loses its mystical power.

coast

From Bodega I drove north to Goat Point, then east to Guerneville and the Armstrong Redwoods Reserve.  Big trees in a quiet grove I had all to myself. I stood in front of a tall wide dude named Colonel Armstrong and looked up, hello there, at a tree 1400 years old, 300 feet tall. From there I cruised along the Russian River a bit, back toward Moshin, back to have a taste. Just a couple sips.

russian river

And writing. Take a sip, write a paragraph. Take a sip, write a sentence. Take a sip, add a prepositional phrase. Sip, ponder. More sips, more ponders.

Whales, redwoods, big stuff.  Many small details also registered, resonated. The old red rail bridge over the Russian River, a mile from Moshin Vineyards. Westside Road winding north from Moshin toward Healdsburg, past wineries with their gates and tasting rooms, their stately rows of vines, all such clean geometry, and further on, the road curving beneath canopies of shaggy trees and lengthening toward town. Other small details.  Good food: wild stinging nettle fritters, spiced and roasted fennel, raw ahi tuna tacos, tondini beans and roast pork.

bridge

Finally, and best of all, the company of good writers. Rebecca Gomez Farrell read from Wings Unseen, her gorgeously imagined fantasy novel that bursts with verbal energy. Marcy Gordon read from a future memoir, about the joys and comedy of living in Perugia, Italy. And Stephanie Rosenbaum, a prolific food writer, joined us at dinner after the reading, sharing her food knowledge and expertise, her love of Sonoma, and introducing me to Meyer lemons.

All in all, much to digest and be thankful for.

writing reading

Breathing, Speaking, Eating

g mask

They are adventurous, agile, adaptable. They will manage.

Today is another bad air day. This morning in Shanghai, for the half-mile walk to my grandson’s pre-school, we’re masking up. The four-month-old has not left the apartment in two weeks. In each room in the apartment, Blue Air purifiers do their job making the space safe for occupation.

Shortly after arriving here, I learned about Plume from my daughter.  Plume is an app that reports levels of particulate matter (PM), providing “full coverage from Alabama to Zanzibar.”

Plume labs rely on air quality data collected from cities and countries around the world–for example, Federation ATMO in France, DEFRA in the UK, EPA in the US.  Air quality data in China is reported by US embassies and consulates.  In China, Plume reports air quality, why I do not know, in PAQI numbers, short for Pakistan Air Quality Index. We look at the Plume report every morning, cross-checking it with data on the US State Department website. Continue reading

Fang Xin–Rest Assured: A Fleeting Glance at the Issue of Food Safety

f mart

Wet means everything uncovered, unwrapped, naked and exposed to the human touch…

“If I lived here,” I tell my daughter, “I would shop at Fart Mart.”

I’m referring to the grocery store next to the high-rise where she’ll be living the next two years or so. It’s real name is FMart. She goes there only when she has to.

FMart is a full service grocery store, with a Chinese accent. The store combines elements of industrial food production and distribution with the traditional Chinese “wet market.” It’s about the size of a large 7-11, well, four 7-11’s piled on top of each other. Four floors of pandemonium. Continue reading