Category Archives: Essay

What Should I Call You?

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These days, when I make reservations in Italy I give my wife’s maiden name.  A table for four at 7:30, for Canducci. Same thing when I call the heating repair man (it’s cold in the apartment or there’s no hot water). I say, “This is Canducci on Via Olivella in Serravalle.  Can you come and check out our boiler?”

Always last name, Canducci.

I never say Bailey. Ever.

Names are essential.  And they can be complicated. How hard do we want to work at them? Continue reading

Calamari and Seppia: Happiness Plural

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Is there a more guilty pleasure than a fritto misto (frittura, as they say here)? You can see what you’re eating, sort of–rings of sliced calamari, curled shrimps, spongy scallops, a stray chunk of fish, and, if you’re lucky, some thinly sliced or shredded zucchini–all lightly covered in a crispy brown batter, lightly salted. Continue reading

Margaritas, Cold Sweat, and Dante

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Dante wrote his long poem for Beatrice Portinari (that’s Bay-ah-TREE-chay)

“Rojo,” my wife says to me one morning.

We’re in the car on the way to the gym. We work out in the basement of the township senior center. Treadmills, ellipticals, exercise bicycles, a couple rowing machines—there’s always a few of these not in use. There are also number of pneumatic weight machines, for maintaining a senior citizen’s various muscle groups. You sit at these machines. They’re good for gentle sedentary social exercise.

“What about it?” I say.

“Why can’t anyone say it?” She says it again, “Rojo.”

“Rojo,” I say.

“Nope.  That’s not it.”

Rojo is a Mexican restaurant in the area. When our niece comes home from Italy, we have a family gathering at Rojo. Twenty or so of us get together to eat and drink. We try to organize these get-togethers on the Tuesday dollar-a-taco night. Rojo serves acceptable tacos and cheesey beany burritos and sizzling fajitas. Also popular is the house margarita, a greenish slurry of cheap tequila and an industrial-grade margarita mix that gives the drink a long distinctly chemical finish. The cocktail is served in an over-sized chalice; sort of like a small glass bucket. I don’t think it comes with an umbrella. (It should come with an aspirin.) Continue reading

This Body Offers to Carry Us

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Tonight, as always, my wife is reading a book in bed, this one about Leonardo da Vinci and his saucy little friend Salai.

“It smells like worms out here,” my wife says.

It’s the beginning of October. We’re coming out of a small grocery store in a light rain one morning. We are not loaded with bags.  We’ve bought just one item. Reaching the car, we pull open the doors. She’s on her side, I’m on mine. The doors swing open and we turn, balancing ourselves on one leg, then bend, lean, fold and carefully lower our bodies onto our respective seats. As we do this, both of us emit very audible, slightly embarrassing, simultaneous groans. Continue reading

I Am Not Confused About What Happened

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I’ll never forget. A guy walked up behind me, then moved right next to me. Excuse me, he said.  Do you know where there is a bathroom nearby? I knew the campus. I pointed. Inside that building, I said, at the bottom of the stairs. He was big. He looked me up and down, he nodded and said, Do you think that would be a good place for a blowjob?

This had never happened to me before. You don’t forget.

It was a Sunday afternoon, late spring, in 1975. It was Cross Street in Ypsilanti, between Boone Hall and Sherzer Observatory. He was wearing tan pants, brown shoes, a blue jacket. He was in his late 20’s or early 30’s. He had short brown hair parted on the side. You don’t forget.

Years later, when we talked about sexual assault in classes I taught, a guy in the back row (it was always a smiling guy, a guy who liked a good joke) would raise his hand and say, Why don’t you just try to enjoy it? He meant rape.

A guy twice your size holds you down, pulls off your clothes, forces his fingers or his dick inside you. Inside YOU, buddy, inside YOUR body. Would you enjoy that?

What’s to enjoy? The shock, the fear, the violation; the violence (and always the potential for additional, terrible, unfathomable hurt).

That day I kept I walking. A little faster. At the end of the block I turned away from Cross Street, in toward the campus.  It was then that I allowed myself to look.  No, he was gone.

I have not experienced what women feel, but I have an intimation. I know that you do not forget.

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Get Thee to a Bakery

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“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” my wife says.

It’s a sunny Saturday morning, early September.  I’m climbing a ladder leaned up against the house. It’s that time of year. The air has begun to change; it’s both crisp and faintly rotten-smelling. Where we live we are rich in cottonwoods, proving that riches can also be a curse. Trees with big leaves, cottonwoods start unleaving early in the fall. Our trees are mature, tall beasts.  The eaves and gutters on the house are already full. Up on the ladder, I’m on clog patrol. Continue reading

Oxtail, Head-air, and a Swim

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At dinner last night I had a piece of Lake Superior trout with oxtail on top of it.  Five green beans and a fried polenta ball with roasted corn inside. Nifty.

To my knowledge I’ve only had oxtail once, in Rome, when my daughter was having a semester abroad in college. She and I ate lunch one day in Trastevere. A chef buddy back home named Franco had spoken appreciatively of Trastevere. Ballanno, cantanno. Non lavora nessuno.  They sing, they dance. Nobody works.   Continue reading

The Pizza: Simple to Complex

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For dinner one night we find our way to Casa del Sole.  It’s a country house outside of Pesaro.  We’re 15-20 miles inland, where the gentle hills rising to Urbino begin, far enough from the sea to know we’ll be eating meat.

“We haven’t been to this place before,” my wife’s cousin says.

“But my sister has,” his wife adds.  “Si mangia bene.”

That’s good enough for us. Continue reading

Spiritual Peril

One of my first recollections of grappa dates back more than thirty years. My wife and I joined a friend and her husband for dinner down in Villa Verucchio, at a place called Casa Zanni. One part butcher shop, nine parts restaurant, Zanni is known for its meats. That night, after warming up with tagliatelle al ragu, we probably had a mixed grill: castrato, which is a cut of young lamb, pork ribs, and sausage.

At the end of the meal Fiorenzo said he would like a digestivo, a “grappina,” a little grappa. The Italian diminutive makes just about anything seem attractive. I pictured a small glass, maybe the size of a thimble. Bring one for me too, I told the waiter. Continue reading

Primary Sources

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The food is good, plentiful. The wine, Sangiovese from Bertinoro, a barrel of it.

Around here there is no shortage of help if you want to find a good place to eat. One of our sources is Ricky. He has an enoteca across Ponte di Tiberio, on the San Giuliano side of Rimini. Before lunch or dinner, we stop in for a glass of wine.

The thing to do at Ricky’s is listen to the locals. What do Italians talk about? Where and what to eat. Our friend Adele jokes about Italians: Even while they’re eating, all they talk about is food. Continue reading

Once More to the Table

Food so beautiful you can’t believe your eyes, food so good you can’t believe your tastebuds.

If you grow up and come of age at the dinner table in Michigan, the way I did, it can be hard to fathom the variety of foods in Italy.

For 40 some years now I’ve been plumbing those depths, coming up for air with a smile on my face, then diving deeper.  In these next few blog posts, I’m going to try to warm up to this subject; in words and pictures, sharing some of the food fun we have when we come to Italy.   Continue reading

Grubs for Lunch

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My friend Luigi asks, “Do you think prehistoric people were happier than we are?”

We’re standing in line at an airport food vendor called the Dogpatch Bakehouse. Our flight is on time, but my stress level is high. I took a few wrong turns driving from the hotel to the airport, then left my phone in the rental car and had to run back to retrieve it, down two long flights of stairs, down two floors in a hesitant elevator, and back to the rental car parking garage, where the phone’s recovery was very gradually accomplished. Continue reading

Where We Are Was Once a Sea

When you get to Pahrump it feels like the end of the world. It’s California desert country, on the northwest edge of Death Valley National Park. Driving into town we pass Bride Street, Gravel Pit Road, and WTF Sand and Stone. Next to the Mobil where we gas up is a storefront church. It might have been a travel agency at one time, Anywhere But Here Travel. Now, in big letters above the door, between two crosses, the church identifies itself: IT IS FINISHED. What, as in end times? Continue reading

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