Category Archives: Culture

A Year in the Company of Freaks – A Book Review

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A Year in the Company of Freaks

I recently read this highly enjoyable book by Teresa Neumann. This book was funny, fast paced, and a real pleasure to read. This book takes place during the early 1970″s when hippies were trying to find out of the way places to escape civilization for a while. Sid was born and raised in a small town in Northern California called Trinity Springs. A horrible tragedy during his early life left him feeling lost. While trying to make sense of his life, he ended up doing something really stupid which caused him to earn a year of probation back on his home farm. The sheriff in charge of his parole happened to love this young man, even though he was becoming harder and harder to love. Knowing full well what would set him straight, he “sentenced” him to a year of hard labor on his farm. He also put an ad out for some boarders to help with the expenses of running the farm. Four others joined Sid at his farm – an odd group of people, with nothing in common except for being somewhat lost in their lives – came together for a year to live and work together. Their trials and tribulations during this year were both hilarious and heart-wrenching at the same time. They all needed something and were hoping to find it out in lonely Trinity Springs.

I can highly recommend this book – you end up rooting for each and every character and are anxious to see where life ends up taking them during and after this year spent together.

Meet the Author

Teresa Neumann

 

Author of highly-acclaimed “A Year in the Company of Freaks,” Teresa was raised in a large Midwest family and now lives in Oregon. She is also the author of “Bianca’s Vineyard,” and its sequel, “Domenico’s Table.” Both books are based on the true stories of her husband’s Italian family in Tuscany. In addition to enjoying family, writing, reading, meeting her readers, wine tasting, traveling, and all things Italian, Teresa loves playing the fiddle with other musicians.

Here’s a little guest post by the author, Teresa Neumann

Italy Meets California in a Stereo Breaking — or Not — Hippie Adventure 

Years ago, my high-school aged children and their friends began badgering my husband and I about our old “hippie days.” Despite my admonition that it wasn’t all “flowers and rainbows” – that there were equal parts “thorns and twisters” – they, like most fun-loving adolescents and adults, preferred to believe that you can “have your cake and eat it too.”

The truth is, you can have fun, but cross certain lines – illegal or legal — and fun can become dangerous and even criminal, with all the consequences that go with it. Thus was born A Year in the Company Freaks, based on my personal observations and coming-of-age experiences living as a Midwest transplant in northern California in the early 1970’s. Considering the truly stupid, reckless things I did in my youth, it’s a miracle I lived to write a novel about that time period!

Now, for those familiar with my first two books – Bianca’s Vineyard and Domenico’s Table – although the setting of Freaks is America, a deep love for Italy definitely bled over into my third novel. For example, the main character, Siderno “Sid” Jackson, is half-Italian and it’s exactly that Italian “half” that helps ground him as he navigates the challenges he faces after getting busted for growing pot. Of course, wine also figures into the storyline. What story about Italians wouldn’t? However, it takes a back seat to pot. This is northern California – ground zero for the marijuana revolution in the U.S. — and Sid is, after all, Italian-AMERICAN.

Other colorful characters play central roles in Freaks (an albino biker from Texas, a tripwire Vietnam Vet, a Jesus Freak, etc.) giving many opportunities to explore, and often break, stereotypes – a key element of the book as well.

Except, that is, when it comes to Italians.

You just can’t break the stereotype of Italians being family-loving, food-loving, wine-loving, passionate lovers of life because that’s exactly what so many of them are. At least many of the ones I know!

And with family-loving, food-loving, wine-loving Sid Jackson, it just might be his saving grace – from loving pot too much.

Connect with the Author:  Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter

Buy the Book:
Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble
Add to Goodreads

 

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A Love Story and a Wedding

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Once my dad decided that the USA was a nice place to settle down, he sent word home that he was coming back to get married! Since my mom had lost her mother when she was 9 years old, my father’s mother took over that role for her. She took her shopping for everything – mainly the favors and the fabric for her wedding dress. The wedding was going to take place the day after Christmas and the dress had to be designed to fit the season. They decided that it was going to be made of pizzo di lana or wool lace. They chose the fabric and a tea length design to go with the fashions of the times. The seamstress made an incredible gown, that even today, is still in wonderful condition. This dress is definitely an heirloom and a treasure. My mother told me that before sewing the hem, the dress needed to be hung for several days so that the weight of it would settle and the hem could be made straight. One of my mom’s friends was a professional model in Milan, and her wedding gift to my mom was the veil! They went to a very exquisite boutique on the infamous Via Montenapoleone in Milan for the headpiece. Sadly, the veil did not made it through the years. The stays became rusted and ruined the fabric covering the corona.

A few weeks before the wedding, as was the custom, the bride and the groom would make the rounds of their guests and bring the confetti or favors. Because my dad was coming home only two days before the wedding, he wouldn’t be able to go with my mom to make these visits. My uncle ended up going with her instead. Even though she appreciated that he was escorting her, she wished that it had been her fiancé.

The day my father was expected to arrive home was a very foggy and gloomy December day. He would be arriving from Milan by train to their little town of Ispra. My mom wanted to surprise my dad by meeting him at the train station, but it was so foggy that she had a hard time seeing anything. Every person she passed, she stared at them hoping that it would be my father. None of them were, and she went back home forlorn and sad.

That afternoon, my father’s sister came running to her house announcing that my dad had finally arrived!  Why he didn’t go down to her home himself, I don’t know, but maybe that’s just the way things were done back them!

They spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day together and all the final preparations for the wedding were made. My father had brought back some vacuum sealed cold cuts from America that were given to him by some friends that owned a salami factory in San Francisco. Vacuum sealing was a new concept at that time, and everyone was so impressed that these cold cuts had come all the way from America. (It’s funny how, at that time, anything that came from America was the best – and now we know that when it comes to cold cuts, Italian products are so much better!). Little finger sandwiches were made with these American delicacies for the wedding feast!

On the day of the wedding, my dad went to my mom’s house with the wedding bouquet. He and my mom walked to the church with their entire entourage of family and friends following behind them. The walk was not far, but the path was all cobblestoned. That didn’t seem to bother my mom as she wore her silk high heeled shoes. She said it was a good thing it wasn’t raining that day, or her shoes would have been ruined!

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During the wedding ceremony, my mom took off her engagement ring and presented it to the Madonna as she had promised when my dad had gone off to America. He had come back, they had gotten married, and now she was going to keep her promise. To this day, on the feast of the Madonna, when they parade the statue through the town, her ring is still there. My mom’s best friend looks for it every year and reports back to my mom!

The reception took place at the villa where my grandmother lived. They had finger foods, champagne, and a beautiful wedding cake (a gift from the town baker, a good friend of my dad’s). They posed for some gorgeous wedding photos and this album has become a beautiful (and rare) treasure to have.

After the reception, the newlyweds took off to begin their honeymoon. The first night was spent in Milan at the Hotel Principe di Savoia.When I went to Milan a few years ago, I was surprised to find out that my hotel was across the street from this very hotel that my parents had stayed at so many years ago. I had to go in to see it and it was still as beautiful and stately as I’m sure it was back in 1955. Before retiring for the night, they had made arrangements to go see a show – Walter Chiari at the Teatro Nuovo . They took the metro and stayed out enjoying their special night. The next morning, they were woken up by the maid because they were still sleeping at 11 am! They were probably so exhausted from all the preparations and excitement of the days before.

They boarded a train that would take them to their honeymoon destination: San Remo on the Italian Coast. I haven’t heard too many stories of this part of the trip only that they visited the famous casino there and dined in the vagone ristorante on the way to San Remo.

Once home from their honeymoon, my dad had to prepare for his trip back to San Francisco. In the meantime, my mom settled her dad with her sister while she moved into the villa with my dad’s mom and younger sister. She didn’t know when she would get the Visa to come to the USA and therefore felt it would be better if she got all her ducks in a row. Little did she know it would take almost three years before she would get that Visa to come to America.

During her time in Italy, while my dad was in the USA, she continued to work. When she got home, she would help my grandmother with her sewing jobs. She shared a room with my father’s youngest sister and they became close friends. They spent time with the custodian’s sisters who were from Sardegna. Young men would pass on the road, looking at these beautiful young girls, and they would refer to my mom as the frutto proibito or the forbidden fruit! My mom missed my dad and the wait was becoming harder and harder to bear.

My dad would come home when he could, and the last time he came home before my mom was allowed to immigrate was going to be the last time. If she wasn’t granted a Visa, he wasn’t going to return to San Francisco. But in a last ditch effort, he asked a priest whom he had known his whole life for assistance. This priest knew the cardinal of Milan, Cardinal Montini. He and my dad went to Milan where they met with the Cardinal’s secretary. They came back very hopeful and were assured that things would work out shortly. Within days, my mom was summoned to the American Consulate in Genova. She was given a physical, and asked some questions as to her intent to emigrate. She was sent home and within a week, she received the notice that the Visa she desired was approved with the help of Cardinal Montini. She was on her way at last. Little did she realize that this same Cardinal Montini would become Pope Paul VI! She still has the letter from the Cardinal granting her the wish she so desired!

She packed a giant trunk and filled it with her dowry. She had linens, tea sets, clothes, and a Madonna that used to be in her bedroom. The mirror on the back of the Madonna was the only thing that broke on the long voyage to San Francisco. Seven years of bad luck definitely did not follow her, though!

La Befana Vien’di Notte….Trullalla!

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I posted this a few years ago….and wanted to share it again for a nice Holiday tradition!

Tonight’s the night….are your stockings hung?  All over Italy, children are awaiting the loot they will find when The Befana comes to visit.  And all women are getting ready for their day….or are they?  There’s always the question if being wished “Auguri” tomorrow is a good thing or not, since La Befana is an ugly old witch….and does it mean that whoever is wishing us cheer is thinking we are like La Befana?  Quite a dilemma, huh?  The story of La Befana is a cute one, and you can read about it on my post here:  La Befana by Tesoro Treasures.

But today, I wanted to share a fun little song from 1978, sung by the great Gianni Morandi, about La Befana.

Enjoy!

Trullalla, Trullalla!

The Befana comes at night

With shoes all broken

With a sock

Around her neck

With carbon, with iron, with brass.

On her broom

To fly

She comes from the sea, She comes from the sea.

And the snow shall fall

On the deserts of Maharaja

From Alaska to Canada.

She’ll need to leave

And she’ll sing while she leaves.

She’ll dress like a woman from the South

And with the sock she’ll arrive.

The storm will win,

And she’ll sing “Trullalla”

The Befana will arrive…

Trullalla…Trullalla!

A child,

The size of a little mouse,

Inserted himself in the chimney

To see her closeup.

When she arrives,

The Befana,

Without teeth,

Jumps and dances for some wime.

Then, hiding, she backs away

With the night stuck to her skirt.

And a warm wind will blow

on the deserts of the Maharaja

From Alaska to Canada.

Only one star will shine,

and she’ll have to follow it

to fly towards the North..

and the road is long, but

the storm will win.

And singing Trullalla

The Befana will go.

Changes in the Marriage Vow

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It was publicized last week that “fidelity” will no longer be part of the Italian marriage vow…couples will no longer  need to promise to be “faithful until death do us part.” Let’s be honest, infidelity has been rampant in Italy for many years – mainly on the man’s part, but many times also on the wife’s side. There is a total double standard, though, when it comes to cheating – men are forgiven a lot easier than women. I guess society (and men) accept that desirable men have mistresses!  But for a  women, this is frowned upon!. According to the law, infidelity in women can lead to illegitimacy – and this can disrupt the family! After all, a man may not know if a resulting child is his if his wife’s been cheating on him! Wow….I never realized that all this legal thought went into that little phrase. For whatever reason, though, they have now decided to abolish it entirely from the marriage ceremony. What do you think?

Too Many Tourists in Italy?

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Summertime is probably the busiest time of the year to travel to Italy – not only are there lots of foreigners visiting but Italians themselves take their vacations in August. I’ve always thought that it was not a very good idea for almost the whole of Italy to shut down during the Ferragosto Holiday (the weeks around August 15th). It seemed to me that the poor Italians had to visit the beaches and the mountains (or wherever they want to spend their holiday) when they were at the peak of crowds! I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly like to sit on a beach among the hundreds of beach chairs all lined up in a row (and several rows deep!)….

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I like to be able to spread out and enjoy a tiny bit of paradise to myself. That is relaxing to me – not surrounded by hundreds of people. But that’s the way it is and maybe Italians are used to that!

But now, worse than ever, things are getting seriously crowded in many Italian tourist destinations that there is talk of limiting the number of tourists in these locations! Can you imagine planning a trip to the Cinque Terre or Venice and being turned away because they have reached their limit for the day? It’s as bad as visiting Disneyland or some other amusement park!

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According to the latest statistics, the amount of tourists in Venice and Florence has risen by 5%, in Capri 9%, and a staggering 20% in the Cinque Terre! This is putting a strain on lodging and on also on the life of those that live in these places. For example, there are only 5000 people who live in the Cinque Terre, but they get over 2 million visitors a year! Of course, this tourism brings lots of money into these areas, but it’s also becoming too much to handle.

It seems to me that there are logistical problems with trying to impose these limits – how do you close an entire city from more people coming in? It’s not like a paid attraction where you can limit visitors at the door. So I don’t think this will be successful but maybe other, less popular but just as beautiful locations, can be pumped up so that tourists are dispersed and not concentrated in just a few of these heavily populated vacation spots.

What are some of your favorite locations in Italy that may not be as crowded? Mine would be the Italian Lakes, even though I know they get their fair share of crowds during the summer months…

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Walking on Water

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What better way to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Fendi fashion house than to create a runway on the water’s surface of the incredible Trevi Fountain in Rome! Many large corporations (and among those, many fashion houses) have taken on the costs to restore Italy’s monuments and treasures. Fendi’s project was the Trevi Fountain – and to commemorate the end of the restoration as well as their 90th anniversary, they put on this incredible runway show!

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Watching the models stroll across the fountain on a sheer runway truly looks like they are walking on the water’s surface. The backdrop and the fashions are one of a kind – absolutely a phenomenal sight to behold. (Photos are from PanoramItalia)

The Floating Piers of Lago Iseo

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The beautiful northern Italian Lago Iseo, located between Milan and Venice, has become the canvas for the latest work of art by Christo and his late wife, Jean-Claude (their other works include Wrapped Fountain and Wrapped Medieval Tower in Spoleto; Wrapped Monuments in Milan; and The Wall – Wrapped Roman Wall in Rome).

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The Floating Piers was conceived in 1970 by the duo and finally brought to fruition. For 16 days this summer (from 6/18 to 7/3), visitors can walk on these piers which will create walkways into the lake and around the island of San Paolo.

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The docks, or piers, are created with modular cubes of high-density polyethylene and covered in a shimmering yellow fabric.

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The wind and the waves create a living art exhibit that offers a unique experience – no two people will experience the exact same thing! The piers undulate with the waves and the sensation will be like walking on water!

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The exhibit is free to all, and open at all times (as long as the weather cooperates!).

As much as I can appreciate the engineering involved and the experience that this “living art” exhibit offers, I can’t help but feel it’s an eyesore to the beauty of this magnificent lake. I’m probably not very popular with this thought, but if I was visiting this lake as a tourist to see its beauty (and not the exhibit), I would be disappointed that I couldn’t see it untouched by the orange piers. Thankfully it’s just temporary and soon the natural beauty of this beautiful lake, surrounded by mountains, will be restored.

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The photos are courtesy of Here & Now.

 

 

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