Category Archives: Language and vocabulary

Venetian Blood – A Book Review

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Venetian Blood

Anna comes to Venice to meet an old friend, only to find out that she has been accused of murdering a very prominent member of Venetian society – and someone whom she’d had a brief affair with. Things get sticky as she tries to clear her name, and it seems like someone is out to get her. Being followed through the labyrinthian calles of Venice and a near death experience are some of the dangers she faces as she tries to sort out the puzzle surrounding her. She meets some very unusual characters and is invited into some of the most amazing palazzos in Venice.

The vivid descriptions of Venice in this book by Christine Evelyn Volker make this story come alive. We are invited into the grand palazzos of Venice and she makes us feel every detail. Sometimes, though, I felt it was a little too much detail and too wordy. I had a little difficulty staying connected to the story. The plot was great and, of course, the setting was perfect, though, so if you enjoy Venice and a good suspenseful story, this is a good read.

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Guest Post by Christine Evelyn Volker:

Venetian Blood: Murder in a Sensuous City traces its origins all the way back to 1991. My friend Laura had invited me to join her in Venice, which I had visited briefly, years earlier.  After she met me at the train station, we squeezed into a packed vaporetto and zigzagged down the Grand Canal. We passed palazzos, hiding their ancient secrets in the night air. We threaded through twisting alleyways and made our way toward Campo Sant’ Anzolo. Hotel Gallini, she explained, would be where I’d lodge; she and the others would be staying with a count, who—at that point—was out of room. His palazzo was already full with three American friends—one pregnant, and two Chileans. The count, as I recalled, was not fond of the singing gondoliers rounding the corner of his sumptuous palazzo. But he did have a special place in his heart for plaster casts of relatives’ hands, and for his exquisite library.

A year later, having moved to Milan for business, I returned to Venice many times, exploring its remote corners, strolling along its embankments, swimming at the Lido beach, and marveling at the city’s beauty and unique history. A place like no other, I was convinced: a miracle of survival in a sometimes hostile sea.

Years passed. My recollections of Venice faded, but my love for the city did not. As I underwent difficult times, I was drawn to writing, giving a voice to pain, fusing memories and imaginings, and rediscovering a magical place.

If those of you who read my book identify parts of my protagonist’s voyage with my experiences above, you’d be right. For many reasons, the story of Anna, striving to prove her innocence in the murder of a Venetian count, could take place nowhere else on earth.

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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!

Surprises with Google Maps

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Ispra’s town square from Google Maps

If you’ve never tried it, looking at the street view on Google maps is loads of fun. I’ve used it, of course, to check out my own home but also to look at potential hotels and other places to visit. The fun thing about it is that sometimes you can see cars, people, and animals that are familiar to you – they just happened to be around when the google car drove by mapping out the street.

 

A few days ago, I decided to “Google walk” down the streets of my parents’ home town in Ispra, on Lago Maggiore. I know the town pretty well so it was fun seeing all the old places that are so familiar to me. While I was “walking” in front of my aunt’s home, I noticed a car with two women standing outside. One of those women was my aunt and it brought such a smile to my face. You see, my aunt passed away a couple of years ago, and seeing her once more was such a blessing. She was always a really fun loving woman, full of life. The expression on her face as the funny-looking google car was driving down her street taking pictures was absolutely priceless! Her and her friend were looking at it like it was “una bestia rara” – a rare beast! (I love that expression – it’s so fitting!).

Try it sometime, you’ll love it! Especially when you discover little gems like I did! What a special treat!

A Funny Way With Words

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As in all languages, Italian has some pretty funny way with words – idioms that are difficult to understand unless you have a pretty good command of the language! I was even stumped once with an American idiom -probably because I grew up in an Italian house and, unless I heard them at school or in a social setting, I wouldn’t have ever been exposed to them. The one that got me was “bake a file in a cake“….am I the only one that has never heard that one?

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I wanted to share some quirky Italian idioms and try to explain their meaning.

1. “Avere le braccia corte” – having short arms!

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This is used when someone is stingy and never offers to pay for anything!

2. “Hai volute la bicicletta…adesso pedala!” – you wanted a bicycle, now pedal it.

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Kind of like “you made your bed – now sleep in it!”.

3. “Quando il fieno e vicono al fuoco, bruccia” – when hay is near fire, it will burn!

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In other words, when a girl and a boy are close, sparks will fly!

4. “Hai capito Roma per toma” – you understood “roma” for “toma. As far as I know, there isn’t a translation for “toma” – it just rhymes with “roma”. It’s used when someone misunderstands something.

5. “Le piu grand l’uch del buch” – this is Lombardian dialect which translated means “the eye is bigger than the hole“. My grandmother used to tell me this every time I took down a lot of food on my plate and then left half of it uneaten. My eyes were bigger than my stomach.

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Do you have any others to add? I think these are always so funny and descriptive!

 

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.

Corporate Citizen – A Book Review

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This is #5 of the Roma Series, in which we keep up with Alibaster Black (aka Bianca Nerini) and her super-sleuthing adventures. In this episode, the characters are back in Boston and dealing with some gruesome murders of controversial and influential individuals (to whom we were introduced to in previous books of the Roma series), a new strain of heroin called Krockodil, some military drug experiments, as well as meeting some new characters: Nick and the Magician. Nick is a veteran with a mysterious past, who has a knack of showing up after every murder…and the Magician is an online presence who seems to know how to hack into every computer and who knows LOTS of secrets!

As with the other books in the series, the story is basically exciting but I found it hard to keep all the many characters straight! There is a lot of action going on and I felt confused a lot of the time as to who was doing what. The online presences of Loki and now the Magician are mysterious because they seem to know stuff about everything! But, I have to say, I did find the descriptions of Loki’s avatars very entertaining! The descriptions were so vivid that I could easily picture them dancing across the screen morphing and expressing themselves with so many different expressions.

Here is an interview with Gabriel Valjan, the author:

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What advice would you give budding writers?

Read as widely as you can and form your own relationship to language. Each writer has one whether she is aware of it or not. Be true to the story that you want to deliver and set aside ego. Write. Revise. Get feedback from those you trust. Realize that the physical book in your hands is the result of your work, that of an editor and of a publisher. Be grateful for that and once you are done: release it so that the story can live its own life with readers and you can return to writing. Make the next story better.

Which was the hardest character to write? The easiest?

Silvio was the hardest. He is my homage to Andrea Camilleri’s character Catarella in the Inspector Montalbano series. I say that he was the hardest because I wanted to tip my hat, while at the same time do something different with my Silvio. For those readers unfamiliar with Catarella, he is a bumbling cop who, in trying to sound bureaucratic and formal, does hilarious things with language.

Easiest character? I would say Bianca. She is a composite of three people: a famous hacker I knew, a friend with a genius level IQ, and myself when I was younger. I’m not saying that I am brilliant, but I was extremely distant and analytical (and moody, as Bianca is).

Do you write every day?

I do and I am very ritualistic about my writing habit. Coffee. Exercise. More coffee. I’ll write for three to four hours, or more on a good day. My output averages to about a page an hour, although I have done more, or sometimes less. Write this way, with consistency, and you’ll have a novel in no time. I write from beginning to end and then set aside the story for revisions. I wrote Corporate Citizen in forty-three days in 2012.  The release date for the book is October 5, 2016, so that should give you some idea of the time spent editing and revising it.

In today’s tech savvy world, most writers use a computer or laptop. Have you ever written parts of your book on paper?

No. I can’t read my own handwriting at times. I will, however, walk about with a small notebook to jot down notes about dialog, an idea, or an image. I have found that to be conducive to my process.

Favorite dessert?

A Spanish plantain split which consists of deep fried plantains, vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, and toasted nuts.

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Need I say more? It is the perfect combination of crunchy texture, creaminess, sweetness, and chocolate goodness. I dare you to disagree. I’d like to try it with coconut ice cream.

If there is any one thing you want readers to remember about you, what would it be?

For readers to say that I created characters they cared about and that my stories ventured beneath the surface.

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Digging up the Past – and Discovering Treasures

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The purpose of my trip to Italy this year was to do some research into my mother’s side of the family – particularly her father’s family. I became interested in finding out about them because, unlike the other places in Italy where I have roots, the province of Padova has online records available through http://www.familysearch.org and I was able to do some research before the trip. The records available date from 1879 – 1910. This part of Italy is also where you find Cittadella – my “home town” and where all my civil records are located! My mom was born there and when I became an Italian citizen, I had the opportunity to choose either the town of my mom’s birth or my dad’s as my “home”. I chose Cittadella because it’s a beautiful medieval walled town which I’d be proud to call my Italian home!

Through my online research, I discovered that both my grandfather’s parents died in 1910 within months of each other. He was only 11 years old and was one of the oldest of 8 children. So my first thoughts were: who raised them? Were they kept together? What did his parents die of? My mother didn’t know any of this and I wasn’t sure how I was going to find out since those kinds of details aren’t readily available in civil records. Determined to figure it out, I did a search for my grandfather’s last name in the White Pages for the town where I knew they lived (in my case, Campo San Martino). I came up with 3 names and addresses, and so I wrote them a snail-mail letter! In this letter, I spelled out exactly who I was and asked if perhaps we were related. Lo and behold, I received a response from 2 of them. One response was from a man who had the same last name but was not part of my direct line of ancestors but nonetheless, he was excited to know another person with the same last name and offered to help me find my family. The other response was from the son of my mom’s first cousin! This was a direct hit! His response included pages from a manuscript which told the story of my grandfather’s family and what happened to them. It turned out that my great grandparents died during a cholera epidemic, leaving all their children behind. An adopted uncle raised the children along with his own children. In 1916, he was responsible for 21 people! This manuscript was beautifully written, but I only had parts of it and I wanted to find out who wrote it and how I could get a full copy! All of these things, plus the desire to meet these newfound cousins, sparked my desire to make this genealogical research trip to the Padova area. Here is my story of discovery and amazement – how all the pieces came together, even more so than I had ever expected!

Our first stop on this journey was Busiago, within the city limits of Campo San Martino. This is the town where my mom’s mother’s family grew up and so I thought that this might be where my grandparents had gotten married. We tried to go to Mass but got the time wrong and so ended up at the church after Communion. We hung around after Mass to see if we could meet the priest and ask some questions about locating my grandparent’s marriage records. We didn’t get to speak to him but we learned that the church had been rebuilt in the 1950’s and therefore the original edifice was no longer there.

We wandered around Busiago a bit – there were prosecco grapes growing all around!  That was all the research we had time for that day, but we had plans to return.

The next day, Monday, we headed back out to the Campo San Martino area and made a visit to the archive office. I was able to locate my grandparent’s marriage certificate as well as my aunt’s birth certificate. Another mystery opened up to me – my grandparents didn’t legally register their marriage until 1927, even though my aunt was born in 1925! Their marriage certificate indicated that they were registering their marriage to legitimize the birth of their daughter. My aunt’s birth certificate showed only my grandfather’s name and no mention of her mother. Did they perhaps get married in church years before and didn’t legally register their marriage civilly? As I found out, only beginning in 1929, did the priest have the authority to legally marry a couple. Before that, a church wedding did not constitute a legal one. I am currently awaiting news from the priest from to see if he can locate the church records of my grandparents’ wedding to see when it really took place.

A trip to the cemeteries of Busiago and Marsango was next. Sadly, most of my ancestors’ graves have been dug up – evidently, the graves are dug up from the ground after 30 years. The only old ones remaining are those that have a crypt. Wandering around Marsango’s cemetery, though, I found two graves which were of interest. I took pictures to remind me of the details.

The next day, we visited the archive office of San Giorgio delle Pertiche which comprises the town of Arsego. Arsego is where my mom lived when she was born and before moving to Lago Maggiore. We didn’t find any real info at the archive office, but decided to visit the church in Arsego to see if maybe my mom’s baptismal records were there. When we met with the priest, he informed us that he had a gentleman who was responsible for the research for these types of records and for me to give him a call in the afternoon to set up an appointment. When we met him in the afternoon, he welcomed us into the rectory. I explained my research and when I gave him my mom’s name, he reacted with a surprised stare. When I confirmed the name, he sat back and said that that was a name that meant a lot to him since he was the grandson of the man who had been adopted by my great-great grandparents and who raised my grandfather after his parents had died! This was a huge surprise and totally unexpected. I told him about the pages of a manuscript that had been sent me and he informed me that he was the author of that manuscript!

He had been a professor of history and therefore very knowledgeable about the historical details of the time period in question. He promised me that he would make me a copy of the entire manuscript to have for my records. He and I were so excited about this coincidence that we had to celebrate! So he took us to the children’s afterschool snack shack at the church where we ordered prosecco! Ha! Ha! Only in Italy! We made plans to see each other the following afternoon, when he would give me the manuscript.

The next morning, Wednesday, I had made plans to visit with my mom’s cousin. When we arrived at their house, we were greeted by a whole group of people. They were so warm and welcoming and invited us into their home…and fed us some delicious pastries! They pulled out a lot of old family photos and were explaining to me who everyone was. They were all so excited to meet us and promised to show us around the Veneto the next time we go! Such a warm welcome from everyone!

That afternoon we went to pick up the manuscript. It was given it to me with so much enthusiasm! He was so excited to be able to share his story (and the story of my ancestors) with me! It’s a great memory which I will always treasure. I plan on translating it into English so that I can pass it down to my children! Once more, to celebrate, he took us to the local bar for another toast (Prosecco)! They sure like to celebrate in Italy every chance they get!

Our last day of family research took us to the church in Marsango. This may actually be the church where my grandparents were married, even though I’m still waiting for the results of that search.

Also, with all the excitement, we realized that we never located my mom’s baptismal certificate in Arsego. But then, after talking to the priest, he mentioned that she was probably baptized at the hospital in Cittadella immediately after her birth, and that those records are probably there. Getting these additional records and maybe some others that are missing from my research will be for a future project. For now, I am so excited about the discoveries that I made – this trip exceeded all my expectations!