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Category: Uncategorized — admin @ 3:44 pm — Comments (12)

I feel as if I am beating this topic to death, but one more extension of the question of foreign food and wine in Italy.  Then I’ll get back to the more important matters of complaining about my kids, taking cheap shots at editors and indulging my obsession with motorinos.

Some commenters have made the entirely reasonable point that Italy is more of a monoculture while the US is about as multicultural as a society can be.  True.  Does this explain why there’s no dill or curry powder or lemongrass or turmeric or cloves or cumin or ginger root at my Ipercoop?  To a certain extent, sure.  

But, still, why is there so little French wine here in Italy?  The French aren’t exactly strangers to the Italians.  They aren’t exotic.  They’re neighbors.  And the French do know a thing or two about wine.  And why no American wines at all?  Is it that Americans are alien to Italians?  Hardly.  There’s been quite a bit of cross-pollination between the US and Italy.  In fact, a goodly number of California vineyards were founded by Italians.  Mondavi is not an English name.  Nor is Gallo.   

Much of our imported wine in the US come from Australia and New Zealand.  Aussies and Kiwis are not major ethnic groups within the US.  We don’t import their wines because we have so many of their people, we import their stuff because they make good wines.  Same reason we import Italian wines.  And French.  And Spanish.  We don’t feel threatened by a good bottle of Shiraz.

Here’s what’s strange to me:  if I go to the DVD section of the Iper, or any of the video stores in Florence, or even to any random Auto Grill, you know what I find?  American movies and American TV shows.  Go to any bookstore and it’s all American and British authors.  (Me included, as of next year.)

So, it’s not that Italians are vehemently protecting their culture from all outside influences.  If that were the case they’d have stores filled with Italian movies and Italian books.  They wouldn’t line up to see Dark Knight.  Italy is full of American TV, movies, books and software, Japanese cars, games and electronics, German cars , Chinese toys . . . It’s the foreign food specifically, that Italians exclude.  Italians will gobble up foreign goods and foreign culture except when it comes to food and wine.  They’re perfectly open-minded — except when it comes to opening their mouths.

Which brings me right back to my original point.  Do Italians love food and wine?  No.  They love their food and wine.  People who really love food find a way to obtain saffron, dill, and lemongrass.  People who love wine get their hands on Napa Valley Cabernets, French Pinot Noirs and New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs.

I wonder if for most Italians food and wine are in some way the core of their culture.  Maybe they worry that if they open that part of their culture to outside influences this unique part of their lives will be lost.  I can understand that.  I’m not proposing wanton destruction of local cultures.  

But is Italian culinary culture really that insecure?  Italian food has conquered the world.  So, why so cramped and conservative here in the home office of pizza, pasta, espresso, bruschetta, virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, tiramisu, Chianti, Prosecco, Amarone, Barollo and a dozen other foods and wines instantly familiar to Americans even in remotest Nebraska?  If Italians won’t even take a risk with a pizza (seriously, there’s more than one way to make a crust,) how will they create the next thing, the new thing, the culinary breakthrough?

One of the (very few) useful phrases to come out of the Bush administration was, “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”  Americans who defend the rights of monocultures to pull up their drawbridges and become defensive are practicing the soft bigotry of low expectations.  There’s no reason why Italians can’t fill the world with their art, their film, their technology, their fashion, their literature, their food and wine.  There’s no reason Italian’s can’t amaze the world — God knows they’ve done it before. 

Americans are perfectly content for Italy to be a sort of open-air museum.  Pretty to look at, wonderful to visit, a swell place for us and the Brits and the Germans to come and lie out in the sun and drink wine and condescend to the quaint, ineffectual locals.  Works fine for us.  But I wonder why it also seems to be enough for Italians.

Category: Uncategorized — admin @ 7:10 pm — Comments (13)

The spice department . . . the Ipercoop Firenze . . . and the foreign foods shelf.

My previous post has inspired some comments.  So I wanted to clarify a couple of things.

The question I posed was not, “Is Italian food good?”  Or, “Is any particular regional cuisine good?”  Or even, “Is American food better?”

The question I posed was:  do Italians really love food, or do they just love their own food?  The answer to that is sadly obvious.  Above I have a photograph of the spice section of the Firenze Ipercoop, the foreign food section, and an overview of the food area of the Ipercoop.

The Ipercoop is big.  As big as a Super Target or Wal Mart super center.  That picture shows only the grocery half of the Eeper, not the household goods, etc…  It’s enormous.  

Now look at the spices.  You’ll notice it’s a rather small display.  And you’ll notice that when you boil it down you have perhaps a dozen herbs and spices.  Basil.  Oregano.  Sage.  

Lemon grass?  Not so much. 

This is a display that would embarrass the management of an Alabama Piggly Wiggly, let alone a metropolitan Publix, Safeway or Giant.  As for the foreign foods — a few cans of frijoles refritos and some soy sauce — let me put this in context:  the Italian foods section of any American supermarket — I mean, any tiny, rural American supermarket — is five times bigger than the entire Mexican/Chinese/Etc… area of this massive grocery store in this major city.

A commentor below suggests that perhaps Americans are in effect bragging about variety without any real appreciation for what they have.  30 years ago that may have been true.  But the smug European notion of American ignorance about food and wine is absurdly outdated now.  The average American “foodie” knows more about Italian regional cuisines by far than the average Italian knows about, say, Creole or Cajun or Tex Mex — our regional cuisines.  Any American foodie can name a dozen Italian regional specialties and probably cook just about that many from memory.  You know what Italians know about American food?  Hamburgers.  And . . . and nothing.

A sophisticated American foodie is familiar with various Italian cuisines, but also French, Spanish, Indian, Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese, Ethiopian, German, Portuguese, Japanese (and various subsets of Japanese,) Chinese (and various subsets of Chinese.)  An educated American food-lover is extremely well-versed on food.  Sorry, my Eurosnob friends, but I can grab the average New Yorker off the street at random, put him up against the average Roman, and I guarantee you the typical New Yorker’s food and wine knowledge runs far deeper. 

And it is no surprise.  Go into any American bookstore and you’ll find a cookbook section that runs to hundreds and even thousands of volumes, most of which are from various non-US cuisines.  We have entire cable TV channels devoted to the cuisines of the world.  When the guy who buys the cookbook, or watches the TV show goes looking for the unique wines and meats and vegetables and spices that form the basis of that ethnic cuisine, guess what?  He finds them at his supermarket, his Whole Foods, his wine store, his gourmet store.

Let me make this as plain as I can:  the herb and spice department of some of the better gas station mini-marts in the States is superior to that at the Ipercoop.  No: that is not an exaggeration.  Because at 2:00 am in Lubbock, Texas I guarantee you I can find basil and oregano at a 24 hour mini-mart, but at 10:00 am I can’t find caraway seeds or whole nutmeg at the giant Ipercoop in Florence.

If you don’t have the ingredients, you can’t cook the dish.  It’s as simple as that.  And a cook in Florence — no matter how motivated — would have one hell of a time trying to cook anything that wasn’t Italian.  Try making Thai food with what you can find at the Ipercoop.  

This is not a slam on Italian food, per se.  It’s a commentary on a closed monoculture which prides itself on a superiority it has long since lost.  You cannot maintain supremacy if you refuse to innovate, if you close yourself off to new influences, and fail to challenge yourself. And you cannot claim to “love food” or “love wine” when your definition of food and wine is entirely chauvinistic.  

Loving only what you know, only what you have always known, only what your parents and grandparents before you knew and loved, and remaining willfully indifferent to all the glories the world of food and wine has to offer, is ignorant, foolish and provincial.

Exactly the kinds of adjectives Europeans accurately applied to Americans . . . a long time ago.

Category: Uncategorized — admin @ 4:07 pm — Comments (3)

Florence is never the same city two days in a row.  It’s an extraordinary thing for a city that was old when the US was young.  The palazzi and the piazzi and the statues are all the same, but when you walk down any of the smaller shop streets — Via Neri maybe — you never see the same street you saw the last time.

The shops and restaurants and bars don’t change every day, but they open and close on a schedule that defies prediction.  This one closes Sundays, that one Mondays, most in late August, all during the major Catholic holidays, some close in winter, some open every few days and some seem to be closed all of the time — but still in business.  Most are open in the morning, but only some in the afternoon, and others in the evening, and others are open late.  

But here’s the neat trick:  none of the small shops feels compelled to keep even their own schedules.  So even if you think you’ve got it psyched out, no:  you don’t.  Because you don’t know that Gianni’s mom needs a ride to her sister’s house so the shop will be closed until 5 p.m. when Gianni’s girlfriend Vita get’s done with her hair appointment.

There’s something so small town about Florence.  Despite the crush of tourists, despite the pressure they exert to provide everything 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, despite the sameness of so many of the shops and restaurants, individuality survives.  The town hasn’t been taken over by the highly efficient chains that tend to dominate the US.

It’s wildly inefficient here.  A lot of times it irritates the hell out of me.  (Mail Boxes Etc… is closed for two weeks?  Because it’s August?  WTF?  I can’t send a package because it’s August?)  But on the plus side, I’ve walked down Neri and Ghibbelina and Verdi and Proconsolo dozens of times, and never seen the same street twice.

Category: Uncategorized — admin @ 6:42 pm — Comments (27)

I think this rant is going to irritate my readers.  Both of them.  And I’m sorry about that, but I have to call things as I see them.  Not as they are — I’m too much a phenomenologist to insist that my truth must be yours — but as they appear to me.

I tend to look at the world through various prisms.  Politics and food are the biggies.  I know:  kinda stupid.  But I am who I am.  The world for me is not about sex, not about aesthetics, not about all sorts of things that matter to other people.  The world for me is politics and food.  

Politically the Italians are. . . how to put this?  Irrelevant.  No one anywhere, ever, asks the question:  But how will the Italians react?  Italy is not in the game.  Russia’s in the game.  China.  Germany. France.  Britain.  India. Japan.  Even Iran.  And of course the US owns the game ball.  But Italy?  No one gives a ripe fig what Italy has to say about anything.  Even the Italians don’t care.  In terms of international politics Italy might as well be Uruguay.  

Is this inevitable?  No.  Italy has a population of about 60 million and a GDP of 1.8 trillion dollars.  This isn’t Chad we’re talking about here.  France has a few more people and a little more money.  The UK has about the same population and a little more money.  How is it that Italy is an afterthought?  Italy has a twentieth of the population of India but more than half the GDP.  How is it that Italy carries no weight on the world stage and India does?  

There is something trivial about this country.  Something negligible.  I don’t know why.  I don’t have that answer.

The food thing is actually more telling to me.  

Question:  do the Italians love food and wine?  Answer:  No.  They love their food and wine.

I’ll tell you something:  I could buy better wine at my neighborhood Harris Teeter grocery store in North Carolina than I find in comparable supermarkets here.  Why?  Because Americans who love wine don’t care where the wine comes from.  At my US grocery store — forget the local gourmet store — I had a selection of American, Australian, New Zealand, French, Portuguese, German, Spanish, South African, Argentinian, Chilean and Italian wines.  The wines of at least 11 nations.  In a suburban grocery store.  In the south.

In my Co-op — a nice grocery store here in Pontassieve — you know what wines we have?  Italian.  And . . . Italian.

No California.  No French.  No Argentinian or Chilean or New Zealand.  Even at the giant Ipercoop we have  a few token bottles of foreign wine.  No California.  95% Italian.

Is this because Italian wines are the only good wines?  No.  An awful lot of Italian wine is crap.  Some is superb.  But Italy does not have a monopoly on great wine.  Not by a long, long stretch.

So, a simple question:  if Italians love wine, why nothing but Italian?  The only possible answer that makes sense:  Italians don’t love wine, they love their wine.

There are a handful of Chinese restaurants in Florence, a major city.  A smattering of Sushi restaurants.  I think there may be one or two Mexican restaurants.  But 95% of the restaurants in Florence are Italian.  90% have essentially identical menus.  Pizza.  Tagliata.  Pasta.  And when I say identical, I mean identical to a greater degree than McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s have largely identical menus.  You could xerox the menus.  

There are more differences by far between Pizza Hut and Papa Johns than there are between any two Italian pizzerias.  

Are they catering to tourists with expectations of a particular cuisine?  Sure, to some extent.  But you know what?  There are tourists in New York City, too.  But in New York there are more variations between sidewalk vendors than there are between Tuscan restaurants.  Contrast the NYC or Chicago or LA culinary scenes with that of Florence, Rome or Milan.  Is there a country on earth that doesn’t have a representative of its kitchens in New York?  Everything from Armenian to Zairian.  

I can sample the cooking of 100 nations in New York.  Maybe 80 in Chicago or LA.  And perhaps a dozen in all of Italy.  Why?  Because the Italians love food?  Sorry, if you love food, you love everyone’s best food, not just your own.   It’s as if you claimed to be an art lover, but refused to look at any but American painters.

It’s a great big world full of cool things to eat.  But when Florentines go to a restaurant they have the same half dozen apps, the same six primi, the same six secondi, the same four contorni, the same three or four desserts, and wash it all down with the same handful of wines.   That’s not a love of food and wine:  it’s chauvinism and narrow-mindedness.  

Would I rather have a free pass to all the restaurants of Florence . . . or Chicago?  Chicago without question. Not even close.   Because in Chicago I can have great Florentine food.  And everyone else’s food, too.   

Category: Uncategorized — admin @ 7:58 pm — Comments (3)

You know what I told my son tonight that I had forgotten to tell him?  That life is good.

He was feeling bummed.  The Boy has OCD and way too much IQ.  And of course like every father I see myself in him.  The good parts of me, the bad parts of me, and the bad parts of my wife.  (Although I think she may have a slightly different version of that.)

The kid is scary smart.  And manipulative. Strong and determined.  I’m playing George McClellan to his Robert E. Lee.  He’s kicking my ass all over Virginia.  

We snark together, we laugh together, we enjoy each other’s company, and we fight like gladiators.  Like every father I want him to profit from my experience and not be the total f—ing idiot I was.  And like every father I have no power to make that happen.  

Katherine and I have been together 29 years.  We still fight — always have, always will– but we also have a marriage made of steel.  We will always be together.  And we were together for 18 years before the Boy was born.  So he missed the early stuff.  It’s like he missed the first 18 chapters and started reading in the last half of the book.  He only showed up for the part where K and I talk in shorthand, conversations based on assumptions whose predicates he never saw.  

For all my incessant whining, I have a great life.  I am in love with my wife who, (this makes me doubt her, frankly,)  feels the same about me.  I have two very cool kids.  I work at a job I hate to admit I kind of love.  If I dropped dead tomorrow I’d have no complaints.

So I tried to convey some of that to The Boy.  God knows I’ve done a good job of teaching him how to be dissatisfied.  I don’t know that I’d ever manage to tell him how happy I am. You know, when I’m not bitching.  

Life is kind of good.  Don’t quote me on that.

Category: Uncategorized — admin @ 11:51 pm — Comments (0)

This is my first small taste of book-touring.  I did a bookseller’s lunch in Pasadena and a bookseller’s dinner just now in New York.  Let me just say this:  if I hear the sound of my own voice again I will stab myself in the throat with the minibar corkscrew.

Oh.  My.  God.  Shut up, Michael.  Shut up.  ShutUpShutUpShutUpShutUp!

Seriously:  shut up.

You don’t realize just how amazingly boring you are until you have to hold forth for a three and a half hour dinner.  And here’s the bitch:  the Boy was with me so I couldn’t even pass the time flirting.  And my press handler was with me so I couldn’t get hammered and collapse face down the table.  And really, once you take away leering at anyone with cleavage and passing out in a puddle of my own puke, I pretty much got nothing. 

Writers are boring.  I used to know the head of plastic surgery at UNC.  He spent his days gluing the faces back on burn victims.  You know what I spend my days doing?  Typing.  I’m a typist.  I make things up and poke the keyboard with my fingers, pausing only to reload my coffee, relight by cigar and obsessively check my sales number.

Hey, guys, whadja do today?  

Well, the doctor took a kid who fell into a puddle of acid, performed miracles of cutting edge medical science during the course of a week-long operation that involved cloning new flesh from the insides of his nostrils.  Because of that doctor we will never suffer the depredations of another Harvey Two-Face.

And the kid’s book writer?  He wrote two pages.  Then he ran around like a crazy person spraying insecticide at wasps.  And made some coffee. 

Writing is kind of fun.  Listening to people talk about writing is so boring that I do not know how these people tonight resisted the urge to frog-walk me into the restaurant kitchen and dunk me in the deep-fryer.

Whew.  I just had to get that out of my system.  To everyone I bored or offended . . .yes, I said that word.  And that word, too.  And I told that story. . . my apologies.  My excuse is that I’m really just kind of a dork. And although I have a great life, it really isn’t very interesting.  

Willies.  Got ‘em bad.  Must drown feelings of inadequacy in booze.

Category: Uncategorized — admin @ 11:36 am — Comments (2)

The instant we went wheels-up heading to the States we began to refer to the house in Italy as “home.”  Until that moment the kids called the still-unsold North Carolina house home.  And I basically just refused to use the “h” word.  But now Pelago, Italy is home.  Now, for now.

Bill Bryson wrote something I wish I had in front of me because I’m going to have to paraphrase and obliterate all his skill and humor in the process.  But the basic idea was that one of the great joys of travel is being the outsider, being ignorant, unreliable, unprepared, confused and essentially childlike.  

It’s my core nature to bitch about wherever I am.  In Italy I complain about the roads, the hours, the banks, the food (oh, yes, we’ll have more on that some day,) the motorinos — for whom I have developed an enduring hatred — the fashions, the slowness of service, and the prices.  But back here now in LA I recognize how easily I can fit into this most accepting, most openiminded of cultures.  What fun is that?

too easy to be ab Abageleno, p-

I’m not correcting the above line because that is where a combination of jet lag, Ambien and bourbon nailed me to the sheets.  And it’s kind of funny.  No idea what the hell I was just about to write.  In any case, next morning, all woken up . . .

I was born here, raised here through first grade before being hauled off to France for three years.  I’ve lived here on a couple of occasions since then as well.  So LA is a nice counterpoint for me to the expat experience.  Because I’m an Angeleno I have never quite accepted any weather that was not 78 degrees and sunny.  Because I’m an Angeleno I believe everything should be open 24 hours.  Because I’m an Angeleno I know it’s the 405.  

I keep thinking I’ll end up here some day.  And I may.  But for all my whining about lovely Pelago/Pontassieve/San Francesco, I’m kind of missing it.  Which is not what I expected.  I haven’t been bitten by a mosquito, sweated, or fought the desire to murder a motorcyclist in days.  Yesterday, you know what happened?  I walked to the adjacent mall, stepped into a crosswalk and a car a block away slowed down for me.  I mean really:  where’s the challenge?  

So I guess for the next few days I’ll bitch about the States and then, upon my return to Italy, resume bitching about Italy.  

The important thing is the continuity I offer.

Category: Uncategorized — admin @ 12:36 pm — Comments (8)

Let’s say you’re Bongo, a member of that until-recently-undiscovered Amazon tribe.  You fly to Italy, you fly to the States.  (Can I have your miles, Bongo?)  You’re not going to come away feeling there’s that much difference.  Both Italians and Americans wear roughly the same clothing, drive around in cars, eat pizza,  talk on cell phones, feed dogs rather than eat them, have governments of sorts and live under a system of laws.  (Or, in Italy, not so much under the system as near-by.)

The differences between Americans and Italians would barely be visible to a true outsider.  But there are differences.  

Americans and Italians both love freedom. Both see themselves as great individualists.  Both are big on family, roots, regional identifications.  Both have high opinions of themselves as peoples and low opinions of their respective governments.  (And what was once a wide gap between the usefulness of the Italian government and our own is narrowing rapidly, with most of that movement, unfortunately, coming from our side.)

The core difference is not the Italian’s long history, or the American’s patriotism.  It’s not their cynicism or our religiosity.  The core difference that I see is this:  Americans believe in efficiency, the Italians believe in lunch.

I realize these aren’t neatly paired.  Efficiency is not necessarily the opposite of lunch.  Although it can be at times.  It’s more that we’re two crazy, messed-up kids who want very different things out of life.  We Americans want to get the job done.  Whatever the job happens to be.  Even if it’s a stupid job.  A job no one should be doing.  Nevertheless, we want to get it done.  Right now.

Here’s point A, and there is point B, and the shortest distance between them is a straight line and it never for a moment occurs to an American that there could ever be a reason not to draw the straight line.  

This is not to say that we actually are efficient.  Efficiency is our faith.  It’s our goal.  It’s not something we necessarily achieve.  See: air travel.  See: Congress.  See: health care.  But we are at least hoping for efficiency.  We’d like to see a world where every line was perfectly straight, every decision was based on sturdy predicates, every action was carried out with zero waste.  In a perfect America, everything would be available to everyone, everywhere, all the time, at low, low prices and with no delays.

I’m sure Italians would like some of that, too, but not if it meant working through lunch.

Italians don’t start their day asking themselves how they can achieve their goal.  Oh, sure, they have goals.  And they’d like to achieve those goals.  But for an Italian the day begins with certain unquestioned assumptions:  there will be lunch, and it will begin at 12:30.  Lunch will take a minimum of one hour and will be followed by at least two hours of doing nothing.  There will be dinner, and it will begin at 8:00 and last at least two hours.  There will be coffees and drinks at various times throughout the day.  

These are not suggestions.  These are rules.  These are defining.  You may not deviate.

This sounds frivolous, but a people that begins with a culturally-dictated schedule, a people that blocks out vast portions of the day, is not a people devoted to the ruthless pursuit of efficiency.

There is not an American alive who has not worked straight through lunch.  I’m not sure there’s an Italian alive who has.  

Americans will work until they fall over dead from exhaustion and lack of nourishment in order to put a Burger King precisely where you’d want to find a Burger King.  If you move to a new house they’ll build a whole new Burger King there.  But wait!  What if you don’t want a Whopper?  No problem!  Another bunch of Americans is laboring like ants to build you a Taco Bell.  And a Starbucks.  And a Hyundai dealership.  And if you don’t want a Hyundai, how about a Chrysler dealership?  Toyota?  And with all that car-buying and fast-food-drive-throughing you’re going to need a gas station on this corner.  And that corner.  Okay, on all corners.  And a vast supermarket open from . . . no, wait, open 24 hours!  And so is the coffee shop.  And the bowling alley.  In fact, let’s just cram every possible variety of restaurant, donut shop, car dealership, lube shop, mini golf, tire shop,  and muffler shop all in together and keep them all running 24 hours a day leaving only enough space for . . . a gigantic Wal-Mart.  Yay!  And a mall!  Yay!  

Yes.  I’m in Los Angeles.  How did you guess?

In Los Angeles you can have anything, anytime, everywhere.  Coffee at 4 am?  Absolutely.  You know what the odds are of you finding a cup of coffee at 4:00 am in Italy?  Non-existent.  Outside of major tourist towns you can’t even buy lunch at 11:00 am.  No, not 11:30, either.  And not 11:45.  Or 11:50.  Or 11:55.  11:57?  No.  Noon?  Bingo.  And how about a late lunch at 2:00 pm?  Um, no.  You had your chance.  Now you wait until 8:00 pm.  

In Los Angeles you know what I can have at 8:00 o’clock pm?  Breakfast.  I can have breakfast, lunch or dinner.  I can have burgers, Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Indian, Sushi, French, tapas, Afghanistani, Ethiopian, Indonesian, Argentinian, Basque, Russian, and yes, Italian.  And all the regions of Italy.  Why?  Because we believe — it’s right there in the constitution — that we have a sacred right to have whatever the hell we want, whenever the hell we want it, right now.  No limits.  Because why?  Because limits are inefficient.  Because competition is efficient.  And arbitrarily forcing everyone to eat at the same time and in the same way is really going to slow the planning, building and opening of that Burger King we’re putting up in your back yard.

The results of all that efficient competition, all that single-minded devotion to efficiently making and efficiently creating and efficiently accomplishing in the quickest, most effective way possible, is one of the ugliest places on earth:  Los Angeles.  There is more jaw-dropping man-made ugly in this one city than in all of Italy.  (And Italy has some serious ugly.  See;  Sesto Fiorentino.)  And there is not 1% of the prettiness you find in Italy. 

But here’s the thing:  LA is alive.  It’s ugly, but it is alive and doing its wacky best to create the future.  LA builds.  LA creates.  LA invents.  Italy?  Well, Tuscany, where I live, can’t even be bothered to preserve its own past.  It’s not about the future, in Tuscany, but neither is it really about the past.  Visit Florence, and look it at with an unprejudiced eye.  See the dirt, the lack of upkeep, the indifference to their own treasures.  Tuscany is amazingly beautiful.  But it’s not about the future or the past, it’s just bout lunch.

Category: Uncategorized — admin @ 10:15 am — Comments (3)

I’m back in the US for the next ten days.  Katherine has to attend the meeting of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in LA where she will accept their award for Book of the Year.  HOME OF THE BRAVE. Damn right it was book of the year.  

She’s also conducting two workshops and giving a speech, so needless to say the entire household has been drafted to help.  Well, mostly the Boy, who handles the assembly of the two Keynotes as well as doing some Photoshopping and some Dreamweavering and various other techie things.

For my part I have contributed by smoking cigars and yelling at the kids.  I know you’re thinking “child labor” but it’s really no different than having the kids do chores back on the farm.  

“Have you milked them cows yet?”

“Have you finished coding your mother’s website yet?”

In any case, we flew from Florence to Frankfurt on Luftwaffe Lufthansa, then on United to Dulles.  United apologized for the fact that Lufthansa — which handles their ground operations out of Frankfurt — was on strike so, “we don’t have our usual level of service on food.”  What?  No lukewarm goo?  No brown salad?  No leaden wad of brown stuff for desert?   Well, it turned out they had all of that.  But breakfast, that was a different story entirely.  Time to wake up and have . . . tada! . . . two packs of pretzels.  What’s better than stale pretzels and coffee in the morning?  If by “morning” you mean 6:00 pm local, midnight Italy time.

In any case. we’re staying over a day in Washington so we can sleep off the jetlag and do some shopping. Tyson’s Corners, bay-bee.  

My US shopping list?  Over-the-counter drugs.  You want Ibuprofen in Italy?  You stand in line at a Farmacia, and buy a 12-pack for 5 Euros.  So we’re coming back with a pair of 250-count bottles which will cost a whole hell of a lot less and involve exactly zero time standing in line behind hard-bitten old Italian ladies who need help with their corns.

1) OTC drugs.  

2) Decent bourbon.  (All they have in Italy is Jack Daniels.)  

3) Clothing, especially for the kids.  Clothing prices in Italy are criminal.  They have no Wal-Mart or Target driving prices down.  It’s the same slave-labor stuff we get from China, but three times more expensive.  And that’s before currency conversion.  No wonder Italians dress like refugees from the 80’s.

4) Books.

5) iPhone.  A third of what they cost in Italy.  It’s actually cheaper to eat the hideous roaming charges.

Off to shop.  More later.

Category: Uncategorized — admin @ 5:42 pm — Comments (6)

I own quite a few copyrights.  I make 100% of my income from selling books, all of which are of course copyrighted.  So I love copyright laws.  I have never done an illegal music or movie download.  Never.  Never would.  And I would never let my kids do it.  I want artists to get every penny they (we) deserve.

However . . .

It is all but impossible for me to access free American TV shows while in Europe.  I’m NOT talking about shows I’d be charged for in the States.  Only shows that are streamed free in the States.  If it’s available on iTunes I pay for the download.  

All that having been said, here’s how you can access streaming American TV shows that are embargoed to European IP’s.  

1) Go to Anchor Free.  Download the free program there.

2) Install Anchor Free’s Hotspot Shield.  Open it, and wait until it connects to a US-based IP.  

3) Go to

4) Select the program you want to watch, and start it.

5) This seems a bit counterintuitive, but it works (at least for us.)  Once you’ve begun playing the show, click on your Anchor Free icon (on Macs you can show it on the top line of your display, up next to the clock.) and disconnect.

Anchor Free allows you to access, but it slows the stream down to the point where the show becomes unwatchable.  You only need Anchor Free to start the show.  Turn it off once the show’s begun and the show will play much more easily.  Not flawlessly, but fairly reliably.

If you switch to another show you have to repeat the process all over again.

On a related topic, some of you may have noticed that certain downloadable software (no names, we don’t want to irritate them,) costs two to three times more in Europe.  Once again, the US company will not allow you to buy at US rates using a European IP.  Anchor Free did not work for spoofing these guys.  So we Googled companies providing VPN’s — Virtual Private Networks.  You have to pay for these, but the download speed and capacity are greater.

We have successfully saved hundreds of dollars using VPN’s to pay US prices for downloads.  This causes me some moral qualms, but not too many.  I’m paying the software developer the price he considers fair for an American customer.  

All the above, by the way, courtesy of my 11 year-old.  If you don’t have an 11 year-old tech genius, you really should consider getting one.