Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Patti Smith's Just Kids

I know that I'm very late to this party but sometimes I'm just so unreasonably ornery. Why did I delay in reading this memoir even after it was deemed a National Book Award winner? Who knows but, oh my, better late than never. You must listen to this book! It could be read by no other than the author herself.

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I've tried to think about where I was and what I was doing in the early '70's that would have kept me from knowing about Patti Smith. She's now being called "the grandmother of rock and roll." A Jersey girl, by way of Philly, while I was still in college she had set off for New York City and the opportunity to follow her dream of creating art. Not cut out for school and certainly not for the factory job she was escaping, Patti Smith had the courage of her convictions and a little bit of luck, a push from the Fates, a lost coin purse in a phone booth - remember those? - that enabled her to get on that train to the city.

Her memoir is a book for the ages. She manages to capture the zeitgeist of those crazy years; women were finally coming into their own, the sexual revolution was upon us without the specter of the horrific illness that would soon devastate our ranks, singers, songwriters, poets, and artists were pushing the boundaries, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Allen Ginsberg, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Woodstock, there was an explosion of creativity and Ms. Smith, though seemingly on the periphery, was influenced more than even she knew.

Her writing is gorgeously fluid, her voice is humble and unassuming. At the heart of this memoir is love with a capital L. Although Ms. Smith's life is inextricably entwined with that of the controversial artist/photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe, and the lifelong love they shared, it is also a memoir of familial love, spiritual belief, and a complete and abiding faith in one's own talent and ability. It's a tale of resilience and staying power.

There is a kindness to Patti Smith that is evident throughout this remarkable book. She doesn't "dish" on folks, though she's seen plenty. She was dismissed by some but never judges those people. Rather, she profusely thanks those who helped her and Robert as they pursued their passions, during the many lean years, times when friends fed them, loaned them clothes, and gave them a spot to flop. Patti's supremely emotionally supportive family shines, Robert's, not so much, even though Patti graciously handles the anecdotes revolving around Robert's mother.

Reading this memoir sparked a curiosity in me. I had to go online and see what was going on while I was navigating the waters of a new marriage and instant motherhood. Through the wonders of the Internet I was able to see video of Patti Smith and her band performing, as they still do even though this remarkable woman is 66 years old. I also found an interview she did at the Smithsonian shortly after she received the National Book Award. http://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?p=patti+smith+at+the+Smithsonian

Just Kids is a joy to read and, for this librarian, an ode to the self-taught man. Patti Smith's prodigious reading and knowledge of poetry and the arts is profound. Her love of the written and spoken word is there on every page. I simply loved this book. Did you?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Karen Joy Fowler's Book Could Have You Beside Yourself

I happened to hear a Diane Rehm show last week on which she interviewed Karen Fowler about her new novel, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. I love that Diane devotes a full hour of her show to writers and their books several times a month. One always senses that Diane has, in fact, read the book and has probing questions prepped and ready to ask. This interview was no exception. In fact, it prompted me to run - literally, as it's only one block away - to the library that very afternoon in search of a copy. http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2013-07-17/karen-joy-fowler-we-are-all-completely-beside-ourselves

Let me say, first up, that this is a very serious book but that Ms. Fowler has a wonderfully wry sense of humor that helps ease the pain. She has obviously done a tremendous amount of research and though this is a work of fiction I suspect that it's based on many stories out there that are true.

A few days after Rosemary Cooke is born, her parents decide to take part in an experiment led by her dad, a professor at the university in Bloomington, Indiana. An "adopted" sibling of the same age is brought to live in their home, to be raised beside Rosemary as her sister. The only issue is that Fern is a chimpanzee. And while this may sound funny at first, you'd need to really stop and think about all that this implies before laughing. Ms. Fowler is not amused.

Try to imagine the psychological ramifications of introducing two newborns of differing species to each other and allowing their growth and progress to become your life's work. Graduate students come and go, each movement, each speech pattern, each behavior from thumb sucking to toilet training is recorded and comparisons made. Rosemary is a talker, asked to share her every thought for the researchers' notebooks. Fern's vocabulary is pretty impressive too, but she uses sign language to indicate her wants and needs.

Fern and Rosemary compete for their older brother Lowell's undivided attention, creating a sibling rivalry like any among three brothers and sisters. But when Fern and Rosemary are around five years old, the animal nature of the chimpanzee (not that we aren't all animals, but that's for the book discussion) manifests itself in a way that results in Fern's being torn from the only family she's ever known a rending that causes the Cooke family to implode.

Karen Joy Fowler has filled her latest novel with common themes, the trickiness of memory, jealousy, family dynamics, and separation, but she presents them in a truly unique way and in beautifully rendered prose. She prods readers to ponder their feelings about animal research and scientific achievement. Is it worth it? How much is too much? How sentient are these beings that we inject with diseases and tumors? What happens to them when we're "finished" with them?

I know I have some friends out there who would really love to be provoked by this novel. Beth Conrad, Janice Danzig, I'm talking to you. I'd love to have you read it and let me know what you think. Let's chat.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Visitation Street - The Brainiest Thriller You'll Read this Year

So who is Ivy Pochoda, you might ask. Why did Dennis Lehane take an interest in her and publish her second novel Visitation Street under the aegis of his new imprint for Harper Collins? In his sales pitch to booksellers and those of us bloggers and librarians who talk up books for a living, he called this book "an urban opera...filled with mystery, poetry, and pain." When Dennis Lehane speaks, those of us who have known him and his work from the get-go, sit up and take notice. If you happen to trust me, I'll tell you that this is the finest suspense novel I've read in a long, long time.

Ms. Pochoda's Harvard degree and oh yes, that MFA from Bennington, are on display on every page of Visitation Street. She writes in a tight, compact style that moves almost too quickly, so don't make the mistake of rushing through it. You just might miss something so beautiful, so heartbreaking, so perfectly pitched, that you'd have to, no, want to, return and read it again.

The storyline is a pretty simple one. Two antsy teens looking for something novel to do on a Saturday night in the hood, June and Val just want to break out a bit, get away from the same-old, same-old. They walk down to the pier and shove off into the East River on a bright pink raft. By morning, only Val is found, barely alive, washed up under the pilings.

I've never been to Red Hook in Brooklyn but I feel that I know it like the back of my hand. That's how good Ms. Pachoda is at giving life to the borough. Just across the river from Manhattan, Red Hook is more like anytown, USA. The Greek has his restaurant, the Lebanese, his grocery store. The Irish have the old bar where the longshoremen used to hang out and the blacks have the high rises. Without benefit of lawns and trees, they cultivate a communal garden in the park that separates them from the white families. But when someone dies or goes missing, the effect runs deep.

The girls have a friend named Cree, a young black man on the cusp. He could go either way, all he needs is a push in the right direction. A community college application sits unfinished on his desk, his mom communicates with the dead, spending her days sitting on the park bench where her husband Marcus, Cree's dad, was accidentally shot and killed six years ago.

Cree has a mysterious guardian who haunts the docks at night, painting graffiti on the shipping containers, store walls, and security grates, but mostly making sure that Cree doesn't get himself on the wrong side of the law. His cousin Monique has a glorious talent, her voice is that of an angel and though she calls out to Jesus in the Tabernacle Church on Sundays, she, too, could take a wrong turn any other day of the week. Like her aunt Gloria, Monique has the gift, but the only voice she hears is June's.

Each beautifully wrought character blazes off the page, fully human and thus, fully flawed. They hurt each other, they love each other, they flash with anger and rage at the dearth of opportunity, they long to venture out yet they belong where they've been planted. They are kind and hateful, loyal and fickle, they live and breathe and we, the readers, are so very fortunate to be in their midst.

I have written previously here about George Pelecanos, a novelist who I also found through Dennis Lehane, and one who kills me with his gritty, heartbreaking stories of guys trying so hard to break out of the cycle of crime that plagues young men, especially young black men, on the streets of our nation's capital. Ivy Pachoda is my new Pelecanos, but with one difference, a ray of hope. Grab a copy of this novel as quickly as you can. If you've already burned through it, I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, July 19, 2013

A "Must Discuss" Book by Sheri Fink

Ms. Fink happens to be a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who is also an M.D. and holds a PhD from Stanford. She has reported from war zones around the world but her new book, Five Days at Memorial, Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, is set in the war zone that was New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina.

This absolutely unputdownable (yes, spell-checker, I know that isn't a real word) non-fiction account of the insurmountable suffering that befell the doctors, nurses, patients, families, and rescue workers who stayed behind at Memorial Hospital in downtown New Orleans after the levies broke, is rife for discussion.

 Ms. Fink divides her narrative into two parts, the first is an in-depth look at what happened during those five days, the second part, deals with the aftermath when the attorney general's office began an investigation into the actions of one doctor and two nurses in the last hours before the final evacuation of the hospital.

You may not all remember reading about this when it happened but Dr. Anna Pou and nurses Lori Budo and Cheri Landry were charged with murder for injecting some of the sickest patients with excessive amounts of morphine and versed, an act that some say mercifully hastened their deaths and put them out of their suffering, but which others called cold-blooded murder.

 No matter where you stand on the right-to-die issue, Ms. Fink injects enough nuance, and the story is so morally complicated, that you'll find yourself questioning your own beliefs more than once. Often the word "triage" is used, think back to old reruns of M.A.S.H. where I probably heard the term for the first time.

In a severe emergency, lack of light, air-conditioning, power to fuel oxygen tanks, 100 degree heat, a city under siege, who should go out first? Some believe it should be the sickest, others say it should be the ones most likely to make a recovery. Two schools of thought battled on the seven floors of the stricken hospital over the five long days, as women and men, using superhuman strength, fueled by little or no food, managed to lift, carry, and shove desperately ill patients down flights of stairs, through holes in a wall, and then up to a helipad where rescue may or may not have been imminent.

As a journalist Sheri Fink has the ferociously difficult obligation to present the facts and try to leave her personal feelings about the situations and the players out of the equation. I have to say that I think she has done an admirable job although every now and then she may have let her guard down, especially when decrying the political theater that surrounded the case. We as readers have no such restrictions. Publication date for this outstanding look at a failure to communicate on a monstrous scale isn't until September but I'll bet it's in your library's catalog now. Place your holds, suggest it for discussion, your customers will thank you

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Crossing the Bridge of Sighs

Crossing The Bridge Of Sighs

No, we didn't make it to Venice on our sojourn through Italy but I wanted to be sure that I had at least one up-beat book with me as I immersed myself in all things Italian. Unless one considers Paris, there probably isn't a more romantic city in all the world than Venice, a perfect location for a book, in this case a novel about a travel writer in love.

You may think, ok, that's been done a thousand times before, I thought it myself as I began to read. But the quality of Susan Ashley Michael's (http://susanashleymichael.com/index.html) writing soon drew me into Claire's story and suddenly I didn't want to be anywhere else. Newspapers with nothing but bad news were a distant memory as I lost myself in the sights, sounds, and smells of La Fenice.

Claire is a character you just can't help but enjoy spending time with. A smart, independent, forty-something travel writer, who's just discovered that her husband and co-writer Bernie, is gay. Well, it's not the first time that's happened, but Claire's biological clock is running out and she wants a baby more than she really ever wanted Bernie. So what's a girl to do?

Claire arrives in Venice to stay with her dearest friend, Josie, to sort out her feelings,  let go of her anger, and plan a future that doesn't involve men. But Josie has other plans. Why is it that women who are "coupled up" seem to want to pair up everyone else? Josie takes it upon herself to place an ad in the personals section of the newspaper on Claire's behalf and readers are left to wonder, each time Claire has an encounter with a handsome new stranger, which she does quite often, if it's fate or something else.

Author Susan Michael must have an impressive pedigree in art history and literature, as visiting Venice  with Claire is like having your own personal expert tour guide. Studying the Madonnas (and oh there are a bunch of them!) Claire takes us through all the major and minor churches of Venice pointing out the details of each. She also has an enviable expense account and moves from one grand hotel to another following the path of the great writers who lived and worked there before her.

The ghosts of these writers and painters follow Claire around the city, appearing at the oddest times, offering advice on life and love as Claire tries to work through her feelings for two disparate men, the young, impetuous, romantic art history student, Max, and the older, less exciting but more comfortable businessman, Michael. Along the way, she manages to dine at all the well-known restaurants and the tiny mom and pops, describing each drink and bite of food in loving detail, even sharing some recipes.

This novel was just what the doctor ordered after I'd read and reviewed two books for Library Journal, the new Coetzee with its sci-fi feel and the dark, tense, new novel from Patrick Flanery, look for it next month, called Fallen Land. My review went in today.

Now I'm in the middle of the stench and decay of Memorial Hospital in New Orleans in the weeks following Hurricane Katrina, as the medical staff agonizes over how to handle the overwhelmingly sick patients who can't be evacuated in time to save their lives. By Pulitzer Prize winner Sherri Fink, Five Days at Memorial, should also be out soon and I'll be writing about it here within days.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Trayvon Martin, This Decade's Emmett Till

Don woke me early this morning with the news I've been dreading for weeks now, a travesty of justice that I simply could not believe would happen again, the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin. Once more, I feel that I have to apologize for being a Floridian. In the wake of the shooting in Sanford, Florida, a year and a half ago, I felt confident that there would be no problem convicting Mr. Zimmerman of something that seemed so obvious. But as time went by, the trial finally started, the strange seating of only six jurors, all female, the burden of proof for a second degree murder conviction seemed to be too much heavy lifting for the prosecution to bear.

Still, refusing to cave in to cynicism, I felt positive that the charge of manslaughter would stick. All the obfuscation, whose voice was on the 911 call, who was on top during the struggle, whose DNA was or was not on the gun, seemed superfluous to the first fact of the case. No means no in a rape case, no matter how close to consummation a couple may be, if one party says "no," then any further sexual advances constitute rape.

Why then, when the police dispatcher distinctly told George Zimmerman, "no," do not pursue the hooded stranger walking through the neighborhood at the, yes, ungodly hour of 7p.m. on a Sunday night, did George Zimmerman get out of his car and take the law into his own hands anyway? This one act, no matter its motivation, set in motion the entire tragedy that followed and resulted in the death of a 17 year old boy. Is this not manslaughter? Is this not the rape of innocence? Is this not yet another act of vigilantism that appears to be increasingly infecting our country? Is this not another reason why we should be tightening, rather than loosening up our gun laws?

My heart is once again sickened by this senseless loss of life. School children today learn of Emmett Till and we tsk, tsk, as if his brutal murder in Mississippi was the result of aberrant behavior from bygone days, before the Civil Rights Act, before the first black president, before we entered the supposed post racial world. In fact, Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin had eerily similar situations. One grew up in Chicago, the other in Miami, cities where races mix freely and profiling would be less likely to happen. Each was visiting an area they were unfamiliar with, Till in Mississippi with family, Martin in Sanford, also with family. Till "flirted" with a white woman, Martin walked home from a 7-11, neither dreamed that his life would end so soon.

Emmett Till                                                          Trayvon_Martin_46

Now, some might say that George Zimmerman will have to live with his conscience for the rest of his life. I say no, I don't believe that a man who could go on a nationwide talk show and actually say with a straight face that it was "God's will" that Trayvon Martin died could be thought to have a fully-formed conscience. This is a man who will be aided and abetted in his crime, he'll be relocated, maybe to a country where he isn't known. He'll write a book about his "ordeal" and never give a thought to Trayvon's parents and their anguish. My only hope is that George Zimmerman spends every day of the rest of his life looking over his shoulder. Is that punishment enough? Of course not. But it must be a horrific way to live.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Ten Hours at JFK - The World Was Too Much With Us

My sister and I were having a long discussion on the telephone last night about mean people. She works in a particularly toxic office environment that's almost impossible to fathom when one has been as fortunate as I have been. Thank you Lee County Library System! Her anecdotes are simply appalling and seem to grow worse the longer she stays there. The situation is comparable to bullying in schools.

That conversation led to our talking about the saving graces, the people we meet along life's way and with whom we have an immediate rapport. You know, the way we seek out the kindness of strangers and glom onto them. This observation, in turn, led me to reflect on our last three weeks traveling the rails, buses and planes from London to Brussels to various spots in Italy and the kindred spirits that we interacted with along the way.

Don and I almost always lean toward bed and breakfast accommodations. We thoroughly enjoy the personal attention, the familiarity that one can quickly gain by talking to locals, asking questions, and seeking advice. Don's facility with languages and his brilliant smile can break down barriers in a heartbeat. Though not as adept as he, my enthusiasm for new experiences in other lands can also go a long way toward making inroads. To learn about another culture from other than a history book is why we travel, isn't it?

I've already mentioned the two gentlemen in Tibenham, England, who didn't bat an eyelash when Don, his grandson and I pulled up in our little rent-a-car to the nearly abandoned airfield that was once headquarters for an RAF bomb group where my dad was stationed during World War II. I'm so sad about the loss of my laptop, while fully realizing that it's just a "thing," because it held all my photos and videos of our experiences with these welcoming, everyday people who made our day.

When we arrived at the Villa Romantica in Lucca, we were greeted by Adolfo, the 75 year old owner of the inn where a friend of mine had stayed fourteen years ago. I had a photo of Adolfo and his wife Daniela, that I shared with them and we were fast friends from then on. We asked him where to eat that the tourists didn't go and he obliged us with several ideas, each one perfect. We met his grandson, Federico, who didn't exist fourteen years ago ( though we now have him on film). We learned that his daughter teaches at the University of Siena, that he owns a vacation retreat on the island of Sardinia, a place that Don has wanted to visit for as long as I've known him, and that he might even be amenable to leasing it out.

In Siena it was Giacomo at the Palazzo di Valli who loaned us his well loved wine glasses for our first exhausted evening on the terrace when we didn't think we could move too far from the view. We spoke with him of the olive trees on the property, a working grove that produces that lusted over extra virgin Tuscan oil. He gave Don a lesson in wine varietals speaking in excellent but studied English until the two found common ground in their shared love of French. We visited a museum in town filled with amazing iconography, sculpture and painting by Sienese artists and found only one other couple enjoying it. We commiserated with Giacomo about the lack of interest in the history of his beloved city.

An Italian cab driver originally from Algeria decided that we were the people he could share his life story with. In the ten minute drive to the bus station at Piazza Gramschi we learned of his anger and desolation when his wife left him after ten years of marriage, of his struggles, working two jobs and going to school, to keep it together until he met another woman and is now happily awaiting the birth of his first child. We spoke of his home country, how it's fared since the French left, whether or not the people are better off now, how the Muslim faith is misconstrued in the press and misunderstood by the general public. We then bonded over my knowledge of the Algerian writer Yasmina Khadra, a man using a woman's name to hide his identity from the military authorities, whose books we've discussed at the library.

In Florence it was the young Senegalese man whose prime position at the exit door of the Galleria de Academia allowed him to interact with us as we left the museum. He was hawking a restaurant, we were hungry for lunch, and Don, who lived in Senegal for many years, asked the young man in his own language if he'd like to walk us to the restaurant. Over the course of a few blocks we learned of his pride in his country, his pleasure in knowing that the Obama family had recently visited, covering the same trail that Don and I had taken only two years ago, his migration to Italy in hopes of making "l'argent." He made our day and I'd like to think that we did the same for him.

But then, the ugly return to earth began. A 4 a.m. wake up call, a testy 5 a.m. cabbie to take us to the airport, a two-hour delay on the tarmac at Charles de Gaulle which would invariably have us late for our connection in New York. I generally make it a point to never fly Delta, having had other less than satisfactory experiences on that airline, and I never go through JFK if I can help it, so what was I thinking?? Well, we flew Air France but it seems that they have an agreement with Delta for the local connections.  Delta was totally immune to complaints, connections to Maryland were few, the only one available would have us sitting in a terminal of chaotic humanity for 6 hours but we were simply too tired to object.

But then the 8:30 departure time loomed and we heard nothing. Thousands of people lay on the filthy floor, sleeping on their luggage, some wired to the Internet ports watching films, others glued to a CNN that couldn't be heard over the din. Totally unable to concentrate or read, we dozed and watched the departure time move to 9, then 9:20, then to a different gate, then to 10 and on into the wee hours.

Why, I wondered, couldn't we engage as easily with a fellow stranded traveler here in New York? Why did I deliberately avoid eye contact with anyone who looked even remotely interesting? Was I simply too tired, too lazy, or was it a deeper problem? Has the political climate in our country affected our willingness to look for a common humanity among our own countrymen?

As my sister and I finished up our conversation of lament for the U.S. and the unhealthy path it seems to be taking, she reminded me of the wonderful young people she meets through Kiwanis scholarship programs and her high hopes for the future. I really want to have her idealism. Perhaps my next trip should be a cross country, Travels with Charley-type odyssey, but for now, I'm ready to stay put and read.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Achebe's Things Fall Apart

Since reading is not work for me I had no trouble taking along two books to  review while on vacation. In fact, while trying to lighten up our luggage to meet the strict requirements for Ryanair, I actually left my paper copy of the new Coetzee novel, The Childhood of Jesus, on a bench in the Charlerois airport in Brussels. Imagine someone's surprise at their good fortune when they pick up a free copy of the Nobel winner's latest novel (even if I wasn't enamoured of it.)

Several months ago I had the honor of reading and reviewing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's new book Americanah, I'm sure that the review has been published even if my personal copy of Library Journal has been lost in translation between Ft. Myers and Maryland. I read many African authors but she has long been one of my favorites. In her outstanding TED talk that I was able to watch in podcast, http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.html
she speaks to the whole concept of storytelling and she credits her countryman (Nigeria) and idol, Chinua Achebe, for her desire to tell stories from an early age.

I know that many high schools have now placed Things Fall Apart on their required reading lists and I was ashamed that I had not read it yet myself. I understand that this is the first in a trilogy about Achebe's homeland and his feelings about the slow tumble of Nigeria from tranquility to turmoil. There's much to be said for globalization but Achebe's novel looks at the downside, when the term no longer means opening borders but taking over.

Through the metaphorical story of Okonkwo, his wives, children, and tribe, we learn of the early lives of Nigerians, how they lived, how they settled scores, their traditions and communistic, in the best sense, way of life before the British, first via the churchmen and then the politicians, arrived to "make things better."

It's a tragic tale as old as the hills, simply told in a scant but powerful 158 pages. Before reading this novel, we of the twenty-first century must set aside our pre-conceived notions of civilization, of what defines justice in today's world and try to inhabit the mores of another time and place and think about the logic of tribal wisdom.

To our current sensibilities, Okonkwo seems too angry, too quick to take offense as he strives to become the leader of his people. He's harsh with his son, expects much of his wives with little sentimentality for any except his daughter, the child of his heart. He works hard to provide for them all but his hot headedness is the beginning of his downfall, when he accidentally kills a man and is banished from his tribe for seven years.

During the time that he and his family are in exile in his mother's homeland, Okonkwo loses precious time to enhance his standing within his own tribe, the Church of England makes inroads, taking even his son into their fold, so that, by the time he can return to what he considers his rightful place within his tribe, his power and position have been weakened beyond repair, his sense of loss and desolation overwhelming.

It's disconcerting to write about such a difficult book while I'm looking out the window at an expanse of Tuscan hillside, olive groves as far as the eye can see. As I sit here I think of the writers over the centuries who have been inspired by this same vista, Edith Wharton, Henry James, the Rossettis, and I marvel. We may not even venture into town today but sit under the grape arbor and read all day. What would you do? http://palazzodivalli.it/en/

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Trains, Planes, and Automobiles!

I guess it's like childbirth - you forget the pain after the baby arrives. So, it's been ten years since my friend Betsy and I trekked for three weeks throughout Umbria and Toscana by rail. Now, a tad older and with heavier bags, Don and I have come to the realization that one must have a good sense of humor to do this in one's '60's or '70's!

Brussels is a gorgeous, sophisticated city but the weather could get you down. We were oh so ready to leave the fifty degree days for the warmth of Italy, but not ready for the 6 AM wake-up call! The cab came at 7 to take us to the bus station where we schlepped onto a shuttle to the airport which - who knew? - is an hour outside of the city.

We were pretty darn proud of ourselves for booking the bargain flight with Ryanair, an Irish company no less, which would get us to Pisa in an hour and a half. We didn't figure on the weight limit for the checked luggage  - 15 kilos isn't a whole lot when you're packing for three weeks. We were cool with the carry-on but had to buy another bag, stand in a corner like bad students, and pull undies and shoes from each of our suitcases to put into the blue carry-on bag. Wish I'd had a photo of that! I was ready for a grappa and it was only 10 AM!

Once in Pisa, we got on a train that only took us to the center of town where we had to change to another train to Lucca. If you haven't traveled through Italy before, take it from me, the stations are unforgiving. There are stairs, stairs and more stairs. Handicapped? Va bene! Don with his cane and I in my heels were a sight to see. I looked around but didn't spy anyone else our age trying to pull this off. We looked at each other and just started to laugh. Hey, it's all fodder for the book, right?

We spotted a cab and fell into his arms where he immediately said to himself, "touristas!" He charged us 11 euro to go about 2 miles and then didn't even pull into the driveway of our respite, The Villa Romantica, But, all's well that end's well. We raided the mini bar for vino and bierra. You can see that it was all worth it:

Don chillin' on the patio:

With the owners: