ITALY – SOME LAST THOUGHTS

Mantova, as seen from the lake boat

Last month’s trip marked our 7th visit to Italy since we were married there in Verona in 1988. The pictures speak for themselves but here are a few casual, decidedly unscientific observations from our travels: 1) Italians love their dogs and take them everywhere, even to grocery stores, restaurants and cafes. 2) Along with dogs and children, they cherish artists as gifted, special beings whose work elevates us from the base grasping of the marketplace. 3) Like Americans, Italians have adopted technology, especially smart phones. Yet they seem to spend less time online that most of us, and more time actually talking, which makes sense, given their generally garrulous nature. 4) As a writer, I was happy to see that Italy still has lots of book stores. For them, Kindles and iPads haven’t replaced real paper books – yet. 

outside the Duomo, Modena

5) As with phones and tablets, there are also more fast food restaurants, particularly McDonalds. In what could be a related issue, the natives seem to be getting heavier. Not grossly overweight like too many Americans, just a little paunchier than we remembered. 6) The old church based standards of ‘proper’ behavior are on the wane if not dead; kids dressing less modestly, the girls showing more skin and the boys affecting a ‘gangsta’ look, albeit with droopy, tight, skinny jeans! In several towns we saw young couples making out on the cathedral steps. In years past, such brazen public displays would have garnered a stern ‘disgraziato!’ from the elderly, black clad  ‘signore’. No more.7) Sadly, grafitti is on the rise in once pristine small towns like Brescia and Camogli where it’s not uncommon to find tagged-up walls and buildings. Guess the desire for ‘recognition’  at any cost is worldwide. 8) Along with burger joints and tagging, there are now more immigrants, too. While the beach towns held mostly Italians and tourists from the UK, France, Germany and the U.S., immigrants from Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East now call cities like Bergamo, Brescia and Milan home. Having lived in NYC and L.A., two great ‘melting pots’, it seems normal to us. Not so much for the Italians, who grouse that joining the EU was ‘un disastro’. 

playing with my food in Marina Di Pietrasanta

On a personal note, while some people flock to Italy hoping to become more urbane,  sophisticated, and alluring (read Luigi Barzini’s 1964 classic The Italians), for me the opposite takes place. Instead of morphing into a suave, stylish casanova in the vein of Marcello Mastroianni, I channel Roberto Benigni. I trip on sidewalks, stumble over thresholds, spill soup and gelato on my shirt and slacks, drive down one-way streets, going the wrong way. I routinely ask directions to churches, hotels and museums – ‘Scusi, signore. Puo dire mi dov’e…’ while standing directly in front of the location, prompting WTF! stares and chuckles from the natives, who gape at me as if to say, “Poor thing, he looks normal but I guess he’s not quite right”. It’s humbling, but also great fun. 

lunch @ Trattoria Ermes, Modena

I wasn’t alone; Eugenie had her ‘aha!’ moment, too. For years, she told anyone who’d listen that her dream was to live in Italy, where ‘family’ and ‘connection’ still matter. During our sojourn, she suddenly realized that she already has those things here at home, where she’s surrounded by loving friends and relatives. While living in Italy would be fun for a while, without the anchor of work or family we’d just be ‘the American couple’  who stop by every morning for coffee and pastry,  strangers yearning to be ‘in it’, but never truly being ‘of it’. A great observation from a great trip. Ciao!

Camogli
Eugenie’s Italian sportscar

Abbey of San Frutuoso near Camogli

I CANI DELL’ITALIA (THE DOGS OF ITALY)

The Duomo, Milan
Poor Tanner! His parents went to Italy for 3 weeks and all he got was some lousy pictures of Italian dogs. Before you feel too sorry for our canine blogger, he spent his vacation at Sandpiper Kennels, hanging out in the office with Patti, Paul and Ignacio, and romping with the pack in the play yard. We came home to find him looking lean and fit, and very, very happy to see us. Since we’re with him every day, it’s tough to notice just how much Tanner has changed sine he first joined our family. That’s why we were thrilled to hear Patti say…When I first met Tanner, he was meek, nervous and shy…with your persistence and devotion, Tanner has blossomed into a real dog! A fun loving, bouncing around, tail wagging, food gobbling, happy puppy!!!!! He is an absolute joy to behold!”  Thanks to Patti and her crew for taking such good care of him so we could rest easy and enjoy our vacation.

Mantova

During our trip we visited Bergamo, Brescia, Lake Garda (Sirmione), Mantova, Modena, Pietrasanta, Marina Di Pietrasanta, Camogli, Pavia, and Milan. Along the way we saw lots of dogs. Most were mixed breeds but we did see several Labs, Pugs, Cavalier King Charles, Shepherds, English and Irish Setters and a dozen or more pit bulls, bull terriers, cane corsos, and dogo argentinos. In Bergamo, we struck up a conversation with a young man from the Netherlands who was strolling with his family and his Staffordshire Terrier, ‘Bus’. We told him about Tanner and gave him a card for the book. He took one look and said, “I know GIMME SHELTER; I follow you on Facebook.” Seems the world, or at least the dog world, is a very small place indeed. It wasn’t possible to photograph every dog we came across all but here are a few we did get:
‘Maria’, Piacenza
‘ZEUS’ (Cane Corso), Mantova
Jack Russells, Pietrasanta




‘BIG BANG’ IN THE ‘BU…COOL Y.A. WRITERS

Every day I wake up and pinch myself I’m so grateful to be living in Malibu with my mom and dad. It’s a magical place and so, sometimes, we forget just how special it is. Take last night. We were all lounging together on the bed when we heard a loud ‘bang’ that sounded like a gunshot. Thankfully, it wasn’t the neighbors run amok but the prelude to a spectacular fireworks show at Paradise Cove that lit up the ocean and the highway. The shelling lasted for 20 minutes. By then, this pit bull was beyond freaked (loud noises and wind storms still take me back to my scary days as a homeless puppy) but Eugenie and Lou said it was the best show ever in the 23 years they’ve been living here. When they saw me shaking and quaking, they hauled me up onto the bed and spooned me until I settled down.  

Chill-axing after the ‘Big Bang’


Lou and Eugenie wanted me to mention that several friends have recently published Y.A. (Young Adult) novels. K.V. Flynn’s ON THE MOVE takes place in the SoCal skater culture, while Justine Fontes’ DEADLY DRIVE and BENITO RUNS offer gritty ‘high-low’ tales (advanced stories, accessible vocabulary) set in an urban Texas high school. If you’re looking to spur your kids’ interest in reading, give these gems a look-see.


DOG WRITERS – A NEW TAKE ON ‘ANIMALS

Lou and I just received the Summer 2014 issue of Rough Drafts, the Dog Writers Association of America newsletter, and what did we find inside? A profile of my favorite dog writer and pit bull dad, and a very nice feature on GIMME SHELTER. Thanks to Ida Estep and Elaine Gewirtz for sponsoring us, and to Vicky Clarke for the great job editing Ruff Drafts.

A couple weeks ago, we had the honor or emceeing Malibu Methodist Church’s ‘Blessing of the Animals’. Every animal guardian received a medallion of St. Francis and a card with this very cool message from naturalist/writer Henry Beston: “We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err. For the animals shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of earth.”
Tanner & Porter listening to ‘other voices’

A DOG DAY BLESSING – SCULPTURE ON DISPLAY

We rarely post photo blogs (Italians would gladly launch 1,000 words instead) but I wanted to share some highlights from yesterday’s Blessing of The Animals at Malibu Methodist Church. Tanner and I were the volunteer emcees and we toured the vendors booths, interviewing some exotic non-profits, like the Gibbon Conservation Center, that is dedicated to helping the world’s most endangered primate, and Ghost Fishing: Ocean Conservation, whose mission is to find and remove from our seas the discarded deadly plastic fishing lines that claims the lives of fish and marine mammals. There were local favorites, too, like Dr. Lisa from Malibu Coast Animal Hospital, Healthcare for Homeless Animals, Master dog trainer and Shorin Ryu karate sensei Robert Cabral, of Bound Angels and Black Belt Dog Training, and groomer and animal activist par excellence, Sherman, whose new venture Peaceful Pets Aquamation offers a sensible, kind and environmentally smart way to help our departed 4-legged companions cross over with dignity and peace. The whole morning was a blast but my personal fav was Tanner quaffing an entire bowl of holy water while Paster Sadhi Liddell blessed his thirsty dog self. If you missed the event, highlights will be posted at Encore Streaming in the near future.

Tanner polishes off the holy water as Pastor Sandhi Liddell of MMUC looks on

After a brief siesta, it was off to Malibleu Gallery  for the opening reception of the ‘Wavelength’ exhibition. The place was jammed with art lovers, who sipped wine, nibbled snacks and grooved to the funky blues of The Country Legends. Several friends showed up to admire Eugenie’s superb stone sculpture, and we got to meet some of the other talented artists, including fellow sculptor Jill McDonell, painters Brooke Harker and Adriana Guidi, and husband/wife photographers Consuelo Veri and Przemek Domanski of PhotoBox.comhttp://www.photoboxinc.com.

Eugenie with her stone sculptures
With painter Adriana Guidi ® and her mom, Louis (l)

with photographer Consuelo Veri

BLESS THE BEASTS…AND ARTISTS – SAD FAREWELLS

Lou and I are excited to tell you that we’ll be leading Malibu Methodist Church’s annual Blessing of the Animals on Saturday, August 16 from 10:00 – noon at There will be vendor booths, contests, and, of course, yours truly selling copies of GIMME SHELTER. So, if you have a cat, rat, horse, or warthog in need of some blessing, drop on by. (30128 Morning View Dr, Malibu, CA 90265, 310.457-7505). 

Later that day, my ‘mom’, Eugenie, will part of a gallery opening at Malibleu Gallery here in Malibu. She’ll have ten of her amazing stone sculptures on display and we’re rooting for every one of them to find a good, well-paying home. Again, we’d love to have you join us for some great art and a glass of vino (Malibu CA. 21201 Pacific Coast Hwy).

Sadly, not all this week’s news is festive. Yesterday we learned that Menahem Golan, a partner in Cannon Films and a legend in the movie biz, passed away suddenly near his home in Tel Aviv. Lou and his writing partner, Gary Horn, had a personal connection to Menahem, who optioned their sniper-on-the-loose thriller ‘Holiday Season’ several times and was promising to make the move this year. Just a few weeks back, Lou mailed him a copy of GIMME SHELTER as a gift and here’s what he had to say: “Brilliant book (GIMME SHELTER) with great insight into, not only dogs but yourself. Some excellent ‘laugh out loud’ moments. My question is “How did you find such an amazing and loyal woman to stand by you whilst you were learning to deal with your anger?” 🙂 🙂 🙂 She deserves a medal! Well done to you all (including Tanner) and I look forward to your next book!

Menahem Golan“. 

Menahem Golan on the set

Unlike Menahem, Malibu’s Diesel Bookstore recently fell victim to the ravages of runaway retail rents. Unable to afford the astronomical fees, they reluctantly shut their doors. It was an especially dark day for us. When we published GIMME SHELTER in early 2013, we had no idea if it would ever sell a single copy, let alone find its way to a real bookstore. On a nudge from, Eugenie, Lou introduced himself to Lynn and asked if Diesel might be willing to carry the book and maybe even host an author night. To our delight and surprise, she said ‘yes’ to both. On Thursday night, April 25, 2013, Lou read to a packed house at Diesel, and we made our initial charitable book donation to Malibu Pet Companions. It was our first live event, a fun, magical evening that we’ll always remember. A month later, Diesel boosted our profile yet again when Gimme Shelter placed #2 on the Malibu Times best selling books for May. In December, we landed at #16 on Diesel’s 2013 Top Seller list. Any indie author would be thrilled to get that much push from a bookstore but there was more.

The ‘fan’, outside Diesel
 Sometime after Christmas, Malibu resident and reporter Kim Devore stopped by to get a gift for her dog-loving mom, Erika Brunson. A Diesel employee – Lynn I think – urged her to skip the nationally known volumes in favor of a local book, Gimme Shelter. Kim took her advice. Erika loved the book so much that she proceeded to buy all the store’s copies not once but twice. Thanks to Lynn, Lou contacted Erika and we met for coffee. When Eugenie mentioned that I teach part time at the local probation schools at Camp Miller and Camp Gonzales, and that they were interested in using the book as an anger management tool for the juvenile offenders, Erika jumped in and bought 100 copies for the schools. This fall, Gimme Shelter will be part of their formal curriculum on the theme of ‘Discovery’. Inspired by the school connection, the Probation Department recently purchased copies for the dorm libraries in all of the county’s juvenile camps. Lou is currently speaking with school officials at New York City’s Riker’s Island about using the book with their juvenile inmates. None of this would have been possible without Diesel Malibu. Things change, and when one door closes another opens. Eugenie, Lou and I sincerely wish that all of the new doors for the Diesel Malibu family bring adventure, success, fun and peace. Thanks for enriching our lives, and the city we love. We’ll miss you.

Tanner @ Diesel, April 25, 2013

DO JEALOUS PIT BULLS DREAM OF ELECTRIC CATS?…HONORING A ‘JERSEY BOY’

I sometimes overhear Lou & Eugenie saying that I was running in my sleep and having another ‘doggie dream’. Until recently, the idea of canine dreams was largely dismissed as another case of humans anthropomorphizing their pets. New research, however,  suggests that we may, indeed, be doing just that. In a recent Parade Magazine article, Your PetExlained: The Truth About Cats & Dogs, veterinarian Melissa Bain, associate professor at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, says that “we don’t know…but we think they dream.” That’s because their brain-wave patterns resemble those seen in people. “Dogs go through sleep cycles very similar to humans’, with periods of deep sleep and periods of rapid eye movement, or REM, sleep,” says Stephen Zawistowski, Ph.D., an applied animal behaviorist and science adviser to the American Society for the Prevention of ­Cruelty to Animals. “Dreaming happens during REM sleep, which is also when dogs twitch their legs, move their lips, or vocalize.” ­Wonder when your own dog might be dreaming? As a dog starts to doze, and his sleep becomes ­deeper, his breathing will become more regular, says canine ­behavior ­expert Stanley Coren in his book How Dogs Think. “After a period of about 20 minutes,” Coren writes, “his first dream should start.” (read the entire article).

Tanner and his newest ‘baby’ (Thank You, Aunt Robby)

Not only do we dream like our two-legged partners, it seems we get jealous like them, too. As reported by CNN online, “a study by scholars at the University of California, San Diego found that dogs showed jealous behaviors when their owners displayed affection toward an animatronic stuffed dog that barked, whined and wagged its tail. The dogs snapped at and pushed against the stuffed dog and tried to get between it and the human. This may come as no surprise to any owner of multiple pooches who has seen them jostle for space on someone’s lap.”

Joe Long, far right

Thanks to the billion dollar stage hit and recent movie, JERSEY BOYS, millions of younger Americans now know the music, and tumultuous story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, a quartet of street smart ‘goombahs’ who mixed music with the Mob. Well, it turns out that Lou has a personal connection to one of the Seasons, #5, Joe Long (photo, far right). Joe was born Joe LaBracio, in Elizabeth, NJ. His mom and dad, Mary and Joe, lived on High Street, a scant half-block from Spirito’s Restaurant, the landmark eatery founded 80+ years ago by Lou’s grandfather. They were such close friends that Lou’s mom and dad chose Mary & Joe to be Lou’s godparents, a big deal for Italians. When the Seasons tabbed Joey, a talented, classically trained bass player, to replace the disgruntled Nick Massi, Joey became an instant hero in  the city’s Italian Peterstown neighborhood. Fifty years later, Joe’s hometown has decided to honor him by renaming High Street Joe Long Way. It couldn’t happen to a nicer, humbler or more deserving guy. (listen to the interview).

SURF’S UP…A TOUGH ACT TO FOLLOW

On July 10, Lou read from GIMME SHELTER and followed up with a Q & A for the juvenile probation students at Camp Miller. While they know him as a motivational substitute teacher, this gave the boys a chance to ask about the book, the writing process and his battle with anger. Afterwards, he visited the classrooms and talked about the opportunities available via KDP and CreateSpace to self-publish for no, or very little money. He tossed out a few intriguing story lines and offered to ‘give’ them to any student willing to run with the ideas. His presentation went so well that he was invited to do an encore this week at Camp Gonzales. In the fall, both camps will be using Gimme Shelter as part of a scholastic unit on the theme of ‘Discovery’.

Tanner & Lola (“‘She Was A Show Dog..”) Mazza

Switching hats on the fly, Lou went from speaker/writer to concerned citizen when he addressed the Malibu City Council, urging them to put an initiative intended to control local retail development on theNovember’s ballot. While he’s rarely at a loss for words, Lou admitted to being taken aback when he was asked to follow actor/writer/director and producer and Malibu resident Rob Reiner (All In The Family, Princess Bride, This Is Spinal Tap, When Harry Met Sally), who sponsored the initiative with his wife. In classic ‘dad’ style, Lou joked about having to “one-up the famous guy”. Then he made an earnest, humorous appeal to the council to honor the democratic process.
Rob Reiner
While most of our news involves dogs, books and related matters, we’re happy to give a hearty ‘Bravo!’ to our dear friend, John Mazza. A lifelong surfer who has amassed an impressive collection of boards, John generously loaned 15 of his vintage ‘sticks’ to the Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park in San Diego for an exhibit on Surf Craft. Richard Kenvin designed and organized the show which continues through December.

John Mazza, surfboard collector and historian

Here’s a YouTube tour of John’s Collection at the Pepperdine University Library. Below are some of the reviews and media coverage of the Balboa show: 

‘THE ROCKETS RED GLARE’…PIT BULL MELTDOWN & LOVE FROM THE U.K.

Even though we’re on the wrong side of the tracks (in this case, Pacific Coast Highway), every July 4th we get to watch the Paradise Cove pyrotechnics from our balcony. It’s  huge treat for us humans but not much fun the neighborhood dogs. As he’s done for the past 5 years, poor Tanner spent several hours shivering like a North Pole skinny dipper while searching in vain for a place to escape the skyrockets and firecrackers. Four days later, he’s still not back to his normal, easy-going self.

                                                                            ~ ~ ~
While Independence Day celebrates America’s breakup with England, this year the holiday brought us some love from the U.K. in the form of a glowing review of GIMME SHELTER courtesy of Emma Powell and The Review Group. Here’s hoping that her kind words lead U.K. dog lovers to rush out and buy a copy. From the review: “You don’t have to be a dog lover to appreciate this book. I was happy to review it as I have always had German Shepherds, my latest one a rescue with problems, so can empathise with judgemental attitudes that surround certain breeds. But this book is so much more than dogs; it’s a person’s story of how he developed coping mechanisms, life-changing attitudes and how hard it is to work at changing lifestyles.  By having to work with a dog that had issues, such as fearing everything, surrounded by people with preconceived ideas of the dog, the author cleverly shows how this path forced him to take his own issues to hand. The author is very honest and open that he has anger problems stemming from childhood and through his 20s and I think this is a very difficult and brave thing to do. “
Tanner…American Staffordshire Terrier & Yankee Doodle Dandy
If they’re anything like their Yankee counterparts, they’ll likely enjoy the book’s sidebars that offer tips on training and dog care, as well as pertinent statistics about dog-human interactions, such as dog bites and how to prevent them. Cesar Millan’s latest newsletter puts the annual number of U.S. dog bites at 4.5 million, with 31 fatalities. On the surface, these numbers suggest that  man’s best friend is nothing of the sort. As Tanner will attest, it’s crucial for pet guardians to train and socialize their dogs and to safely restrain them if they show aggression towards people or other animals. But before you muzzle Bowser or show him the door, consider that every day in the U.S. 4.5 children die from abuse and neglect and that the Center for Disease Control is predicting 33,000 gun fatalities for 2015.

DOGS IN THE PEN…MORE ON MOURNING

For the past two weeks Lou has been too busy with his Probation kids to post my observations. I heard him telling ‘mom’ (Eugenie) that he had them working on topics as diverse as personal investing, dharma in prison and Kohlberg’s 6 Levels of Moral Development. Phew! Now that he’s finally taking a breather, I wanted to pass along some very heartening news about canines helping humans the way I helped him. Ruth Levine, President and Founder of Karma Rescue, recently shared the following: 

“The Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR) approached Karma Rescue with a unique opportunity: could we help them develop a training program inside one of our state prisons that would pair inmates with rescued shelter dogs? While similar programs have been instituted across the nation, Paws For Life is California’s first and only program in a high-security prison involving inmates serving life-term sentences. 


Paws For Life brings rescued shelter dogs to live full-time with inmates at the Los Angeles County CDCR. Over a twelve-week cycle, inmates will learn from Karma trainers how to train our rescue dogs for ‘Canine Good Citizen’ certification. Once a dog earns this designation, the chance for successful adoption increases — as does our ability to rescue another shelter animal in its place. The inmates also benefit: beyond the rehabilitative therapy of a dog’s presence, they are learning “real world” skills and connecting to a larger a humanitarian process outside of the prison walls. This program gives them a way to contribute back to society by helping a dog get a second chance at life. On June 1, we brought five shelter dogs to the prison. Men who had not seen an animal in decades were openly emotional at the sight of the beautiful creatures before them. Just petting our dogs brought many to happy tears. It was a day I will never, ever forget.”

If you’d like to support the project, you can donate on the Karma website.


To follow up on our last post about whether dogs grieve like their human companions, Cesar Millan tackles the subject in his latest newsletter. According to the dog guru, they miss their deceased pack buddies like people miss their dearly departed pals and family. Thankfully, the majority of grieving pups eventually return to their former, joyful selves.

Tanner mourning his eviscerated ‘babies’