|The fabulous Stella|
|Leo with his angel, Meagan|
|The fabulous Stella|
|Leo with his angel, Meagan|
|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!
|Eugenie’s Italian sportscar|
|Abbey of San Frutuoso near Camogli|
Before Tanner resumes his role as blogger-in-chief, I thought I’d mention a few more reasons we have to be thankful for our dolce vita. First, there’s good friends like John and Robby Mazza, and their pups, Lola and Porter, whose friendship we cherish and whose efforts to Preserve Malibu from over-development we deeply appreciate.
|John Mazza & Lola @ Our Lady of Malibu’s Blessing of the Animals|
|Lisa Rinna, Eugenie and Harry Hamlin|
Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the amazing creation that my niece, Krissie Veit and her husband, Billy, gave birth to this week…their son, Cassidy William. Eugenie and I are thrilled and can’t wait to meet the handsome little hunk.
|Krissie and Cassidy William|
|The Duomo, Milan|
|‘ZEUS’ (Cane Corso), Mantova|
|Jack Russells, Pietrasanta
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.
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.
|Tanner & Porter listening to ‘other voices’|
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|
|Tanner and his newest ‘baby’ (Thank You, Aunt Robby)|
|Joe Long, far right|
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|
|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: