How Italy Saved My Life

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Italy saved my life.

I first arrived there in the summer of 1969, 14 years old and thousands of miles removed from the streets of my New York City neighborhood. I left behind parents waging a futile battle against a crumbling marriage and a jagged mountain of debt and my closest friends beginning their surrender to the allure of drugs and a life of petty crime and one-way jobs that always follow in their wake.

I didn’t know what I would find in Italy but knew, even at such a young age, that whatever it was it couldn’t be much worse than what I was leaving behind. We lived in a four-room 10th Avenue tenement railroad apartment whose windows cracked and froze during long winter nights and were incapable of capturing even a slight breeze across many a brutal August summer. The night before my flight was to leave for Rome I sat with my mother on the stoop of our building, each of us cooling off with a Puerto Rican shaved ice cone. “You sure you want me to go?” I asked, speaking in Italian since my mother stubbornly refused to learn English, her one rebellious act against an American family and a way of life that for her amounted to little more than a prison sentence.

She nodded and then pointed to the street and the apartment buildings and clusters of neighborhood people milling about doing their best to escape the summer heat. “Do you want this to be the rest of your life?” she asked. “If you do, then stay and your father can find other uses for the money. But if this isn’t want you want, then get on that plane and go to Italy.”

“What’s there that’s not here?” I asked.

Continue reading “How Italy Saved My Life”

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A True Canyon of Heros

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It is, for me, the most peaceful place I could ever hope to find.

The Church of Santa Croce in the city of Florence, Italy is the final resting place of many of the giants of the Renaissance. Among those who lie beneath a variety of ornate marble tombs are Macchiavelli, Galileo, Dante, Rossini, Vasari, Ghiberti and, the Divine One himself, Michelangelo.

I stepped inside the church on my first visit to Italy when I was 14. It was then I first began to understand what it meant to be Italian. Continue reading “A True Canyon of Heros”

The Tuscan Life

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The Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, in the center of historic Florence, is the oldest herbalist pharmacy of its kind in the world. It is where Michelangelo, Dante, Da Vinci and Galileo and other giants of the Renaissance came in search of cures for their various ailments. It had once been a monastery, home to Dominican monks who worked the herbal gardens in search of medicinal remedies. The modern world is left outside once you pass through the thick, ornate wooden doors. Continue reading “The Tuscan Life”

The Master

Author Elmore Leonard Portrait Session And Book Signing At Book SoupElmore Leonard died at the age of 87, the result of a stroke. The day the stroke hit, Leonard was doing what he had been doing since 1951—the year he sold his first short story, a western, to Argosy Magazine—writing. He was working on his 46th novel, “Blue Dreams.”

Leonard, known as “Dutch” to his friends—a nickname he lifted from a Washington Senators baseball pitcher who shared the same last name—came out of the world of advertising, writing copy during the day and getting up before the sun rose to write two pages of a novel every morning. He would finish one page before he allowed himself a taste of that first cup of coffee. Continue reading “The Master”