Monday, June 25, 2018

In Montisi

Annamaria in Chiantishire

Thanks to the good offices of John Lawton--fellow crime writer and dear to many of us MIE bloggers, I have had my first visit to that part of Tuscany preferred by visitors from the British Isles: the Crete Senesi, the hills southeast of splendid Siena.  Nicknamed Chiantishire because of its density of English population.

Montisi is a beautiful medieval hill town.  The atmosphere is nothing short of splendid. Viz--

What impressed me most about the ambience of Montisi were the relationships between the locals and the expats--whether seasonal or year round.  I saw no divide between the resident Italians and the resident imports.  They all seemed capable of sliding between English and Italian, sometimes within the course of a single sentence.  Much more telling: they took a kind and caring interest in one another--who was sick, who needed extra company because his wife was away, whose chid was nervous over a university application. All the kinds of things one might expect in the life of a small village, but with none of the "us/them" dichotomy typical of say a town in Florida where northerners show up only in winter. With the people of Montisi, there is only "us."

My host was Ugo Mariotti who was a producer and casting director for the movie "Don't Look Now" with Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland.

Lawton (my term of endearment for him) told me about the artists and writers who call the town their full or part-time home.  Among Ugo's neighbours are painters Liz Graham-Yooll (who also illustrates children's books), Elizabeth Cochrane, and Sue Kennington.  And sculptor David Mackie.

Mackie's magnificent bird house.  

Mackie's avian neighbor, but presumably not a resident of the above.

Mackie's sculpture of Caliban, which figures in John Lawton's
brilliant "Friends and Traitors."

In addition to John, Montisi has hosted authors Rupert Thomson and at one point a few yers ago, our own Zoe Sharpe.

The area is home to Bruce Kennedy, a world renowned maker of harpsichords and clavichords.  He is also the executive Director of Picolo Accademia, a music school in Montisi, which jointly with my hometown favorite Julliard School of Music, hosts an annual festival of baroque performances.  I am missing it by a week.  Next time, I plan to be there to hear the music.  

In the meanwhile here is a sample of the playing of this year's star performer: Skip Sempe'--playing one of Kennedy's harpsichords:

Alla prossima volta!  Until next time, Montisi!

Upcoming for Annamaria:

June 26: 7:30PM
Summit Free Public Library
75 Maple St
Summit, NJ 07901

July 10: 7PM
The Chappaqua Library
195 S Greeley Ave
Chappaqua, NY 105146

July 19: 6:30PM
171 Main St.
Manasquan, NJ 08736

Sunday, June 24, 2018

A Snark's Eye View From the Mountains of Japan

--Susan, every other Sunday

As by now I'm sure you're all aware, I'm spending the next few months in Japan, attempting to become the first American woman over 45 to climb the Nihon Hyakumeizan in a single year--as well as the first cancer survivor to climb them within a year after finishing cancer treatment (chemotherapy).

On the summit of Mount Bandai. (A mile high, but you'll have to take my word for it.)

But this journey has quickly become about far more than merely tagging peaks and adding notches to a climbing belt. (Spoiler alert: I always knew it would, and intended it to.) My climbing notes often wax philosophical -- sometimes, downright "woo-woo" -- and yet, I think it's impossible to undertake a project of this magnitude without a great deal of internal dialogue and growth.

I WILL BECOME A BEAUTIFUL BUTTERFLY. (Or perhaps a moth . . .)

Or, if you did, I think you'd cheapen the journey and deprive yourself of a critical aspect of the journey. As every writer knows, the protagonist's internal arc is actually more important than the physical one (s)he undertakes--and that's true in life as well as in fiction.

However, it's also true that wherever I am, my herd of snarks is never far behind--and since I'm not revealing the bigger side of the lessons learned until I know for myself what those lessons really are, you're going to have to live with reports from the snarky side.

Tell me there's something NOT snarky to say about a display like this . . .

Let's be honest . . . the snarks are more fun anyway.

So here's the snark-cap of my travels since last we met here at MIE:

I have summited five more hyakumeizan--Mounts Nasu, Bandai, Ibuki, Omine, and Odaigahara--bringing my total climbs to 11. (And I'll be climbing number twelve by the time you read this blog.)

Technically, I didn't actually climb Mount Omine, since apparently the world will end if women cross the Great Seal at the base of the mountain--but I took my photo at the highest marker I was allowed to reach, and since that marker lies at the base of the mountain, I'm proud to say I reached the summit in record time.

(Non) Summit Photo, Mount Omine

On Ibuki, I learned that climbing mountains in the rain is a horrible idea--and that hiking through abandoned ski resorts has all the makings of an excellent horror film.

I see no way this could possibly go wrong.

On Bandai-san, I discovered something that moves even slower than I do on the trail (though not by much).

The only other hiker I outpaced on the way to the summit.

I also acquired a new, and louder, bear bell (the third bell on my pack, in case you're counting), so I can jingle up a storm with all the Japanese hikers on the mountain trails.

Chausu-dake, the active volcanic cone on Mount Nasu, taught me that volcanic gases are so nice, you smell them twice: the first time when you hike up the mountain, and the second time about twelve hours later, when you use the bathroom at your hotel.

Yay! A live volcano! (And yes, I hiked all the way to the top)

Fun fact: it smells exactly the same coming out as it did going in. (Which, I'm well aware, is more information than you needed, but now you know--and knowing is half the battle.)

Omine taught me that if you don't let women on the mountain, they'll have time to hike a beautiful gorge,

The cataracts at Mitarai Gorge

ride a monorail, visit limestone caves,

Breathtaking limestone formations in Dorogawa

cross giant suspension bridges,

One of at least half a dozen I crossed while hiking Mitarai Gorge. They wobble quite reassuringly underfoot.

and clock a 29,000 step hiking day--all the while having far more fun than the men standing naked under waterfalls on the mountain.

Respectfully submitted in place of the missing photo of naked priests beneath a waterfall.

In other words: NEENER. (Despite the law degree--or perhaps because of it--maturity has never been my strong suit.)

And Odaigahara taught me to recognize poop.

Actual sign on the summit plateau, Mount Odaigahara.

Because Japan.

(It also showed me some breathtaking vistas, which probably is more in tune with what you'd like to see - so I'll drop a photograph of that instead of something more scatalogically-oriented.)

The view from Daijagura, an outcropping on Mount Odaigahara.

Today I traveled to Nagano Prefecture, in preparation for tomorrow's planned ascent of Kurumadake. I visited an ancient shrine, watched the sun set over a gorgeous lake, and drank dragon spit--as you do, when the opportunity presents itself.

Sacred dragon drool for the win. Delicious!

As you can tell, there's plenty to snark about on this adventure--as well as enough to marvel at, admire, and learn from that it's likely to take a lifetime to fully process. One thing is already clear, however--the choice to pursue my dreams today, instead of waiting for a "someday" that might never come was the right decision for me, and it's the right decision for you as well. Whatever it is you're burning to do, find a way to do it now.

The mighty (and sacred) Tenkawa River, Mitarai Gorge, Nara Prefecture

And don't forget to let the snarks out for some exercise along the way. Traveling is much more fun with their running commentary by your side.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

I've Launched a New Career


I’ve always thought of “launch” as such an imprecise term. After all, leaving the pad doesn’t mean you’ll make it into orbit.  That’s particularly likely to prove problematic with the career I’m talking about.

Or rather not talking about, for on top of everything else, the event that has me writing this post is confidential, more precisely Mykonos Confidential.

Into its thirteenth year of publication, Mykonos Confidential is the often imitated, but never equaled, summertime bible of the passions, pastimes, and peccadillos of a place like no other. 

This year, as in the past, its publisher, Petros Bourovilis, invited me to contribute an article to the issue. It’s always a great pleasure and honor to be part of MC, and so I of course accepted.

But this year Petros didn’t stop there. And here comes the confidential part. DRUM ROLL, PLEASE. He asked me to participate in what has become a core part of the magazine…its fashion shoot on island locations.  Yes, you read that correctly. I was asked to model for a magazine, and not MAD.

Whatever possessed him, I do not know, but I shall await the results (and editorializing) to see how it all comes out—and how much of my “work” makes it into print.  Though I cannot share any of the shots, or give away the theme, I do have a few photos of my colleagues at work. 

We shot for three days on beaches in Mykonos and its environs, and had a blast. The people were great, the laughs many, and my role as the senior model (by multiples over the ages of the professional Russian, Swedish, and Italian-Brazilian models) did not dampen my fun in the least. I guess that comes from being used to younger souls offering me their seats on the NYC subway.

And I learned so much from them too. For example, how many of you know what’s a “Boomerang shot?” Okay, let’s amend that to how many of you over thirty.

Well, enough of the chit-chat. Here’s some photos of my last three days away from the keyboard.  I can’t wait to see the finished product. Nor though, can I wait to get back into writing Kaldis #10.  But I’m returning with a new vigor toward that project, and a bandbox of grand new ideas for Kaldis and crew from this experience.

Plus, another bucket list accomplishment marked off the list.  I’m a fashion model! Of sorts.

All I can say is, thank you, Petros, Stefanos, Thanasis, Marios, Iris, Angeliki, Eva, Maya, Daria, Lucas, Michele, Dana, Ari, and Panos for great fun and introducing me to your world.

Can’t wait to see my tear sheets.