The Bridesmaid

My collection of short stories, Ms. Yamada's Toaster, has been listed as a finalist in two first-book competitions:

The Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction from Sarabande Books, and The 2009 Hudson Prize from Black Lawrence Press.

I'm encouraged by the positive feedback because this was the first time I had put my work together in book form, to be considered as a whole. I agonized over the order of the stories, which to include and which to leave out, wondered if they would hang together as an entity, rather than just feeling like a bunch of one-offs slapped together with a binder clip. Now I'll go back through the book and see how I can strengthen it. Maybe one day, it'll the be the one in white.


Il Dolce Far Niente

To start, a couple pieces of news:

“Praha,” a piece of postcard prose, is up at The Literary Bohemian. I love the look of this online journal.

And next summer, I’ll be spending a week in Methana, Greece, thanks to the generous folks at Limnisa.

Speaking of Europe and the Bohemian life, at the moment I’m in Lecce, Italy, visiting Kristin and Mattie, two friends who are living and writing here semi-permanently because, well, they love Italy.

A kitchen scene: pastries from the pasticheria down the road, cherries from the market, zucchini flowers to be fried and eaten, cappuccino, Botrugno rosso, loquats and wildflowers liberated from a local garden.

And for good reason. Lecce is in Puglia, on the heel of Italy’s boot. The region gets a lot of sunshine, which means beach days and warm nights on the terrace. For us vino lovers, the area produces amazing, under-celebrated wines that are gaining popularity and recognition by the second. We had the chance to attend “Cantine Aperte,” an open winery festival, last week, and were blown away. (Read Mattie's wine blog entry on the event here.) Wines that would easily sell for fifty bucks in Napa cost six Euros, and great quality bottles were available for as little two-fifty. Pours were generous; a “taste” sometimes reached the half-glass mark and even with the most expensive wines, the pourer (often the winemaker) rinsed out glasses not with water but with the wine itself. If there’s any correlation between literary inspiration and wine consumption, we’ll be set for life.

Aside from our morning “Write Club,” we’ve been cooking like crazy. It’s satisfying how much time is devoted to eating well in Italy. Not only does a good home-cooked meal involve a trip to the salumeria, the veggie market, the store with the best cheese prices, and the wine shop, but each place keeps its own particular hours, closing on random weekdays, and daily afternoons for anywhere between one and five hours. Sometimes business hours are posted, but correlation with reality is generally slim.

Business hours at a clothing store: 9 AM to 1 PM, 4:56 PM to 8:54 PM (or 10:40? I love how both clock hands are the same length.)

Even if you do happen upon the schedule for an official, government-run place—like, say, the city’s main post office—it doesn’t really matter, since time itself is a matter of opinion in Italy.

Centro Post Office, Lecce. Clock reads 3:40. Actual time: 4:22.

No one seems to mind, though. All that inconvenience basically leads to a mandated rest period built into the day, a time for “il dolce far niente,” my new favorite Italian phrase. It means “the sweet doing-nothing.”

When I'm not thinking about food, shopping for food, cooking food, or eating it, one of my favorite doing-nothing activities is watching the swallows. At certain times of day, these city birds take to the sky. They're are fun to watch because of their distinctive arc shape and playfulness in the air. They beat their boomerang wings, then glide, turn, and swoop. It’s like a kid sprinting toward water for a cannonball. In the afternoon they travel among trees but in the evening they play, tornadoing into building courtyards, so close to the walls that anyone leaning out risks a collision.

Maybe I'll make "to enter the courtyard at dusk" an idiom. It could mean "to carelessly wander somewhere at the wrong time."

Example: “Kristin just dropped her gelato and Mattie’s bragging about how good his scoop of coconut is. He’s heading into the courtyard at dusk, man.”

The swallows are roosting in the trees now, which means it's somewhere between 9 and 10:30 AM. Except at the post office, where it's midnight. Time to write.