22 July 2012

LIFE: Summer in Saronno

SARONNO, Italy – July is the wind down to vacation month in Italy. Towns like Saronno hold religious festas honoring their patron saints, or community festas like the ‘notte bianche’  all night fun, food and music fests.  Saronno held its ‘notte bianca’ last week and according to the local papers, more than 40,000 people turned out for the all night celebration.  
Saronno's Notte Bianca
On these warm summer nights a lot of families come out after dinner for a walk around town   and an ice cream. The stores stay open late on Thursday nights, almost to midnight, and the summer sales are in full swing, so there are things to look at and things to buy. On the weekends there is live music and dancing in the area behind the old Padre Monte church, or you can walk over to the piazza near the old town hall and sit out with your neighbors to watch the latest Hollywood offering, dubbed in Italian of course.  It’s a ‘walk in’ movie, the Italian version of the American ‘drive-in’ movie that used to be popular back in the day.  

Saronno in July, is a lot like my computer. If I leave it alone too long, it slips into sleep mode. But in Saronno the sleep mode is just the prelude to the total close down in August. It’s not just true of Saronno, most of the towns here in the north go through exactly the same hibernation period in the summer, even Milan.
Summer in Milan
When I first moved north from Genova Nervi, it was scary to be in Milan in August. Nervi, and the rest of the Riviera are boom towns in the summer, shops are open late, they are open on Sunday, there are outdoor concerts and processions and fireworks all summer long. It's party time! But Milan in August was like a clam in cold water. Nothing was open. All the shops were closed including grocery stores. It was so bad the daily newspaper had to publish a weekly list of where you could buy bread and milk and a few other necessities of life. That’s all changed of course, now that most of the large grocery stores are owned by the Austrians or French. These days some grocery stores are even open on Sunday morning – which I’m sure never would have happened if the stores were still owned by the Italians. 

My favorite thing to do during these lazy days is pour myself a tall glass of lemonade, put my feet up and read a good book. Right now I’m reading Pirates of the Levant by Arturo Perez-Reverte. It’s part of Perez-Reverte’s series of swashbuckling adventure stories of a sword for hire soldier, el Capitan Diego Alatrieste and his young sidekick Inigo Balboa. The series is set during the Golden Age of Spain when Spanish galleons ruled the seas and a great read if you like that sort of thing, and I confess I do.
 Viggo Mortensen as the dashing El Capitan Alatrieste
I recently read and loved The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. It’s the life and times of Ernest Hemingway before he became THAT Ernest Hemingway and it was comforting to know that he too had to sweat bullets to hobble together enough sentences to make a paragraph.  McLain writes beautifully, her tone and pitch are perfect and even if you don’t give two figs about Hemingway, the story is so good you’ll wish it would go on forever.  

Another book I didn’t want to end is Niccolo’ Ammaniti’s Steal You Away. It’s about an 11 year old boy whose father is an alcoholic and his mother is mentally challenged. Jonathan Hunt did the Italian to English translation and while translators never get much credit, if any, they can make or break a book, especially a novel as intricate and complex as this one. I also loved Ammaniti’s I’m Not Scared.
 So Many Books, So Little Time
One book I read that I didn’t care for was A Fine and Private Place by Chistobel Kent. The book is 320 pages long and I read to page 277 and still didn’t understand what she was trying to say. I gave up at that point, I just lost interest. I’m always disappointed when that happens because I want the story to be good, to be interesting, to make me care about the people in it. But not every book can be a winner and some winners, like A Visit From the Goon Squad, are real losers.  

My friend Gary was here a couple of weeks ago and brought me a copy of The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  I’ve been picking it up and putting it down every time I hit the book shops in Milan, for some reason never quite managing to conjure up enough interest to actually buy it. Everyone I know who has read it has loved it, so I’m hopeful.

So other than a few days in Lugano, Switzerland next week to see some friends before they go back to the USA for the summer, and maybe a week or so on the Riviera, I’m really looking forward to a nice, slow summer with time to read and write and get my house in order. How about you?

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