Thursday, July 21, 2016

What the heck is a NEAPOLITAN NOVEL and who is ELENA FERRANTE?

When I first stumbled across a mention of Italian author Elena Ferrante, I wondered what she had written to be crowned one of Italy's most renowned novelists.

I heartily agreed with an article in "The Economist", which called her "the best contemporary novelist you've never heard of."

Her series of Neapolitan Novels begins with My Brilliant Friend, the first in the multi-volume set.  I was intrigued as I have a deep love for Italy and its people.  And, at the risk of sounding shallow, I liked the cover art.

For some reason, I have been ensnared by multi-volume novels of late (such as Outlander and Poldark) so I decided to flip a coin.  After all, unlike the other two series, this one only has four books.

Set in the 1950's  near Naples, Italy, Ferrante tells the story of two young girls, Lila and Elena. Translated from the original Italian, it was not an easy book to read.  Even the best of translators cannot precisely duplicate the lilt and flow of the author's language.  My grammatical background did battle with the occasional run-on or incomplete sentence.  I had to force myself to chalk it up to artistic license. 

The story is deeply personal, often violent, and I felt that Ferrante's goal was to reach through the page and slap me, reminding me that this was her story to tell, not necessarily one that I would love to hear.  As I moved through the first hundred pages, I was irritated by the ever-shifting friendship of these girls as they matured.  Yet I was drawn back, wanting to know how they could possibly remain friends   The author captures the insecurities of girlhood in a male-dominated culture surrounded by grinding poverty with the honesty of first-hand experience. 

Though I fought valiantly to dislike this book, the characters repeatedly sucked me back in with their raw, honest descriptiveness.  I knew I could walk down any poor street in Naples and run into each and every one of them.  Damn it, now I'm going to have to buy book two, The Story of a New Name.

Friday, July 1, 2016



Ever since going through chemotherapy, when I began to eat to comfort myself, my weight has been on a slow, upward spiral.  Once or twice I've managed to drop ten or twenty pounds with exercise and kind-of-dieting, but decades of bad habits have always managed to sabotage my efforts.  When I recently went through my closet to get rid of outdated clothing, only the "fat clothes" remained, and they were getting pretty ratty-looking since I've worn them over and over for years.  Any shopping trips have ended in dressing room tears and a bowl of peanut butter and chocolate ice cream as soon as I got home.  I'm hoping this time will be different.

Denial is a convenient state.  You close your eyes when photographs of you with your grandchildren appear.  The only time you weigh in is on a doctor's visit.  You avoid joining old friends who aren't overweight too.  You wear shorts and a top to the beach rather than the embarrassment of a bathing suit.  Notice that I've used "you" instead of "I" in my denial.  Life gets lonely, which leads to more food comfort.

And then comes the 50th high school reunion.  The initial reaction is to let it just slide by quietly.  No one will notice my absence, right?  Maybe not, but this may be the last chance in my lifetime to see these old friends.  What to do?  Show up and hope everyone else is fat too?  Hope that the snarky whispers of long-ago won't happen like they always did at an all-girls school?  After all, how much weight can I lose in ten weeks?

About two weeks ago, I pulled out my old Weight Watchers points program materials.  It really does work well.  Slowly, but well.  The hardest part for me is drinking water.  You'd think it would be giving up ice cream, processed crunchy snacks, and the other high-sugar things I've been lulled into thinking were just normal.  I can't remember ever seeing my parents drink water while I was growing up.  It was always iced tea or lemonade, both heavily laced with sugar and lemon during warm weather or coffee in the winter.  Now I've managed to put down 16 ounces a day...not the recommended 32-64, but it's progress.

The next part will be to get moving.  It may not be much in the beginning, walking one or two miles several times each week, but I learned long ago that I am a creature of habit, good or bad.  One of the most embarrassing things is that I used to teach exercise classes.  I used to run 5 days a week.  I used to play raquetball often.  Then the stressors began to accumulate:  divorce, cancer, having to reinvent my former housewife self into a career woman with classes to advance more quickly.  Then the kids began to peel off, becoming adults, getting married, having children and moving away.  I had to learn how to live alone, and it wasn't easy.

So, I won't tell you my starting weight or my goal weight....not until I'm finished and proud of it.  I will say that I've dropped 7 pounds in the last two weeks purely from willpower.  When I reach ten, I'll reward myself with something for that and for every ensuing five pounds.  I need to tie more than a carrot on my stick.  Wish me luck.  I'll need it.