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9 posts from March 2012

Ciao, OaklandMarch 30, 2012

You know what I love about Italy? That you don't ever enter a place without saying the equivalent of, first, hello! Hello! Oh, hello, how are you, hello, hello! And then when you leave, it's imperative that you must say Goodbye! Goodbye! Goodbye, take care, see you soon, travel safely, goodbye, goodbye! 

And this is what strangers must do. If you know or like the person in question? Please multiple the number of Ciaos by approximately 17. I got no end of amusement sitting in campo cafes, watching people meet and leave each other. So much genuine affection! None of it sounded forced or cursory. 

Connection. 

That's what I got from this whole trip (along with an extra pound or three from the carb consumption but let's not talk about it). I was struggling with the language, but I was stubborn about it, so instead of falling onto people's mercy and their mad skills with English (because everyone in the service industry in Venice speaks good English), I would muscle my way through things. It was exhausting, struggling to be understood. 

And while I'd gone to Italy by myself in order to find quiet, I found myself strangely lonely sometimes. I wanted to laugh with someone, and to chat easily. I had coffee with my friend Santina, which was awesome. 

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But for the rest of the time, when I wasn't happily being quiet, I was searching for connection. I craved it. I didn't see that coming. I pictured myself in Italy, perfectly content to wander alone for eight days. But even with Facetiming Lala every night (what a world we live in! How cool is that that I could just DO that for free?), I was looking for someone to talk to.

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I would pick a likely-looking person sitting alone and plan on saying something casually (sometimes it felt like I was single again, trying to work up the nerve to talk to someone at a bar). And then, in all cases, their other half would join them. 

No one travels alone in Venice. 

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Now, I know that's not true. It can't be true. But in March of this year, I started to believe I was the only one traveling solo. It became a kind of game, watching for people who looked like tourists who were alone.

I became a connoisseur of the small connection.

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Like the screaming set of twins on a very packed boat. The girl baby and I bonded. Every time I caught her eye, she stopped crying and started smiling and laughing. I swear I was drunk on the ten minutes of love we shared. 

Or the cat lady (I will tell you about her at some point, I promise) who called me cara and kissed both my cheeks when we parted. 

Or the punk bartender who played Sinatra (I actually ended up lapsing into English with him, and it was okay). 

Or the lacemakers. 

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Or the very young waiter who, when I declined dolce, brought me a tiny plate of wee cookies anyway, to make my night sweet. 

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Or the young man, sitting opposite me, eating alone (oh! There was one!) and obviously completely miserable about it. Seen above, this is the way he ate his whole meal. I tried for a long time to catch his eye but he wouldn't look at me -- he ate with his head down or occasionally staring up at the sky. I was too shy to just speak out and grab his attention. But by the time he hit his dessert, I gave up and just spoke loudly, "How's your ice cream?"  He transformed, utterly. He sat straight. He grinned. He said it wasn't very good, that I should order something else. He left shortly thereafter and wished me a wonderful evening, still standing straight and walking away smiling from ear to ear.

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Those moments, those were the ones that made my trip. I know it seems obvious, but I was kind of caught flat-footed by it. I went with the intention to write, to finish the book I'm working on. I didn't do that. I only wrote in my journal and on the blog. 

I went with the intention of seeking solitude, and found it, but craved connection. 

I went with the intention to catch up on sleep. AND I DID. Hoo-yeah. Not a sleeping pill in sight, just glorious sleep. 

But I didn't know, I honestly didn't know, that other people would be such a big part of my trip. So I'm trying to bring that home with me -- that delight in hearing someone else speak, a stranger. 

Yesterday I was in my home post office, and an older gentleman told me I'd dropped a piece of paper. "No, I didn't, but thanks," I said. I think I had just kicked a receipt, but he was still worried. 

"You never know, young lady. You coulda written an important number on that. You don't want to lose that." 

So to humor him, I picked it up and flattened it, putting it in my pocket. Then I really looked at him. He was COVERED in military pins, from his military hat to his heavily-weighted jacket. Normally I would have smiled and wished him a good day. But instead I said, "LOOK at you! What IS all that you're carrying around there?"

His chest pushed out and he said, "Welp, happens I'm the most decorated veteran in the East Bay."

"Wow!" I said, impressed. I stuck out my hand. "Honored to meet you." 

"Abner Walton," he said [I know]. "I was with the army. Now I'm the owner of Dynasty Investigation, for the last thirty years. I specialize in finding people. And let me tell you, I find the ones who don't want to be found."

He told me stories, and I gawped appropriately, and it was a lovely, lovely few moments. It took maybe five minutes out of my life. And isn't that exactly what life is FOR? 

Being. Listening. Thinking. It means everything, doesn't it? 

Venice kissed me one last time as I left, giving me this as I took the bus-boat away, suitcase at my feet. 

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It was amazing to be there. And it was amazing to come home, which is just the right way to travel, I think. 

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Digit agrees. (Lala said by the last few days of my trip, he kept trying to get out. She thought he was trying to go look for me. Awwww.

* Boots for the win, by the way. I didn't see a single Italian woman under the age of sixty who wasn't wearing black boots. I brought a heeled pair and a low pair, and alternating them daily kept my feet happy till almost the very end when duct tape handled the two blisters I got (duct tape, the best thing EVER for blisters -- I never travel without some wrapped around a chopstick -- just wrap it around the part of foot where the blister is and it forms a new, thick skin that you can just keep walking on. Best thing I learned from running).

Ciao, ciao, salve, arrivederci, ciao! 

LACE! and zomg so much to tell you!March 23, 2012

You GUYS. 

So Burano, a small island about 45 minutes away from Venice by boat, is known for its lace-making. I've been before, and hadn't been impressed by anything but the beauty of the tiny town (they paint their houses vibrant shades so they can be seen by their sailors from far away). Most of the lace for sale in the small shops isn't made by hand, and that which is is obviously extremely -- and prohibitively -- expensive. 

This morning, I hopped the boat for Burano. I hadn't been in at least ten years, and figured it was worth another go. However, the obnoxiously loud tourists clacking away on the boat bugged me (said the obnoxiously quiet tourist), and at the last minute, when we landed at Burano, I decided to get on yet another boat and cross the canal to Torcello. 

Torcello is another small island in the lagoon. Ruskin called it and Venice "the mother and daughter," Torcello being the mother. (And you KNOW how I feel about mamas.) It was inhabited first, before Venice, around the 5th century (!) and in the 10th century had about 10,000 inhabitants. 

It now has 20 inhabitants. Twenty.

And it felt like it. I went on a walk when the boat landed. 

I found a lane: 

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And another one: 

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I found a church (one of the oldest I've ever been in) and I found lunch (one of four places that looked like they cater to the rich summer crowd, none of whom were in town for the winter): 

 

After a couple of delightful hours, I knew I should at least give Burano a chance, so I left Torcello, passing this on my walk out: 

 Yep. The lonely accordion-player was all by himself out there, with nothing in his hat (until I walked past, of course). Jesus. Just playing this back for myself makes me grin like I'm still there.

Then I caught the boat back to Burano. I looked dutifully at the lace, and no, nothing had changed. Mostly crap. (In fact, I didn't see any real stuff at all this time.) I was heading back to the boat, gelato in hand, when I spotted THE LACE MUSEUM (it wasn't in caps like that, but in my head it was.)

The little movie at the beginning was amazing, 30 minutes or so showing the history of the lace in the islands and where it was now. 

But upstairs? The real jewels? THE LACE MAKERS THEMSELVES. Or three of them, at least.

Please excuse my photo clicks and my bad Italian -- I was seriously so excited that even now, thinking about it, puts a hitch in my breathing. 

I didn't get my friend's name, which makes me mad at myself because we talked for a long time, but I know that she's been doing this for ten years (she got rather a late start, apparently) and her mother, who was with the sculoa when it began in the early 1900s, made lace for 83 years. 

I showed her my lace. And OH MY GOD we had such a moment. She showed it proudly to the other two lace makers: 

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and they all said, "Brava, brava!" and she told me this: That we were the same. She and I. She made lace with her craft, and I made lace with mine -- then she clasped my hand -- but we are the same, she said in Italian, which I would repeat here but I'd get the conjugation wrong so I won't.

I wanted to hug my friend! To kiss her! But instead she asked to see my tattoos which were peeking out from under my sleeves -- she liked the yarn ball but loved the mama tattoo. 

I felt annointed.  

(I love how in the picture above she's stretching it out, totally confident, even though she only crochets and doesn't knit much -- she commented to the other women about my tiny needles! And she knits with THREAD! When I pulled out the knitting later, there was a short white thread from her work caught in with the red. For a moment I wanted to save it, like I saved my first gray hair at 21, but then I realized I was crossing into crazy-land.) 

Then the creepy guard who had already asked me out once in the four seconds we'd spoken about lace followed me down the stairs, whispering so his boss wouldn't hear that he could show me Venice at night. He didn't think I knew he wanted to show me Venice in his pants? I know what Venice at night looks like, fool, and she's much prettier, so basta. However that doesn't stop me from loving I got hit on in the lace museum. BAM! 

I'm loading a ton more pictures to Flickr, but I think I'm going to bed now, so I won't title them or even guarantee that they make it there. I'm exhausted, and I have my first well-deserved blisters of the trip. 

* I haven't even told you about going to the Lido and finding where the cats of Venice went yet! (That was yesterday and such a good story.) 

** Anyone ever used one of those Berlitz/etc language courses? Do any of them work? My problem is this: I have exactly enough Italian to order food, to find the bathroom, and to understand 80% of all responses. I can't conjugate a damn thing correctly -- in order to say I did something yesterday, I turn around and point behind me. In Italy, I'm not embarrassed (much) to make a fool of myself trying very hard to speak the language. (I fooled someone today, who corrected himself when he started to give English directions, and gave them all to me in Italian. I understood them all, and followed them, and then avoided him assiduously afterward, lest he learn the truth.) My problem in that in the US, when I'm learning, I hate being wrong all the time. I've done college courses in Italian, and usually drop out because speaking it in class makes me too nervous. Any ideas? 

A Small MomentMarch 21, 2012

I had a glorious moment tonight when I remembered again why I'm here in Venice. 

Because, and I say this with some embarrassment, there are occasional moments when I forget. Like when my feet are tired. Or when I'm lost, and not in the good way (say, if I can't find the apartment while carrying two bottles of wine, and I've had to pee for thirty minutes). Or when I notice that every single damn person in Venice is with someone else. I have lonely little pathetic moments when I remember the times I've been here with loved ones, and how nice it was to have someone to chat with instead of being the perpetual eavesdropper. (And I chose to come alone. This was what I wanted. What I want. So it feels stupid to have these moments. But there it is.) 

Every time I feel this way, I immediately find a cafe and I order either a cafelatte or a spritz, depending on whether it's before or after three pm (the time is arbitrary to my own taste -- I've seen people drinking at nine in the morning). I pull out my knitting or I write in my journal, and the world gets positively radiant. It's amazing. 

Tonight, I couldn't decide what to do. I'd had stunning luck at finding yarn (cashmere at Lellabella!) and bad luck at finding the Hemingway exhibit I read about yesterday (I was a year late). The light was leaving the sky. Should I go home? Find dinner? Have a snack? A drink? Go grocery shopping? I stood on a bridge, confused and tired. Then I saw a tiny old woman in a wheelchair sitting in front of a cafe in Campo Santa Maria Formosa. I sat next to her. Buona sera, I said, and she looked surprised at being addressed by a stranger, but she responded politely if coolly. 

I pulled out my knitting.

She did a double, then a triple take. Then she started grinning at me. I grinned back. At 6:26, the bells started ringing (in eighteen years of coming to Venice, I've never been able to figure out why or when bells ring). I sat in utter, complete joy to be exactly where I was. 

She left shortly thereafter while the bells were still ringing, giving me one last grin and a tiny wave as her daughter pushed her chair away. Sadly, she's not caught by the video below, but in this moment, I had tiny tears of complete and total joy. 

These moments are why I'm here. 

More March 18, 2012

Today, I wandered. I got lost countless times, which still surprises me. It's like getting lost in Oakland -- I feel as if I know it so well, and then I turn around, and I can't find my way out. But by getting lost, I found a great grocery store (hard to find sometimes here) and a few glasses of spritz in squares I've never been to before. 

I'm going to try to put up new pictures every day or two at Flickr, if you want to go visit there. It's easier to load them there than here (the internet connection is spotty, and I swear it shifts with the wind). 

One for you from today: 

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And some knitting: 

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(This place, where I bought two spritzes, has the best bathroom view, perhaps in the whole world. Will try to sneak a picture another day. I'm the MASTER of toilets in Venice, I'm telling you.) 

And perhaps one more video to show you what Venice sounds like: 

 

In VeniceMarch 17, 2012

It's been a wonderful, if very long, day. 

I'm sitting at a little table, with Wifi that works, and I'm listening to the water lap in the lagoon outside the window. 

Seriously, right outside (this is from my window):

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Today, in the time that I've been awake, I've gotten off work, driven home and packed, spent three hours at SFO, taken an 11 hour flight followed by another hour-long one, then taken an hour-long boat ride to find where I'm staying, then walked about a million miles, just exploring and getting lost in Venice. I've been up for about 33 hours now (and I only got 6 hours of sleep in the previous 48) so I think I'm probably tired, but I don't really feel it yet. I've had three glasses of wine, and instead of making me sleepy, they've simply stopped my hands shaking (NO, my hands don't shake when I don't drink. Please. But they do shake when I'm this tired) and it's made made me red-cheeked. My slap-faced rosacea always blooms when I drink more than two glasses, especially when I'm tired. You know the only thing that helps? Extremely bright lipstick: 

Photo on 3-17-12 at 8.27 PM

I just got done dealing with the aftermath of forgetting to send a cancel on a reservation (I thought I had! But it was still sitting there in Drafts). So my cheap lodging just got quite a bit more expensive. 

But you know what? I've accepted that. I'm in the place I love best (I do love Oakland, with all my heart -- but my soul belongs to Venice). I realized something today (again): It's good not to worry about things before they happen. See, I dream at least four or five times a year about trying to get to Venice, and I can never quite make it. I get close (to Mestre, or some equally awful approximation) and then fumble around, never able to figure out how the boats work before I wake up. 

So it was natural to try to worry about getting here today. But I didn't. 

I could have worried about the taxi not coming (okay, I did, for a minute, quite violently, but I got over it). It came. Mr. Singh smelled like vanilla and coconut oil, and he drove like a saint on rollerskates. 

I could have worried about not making the flight. But I did, with thirty minutes to spare (that was with building in 3 extra hours, thank god for them). 

I could have worried about the fact that SFO wasn't able to print me a boarding pass from Frankfurt to Venice (Frankfurt is my least favorite airport in the world -- it's HUGE and busy and I've missed flights there before). But when I got to Frankfurt (after a lovely flight seated next to people who were the perfect combo of chattty/silent), I got my boarding pass within minutes, and I was standing at the gate already, on accident, with ten minutes to spare. 

I could have worried about the fact that Christina didn't answer her phone when I called her -- she was picking me up after two more boat rides to take me to the apartment. But I didn't worry. I just got on the first boat. At Fondamente Nuova, I looked for a phone to try her again, but there wasn't one. Period. Anywhere. 

So I asked at a bar. And bless them, they let me phone Christina from there. I hopped another boat, and I finally realized this: even without worrying, I hadn't really thought I would make it here. I never think I'll make it back. And I did. I'm here. 

And I'm so goddamn happy. 

Wanna see where I'm staying? (OH! The ambulance boat just went by, code three, lights and sirens. That's always fun.) 

And just a few more that I shot from the window while I was making dinner (usually I go out at night to eat, but tonight I was just too tired to do so): 

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Aw, hell. I'm just TOO tired to add any more here. In between writing this and posting it, I went for a long, dark walk to try to stay awake just a little longer. I chased after some students who obviously knew where they were going, and I found a section of town I'd never seen. (The Witch's Garden, that's where I'm going for dinner tomorrow night.) But now the exhaustion has set in.  Flickr set being built here. Love to you all -- more to come. Lots more! I'm home! 

Venice-bound AgainMarch 15, 2012

"In Venice you may occasionally see a man thrown forcibly from a bar, all arms and muddled protests, just like in the films; and rollicking are the songs the Venetian students sing, when they have some wine inside them. I once heard a pair of inebriates passing my window at four o'clock on a May morning, and looking out into the Rio San Trovaso I saw them riding by in a gondola. They were sitting on the floor of the boat, drumming on its floor-boards, banging its seats, singing and shouting incoherently at the tops of their thickened voices: but on the poop of the gondola, rowing with an easy, dry, worldly stroke, an elderly grey-haired gondolier propelled them aloofly toward the dawn." 

This kind of writing (from The World of Venice) is why I love Jan Morris (she has a Tumblr! I am exceedingly excited and fan-girly about this). I saw her speak once at Berkeley years ago, and she was lovely, intensely interesting, and smart as hell. On her recommendation, I'm going to (probably) explore my way through Croatia to Trieste for a day or two while I'm in Venice. Of course, I might not, also. 

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The last time I was there, I was very blonde.

This is what I will do in Venice: 

Read. Walk. Sleep. Eat. Ride boats, lots of them. Drink coffee until it is time to drink wine. Take photographs. (Oh, and write. But do you see how that's rather low on the list? This will be a real vacation. I swear.)

I leave tomorrow. Expect either radio silence or tons of pictures if the wifi actually works. I almost hope it doesn't. It would be nice to be disconnected, I think. 

* Travel writer Jan Morris has a fascinating backstory -- he was born James Morris, and he married his wife in 1949, had five children, and then transitioned to female in 1964, when it was a very big deal to do so. Doctors in Britain refused to do the surgery unless he divorced his wife (!), so he went to Morocco for the surgery. Later, they did in fact divorce but remained together, and get this: in 2008, they were legally partnered again when it became legal to do so in a civil partnership. Awwww. She's 85 now, and she's one of my heroes. 

** I finished my Venice Madness sweater, the one I cast on for ten days ago, in a fit of must-have-black-lace-sweater-for-trip (Rav link). Forgive the poor photos, I'll try to get better ones in la Serenissima.

VisionMarch 13, 2012

So I've been having trouble looking at computers and reading lately -- just vague, annoying eye strain, but my computer glasses with their four-year old prescription weren't helping, so I went back to the eye doctor. 

Am I the only one who thinks the whole getting-glasses thing is really woo-woo? I have to tell the doc which image is clearer? Doesn't she know? I can NEVER tell (and I tell her that). Based on me saying, "Um...maybe the first one? Or maybe the second?") she writes me a prescription? 

Anyway. I suppose I can accept that. What's harder to accept is that now I have to wear them all the time I'm in front of a computer or reading. This is, of course, ALL the time. So I need some cute frames. 

Luckily, we live in the future. I got my prescription in my hot little hand, measured my own pupillary distance (because I'm a knitter and I'm good at using a tape measure to measure difficult distances), and ordered a couple of glasses from EyeBuyDirect, hitting a BOGO offer, scoring two pair for $50. Total. Dude, that's $25 each, including prescription lenses. I love the internet. I ordered some kind of funky ones (I think -- I barely remember) because you know what? They were $25. I'll show you those when they come. 

I also ordered 5 pairs of Warby Parker glasses to try on at home (free trial!). These are more expensive, at $99 each, so I need help choosing. I think I know which pair I want but I want to hear from you, please, in case I'm really off the mark.

Poll below. 

#1: 

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#2: 

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3: 

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4: 

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5: 

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For Fear the Hearts of Men Are FailingMarch 8, 2012

or as I like to call it, the longest band name in the world (says she whose book is title How to Knit a Heart Back Home). 

Lala's on this album! And in this video! They're funding their new album (titled The Wonderful Clatter, which is so great I wish I had thought of it) on Kickstarter. They're quirky and a little (a lot) weird and I love their sound. And I think this video is kind of adorable, especially Lala's last line. 

 

Recent Good ReadsMarch 4, 2012

I went through kind of a dry spell there. I was reading a stack'o'books for a contest and couldn't blog about them (which is fair, since I'm scoring them). But that was a month of reading that I couldn't write about. And while there were some good books in the pile, sadly, there was nothing astonishing that I felt like I had to break the rules to tell you about, so I was eager to get back to my planned reading.

And I'm back! Honestly, I'm loving being back on the Kindle--real books felt so heavy in my hands. Isn't that wussy? And the formatting kept distracting me. I love that on the Kindle all books read the same, formatting-wise (or should), so there's nothing to keep you from plunging into the story.

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Horizon, by Sophie Littlefield 

This is the third book in Sophie's Aftertime series. Disclaimer: Sophie is one of my favorite people. She's who you call when you want to be good, and she's who you call when you want to be very bad. And when things go wrong? She's the first to call you. I'm honored to call her a friend. 

And it's a good thing she's a friend, because if she weren't, I'd have to hate her for her talent. She is the MASTER of emotion. She can wring so much out of a seemingly simple sentence that you just kind of sit there, stunned, asking "Where did that come from?" 

I'd say this: read the first one, Aftertime. It's scary and post-apocalyptic (not my usual fare but I gobbled it up) and wonderful. I won't tell you much more, but know this: you'll be hooked. I loved the second book, Rebirth, also. But Horizon blew me out of the water. It's an absolutely stunning conclusion. 

 

BadIdeaA Bad Idea I'm About To Do: True Tales of Seriously Poor Judgment and Stunningly Awkward Adventure, Chris Gethard

This one was a fluke. I can't remember where I read about it, but it was one of those sample chapters I threw at my Kindle while running by, and I loved it. It's a brief, painful, humorous memoir (the best kind) of a seriously funny manic-depressive. From chapters on his intestinal woes to pro-wrestling, he moved through a landscape that was so solidly male that if asked, I would have guessed it wouldn't have been a book for me. Too male, I would have thought. Too something. But his humility and capacity to relentlessly poke at himself made each chapter lovely, and I roared through it in a day in bed sick with the flu. 

 

 

FallingFalling For Me: How I Hung Curtains, Learned to Cook, Traveled to Seville, and Fell in Love, Anna David


Confession: If a memoir is about a privileged 30-something woman learning to do something we all think we should be able to do (but sometimes can't) on a journey of self-discovery framed by a device, no matter how clumsy said device might be, I'm IN* (see My Year With Eleanor, a book this one is reminding me of). Really, I'm in. Anna David finds Helen Gurley Brown's 60s classic Sex and the Single Girl and decided to try living her life by its tenets in order to see if she can figure herself out a little more (and maybe catch a man along the way. Okay, no, she establishes firmly that this is NOT what the experiment is about. But she's candid enough to share that the idea keeps rearing its head).

I'm not done with this one yet and I'm guessing by its subtle title that perhaps a man does come along, but I'm enjoying it enough that I'm sharing it now. 

*Oh, I just realized I'm so in, I wrote one of those myself. Hmmm. 

Now, since I'm in the light-hearted secretly-kind-of-deep memoir mood, Sophie's novel notwithstanding, anything you recommend?