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This diary is like a house salad: it's got some interesting tomatoes, carrots and peppers on top; once you've eaten those, all that's left is a bowl of lettuce. First I'll recommend some books; but once you pass the orange squiggle, there are just some personal ramblings. If you come back next week, I'll have a proper diary, about Michelangelo sculpting David and painting the Sistine Chapel.

I was led to that subject by Daniel Boorstin's The Creators, which is an immensely informative and colorful history of 3,000 years of art, architecture, music and literature. Boorstin tells the stories of more than 100 creators, half of whom are writers. He starts with Homer, Lao-Tzu, and Moses, with chapters on St. Augustine, Dante, Chaucer, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Goethe, Dostoevsky, Whitman, Proust, Kafka, Woolf, and many others. Outside of literature, The Creators covers Stonehenge, skyscrapers, Japanese wood-carving, Picasso, Beethoven and everything in between.

The Creators is one of the most enjoyable books of non-fiction I've ever read. Boorstin has also written two companion volumes: The Discoverers (about explorers, scientists and inventors) and The Seekers (about prophets and philosophers). The Seekers is only half as long as the other two volumes. Personally, I found it less gripping. But the other two were great - I slightly preferred The Creators.

Well, we've reached the lettuce. Since I've long suspected that some of you are hungry rabbits, I'll continue.

I'm very happy to be writing Books Go Boom! It's just, I'm not all here yet. I've almost caught up with the 21st Century. I now have a spiffy new iMac. I've arranged for internet service. But they haven't turned it on yet.

This diary will publish at 3pm on Friday, California Time. And I'll be in the Santa Monica Public Library. They give me 1-2 hours of computer use per day. But on Fridays they close at 5:30PM, and the computers shut down before 5pm. Furthermore, they're so busy on Friday afternoons that I'll probably be booted off the computers after 1 hour, at 4pm.

This isn't an epic tragedy, I know. But, for me, half the point of writing a diary is the conversation it engenders. When I put up a diary, and have to leave after an hour, I feel like I invited a load of friends to a party, but an hour into it I have to leave on a beer run. And I won't make it back to the party until 10AM the next day. So I'm sorry for being a poor host.

Of course, having written all this, I just got an email from DSLextreme, saying they'll turn my internet on today (I mean your today, Friday), so perhaps I'll be responding to comments from home by the time this airs.

One the one hand, it may turn out that my whining was moot, and all I'm left with is an embarassingly shambolic diary. On the other hand, by the law of averages, it was inevitable that some of my diaries would be less impressive than others. I'd just as soon start with the shambolism, and improve from there. And someone had to feed the rabbits. In any case, I will soon be very happy with my new toy. And that's enough boring lettuce for now.

When I was eight, my world went Boom!

I'd had a pleasant enough childhood until then. I lived in a leafy suburb, and I had all a growing boy needed: an ivy-covered house, a clever siamese cat, a safe neighborhood to bike around, a creek to play in. We had a strawberry festival every spring and an apple festival in the fall.

OK, so it was a suburb of Cleveland. But I was too young to notice the sparsity of culture or nightlife. And if our river was so polluted it caught on fire, at eight that felt more like a funny cartoon than news to worry about. But that summer, everything turned upside-down.

My Mom had had two husbands and eight children, and she'd been a housewife for a couple of decades. Once she divorced my Dad, she decided she'd seen enough of those picket-fence dreams. So, with her three youngest children in tow, Mom moved to Florence.

It was as if, several scenes into the movie of my life, the whole world turned from black-and-white to technicolor, and I realized I wasn't in Kansas anymore. We Americans, we're so antiseptic, while Italy was stuffed with sensual life like an overripe fruit.

All the noises, the cars always honking, the chattering from the cafes and the wine-bars, the never-ending passion of people living loudly. The rich smells of so many marvelous foods, the fresh bread aroma permeating Florence every morning. Headless naked sheep hanging in butchers' windows. The Mediterranean light on all the red-tiled roofs and winding streets full of cobblestones. All the fairy-tale buildings. The Ponte Vecchio over the Arno, crammed with tiny goldsmith shops. Coffe smells; spices, garlic, wine; a simple ham and cheese sandwich tasting divine, each fresh ingredient bursting with flavor; scrumptious chocolate, succulent gelato.

You walk around a corner, and there's another church, or a magical fountain, or Michelangelo's colossal and beautiful David. So, maybe we went to the Uffizi Gallery, and my brother and sister and I played tag. It doesn't mean we were too young to enjoy the art. We were children, human sponges, and suddenly our world was more alive.

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive
But to be young was very heaven!
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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (23+ / 0-)

    Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule

    DAY TIME (EST/EDT) Series Name Editor(s)
    SUN 6:00 PM Young Reader's Pavilion The Book Bear
    Sun 9:30 PM SciFi/Fantasy Book Club quarkstomper
    Bi-Monthly Sun Midnight Reading Ramblings don mikulecky
    MON 8:00 PM Monday Murder Mystery Susan from 29
    Mon 11:00 PM My Favorite Books/Authors edrie, MichiganChet
    TUES 5:00 PM Indigo Kalliope: Poems from the Left bigjacbigjacbigjac
    alternate Tuesdays 8:00 AM LGBT Literature Texdude50, Dave in Northridge
    Tue 8:00 PM Contemporary Fiction Views bookgirl
    WED 7:30 AM WAYR? plf515
    Wed 8:00 PM Bookflurries Bookchat cfk
    THU 8:00 PM Write On! SensibleShoes
    Thu (first each month) 11:00 AM Monthly Bookpost AdmiralNaismith
    Thu (third each month - on hiatus) 11:00 PM Audiobooks Club SoCaliana
    FRI 8:00 AM Books That Changed My Life Diana in NoVa
    Fri 6:00 PM Books Go Boom! Brecht
    SAT (fourth each month) 11:00 AM Windy City Bookworm Chitown Kev
    Sat 4:00 PM Daily Kos Political Book Club Freshly Squeezed Cynic
    Sat 9:00 PM Books So Bad They're Good Ellid

    "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

    by Brecht on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 05:49:49 PM PST

  •  I hope you get the net turned on (15+ / 0-)

    Hubby and I got to visit Florence in 1972 so I love your description.

    We had eight weeks to see as much as we could of Europe, and we loved Italy.

    Florence was wonderful.  Seeing David was the highlight of my trip.  It was so huge!  So many good memories except the mosquitoes.

    We got to see the Sistine Chapel, too, before it was cleaned and we got to see his Moses in Rome.

    Best wishes for your series!

    Join us at Bookflurries-Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

    by cfk on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 03:23:48 PM PST

  •  Santa Monica Public Library (15+ / 0-)

    Are the Stanton Macdonald-Wright murals still visible/viewable? As I wrote in my dissertation about the New Deal Public Works of Art Project,

    Stanton Macdonald-Wright, as a PWAP artist, began the murals at the Santa Monica Public Library under the auspices of the PWAP; he believes that he may have proposed the project directly to [Merle] Armitage, [the project director in Southern California].  
    They would SO be worth a trip! And congratulations on the new series!

    -7.75, -8.10; . . . Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall (h/t cooper888)

    by Dave in Northridge on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 03:27:57 PM PST

  •  Wow, I am so jealous. How brilliant of your (15+ / 0-)

    mother to haul you all to a different place and culture! Florence was on the itinerary for the trip Ed and I had planned for last October (and it is one of many reasons that I am still pissed at his early departure). Someday I hope to make it there.

    Until then, your description is lovely. Can I look forward to more?

    Only in the darkness can you see the stars - Martin Luther King, Jr

    by Susan Grigsby on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 03:36:36 PM PST

    •  My mother was crazy in the best way. (14+ / 0-)

      Thanks to her I've lived in England, Scotland, France and Portugal. When she was a little girl, she saw pictures of some beautiful mountains in China. In her seventies, she travelled on her own to see them.

      So you'll get to Florence, one day. I hope to see Stockholm, Istanbul, South America and Asia (I made it to India once). But for now, writing a diary every week feels a bit like exploring another country.

      I think next week's diary will be full of Michelangelo, and Florence won't fit. But the week after that will be 'Books of my Boyhood', which'll have a bit of Florence in it.

      In the cool dark winter evenings, there were braziers roasting chestnuts on the street corners, and you could buy a newspaper cone full of them, to warm your hands, and try not to burn your mouth. The winter we were there had the first snow in twenty years, and the city came to a standstill. Everyone behaved like children at Christmas, coming outside to look at the sky in awe, saying "Neve, neve!"

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 03:58:06 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I think you should go, too, Susan (12+ / 0-)

      Pictures just don't do justice.  The Duomo is like a beautiful wedding cake and the golden doors are so neat.

      Then there are the museums!!!

      In 1972, we could still walk around the town.  I am not sure about how it is now.

      Join us at Bookflurries-Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

      by cfk on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 04:31:30 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I've heard that it's more crowded with tourists (10+ / 0-)

        than it was when you and I went there. Which generally makes a place more crowded with McDonalds and tourist shops too - but the Florentines are rightfully proud of their artistic heritage, so they may have some enlightened laws to prevent the plasticification of their fine city.

        I was in Lisbon a few years ago and found that its relative poverty and obscurity has saved its historical flavor compared to, say, Paris. In much of the city it feels like you're still walking though the 19th Century.

        I really should go back and see Florence again. I remember the Duomo, and its doors, and Giotto's Tower.  And I have a general sense of that beautiful Italian architecture. But I was only eight. I'll bet if I saw Florence again I'd recognize many beautiful buildings I've forgotten. And I never saw Milan or Venice.

        "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

        by Brecht on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 04:51:37 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  We saw Venice on a sunny day (11+ / 0-)

          which I heard was unusual.  It was gorgeous.  But we had such a short time so we missed so much everywhere we went.

          I know a lot has changed and gotten more crowded as you say.  We stayed the night outside of Venice and ate in a little garden that was so peaceful, I will never forget it.  Out of the past, as you also said.

          I am glad we went while we could before we had children.  We could not afford it, today, I am guessing.

          Can you imagine a room in Madrid for $3.50?  The bathroom was down the hall and the bath towels were paper thin, but who cared?  It was $2.50 in Carcassonne, France, and maybe $6.00 in Barcelona.  Of course, it was harder to come up with dollars back then, but still.  We had a good time!

          And the soup in Austria and the sandwiches we made ourselves in Paris!

          I remember being embarrassed while eating in a restaurant in Florence, I think, when an American tourist said, "But this is not Italian food!"  I guess because it was not tomato sauce on her pasta...omg!  

          We could not afford Switzerland as it turned out so we got back on the train and spent time in Germany...Heidelberg and the Rhine River boat in fog...Bonn on another sunny day.

          It would be interesting for you to go back and see, maybe at a time of year when there are fewer tourists.  

          Join us at Bookflurries-Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

          by cfk on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 05:22:34 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  What a wonderful journey you took, cfk (11+ / 0-)

            We should all do diaries on our travels one day.

            "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

            by Diana in NoVa on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 05:25:13 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  The dollar was stronger in those days, (6+ / 0-)

            and we were younger, and readier to rough it. As a teenager, I sometimes took overnight trains, or spent the night walking across Paris, so I wouldn't have to pay for accommodation. If I did that today, I'd be cranky the whole next day.

            It sounds like quite a trip you had, cfk.

            "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

            by Brecht on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 04:18:55 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Hubby insisted on a bed each night (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              but we did take some overnight trains.  

              We had been camping the two summers before in a small tent a far walk from bathrooms in the presence of bears who stepped on our tent flap in the dark so we thought being inside with toilets that flushed was a real luxury. :)

              We had to pay for breakfast in a lady's home in Vienna where we were sent by the agency, but she provided homemade bread, homemade plum jelly and hot milk with the coffee.  Wonderful!!  The room we slept in was a library with huge floor to ceiling windows, a chandelier and a pump organ.  

              Join us at Bookflurries-Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

              by cfk on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 03:19:43 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Your Viennese bed & breakfast sounds so sweet. (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                I want very much to see Vienna too. Indeed, there are so many places left that I absolutely have to see, I think I'd better be getting a move on.

                I really enjoy everyone's tales of magical trips. It seems like photos should feel more real, but I've looked at so many hundred pictures of exotic locales, somehow these freshly told personal accounts strike me more.

                We will all need to write our travel diaries, some day.

                "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

                by Brecht on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 05:59:22 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

        •  Church/monastery of San Marco (8+ / 0-)

          is my favorite place in Florence with all those Fra Angelicos. My heart stops when I think of them. And then there is the monastery, Santa Maria Novella, turned into a pharmacy with the most wonderful soaps in the world. And then, And then, And then....  Susan...go!

  •  Congrats & best wishes for the (8+ / 0-)

    new R&BLers series. Love this unveiling.

    Some day I hope to see Italy. Your mother was a rare gem.

  •  Brecht, I LOVE this diary! (8+ / 0-)

    Especially the "Wizard of Oz" transition from the black and white of Cleveland to the resounding colors, sights, and scents of Firenze.  What a time you must have had!

    You mentioned St. Augustine.  SCREECH!  If I had a time machine I'd go back in time, tie him to a chair, and whack his goolies with a flyswatter.  What a load of old codswallop he unleashed on the world!  Worst of all, I despise him for being a hypocrite:

    Oh, God, please grant me the gift of chastity--
    But not yet.

    Hope thy Internet gets turned on and that you continue to write great diaries like this one.  "Keep calm and carry on," my friend.

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 05:18:24 PM PST

    •  My internet got turned on, and so did I (5+ / 0-)

      (just excited with my new toy) which is why I'm still up at 4:30. But I'll be in bed soon.

      Thanks for your warm compliments, Diana in NoVa.

      It's so funny you should say that about St. Augustine. I always liked his comment which you quote, because it makes him endearingly human to me (and, no doubt, because I can identify with it). I feel like he gets a bit carried away with himself in parts of his Confessions, but I guess I cut him some slack because he seems less judgmental (from the little I've read) than many of the big Christian thinkers. I think St. Paul and Thomas Aquinas were better at cooking up codswallop.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 04:42:03 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I am a big fan of Boorstin because of (7+ / 0-)

    Up from Communism by John P. Diggins (1994). So many ex-Commies, so little time

  •  Your Diary Performed a Miracle (8+ / 0-)

    I can rec and rate again!  Your diary and an hours long (dial up) download and install of the latest Java.  Gawd, it's great to be out of Limbo.


    Fire!  Color!  Smells!  Gallileo!  Michelangelo!  Food!  

    I've been there twice, the last time in '03.  My favorite place is the indoor market not far from the train station.  I have photos I took of Galletto di Montespertoli (naked skinny chickens); hams hanging in the air above refrigerated cases of processed meats, kissing the tops of wine and olive bottles ranged on their tops.

    Spezzatino manzo next to pig's trotters; organs Triti per animali; silvery coiled eels embedded in shaved ice; huge globular vases with short thin necks, painted all over with Tuscan scenes in fish-eye lens projection; red-checkered gingham napkins dressing wicker bakets mounded with herbs and dried peppers.

    And the streets of Florence with the amusing "pipe-smoking" gargoyles that catch and divert rainwater, or crown-of-thorns spear-y, spikey lantern cases in bronze that are installed on the corners of buildings.

    The flower vendors ranged beneath the Roman arches that grace the arcade fronts the Post Office -- pinks and greens as far as the eye can see beneath the pendulate milk drops suspended high above that are the most romantic outdoor lights you can imagine.

    Tiny little electric cars no bigger than a Vespa with windows that barely come up to one's armpits, have a single seat, and squeeze into a parking space only 3' wide.  There must be origami Florentines who ride in them.

    Can you tell?  I'd return to Florence at the breath of a hat dropping.  So many stories. . . Did I tell you the one about the leather goods seller who tried to sell this Miami resident a leather coat but ended up taking me and LimeSpouse out for cappucino instead?

    Write more diaries like this one!  I'm already hooked on your series.

    Readers & Book Lovers Pull up a chair! You're never too old to be a Meta Groupie

    by Limelite on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 07:58:03 PM PST

    •  So here I am in the 21st Century at last (5+ / 0-)

      ...even if it is almost 3AM. This is my first comment from my new iMac via my own internet connection. Had to call up the company after midnight when they hadn't turned it on.

      I feel so ambivalent. This is such a marvelous toy, why must it have such a mind of its own? It's a bit like learning to ride a bike, and a bit like learning to drive the USS Enterprise. The magic trackpad is particularly rebellious. I'm sure in a couple of weeks, when I've climbed most of the learning curve, I'll be glowing. And exhausted.

      Nice to hear that you, at least, are out of Limbo, Limelite.

      What a colorful, detailed comment. You packed more of Florence into your paragraphs than I managed to, truly. It's a sharp and never-ending challenge: How to encompass the enormity of experience in all these tiny atoms of words. I can see that Florence went Boom! for you too.

      Well, I enjoy plumbing my more interesting adventures and intense experiences like this. Now i just have to figure out how to weave them together with essays on books. I'll see what I can do.

      Thanks again for your own lively kaleidoscope of Firenze.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 03:22:35 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is a wonderful post (6+ / 0-)

    and seems to have unleashed a flood of equally wonderful, colorful comments.  What could be better?  Thanks!

  •  Memories (8+ / 0-)

    of Florence, for me, hark back to my first trip to Europe after college in the 60's:  a raggle-taggle student boat out of NY landing in Genoa and the beginning of wandering throughout Italy, hitch-hiking everywhere, meeting other students in youth hostels.  We carried paperback books in our backpacks, trading them in the hostels or leaving them there for others to pick up.   Strange that I remember  trading Norman Mailer's Advertisements for Myself for a copy of Faulkner's Wild Palms.

    One of the books about Florence that I had read about, but, I suspect I am glad I did not read at the time, is Mary McCarthy's The Stones of Florence. Controversial at the time, it is something I would love to read today, many reviews over at Amazon claiming it to be a masterpiece of travel writing combining history of the city with the history of the art movements.

    I stayed outside the city in a a large, former Mussolini property coverted into a hostel,  but you could take a bus, or hitch into the city in about 15 minutes.
    Cold showers helped us get up and out into the sunshine, even though it was early October.  With a student I.D., you could eat at one of the university cafeterias, and have a g;ass pf wine as well (I was pleasantly shocked at  the time).  

    Am looking forward to your posts, Brecht.  Enjoyed when you substituted for bookgirl, and am eagerly awaiting her return as well.  

    Just waitin' around for the new Amy Winehouse album

    by jarbyus on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 05:20:12 AM PST

    •  Sounds like you had quite an adventure, jarbyus (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Limelite, Monsieur Georges, jarbyus

      Hitch-hiking and university cafeterias. You get so much more of the flavor of a place when you're traveling close to the ground, as opposed to being wrapped in airplanes and tourist-womb hotels.

      I'll have to look for The Stones of Florence - it sounds pretty interesting. Florence has such rich history. I just read a 400-page biography of Michelangelo, so I'm steeped in that storybook era, when Borgias and Lucrezias were Popes, promoting their "nephews".

      I'm glad you're enjoying my diaries; I'm enjoying your comments, too.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 10:32:22 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Like You, I Read a Related Book (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Brecht, Monsieur Georges, jarbyus

      While staying in the Tuscan hill town of Anacaiano at the Poste Reggie B&B, I sat up all night reading Under the Tuscan Sun that I found in my living room bookcase there.

      In contrast, on an earlier trip to Greece, I sat at an outdoor cafe table waiting for the one ferry an evening out of Hydra back to Athens.  A man asked to join me at my table.  He turned out to be an English teacher who had spent the last three years doing his job in Saudi Arabia.  

      We talked and after hearing what I was about, he offered me his copy of How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill, which I finished before wrapping up the rest of my 4-month tour around Eurpope.  I never got to Ireland, not even to this day.

      Readers & Book Lovers Pull up a chair! You're never too old to be a Meta Groupie

      by Limelite on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 11:57:37 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Books and travel? (8+ / 0-)

    Two of my most favoritest things! I've got a rather lengthy jaunt abroad coming up soon, and I'm hoping to find some time before I go to write a diary about... er... how to phrase it? My "philosophy" of travel? The peculiar joy that emanates from the longing produced through the sense of dislocation? The contradictions of absence and presence? Being a student of the world? Jeesh, I really need to figure out how to articulate this better :~) But I know I'll be riffing on the writings of a twelfth-century monk, so we come full circle to books and travel.

    Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time. (Terry Pratchett)

    by angry marmot on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 07:28:17 AM PST

    •  Where are you jaunting to, angry marmot? (3+ / 0-)

      I know what you mean about the joy of dislocation. It's intoxicating to arrive in another country, to breathe a different atmosphere and walk into possibilities you'd never seen before.

      I've been stuck on this continent since 2005. But a few years ago I was in Vancouver in the summertime, and even that was a wild and wonderful exploration (well, it did come in the middle of a fortnight's drive roundtrip from San Francisco, via lakes, forests, mountains and the Pacific coast).

      I look forward to reading more about your philosophy of travel.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 10:40:54 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Oh... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Brecht, Limelite, Monsieur Georges

        Off to Egypt for seven weeks. I've been doing fieldwork there, off and on for a few months at a time, since 1997. Actually, I've been there enough times that in some ways it's become routine, by which I'm not boasting but rather suggesting that the disclocation and intoxicating cost/risk of "the new" isn't as strong as it once was. This will be my second post-Mubarak trip.

        I hear what you're saying about "even" Vancouver. Sometimes an overnight in a new town not far away is enough to sate the wanderlust.

        Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time. (Terry Pratchett)

        by angry marmot on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 10:54:55 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  No doubt you've seven weeks of work to accomplish (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Limelite, Monsieur Georges

          while you're there. But with a visit that long, I hope you'll also find some time to explore a little, and come across new sights and corners along the way.

          What field will you be working?

          "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

          by Brecht on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 11:04:15 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

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