Buon Natale

The first Christmas card to arrive at our house this year is from Angela Caputi, a wonderful jewelery designer and entrepreneur we met while living in Florence. Angela was one of many local artisans who opened her doors and her heart to us while we were there. I showed up unannounced at her retail outlet on Via Santo Spirito and could see her working at her desk through a glass wall. When I spoke to one of her assistants about meeting her, there was no hesitation, and Angela immediately came to the shop floor. Angela speaks excellent English, far better...

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Tuscany in Toronto

Anyone who has traveled on the Toronto subway system or visited New York’s Grand Central Station recently could not help but see a sophisticated ad campaign about Italy. With the slogan “Italy for life” the two dozen different posters go beyond the usual photos of the Leaning Tower of Pisa to portray everything from spas to locations for business meetings. The posters sing about “landscapes where emotions come alive,” “culture that inspires” and “artistic beauty that fascinates.” You don’t need to convince me. Still, I wanted to find out more about the campaign so I called the Toronto office of...

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The future of books

The strike by the Writers Guild of America offers a glimpse into the future of intellectual property and how people get paid for cranial creativity. At the moment, 20 per cent of all U.S. homes have TiVo, which means TV programs can be downloaded and watched whenever the viewer chooses – without having to bother with the commercials. A recent New York Times article flat-out declared this means the end of television and drew a parallel to how vaudeville performers must have felt when talking movies arrived. If there are no eyeballs watching soap ads, why should Dove bother spending...

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Angels without wings

Of all the people we met in Florence, the one with the most impact was Peter Porcal, the resident art historian for the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD). Now in his early sixties, Peter has led his “children” for more than two decades. That’s Peter pictured at the top of the blog adroitly holding a spray of peppers. Click on the photo to enlarge it for a closer look. Every Wednesday morning, he takes successive classes of students somewhere in Florence to see Renaissance art. He also leads day trips and weekend excursions to the antique sales in...

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How to write a book: Part five

Prior to going to Florence, I knew there were two stories I wanted to tell: the pressing of olive oil and the tasting of vintage wine. In November, when the olive harvest was in full flight, the opportunity arose for us to see how olive oil was made. It was our landlord, Roberto Bianchi, who made the arrangements for us to visit Villa S. Andrea in Montefiridolfi, 20 km. south of Florence. In addition to harvesting their own olives, Villa S. Andrea also acts as a co-operative. Signor Bianchi takes his olives there for pressing, so he was able to...

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Home cooking

As a writer, you make some assumptions about who your audience is. In the case of Fantasy in Florence, I imagined that most readers would be over forty and looking for a change in their lives. Wrong! Turns out students are reading the book, too. Here’s part of an email from a post-grad student who read the book as a break from her regular studies. I’ve left out her name, faculty and school. “I just finished reading your book, Fantasy in Florence. I wanted to write to you to tell you how much I enjoyed it! I lived in Florence...

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Update and an apology

Andrew Waite’s wonderful installation, Crop, so glowingly described in my earlier post about Nuit Blanche, is on display until November 15 in the Mediterranean Garden at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington. The name of the McCaul Street gallery where Crop appeared during Nuit Blanche was Prime, not Pride. My apologies to all concerned.

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Writers for Wellspring

On Sunday, November 18, Sandy and I will be among the honored guests at the annual Writers for Wellspring benefit in London, Ont. This event will feature such well-known writers as Kelley Armstrong, Jacquelyn Mitchard, Heather O’Neill, Maggie L. Wood and Joan Barfoot. We’re in esteemed company, but I hope the other authors will excuse me for specifically citing Joan Barfoot, who is honorary chair that day. In the 1960s Joan and I worked together on The Gazette, the student newspaper at the University of Western Ontario, and I have fond memories of her fine work way back then. We’ve...

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