Janice Hall Heck

Finding hope in a chaotic world…

Archive for the category “Reading”

NaBloPoMO 11. Orange is the New Black

NaBloPoMo_November_smallREAdingMy friend Karen handed me this New York Times bestseller last week, and I read it in a day. So, I will combine a NaBloPoMo and a It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? post.

Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman.

Piper Kerman, a 1993 Smith graduate with no life plan, no goals, seemed happiest working in restaurants, bars, and 001nightclubs. So after graduation, while her colleagues went off to graduate school, jobs, and suburbia, she chose to hang around with a few colorful, if somewhat unsavory, characters.

She linked up with Nora, a here-again, gone-again lesbian, who threw money around by the fistful, coddling,  cuddling, and pampering Piper in a self-indulgent lifestyle: money, travel, nightclubs, restaurants, clothes, spas. Until one day, Nora, who was getting deeper and deeper into criminal activities, demanded that Piper carry a drug-money filled suitcase on an international flight to Paris. Piper realized then that her bill for all the extravagant living had come due.

The reality of her criminal life and life-style nagged at her conscience, so back in New York City after months abroad, she bailed out and broke all ties with Nora, prevailing on old friends in San Francisco to help her regain normalcy in her life.

With a somewhat unusual job, infomercial production, Piper settled into routines in San Francisco, found new friends, a boyfriend, and started to breathe easier. But with life’s twists and turns, she and Larry ended up back in New York in 1998, where the always anticipated and feared knock on the door came.

Arrested and indicted for drug smuggling and money laundering,  Piper was assisted by her rich daddy’s lawyer through the criminal proceedings. Piper spent six years under federal supervision while the authorities built their case against the leader of their gang, then was sentenced to fifteen months in federal prison to be served at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut.

The rest of the book is about her life in prison (chapter 3 to 18), the friends she made, the coping strategies she used, and practical job skills she learned.

Kerman tells her story in a matter-of-fact sort of way, without heavy emotion, using vignettes of events that occur as she counts out the days and months and seasons of her sentence.

She has roommates, but they are not the ivy-league type she has been used to. Still, she manages to be something of an out-of-place prima donna given that she gets the New York Times delivered to her cell and receives tons of mail, books, and visits from Larry, her family, and friends. Surprisingly, she is not taunted by other inmates, as she otherwise tries to be a good girl, keeping away from troublemakers while serving out her sentence.

Orange is the New Black is a fast, easy-to-read book, without a lot of complexity. While Kerman describes emotional situations, the book is not overwhelmingly emotional. In fact, tense situations blow over quickly, with little or no aftermath. Even the outrageously embarrassing situations, the strip searches for example, seem to be handled with aplomb.

My favorite part of the book is page 150 where she gives the recipe for Prison Cheesecake. I will never eat cheesecake again without remembering this very special recipe. I will never use this recipe, but I will definitely remember it.

Bon appetit! Oh, I mean you’ll like, but not love, the book. It does have some interesting tales to tell. But it ends on the date Kerman gets out of prison. Period. Just like that. The End. I had hoped for a bit more of a reflection on learnings and setting of goals for a new life. Oh well, maybe that will come in another book.

WANAfriday: A Good Weekend for Reading

Every Friday a WANA112 blogger tosses out a prompt for fellow bloggers to consider. The prompt for this week is:

001First Lines. Take this first line from Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani and run with it:

“This will be a good weekend for reading.”

Ava Maria Milligan took over as Big Stone Gap’s pharmacist when her cold, unfatherly father died thirteen years ago. Now single and thirty-five, her mother’s recent death leaves her in a quandary: a revealed death-bed secret causes Ava Maria to reevaluate everything about her life in Big Stone Gap.

Even so, life goes on. The big weekly event in Big Stone Gap, “The Coal Mining Capital of Virginia”  in the Blue Ridge Mountains, is the arrival of the Wise County Bookmobile. Ava’s life almost depends on this “glittering royal coach” and the life-line to the world that it brings each week. Contemplating living in Stone Creek for the rest of her life, now that town gossip flaunts her mother’s long-buried secret, becomes a major challenge. The bookmobile, at least, brings “stories and knowledge and life itself” and relief from the pain of her mother’s death.

Quaint, but clever, mountain folk contribute to the liveliness of the book: Vernie Crabtree (makes killer chocolate chip cookies in town); Iva Lou Wade, (the bookmobile librarian dishes out advice on books and love in equal measure); Mrs. Nan Bluebell MacChesney (“Apple Butter Nan” and not-too-successful match-maker for her son); Jack MacChesney (a mountain man and one of two eligible bachelors in town); Theodore Tipton (the well-educated, non-romantic, other bachelor in town); and other characters who enliven the drama of everyday life in a small mountain town.

The September weekend threatens to be a cool, rainy weekend. This will be a good weekend for reading, Ava Marie thinks. On Iva Lou’s advice, she picks up The Captains and the Kings, a historical romance. She also picks up The Ancient Art of Chinese Face Reading, and As Grief Exits.

But this book is not about reading. It is about a young woman, a town leader in many ways, who now questions everything about her life as she works through this newly gained truth about her birth father. Along with the death-bed secret comes information about long-lost family members in Italy.

Is Ava’s future in this mountain town or in the wider world that she has come to love through her reading? Will Nan Blueberry MacChesney ever have any luck marrying off her mountain-man son? Read this well-written and enjoyable book to find the answers to these questions and to find out more about life in a small, coal-mining town in Virginia.

* * *

As for me, this will be a good weekend for reading, too. We seem to be having an early fall with almost record-setting low temperatures in the morning but warmer temperatures later in the day. I hadn’t originally planned to spend the weekend reading, but my reading group meets on Sunday, and I have to finish Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s, The Language of Flowers, before then. I have read a few reviews of the book, and it sounds like a book I will enjoy.

Language of Flowers

In my TBR stash, I have several other books waiting. I know I won’t get to them this weekend, perhaps next week.

Last weekend, I read Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society, a YA book about gifted children who set out to save the world. I loved the cleverness of the writing, so I picked up two more in the series at the library: The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, and The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

001 (4)

I also looked online and discovered several more books in the Big Stone Gap series, so on another rainy weekend I will read a few more of Adriana Trigiani’s books:

Big Cherry Holler
Milk Glass Moon
Home to Big Stone Gap

And here are some thoughts by other WANAs on this WANAfriday prompt: “This will be a good weekend for reading.”

Ellen Gregory  On a Writing, Not a Reading Retreat

The Last Meow

What? No books about cats? What’s with that?

How about reading Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron?Dwey

Or how about 100 Cats Who Changed Civilization by Sam Stall?

Cat who changed world

Go ahead. Live a little Read a book about us world-famous kitties.

Meow for now.  =<^;^>=    

T is for. . . Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo Needs a Pronoun

a-to-z-letters-2013Tuesday, April 23,  is T-Day in the A to Z Challenge.

For this day, I want to share a favorite childhood story, one that I have used many times in my teaching career.

Tikki Tikki Tembo, by Arlene Mosel and illustrated by Blair Lent

Tikki tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-cari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo has such a long name because he is most honored as the first-born child in this traditional Chinese family. Translated, his name means, “the most wonderful thing in the whole wide world.”

The second son in the family merited only a short name, Chang, meaning, “little or nothing.”

One day, while their mother washed their clothes in a nearby stream, first son, Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-cari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo, and second son, Chang, went up the hill to play.

tikki pic

Mother warned them not to play near the well, but did they listen? No.

Chang fell in the well, and Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-cari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo raced to tell his mother and the sleepy old man with the ladder. The sleepy old man with the ladder rescued Chang, and all was fine.

But did these boys learn their lesson? No.

Once again, first son, Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-cari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo, and second son, Chang, went up the hill to play near the well. But this time, Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-cari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo fell in the well, and Chang had to run to mother to get help. But he had to tell her what happened over and over again because she could not hear him over the noisy stream.

Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-cari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo fell into the well.
Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-cari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo fell into the well.

And Chang had to say it a third time because he hadn’t said his brother’s name honorably enough on the second try.

Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-cari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo

By then, some time had passed. And then he had to wake up the sleepy old man with the ladder and repeat his message three more times til the old man understood him.

Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-cari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo fell into the well.
Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-cari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo fell into the well.
Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-cari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo fell into the well.

At this point, quite a bit of time had passed. Eventually the sleepy old man with the ladder rescued Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-cari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo, and all was well again.

After that, Chinese family started to give their children shorter names.


Now wouldn’t it have been easier for Chang to simply use a pronoun instead of Tikki’s whole name?

He fell into the well.

Ah, but then the beauty of this story would be lost. Part of the enchantment is the rhythm and repetitiveness of the story. Children love to chant Tikki tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-cari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo as you read the story.


Click on the next link, and you can see and hear the complete version of Tikki Tikki Tembo narrated by Peter Thomas.

The Last Meowcat and tikki tikki

Not to be outdone by Tikki, our honorable Mr. Very Handsome White Cat has recited his own version of this story. Well, at least he tried. Better luck next time!

Hey can you say this three times without messing up?

Tikki tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-cari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo. . .

Meow for now. 


N is for Nora’s Ark – In Times of Trouble, People Help People

a-to-z-letters-2013When tragedy hits a community, the people of the community bind together to remember and honor those who have been hurt, to help one another repair damage, and to find ways to move on with their lives despite their losses. They learn valuable lessons in the process.

Several weeks ago, a box arrived in the morning mail at Margate Community Church in Margate, Newworkgloves Jersey. In the box were sixty-six pairs of work gloves, a large number of cards and notes, a check for building supplies, and a letter from the pastor of the Waterbury Congregational Church (Vermont) explaining the purpose of the box and its contents. The box also contained a children’s book  entitled Noah’s Ark by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock.

superstorm sandyThe members of the Waterbury Congregational Church had heard about the damage caused by Superstorm Sandy to the coastal areas of New Jersey and New York in October of 2012. It reminded them of their own disaster just one year earlier in August of 2011, when Hurricane Irene (although then reduced to tropical storm status) caused significant flood damage to hundreds of homes, farms, roads, railroads, bridges, and utilities in their area.

They knew, first-hand, the enormous effort that would be required before lives in some of the heavily damaged coastal communities of New Jersey and New York could return to normal. After all, their own lives have not yet entirely returned to normal, and it has already been well over a year since their flood disaster.

The Waterbury Congregational Church also heard that volunteers from churches around the country planned to travel to Margate to help rebuild damaged homes. The volunteers planned to camp out in the Margate church and work in nearby communities during the week, coordinating their efforts with Habitat for Humanity, the United Church of Christ disaster relief groups, and local relief groups. The check for building supplies will help meet some of the rebuilding needs.

The letters and notes in the box from members of the Waterbury church expressed concern about the storm damage and gave encouragement for the future, citing their own first-hand experiences with natural disasters. As many of the notes were read aloud during one Sunday morning service, their sentiments touched our hearts and brought tears to our eyes. All of the cards, notes, and letters, now posted on a bulletin board in our Fellowship Hall, will be read by the volunteers who come in to work.

Last Sunday, Pastor Dave Fleming of the Margate church, read the book, Nora’s Ark, to the children of the church.  Nora’s Ark tells about the Vermont Flood of 1927. The author, Natalie Kinsey-Warnock, was only a child001 at the time of the flood, but she remembers it well.

It is a beautiful, well-told, true story of how Grandpa, Grandma, and granddaughter, Wren, help out their neighbors whose homes and animals had washed away in the Flood of 1927.

Nora’s Ark gives a perfect lesson on identifying what is important in life. What is important, as Grandma would say, is that neighbors help neighbors.

The book is beautifully illustrated by Caldecott Medal winner Emily Arnold McCully.

And those sixty-six pairs of work gloves? They’re gonna get a good workout! Volunteer church groups have asked for shelter in the Margate church, and the church’s own volunteers are getting ready to help feed these guests.  After all, that’s what churches do. In times of trouble, churches help churches, and churches help their communities.

Special thanks to the Waterbury Congregational Church in Vermont for their ministry of love. . .  and those sixty-six pairs of gloves. We’ll pass them on…well, maybe we will buy new ones and pass them on to another community that needs help.

YA Book Review: Silki, The Girl of Many Scarves: Summer of the Ancient

Something isn’t right on Concho Mountain.

Someone or something is out there.

Silki knows it, and Silki’s horse, Smiles, knows it.

What? A snake? A mountain lion? A wild, winged creature with an agonizing shriek? An Ancient Ant Man looking to settle a grudge?

Silki’s active imagination and Smiles’ skittishness force a hasty retreat back to the safe confines of the family compound.

Silki races to tell her “extreme tale” (another one!) to Birdie, her best friend (former best friend?), but Birdie’s mind is already on her new, cool, more sophisticated (and normal) volleyball friends. Besides, Birdie is secretly just a little freaked out by Silki’s fantastic stories of a revenge-seeking Ancient Ant Man who demands the return of sacred relics they have collected near Red Rocks on the Rez (Navajo reservation).

This engaging book, written by Jodi Lea Stewart, has several themes. Being an adolescent, one theme, is not easy with its sometimes wobbly friendships, divided loyalties, and changing interests. Add some mystery, let’s say scary mystery, and you have a spell-binding story. Now add Navajo culture and traditions, a few characters with long-held secrets, a bit of odd behavior now and then, a kidnapping, and… I’m breathless!

Open the book to any page, and you will find exquisite writing with descriptions fresh and alive. The story begins on “a sweet pepperminty day in the high country when spring teases winter into moving over a little” and goes on from there. Upper elementary and junior high teachers will delight in using this book and having students pick out their favorite passages.

Here’s a little teaser.

What was I doing? It was more than just boredom egging me on. It was like I was uncorking a bottle and all the troubled Wol-la-chee liquid was pouring out and I couldn’t stop it no matter what. A thrilling craziness pulled me like a magnet.

The thrilling craziness in this book kept me up ’til the wee hours of the morning. I loved the book, and now I am sending it to my twelve-year-old granddaughter who lives in Arizona.

Hurry up, Jodi, and finish the second book in the Summer of the Ancient series. I want to know what happens next.

One Lovely Blog Award

Jacqui Talbot bestowed this “One Lovely Blog Award” on my blog. Thanks, Jacqui. What a nice thing to do.

Jacqui is a multi-talented blogger friend who speaks six languages, one of which is Choctaw. She retells delightfully spirited and spiritual Choctaw tales as told to her by her grandfather. Visit her blog. I think you will enjoy it as much as I do.

This “One Lovely Blog Award” is a very mysterious award. If you research its background, you will have difficulty finding its roots. But the rules seem to be well established and must be passed from recipient to recipient. Since a few of us… a hundred of us an infinite number of us have received this award, you may be familiar with it.

The purpose, of course, is to encourage bloggers to visit other blogs, then recommend their favorites to others, something like the domino effect, or a virus, or a gathering storm. You get the idea. Pretty soon, we bloggers will take over the world or at least the Internet.

The Rules for One Lovely Blog Award:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and link back to them in your post.
  2. Share seven possibly unknown things about yourself.
  3. Nominate fifteen or so bloggers you admire. (That’s gonna be hard since there are so many excellent bloggers in the blogosphere.)

Hmmm. Let’s see. Most of you know that I am a farm girl by birth, but I left the farm for the big city (Boston) when I went to college.

Here are a few things you may not know about me.

1. I am the eighth child (out of nine) and the youngest girl to be born to my father, Adam Kroelinger, Sr., and my mother, Ellen Mae Kroelinger. Both parents came from Virginia, but my father’s grandfather came from Alsace-Lorraine (a region of France caught in the turmoil of changing politics between France and Germany). My grandmother, Genevieve, came from France. My mother’s family came from England.

Kroey sisters. Back row L to R: Joyce, Joanne, Shirley.
Front row L to R: Beverley, Judie, Janice

2. I went to a two-room schoolhouse for my primary grades and was probably the quietest child in my class. I still remember the day that…well, never mind.

Spring Road School, Vineland, NJ

When that school was torn down years later, my mom bought one of the old-fashioned desks that had been in the school. That desk still sits in my garage taking up space. (My car is in the driveway.)

3. Although I was the first one in my family to attend college, several other siblings finished college as adults. For some unknown reason, I majored in history in college, so I went back to school and got a teaching certificate and a master’s degree in special education at Boston University. My background in history comes into play now as I research the history of areas I visit on my travels.

4. After my mom passed away in 2000, I bought out my siblings’ shares of the old family house (circa 1900) in Vineland, NJ, and began to renovate it. I scraped layers and layers (years and years) of wallpaper from the walls, tore down walls and built up walls, added rooms and changed rooms, painted walls and stained cabinets, enclosed a side porch and replaced a front porch that was once removed because it was old-fashioned, and more. Of course, I had help from an excellent builder, and my siblings helped with the wallpaper scraping.  After four years in the house, I moved again for another job and sold that childhood home.

5. Although I have traveled to many places in the world, my favorite place is still the South Jersey shore. I just love beach sand, waves, shells, ocean mists, sea gulls, boardwalk pizza, and exquisite sunsets.

Sunset Beach, Cape May, NJ

6. Travel, photo, food, and writers’ blogs are among my favorites. One day I will do a post on some of these.

7. In 2004, I married a man that I dated in 1963. That’s a whole ‘nother story. Maybe I’ll tell it one day. I sent a special wedding invitation just to him, announcing the upcoming marriage of the beautiful, charming, witty princess (me) to a toad named O’Heck-O-Lebster. (He claimed his name was O’Heck-O-Lobster, but he was just trying to resurrect some dignity.) Anyway, he does have a good sense of humor. Thank goodness for that.

Now for my blogger nominees for the “One Lovely Blog Award.”

1. Emaginette‘s advice is “Live Life, and Shout About It!” That sounds good to me. And congrats to her: she won the NaNoWriMo in 2011.

2. Anna at Spectacles, 22-year-old blogger, writes gives sprightly advice with her writing: paint your nails, cut your hair, get a tatoo….  Her writing makes me chuckle. She quotes T.S. Eliot (one of my favorites): “Not all those who wander are lost.”

3. Madison Johns, witty and outrageous writer of Armed and Outrageous, newly released book about two granny-sized detectives who give the local sheriff a run for his money on an unsolved case. Read it and laugh. Or cry a few times, too.

4. 2 Girls Lost in a Book written by a mother-daughter duo about kids’ books. Summer reading list now up. Good blog.

5. Gail M. Baugniet, Sister-in-Crime, writes about Pepper Bibeau, insurance investigator who sometimes ends up with a murder on her hands.

6. Elaine Smothers and her froggie friend Forrest. (Elaine knows I have a crush on Forrest…no secret.)

7. Tami Clayton loves to travel as much as I do. Her photographs entice you to visit places where she has been. She entertains her friends for “Tea in the Kasbah.”

8. Julie Farrar writes about traveling through life and (right now) France. (Yes, that is jealousy sneaking into my writing.)

9. Karen Rose Smith loves cats, roses, and books. Can’t beat that combo. Cat lovers bond! Good writing, too.

10. Jodi Lea Stewart, an Arizona girl, recently published Silki: The Girl of Many Scarves, a lovely YA book about a young girl growing up on a Navaho reservation. A sequel is in the works.

11. Holly Michael‘s blog Writing Straight is  about “connecting and inspiring along life’s crooked lines.” She also writes inspiration messages at http://baaaaa.com.

12. Laird Sapir is at the center of a whirlwind of activity. Check her blog for technical advice on blogging as well as an octopus story that is gathering chapters as it slithers and slides through the blogosphere.

13. Sonia G. Madeiros writes fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Her two cats fight each other to see which one will dominate the world. Tune in.

14. Katy Manck, BooksYALove, is a librarian-at-large and a book reviewer who looks for good books beyond the best-seller list.  Go there for recommendations for good reads for your kids.

15. Teachers Donalyn Miller, Colby Sharp, and Cindy Minich write reviews for the NerdyBookClub. More good books reviews!

And now, dear friends, I deserve a break. I’m gonna head out and play a little hopscotch with my senior friends. Don’t be jealous.

Italy: San Gimignano, Medieval Time Warp

Twelve kilometers away from Poggibonsi, the medieval fortress town of San Gimignano stands regally on a hill, preserved through the centuries. Its historic towers, dating from the 1200s, can be seen from a distance. Walk through its gates and walk into another world, another time.

Originally a small Etruscan village (200-300 BC) named Castel di Salva, San Gimignano was renamed after Bishop Geminianus sometime after the 6th century. One story reports that the bishop, outfitted in shining golden armor, came riding into town out of the thick and swirling valley mists, terrifying the Goth invaders who took off without a fight. For saving their town from these evil ruffians, the people adopted his name and his patronage. They were to call on him in prayer and penance years later during many more bad times.

Medieval times were hard times. Not only did the people have to worry about those Goth and Lombard invaders from the North, their own internal struggles kept them in disarray. Warring factions, the Guelphs (who supported the Pope in Rome), and the Ghibellines (who supported the Holy Roman Emperor), competed for power. This serious religious/political rivalry started in 1215 and took centuries to resolve.

Powerful families in San Gimignano, the Adringhelli (Guelph loyalists), and the Salyucci Family (Ghibelline devotees) built towers, not only for defense against outside invaders, but also from each other. The towers also served as repositories of their great wealth and as symbols of their political power.

A great wall surrounds the entire town, and tall gates at the Porta San Giovanni guard the entrance.

San Gimignano was conveniently located on the ancient Via Francigena, the route faithful pilgrims followed when traveling from France to Rome to pay homage to the Pope. San Gimignano became an important respite for the travelers from thieves and other troublemakers who roamed the countryside. Exhausted pilgrims and traveling merchant-traders spent the night inside the safety of the town’s walls before continuing their journeys the next morning.

The city was prosperous until a series of plagues in 1348, 1464, and 1631 repeatedly decimated its population. San Gimignano fell into further economic decline when the route to Rome bypassed the city, a result of neighboring Florence’s punishing powerplay.

Travel mate, Christine (right), checks a cistern which collects rainwater drained from the rooftops. We can imagine the daily gathering of people at the cistern, gossiping and trading news about the latest events. They probably talked about the ongoing rivalry between the Pope and the Emperor and wondered when it would all end.

The steps of the church in the Piazza Del Duomo invite people to sit and rest for a while and people-watch. The Cappela di Santa Fina is located inside the Duomo, dedicated to a fifteen-year-old girl.

For the religious faithful, San Gimignano had its patron saints. Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, author of Italian Days (1989), tells of Fina del Ciardi (1238-1253), a girl born of noble parents who became a patron saint and was venerated in this walled fortress city.

One story goes that Fina, at the tender age of ten, accepted an orange from a young man, and guilt-ridden, she fell ill and didn’t move for five years, praying continuously. Another report says that she was stricken with a serious illness, possibly tuberculosis/osteomyelitis, that paralyzed her.

At her death at age 15, yellow pansies suddenly bloomed profusely and angels rang the church bells. Reports of miraculous healing attributed to Fina occurred, ensuring that she would be remembered and venerated for a long time. To this day, an annual celebration occurs on March 12, the anniversary of her death, and the day yellow pansies bloom.

Two frescoed panels by Florentine Renaissance master Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1475, in the Cappella di Santa Fina depict her story

From these same church steps, The Palazzo del Popolo, the town hall (1238-1323), can be seen on the right.

Dante Alighieri (1261-1321) poet, author of the Divine Comedy, and a Guelph, visited here and encouraged the people to support the the Pope in his struggle against the Roman Emperor. Alighieri was trapped on the wrong side of a Guelph internal power struggle and was exiled from Florence in 1302. He wrote Comedia (later named the Divine Comedy) describing afterlife in hell, purgatory, and paradise. Are you surprised to hear that Dante depicted his enemies suffering excruciating pain in hell?

At the highest point in San Gimignano, we find the Rocca, the remains of the city’s medieval fortress and its one surviving tower. Cosimo De’ Medici, the well-known politician (bully) of Florence, had other towers dismantled in the 16th century. Now the Rocco is a lovely public park with fig and olive trees, cobbled walks, quiet places to sit, and spectaular views.

A group of young musicians have an informal session in the park, much to the delight of our foursome.

Today, San Gimignano is a bustling town with locals selling wine (Vernaccia di San Gimignano, a white wine), olive oil, colorful ceramics, souvenirs, and ubiquitous postcards. Tourists fill the streets, crowding the alleys and craning their necks to view the remaining towers.

Inger-Anne (below) ponders whether her stash of Norwegian chocolate will really last for the whole week. Maybe we should get a little Italian chocolate to tide us over?

Tourists pack the street during the day but depart for their buses in the early evening, leaving our foursome to wander the alleys in relative quiet.

Restaurants can be found in every piazza or alley and even along the outside city walls.

And don’t forget the gelato. You can find a gelateria in every piazza.

San Gimignano has served as the setting for both novels and movies. E. M. Forster wrote Where Angels Fear to Tread set in the village Monteriano, loosely based on San Gimignano. John Grisham used San Gimignano as the setting for The Broker. In 1999, the film, Tea with Mussolini, in which a group of women saved valuable San Gimignanian frescoes from destruction by the German has scenes from this area. Ann Cornelisen also describes Tuscany hill scenes in her hilarious novel, Any Four Women Could Rob the Bank of Italy.

And now, it’s been a long day. So let’s have some gelato ourselves.

Stop by and visit San Gimignano with Rick Steves.


Italy Reading: Any Four Women Could Rob the Bank of Italy

Can four American and English expat women living in Italy outwit the local carabinieri?

Ann Cornelison, author of Any Four Women Could Rob the Bank of Italy (1983), details how it could be done while writing a screenplay. But soon the plan becomes a challenge. Will these four women do it? Of course they will.

Will they get caught? Not telling!

This book has been called a “caper-romp” with serious feminist underpinning.

It seems that females are so highly regarded in Italy that they could not possibly be a part of that male dominated group infamously known as “Italian macho mail train robbers.” But really, is that fair? Why can’t women have the same rights as men? As these expat women consider this issue, a daring (and hilarious) plan develops.

When the police search for the male thugs who carried out this highly organized mail train robbery, heisting a huge government payroll in the process, four seemingly innocent expat women stand by and watch. The befuddled Italian carabinieri blunder through irrelevant clues, coming up with frustration and outrageous speculation. Terrorists? Really?

But how can these four women prove their point if the crime is not revealed? Hmmmm. Read the book!

Ann Cornelison moved to Tuscany in 1954. Originally intending to be an archaeologist, she instead became involved in setting up nurseries in impoverished villages in Southern Italy with the Save the Children Fund. Later she moved to Tuscany where she bought a thirteenth-century house, the setting of the women’s crime-planning sessions.

This book is an oldie (1983) but a goodie. You can find it on Internet or in your local library.

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