Posted by: kimberlysullivan | May 23, 2017

Alpine art-deco splendor in Ortisei, Italy

Ortisei, ItalyI’ve already written about my fantastic skiing holiday to the Dolomites, in northern Italy’s Trentino-Alto Adige province, this past winter, and the town in the Val Gardena where we made our base, Selva di Val Gardena.

But the ‘historic’ town – always feels funny to use that term in Italy unless a town spans back millennia –  in the Gardena Valley is Ortisei, also known by its German name of Sankt Ulrich or its Ladino name of Urtijëi.

Ortisei, ItalyThis town’s past as a summer and winter sports destination began in the 1860s. This is when better road connections were created to and from the railway routes, thereby facilitating access to tourists who wished to come and admire this beautiful and picturesque corner of the Italian Alps.

The location was popular with English tourists and those of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Germany. Both summer and winter sports were practiced here.

Ortisei, ItalyMany of the buildings were built at the end of the 19th century, and have an art deco look and feel that isn’t as evident in other towns of the valley, which were developed more recently.

The churches have the traditional and distinctive onion dome more common to Austria than to Italy. And, in fact, German is widely spoken in this region, and Austrian specialties are found on the menus. Italian and Ladino are other official languages in Val Gardena, and English is widely spoken.

Ortisei, ItalyIt’s a pleasant place to visit, and I’d love to get back to do some hiking in the summertime.

As you can see from the accompanying photo, the gondolas link you to neighboring ski slopes. Those visible right from town connect you with the Alpi di Siusi, and the ones found on the other side of town bring you back to Santa Cristina and Selva – and the Sella ronda I’ve already written about, which can take you off to numerous valleys and trails around the Dolomites.

So enjoy pretty Ortisei the next time you are in Italy’s Val Gardena. You’re certain to love this art deco Alpine hamlet.

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | May 19, 2017

Does an author owe something to her readers?

hand writingAs a reader, there are many types of books I don’t like. If a book isn’t well written, it’s an easy write-off for me. If it’s not a genre I enjoy – most action/spy novels or science fiction fall under this category for me – I’m not expecting much either, even if they are well written.

But there are books I think could have been good, but which I nevertheless loathed, and often I wonder if these authors (in my mind, at least) broke a pact with their readers.

I’ve already written about poorly researched books. I can forgive  a few flaws and mistakes in setting or location – it happens to the best authors. However, a book riddled with errors – such as the one I read supposedly set in Rome – makes me feel the author hasn’t done her job and is letting down her readers.

A historical novel I recently read had much promise in the first chapters, but I hated it and considered it a chose slogging through it. This is a shame, since I am predisposed to enjoy historical novels, and the author clearly put much work into it. Nevertheless, in thinking about it, I realize there were several points that made it difficult for me to enjoy this book:

  • Every piece of historical research gathered by the author was crammed into this book. I get it, I really do. I adore history. I majored in it undergrad, and I’m endlessly fascinated when I learn some fascinating new historic trivia. But an author must learn what to include and what to leave out. This book had lots of random facts and tidbits that had absolutely nothing to do with the story, but I had the sense the author had learned it and so she needed to throw it in somehow. This can be a fine line. If it happens once or twice, as a reader I may overlook it, but in this novel it never stopped.
  • Characters in historical fiction who seem suspiciously like 21st century counterparts. This is always tough for me in historical novels. An author probably wants to hook modern readers, and even to show that many universal themes and emotions are similar across centuries. Up to there, great. But when it’s off, it’s off. The protagonists were simply annoying, pushing ideas and stances that might be widespread today, but would not have been when the story was set over 150 years ago. An author can still show that characters are more progressive on issues than those around him or her, but I think you do have to reflect the time period in which you are setting you story to know what would have been revolutionary thinking, and what is downright absurd. If you are writing historical fiction, I believe an author does have to make an effort to understand the thinking of the time, and reflect that in her work.
  • ‘Forcing’ the reader to buy the sequel. I disliked this book, all excruciating 750 pages of it. I kept hoping it would get better, but it didn’t. Perhaps foolishly, I am loath to give up on books. There was one thread of a mystery that actually kept me reading til the end until *poof!* The book ended, mystery unresolved. I only learned at the end that it seems the author is writing a series. However, even if it is a series, surely an author must follow an unwritten rule that a reader has invested time in your book and the major conflict must be resolved within the novel. Other threads can be left open and carried into other novels, but don’t make your reader slog through all those pages just to fade away with nothing resolved.

What about you, readers? Have you read novels that disappointed because you felt the author broke a ‘pact’ with his or her readers?

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | May 16, 2017

The long trip down San Patrizio’s well, Orvieto

San Patrizio's well, OrvietoI love the Umbrian town of Orvieto, perched up so dramatically on a hilltop. I’ve already written about the views over the town from the Moro Tower and the town’s Etruscan Museum, with its stunning views over the cathedral, but there’s plenty more to see when you’re in town.

If you’re coming in by train and take the funicular up to the town, before you walk the short distance to the center, take time to visit the 16th century well, San Patrizio.

The well was constructed by Antonio Sangallo il Giovane. It is 53 meters long and 13 meters wide, with two impressive spiral staircases – the masterpiece of this project – and 70 windows illuminating the well.

San Patrizio's well, OrvietoAs you’ll notice quite quickly in Orvieto, this walled town was in a strategic position on the road to Rome. It had clear views over the countryside and strong walls, but in a siege, water is crucial. San Patrizio’s well allowed for quite a bit of stockpiling, and it is a technical and aesthetic feat of architecture – as one expects in Italy. : )

The idea for building such a well came in 1527, after the Sack of Rome, during which time Pope Clement VII took refuge for some time in Orvieto. Supposedly it was Pope Clement himself who feared another attack and wanted to make Orvieto completely sufficient and able to withstand future attacks. An ample water supply was key for this strategy, and so the building of the San Patrizio well began.

San Patrizio's well, OrvietoPope Clement never got to admire this spectacular well, which was finished in 1537,  three years after his death.

Originally the well was called the Pozzo della rocca (the Well of the Rocks), but it was later changed to the Pozzo di San Patrizio, after the well-known Saint Patrick’s Cavern in Ireland, otherwise known as Saint Patrick’s Purgatory.

The well has a continuous water source, the underground spring of San Zeno.

It’s a long walk down – and up – but well worth a  visit when you’re next in Orvieto.

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | May 12, 2017

Women’s fiction vs romance. One author’s discovery

Question markIn this very informative post on the Writer’s Digest site, romance author Linda Goodnight discovered, once she submitted a story proposal to her editors, that her story was not romance but women’s fiction.

In this post, Women’s Fiction or Romance? The Differences, and 5 Reasons Why They Matter, Goodnight explores the differences between the genres.

As the author points out, there is often confusion between the two genres because women’s fiction may contain romantic elements, or even a romance as one driving factor of the story.

The important distinction is that it is not the main driving force. In women’s fiction, the central plot surrounds the emotional journey of the main female protagonist(s), and the reader should accompany this character in her personal growth across the timespan of the novel.

Romance should have a Happily Ever After, whereas that is not expected in Women’s Fiction – although there should be a sense of hope at the novel’s conclusion.

Linda Goodnight does an excellent job of classifying the differences between the two genres, and helps clear up some confusion. Happy reading and writing to all – across genres.

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | May 9, 2017

Oslo’s Nobel Peace Prize Museum

Nobel Museum, OsloI was recently in Oslo, Norway for work. I’ve already written about starting my days off right with my morning jogs around Norway’s capital.

Although I didn’t have much free time, I did manage to squeeze in a few tourist visits on my stay. One was the Nobel Peace Prize Museum.

I was passing this museum every day and I went to a dinner at Oslo City Hall – where the prize is awarded annually, so I was curious to visit this museum and learn more about the history of the prize and its recipients.

Nobel Museum, Oslo

2016 Nobel laureate

The museum is in the center, right along the water. It bills itself as not really a museum, but an interactive space. To be honest, I would have preferred the actual thing. The space must be nice for lectures and talks. It seems to be used for photo exhibitions.

When I visited, there was one on the war in Syria and one on  the FARC in Colombia – connected to 2016’s recipient, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. I enjoyed listening to the video of his Nobel laureate speech.

The museum did indeed have interactive displays, and lots of tablets you could touch to read about each individual recipient, but I would have enjoyed some more explanation.

Nobel Museum, OsloThe creation of the Nobel Peace Prize by Swedish industrialist and arms manufacturer Alfred Nobel has always been a bit of a mystery – as has his choice to have the recipient selected by a Norwegian committee and be awarded the prize in Norway – something that has been done since 1901.

If you are looking for any explanations or background history, you won’t find it here.

Nobel Museum, OsloHowever, the hall of Nobel recipients is quite moving – and many of them quite baffling. If you have the patience to tap into each and every tablet, you can read a short recounting of the recipients and the reasons for which he or she was chosen.

Here on the left you can see Norway’s homegrown Nobel laureate, Dr. Fridtjof Nansen – scientist, skiing champion, Arctic explorer, statesman, humanitarian and first Commissioner to what would later become the UN High Commission on Refugees.

Worth a visit, certainly, when you’re in Oslo, but I would have enjoyed learning more about the history of the Prize and the men and women who have become Nobel laureates over the past century.

Nobel Museum, OsloNobel Museum, Oslo

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | May 5, 2017

Book Review: Queen Idia’s Africa – short stories

Queen Idia's Africa -Cordelia SalterI enjoyed this collection of  short stories. These connected stories all imagine a contemporary society in which Africa has developed as a wealthy continent, and is working to finance the development efforts in the lesser developed regions of Western Europe and America.

This overseas development aid is largely intended to stop the flow of desperate European immigrants, risking their lives in leaky boats to reach African shores in hope of a better life. With elections on the horizon, African politicians are under tremendous pressure to show that they are taking a stand against illegal immigration, and bolstering Africa-first policies.

Sound vaguely familiar?

Salter’s sly twist on immigration policies and the international development community is refreshing and clever. Salter is well acquainted with development agenda lexicon, and she clearly has fun turning the tables on many of the modern challenges of the sector – from refugee settlements, to corruption in procurement and distribution, to spoiled celebrities wanting to show up for photo-ops with starving kids, but only those who are photogenic and well-groomed.

Salter covers a lot of ground in this slim volume, and carts out many of the well-worn development clichés. When visiting refugee resettlement camps in the US, only women are provided with work, since men will drink the money away.  A jaded African bureaucrat repeats the same dismissive lines to a desperate European hoping to make a new life in Africa.

A well-written farcical take on serious subjects by an author who clearly knows her subject matter well.

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | May 2, 2017

Beautiful sunsets in Ariccia, Italy

Ariccia, Lazio, ItalyI was out in the Castelli Romani region, the hillside towns located to the south of Rome, on a  recent Sunday.

My younger son was – once again – out there for a track and field meet in the town of Velletri on a  beautiful spring day. On the drive back to Rome, both my son and I were struck by the dramatic sunset, with the sky painted brilliant pinks, oranges and purples as the sun slipped behind the sea in the distance.

Ariccia, Lazio, ItalyWe decided to park the car and take a little walk around the hilltown of Ariccia to see the sunset from the vantage point of that perched town.

This town was important for Rome, dating back to the times of Ancient Rome, when it was closely associated with Diana, the goddess of the hunt. Today Ariccia is far less hunting grounds and more suburban bedroom community, but it’s still a charming town to explore with a rich architectural past.

Ariccia, Lazio, ItalyThe powerful Chigi family ruled over the town in the 17th century and added many of the town’s architectural gems, including the Palazzo Savelli Chigi off the main town square.

The Chigi Pope, Alexander VII dwelled for periods in town, and it is thanks to him that the architect/sculptor GianLorenzo Bernini constructed the church of Santa Maria Assunta – also on the main square.

The monumental bridge we walked across to get to the town was first constructed in the 19th century, and greatly facilitated the town’s access to Rome along the Appia antica.

Ariccia, Lazio, ItalyAnd, of course, while there we stocked up on Genzano bread (see my earlier post on neighboring Genzano), Ariccia porchetta (pork slowly roasted with wild fennel and herbs) and the local Castelli wines.

One of the pluses of these races is that I get to spend a great day out with my son, explore pretty towns and enjoy beautiful sunsets, and buy my ready-made dinner to deposit directly on our dining room table when we get home. No cooking required!

When in the area, take time to enjoy the gorgeous sunset in picturesque Ariccia.

Ariccia, Lazio, ItalyAriccia, Lazio, Italy

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | April 28, 2017

Book review: Flawed

Flawed cover, AhernI picked up this novel, by Irish author Cecilia Ahern, by chance.

I liked the premise, and I was struggling through a novel that infuriated me more than it interested me, so I decided to take a break from it with another, much different novel.

It’s good I didn’t notice that the novel was the author’s young adult debut, since I never would have picked it up. Unless forced to read something by one of my sons who want to discuss something they read, I tend not to favor the young adult genre.

If I were a little more on the ball, I should have probably realized it from the cover. : )

Nevertheless, I didn’t, and it turned out to be a good thing because I really enjoyed this book.

Celestine North lives in a  country that is perfect. After politicians and leaders failed the nation in the past, new laws are passed to single out those who are flawed, thereby ensuring political instability can never occur again. Those determine to be offenders are branded with an ‘F’ and live alongside, but at the same time, separate from society.

Celestine believe in this system. She is content with her perfect life, her perfect family, perfect boyfriend and her ability to blend in with the rest of society until the day, inexplicably, that she risks everything and becomes Flawed.

Celestine grows as a character as she goes through the system of the Flawed, learning about her strength, maturing and developing as a character. For the first time, she questions the system she has always accepted at face value. In doing so, she also causes her family to look more critically at the system they have tacitly supported. It works as a young adult coming-of-age story, but one that can maintain enough interest for (ahem …) older readers. I read this quickly and have also recommended it to my teenage son. I enjoyed Ahern’s first foray into young adult novels.

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | April 25, 2017

The Polish Cemetery at Montecassino

Polish Cemetery, Cassino, ItalyToday is a holiday in Italy – Liberation Day.

It seems fitting to remember today all those who sacrificed their lives during fierce fighting on the Italian peninsula during World War II.

I recently posted about my visit to the 6th century abbey at Montecassino that was destroyed during the war and rebuilt from the rubble.

Polish Cemetery, Cassino, ItalyOn that visit, I also stopped off to see the Polish cemetery, containing the graves of over 1000 Polish soldiers – and two hundred Bielorussians – who died storming the bombed out abbey during the Battle of Montecassino in May 1944.

The Polish Cemetery occupies a beautiful hillside position, with stunning views over the abbey that must have been so menacing at the time, but which is now so peaceful.

Polish Cemetery, Cassino, ItalyIt takes a lot of imagination to understand how the bombings and gunfire must have sounded like, when today all you hear is the sound of the breeze rustling the trees and the birds chirping on their branches.

It makes an impression seeing the lines of graves of all those young soldiers so far from their homeland. There was a small but very interesting museum, with explanations in Italian, Polish and English.

Sadly, I got there as it was closing and had to race through much faster than I would have liked. It was interesting to read the accounts of the Allied commanders praising the bravery of the Polish soldiers.

Polish Cemetery, Cassino, ItalyAs a history buff, I also liked seeing the old posters and propaganda from the time to see what drove the soldiers to fight so valiantly in this battle. It was interesting to read the speeches from the Generals and to see the posters from the time instructing the soldiers to fight the Germans in Montecassino for what they did to Warsaw and for the years of occupation.

I’ll have to go back to explore the museum more thoroughly – not so close to closing time on my next visit!

There are two poems engraved at the entrance. One is the following:

Polish Cemetery, Cassino, ItalyFor our freedom and yours

We soldiers of Poland

Gave Our soul to God

Our life to the soil of Italy

Our hearts to Poland

The other engraved poem is similar to the famous World War I poem about the poppies in Flanders. My son had recently studied the original poem in his history class, so it was interesting for us both to see this Polish World War II version.

If you’re visiting the Montecassino Abbey, don’t miss out on the moving Polish Cemetery. Today it is fitting that we remember those brave soldiers who died during their efforts to break the Gustav Line and end WWII.

Polish Cemetery, Cassino, ItalyPolish Cemetery, Cassino, Italy

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | April 21, 2017

Beach reading season 2017 officially begins (for me…)

Beach readingIt’s that wonderful ‘event’ that rolls around each year – the official start of beach reading season!

For me, it often happens around the Easter holidays, when the weather in Rome starts turning almost summer-like. I often take my kids to one of our favorite beach spots near Rome – the wonderful town of Sperlonga.

When we were there, it was a gorgeous day, but a little too cold to swim – although there were plenty of northern European tourists doing just that. But it was great for splashing around in the water, games of soccer, and long walks along the beach. My younger son considered it ideal track practice and ran about a half-marathon length of jogs up and down the beach.

I was far lazier – thrilled to plop myself on the golden sand and to crack open the pages of my book, because this means the official start of beach reading season – a little seasonal rite I enjoy each year.

Even if work commitments and children’s sports events mean I don’t get to the beach as often as I’d like, the time I do spend in the spring and summer and even early autumn  is always idyllic. I love to spend an entire, lazy weekend day swimming, listening to the sound of the waves, and reading to my heart’s content.

Anything better than that?

So my little preview of what is to come on my first beach foray of the season was really perfect. Let the 2017 beach reading season officially begin!


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