Posted by: kimberlysullivan | August 26, 2016

Are all writers hopeless liars?

2016_August_liars“Is the artist a liar, or simply one for whom even a fact is not a fact? ”

-Ned Rorem

I love this quote by American composer Ned Rorem in The Paris Review.

What do you think, writers? Are we merely liars when we make up an entire world and populate it with invented characters story after story?

Or do we simply play hard and lose with facts? Do we eavesdrop on stories and use that as a kernel for a story, and then re-imagine it in our minds?

Perhaps the artist and Pinocchio have  quite a bit in common…

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | August 23, 2016

Mountain biking in Abruzzo

Mountain biking, Abruzzo, ItalyThe region of Abruzzo has become my favored retreat from the hectic pace of city life in Rome.

This mountainous region just east of Rome has plenty of fresh air and pretty countryside. One of the things I love doing when I am out here is mountain biking with my family.

Mountain biking, Abruzzo, ItalyMy children and I don’t own bikes in Rome. I know plenty of bikers who challenge the Roman traffic, but I have no desire to do so myself.

Instead, we have our mountain bikes out in Abruzzo and enjoy exploring the car-less trails, with their stunning mountain views.

Mountain biking, Abruzzo, ItalyThe town where we spend a lot of time, Ovindoli, is connected to nearby towns of Rovere, Rocca di Mezzo and Rocca di Cambio, and there are plenty of trails off the main bike path running between these towns to explore.

I’ll take mountain biking in the mountain air over weaving through traffic and breathing in smog any day.

Mountain biking, Abruzzo, ItalySo if you are out in Abruzzo, be sure to rent a mountain bike and explore this pretty region on two wheels.

For more ideas of what to see in Abruzzo, see my earlier posts on visiting medieval Pescostanzo, Ovid’s birthplace, Sulmona , summertime in mountaintop Ovindoli or winter in Ovindoli .

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | August 19, 2016

Book Review: After You

After You, Jojo MoyesLike many readers, I had read and enjoyed Jojo Moyes Me Before You. I didn’t think a sequel was really necessary, as I generally like endings that leave things open for the readers’ imaginations.

Nevertheless, I still picked this up when it came out and enjoyed this novel – although perhaps not as much as the original.

Jojo Moyes is adept at crafting damaged characters who are lost and drifting. In the opening of this novel, that is exactly how we glimpse Louisa (Lou) Clark a year and a half following the death of Will Traynor, the man whose caretaker she was in Me Before You and with whom she had fallen in love before he decided to commit assisted suicide.

After a period living abroad, Lou has returned to live in London, where she knows no one and barely gets by in a dead-end job. When a stranger arrives on her doorstep, claiming a tie Lou never knew existed, Lou has to decide whether or not to open her life to others, and how to move on after the loss that left her devastated.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m still not convinced the original novel needed a sequel, but I did find it readable and was pleased to see the new life Lou constructs for herself. The story lines, humor and full cast of characters keeps this novel moving swiftly along.

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | August 16, 2016

Stocking up on traditional bread and pork in Genzano, Italy

Genzano, ItalyMy youngest son is a sprinter, and I spend lots of time on weekends dragging him around to races in various towns across the region of Lazio.

This year, we had lots of races in the pretty area of ‘Castelli romani’, an area in the foothills south of Rome.

Genzano, Italy

The traditional Genzano bread

After my son’s races, we would have fun exploring the towns, having lunch or dinner (depending on race time) and stocking up on the local specialties to bring back home – especially the Genzano bread and the porchetta (smoked pork), from here and neighboring Ariccia.

In recent years, Genzano and its neighbors have built up to serve as bedroom communities for Rome, but in the past, these towns were filled with gracious villas and splendid palazzi of the noble families who would escape Rome’s heat in the summer.

Genzano, ItalyToday they are nice destinations from Rome- especially in the summer, when the temperatures are slightly cooler.

On clear days, there are also nice views out to the sea from the towns of the Castelli, including Genzano.

So if you are in this region south of Rome (for running races or just passing through), enjoy your wander around town, and be sure to stock up on all the local specialties.


Posted by: kimberlysullivan | August 12, 2016

Book review: Paris Time Capsule

Paris Time CapsuleIn Paris Time Capsule, by Ella Carey, New-York photographer Cat Jordan is stunned to learn she has inherited an apartment in Paris from Isabelle  de Florian, a woman she’s never heard of.

She leaves behind her society boyfriend and travels to France to handle the practicalities. There she learns that Isabelle de Florian and her grandmother had been friends long ago, but the situation becomes complicated when it is discovered that Isabelle de Florian had a daughter and grandson who should rightfully have inherited the home.

When she and Loic, the handsome grandson of Isabelle de Florian, go to view the apartment, they discover it has been locked up since the 1940s, and it is a veritable ‘time capsule’ containing furniture and objects tracing back to Paris’ earlier Belle Époque. Isabelle  de Florian’s grandmother had been a courtesan during the Belle Époque, and the discovery of the apartment is based on a true story.

The novel itself is engaging and reads quickly, who wouldn’t be drawn to the mystery of why the house was left to Cat and what the connection to the world of courtesans at turn-of-the-century Paris? As a Francophile myself, I was also interested in reading as Cat is absorbed into the daily life of France, and grows closer to Loic as they work together to unravel the mystery. A reader is also unsurprised by the growing feelings between Cat and Loic.

Nevertheless, I felt this could have been a much better book than it was. A lot of the internal dialogue felt forced, and Cat grew tiresome rehashing thoughts the reader could grasp him/herself. The American boyfriend and the wedding planner, who inexplicably follows Cat through France, felt very thin as characters and felt invented merely to throw obstacles in Cat’s path. The race through France to solve the mystery felt rather forced, too, in a romantic comedy movie type of way.

Nitpicky here, but in French, as in many languages, Madame or its equivalent in another language is a ‘courtesy title’ for any woman out of her early 20s. It was odd having the novel’s characters – even a Frenchman – going around automatically addressing widows and octogenarians as  Mademoiselle.

I think more editing could have greatly improved this book. But overall, I enjoyed the story and will look forward to reading more by this author.

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | August 9, 2016

Hamburg’s Rathaus

Rathaus, Hamburg, GermanyOn a visit to Hamburg, Germany you certainly can’t miss the ornate Rathaus (Town Hall), the Neo-Renaissance palace constructed 1886-1897.

Its tower stands 112 meters high and the building dominates the entire square, a collection of architectural excess, statues, and spires. Among the statues are twenty German Emperors.

Today it serves as the seat of the Hamburg City Council and the Senate.

Rathaus, Hamburg, GermanyIts central location means you’ll be passing by here night and day, and it will become  a familiar landmark.

The large square before it is the Rathausmarkt and is used for big events, including the popular Weihnachtsmarkt – Christmas market.

Nearby is the wonderful Alster Arcades, along the Alster River. It’s a touch of Venice built in the mid-nineteenth century after much of the area had been destroyed by the Great Fire of 1842.

2016_August_Hamburg3Enjoy your wander around this picturesque corner of Hamburg’s Old Town.

For more tips on what to do in Hamburg, see my earlier posts on Climbing the Michaelis church bell tower, Relaxing in the Planten un Blomen Park, Climbing aboard the Rickmer Rickmers to see what life on a late 19th century merchant ship was like, taking a boat trip around the canals,  and Exploring HafenCity and the Dungeon.

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | August 5, 2016

Holidays as creative writing time?

MaldivesI’m not sure how I feel about this.

Sometimes as I leave for holidays I have big plans for what I want to accomplish writing-wise. Other departures, I realize that there is very little point in hoping I’ll accomplish anything beyond normal vacation recharging.

This year I have writing goals, but I’m not sure how realistic they are. I’m pretty burned out and I’m counting on this holiday to revive me and bring me back to the land of the living. If I actually manage to squeeze in a few pages of writing, that can only be a plus, but I won’t beat myself up about it if I only accomplish that much.

How do you handle this, writers? Are holidays creative times for you? Do you set goals? Are you – ahem – flexible in those writing goals?

Wishing a wonderful August to all writers – whether you are actually writing or simply recharging for the productive autumn on the horizon! : )

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | August 2, 2016

Hamburg’s Kunsthalle

Kunsthalle, Hamburg, GermanyWhen you’re in Hamburg, Germany, there is lots to do. One of the visits you probably want to make is to visit the Hamburger Kunsthalle, the Hamburg Art Museum. It first opened to the public back in 1869.

You can read about opening days and times, its collection and exhibitions here at its website.

Since we were travelling with kids, we loved the Family Card, allowing free entrance for children when accompanied by their parents (A plea to Italy: please think about the same policy! Museum visits are simply too expensive for families).

Kunsthalle, HamburgOne of the most famous paintings in the museum is the Wanderer above The Sea Fog (also known as Wanderer above The Mist), a painting by Caspar David Friedrich, painted in 1818.

This is a classic painting from the Romantic movement, and students of 19th century English literature have seen it grace the covers of countless novels.

Edvard Munch, Girls on the PierAnother famous Friedrich work on display is the dramatic ‘The Polar Sea’, depicting ice floes and a sinking ship.

There are other 19th century works by Courbet, Degas, Manet, Monet and Rodin. Among modern art are paintings by Munch, Klee, Kokoschka and Picasso.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Self-Portrait with ModelBe sure to seek out Edvard Munch’s Girls on the Pier (1900) and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s vibrant Self-Portrait with Model, painted in 1910 and retouched by the artist in 1926.

Definitely a museum worth a visit during your time in Hamburg.

For more tips on what to do in Hamburg, see my earlier posts on Climbing the Michaelis church bell tower, Relaxing in the Planten un Blomen Park, Climbing aboard the Rickmer Rickmers to see what life on a late 19th century merchant ship was like, taking a boat trip around the canals,  and Exploring HafenCity and the Dungeon.

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | July 29, 2016

Book Review: The Improbability of Love

2016_July_Improbability_LoveI didn’t know anything about this novel until I saw it shortlisted for the Bailey’s Prize – always a source of inspiration for my reading – and loved its premise.

I wasn’t disappointed at all. This was a fabulous find, and its interesting plot and cast of whimsical characters kept up a quick pace throughout the novel.

With a recent spate of ‘whimsical’ novels everyone has been raving about, but that don’t seem to have made the same impact on me, I may have been hesitant to have read this book if I’d read too much about it first.

Instead, I loved the send-up of the London art world, and the cast of amusing and bizarre characters, with their petty rivalries, jealousies and scheming.

The central character, Annie McDee, who accidentally discovers the 18th century masterpiece in a dusty second-hand store, may have been a tad thin on character development. We learn a lot about her during the course of the novel, but she still doesn’t feel fully developed as the protagonist. But that flaw was more than made up for by the blustery and original voice of one of the narrators of the story: the painting itself.

I loved that the Watteau canvas was telling us aspects of the story through his eyes, and providing us with his own fly-on-the-wall perspective of what he’d seen throughout his (inanimate) lifetime.

The supporting cast of the Russian billionaires with more money than taste and their over-the-top handlers, the auctioneers, the authoritative (and often wrong) art historians with their outsize egos and petty jealousies, the unscrupulous art dealers and general hangers-on all contributed to the novel.

A truly excellent read. The Bailey’s Prize short-list rarely disappoints.


Posted by: kimberlysullivan | July 26, 2016

Medieval skylines & dramatic mountain views in Pacentro, Abruzzo

Pacentro, Abruzzo, ItalyI was out in Abruzzo’s Majella National Park last weekend picking my older son up from his tennis camp – an idyllic, cooler environment to enjoy a week of tennis.

On our drive back, we decided to stop off and explore the medieval town of Pacentro. I must admit, it’s the first time I’d ever heard of it.

Pacentro, Abruzzo, ItalyAbruzzo is an area I know quite well, so I thought I had already visited or had on my list of places-I-want-to-see most of the noteworthy towns.

Once I saw Pacentro, I realized at least one had clearly slipped my notice.

Pacentro is quite close to the impressive town of Sulmona (you can see my earlier post about Sulmona here).

Pacentro, Abruzzo, ItalyPacentro is 700 meters above sea level, in the heart of Abruzzo’s Majella National Park.

Pacentro’s history is closely tied to the Kingdom of Naples, to which the Abruzzo region once belonged.  Its impressive castle ruins, including three towers, still remain.

The castle was constructed in the 10th century – in 951 – by Count di Valva. By the 14th century, the territory had passed to the noble Caldora family.

2016_July_Pacentro5The town and its castle were located in a strategic position, and the town enjoyed relative prosperity, and developed as a social and intellectual hub for the region. The impressive Santa Maria della Misericordia church was built between the 16th and 17th centuries.

For more ideas of what to see in Abruzzo, see my earlier posts on visiting medieval Pescostanzo, summertime in mountaintop Ovindoli or winter in Ovindoli .

Pacentro, Abruzzo, ItalyPacentro, Abruzzo, Italy

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