Posted by: kimberlysullivan | February 16, 2018

Three cheers for translated fiction

EBRD Literature PrizeMany moons ago, I was in a  Book Club with a member who proclaimed we should “never” read translated fiction. “After all,” she loved to stress, “we’ll never run out of fiction written in the English language.”

Yes, technically I suppose this is true. But what a narrow world view…

Not surprisingly, I didn’t stay in that Book Club long.

I do make an effort to read novels in other languages, but of course I’m still missing so much of the good literature that’s out there this way. I think it’s important that as many good novels as possible are translated into English and find their way into that (large) market. That’s why I was so happy to learn about the EBRD Prize for Literature, sponsored by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

The prize is awarded to a novel originally written in another language and translated into English. The first year’s short list has been announced.

There are lots of Balkan entries here, which I look forward to reading. Of the six, I’m already familiar with the Albanian author Ismail Kadare and Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk – but the rest are all new to me. Looking forward to new discoveries (for me). Another nice aspect of this prize is that the award is divided by the author and his or her translator.

We’ll know the winner in April. Until then, I have some reading to do.

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | February 13, 2018

After your museum visit – exploring Bilbao, Spain

Bilbao, SpainLast week I wrote about visiting the spectacular Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. You can see my post here.

But after your museum visit is over, you’ll want to make time to stroll down the river and enjoy Bilbao’s old town.

Although Bilbao’s medieval old town and its architecture dates back to the XIVth century, it’s fair to say that the creation of the Guggenheim twenty year ago really put this Basque city on the modern tourist’s map.

Bilbao. SpainIn fact, it’s called the ‘Bilbao effect’ – measuring how much tourism grew since the Guggenheim was constructed back in 1997. Other cities have tried to replicate this model, with varying levels of success.

However, it’s true that Bilbao is a nice city to wander, but probably would not attract the sheer number of visitors without its famous modern art museum attracting them to the Basque city.

After your visit, you will want to wander the Siete calles – the seven streets that form the heart of the old town. Here you will see the Gothic cathedral of Santiago and the ornate, early 20th century Arriaga Theatre (pictured above).

Bilbao, SpainWe also spent some time exploring the busy Ribera Market – constructed in the 1930s in the Liberty style.

It’s one of Europe’s largest covered markets – and part of it has been converted into a lively area to eat and drink – if you can snag a table at this popular spot.

So once you’ve had your fill of modern art and architecture at the Guggenheim, it’s definitely worth it to wander this small Basque city. Enjoy your time in Bilbao.


Bilbao, Spain

Bilbao, Spain

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | February 9, 2018

Writing advice from Virginia Woolf

“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.”

-Virginia Woolf

Who can argue with this brilliant writing advice from author Virginia Woolf?

Woolf’s writing has certainly stood the test of time, but I like the sentiment she expresses here. Understandably, a writer wants to write novels or stories that will weather the decades (or centuries?), but there is freedom in writing what brings you pleasure, not what you assume will have staying power.

I’ve read plenty of much-lauded novels I found to be ho-hum books at best, and others I’ve stumbled upon that must not have been great commercial successes, but which moved me and stay firmly etched in my memory.

Maybe the story you wrote with such passion will only be for the enjoyment of your writing group, or a small group of beta readers. The important thing is that you, as the writer, felt compelled to write it.

So, although it may not be a sage business model, here’s to writers putting pen to paper to write what they wish to write – and taking Virginia Woolf’s writing advice to heart …

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | February 6, 2018

Bilbao’s fabulous Guggenheim, Spain

Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, SpainIt’s been years I’ve been “meaning to” get to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

A holiday in France’s Basque region provided me with the opportunity to journey across the border into Spain’s Basque country to visit this modern art museum that celebrated its 20th birthday last year.

This striking modern architecture was created by American architect Frank Gehry back in 1997, to house a new collection of the Guggenheim Bilbao. The Guggenheim also has museums in New York, Venice and Berlin.

Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, SpainGuggenheim says his work – including the Guggenheim museum – is often inspired by the sinuous form of fish.

He speaks about the lasting impressions he had as a boy of going to purchase carp with his grandfather and watching it when they stored it in the bathtub before it became dinner. This museum even has titanium “scales” that catch the brilliant light and add to the overall effect.

The first impression as you enter the museum through its 60-meter high atrium is its impressive scale.

The museum itself houses a collection of contemporary and modern art, including works by Willem de Koonig, Mark Rothko and Andy Warhol.

Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, SpainThe largest gallery is the Galleria el Pez – named, of course, for a fish. This enormous gallery is dominated by Richard Serra’s ‘Snake’.

This installation was a real hit for my kids, and I admit I enjoyed going through it with them.

It was created between 1994 and 1997 for the inauguration of the Bilbao Guggenheim. The artist created serpentine ribbons of hot steel to create these winding, tilted passageways.

The objective of the sculpture is to create “a dizzying sense of space and time.” Dizzying it most certainly is! We had a great (claustrophobic) time wandering through these odd passageways.

Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, SpainAnother museum favorite is found outside the museum. Jeff Koons’ ‘Puppy’ was to be a temporary exhibition, but quickly became so beloved that it took up its permanent spot guarding the museum entrance.

This sculpture is made up of flowers irrigated by an internal system. We were lucky enough to arrive early, so we did not have to queue for tickets. However, if you arrive at peak visiting hours, you’ll be admiring this puppy for long periods of time.

The collection itself not as impressive as what you’ll see in the NY or Venice Guggenheim, but it’s still worth a visit when you’re in northern Spain’s Basque country. I’ll be sure to write a future post about visiting the city of Bilbao during your visit.

Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain

Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain

Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | February 2, 2018

Book Review: Eligible

Eligible - Curtis SittenfieldI’m a huge Jane Austen fan, and so I was very interested when I heard about The Austen Project: a plan to retell Austen’s six novels set in modern times, and reinterpreted by six different contemporary authors.

I enjoyed the modern version of Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trolloppe.  But then I pretty much gave up on the project after reading Val McDermid’s Northangar Abbey.

Nevertheless, I was tempted back when I saw my favorite Austen novel – Pride and Prejudice – was to be reimagined by author Curtis Sittenfield. After all, I enjoyed Sittenfield’s Prep and American Wife. It seemed a shame to pass on this novel.

After reading it, I can only say I wish I’d stuck to my earlier resolve to stay far, far away.

For the first few pages, it was fun to see the Bennet family through a modern lens. There is no Longbourne, but a family house and trust fund squandered through the years. In modern times, a country gentleman with ten-thousand a year becomes a surgeon with a Harvard medical degree. By the time we ticked off the boxes for a Bachelor-type reality show contestant, IVF, anorexia, and marriage to a  trans, I’d tired of the whole exercise.

The real problem with the novel is that its protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet, who has embodied the image of an intelligent, opinionated, and deeply spirited woman to readers for the past two centuries, emerges here as, well, a cold fish.

This novel’s Liz believes she’s intelligent, but she emerges from the page as annoying, snarky and incredibly unlikable. The warm relationships she had with her sister Jane, her friend Charlotte, and her aunt in Pride and Prejudice are all superficial in this version.  She pays lots of money for the upkeep of her family – and we receive every detail of these financial transactions – but she still manages to comes off as cold and aloof.  Even her attraction to Wickham and the discovery that he’s a cad is one big let-down.

By mid-novel I couldn’t stand the protagonist. By the end of the novel I was mentally warning Darcy to make his escape. Alas, no such luck.

Think I’ll go back and enjoy the original. If I want an enjoyable modern version, I’ll stick with Bridget Jones.



Posted by: kimberlysullivan | January 30, 2018

Exploring the medieval Vatican City: Viterbo, Italy

Viterbo, ItalyLast week I wrote about the Terme dei Papi – The Thermal Baths of the Popes – in northern Lazio.

In this port, I wanted to highlight the beautiful town of Viterbo, just a few kilometers away from this spa, and well worth a visit before or after you soak in the warm waters.

Viterbo, as its very name suggests, has ancient origins. The name Viterbo derives from the ancient Latin name for the town: Vetus Urbs, which means old city.

Traces of Neolithic civilizations have been found, and the Etruscans would settle the area, which would later be conquered by the Ancient Romans and developed into a military settlement.

Viterbo, ItalyViterbo is best known, however,  as the “Papal City”. In the 13th century it was the Pontifical seat, and for almost 24 years, the Papal Palace – Viterbo’s equivalent of the Vatican – saw the election of various Popes, and housed them once elected.

This period of Viterbo as the home of the Popes began under Pope Alessandro IV in 1257 and lasted, with various interruptions, through a decision returning Papal powers to Rome made by Pope Martino IV in 1281.

Viterbo, Lazio, ItalyToday, its historic center has many well-preserved medieval buildings and neighborhoods – even if many were rebuilt after bombing damage during World War II.

It’s a great town to wander, and you can’t go wrong stopping off here for lunch or dinner to enjoy the excellent Northern Lazio cuisine. That’s what my son and I did after a “tough” day at the spa. : )

For some other highlights in the area, see some of my earlier posts on the “dying city” of Civita di Bagnoreggio, The Monster Park of Bomarzo,  autumn in medieval Vitorchiano and neighboring Orvieto – from its panoramic medieval tower to its splendid Etruscan Museum. Enjoy your time in and around Viterbo.

Viterbo, Lazio, Italy

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | January 26, 2018

Author Marguerite Yourcenar on why we read

“Books are a way of learning to feel more acutely.”

– Marguerite Yourcenar

Sage words from the French author (1903-1987) most famous for her novel Memoirs of Hadrian.

Perhaps this author knows best, having so effectively written from the perspective of  1st Century AD Roman Emperor. Books have a way of opening us up to new ideas, new ways of thinking, and allowing us to see (and feel) the world around us in a different light.

Novels allow us to see the world through the eyes, traditions, and values of others, and this adjusts our experiences and points of view – and, as Yourcenar suggests, teaches us to feel more acutely.

What do you think, readers?

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | January 23, 2018

Relaxing in Viterbo’s Terme dei Papi, Italy

Terme dei Papi, Vietrbo, ItalyThe thermal waters found north of Rome, at the Terme dei Papi (The Thermal Baths of the Popes) were famous well before Papal times. These thermal waters were well known to the Etruscans, well before the birth of Rome.

In the 3rd Century B.C., the Roman army, led by Console Quinto Fabio Rulliano, conquered and destroyed the Etruscan town of Surrena – modern-day Viterbo.

The Roman troops (as they were apt to do when they conquered new territories) quickly discovered the baths, which had been used by the Etruscans, and they greatly expanded the site. Important temples were built by the site that became part of the Ancient Roman Empire.

During medieval times, the thermal waters were visited by the Popes. One of the first to visit here to take advantage of the spa’s curative powers was Pope Gregorio IX in 1235. In 1404, Pope Bonifacio was a frequent visitor, visiting the waters to ease his suffering for a painful bone disease.

In 1450, Pope Niccolò V had a splendid palace constructed to house those who arrived to take cure at the spa.

Later in the 15th century, Pope Pio II would oversee modernization efforts of these thermal baths.

Today, harried Romans and Italian and foreign tourists replace the Ancient Roman army and the Popes in enjoying these thermal baths.

In addition to the pool, the complex has full spa and medical facilities. The famous grotto (pictured at right) is a popular feature of Terme dei Papi, and this Turkish-bath-like room was said to have been popular since medieval times.

If a day’s not long enough for you, you can turn it into a weekend or a longer stay. The attached Hotel Niccolò V – named after the 15th century pope, welcomes spa visitors. The Etruscans, Ancient Romans and Popes certainly knew a good thing when they saw it. Next time you’re looking for a day trip from Rome, be sure to visit Terme dei Papi.

Terme dei Papi, Viterbo, Italy

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | January 19, 2018

A story encapsulated in a poem

My middle schooler has been learning a poem by heart for his French class.

He was having a difficult time with the following poem, the excellent Déjeuner du matin by Jacques Prévert . Much of his difficulty in memorizing came from a lack of understanding.

He was reading the poem as  a type of ‘Ode to café au lait’. As a coffee lover myself, I wouldn’t be upset by this interpretation. But once my son and I walked through the story together, and he understood the story couched within the poem, it made more sense to him.

Once he understood its slow build up of the normal morning routines, with only a hint of something odd happening, up until the final, dramatic moment when the woman’s husband or boyfriend walks out on her forever, he was better able to understand the rhythm and the repetition, and to memorize it.

This little poem is a complete story, with an easy language and vocabulary for beginner students (and use of the passé composé!) And, while I can’t always claim I enjoy coming home from a  long day of work to start my ‘night shift’ studying alongside my son, I did have fun on this one.

If you’re interested, I’ve included the poem here below, alongside my English translation (but be forewarned: it sounds far better in the original…)

Déjeuner du matin
Jacques Prévert

Il a mis le café
Dans la tasse

Il a mis le lait
Dans la tasse de café

Il a mis le sucre
Dans le café au lait

Avec la petite cuillère
Il a tourné
Il a bu le café au lait
Et il a reposé la tasse
Sans me parler

Il a allumé
Une cigarette
Il a fait des ronds
Avec la fumée
Il a mis les cendres
Dans le cendrier
Sans me parler
Sans me regarder
Il s’est levé
Il a mis
Son chapeau sur sa tête
Il a mis
Son manteau de pluie
Parce qu’il pleuvait
Et il est parti
Sous la pluie
Sans une parole
Et moi j’ai pris
Ma tête dans ma main
Et j’ai pleuré.


English translation:

He poured the coffee
in the cup

He poured the milk
in the coffee cup

He added sugar
to the café au lait

With the teaspoon
He stirred
He drank the café au lait
And he placed the cup down
Without speaking to me

He lit
A cigarette
He made smoke rings
With the smoke
He tapped the ashes
Into the ashtray
Without speaking to me
Without looking at me
He stood up
He put
His hat on his head
He put on
His raincoat
Because it was raining
And he left
Under the rain
Without a word
And I, I dropped
My head in my hands
And I cried.



Posted by: kimberlysullivan | January 16, 2018

Stunning views from the roof of Milan’s Duomo

Milan's Duomo, Italy

Milan’s Duomo, with the golden Madonnina that is the symbol of the city

I was very happy to get back to Milan recently – a city where I lived almost two decades ago.

One of the things I used to do when friends visited me in Milan was to take them to the roof of Milan’s Duomo – the cathedral. From there, there are beautiful views over the city and – on rare, clear days in Lombardy’s capital – out to the mountains in the distance.

Lots of things have changed since my time living in Milan, including the packed lines to buy a ticket for the Duomo and its roof. We wasted a lot of time waiting at this inefficient sales point, so next time I’ll look for ways to purchase online in advance.

Milan's Duomo, ItalyBecause it was December, the higher terrace level was closed due to ice, so we visited the church first, then walked around the city center until the ice – luckily – melted, and we could climb up to the very top.

And a climb it is – 500 steps, to be precise. Of course, you can also buy the elevator tickets, but what’s the fun of that?

Unfortunately, my youngest son, who is the one who sprints up every bell tower, cathedral, watch tower, etc was in his hotel bed with the flu, and missed this adventure. He already told me I need to get him back so he can climb up, so this probably means I’ll be hiking up these 500 stairs again sometime soon.

Milan's Duomo, ItalyIt’s well worth the effort. The view is how I remember it, although the crowds were much bigger than they were decades ago, and I also had the feeling there were more guard rails than when I visited last.

This was certainly an improvement, as I can recall very cautiously exploring the roof in the past. I have no idea how people scared of heights coped back then.

It was a cold but clear day when we were there, but, sadly, no views of the mountains beyond Milan. Still, the hike up, and the views over Milan were as beautiful as I remember them from so many years ago. And with my younger son still grumbling that his fever kept him from seeing anything in the city, I know I’ll have an excuse to get back again soon! Happy urban hiking when you’re next in Milano…

Milan's Duomo, Italy

Milan's Duomo, Italy

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