Time Out

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Since so many of you offered me helpful feedback on my manuscript/book proposal, I thought I’d take a little break from my travelogue to give you the latest update on my agent search.

Prior to leaving for Italy, I sent four chapters of my much-revised manuscript to JW in New York City. For those of you who don’t have the pleasure to experience this, sending out a manuscript feels a little like sitting in a quiet room while watching someone else read writing you’ve bled onto the page. So, I decided that abiding the silence while in Tuscany was one of the best lines of defense ever. If JW hated my newest batch of writing, it wouldn’t hurt so much to hear about it while in, or shortly after returning from, Europe.

As it turns out, I didn’t hear from JW during the two weeks we were gone, but got a lovely email upon my return to the States. He’s not interested in selling the Bluebird, but he is interested in my writing and would be interested in working with me on something else – if the muses stirred. A mixture of relief and slight (really only slight, much to my surprise) disappointment washed over me when I read his email.

If JW had decided to sign me up and shop the Bluebird around to publishers, I’d begun to wonder how I would get the writing done, and if I would, in the end, be a huge disappointment to him and to myself. Plus, with the impending arrival of Baby Kintz in February, and at least 4 or 5 months more of reporting and research to do on the Bluebird as a whole, time felt incredibly slight. In the face of all this my energy for the project was beginning to lag, and I wondered if I’d be able to revive my passion enough for a publishing deal.

Don’t worry – I have had moments when I’ve felt my writing career might be over, and that I’ve already written my one good idea … I’m not that abnormal. But there’s also a part of me that’s keen to embrace the possibility of a new adventure with my writing, and my hope was buoyed by JW’s affirmation of my work as a writer, if not the “salability” of my idea. Now, if only those Southern muses would stir!

Gradually, I am learning that this thing I’m doing takes more faith and passion than it does ambition, and since I can’t seem to do anything else with my life other than write, I might as well keep at it …

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Everybody’s A Snob About Something

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Today, I went to Binders – an art and craft/framing store – to get a mat board for an etching Andrew and I picked up from a street artist in Florence. We found the etching’s artist in a courtyard near the Uffizi Gallery, among several other vendors selling artworks of Florence and Tuscany.

There was something I liked about this artist, beyond his work. He had an easy way about him and was less conspicuous than the others, smoking cigarette after cigarette while working on a copper etching block. He seemed content and absorbed in his work. He had a graying beard, and big, brown, deep-set eyes. He didn’t seem to care, really, if we wanted to buy his stuff or not, but he was clearly pleased when we showed more than just passing interest. His etchings were lovely – mostly panoramas of the city, with Brunnelleschi’s duomo in the forefront – and they weren’t too expensive. 35 Euros bought us a nice-sized print – half the price of what we would have paid if we’d bought it in a Florentine boutique.

Upon our return to the States, I was excited about displaying our little piece of Florence. But typically, I feel a little intimidated at art & craft stores. I like to walk the aisles and imagine myself doing something highly artistic … or, let’s face it, even just colorful … but I know my limitations. So, today I approached the custom framing counter feeling a little silly, carrying a huge “liberty blue” mat that I hoped could be cut to size by someone other than myself. (I am left handed and a disaster with scissors and most other sharp things.) I rang the bell, and in a short time a red-headed guy with a scrubby goatee and very artistic looking wire-rimmed glasses greeted me.

He seemed a little annoyed by the gigantic blue mat, my Target-brand frame and the Florentine etching. I explained I just wanted it cut to size, that I didn’t know how big to make the window for the etching to show through and that I would trust his judgment. He sighed deeply and took out a tiny, pocket-sized measuring tape. (Should I have made an appointment, I wondered?)

At about that time, someone came over the loudspeaker and made an announcement for the frame shop. My disgruntled frame guy sighed again, more deeply still, and said, to no one in particular, “It never fails. I’m here alone, the bell rings, and all of a sudden everyone needs me.” I didn’t quite see how stressful life behind the custom frame shop counter could be, but I smiled sympathetically anyway.

A moment later, the frame guy whisked away my big blue mat and the Florentine print and went to a back room. I heard mechanized slicing sounds and worried about our little etching, wondering if the disgruntled artist would take out his frustrations on Florence. He didn’t. Instead, he emerged with a perfectly cut liberty blue mat in just the right size, with a massive scrap of mat board left over for me to take away. I asked if they wanted to use the mat board scrap for any reason, to which he sort of rolled his eyes and said, “No. We use a better quality board than that back here.”

Oh. Sorry.

I actually thought it was kind of funny – that everyone has something about which they are inordinately snobby. For some of us – those of us who eschew Chicken Soup for the Soul type books and Dan Brown-esque novels – it’s a specific type of writing; for others of us, it’s mat boards. Go figure!

I did wonder what our street artist would think of my el cheapo frame job, but decided that he’d just shrug and light up another cig, or maybe just close up shop for the day to grab a late afternoon cup of espresso.

The Punches

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Andrew and I consider ourselves at our very best when traveling. We’re into (cautious) adventure; we like to learn stuff; we love to wander and find ourselves in restaurants/b&bs/towns not mentioned in the guidebooks. We like to hang out and play card games and to sleep in – even in Italy, where there is so much to see we really should have gotten up at 6 am every day. We are often so relaxed while traveling together that very little can stand in the way of our good time.

On this most recent trip, however, we did encounter a few snafus that almost made us lose our cool. Europe by car is not for everyone. Lots of people would be scared out of their wits to get on the Italian Autostrade in a snazzy little Fiat wagon with psychotic Italian drivers on all sides, and even the bravest adventurer might opt for a cell phone and/or one of those automated Magellan gadgets that tells you where to turn to find your agritourismo. But not us.

No, the ever-intrepid Kintzes took to the Autostrade with gusto, armed only with a detailed map of Tuscany, a bag of apples and a tank full of diesel. At first, we fared well. We made it out of Pisa in one piece, found our first agritourismo after only three or four wrong turns, and discovered a convenient 45-minute train into Florence from the small town where we were staying that would keep us and the Fiat safely away from city driving.

On our first day of sight-seeing, we walked from 10:30 am until 10 pm. We looked at art and architecture until our eyes crossed.  But it was on the night’s last train from Florence to Montevarchi that our luck began to turn.  Once on board, Andrew promptly fell asleep and I engrossed myself in the Frommer’s guide to make a plan for the following day. After what seemed like a very short time, I thought I heard a faint announcement saying something about Montevarchi, but I was in a daze. I woke Andrew up. He confirmed (groggily) that we’d reached our destination, so we hopped up, gathered our things, and headed for the door. Yet, when we tried to open the door, it wouldn’t budge. We pulled and pushed and banged. No luck. Minutes later, the train started moving again.

This was a very, very bad thing. The train’s next stop was Arezzo – as far away from Montevarchi as Florence, and, in October, a tiny, forgotten place. I guess it is probably beautiful – most towns in Tuscany are – but when we finally reached it at midnight on our first day in Italy, it might as well have been Hell’s second circle. There were no buses to be seen, no hotels in sight, no cabs lined up at the taxi stand. We were a good 40 kilometers from our agritourismo,  no trains were going back that way until the morning, and both of us were so tired we felt like we might cry.

Eventually, we did find ourselves a cab.  He was one of only two cabbies in the whole city, though, and he spoke only Italian.  He also did not seem to be thrilled about driving two American tourists 40 ks to a train depot.  After paying him the $75 fare (so much for souvenieres) he dropped us off about a mile’s walk from the Montevarchi train station.  By the time we got in bed, it was close to 2 am.

Of course, such things are to be expected when traveling; we’d just forgotten how to compensate for them.  After a few more snafus (getting lost, nearly getting smushed by a number of cars & scooters, encountering a very drunk, tip-hungry houseboy at one of the cottages we rented, and marching with 200,000 to Assisi (more on that later)) we learned to appreciate – at least in retrospect – the surprises and stories that might emerge from such adversities.

Hi again …

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Last night, we returned from our two-week adventure in the Tuscan countryside. I was sad to leave the gelato and the olive groves, but glad to be returning to my own washer/dryer, a bed that feels like home, and, of course, the soft, warm, relieved weight at the foot of that bed: Ivy.

I’d forgotten the flexibility European travel requires and how travel, in general, sets me up for surprises I might otherwise never have access to. Italians, in particular, live life on different terms; I didn’t see a single paper coffee cup while we were there, and we rarely left dinner before 11 pm. In fact, the only time I ever saw any Italian in a hurry was on the Autostrade, where the leisurely, cappucino-sipping, cigarette-smoking culture suddenly goes crazy-mad. The motorcycles were the worst.

I won’t turn my blog into a travelogue of the entire trip, but in the next few weeks, I will fill you all in on some of our more memorable experiences. Once I’ve recovered a little from jet lag, I’ll post some more entries. For now, arrivederci!

Ciao!

 

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Our dog, Ivy, is under the bed. She has been there since Andrew pulled the big, black suitcase out of the attic and began loading it with clothes. We are going to Italy – for two weeks.

Ivy has separation anxiety. And, now that I work from home, she is even more clingy than she used to be. She has known that something is up for a few days: Our neighbor, B, who will be keeping Ivy for us for a while, came over to learn the ropes. Ivy eyed B suspiciously as I pointed out the location of her bed and gave instructions on her feeding schedule. She growled at B’s beautiful, sweet Great Dane, Bella, when Bella got too close to me. After B left, Ivy looked at me quizzically, wagging her tail, as if hoping that pure cuteness might win herself a place on the plane.

Sometimes I wonder if I also have separation anxiety when separated from Ivy. My own personal therapy dog, Ivy can always calm me when I’m stressed, comfort me when grieving, cheer me when nothing else will do, and add joy to the most joyful moments. Tonight, as I packed, I packed guiltily; I wondered what sorts of treats (peanut butter bones? doggie ice cream?) I could get for Ivy that would comfort her during our 2 week absence. None seemed sufficient.

Andrew and I would have fun with Ivy in Italy, but she probably wouldn’t be welcome in the Uffizi, or in the Vatican, or in any of the little farmsteads where we plan to stay. So, it’s best that she wait here for us in America, with Mac – which means you, also, will get a little break from me.

Ciao!