Feed on

Note: As I was doing research for a paper to be delivered next month, it struck me that some other readers, perhaps in other parts of the country or from other nations, might find some aspects of this history as fascinating as I did.  This colony was settled at almost the same time as Plymouth, but was very different.

“From the commencement of this volume, we have been kindly carried by the hand of Providence to its completion.  While it has been in progress, even some, who expected to peruse its pages, have been called to their great account.  This is an emphatic admonition to us, that, while we look back on the past and collect its details…we should not forget the uncertainty, which hangs upon the future of all our secular plans, purposes, and anticipations.” Joseph B. Felt, Introduction to this History, 1834.

This book from 1834 was republished most recently in 2011.

Though most Americans are familiar with the story of America’s poor pilgrims who made the dangerous voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to settle in Plymouth in 1620, few outside of Massachusetts are aware of the nearly contemporaneous Ipswich colony which began north of Boston in 1629, a colony dramatically different from Plymouth.  Joseph B. Felt’s history of three towns, once the single town of Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, makes Ipswich come alive.  His history is not only good, it’s exciting, filled with unusual and well preserved information about a settlement which began just a few years after the Plymouth colony.  Here Felt traces the Ipswich colony from its founding to 1834, creating an incomparable resource covering over two hundred years.  He himself, a Congregational minister in what is now Hamilton, from 1824 – 1833, cared greatly about preserving its history, and in writing this book he was clearly conscious of the importance of explaining the thinking of the period and its customs for future generations.

John Winthrop, Ipswich settler, and first governor of Massachusetts Bay (1637 - 1640)

Charter of Massachusetts Bay. The settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, in contrast to Plymouth, were often well-to-do second or third sons of successful Englishmen.  Under England’s inheritance laws, it was the first son who inherited his father’s estate.  The other sons would be ineligible and in most cases would be unable to live the comfortable lives they were used to in their father’s house.  Under the charter of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, “adventurers,” willing to settle there, were offered opportunities never available to them in England – or available to the pilgrims who settled in Plymouth.  As Felt explains:  Under the terms of passage, any man who came to Ipswich would be granted fifty acres of land.  If he were to pay his own fare, however, he would be granted a hundred acres, and a hundred more acres for every additional person whose fare he paid.  A man bringing his wife and a child would automatically get three hundred acres, and, under these terms, a few of the wealthiest “adventurers” to Massachusetts Bay acquired over a thousand acres.

Religion: The colony was a theocracy of Congregational believers, all of whom took an oath as to their belief and intention to follow the precepts of their church.  Quakers and those of other religions were not allowed in the community.

Isaac Goodale House, built 1668. Photo by Mark Wilson. Double-click to enlarge.

Location of houses: For the first generation in the colony, all houses had to be built within half a mile of the meeting house, though residents were permitted to develop farms in the outskirts of town.  Within a generation, the colony’s common grazing lands had been exhausted by overuse, and Ipswich permitted houses to be farther from the meeting house, eventually establishing three separate parishes, each with its own meeting house.  Joseph Felt, himself a minister of one of these parishes, was in close touch with residents from throughout the town, but especially from the area which became the Third Parish, south of Ipswich.

Isaac Goodale House, rear, 1668. Photo by Mark Wilson. Double-click to enlarge.

Building style: Unlike the small, simple cottages, often a single room with a low ceiling, which the early pilgrims built in Plymouth, the houses in Ipswich were often large, with many rooms and surprisingly high ceilings, befitting the status of some of the large landowners, who became as successful in Ipswich as they had hoped they would be.  As building styles changed and building methods improved, homeowners continuously improved their houses.  The original leaded glass windows of the seventeenth century, which opened outward, began to be replaced by the beginning of the eighteenth century with new sash windows, usually spaced so that there would be two sash windows on each outside wall, instead of one, allowing more light.

Leaded glass window, Goodale House, may be original.

Marriages: Not surprisingly, marriages were regarded as contracts between families of similar status, and marriages involving a wide disparity in ages were not unusual in order to preserve family wealth.  In one marriage in Ipswich, the groom was thirty-seven years older than his bride.  The formula that evolved regarding appropriate marriages suggested that a prospective wife should have her own wealth equivalent to half that of her husband to bring to the marriage.  When the marriage took place, he became the owner of all her lands.

Tracing genealogies: Tracing genealogies is a daunting prospect for some families, even with all the information contained in this book.  In Ipswich it was not unusual for two brothers to come to the colony and for them all to repeat names.  John and Matthew, brothers,  would often name their sons John and Matthew, and their sons would do the same, so that by the third generation, if all the brothers survived, these two brothers might have produced twelve Johns and Matthews all with exactly the same name.  They did not use middle names during the first few generations in the colony, and people with the same names were sometimes distinguished by their rankings in the militia – corporal, major, captain, etc. – but as these rankings also changed, that sometimes added even more to the confusion in tracing families.  It was also common that when a child died, successive children would be given the names of the children who had died.  In one family, three different children were named Mary within twelve years.

Choate House, Hog Island, Ipswich, built 1730. Photo by Cody Carlson. Note change to sash window style. Double click to enlarge.

Felt does a remarkable job of providing everything that it is possible to know about the Ipswich colony from 1630 to 1834 – the people, places, customs, and changes which occurred during that time.   Almost four hundred years have now passed since the founding of the Ipswich colony, yet many of the same names are still active in the community, many of the seventeenth century buildings still exist (clustered on the hill where the meeting house was located), and some estates still contain hundreds of acres, even now. In recent years, much been done to preserve the historic character of the community, with historic districts, historical commissions, National Register listings, and the establishment of a greenbelt association which preserves open land by allowing heirs of the land to continue using it as long as it is not subdivided, developed, or sold.  I finished this book in awe of the resilience of these three communities, each of which was part of the original colony but which, over nearly four hundred years, has developed unique qualities.

Hand-blown glass windows, Goodale House. Photo by Mark Wilson

Photos, in order: The portrait of John Winthrop, painter unknown, appears on http://en.wikipedia.org/

The three photos of the Isaac Goodale House from 1668 are from http://www.boston.com/ Photos by Mark Wilson.

The Choate House from Hog Island, Ipswich, 1730.  Photo by Cody Carlson:  http://commons.wikimedia.org

Adriana Lisboa–CROW BLUE

Note: Adriana Lisboa was WINNER of the Jose Saramago Prize in 2003.  Saramago called her “An author for the present and for the future.”

through black jade
Of the crow-blue mussel-shells, one keeps
adjusting the ash heaps;
opening and shutting itself like
injured fan.”—From Marianne Moore, “The Fish,” Vanja’s favorite poem

In a novel that is otherwise devoid of poetry, author Adriana Lisboa recreates the perennial search for “family” and “home” by a thirteen-year-old girl who has left Rio de Janeiro in search of her biological father in the United States, following the death of her mother.  In starkly realistic and highly descriptive language, the life of Evangelina, known as Vanja, opens and shuts like the “crow-blue” mussel shells she remembers so vividly from Copacabana Beach in Rio.  When Vanja arrives in Lakewood, Colorado, where her legal father lives, she discovers a place that is completely alien in terms of weather, wind, elevation, and culture.  Though her beloved sea is over a thousand miles away, Vanja takes some comfort in seeing the “shell-blue crows” which fly over Denver, however – new birds that she sees in the open spaces and unfamiliar trees of her new home, birds that are independent, resourceful, and long-lived, even within this urban setting.

Vanja shares her life with two other “displaced” residents.  Fernando,  legally, though not biologically, her father, is a native of Brazil who has survived the military dictatorship of the early 1970s, the intense guerrilla war along the Araguaia River, in which he participated, and the executions, disappearances, and atrocities committed by the Brazilian army, which violently rejects the socialist and communist goals of the guerrillas working to overthrow the government.  How and why Fernando ended up in Colorado in the 1970s are mysteries, but he is quietly working there as a security guard at the Denver Public Library, and on weekends, he cleans houses.  In an ironic twist, Fernando prefers to remain in Colorado, while his former wife, Vanja’s mother Suzana, an American living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, left the U.S. for Brazil when Vanja was two years old.  Though Fernando allowed his name to be put on Vanja’s birth certificate and is legally her father, he never saw either his wife or daughter after their move to Brazil – until Vanja’s sudden reappearance when she is thirteen.  She now wants to stay with him while seeking her biological father.

Suzana, Fernando, and Vanya lived in a small adobe house in Albuquerque before she and Vanya left for Brazil when Vanya was two.

Carlos, the third “displaced” character, is a nine-year-old neighbor from El Salvador who has arrived in Colorado with his dysfunctional family, all of them lacking “papeles.”  Anxious to improve his English, he seeks out Vanja for help and wants to learn everything, including Portuguese, from Vanja, who enjoys being a mentor to a child with such enthusiasm.

Eventually, Vanja asks Fernando if they can go to Albuquerque on a vacation to look for her father, and, perhaps, visit the house where she, her mother, and, for a time, Fernando all lived.  When he agrees, she says,  “I looked at him, and in my throat I asked, without letting my voice out: Why are you doing all this?”  Fernando “answers,” also without speaking, “Because you asked me to,” their silent “communication” preserving the emotional independence of each but also indicating a growing interdependence.  They eventually invite the irrepressible Carlos to join them on the road trip to New Mexico as they seek information from Suzana’s friends and relatives regarding her biological father.

For six months a year, the unfinished Trans-Amazon highway is impassible.

Within this framework, the novel coils and twists, moving forward slowly, only to shift suddenly in time and place, focusing on dramatic issues in Fernando’s life, then twisting back even farther to the even more distant past, before jumping forward into the future, when Vanja is twenty-two and Carlos is eighteen.  Fernando has never been able to escape his memories and nightmares from the political tumult in Brazil during the military dictatorship, which occurred many years before Vanja’s birth.  A communist who once studied in Peking, Fernando, a man of many names, was part of a jungle guerrilla group trying to help the people of the Brazillian north to win their rights against oppression, and he was present along the Araguaia River when General Medici inaugurated the start of the Trans-Amazonian Highway.  The General and his military dictatorship believed this highway across the country would open it up and bring economic benefits to rural areas. Instead, it brought about the destruction of the rain forest and a disastrous, unfinished road to nowhere, impassable for much of the year because of the unstable ground.  The military’s violence against the nearby Araguaia guerrillas brought about even more destruction of life – human life – with torture, executions, and disappearances a way of life from which Fernando has never recovered.

General Medici and President Nixon meet in 1971, in the midst of the atrocities in Araguaia, to discuss their possible cooperation in removing Fidel Castro and Chile's Salvador Allende from power. Ironies abound.

For Adriana Lisboa, history consists of what individuals remember, and individuals from different times have different “histories”  which affect their views of the world. As traumatic as Fernando’s memories are, Gen. Medici is just “another name in a history book” to Vanya. “It was as if Fernando and I were from different countries,” she observes.  The author also illustrates on many levels that once someone leaves a place, “Home wasn’t there anymore, therefore the way back couldn’t be either….It wasn’t that home was everywhere: home wasn’t anywhere.”  Later Vanja herself asks, “Was it possible for the people and culture of a place not to be enmeshed in the fabric of time and history?  Was there a people or a culture without time or history?”  Eventually, all the mysteries and the unshared memories of the characters become clear, however roundabout the narrative journey may be.  “One fine day,” Vanya comments, “I realized that it didn’t matter what country I was in.  What city I was in.  Other things were important.  Not these.”  Loving relationships as they occur, the value of sharing feelings with one another, and of not being afraid to love, these are the lessons which Vanja ultimately absorbs.  And when she eventually returns to Rio for a visit seven years after her move to Colorado, she notices that “The city was different and it wasn’t.  There were other generations of [crow blue] mollusks on the ocean floor in front of Copacabana Beach  I don’t know how long a mollusk lives.  They were probably the grandchildren and great grandchildren of the mollusks of my childhood.  At any rate, we were friends.  Friends that had never met personally.  Friends of friends…”

Copacabana Beach in Rio, where, on a later return visit to Rio, Vanja realizes that there are now "other generations of crow blue mollusks" living there.

Note: Alison Entrekin’s translation maintains the realism and emotional distance of Vanya while also reflecting the ingenuous enthusiasm of Carlos and the kindness in the heart of the tormented Fernando, in this unusual story of Brazil and its people.

Photos, in order: The author’s photo comes from http://archive.constantcontact.com

The small adobe house, similar to the one in which Suzana, Vanja, and Fernando lived, appears on http://westernfictioneers.blogspot.com/

The truck stuck in the mud, during the six months in which the uncompleted Trans-Amazonian Highway is impassible, is shown on http://murderiseverywhere.blogspot.com/

General Medici and President Nixon meet to discuss cooperation in a plan to remove Fidel Castro from office in Cuba and Salvador Allende from office in Chile, an ironic meeting.  Gen. Medici’s army has already begun atrocities against the guerrillas along the Araguaia River area. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

Here is a particularly poignant story about a mother acting on behalf of her son who disappeared during the guerrilla war of the 1970s.  She rejects the Brazilian Supreme Court’s amnesty granted to government officials and the army for crimes committed during this time, and she has brought suit on behalf of her son with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.  http://latindispatch.com/

ARC:  Bloomsbury

“This city is nothing more than a manger scene that they keep up all year long. An immense living manger scene, teeming with love affairs, hunger, hatred, and resentments, a city that shields itself from the cold and the heat as best it can as it ponders what it can do to better its terrible condition. A manger scene where the shepherds are ruthless and capable of anything.”—Commissario Luigi Alfredo Ricciardi.

The ninth year of the Fascist Era, 1931, is almost over, and the residents of Naples, at least those who have managed to keep food on the table, are getting ready for Christmas. Within this setting Maurizio de Giovanni develops his fifth novel in which Commissario Ricciardi is challenged by a terrible murder, the slashing and stabbing deaths of a husband and wife from a wealthy family. The husband Emanuele Garofalo is a rising star as a Centurion in a fascist-inspired seaport militia, which governs the port, its boats, its fishermen, and all the fish being brought in to market. The possibilities for corruption and graft are enormous, and Garofalo, who acquired his position by making false claims against his boss, is up to his neck in criminal activities. The bodies of the couple are found when the zampognari, two young men who help celebrate the season by playing the Neapolitan bagpipe, come to the Garofalos’ house to play for them in the lead-up to Christmas. Terrified, the young men immediately call the police, and Commissario Ricciardi and Brigadier Maione dutifully appear.

This novel opens two months after the previous novel, The Day of the Dead, in which Ricciardi was nearly killed in an automobile accident.  The author continues the characters and on-going subplots well familiar to those who have read the earlier books, and though he does fill in some of the background for new readers, the series really benefits by being read in order. Ricciardi, whose aristocratic family died when he was a child, lives with his elderly Tata Rosa, and shares a family trait with his mother, who “died a raving lunatic,” something that makes him now regard himself a “condemned man.” Ricciardi sees “on every street corner, the dead who have died a violent death,” and whenever he arrives at a murder scene, he hears “the last obtuse thought of their broken lives.” He feels the victims’ pain so strongly that he believes that it would be wrong for him to fall in love for fear of condemning a wife to “share the existence of a man who walks among the dead.” Two women from past novels, Livia, the aggressive and playful widow of the world’s greatest tenor, and Enrica, the shy young woman who lives across the way from Ricciardi, are both interested in him and continue the competition for his attentions here. His only real friend is the sympathetic Brigadier Maione, in his fifties and the father of five, his oldest son Luca having been killed three years ago when the boy was a rookie police officer.

The zampognari, Neapolitan bagpipers, help to celebrate the Christmas season throughout the city. Two of them discover the Garofolos' bodies.

A series of developing mysteries make this the most complex novel of the series so far, and its vibrant setting at Christmas, filled with all the traditions, fanfare, and customary foods of the holiday season make it the most colorful. Ominous soliloquies by the murderer (or potential murderers) begin with the opening page, and draw the reader into a sick mind (or minds), while also providing hints that keep the reader constantly looking for clues during the action. The murderer has left one clue at the death scene: The elaborate, hand-carved manger scene which the wicked Garofalo had set up for his young daughter for the holidays is minus St. Joseph, the broken statue having been kicked under a tablecloth nearby. With every image in the nativity scene having symbolic importance, Ricciardi is soon consulting Don Pierino, a young priest, to find out exactly what St. Joseph might have represented to the murderer. Subsequent soliloquies by a variety of woodcarvers of nativity figures, all of whom have the skills and equipment to commit these murders, suggest the number of people who had reason to want Garofalo dead. Since half the men in the city, it seems, are wood carvers, the possibilities seem endless.

The pazzariello, a kind of town crier, keeps Livia Vezzi, widow of the world's greatest tenor, up to date on the happenings in her new, adopted city - and on Ricciardi.

As he investigates the Garofalo murders, Ricciardi soon learns that he and Maione, too, are under investigation by the Fascists, and strong suggestions arise that it is not in their best interests to pursue this murder. In another thread, Franco Massa, one of Maione’s friends from childhood, who works in a prison, wants Maione to help him “settle” the issue of Maione’s son Luca’s death. Massa, who never married, has always regarded Luca as a “son,” and he is at least as devastated by Luca’s death as Maione. Recent events at the prison indicate that the person who was punished for Luca’s death might not have been the real killer. Before long, the reader is beginning to think that the plot elements of the novel parallel a juggling act, with nothing that seems true being really true.

The symbolism of St. Sebastian, killed with as many arrows as Garofalo was killed with stab wounds, and who is also the patron saint of the militia, vies for attention with the story of Bambinella, a transvestite who regards Maione as a friend, giving the novel a unique view of the population of Naples in the 1930s. As new questions arise about what revenge, if anything, the kindly Maione will take regarding his son’s murder, the role of the realistic and earthy medical examiner, Dr. Modo, and his feelings for the poor become stronger. Further complications, related to the impoverished fishing industry, compete with the long history of Ricciardi with his Tata Rosa as they consider what he will do to protect her as she gets older and more frail.

This elaborate nativity scene shows characters beloved in Italy, all with symbolic connotations. Double-click to enlarge.

The interpersonal relationships in Maurizio de Giovanni’s novels set them apart from many other noir mysteries, and in a series like this one, now in its fifth novel, the characters become all-important as the reader comes to successive novels hoping for encouraging resolutions to some of the questions left unanswered in past novels. One unexpected development here is that the fate of the small dog owned by Tette, the little orphan whose death started the whole story in Day of the Dead, is resolved in this novel. Rosa, the elderly servant who has worked for Ricciardi’s family ever since he was an infant also gets an opportunity to be heard here, and Enrica, the sweet and shy girl across the way, who loves Ricciardi from afar, begins to come into her own. Maione and his family come to new and heartwarming understandings about what makes the world keep turning. The novel, as good as it is on the level of an individual mystery, expands here and becomes even better when considered as part of a five-part series.

ALSO by de Giovanni:  I WILL HAVE VENGEANCE (#1) BLOOD CURSE (#2), EVERYONE IN THEIR PLACE (#3), DAY OF THE DEAD (#4) and  CROCODILE (not part of the Ricciardi series).

Two days before Christmas, the fish market is at its peak as everyone wants to secure her special favorites for the holiday, and the fishmongers want to secure their biggest profits. Double-click to enlarge, then scroll for luscious Neapolitan recipes.

Photos, in order: The author’s photo appears on http://espresso.repubblica.it/

The zampognari, bagpipers who help Neapolitans to celebrate the holidays, are found on http://rolloverbeethoven.it

The pazzariello, a kind of town crier, is from http://www.fotoeweb.it/

This elaborate Neapolitan manger scene shows characters beloved in Italy.  Try to find Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus.  Double click to enlarge.    http://www.lagazzettaitaliana.com/

The variety available in the fish market is seen here:  http://jovinacooksitalian.com Double-click to enlarge, then scroll down. The recipes will be hard to resist for many reader-chefs.

ARC:  Europa Editions

Note: Thomas E. Kennedy was WINNER of the Expatriate Writing Award in 2002, his citation saying, “Kennedy has done for Copenhagen what Joyce did for Dublin.”  Kennedy is also a two-time WINNER of the Eric Hoffer Award.

“How can I explain [my nightly wanderings to my] kids?  I am a man still.  I am alone and I have not quite found my way yet.  Play it cool.  Invite them in for a beer.  Talk.  Yet it would break my heart for them to see that this life is not the life I raised them to.  There was supposed to be a family unit here…stability…What would they think of their old man out on the town looking in all the wrong places for company, for solace..?”

In this final book of his Copenhagen Quartet, author Thomas E. Kennedy creates yet another vibrant portrait of life in Copenhagen, the city which has been his own home for the past thirty years.  Each of the four novels in the quartet focuses on a different aspect of the city’s life as Kennedy has observed it there as an American expatriate.  Each is written in a different literary style, and each is set during a different season, with different characters.  In the Company of Angels, set in spring, features a sensitively drawn main character, a torture victim from Chile, now living in a refuge in Copenhagen.  This remarkable facility specializes in helping torture victims begin to live again by experiencing warmth and understanding, and even, perhaps, love, within an environment in which nature, music, and dance are also integral parts of life.

Falling Sideways, set in autumn, is totally different in style, a satire of the business world featuring one small company in which the characters’ business goals so dominate their personal lives that they fail to grow and end up leading emotionally stunted lives.   Kerrigan in Copenhagen, set in summer, different still, becomes a guide book, with a peripheral love story, in which main character Kerrigan’s task is to select the one hundred best, most historic, and most congenial bars and cafes in Copenhagen from over fifteen hundred candidates.   As he travels throughout the city enjoying its bar life and its memorials to artists and writers, Kerrigan, with a PhD in literature, also reminisces about James Joyce, Peter Hoeg, and one of his favorites, Dan Turrell, among other authors.

What unites the characters in these three novels is that all are acutely aware of the role of art, music, and beauty in bringing peace to their damaged souls as they explore the themes of love and death, freedom and confinement, commitment and betrayal, and the worldly and the spiritual within their Danish environment.

Sign for Irma's Supermarket, with its chicken and neon eggs

This final novel, Beneath the Neon Egg, set in winter, also explores these themes, but it does so within a still different genre, as Kennedy writes a noir novel of a lost man who haunts jazz clubs and bars, looking for happiness in alcohol and experimental sex.  Employed, ironically, as a translator, Patrick Bluett, a forty-three-year-old transplant to Copenhagen, can work when he wants, the only requirement of his job being that he produce five translated pages a day, leaving him ample time to “follow desire, abandon his work, [and] escape to the wild.”  A man who feels betrayed in his marriage but who still wants to be part of his children’s lives, Bluett does not have a clue about what it takes to be a grown-up as he looks for quick and easy fixes for his malaise.  Throughout the novel, he plays John Coltrane’s music, with “A Love Supreme” being a favorite (see video at end of review), because it “swells his heart with acknowledgement of his existence,” and author Kennedy uses the structure of this four-part suite for his chapter divisions within the novel.

Hale-Bopp comet, 1997, Jerry Lodriguss, photographer. Bluett realizes, when he sees this, that "Maybe there is something. Cause without something, there's nothing."

Living in a small apartment overlooking Black Dam Lake, with the iconic sign of a neon chicken “laying neon eggs that glimmer in the black ice,” Bluett often walks the city at night, much as Joyce did in Ulysses, occasionally dropping into bars of dubious character, where after being aggressively propositioned by both men and women, he ultimately concludes that “the world has changed in the twenty years since he was alone.”  His only friend, his neighbor Sam Finglas, sometimes available to share confidences, is also divorced and alone, but when Sam eventually finds a woman to share his life, Bluett is out in the cold, working the bars alone in search of companionship.  Gradually, his past unfurls, and in his loneliness, he wonders, “Do I like existing?  Would I prefer not to?  [I] cannot deny I am as confused as when I was a teenager.  More confused.  Because then I believed in romantic love.”  As he reminisces about past sexual experiences, some of them sordid, his language, raw, earthy, and often vulgar, conveys his frustrations with his life, but he is also sensitive, occasionally, to the feelings of women he has met and used, and he sometimes feels shame and sorrow for his preoccupation with the (graphically described) mechanics of sex and his inability to relate more fully on an emotional level.

Bluett looks out on the frozen lakes from his apartment, once the area where sailors lived, and now the residence of the bourgeoise.

He continues to haunt jazz clubs and wander around some of Copenhagen’s seediest areas, returning home to his collection of masks (obviously symbolic).  He rationalizes about his life and the lack of success in his marriage, asking “What is connection, really, but another form of illusion?”  Then he asks, almost plaintively, “But isn’t true intimacy possible? A meeting of two people’s deepest natures?”  He is not sure of the answers, and he is not making much progress in figuring them out from within his alcoholic haze and his history of self-indulgence.  It is not until he faces the biggest crisis of his post-divorce life, a crisis involving his friend Sam, that he begins to ask himself the big questions, and when Sam’s son comes knocking on his door, he must finally address some of the biggest themes of the whole quartet – and of life:  What does it mean to love?  How much do we owe those we love, if anything?  Does one choose one’s life or do we simply react to what happens to us?  How much freedom does one have from his own past and how much control over the future?  What, if anything, comes after life?

The gate to Christiania, a place Bluett visits, opens to a counterculture commune, heavily involved with drugs, which has existed since 1971 when it was created inside an a abandoned military base. The back of the sign reads, "Welcome to the EU."

The answers to these and other questions bring this novel to a close and the Copenhagen Quartet to its final resolutions in terms of themes and images.  Full, rich, and so resonant with lively details about people and places that I feel as if I could walk around Copenhagen and know it almost as well as I know my own city, Thomas E. Kennedy’s quartet is a triumph, an homage to a city by an author who has explored and obviously loved it for thirty years.


Video: Here is a video of John Coltrane playing “Love Supreme,” the only time in his career he played this creation in one of his own concerts:

Photos, in order: The author’s photo appears on http://www.betsywritersroom.com

The “neon chicken,” visible from Bluett’s apartment, is an ad for Irma’s Supermarket: http://classiccopenhagen.blogspot.com

The Hale-Bopp comet, which appeared in 1997, was the first time it had been seen from earth in almost 4200 years, and would not be seen again fro 2400 years.  This made a major impression on Bluett, when he saw it.  Photo by Jerry Lodgriguss, who has many more photos here:  http://www.astropix.com/INDEX.HTM This photo by Lodriguss was found on http://apod.nasa.gov

The box bike and frozen lake are sights that Bluett saw from his small apartment for most of the winter:  http://onourowntwowheels.com/

The Christiania gate, with “Welcome to the EU” on the back, was noted by Bluett on his trips there.  The area is now regarded as a haven for drugs, built as an independent commune in 1971.

ARC:  Bloomsbury

Note: Author Marco Malvaldi is a WINNER of the Castiglioncello Prize for Fiction for his crime novels.

“A boring job can bring out the best in a person…Go onto automatic pilot, and let your brain keep ticking over.  When he developed the theory of relativity, Einstein was working in a patent office.  Boll was a census gatherer, and Bulgakov a country doctor…Borges was a librarian… Give an imaginative man a dull, repetitive job that puts him in contact with others…and there’s a strong possibility you’ll produce a Nobel Prize winner.”—Massimo Viviani, owner-bartender of the Bar Lume.

The second novel in the Bar Lume series, by Marco Malvaldi, Three-Card Monte brings us once more into the life of Pineta, a small town in Tuscany, near Pisa, with the Bar Lume and its often hilarious characters as its focal point.  Owned by thirty-seven-year-old Massimo Viviani, a single man trying to put his life back together after a devastating romantic breakup, the Bar Lume has become a refuge for him – or as much of a refuge as any place can be when it is occupied every day by four cranky and gossipy oldtimers who regard “their table” at the Bar Lume as their “office.”  Ranging in age from seventy-three to eighty-two, they have known each other all their lives –and they keep up a running commentary on everything that is happening in town and everyone who is involved in it.  Drop one word in front of this elderly quartet from the Bar Lume, and it will make its way instantly all over town without any of the men ever having to leave the “office.”

Massimo’s grandfather Ampelio, the oldest of the four patrons, has been “the uncontested winner of [a] cursing competition at a local festival,” and he is the best story-teller among the group.  Once he decides to tell a story, “the only thing that could stop him…would be military intervention by NATO.”  He is joined at the table by Aldo, the owner of an upscale restaurant and catering service.  Pilade del Tacca, formerly employed at the town hall, knows everyone, despite the fact that he is difficult and as “unpleasant as a piece of [something] under your shoe.” Gino, a retired postal worker, looks “halfway between a nursing home patient and an escaped convict,” with “vaguely nostalgic ideas about the Fascist period.”  Together they are a formidable cast of characters – independent, earthy, garrulous, and hilariously funny – who keep the patient bartender Massimo entertained, sometimes frustrated, and constantly busy as they tease each other while also revealing their values and their attitudes toward life.

The Ponte Solferino in Pisa, which Massimo crosses on his way to the university to ask for technical help in solving the mystery here.

In the previous novel in the series, Game for Five, in which a local murder takes place and is investigated on the local level, Massimo the bartender is seen as a sympathetic character who astutely “directs traffic” within that novel, helping the sometimes incompetent police as the novel leads up to the climax, in which Massimo solves the murder.  We know only as much about him as we need to know to make us empathize with him.

Three-Card Monte, however, is quite different from this in its focus, significantly expanding Massimo’s character and showing him to be a far more complex character capable of solving a far more complicated murder than in the previous novel.  The opening quotation from this review alone is ample proof that Massimo is starting to find his intellectual “mojo” again as he gets back on his feet emotionally.

Scientists at the University of Pisa use their technical expertise to help investigate the death of Asahara.

As the novel opens, Koichi Kawaguchi, a computer expert, has just arrived at the airport on his way to the Twelfth International Workshop in Macromolecular and Biomacromolecular Chemistry in Pineta, one of about two hundred theoretical and experimental scientists who are attending.  Author Malvaldi obviously has fun with this introduction, commenting on the reactions of Kawaguchi to Italy’s “airport chaos,” which he finds far more orderly than the chaos at Narita – and to such amenities as the men’s rooms, far different from those in Japan.  Cultural differences among the various delegates are also noted as the novel develops. When, for example, the sloppily dressed Prof. A. C. J. Snijders, from the Netherlands, decides not to attend a conference session in which he has no interest, he simply does not go, spending the afternoon swimming and reading a book at the hotel pool instead.  Kawaguchi not only has no interest in the lectures, they are not even in his specialty, yet he has to be there, looking sharp, for business reasons, and he suffers terribly as he watches Snijders having fun at the pool.  Kawaguchi’s life takes a new turn when the main speaker, elderly Kiminobu Asahara, is found dead in his hotel room.

Massimo is furious when he discovers a scooter blocking "his" parking spot at an arch near his apartment.

Inspector Vinicio Fusco, of the local police, is in charge of the investigation, and as he does not speak either Japanese or English, he calls on Massimo, who speaks English, to translate his Italian into English and convey his questions to the English-speaking Kawaguchi, who has been chosen to be a translator, as they interview Japanese participants who knew Asahara.  Koichi asks Fusco’s questions to the Japanese participants, conveys their (edited) answers in English to Massimo (whom he thinks has “a face like a Taliban,”), who then edits again and translates most of what he hears to Fusco in Italian.  As the investigation develops, it becomes, in some ways like “three-card monte,” a game of trickery which Aldo learned when he worked on board a ship.

At a bookstore near his apartment, Massimo buys a book, then gets an idea when he sees this one on the counter. He buys it as "an homage to the author," then returns to the arch and disables the scooter blocking his parking spot.

The solution to the mystery, which comes at the very end, becomes almost incidental to all the fun of the novel and the amusing commentary the author makes on life in Italy, including the politics of academia, the behavior of the press, and the inability of anyone in the whole country to keep a secret.  The novel is great fun to read, despite the fact that the conclusion, as it turns out, depends on more technical knowledge than I possess.  It is here in the conclusion that the author’s own background as a scientist (with a Master’s degree in Chemistry) is revealed, and though he reduces the complications to the bare minimum, my own science background, limited as it is, occurred too far in the past to be relevant here.  Short, hilarious, and clever, with increasingly complex characters, Three-Card Monte is a delightful light entertainment, perfect for summer reading.

ALSO by Malvaldi:  GAME FOR FIVE

NOTE: The trickery of the card game of Three-Card Monte, is shown and explained in this video:

Photos, in order: The author’s photo is found here:  http://lettura.corriere.it/

The Ponte Solferino in Pisa appears on http://www.progettosnaps.net/

A few of the buildings at the University of Pisa are shown on http://en.wikipedia.org/

THREE METERS ABOVE THE SKY by Federico Moccia is sitting on the counter when Massimo goes to buy a book, giving him an idea on how to solve the scooter problem.  He buys the book as “an homage to the author.”

ARC: Europa Editions

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