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Lunedi Senza Parole #129

Indovina dove! Guess where!
Foto © Allen E. Rizzi

No, this was NOT photoshopped!

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Being An Author

This week I wanted to share a few thoughts on being an author.

Being an author requires a great deal of oneself. It is as if you are required to prove your craft every day in order to live up to the expectations that you and your public have placed upon you. It is a full-time job.

Being an author requires writing skill. This may seem obvious but look at many of the books that are available through Amazon.com and other sources. Many are so poorly written that even a four-year- old child would find instant fault with them. Writing is a learned behavior and one that requires constant improvement throughout the years. It is not a one shot, wham-bam experience no matter what you’ve heard on the internet. Each author, famous or unheard of, spends an entire lifetime honing his craft and making it ever better.

Being an author also requires fidelity to one’s self and to one’s audience. As a writer you can’t jump ship on either of these principles. An author can not be other than himself and must always operate with his own moral compass firmly in hand. An author also has a responsibility to his readership to remain constant and not go off on weird tangents that loses his readership at the first turn.

Being an author implies that you are paid, at least if the word professional precedes author. Many unpublished and unpaid writers claim to be professional authors. Unless they have received payment for their work, their claims are untrue. One can be a writer for his entire life but unless he is paid he is not a professional.

Being an author is not a stepping-stone to becoming a millionaire. For every author who has made millions of dollars with their writing there are surely several million who make little to nothing for their work. Most authors write simply because that is what they do. That is their talent, not fixing cars or running hedge funds. Most ply their craft unwaveringly their whole life regardless of the amount of financial gain.

I have often quipped at my wife that I should write my own obituary. With a smirk I say, “After all, a professional should write it!” Seriously, I would hate to feel there would be typos and poor sentence structure in my final bit so maybe I should indeed get going with that project soon.

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Stereotypes

Just a reminder!

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I have heard the whine for decades from those who have bewailed their fate of being stereotyped. I have listened, half-hearted, as this parade of the supposedly downtrodden bunch has passed by, changing in ethnicity every year or so. Boo Hoo I say!

Many, many decades ago I was born with an Italian name: Rizzi. In actual fact, my family and I are Tirolean, meaning that we are Austrian in language, culture and history. But hark, that could not be!

When I was a child, I never thought of stereotypes. I had friends who were of every imaginable color from every imaginable country and every religion. We were all simply Americans. It was only much later that I learned that some were Jews, some were Italians, some were Irish, some were Mexican and yet others were from foreign countries. What did it matter? We were all friends. Then things slowly…

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Pasta Con Vongole

One of my favorite dishes is pasta con vongole (Pasta with clams). It is easy to make and tastes delicious. Here’s a quick recipe for four people to follow if you’ve never tried this typical Italian pasta dish:

  • Start by putting a generous amount of olive oil in a medium saucepan.
  • Add 3 medium gloves of minced garlic.
  • Bring the heat and sauté the garlic until it turns golden brown then remove from the heat.
  • Add two 8 ounce cans or jars of minced or baby clams. Include all of the juice as well.
  • Return the pan to the heat and add ¼ cup of white wine and salt and pepper to taste.
  • Add a bit more olive oil (4 tablespoons) as you continue cooking.
  • Add fresh lemon juice (4 tablespoons) and slices of minced fresh whole lemon.
  • If you like a little zing, add a bit of crushed red pepper as well (optional).
  • Turn the heat down very low and let it simmer until the pasta is ready.
  • Take 24 ounces of your favorite pasta and cook in another pot until it is al dente.
  • Drain the pasta, place on plates and ladle on the clam sauce in four equal parts.
  • Garnish with fresh basil leaves, grated parmesan cheese and grated whole lemon peel.
  • Serve as hot as possible.

I have been enjoying this dish for decades. Please give it a try and let me know what you think.

Note: This dish can also be used with fresh baby clams. I used canned or jarred clams for convenience and to get more clams into the sauce.

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A Euro For Your Thoughts

A dozen or so years ago, most of Europe gave up their individual currencies in favor of the common Euro. With a stroke of the pen, gone were the Franc, Schilling, Lira, etc. A good thing? Not so fast!

Here in Italy, the introduction of the Euro literally doubled the price of everything overnight. A pizza used to be 10,000 Lira (about $5 US); it became 10 Euro (about $13.60 today).

The problem for would-be expatriates is best explained by a simple example. A liter of cheap gas costs 1.76 Euro. Multiply that by 3.78 (liters to gallons) and you get 6.65 Euro per gallon of gas. Ah yes, now you must apply that pesky exchange rate: today it is 1.36188. What you get in the end (literally) is $9.06 (yes, nine dollars and six cents) as a price per gallon of gas paid in U.S. dollars. Still feel like driving anywhere? It might be less expensive to fly by heliocopter!

A Euro for your thoughts? No thank you; actually we can’t afford them right now. Ask us again later if the Euro collapses to par with the dollar….

Read author Allen E. Rizzi’s latest books available at Amazon.com

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The Best Dog Ever

People often ask me and my wife why we don’t have a dog. The answer is simple really: We had the best dog ever and that was more than enough for a lifetime.

It was May, 1986 when my wife and I visited the animal shelter in Agoura, California. We spotted a dog that was among 13 sired by a Labrador Retriever. There were two mothers involved, both Australian Shepherds. Of the 13, my wife immediately lit on one because he was “spunky.” We took the 8 week old pup home and were asked by our son if we had rescued a Harbor Seal. We named him Smokey. The color fit and so did the name. Little did we know that our blue merle Australian Shepherd mix Smokey would be our companion for nearly 17 years.

In the first weeks with our new dog, we would have to walk him extensively just to tire him out enough so that we could get some sleep at night. Yes, the dog was spunky. That was an understatement! Super hyper would be a better adjective. His enthusiasm for everything in life was catching. He loved being in the thick of things and he especially loved food, any food. He would eat anything we ate including sauerkraut, ice cream and pickles. His favorite was a hand-fed banana. To this day I can’t peel a banana without a tear in my eye.

Several months later, we moved from California to Oregon and Smokey began his life-long relationship with water. He loved water in any form and soon found that he loved Oregon’s large streams. He was always at my side while fishing and he learned to read the water for trout and salmon like a pro. When he wasn’t on a stream, a puddle seemed to do; anything as long as it was wet!

As the years progressed, his favorite place in the world became Black Canyon. This is a stretch of the Willamette River that runs down from the Cascade Mountains and through the city of Eugene where we lived. Black Canyon is a place along the river with a tree-covered campground. It was one of my favorite places to fish as well. Smokey and I spent countless afternoons there together. It was his second home. Years later, I would write a novella called The Blackest of Canyons and Other Micro Tales of Fly Fishing. For a full account of Smokey’s days here, you can find the book here.

coverthe-blackest-of-canyons

Smokey, like people, had his quirks. One was to go nuts when he heard the whisper of the lawnmower primer button. How a dog could hear that minute sound from in the house is beyond me. It always set him off and I could never train him not to bark at the lawnmower. I did train him in many other ways. He learned all commands in two languages (English and German) plus hand signs. However, he often showed-off for our guests by ignoring all commands. He once chased deer but was trained so well not to that a deer could approach our elevated deck and Smokey would just tremble but never bark or lunge. All the while he quietly waited for the “okay” command that never came.

Since Smokey thought he was a person, we treated him like a true member of our family. He made more car trips to remote locations all over the Western United States than most people. He loved the road and couldn’t wait to get on it. The new smells of places like Anaconda, Montana were always a lure for Smokey. In each of these far away places, he always found something special, whether it was a sleeping bison in Yellowstone or a simple stick to chew on the St. Regis River in Montana. Home was often on the road and he loved every minute.

Smokey was with us in the good times and the bad but like everyone around him, he aged as well. At twelve years, he needed a ramp to get into our jeep. I custom made one with artificial turf so that he could enter and exit comfortably. I also bought him a harness so that he could wade rivers move safely with me while fishing. In short, we treated him always with the respect that we would afford anyone in our family who was aging. I had two parents who were also aging at the time and everyone seemed to understand each other perfectly. My father would spend hours with Smokey at Christmas while my mother often giggled like a school girl while tossing him oyster crackers. But all the while our family friend was getting older.

Nothing is forever. Friends and family die and so did Smokey. He was nearly 17 years old which in dog years is, well, a very, very full life. Do we miss him? Of course! Do we want another dog? Not really. We had the best dog ever!

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Winter Wine Brulé

Since it’s 23 degrees outside, I thought this was appropriate.

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This one comes from my lovely and talented wife Rachel. If you’ve tried tradition Italian Brulé or traditional German Glühwein, give this recipe a try. It’s slightly different and a good “warmer-upper” on cold winter nights.

Winter Wine Brulé Recipe:
(Yield: 2 servings)

2 1/2 cups of Merlot wine
3 tablespoons of sugar
1 whole cinnamon stick
10 small pieces of orange peel (dry or fresh)
6 whole cloves
6 whole peppercorns

Combine all ingredients with the wine. Bring the mixture to a boil then simmer for about 10 minutes. Strain out the loose spices and orange peel. Serve hot in a beverage mug. 🍷

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Lunedi Senza Parole #128

Indovina dove! Guess where!
Foto © Allen E. Rizzi

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A Menorah In Appalachia

It seemed like such a simple task. After years of burning my fingers and scraping wax off of delicately carved brass, I decided to invest in a modern electronic Menorah for the holidays. Simple is never what it seems.

We had seen one advertised on the Home Depot website so we visited our local store. I inquired. “Menorah? What’s that?” was the reply from the salesman. I explained. He looked bewildered. He checked his online app after I spelled Menorah for him and he said with a sigh, “Wow, that’s really beautiful but we only sell them online.” My wife’s eyes puffed a bit. “That’s okay,” I ventured. “Perhaps we could take a Rudolph the red nosed Goy instead.” The joke fell on deaf ears. Oh well, I thought, we are in Appalachia after all.

“If we were in Ft. Lauderdale, the shelves would be full of Menorahs,” I mused. However, we were sitting smack in the middle of North Carolina and it seemed there probably wasn’t another Jew around for several counties.  In truth, we do have a local synagogue but we were convinced to go straight retail.  After a couple more futile tries with local stores, we went online in our quest and found a great assortment of silver colored plastic Menorahs, most of which were made in China. Not exactly the stuff of old Jerusalem.  The holiday spirit was already halfway out the door. What to do?

Flash backwards; is there really such a thing? I was married in a synagogue 33 years ago. It was a beautiful experience and one without any regrets even though I am Roman Catholic. From the start, I have embraced my wife’s Judaism and we have always celebrated both Christmas and Hanukkah. A tree? A Menorah? Yes to both! However, over the years we have found the latter in short supply. Personally I have been a bit perplexed that our general population has almost no idea of what a Menorah is and what it is used for. In the words of Judah Maccabee, “Bummer!”

I am finishing this up before we again renew our quest for the Menorah we seek. Tomorrow is indeed another day and I hope that the dawn will bring us closer to finding that elusive candelabra of old. I am feeling a bit panicked at the prospect but then  I  whisper to myself, “Relax Goy Boy, you still have a few days before Hanukkah!”

Post Script – Okay, we finally ordered a Menorah online. Unfortunately, when it arrived the finish was severely damaged by the acid from the tiny Chinese fingers that assembled it. I returned the product immediately and then spent another half a day trying to locate a suitable replacement. After six more, “What’s a Menorah?, I finally gave up. My wife said I must simply light those damn candles again this year. I shrugged tiredly and replied, “Your wish is my command….”

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Cotton Candy Dreams

Cotton Candy Dreams is one of the many songs I wrote commercially back in the late 1970s. Its lyrics are straightforward and metaphoric, a lovely blend of what I thought was sweet and sad back in 1977. I have always been more than a little partial to this song and it has always brought a sad little smile to my face. Time rolled by and in 2014 this song’s lyrics were included in my songwriting anthology, Three A.M. – The Complete 1970s Song Lyrics. (Amazon.com May 2014) Here are the lyrics with the back scene that I wrote for the song in 2010:

Cotton Candy Dreams
© 1977 Allen E. Rizzi

(V1) Cotton candy dreams…. in your eyes;
The years go by to your surprise.
Young girl holdin’ on to love and dreams;
Never turns out the way it seems….

(V2) Sponge cake afternoons, they’re all gone;
Friends and lovers have moved on.
Life can let you down at twenty-one;
But remember love, it’s just begun….

(Ch.) I’ve been lovin’ you for such a long time;
My heart’s getting’ weary to the core.
For God’s sake girl, quit your dreaming;
My heart won’t take it anymore….

(V3) Cotton candy dreams…. In your eyes;
Keep the tears from sad goodbyes.
Young girl holdin’ on, head up high,
Watchin’ the world as it goes by….

(Coda) Cotton candy dreams….

Back Scene 2010:

This was one of my first commercially successful songs. Typical of many of my songs, it was written in the female voice and intended for a female recording artist. The chorus can be taken as either the male or the female voice (woman speaking to herself as a child or a man speaking to a female love interest.) Lots of good metaphors in this one! I can’t remember if this was written with any one girl in mind. Probably not.

It seems to me that the title and lead line were suggested to me by looking back into my own childhood in which occasionally included cotton candy at a fair. Neil Young used the term candy floss in a like manner referring to childhood. At any rate, cotton candy dreams seemed like a nice notion to explore back in 1977! This song was commercially recorded in 1978.

AER 6-26-2010

Here’s the original rough demo recording from 1977:

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