To all my Friends Who Read 'The Blog': Sorry for the Silence!

I was hospitalized. I thought it was a routine operation and that I'd be out, as good as new, in a matter of 4 or 5 days! How wrong I was, 4 weeks have passed...so please, forgive the silence, it was quite unplanned. I realized something serious was afoot only when I was rolled into the operation room and glimpsed not one but four surgeons! My husband  waited six hours for my return, and yes, as it turned out, everything worked out fine. They took the tumor out and there's no cancer anywhere else, touch wood. 

I'm very lucky. And greateful to the Lord, the Giver of Life and (of course) to modern medicine. Three or four decades ago, I'm sure I wouldn't have made it. But now, the technology is so developped and risks minimized that one can truly say it's a "routine" life-saving operation.

Neither of my children really believed my spiel about the operation being routine and I was certainly happy to see my family around me as I began the recovery process. Doctors and nurses were also incredibly nice and helpful (the Italians have an amazing capacity for being very human and warm):

Recovering from the operation
I drew this cartoon that pretty much expresses the way I felt these past 4 weeks!

I won't deny that it's been a traumatizing experience but as always, with the bad comes the good. In the long nights in hospital, when you feel that the sun will never rise again, you find yourself face to face with what matters in your life. In one word: the experience has forced a reset in my life priorities. 

I've gained a precious second lease on life and I don't want to mess it up! Big changes...Starting with the Internet.

(1) I love networking, blogging, FB, Twitter, Pinterest and all the rest but you know what? None of this is as important as real life. I suddenly realized I much preferred the sunshine out there to my computer screen in here. I want to see more of my friends and family, I want to travel to places where I haven't been before I die, like Istambul and Berlin and Guernsey island.

(2) Blogging vs. writing. I'm a writer first, mainly a novelist and occasionally a non-fiction writer (since I also happen to be an economist). But I'm a blogger by chance - mainly because someone said back then (I don't remember when) that a writer ought to maintain a blog. That's what publishers and literary agents expect you to do. It seems everybody believes that a blog sells books. Like everybody believes that you can sell books on Twitter. I doubt that. I don't really think there's much of a connection. Do you buy my books because you enjoy my blog? Or because I tweet about them? Let me know if you do...I'm quite willing to admit that I haven't yet bought a book on the basis of a tweet or because I enjoy someone's writing in a non-literary form (like, say, blogging). For example, I think Galbraith is a great economist, one of the best economic writers of the 20th century, but his novel is no good (he must have known that too because he never wrote another).  

(3) My main objective in life: writing. Not book promotion. Ok, some of it needs to be done but I won't ever allow it to interfere again with my writing (as I've done for the past six months). No more marketing beyond what is strictly necessary...Like letting you know that I'm about to come out with a new book. 

Indeed, that's what I'm going to concentrate on now: finish editing A Hook in the Sky. It's nearly done - I need another couple of months. 

What's it about? Well, it's what I would like to call a "BB novel". Just like you have YA novels aimed at Young Adults, you have BB novels aimed at Baby Boomers  - those 70 million Americans about to retire or that have just retired (not to mention millions in the rest of the world, particularly in the developing world where the population is aging fast). A critical period in life and a huge audience. Small wonder more and more novels (and films) seem to deal with this issue. 

While in the hospital, I came across several such novels that I downloaded on my Kindle - incidentally, e-readers are a life-savior when you're stuck in a hospital bed: easy to hold in one hand, much lighter that most books and you can buy a new book when you've run out of anything to read even at 3 am, online libraries never close! And the books I read were really good: Louis Begley's About Schmidt series (the third one's just come out to excellent reviews - see the NYT), Deborah Moggach's comical The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Penelope Lively's deeply moving Moon Tiger or Ian McEwan's bizarre and mysterious Black Dogs. 

Some of these books are more focussed on what's left at the end of a life, others on how to handle the last slice of life. My Hook in the Sky is more on the latter aspect: how to deal with that second life that unfolds after retirement. A retired very French and dapper United Nations director fancies himself a School of Paris painter to the dismay of his much younger and artsy American wife who runs a contemporary art gallery in Chelsea...You can easily imagine how his painterly activities upset the marriage. When he repairs to Paris to show his work (his wife refuses to come along), he is presented with numerous (female) temptations...Can he ever put order in his second life and save his marriage? 

Well...If you enjoyed any of the writers I mentioned here (see book icons below) I'm willing to bet you'll really enjoy my Hook in the Sky (incidentally, the title is a play on the word skyhookery...)

PS If you've read any of these, do let me know what you think...

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Food Adventure in Rome: Buy a Fish, Get a Recipe!

When in Rome, do as the Romans, eat fish!  There are some remarkable places to buy fish.  Here's one that I really like, on Via Taranto, not far from the Church of San Giovanni:

Now this place is run by Renato and his sister and they're very enterprising: they've got two more outlets in Rome near the fish markets. But they keep rather unusual hours: they are only open on four days in the week, when there are fresh arrivals: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Also, they don't shut down for lunch as other small shops do: they stay open from 7:30 am to 8:00 pm, non-stop. All rather unusual. So is their fish display:

They sell every kind, from oysters, lobsters and clams to salmon, swordfish and red snapper, plus some bizarre looking fish you'd never think were eaten by humans (like the silvery snake-like thing on the right):

They're very friendly people, those fishmongers: the woman in particular is always ready to share her recipes.
Here she's busy giving advice to a client:

So I thought I'd take the plunge and try a fish I had never eaten before. I said I wanted to boil it and asked for the best kind of fish for boiling. I was told to get a "pezzogna", a Mediterranean fish with a pink tail and huge eyes.  You can see it in the picture above and here it is once I brought it home, up close:

Really big eye! It's close to 2 pounds, a good size for about 3 persons.

Now here was a fish I'm sure I've never had before and I googled it to try and figure out what it was. It turns out that this is a variety of red sea bream fished at great depths (some 600 meters) off the Campania coast - scientifically known as "pagellus bogaraveo". It has many other regional names in Italy: ochialone, occhino, mupo, rovello and besugo which is also the name it has in Spain.

Fortunately my lady fishmonger gave me her recipe for "Pezzogna in guazzetto" telling me "vedrà, è buonissimo!". "Guazzetto" is a word which indicates the fish is (metaphorically speaking) paddling in shallow water, i.e. there's plenty of cooking liquid but it's not covered in it - in short, it's not a soup.

I tried it and my fishmonger was dead right: it's absolutely outstanding! Here is how I did it. First choose a pan big enough so that your fish can lie flat in it, like the one I used here:

Put half an inch of water, salt, pepper, 4 or 5 slivers of garlic (peeled) and several red tomatoes cut in half (unpeeled), and a glass of white wine:

Cover and bring to a boil (At this stage you can also add a spoonful of olive oil if you wish, or you can do what I did, let your guests add olive oil to taste after the fish is cooked.) Once it's boiling, within a minute or so, the tomato skins can be pulled off very easily:

Now add the fish:

Cover and lower the flame so that it simmers. Leave it 15 to 20 minutes (check with a toothpick or a small fork - once the flesh near the spine moves easily, it's done).  At that point, take it delicately out, along with the tomato pieces, and while you clean it, let the cooking juices boil down (by about half) so that it will have a more concentrated flavor:

Once all set in a (warmed up) serving dish, along with diced boiled potatoes, I poured the cooking juices all over it and sprinkled it all with chopped parsley. Here's the result:

Absolutely buonissimo! As you can see, I served it with olive oil on the side and white wine. This is a recipe with several advantages: very easy to do and very light on your digestion. It really brings out the taste of the fish. I'm certain it works with just any kind of fish that lends itself to boiling...

PS for my readers who live in Rome: address of the fishmonger: Via Taranto 148, tel. 06 70399456. If you shop there, be sure to ask for their cooking advice!
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