Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Still Life with Saints: Book Profile on Pink Pangea

Still Life With Saints book profile by Ellen Shick

The boot-shaped peninsula of Italy conjures iconic images; gondolas under Venice’s Rialto Bridge, Michelango’s David in Florence, trendy, well-dressed tourists eating pizza and panini, sipping an Aperol spritz, or visitors in Vatican City waiting to view the Sistine Chapel. 

In her latest memoir, Angela Paolantonio takes us to a different Italy entirely. It is a place no less beautiful, sensual, or spellbinding, yet it is far away from the teeming crowds and four-star hotels. Angela’s Italy might even belong to a different time, as she embraces an unexplored set of values and lifestyles. 

Her story takes place in Irpinia, known as the land of the wolves in Campania, 70 miles east of Naples, populated with wise and wild women, living connected to earth’s natural rhythms, where self-sufficiency and ancient wisdom rule the day.

In her first memoir, The Ghosts of Italy, Angela finds her Italian soul. At the start, she lives and works as an artist agent in Los Angeles. During a vacation in Rome, she takes a quick side trip to Calitri, the ancestral home of her paternal grandparents. The book is aptly named–Angela often felt a ghostly presence, especially around her Italian relatives. In Calitri, she was swept up by forces within her, a wild matriarchal and ancient calling, that flings her from her busy, urban life to Via Fontana, the street where her grandmother was born. She buys her grandmother’s childhood two-room stone house, falls in love with an Italian man, and builds a new life in Italy’s wild south.

In her second memoir, Still Life with Saints: Italian Adventures of Magical Spirit, Angela takes us deeper into her world on Via Fontana and we experience a seasonal year in the “old village” with the “ladies of the lane,” the well-respected women, in their wild country culture, reminiscent of pre-patriarchal times. Here she lives, and walks, settles into her roots, and becomes tenderly accepted by the women of the lane.

Angela Paolantonio has always lived her life surrounded by art, and now, her muse is this wizened life on Via Fontana. In Still Life with Saints, the book cover exemplifies Angela’s eye for beauty and magic. A seasonal Red Admiral butterfly floats on a dark nocturnal background. Open the book to view the front and back covers, and see the complete painting by Giovanna Garzoni, a seventeenth-century Italian still-life artist. Angela knew it would make a perfect cover. She says, “A butterfly symbolizes the transition of the soul, the essence of my story.” 

Much the same way that the Firefox series brought us deep inside Appalachian mountain culture, in Still Life with Saints, Angela seeks to record the lives and legends of the land of the wolves“Just like many wild places, this feminine culture will die out,” Angela says. “To me, the mature women of the village define the wild woman archetype.” In their grandmotherly acceptance of her, Angela likens them to the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers. The women of Via Fontana have gathered Angela into their world; she learns of the planting, the harvest, and the saint’s days that inform the rhythms of village life. Angela writes about their traditions, folklore, daily life, and spirituality. She beautifully weaves all of it into her own, very personal story.

More than anything, Angela’s second memoir takes us deep into her inner journey. The Ghosts of Italy quickly joined the list of top Italian travel stores. Still Life with Saints: Italian Adventures of Magical Spirit, due to be released December 2020, is a journey not to be missed. 

Photo credits for Still Life with Saints: Italian Adventures of Magical Spirit by Angela Paolantonio. For more about Angela, read the Pink Pangea feature interview with her here. 


Monday, March 15, 2021

The Decameron Redux

Here begins The Decameron Redux, second in the series of essays from an 
American living in a remote hilltop village in pandemic strapped Italy. It’s hard to believe it’s already been a year since COVID-19 changed everything. 

With its own soundtrack.

Click on the links to read.

You can also follow on Twitter

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The Book Club Mom, Who's That Indie Author?

Still Life with Saints (2020)
 The Ghosts of Italy (2016)

Favorite author/books: At the moment my favorite international author is Elena Ferrante. I read her Neapolitan Novels, there are four in all, about a year or two before they hit the USA market. They were recommended by an Italian friend. Ferrante captures the life of Italian women’s experiences beautifully, accurately, in spectacular emotional prose. Other favorite authors or books are too numerous to list!

What experiences or people have influenced your writing the most? As a memoirist, experiences and people are the main influences for my writing.

Do you keep a writing journal and if so, how do you use it? I do not journal, however, I have kept and filled many plain notebooks with experiences, feelings, drawings, and ephemera for years, both in the USA and Italy. They resemble more art journals than writing journals. I have referenced them when writing; they inform me of where I’ve been.

Are you up with the sun or do you burn the midnight oil? I’m still a morning person. But with the help of a good Italian espresso or two I can burn the midnight oil with the best of them!

How do you get over a writing slump? I don’t typically have writing slumps. But to loosen up, I may write a letter or a blog post or do a twenty-minute stream of conscious exercise by hand.

Do you prefer writing dialogue or descriptive passages? I love both.

What are you working on now? I am always taking notes—as I recall my own stories of the many experiences I have had here over the years or listen closely when a neighbor or an acquaintance is telling me theirs. So book three or a screenplay…

What advice would you give to someone thinking about writing and publishing a book? It is one of the most rewarding creative processes I have ever experienced. But it is a longer process than you may think at first. The time you put into it is all your own. Be prepared to be challenged.

Favorite escape: An LA movie theater for a matinee. A medieval city in Italy. A simple passeggiata.

Biggest writing challenge since Covid-19: Publishing Still Life With Saints by the end of this year. We did it!

To read more please visit: The Book Club Mom, Who's That Indie Author? 

Friday, January 01, 2021

Twenty years @ Twenty-one closes with Laura at the Library

The Ghosts of Italy's in the stack!

At the very close of twenty years of adventures at 21 via Fontana I found THIS image on Laura at the Library’s Instagram feed; The Ghosts of Italy in her latest book stack.

The Ghosts of Italy (2016) is in extraordinary company here, in 2020 — stacked with a host of recently celebrated (traditionally published) authors: Douglas Stuart's Booker Prize winning novel, Shuggie Bain, Katherin May's, Wintering, and US Poet Laureate Natasha Tretheway's Memorial Drive. 👀

Laura at the Library and I have shared the same tastes in books on her feed before and have had a bit of fun with the wide-eyes emoji...👀 But this list, this stack has me speechless.

Seeing The Ghosts of Italy included with these books in Laura's reading stack made *perennially challenged* 2020 go out with a certain literary flourish for this indie author. This may only be the beginning — Laura hinted Still Life With Saints is up next. Please stay tuned.

The Ghosts of Italy was a Library Journal curated selection for the Indie Author Project (IAP) Commercial Collections Memoirs Program for Queens Public Library and Garden City Public Library, New York.