Not in a Tuscan Villa

By Nora Vasconcelos

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Have you ever wondered what it’d be like if you could live abroad for a year? John and Nancy Petralia did it, and from this question, their dream became a plan and, at the age of sixty something, they told everyone that they would be leaving their home in New Jearsey to live in Italy for a year.

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What sounded like a marvelous idea then it became true, with all the ups and downs that always come attached to reality. And all those challenges started even before they had packed.

Finding a place to live in Italy, was one of those challenges, along with fitting the dream into the real life. The romantic idea of a Tuscan Village, that came, partially from the famous movie Under the Tuscan Sun, and in part from the questions of their friends, as if they were going to rent a village, make them focused on what they actually could afford. With an appartment secured in Bologna, the dream started.

Then, the akward face of reality appeared again. The living conditions were not exactly what they had expected, and the town, although interesting, didn’t fit into the dream either. But John and Nancy didn’t give up, not even when dealing with a medical emergency abroad in a different language, made them wonder if they should come back to America. But they didn’t, on the contrary, they kept up with their plan of staying in Italy for a year to learn its language and its customs, as well as to travel around and appreciate, first hand, all the wonders that this European country has to offer to those who love art, tasty food, good wine and breathtaking landscapes.

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Redesigning their plan, the couple looked not only for a new place but also for a new city where they could be able to ride freely their bikes, mingle with more people and somehow, feel more at home while away from home.

Patience, perseverance and time worked out when they managed to move to Parma, where things finally started to fall into place. It was there, when they actually felt that their dream had come true. Now, they just had to make the most of it, and they did it. Opera shows, how to make Italian cheese experiences, Thanksgiving in a foreign country, encounters with new friends, the visit of old good friends, all of this became part of their time in Italy.

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And from all these experience, John and Nacy wrote an exceptional book which they titled Not in a Tuscan Villa, where they tell not only their experiences and describe with great detail the places they visited, but also talk about how hard they worked every day to integrate themselves into the rhythm and syle of this country, where they were actually living in, and not just visiting.

“It took us about a year to write the book and another six months for rewrites and editing changes. We belonged to a writers’ group at our local library that met every week and critiqued each others’ work. That kept us focused and gave us a goal each week.”, tells me Nancy Petralia.

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But the dream didn’t end when they came back to America, on the contrary, their year in Italy gave them a new set of dreams, plans and goals in life. Many things in the way they see life changed from their Italian experience and they’re ready to enjoy life even more. So, as Nancy says, they’re heading back to Italy soon to travel around and visit friends. It’ll be their third time back since their Italian year ended.

Their time in Italy also gave them, specially John, an idea for a possible new book, one based on the life of Giuseppe Garibaldi. For that, a trip to South America might be in their near future where they want to visit Montevideo, Uruguay, another key place in Garibaldi’s life.

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*All images courtesy of John and Nancy Petralia

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Peter Rabbit: why it is still one of the greats of children’s literature

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Peter Rabbit.
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Paul Wells, Loughborough University

Since the days of Aesop, animals have been used as vehicles by which humankind has addressed its moral, ethical and cultural identity. For some, this serves to misrepresent animals, privileging anthropomorphism at the expense of the more sensitive address of animal sentience and welfare. For others, this approach allows humans to circumvent their own social taboos to reveal not merely fresh insights into what it is to be human, but also humanity’s intrinsic relationship to animals, with animals, and as part of nature.

Beatrix Potter enjoyed the work of poet Edward Lear, who specialised in nonsense verse and who wrote about a “Remarkable Rabbit”. Potter thus decided to create The Tale of Peter Rabbit, the story of a mischievous rabbit, who disobeys his mother, to play in Mr and Mrs McGregor’s garden, despite all its apparent dangers. From the outset, it was Potter’s intention to use the story to show both human characteristics and animal behaviour.

Peter is at once a playful vehicle by which to assess human foible and to present an animal within a pastoral environment. Reception of the story over time has been mixed. Is Peter a social transgressor within a human conception of the world, or merely the epitome of “the wild” outside the codes and conventions of rural society? Is the garden his most “natural” environment and home comforts a mere distortion of the countryside? And is Mr McGregor, the gardener intent on keeping rabbits off his patch, Peter’s most obvious adversary in the great chain of being?

These are but some of the issues in The Tale of Peter Rabbit, which make it one of the most enduring and popular of children’s narratives.

Detached storyteller

Initially written as a series of illustrated letters to her friend, Noel Moore, the son of her former governess, in 1893, the texts were reclaimed by Potter for private publication, and later taken up by established publisher, Frederick Warne & Co. Its words and images were finalised by the 1903 edition.

Potter insisted the size of the book be suitable for children to hold, and that the animal illustrations were anatomically correct. Her watercolours provide the text with its distinctive aesthetic. Potter also drew the images from the animal’s point of view, a vantage point nominally shared by a child’s gaze, which stimulates the empathy of the young reader. Potter herself is a detached storyteller, narrating the indifferent (omni)presence of the human world.

This clear and precise vision for Peter informed Potter’s decision to resist Walt Disney’s approach to adapt the story into an animated feature in 1936. A 1935 Merrie Melodies cartoon, Country Boy, freely adapted The Tale of Peter Rabbit a year earlier.

Disney, though, an admirer of the hare drawings of Heinrich Kley, saw Peter as an appealing rabbit character that would advance his own earlier creation, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Debuting in 1927, Oswald featured in 27 shorts, rivalling Felix the Cat, but in 1928, Charles Mintz took the rights from Disney for the character, forcing Disney to create another – soon afterwards, Mickey Mouse became the studio’s signature character. Disney realised, though, that he needed a more iconic rabbit, and Potter’s Peter was his favoured character.

Keen to maintain the tone, aesthetic and copyright of her book, Potter ensured Peter’s identity would always be bound up, though, with the serious tone and colour palette of her own illustrations.

Potter’s watercolours also later influenced the art direction of Bambi in 1942, and her rabbit sketches (1890) the design of Thumper.

Bambi’s Thumper.
Wikipedia

Crucially, Potter’s imagery represented her artistic and intellectual skills as a naturalist. This helps to present Potter not as a quasi-Victorian moralist, but as a modernist, insisting upon a representation of what animals and children might naturally do. Disney would surely have made Peter both comic and morally accountable. Potter ensures he is both feisty and fun. As a more incisive fabulist, Potter depicts what Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein suggests (when, ironically, writing about Disney’s characters) is the “factual regression into the animal”.

Later adaptations

The integrity of Potter’s design and outlook is maintained in Geoff Dunbar’s later television series The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends, which aired between 1992 and 1995. Each tale is bookended by live-action vignettes, featuring Niamh Cusack as Potter, filmed in Potter’s real-life home environment of Hill Top Farm in the Lake District.

Hill Top Farm, Lake District.
Shutterstock

A CGI series, Peter Rabbit, made for the Nickelodeon Channel in 2012, anticipates the more improvisatory tone and outlook of the recent Sony Entertainment adaptation of the Potter tale, Peter Rabbit. The Sony film mistakes Peter’s imperative to return to nature for a need to crassly avenge and humiliate Mr McGregor. Though playful, this detracts from the tension between human and animal explored in Potter’s text. It replaces Peter’s essential struggle for independence, with routine adventures in the garden.

It is important to recall, then, that Potter wrote that Peter’s father was baked in a pie by Mrs McGregor. Real world things really happen to animals. Throughout the story, Peter is aware of the danger he is in. He is aware of his own mortality. Peter’s persona as a “naughty boy” is not played out as an identity by which he is judged or punished, though, but rather, as a sensibility that must simply enact itself.

Children are left to decide for themselves about the consequences of his disobedience and desire. As such, this ambiguity has helped maintain The Tale of Peter Rabbit as part of a canon of literature and film for children that has become part of the very process of their development and socialisation.The Conversation

Paul Wells, Director of the Animation Academy, Loughborough University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Serene

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Serene

Rounded

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Rounded

Diversions, Distractions, and Delightful Detours

By Nora Vasconcelos

Diversions, Distractions, and Delightful Detours …when I came across with this lovely topic I only could think of Mexico City, because this amazing place offers a bit of everything for anyone who visits or lives in this singular metropolis.

You can enjoy a spectacular view from the top…

… a little of magic in the middle of an urban forest,

… an oaisis in the middle of the city,

… sunny days and blue skyes,

and cloudy, scary ones as well.

Sometimes you come across with small surprises…

sweet surprises…

and big surprises!

Occasionally, a fantastic replica of the Sistine Chapel pops up in the middle of the city…

Or a huge foot ball joins the scenery along with an ancient sculpture and the skyline.

Some other times, you can fine solace in one of the many city parks.

And of course …a lovely bookstore is always nearby!

So, either you have a specific itinerary, or you just feel like wondering around, Mexico City will always be full of exciting experiences waiting for you!

**All photos: copyright Nora Vasconcelos

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Ooh, Shiny!

Bridge

A breathtaking sight in the amazing city of Rome – photo credit Nora Vasconcelos

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Bridge

Transient

And then … it’ll fly away. (Copyright Nora Vasconcelos)

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Transient

Discovering the World with Old Maps

Yaggy, Levi Walter Temperate Zone 1893 Chicago Atlas Map David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

By Nora Vasconcelos

Ever since I can remember I’ve loved maps.

When I was a little girl I was thrilled when I found in my books colourful illustrations of foreign lands, even when they where imaginary ones.

I used to spend a long time looking carefully at all the details that those maps contained, divisions between lands, between the earth and the skies, between the skies and the oceans and among all the oceans that covered the known land and the ship routs to reach them.

Those maps took my mind travelling miles away and keep it there for a long time.

Decorative L’Atlas Curieux ou le Monde Represente ans des Cartes Generales et Particulieres du Ciel et de la Terre.; Fer, Nicolas de, 1646-1720; 1705; World Atlas David Rumsey Historical

As I grew up, I started to enjoy those fantastic Atlas full of old legends and legendary creatures.

Nova Orbis Tabula, in Lucem Edita, A.F. de Wit.; Wit, Frederick de; 1682; World Atlas
Nieuwe Werelt Kaert.; Goos, Pieter, 1616-1675; 1667; Chart Atlas David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

And just a few years later, I made a habit of looking up any new place that appeared in the books I was reading back then. So, a Globe and an illustrated dictionary were always at hand. I just couldn’t let it pass, I had to know exactly where those places were!

Land_und-Wasser _ Vertheilung auf der Erde (Land and Water Distribution).; Stieler, Adolf; Berghaus, Hermann; 1880; World Atlas David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

Nowadays, technology has given us the huge advantage of the Internet, with which looking up places is really fast, the same as getting several maps of any given destination when a trip is coming soon.

Pictorial map of the city and surroundings of Melbourne; Dale, O.J.; 1934; Separate Map David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

The Internet has become a great travelling tool. And, as I always say ‘a map will set you free‘, so to me is quite normal to read as many maps as possible of my new destination and then, with all that information in my head, I just give myself the wonderful chance to wander around without getting lost.

Paris.; Zaidenberg, Arthur; 1930; Separate Map David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

But even with all these wonderful advantages, I always melt when I see an old map.

This is way I got so so happy when I came across the amazing David Rumsey Map Collection. A website that let visitors find thousands of maps, divided in different categories.

These maps are not only beautiful, but also full of information, so much that a whole vacation could be completed without leaving home, only with the unique power of very detailed illustrations and descriptions, and the immense power of the imagination.

Voyage from New York to San Francisco upon the Union Pacific Railroad; Union Pacific Railroad Game; 1870; Game David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

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Wanderlust

Wanderlust

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Dense

Dense

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