I'm a bit sad this evening 'cause a had to say good-bye to a very good companion, a terrific one, who has filled in my repetitive routine with refreshing enterteinment. It's impossible not to be amused at listening to her singular idiolect and her humour is irresistible. I'm talking about Bessy Beckley, Irish but living in Scotland , only 15 years old but so experienced of the ways of the world. This extraordinary girl is ... the protagonist of the book I have just finished reading, THE OBSERVATIONS by Jane Harris. I found it extremely entertaining and, for a couple of weeks, I've taken it with me ,in my bag, wherever I went: I've read it queuing at the post office, watching my students while they were writing their monthly test (not a very good idea, though), visiting my mother and sitting by the fire with her. And all the time, I'm sure, I had an idiot ( to the others) smile on my face.

So what exactly is so special about the book? Well firstly, it does tap in to my great interest in historical fiction, being set in Scotland in 1863. A number of authors have made the most of our fondness for a gripping story set in Victorian times, but Jane Harris has really achieved creating the liveliest heroine I've met in a book since long . Bessy is picaresque, as funny, street-wise and involving as Lope de Vega's Lazarillo de Tormes.

Harris's mastery at inventing Bessy's voice, her unique way of communicating bluntly with a very personal idiom, is undeniable. Bessy herself recognizes, towards the end of the story, that her writing skills have improved and this is evident through the pages of the novel: "I do believe my style may have improved as the months went by but I am aware that there are still some mistakes for unless I keep my wits about me I tend to write as I speak". Yes, this is the sensation I had, that I was exactly "hearing" her voice speaking to me, just to me, in a secret mysterious way.

I don't want to tell you more than this... If you are curious to discover more about Bessy's life you could

1. Buy the book on line and read it CLICK

2. Read this interview with Jane Harris CLICK

3. Watch this interview with the British writer CLICK

4. Read some good reviews HERE , HERE and HERE

Books have been a recurrent theme today. For instance two of my students and I spent our mid-morning break discussing about their loving to download and save e-books in their computers and my preferring to buy books, real printed ones, I mean , and collecting them.

Books are objects belonging to our tradition, to our culture and I love their smell, I enjoy choosing them in big bookshops or on line, to guess their content from their covers, to touch them... not so much to dust them ! Jokes apart, I want to leave you with a beautiful passage from one of the best book about books, Ray Bradbury's FAHRENHEIT 451 (1954)

Guy Montag is a fireman who burns books in a futuristic American city. In Montag's world, firemen start fires rather than putting them out. The people in this society do not read books, enjoy nature, spend time by themselves, think independently, or have meaningful conversations. Instead, they drive very fast, watch excessive amounts of television on wall-size sets, and listen to the radio on “Seashell Radio” sets attached to their ears (Doesn't it sound familiar?)

Montag has started being troubled by his harsh task of burning books and has decided he wants to discover more about these forbidden dangerous objects. Moreover, he feels there's something missing in that dystopian society but does not understand what it is exactly. So he goes to Professor Faber 's and asks him . This is the Professor's answer.

"Three things are missing. Number one: Do you know why books such as this ( the Bible) are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features . This book can go under the microscope. You'd find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more thruthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more "literary" you are. That's my definition, anyway. Telling detail. Fresh detail. The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.

So now do you see why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless. We are living in a time when flowers are trying to live on flowers instead of growing on good rain and black loam. Even fireworks, for all their prettiness, come from the chemistry of the earth. (...) Well, there we have the first thing I said we needed. Quality, texture of information.

"And the second?"


"Oh, but w've plenty of off-hours"

"Off-hours, yes. But time to think? If you are not driving a hundred miles an hour, at a clip where you can't think of anything else but the danger, then you're playing some game or sitting in the same room where you can't argue with the four-wall televisor. Why? The televisor is real. It is immediate, it has dimension. It tells you what to think and blasts it in. It must be right. It seems so right. It rushes you on so quickly to its own conclusions your mind hasn't time to protest, "What nonsense!"


"Would books help us?"

"Only if the third necessary thing could be given us. Number one, as I said, quality of information. Number two: leisure to digest it. And number three: the right to carry out actions based on what we learn from the interaction of the first two."

(from Ray Bradbury, FAHRENHEIT 451 , Flamingo Modern Classic, pp. 90-92)




When you leave for Ithaca,
may your journey be long
and full of adventures and knowledge.
Do not be afraid of Laestrigones, Cyclopes
or furious Poseidon;
you won’t come across them on your way
if you don’t carry them in your soul,
if your soul does not put them in front of your steps.
I hope your road is long.
May there be many a summer morning,
and may ports for the first time seen
bring you great joy.
May you stop at Phoenician marts,
to purchase there the best of wares,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber, ebony,
hedonic perfumes of all sorts;
may you go to various Egyptian towns
and learn from a people with so much to teach.

Don’t lose sight of Ithaca,
for that’s your destination.
But take your time;
better that the journey lasts many a year
and that your boat only drops anchor on the island
when you have grown rich
with what you learned on the way.
Don’t expect Ithaca to give you many riches.
Ithaca has already given you a fine voyage;
without Ithaca you would never have parted.
Ithaca gave you everything and can give you no more.
If in the end you think that Ithaca is poor,
don’t think that she has cheated you.
Because you have grown wise and lived an intense life,
and that’s the meaning of Ithaca.

I wish you get safe to YOUR Ithaca...



Do you remember the first book you read? I bet most of you do.
My unforgettable first long reading was Louisa May Alcott’s “LITTLE WOMEN” and I’m sure I share this memory and experience with many “old girls”.
I was 9 years old and my sweet motherly teacher gave me this book as a present. I started reading it and loved it at once, then I wanted - and got- its sequel “LITTLE WOMEN GROW UP”, then “LITTLE MEN” and “JO’S BOYS”. My passion for reading books began with Jo, Meg, Amy, Beth, Laurie and their adventures. I started dreaming of being a succesful writer one day, like Jo, but ended (like her in “Jo’s Boys”) being a teacher! I’ve never stopped loving this novel since then and never stopped reading and collecting books!

At 9, I read it in Italian, of course, but here is the first page of the original version in English for you to enjoy …

"Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
"It's so dreadful to be poor!" sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.
"I don't think it's fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all," added little Amy, with an injured sniff.
"We've got Father and Mother, and each other," said Beth contentedly from her corner.
The four young faces on which the firelight shone brightened at the cheerful words, but darkened again as Jo said sadly, "We haven't got Father, and shall not have him for a long time." She didn't say "perhaps never," but each silently added it, thinking of Father far away, where the fighting was.
Nobody spoke for a minute; then Meg said in an altered tone, "You know the reason Mother proposed not having any presents this Christmas was because it is going to be a hard winter for everyone; and she thinks we ought not to spend money for pleasure, when our men are suffering so in the army. We can't do much, but we can make our little sacrifices, and ought to do it gladly. But I am afraid I don't," and Meg shook her head, as she thought regretfully of all the pretty things she wanted."








Wow...Not a very good perspective for someone who has to fly soon. Anyway, let's say the title wants to be metaphorical, first of all.

Now, after the proper rite of touching wood, we can even read or write about "catastrophes" in order to reflect on them in relation with habits (wrong ones) and the possibility of radically changing one's own life. The fact is that I was jus reading this article and wanted to share it with you. Ready?

" Your plane plunges to the earth with a terrifying crash . But somehow, miracolously, you escape the flaming wreckage. In your state of shock, profoundly grateful to be alive, you promise to make changes. You'll quit cigarettes. Spend more time with your family. Devote the rest of your life to securing world peace. A short time later, you find yourself living pretty much the same way you always had. Even a life-altering trauma is not always enough to prompt lasting changes in people's lives. (...) As neuroscientists have discovered , old habits become physically embedded in people's brains, as synapses lock into near - permanent neural pathways. "...

I really can't believe that, can't agree with this idea of human (in)capability of improving themselves. What do you think? What about religious conversions, then ? What about people who simply ( not always that simple!) give up smoking, or lose weight , face a divorce? I mean, those who successfully overcome obstacles or get through their difficult times?

I remember an aviator who learnt a lot after his plane crashed onto the Sahara desert. He learnt a lot and taught a lot to us all. Do you remember him?

"So I lived my life alone, without anyone that I could really talk to, until I had an accident with my plane in the Desert of Sahara, six years ago. Something was broken in my engine. And as I had with me neither a mechanic nor any passengers, I set myself to attempt the difficult repairs all alone. It was a question of life or death for me: I had scarcely enough drinking water to last a week.
The first night, then, I went to sleep on the sand, a thousand miles from any human habitation. I was more isolated than a shipwrecked sailor on a raft in the middle of the ocean. Thus you can imagine my amazement, at sunrise, when I was awakened by an odd little voice.
It said: "If you please, draw me a sheep!"

And that is how I made the acquaintance of the little prince."

These words are part of the opening of "THE LITTLE PRINCE " by Antoine De Saint-Exupery (1943).

It is an extraordinary book from which every child and every adult can learn much. It is the parable of a man who comes back, after risking his life in a plane crash and after living a wonderful experience in the Sahara desert, completely changed thanks to his meeting with the little prince...

The following excerpt is my favourite ... What do you think about it ?

THE FOX AND THE LITTLE PRINCE ( from chapter 21)

Nothing is perfect," sighed the fox. But he came back to his idea. "My life is very monotonous," the fox said. "I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All the chickens are just alike, and all the men are just alike. And, in consequence, I am a little bored. But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life . I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the colour of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat..." The fox gazed at the little prince, for a long time. "Please, tame me!" he said.
"I want to, very much," the little prince replied. "But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand."
"One only understands the things that one tames," said the fox. "Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me..."
"What must I do, to tame you?" asked the little prince.
"You must be very patient," replied the fox. "First you will sit down at a little distance from me, like that, in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day..."
The next day the little prince came back.
"It would have been better to come back at the same hour," said the fox. "If, for example, you come at four o'clock in the afternoon, then at three o'clock I shall begin to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o'clock, I shall already be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am! But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you... One must observe the proper rites..."
"What is a rite?" asked the little prince.
"Those also are actions too often neglected," said the fox. "They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours. There is a rite, for example, among my hunters. Every Thursday they dance with the village girls. So Thursday is a wonderful day for me! I can take a walk as far as the vineyards. But if the hunters danced at just any time, every day would be like every other day, and I should never have any vacation at all."
So the little prince tamed the fox. And when the hour of his departure drew near...
"Ah," said the fox, "I shall cry."
"It is your own fault," said the little prince. "I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you..."
"Yes, that is so," said the fox.
"But now you are going to cry!" said the little prince.
"Yes, that is so," said the fox.
"Then it has done you no good at all!"
"It has done me good," said the fox, "because of the color of the wheat fields." And then he added: "Go and look again at the roses. You will understand now that yours is unique in all the world. Then come back to say goodbye to me, and I will make you a present of a secret."
The little prince went away, to look again at the roses. "You are not at all like my rose," he said. "As yet you are nothing. No one has tamed you, and you have tamed no one. You are like my fox when I first knew him. He was only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But I have made him my friend, and now he is unique in all the world." And the roses were very much embarrassed. "You are beautiful, but you are empty," he went on. "One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you, the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose.

And he went back to meet the fox. "Goodbye," he said.
"Goodbye," said the fox. "And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."
"What is essential is invisible to the eye," the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.
"It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important."
"It is the time I have wasted for my rose..." said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.
"Men have forgotten this truth," said the fox. "But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose..."
"I am responsible for my rose," the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

It's time to take off again and ..fly high!



"The more I know of the world, the more I am convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love."— Jane Austen in Sense and Sensibility

I really can't say when and why my devoted admiration for Jane - her strong-willed personality, her skillful pen, her extraordinary wit and irony - began ... I'm only aware that it started very early, at first "reading", with PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, at 14
I loved her heroines and daydreamt her heroes, wished to be back in time but also to meet those extremely polite gentlemen in my real life. I had a naive, romantic, a bit childish, vision of that world. Then I studied and re-read Jane's works at university and got to a more mature point view . To explain the difference between the first and second phase of my devotion, I might describe my "young" perception of Austen's world as a "BECOMING JANE" vision while the grown-up catch is more a "MISS AUSTEN REGRETS" vision.


Becoming Jane is a 2007 historical film directed by Julian Jarrold. It is inspired by Jane Austen’s (American actress Anne Hathaway) early life, and her posited relationship with Thomas Langlois Lefroy (Scottish actor James McAvoy). Although the film assumes an otherwise unproven relationship between Austen and Lefroy, the original screenplay was inspired by real events which were chronicled in the book Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence, who was the historical consultant on the film. In fact, prior to Spence’s book, biographers Radovici (1995) and Tomalin (2000) have also acknowledged a relationship between Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy.

Jane and Tom’s love story has been emphasised and fictionalised to work as the plot of a modern costume film. Jane doesn't accept a marriage of convenience and wants to live on her pen but gets involved in a romantic affair with Tom and even accepts to elope with him.

Anyway, to get into the core of Jane's real temper you'd better have a look at Jane Austen's Letters and at this site about the people in Jane Austen's life (Tom Lefroy) . You can even like "Becoming Jane" ( I do) but never recognize the real Jane in that romance.
Have a look at this rather sceptical review , for example. CLICK HERE.


Based on the life and letters of Jane Austen, Miss Austen Regrets tells the story of her final years, examining why, despite setting the standard for romantic fiction, she died having never married or met her own Mr. Darcy.
This is one of the most realistic film portraits of Jane Austen, at least the closest to what we really know about her, since it is tightly based on the few letters left to her sister Cassandra and to her young niece Fanny .
Everybody knows Jane Austen never married and this good biographical TV movie wonders whether she minded - how this spinster lady felt about the absence of a real Mr Darcy in her life.

The story is based on the fact that Jane Austen did receive a proposal of marriage from a wealthy young neighbour. And she accepted! She actually said yes to him - until after a long night of discussion with her sister Cassandra, she changed her mind. This intriguing decision inspired the story of "Miss Austen Regrets".
I especially appreciate the intelligent truthful look at Austen's life of this BBC Drama. It is, of course, one of my favourites in my dvd collection.
By the way ... what I always try to convey to my students, introducing Jane Austen's novels to them, is ... the idea that they are not going to deal with "romance-like stuff" . Jane Austen's world is other than that. She is a master of irony and watching her world through her smart eyes, we can perceive her disanchanted vision of a man/woman possible relationship: reading carefully through her novels, you realize she's absolutey unsentimental and deeply aware of her sex's secondary role in that man-centred society. What she did not do was to give in, to accept her destiny silently. She wrote and she reveiled her disappointment, through her ironic stingy criticism , to whole generations of thankful readers.
Surfing the Net in search for interesting materials or books about one of my best-loved writers, I've found this post you MUST read - "Run mad as often as you chuse, but do not faint" . It is in a very good blog about books, movies, dvds. If you want to have a look at it , click here: "In Training For a Heroine".

What about you? Which one of the two outlooks on Jane's personality do you prefer? Which of the two film portraits do you think is more similar to the "original"?

P.S. The flight goes on. Enjoy it!



Our flight goes on and, aboard, we meet an English comic actor who lives and works in Milan. His name's John Peter Sloan (on the left). I've seen him on TV recently and I've also found the transcript of one of his performances in a magazine today. It made me laugh to tears.
Well, being an Italian citizen I might have felt mocked or even offended but ... not at all ... it was fun!

Here's the text. I hope you'll enjoy it.

"One morning David and I went to London's Heathrow Airport and boarded a plane for Milan. As expected, there were Italian and English passengers aboard. The English read newspapers, while the Italians happily protested about London prices and how bad the food was ...except for a large Italian lady who said: "I love London! I lose five kilos every time I go there. Forget diets! If you want to stop eating too much, just go to London for a week!" Everything was going very well, until, suddenly, a strong wind started to move the plane: up and down, up and down we went and everybody was very afraid. Then suddenly I saw something strange: the Italian men were putting their hands on a very delicate part of their anatomy. "Why are they doing that?" I asked David. "I don't know" he said "Maybe for protection". "Protection? David, if Iwant to protect a part of my body, I will protect my face, don't you think?" "John " he said patiently, "if this plane goes down, I don't think it's important which part of your body you're protecting!" "Well, I think it's important!" I protested "because I will be protecting my face so, if we crash, at least thay can identify me!" David considered this for a moment, then said: "Well, maybe in Italy men are identified by their..." "What?" I said "I hope you're joking, David!" Finally we arrived in Italy and everybody aboard the plane prepared for landing. The Italian ladies closed their eyes and talked softly, while the Italian men put their hands back in that sacred place I mentioned before.


When the plane touched the ground the Italians stopped breathing for a few seconds. Then, when the plane finally stopped, something very strange happened: all Italians started clapping loudly! "Why are they applauding the pilot?" I asked. "It was a very normal landing." "Because they appreciate a good driver," said David, and he started to applaud the pilot, too! "What are you doing?" I asked. "John we're in Italy: come on!" Outside the airport we couldn't find a single taxi , so we decided to take a bus. It was an experience I will never forget. First of all , we were on the wrong side of the road, so we were nervous from the start. The bus driver was incredible. He took us through total pandemonium. Motorbikes were coming out from every direction and many cars didn't stop at red lights. "My God!" I said "why do they have traffic lights in this country? Are they simply to add a little colour to the roads? " For one desperate second I considered putting my hands in that sacred place. Then I said, "Wow, if they applauded the pilot on the plane what will they do for this driver? They will kiss his face!"


David looked at me. His face was was unusually white. He said, "If we are all still alive, yes," but the incredible thing was that the Italians were very calm and the men had their hands in vey normal places: on their newspapers and their cell phones. When, at long last, we reached our destination, the bus stopped. The moment we stopped David and I jumped up and applauded very enthusiastically, "Woo, hoooo! You are a hero, man!!! YEEEES!!!! You are number one! You are number one!"

Then we realised, with a lot of embarassment, that we were the ONLY people on the bus showing our appreciation for the driver!"

(from SPEAK UP, February 2009)
Enjoy the flight!


To fly high we need a good take off! An expert pilot knows how to start the engine properly ... Since our flight is and will be made up of words, what about a short beautiful poem by Edgar Lee Masters?

In youth my wings were strong and tireless,

But I did not know the mountains.

In age I knew the mountains

But my weary wings could not follow my vision.

Genius is wisdom and youth.

("Alexander Throckmorton" from SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY)

Enjoy the flight.