Okay I’m back. Thanks for giving me a night to pull it together. I drank my blueberry tea, I watched half of Boston Legal (kind of a silly episode but I wasn’t looking for major intellectual stimulation) and now after spending my morning at the dentist (can you believe that I’m still getting cavities at 33?) I’m ready to talk about Italy.
Let’s start with the train ride up to Milan. Brenda and I shared a sleeper car with a woman and her two daughters. My guess is that the children were about 8 and 13, the 13 year old (Luccia) being the only one in the family who spoke any English and it was minimal. They were all very pleasant although Luccia was clearly sick with the flu or the like which unfortunately was something the two of us had in common. It just figures that I would get sick right before arriving in Milan where the bulk of my book publicity was to take place, but I digress. Luccia’s mother doted on her by covering her up with a blanket and providing her with a nice warm cup of….espresso. As a general rule Americans don’t think of coffee as something they should give to their young children. Furthermore the only time that I don’t crave caffeine is when I’m sick. When miserable I prefer to be spacey rather than hyper alert, but then again I’m just a dumb American who has probably been unduly influenced by puritanical ideals so what do I know? Anyway at one point Luccia asked me if I was on vacation. I doubted that either of us knew enough of one another’s language for me to verbally explain to her that I was on a book tour so rather than try I pulled Sesso, Omicidi E Cappuccino out of my suitcase and showed her the photo of me on the back.
I swear to God you would have thought I had just told her I was a rock star. Her eyes lit up and she asked me as many questions as her English would allow. I figured that the nice thing to do would be to write a personalized inscription in the book, autograph it and give it to her. It really was a small gesture but once again Luccia’s reaction was huge. She actually clapped her hands together, stood up and pulled me into a warm hug. Keep in mind that unlike many Californians Italians don’t hug every stranger they meet on the street. When they do hug someone it means something. She even went out to the dining car and brought me back an espresso to “help (me) get better.” I accepted the drink but to be honest it was Luccia’s enthusiasm and kindness that improved my mood.
Anyway when we arrived in Milan it was pouring down rain. There was thunder, lightning…the works. Nothing like having the flu and being soaking wet. My publisher had told me that I was going to be staying at The Jolly Hotel in Piazza Della Republica. According to their brochures they are the largest hotel chain in Italy which makes the poster they have behind the front desk all the more amusing. It has a picture of the hotel and written across the bottom in big bold letters are the words, "The Jolly Hotel Has Never Looked So British." Usually while traveling abroad I take pains to avoid American hotels and restaurants. After all, I get to have the American experience all the time, why would I want to try to imitate it in Italy? But on the other hand I found that the idea of having a British experience in Italy rather amusing.
After a day of rest and a lot of cold medication I managed to pull myself together for the book signings. Paola Pravsdelli (Marketing Manager of Harlequin Mondadori) and Stefano (head of Sales for Harlequin Mondadori) met me at my hotel and took me to three different bookstores within the city. For the most part Paola acted as a translator whenever I needed to talk to the bookstore employees or customers but at the second to last bookstore the manager wanted to talk to me directly despite his weak grasp of the English language. Here’s the thing; when there’s a language barrier it’s hard to subtly lead up to a subject. So seemingly out of the blue he turned to me, creased his forehead and asked, “Do you like President Bush?”
Despite the fact that I have strong opinions about the Bush administration I’m usually pretty good at side stepping this question while promoting my novel. Nothing can screw up a chick lit book signing like a political debate. However his question took me so off guard that it triggered a knee jerk reaction and I answered quickly and emphatically (perhaps a little too emphatically) with a one word answer. Fortunately I think my answer was the correct one (in his eyes) and Paola later told me that my honest response was refreshing and helped undermine the stereotype that chick lit authors don’t know anything about politics. So for the record: I do know something about politics and if you want to know how I feel about Bush and why you can either email me privately or go to Milan and ask the bookstore managers.
When I was done signing the stock Paola made an announcement to the group. “Kyra and I are going shopping for ten minutes.”
This was news to me but I didn’t object. I mean not shopping while in Milan is like not gambling while in Vegas. So I happily accompanied Paola to her favorite clothing store where ten minutes quickly turned into 20 and by the time we were done I had about 100 less euros to keep track of.
Okay, flash forward to dinner with Stefano and Paola at La Dolce Vita Caffé. The food was amazing and I ate everything they put in front of me. Stefano and Paola were thrilled since apparently the other American authors they had treated out in the past had declined to finish their meals. My hunch is that they were trying to distance themselves from the gluttonous American stereotype but in doing so they unknowingly diminished the pleasure of their hosts. Fortunately for them I had no intention of giving a negative stereotype the power to prevent me from consuming a divine meal. When we had finished Stefano beamed and threw up his hands, “You eat like an Italian!”
It was a great compliment, particularly since Italians eat in a much healthier manner than most Americans. They don’t snack throughout the day on junk food, their servings are small and their sauces are light. They don’t indulge all the time but when they do they do it right. Most shun Coca-Cola Light and opt instead to have a very occasional regular Coke. If they’re going to have a cappuccino they’re going to use whole milk not the 1%-fat stuff we have here or (God forbid) Soy Milk. And because I did eat like an Italian while in Italy I managed to lose four pounds.
But I’m getting off track. Before dinner ended I asked Stefano what authors sold well in Italy. He sat back and thought about it before rattling off a list. “Michael Connelly, Sophie Kinsella, Michael Moore, John Grisham…”
I held up my hand to stop him. “I’m sorry, but did you just say Michael Moore?”
“Michael Moore,” I said again, a little more skeptically.
“Yes, Michael Moore of Fahrenheit 9/11.”
“Oh…so books about American politics sell well here?”
“Yes, very well,” then Stefano hesitated before adding “as long as the author does not like Bush. The less they like him the better their sales.”
If that's true then Moore's sales must be higher than Dan Brown's and J.K. Rowling's put togehter.
This post is getting very long and I still have so much more to tell you. So I guess it will take me one more blog to wrap up my Italian trip. My mother has my son tomorrow afternoon so baring any unforeseen circumstances (which I know there’s been a lot of lately) I’ll post more tomorrow.
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