Saving the Griffin
Play-by-Play Field Events
Images of Merano and reflections on writing
a novel set in another culture.
Irene's balcony (second from top)
When I moved to Merano in January of 1998, I
knew how to use 100 Italian verbs in about 4 different tenses. If
people spoke slowly, I could catch about 75% of what they said.
But when they spoke rapidly. I could only hear the English equrivalents
of me, the, is, was, he, and she. Despite that, my good friend and
fellow writer, Jeanie Ransom, couldn't believe that I was working
on a mystery set in St. Charles County
Via Roma: The street outside Irene's school.
The mountains are 6000 feet high.
|"You're living in a place where Heidi could
come leaping out at any moment calling, "Grandfather! Grandfather!"
and you're writing about Missouri?" she asked.
I explained that I didn't have enough local knowledge to write
about Merano yet, but I might someday. After all, when Ernest Hemingway
was living in Paris, he was writing about Michigan.
The Kursaal: The concert hall on the Passeggiata. Irene and her nonna
ate gelato nearby.
|Months passed. My understanding of Italian and Italians
improved. My kids were attending local schools. For awhile, I helped
them with their homework. By the end of the first year, their grasp
of the Bella Lingua (Beautiful Language) was much better than mine.
They sounded like little Italian kids while their father and I sounded
like Americans. Through meeting my children's friends and listening
to their school stories, I gained a window into the local culture.
Gretchen, Sara and Calvin were my chief technical experts when
I started in on Defending Irene, they patiently helped with insults,
attitudes and slang.
Along the Passirio. Irene rode her bike to practice. When the river
flooded, it reached all the way up the dark section of the bridge
|Usually characters don’t come to me in visions,
but Irene did. I was talking to the manager of my son’s Italian
soccer club for an article with Soccer Jr. I observed that no girls
seemed to make it past first or second grade in his program. He assured
me that if girls wanted to play that he would let them, but there
probably wasn’t one woman in the city of Merano who could play
soccer. I had an image of a skilled American girl player showing up
at his clubhouse with cleats and shin-guards. I already had his promise
that he would let her play. I wondered what would happen next.
||Because Merano belonged to the Austro-Hungarian
Empire until the end of World War I, its architecture looks like something
out of The Sound of Music. The main shopping street, the Portici,
dates back 800 years.
Due to my height and light brown hair--in Italy, I'm actually considered
to a blonde--most shopkeepers assumed that I was a German tourist
and addressed me in that way. I finally learned how to make change
and basic small talk in German so I wouldn't have to say, "I
am an American. Please speak Italian" all the time.
Relations always seemed fairly cordial between the native German
and Italian speakers. It took time before we discovered some of
the underlying tensions between the two groups although there were
many people of good will on both sides.