Readers of my memoir Aross the Big Blue Sea know about the courageous Syrian family who after a horrendous journey to Sicily stopped over at our refugee home in the Tuscan countryside. The plight of Syrians at home and in exile is at the base of poet, dissident and journalist Rash Omran's work. Omran, who has been living in exile in Egypt since 2012, will present her recent work this July in southern Tuscany. 

The reading will take place in the garden of beautiful palazzo Bracci in Montepulciano. The literary event is part of Montepulciano's longstanding Cantiere Internazionale d'Arte, the Tuscan wine town's art and music summer festival which is in its 42nd edition. 

Portraits of poet Rasha Omran, writer Kim Echlin and musician Ashti Abdo

DEFY SILENCE - SFIDARE IL SILENZIOPoetry, music and translation between war and exile
Rasha Omran, Kim Echlin and Ashti Abdo in Montepulciano
Monday, July 17, 2017 - 9.15pm
Palazzo Bracci, via delle Case Nuove, Montepulciano. 

Rasha Omran has been invited for the first Writer to Writer residency by the newly set up Palazzo Bracci association. Omran will read her poems in Arabic followed by the English translation by Canadian writer and translator Kim Echlin. The two writers will discuss Omran's work, the meaning of political activism and the influence of Omran's life in exile in Egypt. The event will be musically underlined by Italy based Kurdish Syrian musician Ashti Abdo. 


A Tuscan garden at sunset
A smartphone capture of the fairytale garden of Podere Genova in Monte Antico

Always wondered how to turn the technical limitations of your phone into inspiring photographs? Learn how to this spring in best location in southern Tuscany!

The award-winning Swedish photographer Sofija Torebo Strindlund will teach composition and use of light, shadows and color in the middle of a perfect Tuscan countryside setting. Sofija will also share her tips about smart accessories, techniques for special effects and teach editing skills using a bunch of apps directly on participants' mobile devices. 

Theory sessions will be mixed with hands-on exercises and practice of landscape, portrait, still life and lifestyle photography. Along the way, there will be some traditional Swedish "fika" – just for the best possible outcome of course ;-). 

iPhoneography Workshop

Date: 15-16th of May 2017. Early bird to lunch and lunch to late night with the possibility to join just for one of the two days. 

Location: half an hour from Montalcino and 45 minutes from the Tuscan coastthe gorgeous Podere Genova in Monte Antico will provide the perfect setting with endless in- and outdoor photo options for this course. 

Price: 250 euro/person for the whole workshop (email for one-day rates). 

Contac: Sofija Torebo Strindlund - Email. Blog: ihpe.se Instagram: @toreboan


'Libreria' and 'Bookstore' signs on the wall of a bookstore in the Val d'Orcia

The crew behind The Florentine, Tuscany's most widely read English language newspaper, is fundraising for a bilingual Italian literature magazine. The Florentine Literary Review will be published for the first time in October 2016 and showcase the works of contemporary Italian writers in Italian and English translation. 

The launch of the new magazine made me think of #Italianliteratureweek, a hashtag project I had started a few years ago on Twitter to start a conversation about contemporary Italian literature available in English translation. The project was not much of a success. Most English speakers and Italy lovers I got in touch with on social media didn't know and read much Italian literature. Dante's 'Divine Comedy' kept popping up on my Twitter stream. I guess a lot of people have the book standing in their bookshelf, but - just like me - can never find the time to actually read it. 

The late Umberto Eco was another name, which was mentioned several times. Whether this was due to people remembering the film 'The Name of the Rose' or actually having read the book itself I couldn't figure out. The hashtag project was short lived - after all I just couldn't raise enough interest in the argument.  

But things have changed a little in the meantime mostly due to the widely translated books by Elena Ferrante which have taken the world by storm. The new and mysterious shooting star is helping Italy's contemporary literature to get a better rep and raised the interest for Italian writers who are alive and kicking.

two Italian books and a cappuccino on a wooden table
Two of the lovely books by Florentine author Pietro Grossi (both available in English translation)

For Italy travelers I have been recommending to pack the books of two contemporary writers for a while. Silvia Avallone's Swimming to Elba, which tells a working class story set in Piombino (the industrial town on the coast where the ferries leave for the island of Elba) and manages to remind the reader that life here isn't always Under the Tuscan Sun. In a similar vein Accabadora, by Sardinian writer Michela Murgia, tells a much darker story of her homeland than the azure and crystal clear waters we normally associate with the island paradise she has grown up on. (More reading tips for a Tuscan beach holiday are provided in my Castiglione della Pescaia post.)

Finding a readership is never an easy task (I'm writing a book myself and am painfully aware of this right now). And finding a readership in translation is even worse. But books by local writers let adventurous readers discover unknown worlds behind closed doors that the average tourist doesn't often gain access to.

Hence, I can't wait to read my first copy of the Florentine Literary Review. I've already got my ticket for the FLR launch in the heart of Florence this autumn. And you are still in time to support the project by getting yours (or a subscription to the magazine) on Indiegogo.

See you there!


I'm writing a book.

A computer on a table on a terrace with a view in Tuscany

I know I said the same thing in my last post six months ago, but - rather annoyingly- that's still what I do.

It takes an infuriating amount of time to get all these words onto the screen. And once the words are on there, they start, just like my kids, to behave unruly and look badly spelt (spelled?), and it takes another infuriating (used same word already above) amount of time (synonym for time?) to tease them into a an attractive form and lovely singsong that hopefully - one day not too far - you people may want to read.

On a less artistic level I also spend a lot of time running after the pages of the manuscript, which, once gone with the wind, tend to get chewed up by our neighbour's sheep. That's one more reason why the Map It Out Tuscany, Siena and Montalcino blogs have turned into a sort of wasteland lately. Luckily, I planted a few sturdy succulents long ago, which keep this blog alive even though wasn't around here much already during the year before starting work on the manuscript. I was far too busy then with living through the story the book will tell - a story that focuses on the daily ups and downs of the workings of a refugee home in a Tuscan hilltop town and my experience in the midst of it.  

Migration and the so called 'refugee crisis' and the impact of the two on a small village and an improvised shelter in the Tuscan hinterland are the main topics of the book. If complicated (intricate?) matters like these speak to you, bear with me. I'm going to publish The Trouble with Helping (working title) in English in autumn 2016, and further down the lane also in Italian and German.

Drop me an email, if you'd like to be informed once the The Trouble with Helping is ready to roll. Just write 'book news' or something similar in the header and I'll add you to the mailing list. I know there are clever apps out there that would make it easier for you to sign up to my book list, but I haven't had the nerves yet to figure them out. Because - as I said - I'm sitting here typing away. 

UPDATE WINTER 2017: 'Across the Big Blue Sea: Good Intentions and Hard Lessons in an Italian Refugee Home' will be published in February 2017. More info on the book website: www.acrossthebigbluesea.com

A dog, a cat and a table with a Tuscan view
If only they could write it for me.

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