Thursday, December 19, 2013

Book Signing Today!

George is conducting a book discussion and signing for HUSH, BOY at The Twig Book Shop in
San Antonio's Pearl Brewery Complex TODAY  from 5 PM to 7 PM. Come by The Twig to get your own author signed copy of this exciting new novel about the joys and the trials of growing up in the Deep South in the 1930s and 40s. Afterward you might treat yourself and someone special to  a festive dinner at one of The Pearl's many fine restaurants.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

HUSH, BOY Meets Its Home Town

Recent book discussion and signing events in Valdosta, Georgia brought HUSH, BOY face to face with its setting. A reception allowed some of the Valdosta High School Class of 1949, to whom the book is dedicated, to have a look at fictional events based upon their own coming of age. Several members of the author's family joined the fun.

The Lowndes County Historical Society was represented and added HUSH, BOY to its library.

A few of the VHS Class of 1949...

...and some of the author's family members.

Next day a book signing was held at the South Georgia Public Library.

 Lively book discussion at the modern library...and a long lost cousin (the daughter of one of HUSH, BOY's characters, reappears.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Busy Weekend at Texas Book Festival

Attentive crowds were constant at the Writers' League of Texas booth at last weekend's Book
Festival on the Capitol grounds in Austin. Here are a few photos of HUSH, BOY's involvement in the celebration.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Texas Book Festival - This Weekend

Anybody in the vicinity of Austin this weekend should come by the Texas Book Festival on the Capitol grounds today and tomorrow. It promises to be a gala event celebrating all things literary. Among book festivals it has a prestigious reputation.

George will be discussing and signing his novel, HUSH, BOY, tomorrow (Sunday) at the Writers' League of Texas Booth (#414-415) from noon to one o'clock. It'd be great to see all of you there.

Monday, October 21, 2013

San Antonio Book Release Party

Here are a few photos from HUSH, BOY's recent gala release party at the home of Mr. Roxie Montesano in San Antonio.


Good friends celebrated the release event, enjoyed selected readings from the book, and took home author-signed copies of HUSH, BOY.

Friday, October 4, 2013

2013 Texas Book Festival

George is scheduled to sign copies of HUSH, BOY at the Writers' League of Texas booth at the 2013 Texas Book Festival on Sunday, October 27 at 12 PM. This prestigious two-day event in held on the grounds of the state capitol in Austin. It's expected to be attended by thousands of book lovers.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Date Correction

The correct date for the Valdosta Public Library book signing is Sunday, October 13. The event will be from 2 PM to 5 PM.

Monday, September 30, 2013

More HUSH, BOY Events!

In addition to next weekend's Release Party in San Antonio, George has scheduled a book discussion and signing at The Twig Book Shop in San Antonio's Pearl Brewery Complex on Saturday, October 19 at 11 AM. (Note The Twig's new location in the complex.)

Much of this novel takes place in and around Valdosta, Georgia. Also scheduled are a Book Release Celebration at Valdosta's Marriott Courtyard at 6 PM on Saturday, October 12 and a book discussion and signing at the Valdosta Public Library at 2 PM on Sunday, October 12.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

HUSH, BOY moves ahead!

HUSH, BOY's Kindle as well as print editions are both now available at Sales of the print edition are beginning to trickle in. A small number of close friends will be gathering for a book release celebration in San Antonio on Sunday afternoon, October 6. Books will be available for signing and George will read selected scenes during the celebration.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

HUSH, BOY published!

I've returned from foreign travels and completed my review of HUSH, BOY's proof. The book was published on September 10, and it's available right now at The print edition is also available at, and the Kindle edition will be available at Amazon in about a week.
Stay tuned for news about upcoming book release events in San Antonio and in Valdosta, Georgia.

Monday, August 12, 2013

HUSH, BOY nearing release

I will be travelling in Austria and Ukraine for the next three weeks, so no more chapters of
Tomas Bozen will be posted until afterward.
But I do have great news. I'm in the midst of reviewing the printer's proof of my new novel, HUSH, BOY. I expect to complete the review while travelling and the book should be ready for release by mid-September. This novel tells the story of a young boy growing up in the Deep South of the U.S. in the 1930s and 40s. Young Jonathan Harding relates some of the joys and sorrows of trying to become an adult in that time and that place.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Tomás Bozen - Chapter 6

Here's a new chapter in my novel in progress. Read and enjoy some of Tomás's adventures in the vicinity of Bolzano. I'd appreciate your comments about the characters or the story after you read this new chapter.


Tomás stretched out in bed to his full six-foot height. He liked the smooth feel of the crisp hotel sheets gliding over his naked body. He’d slept late in a most unusual hotel room. Sun beamed in through dormer windows set in the high ceiling above the sleeping loft. The other side of the king size bed was empty, but a rounded depression in the pillow reminded Tomás of who had been there before she left for the day’s meetings. He grinned, then buried his face in the depression and sucked in the essence she’d left behind. Nice….

Magdalena had driven the two of them to Bolzano in her Audi 80 Cabrio roadster. She had chosen the hotel, Albergo Greif, on Viale Stazione a half block from Piazza Walther in central Bolzano. She’d registered in both their names, but used her own credit card. Their spacious modern room on the hotel’s second upper floor was surprising. Tomás had expected something simpler, smaller. Decorated in modern Scandinavian style, the room was split into two levels with an open stairway leading up to a large sleeping loft. A pair of tall windows overlooking the street below gave the room a light, airy feeling. The whole place smelled clean and fresh, thanks to a diligent housekeeping crew. Tomás liked that…quite a change from his student digs.

Small copies of lesser-known art works, some of them overtly pornographic, hung in a groupings on a couple of the walls. Tomás imagined this sexy room would surely help him realize his hopes for a new kind of relationship with the beautiful Magdalena.

On the evening of their arrival in Bolzano, after a light meal at the nearby restaurant called La Torcia, Magdalena had ordered a bottle of the local Pinot Grigio for the room. The gentle wine went down easily as the two planned ways to share information from the restoration symposium. They talked about Tomás’s family and growing up in Ravenna. Magdalena told him of her own childhood in Modena and the tragedy of her parents death in an autostrada crash when she was fourteen years old.

They laughed together at some of the acrobatic sexual positions depicted in the prints on the room’s walls. Later, they had enjoyed every millimeter of the room’s large bed, sometimes mimicking the positions they had laughed about.

Next morning, Tomás threw aside the sheet and feather tick comforter. He stood next to the bed, stretched, and ran both hands through his hair—dark, thick, wavy hair that echoed his Italian heritage. Unfortunately, the only bathroom was on the lower level. Padding naked down the creaky stairs from the loft, scratching the scattering of dark hair on his chest, Tomás went into the bathroom and emptied his full bladder. He climbed into the oversized bathtub, closed the curtain and turned on the shower. “Ow,” he screamed, “Caldo! Troppo caldo!”

Water too hot was never a problem in the student apartment he shared in Bologna. He felt lucky when the water in that crowded bathroom was even warm—hot never happened. Toweling his taut body after the shower, Tomás smiled at remembering how things had worked out with Magdalena.  He loved her—he knew that for certain now. He wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, sleep with her every single night. Be with her every single day.

Alone until late afternoon when Magdalena returned from her symposium, he decided to see some of Bolzano’s sights, things he could tell Magdalena about in the evening, things they could laugh about together. The October day was cool and clear, so he dressed in jeans, a tee shirt and a pullover sweater, then took the elevator down to the hotel’s breakfast room.

“Buon giorno,” a smiling young woman said as she waved him toward a table in the corner of the room. “Caffé?

Buon giorno. Si, caffé e latte, per favore.

Tomás put his bulky room key fob on the table and walked over to the buffet. He chose orange juice, an assortment of cheeses and meats, and butter with orange marmalade to spread on a hard roll. Small pitchers of coffee and warm milk were on the table when he returned. Half way through the breakfast, he became aware of a growing sense of dread. Something he couldn’t explain, a general worry about nothing in particular. What could it be? It was a fine day, he had a beautiful woman, exploring Bolzano lay ahead. Nothing could be wrong. Yet, he couldn’t shake that feeling—a premonition that something bad was going to happen.

Back in the hotel lobby he decided he’d better call home, make sure the family was alright. He dialed Ravenna on his cell phone. Right away he heard his mother’s, “Pronto.”

“How are you, Mama? I’m spending a few days in Bolzano with my professor.”

“Tomás! I’m fine, son. What are you doing in Bolzano?”

“How is Papa? Is everybody else okay?”

“We’re all fine—why do you ask?

“No special reason, just wondered. Like I told you, I’m in Bolzano and I….”

 “Bolzano! Oh my god, Tomás.” He heard the faint click of Mama’s rosary beads slipping out of her pocket. “Are you okay? I saw a report on TV about some kind of trouble in the mountains around Bolzano. You be careful up there.”

“What kind of trouble, Mama? What did you hear?”

“I don’t know, son. You know how I am with the news—never pay much attention unless it’s right here…. Tomás, I didn’t know you were going to Bolzano.”

“I didn’t know either, until a little while ago, or I’d have told you. I’ll probably be back in Bologna by the end of the week. How is Papa doing? Are his legs better?”

“Much better. He’s working every day on one of the old buildings in the Piazza del Popolo. It’s an important restoration and they need good stone masons for the job.”

“And Papa’s the best, for sure. Give him a kiss for me.”

“Okay, son. Just you be careful. Find out about that trouble in the mountains, and stay away from there. Ask somebody. They can tell you what it is.”

“I will, Mama. Hug everybody at home for me. Think about me when you make the pumpkin ravioli this week. Ciao, Mama. I love you. A più tardi.

Tomás clicked off the cell phone. What could Mama be talking about? Trouble in the mountains? Something on the news? He asked the desk clerk if he knew anything about it, and the clerk told him there’d been a minor earthquake somewhere up in the mountains. Not really close to Bolzano. Farther east, near the border, somewhere around Cortina.

“Earthquake?” Tomás said. “Anybody hurt?”

“No. No injuries reported. No significant damage. Just a little rumble, un terremotito.”

Reassured, Tomás tried to push Mama’s worries aside and forget about his own sense of foreboding. He left the hotel and walked to Piazza Walther for a look at the square and the cathedral on its western side. The Gothic duomo’s patterned green and yellow roof and its tall bell tower decorated with elaborate carvings glistened in the bright morning sun. In the center of the piazza a marble monument stood tall, depicting the German poet, Walther von der Vogelweide, for whom the piazza was named. People milled about here and there, some shopping, some sipping a midmorning espresso at out-of-doors tables, others just seated in the warming sunlight.

Plantings of white alyssum and red geraniums brightened the corners of the piazza, and its far end included the stalls of a colorful fruit and vegetable market. Locals carrying shopping bags worried over a huge assortment of everything from oranges, shallots, and artichokes to beans, peaches, and peppers, looking for the ripest specimens. Braids of garlic and mesh bags of lemons hanging from the overhead beams gave the whole market a crisp fragrance. Some shoppers bargained for blooming pots of tulips or cyclamen for a sunny windowsill, or for a bunch of cut sunflowers to fill a vase.

The air flowing down from the mountains was cooler than Tomás expected, but the sunny day and the bright blue sky buoyed his spirits and made it easy to forget his premonitions and enjoy the adventure. He walked on  through the piazza to Via dei Portici, a broad shopping street lined with arcaded buildings, shops, and sidewalk cafés, where he continued toward the destination that drew him like a magnet,  the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology. He felt compelled to have a look at Ötzi, the five thousand year old “Iceman” found years before in the Alps north of Bolzano. His boyhood questions about the Iceman, his might-have-been ancestor, still burned inside him, and this museum was exactly what he needed to extinguish that fire. He hadn’t told Magdalena about his obsession with that frozen relic, hadn’t told her how the Iceman’s story had consumed him for almost a decade of his life.

Laughing at remembering how he’d fretted over whether the Ice Man might be his own modern relative, Tomás spotted the multistory museum at the corner of Via Museo. Converted from a 19th century bank to house a museum displaying the archeology of the region, the building’s fancy brickwork on the lower floor was a flashback to that earlier time. The museum had become the permanent home of Ötzi, the Iceman in 1998.

Inside the building, Tomás hurried past the museum’s general archeology exhibits to reach the display of things related to Ötzi himself. He was surprised to learn the Iceman might not actually have been naked. True, the body looked naked when he was found, but excavation of his frozen resting place also uncovered a fur robe, a cape, a furry cap, and shoes made of leather and grass. A copper-bladed ax and a flint dagger were found nearby, and a fur quiver contained a bow and several arrows. 

Reading the museum’s wall-mounted displays, he discovered scientists had estimated Ötzi’s age at death to have been about 45 years. His copper axe was of particular interest, since it was several centuries older than copper smelting technology was believed to have existed in Europe. X-rays of the mummy’s joints had showed signs of wear and tear, and investigators speculated that the sets of short parallel lines tattooed on his body could be related to primitive pain relief treatments similar to acupuncture.

One of the displays detailed analysis of pollen and dust grains found in Ötzi’s body. That analysis and the minerals in his tooth enamel suggested that he spent his childhood in the Isarco River Valley north of Bolzano, somewhere near the present-day village of Feldthurns. “My god,” Tomás said out loud. “That’s not much more than twenty-five kilometers from right here. My dad grew up in Feldthurns. My uncles and cousins still live there.” Nearby museum visitors looked at him with frowns, until he said, “Mi dispiace, signori. Mio Papà…. ” The frowns turned to smiles. One stranger patted him on the shoulder and said, “Va bene.”

Wandering on, Tomás finally reached the Iceman himself. The museum displayed the frozen body in a climate controlled chamber replicating the glacier in which Ötzi was found. A thick glass window allowed visitors to view the body directly. The man was naked after all.

Tomás was beside himself. At long last he was looking at the real thing, the Iceman’s mummified corpse, the corpse that had haunted his waking hours for so long, the corpse he felt more certain than ever was his own ancestor. Maybe those tattoos were not medical treatments, maybe they were artistic decorations, maybe Ötzi was an early Italian artist. All of those thoughts strengthened his feeling of kinship with the frozen Iceman. He found the prehistoric man’s excellent state of preservation a gratifying tribute to the glacier and to modern technology. He smiled when he realized Ötzi was in better condition than some of the ancient paintings Magdalena had shared with him.

A couple of hours in the museum satisfied Tomás he’d learned all there was to know about the Iceman. He felt a little hungry when he left the building, so he stopped in a small café to have a cheese and tomato pizza and a glass of beer. Wary of adding to his credit card balance, he opted for paying the few Euros in cash. After the pizza it was still early, so he went looking for another thing that intrigued him about Bolzano.

He walked to the far end of town, to the valley station of the Funivia del Renon, a 4,600 meter cable car that carried visitors up the mountain to the resort village of Soprabolzano in a little more than ten minutes. Mama had warned him to stay away from the mountains, but this was too good an opportunity to pass up. Tomás was surprised to find the signage in and around the funivia was bilingual, Italian and German. Makes sense, he thought. Bolzano’s less than sixty-five kilometers from the Austrian border. He had no problem getting used to the bilingual idea—he just ignored the German words, concentrated on the Italian.

He paid the fare in cash, just about depleting his wallet. The 35-passenger cable car was practically empty, only one group on board—they looked like parents and their two young children, a boy and a girl, on a family outing. The boy was probably about six years old, the girl a little younger. When Tomás took a seat opposite the family the little boy grinned at him and said, “Buon giorno.” His mother smiled and nodded. The boy’s father said nothing, he leaned near a window and seemed to be studying the heavy coach’s supporting cables.

As the car soared out of the station and climbed over the edge of the city, Tomás admired the green mountain scenery. Minutes later he could see snow covered alps to the north and, far below, the tall, beige, steeple-like rock formations known as Piramidi di terra. Everything was quiet, peaceful—incredibly beautiful high in the air like that. Quiet and peaceful until suddenly, without warning, the car jolted to a halt and began to sway wildly from side-to-side. Tomás could see they were no more than two hundred meters from the mountain station. What the hell? The thing was not supposed to stop until it reached that destination.

The family sitting across from him went berserk, both children crying, the woman screaming at her husband in Italian. “I told you this was not a good day for the cable car. That earthquake is not finished, not yet. I told you it was too soon, but no, you said it was alright—and look where it got us.” She hugged her children close and rolled her eyes skyward, as if preparing to die. “Mother of God, hear my prayer.” She crossed herself, practically choking her daughter by the movement of her arm. “In the name of Jesus, fruit of thy womb, protect my babies. Keep us safe.
Her husband acted paralyzed with fear. White-knuckled, his hands grasped the back of his seat so hard his fingers dug into the fake leather covering. The man was wild-eyed but he did nothing, said nothing. He sat motionless, staring at the floor like he’d willed himself somewhere far away from the crippled cable car.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Tomás Bozen -- Chapter 5

Tomás is still in Bologna, but that is soon to change. Enjoy another chapter--and leave me some feedback in a Comment.


 Tomás was a good student. By the end of the first semester his hard work had caught the notice of the university faculty and won him an internship in art restoration at the Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna’s huge art museum. Already a great fan of the Pinacoteca, Tomás was overjoyed. For two semesters he would work under the tutelage of Magdalena Carbonesi, the museum’s principal restoration expert.

Professor Carbonesi, born in nearby Modena, was a rising star in the world of art restoration. Only six years older than Tomás, she had clawed her way upward through the Bologna museum’s restoration hierarchy and quickly reached its top ranks.

 Tomás marveled at the great opportunity the internship represented. As soon as he received the award he telephoned Ravenna to share the good news. “I’ll be working right alongside Professor Carbonesi in the restoration lab for two whole semesters, Mama. She’s a real pro in art restoration. Be sure to tell Papà how important that is for me.”

 “She?” Mama said. “How old is this Carbonesi woman, Tomás? Is she married?”

 “She’s around thirty, more or less. I don’t know if she’s married, Mama. Why does that matter?”

 “I don’t like my baby running around with an older woman.”

“Aw, Mama, I won’t be running around with her. She’ll be my teacher. Don’t worry about that stuff—I’m a big boy now.”

Tomás decided his big news deserved a special dinner to celebrate with his roommates. After his conversation with Mama, he left the university early and stopped by a grocer near the apartment to pick up some pane, parmigiano, and pasta. He chose farfalle for the pasta because he thought the little butterflies looked festive. He selected funghi, carne, and pomodori to use in a rich Bolognese sauce for his pasta, and he selected the cheapest bottle of vino rosso he could find. They kept a supply of olive oil, garlic, onions, and spices at the apartment on San Vitale for those rare times when one of them made dinner at home. For dessert Tomás picked a large container of gelato con nocciola—hazelnut was his personal favorite.

Roberto was the first of his roommates to come home that evening. “Oh, man,” he called from the front door, “something smells mighty good.” Homing in on the kitchen, he said, “Yo, Tomás, I didn’t know you were a cook, man. Where’d you learn all this stuff?”

“Don’t worry about it, Roberto. I have a Mama, I learned a few things. Dinner’ll be ready as soon as the others get here. Open that bottle of wine for me, will you?”

Vino, too. What are we celebrating—did you get laid or something?”

“I’ll tell you all about it later. Just open the wine.”

 Giuseppe and Lucrezia were equally impressed with Tomás’s work in the kitchen. Puzzled by the mystery of it all, they sat in the dining room sipping wine and trying to figure out what was going on. Finally, after Tomás served the pasta, Lucrezia said, “Okay, Tomás, we can’t wait any longer. Tell us what this is all about. You made us a lovely dinner, and we appreciate it…but why?”

Roberto said, “Yeah, why did you do it, man?” He winked at Giuseppe. “I told him I think he got laid and wants to celebrate the big event.”

“Hush up. That’s enough of that,” Luci said.

Giuseppe touched Tomás’s arm. “Come on—it’s nothing like that, is it? Tell us Tomás—tell us why you did all this?”

Tomás told them about his good fortune. He shared all the details of winning the internship starting the next semester. “I’ll be working full time with Professor Magdalena Carbonesi at the museum. Her reputation is the greatest and it’ll be my first real taste of art restoration. Not only that, guys, but I’ll get university credits at the same time.”

“Well, congratulations,” Lucrezia said, raising her glass in a toast. “We’re all happy for you, aren’t we, guys?”

Glad the waiting was over and eager for another drink of wine, the others joined in the toast. Roberto said, “Yeah, man, that’s really great.”

Giuseppe refilled all their glasses, draining the wine bottle. He grinned and winked at Tomás. “I hear Professor Carbonesi is a real looker. Have you met her yet.”

“No. I’m supposed to go over there next week to talk to her.”

Lucrezia raised her eyebrows and cracked a little smile. “Well, I think I know who Carbonesi is. If I’m right, you’d better be careful, Tomás. From what I hear, she could be a real ball breaker.”

“What do you mean?”

“Nothing, really. But she’s not married—maybe she had a bad experience with a man; or maybe she just hates all men for some reason. She sure bulldozed her way to the top of her department in record time.”

Tomás knew his roommates’ comments were only half serious so he didn’t worry too much about any of them The museum internship was important to him. He was convinced growing up with his sister, Anna, had taught him everything he needed to know about getting along with troublesome women. He knew could handle any problems with Professor Carbonesi, but he was a little nervous when he went to her department at the Pinacoteca for their first meeting.

The restoration department was in a dark corner of the museum’s basement, not the kind of place most visitors would look for. Tomás had trouble finding Carbonesi’s office. After wandering through a maze of hallways reeking of turpentine and varnish he finally came to a closed door bearing her name on a small bronze plaque: Magdalena Carbonesi, PhD. He tapped on the door and waited. No answer. He knocked harder, then he heard a soft feminine voice say, “Come in, Mr. Bozen.”

Still edgy about the meeting, he pushed the door open. He was stunned for a moment by the looks of the woman he saw working at an easel on the other side of the room. The only natural light in the place came from a pair of high windows above the easel, sunlight that reflected like a halo from her dark brown hair. She was one of the most beautiful women Tomás had ever seen, not the professor type at all.  She looked younger than the thirty years he’d guessed, but there was nothing girlish about her. Tall and thin, her body was definitely womanly, even under the white lab coat she was wearing. She had pulled her hair back in a loose ponytail held in place by a small gold clasp. She turned from the easel and smiled at Tomás, her brown eyes sparkling like deep pools of dark liquid. Ball breaker? Not hardly—not this one.

“Professor Carbonesi, I’m Tomás Bozen. How’d you know it was me at the door?”

She pulled off a pair of latex gloves and glanced at a clock on the wall, then walked toward Tomás  with her hand extended. “It’s time for your appointment. I expected you to be prompt.”

He took her hand—small and soft he noticed. “Well, I do try. They told me I should see you about the internship I’ll be starting next semester.”

“Right. Your instructors gave you a fine recommendation, Bozen. They showed me some of your drawings, and I agree with them. I look forward to working with you. By the way, do call me Magdalena when we’re working. The Professor thing is a little too formal for me.”

The two talked for a while about the kinds of restorations they’d work on during Tomás’s internship. “You’ll have to be ready for long hours,” Magdalena said. “When I get started on a project I like to work on it day and night until it’s finished. It’s kind of like reading a good book—you can’t put it down until you know how it comes out.”

“I can do that. I look forward to the experience.”

“We may have to travel from time to time,” she said. “I do some work for Di Brera over in Milano and a few other museums.”

“Great, I’d like that. Have you studied the mosaics in Ravenna? That’s what first got me interested in Italian art—my father showed them to me a long time ago.”

Magdalena smiled. “Well we won’t be doing any mosaic work here, Tomás, but they are beautiful aren’t they? I know them well.”

Their conversation went on for half an hour. Magdalena showed him the painting she was working on—a very old canvas that had been damaged by rainwater from a roof leak. They talked about how they would work together on projects like that one and how she would teach him about the artists as well as all the techniques for restoration of paintings.

That evening Tomás brought home another bottle of wine and described every detail of his first meeting with Magdalena to his roommates, including her drop-dead good looks. Over the following weeks Roberto and Giuseppe created daily opportunities to tease him about his upcoming work with the beautiful professor. Lucrezia stayed quieter than the other two—no more talk about what she knew, or did not know, about Professor Carbonesi. The rest of the semester passed quickly. Tomás was excited as a schoolboy when it was finally time to report to the restoration department and begin the internship.

In a short time young Tomás himself became Magdalena’s pet project. She was comfortable working day and night alongside a handsome student in the museum’s restoration studios. Tomás was captivated by the professor and welcomed their growing closeness. She was never put off by his teasing flirtation.

From time to time she treated him to dinner at one of her favorite places, where elegant pastas and the wines of northern Italy replaced his usual student fare of mortadella, cheese, and beer. On one such occasion she took him to a popular restaurant on Via Mascarella in the heart of the city.  The place was called Cantina Bentivoglio, and it was only a fifteen minute walk from Tomás’s apartment on Via San Vitale, so they planned to meet at the restaurant. When he arrived he found Magdalena seated in the restaurant’s foyer. What the…? Magdalena was not alone.

When Tomás walked in, Magdalena stood up and gave him a casual hug. “Tomás, this is my roommate, Maria Garfalo. Maria teaches culinary arts and I wanted to show her this restaurant. They have a nice demonstration of some tricks of the trade for making pasta.”

“Oh hi, Maria,” he said, shaking her hand, then he frowned at Magdalena. “I thought we were going to eat. I didn’t know we had to make our own pasta.”

Magdalena laughed. “No, silly—we are going to eat, but first I want to go to the pasta demonstration. We’ll have dinner out here afterward—they usually have a few musicians playing acoustic jazz during dinner. You’ll like it, I think.”

The meeting room for the demonstration was decorated with examples of many kinds of dried pasta and the tools for making them, some modern, some historic. Chairs for a small group were arranged facing an over-sized table finished with fresh looking wood like a gigantic cutting board. Wooden rolling pins of several types were scattered about the table. After a while, a woman wearing a white uniform greeted them and demonstrated the art of combining semolina flour with eggs and a little olive oil and salt to create any kind of pasta you like. After mixing, kneading, rolling and cutting she hung the newborn pasta on wooden racks to dry.

Most of the demonstration was old hat to Tomás—he’d watched his Mama do things like that for years, but Maria had a few questions about the exact blend of ingredients and the techniques for rolling and cutting the pasta into a variety of shapes. She wanted advice about making flavored pastas using spinach, tomatoes, or red peppers, even strawberry pastas for dessert dishes.

Afterward they had dinner in the main dining room, listening to the wail of a saxophone accompanied by a single bass. Dinner was excellent—Tomás wondered out loud whether they ate the same pasta they saw being made. He was still peeved about Maria joining  them without advance warning, and about Magdalena humoring her with that boring pasta demonstration. He’d earlier allowed himself to fantasize that this might be the night he’d finally go home with Magdalena at the end of the evening.

 Roberto had planted that seed when Tomás told him where they were going for dinner. “Sweet music, good food, vino—sounds like a hot night to me, man.” But that was not to be. Instead of a hot night with Magdalena, Tomás had too much vino, and he was a little unsteady walking home alone after dinner. When he trudged nosily into the apartment Roberto was watching a mystery drama on TV. “What happened, man? You’re not supposed to be here. Did she kick you out?”

“No, Roberto. She didn’t kick me out. She brought her roommate to have dinner with us—not exactly a romantic night.”

“Roommate? A guy?”

No, not a guy. Her roommate’s a woman named Maria.”

“Oh well.” He grinned. “Two for the price of one—that’s hot, man. Maybe I can meet the roommate. Is she as cute as the professor?”

Tomás didn’t answer. He drug himself into his bedroom and fell across the bed without undressing. After a while Giuseppe tiptoed into the room and pulled off Tomás’s shoes, jacket, and trousers. He covered him with a blanket and turned off the light.

Tomás groaned when he awoke the next morning. His brain was in a fog. He stumbled out of his bedroom in his boxers to find Lucrezia for advice about curing a hangover. “That’s easy,” she said. “Just take two aspirin and I’ll make you a magic elixir that’ll do the trick in no time.”

“Magic elixir? What’s in it?”

“Nothing much. It’s just a big shot of whiskey in a tall glass of iced milk.”

“Yuk. I don’t want to be drunk, I just want to feel better.”

“Trust me, you’ll feel better. And, Tomás, don’t let Roberto’s crazy talk get you so excited next time. Magdalena Carbonesi is your teacher, not your lover. Don’t forget that, kiddo.”

“But she’s usually so nice to me, Luci.” He scratched he stubble on his chin. “I think I’m in love with her.”

“Oh boy,” Lucrezia said. “Sounds like big trouble to me. Just be careful, Tomás. You need somebody closer to your own age.”

Luci’s elixir did cure the hangover. Later Tomás wondered exactly what she had in mind when she said “somebody closer to your own age,” but he didn’t ask. Magdalena was not all that old, and sometimes, when they were alone in the restoration lab, she acted younger than Lucrezia.

He arrived at the museum later than usual that day. “I want to apologize, Professor Carbonesi.”

“Apologize? What for? You’re not late enough to worry about it.”

“That’s not it, Professor. I think I was a little rude to Maria last night.”

“Hey, cut out the Professor business. You were not rude to Maria—besides, she thinks you’re a real cute guy. Come on over here and have a look at this new project Di Brera sent us.”

She had stretched an old-looking canvas out on her easel. “This Caravaggio had some minor damage from a fire in one of their storage rooms.”

Caravaggio excited Tomás and he quickly scanned the large canvas from top to bottom. He’d never been this close to an actual Caravaggio—he was afraid to touch it.

Magdalena said, “As you can see, it’s not badly damaged, but when they examined this burned section they found another painting underneath Caravaggio’s brush strokes. They thought the under-painting looked very old. When they analyzed the pigments they concluded Tintoretto or one of his contemporaries might have done the original painting.”

“You mean, Caravaggio painted over an older canvas? Why would he do that?”

“Money, Tomás, money. In that time some of the artists were wild men, and Caravaggio was one of them. Maybe he was burning with inspiration and had no money for a new canvas. I can imagine Caravaggio believed his painting would be a big improvement, so he just grabbed the nearest available canvas and worked right over the older painting.”

“So, what are we supposed to do with it?”

“They commissioned us to authenticate the under-painting, then figure out a way to safely remove the Caravaggio to a clean canvas and preserve them both.” She leaned close to show Tomás her ideas about how to tackle the tedious task of separating the priceless paintings. “First, we have to authenticate the older painting, then figure out a way to separate the two without damaging either one.” The smell of her hair and the scent of her body drove Tomás to distraction.

Work on the project was meticulous. It became a day and night job for Magdalena and Tomás and they spent many hours together poring over the old canvas. Near the end of the first semester of Tomás’s internship, Magdalena invited him to travel with her to Bolzano for a week-long symposium on advanced techniques for restoration of ancient paintings.

“Will we take the Caravaggio with us?”

“No, no. I can’t risk travelling with it. But I will show my photographs to the experts at the symposium and pick their brains about the safest ways to separate the paintings. I’ll drive to Bolzano in my car. We can share a hotel room to save expenses. In the evening we can review the proceedings of that day’s symposium and discuss them in detail.”

Oh my god—share a hotel room. What an invitation for a horny young student—how could he wish for more? Tomás imagined what Magdalena’s proposal might involve, and the possibilities excited him. He did hope he could learn about some of the things top restoration experts discussed with each other, but more than that he hoped the shared week would lead to a new kind of relationship with the beautiful older woman he’d fallen for. Ignoring Lucrezia’s counsel and the teasing of his other roommates, he happily accepted Magdalena’s offer.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Tomás Bozen, Chapter 4

Here's Chapter 4 for your reading pleasure. Please tell me how you like it. What should Tomás do next, now that he's enrolled at the University of Bologna?

Growing Up

A few days after his tour of Ravenna’s mosaics, Tomás was back in school—August vacation was over. The mosaics had strengthened his love for art and Italian art history. Three years later, when he was twelve, he was permitted to enroll in an advanced painting class at school. The instructors had reviewed his earlier drawings and paintings, and said they showed great talent. “A few of Tomás’s paintings are boyish and primitive,” they told his parents, “but most of them show maturity and understanding far beyond his years.”

The lead instructor in Tomás’s painting class was Leonardo DiBaltzo, a thirty-five year old man who had studied in Paris before returning to his home town to share his love of Italian art with a new generation. DiBaltzo made no secret of the fact that Tomás was his favorite student. He always helped Tomás set up his easel near the front of the class so that less talented students could observe his protégé’s painting techniques. “So they can learn from you,” DiBaltzo said. But Tomás noticed how DiBaltzo spent a little too much time touching his back while unfastening the shoulder straps he used to carry his easel.

After working with Tomás for two years DiBaltzo urged him to enroll in a special after-hours class in art history he was organizing. In that small class he mentioned the art history curriculum offered at the HUniversity of Bologna. “You’re a natural for that program, Tomás. It could lead you into academics—think about that as your next step after graduation.”

“Sounds good to me,” Tomás said. “Do you think I can get in the university? Is my work good enough?”

“Oh yes, I’m sure you can get in.” He beamed. “I took my undergraduate studies at Bologna…I could write to the professor for you. That might help.”

“Would you really do that for me?”

“I’d be glad to write a recommendation for you, Tomás. Why don’t you come to my apartment after class and we can talk about it over coffee.”

Tomás was a young boy, but he’d grown up with older brothers who’d taught him the ways of the world. He guessed what going to DiBaltzo’s apartment might lead to and he thought better of it. Besides, he was a few years away from applying to the university. “Thank you, Mr. DiBaltzo, but I can’t do it today. Maybe sometime later, okay?”

His art studies were a compelling interest for Tomás, but for him that wasn’t enough. He wanted more and he liked sports, too. Same as most Italian boys he was a big fan of soccer, but he was even more attracted to the rough and tumble look of rugby. As soon as he moved up to high school he began trying out for the rugby team. He wasn’t good enough at first, but he watched the seniors and worked hard to improve his own skills. Finally, just before he was fourteen he won a position on the high school team.

Tomás threw his heart and soul into rugby practice and the games with school teams from other cities in the region. He admired his teammates skills on the playing field, but he secretly thought of them as art dummies who didn’t know the difference between a daVinci and a Dalí. None of his friends shared his keen interest in their paesani who’d been key players in the Italian renaissance. Not a single one of them cared a whit about art history. None of them knew of Tomás’s unflagging devotion to the painters and sculptors who went before them. No one shared his conviction that, even after hundreds of years, each and every one of the renaissance artists and artisans still had a weighty impact on everyday life in Northern Italy.

He continued his studies with DiBaltzo even though it was sometimes difficult to make time for painting—what with rugby practice and team workouts, not to mention the games themselves and Coach Casanova’s drive to produce a winning team. But DiBaltzo never let Tomás  forget about the University of Bologna and, without making a conscious decision, Bologna became an important goal in the boy’s youthful thinking. Bologna would become part of his life—he would make it happen.

Unexpectedly, in the fall of 1991, a few weeks after that fifteenth birthday dinner with the family, Tomás’s carefree schoolboy life took a surprising turn. Flipping through Mama’s newspaper, La Repubblica, he came upon an article about an amazing discovery in the mountains north of Bolzano. A pair of German hikers had come upon the dead body of a man frozen in the mountainous glacial ice near the border of Italy and Austria. The lurid details reported in the newspaper captivated Tomás—he couldn’t get the image of that frozen naked body out of his mind.

Dio, that must be less than three hundred kilometers from Ravenna. Could the frozen man be from his own family? Papà grew up in one of those valleys north of Bolzano. His cousins and uncles still lived somewhere up there. The pictures in the paper weren’t too clear—it could be his own relative, somebody from Papà’s family.

That evening Tomás paced about in the front room, waiting for his father to come home. He tried to read a book, but his mind was not on it. He untied and retied his shoelaces a dozen times. When the front door finally opened he rushed to Papà and gave him a big hug. “Did you hear the news, Papà? Did you hear about the dead body they found in the mountains?”

“That frozen man?” Papà said, brushing stone dust from his sleeves. “In the mountains up above Bolzano?”

“That’s right Papà. That’s the one.”

“Yeah, some of the guys at work told me about it.” He winked at Tomás. “They told me the man was naked. Why do you suppose a man would run around in the mountains naked like that? He’d freeze his culo if you ask me.”

“That’s not what I’m worried about, Papà. Could that man be somebody from our family? Could he be one of my cousins?”

Papà laughed. “No, son. Everybody in the family is okay. Your uncle Giovanni called me at work today. They don’t know who the frozen man is, but Giovanni told me it’s nobody from our family—nobody from the whole village.”

Through every ensuing year the schoolboy Tomás followed the twists and turns of that mysterious case. Scientists in Austria determined the Iceman, as they called the corpse, was not a recent death at all, but a 5,300 year-old mummy frozen in the glacial ice. He was given the name Ötzi, from the Ötzal Alps in which he was found. A legal joust between Austria and Italy resulted in re-survey of the mountainous border and awarded ownership of Ötzi to Italy.

Knowing the frozen corpse was not a modern-day relative did not lessen Tomás’s burning desire to learn firsthand about the amazing discovery. His obsession with the case convinced him the Iceman might actually be his ancestor—some relative from ancient times, maybe a very early creator of the sculpture and paintings he longed to study. He never let that obsession go.

Five years later, at the age of twenty, Tomás had managed to persuade his father that stone masonry was not for him, that he felt compelled to study art. He’d won a scholarship on his own merit—without a recommendation from his flirty art teacher, DiBaltzo. That helped convince Papà, and Tomás became a student of art history at the University of Bologna.  He travelled by train to Bologna a week before the September beginning date of the semester, arriving in mid-afternoon. From the station he took a very long walk down Via Dell’Indipendenza  to Piazza Maggiore.

From there he walked to the next door piazza to admire the Neptune Fountain, a towering, larger than life, bronze nude of Neptune standing atop a pedestal that was itself nearly twice as tall as Tomás’s six feet. Neptune’s lordly pose suggested he was controlling the flow of water from the various parts of the fountain. Tomás grinned at the life sized nude sea nymphs seated in the water at the four corners of Neptune’s pedestal, each nymph squirting water from her nipples.

He knew the bronze fountain was cast and erected in the late fifteen hundreds. And he knew it had become a symbol for Bologna. He had heard it was a popular hangout for many of the thousands of students that expanded the city’s population, but the crowded piazza surprised him.

People from all walks of life milled about, some aimlessly, some with determination. A group of school children followed in a ragged line behind their teacher. An old man wearing a felt hat pushed a baby carriage across the stones—no doubt a grandchild. Tourists posed before the fountain for their friends’ cameras. A man in workman’s clothes pushed a cart filled with bricks toward one side of the piazza where some repairs were taking place. A young couple sat arm-in-arm on the steps at the base of the fountain, sharing the pages of a book. An old woman sat on the sunny side, looking skyward with her eyes closed like a cat on a warm afternoon. Savory smells from a nearby restaurant wafted across the piazza. Through it all, the gentle tinkling of water from the various parts of the huge fountain provided an almost musical background for the scene.

Tomás decided then and there he would definitely like living in Bologna. He headed to the opposite side of the open expanse of Piazza Maggiore, then down the narrow Via Pignatattari alongside the Basilica of San Petronio. A short block later he entered the Hotel Commercianti, where Papà had reserved a room for his first night in the city. The hotel was another surprise. It pleased him to see the many sculptures, mostly modern, arranged in the lobby and other public spaces. Seated on a couch in the lower lobby was a full suit of armor holding a sword—just sitting there as if waiting for a companion. Filled with needless worries about beginning a new life, Tomás laid awake most of that first night.

Out of bed early the next morning, he had breakfast at the hotel then set out for the university. He walked across the piazza, then down Via Rizzoli past the Twin Towers, remnants of an ancient bloody rivalry between two wealthy families. Continuing down Via Zamboni, he soon came to the University and went looking for leads to inexpensive housing. He found a student bulletin board filled with scraps of paper seeking everything from bicycles and boyfriends to lodgings and roommates. One notice caught his eye: three students had a large apartment near the city center and needed another roommate.

Heading for the address on the notice, he wandered beneath the myriad arcades at the ground floor of the city’s very old red brick buildings until he located the address on Via San Vitale. A good omen, he thought, same as the Basilica San Vitale in his own Ravenna. At the entrance he discovered the apartment was situated up the stairs—way up the stairs on the fourth floor. There was no lift.

After trudging all the way up with his full backpack, he was breathless when he finally knocked on the door. A scruffy looking blond boy answered the door. Probably twenty-three or twenty-four, his hair hung almost to his shoulders in loose, unkempt curls and he looked like he hadn’t shaved in a couple of days. He wore sneakers, jeans and a dirty white sweat shirt emblazoned with something about Milano.

Tomás hesitated for a moment, then stuck out his hand. “Hi, I’m Tomás Bozen. I saw your notice about the apartment.”

“Oh, hey, man. Come on in. My name’s Roberto Corcelli. Three of us live here—one girl and another guy. We have one bedroom left over. Would you like to see it?”

“Well…yeah, I would.” Tomás looked around the living room which was sparsely furnished. A well-worn overstuffed sofa and a large upholstered chair which had seen better days sat facing a table with a large screen television and an array of audio equipment. The empty walls were faded yellow, or a new yellow wash, hard to tell which. Roberto led him through a dining room into the kitchen, where the other roommates waited. A coffee machine was a prominent fixture in the kitchen. Warm coffee smells filled the air, and the other two were sipping from cups. Both of them looked about as disheveled as Roberto, like they had just crawled out of bed or something.

“Hey, Tomás, this is Giuseppe Pucci and Lucrezia Pisano.” He put his arm around  Lucrezia’s shoulders and grinned. “We call this one Luci.”

Tomás shook hands with both of them. “I think I’m interested in your room…if the rent’s not too much.”

Luci smiled big. “What are you studying, Tomás? Where are you from?”

“I’m in the art history curriculum—just starting. I grew up in Ravenna.”

“That’s great,” Luci said. “We could use some art around this dump.”

Roberto took Tomás into the spare bedroom. It wasn’t much of a room—just enough space for a single bed, a desk with one chair, and a large armoire. Everyone shared one bathroom and Tomás was relieved to find it looking clean and smelling fresh. No lingerie hanging around like his sister, Anna’s, bathroom at home. The four agreed on a price and Tomás moved in. It promised to be a life style that was a far cry from the close knit family he’d grown up with, but at last he was officially in Bologna and ready for the university.

His new roommates were a diverse group. Roberto was studying architecture. Both he and Giuseppe were from Parma—they’d been friends since boyhood. Giuseppe was the taller and thinner of the two. He cut his dark brown hair short with long sideburns and he had the hint of a beard. He was enrolled in the business school, majoring in accounting.

Lucrezia was a medical student. An attractive young woman, she was tall and thin, with well-defined facial features and a long graceful neck. Svelte, Tomás thought. She pulled her long, dark hair back from her face to flow smooth and straight  down her back. She looked like the type who could keep rowdy boys on the straight and narrow. Giuseppe grinned. “Luci’s the official medical expert of the house. She can cure everything from broken bones to hangovers.”

Those three easily became a surrogate family for Tomás. They introduced him to student life in Bologna and showed him the best places to go for cheap food. In no time Tomás learned to substitute beer and mortadella with crispy bread for his mother’s tagliatelle and ravioli in black truffle sauce.

In the ensuing weeks, Roberto was full of stories about the city and the university—their history and their well-known buildings as well as lesser known architectural treasures. He often led Tomás on walking tours around the city, sometimes rainy day tours when they had to dodge from one of the city’s forty kilometers of covered arcades to another.

Giuseppe managed the household accounts. He collected the shares of rent and other bills from everyone and made sure all the bills were paid on time. True to his profession, he kept careful records of every penny. He looked over some of Tomás’s drawing and suggested he catalog them according to date and locale.

Luci had grown up in a well to do family in Milano, and accustomed as she was to life’s finer things, she took charge of Tomás’s cultural introduction to Bologna. She showed him the best times to visit the huge art museum, the Pinacoteca Nazionale, using free student passes. She insisted he dress up one evening to accompany her to Teatro Comunale di Bologna for an avant garde performance of Verdi’s Traviata re-set to modern time.

The museum was Tomás’s favorite of everything his roommates showed him. It was an easy walk from the San Vitale apartment, practically across the street from the University, so he found it convenient to spend lots of time exploring its collections of medieval art: large paintings by Raphael, El Greco, Titian, Carracci, and Giotto, all of them beautiful and well displayed.

He found one room with a magnificent altarpiece by Giotto and several large rooms with preparatory drawings and some frescos from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries—all in all, a strong collection of works by Bolognese artists from the 14th century onwards. Most of them were not the renaissance masters Tomás most admired, but they were important works of their forerunners. The museum was never crowded, and he sometimes came upon another student copying one of the great masterpieces.

Occasionally he recognized the student-copier as a more advanced member of one of his own classes. When that happened he’d stop and chat for a few minutes. Seeing what they were doing and watching their techniques gave Tomás great hopes for what lay ahead for him at the university. Those times made all his years of preparation and waiting worthwhile—they justified his secret box of art treasures, his insistence to his family that this was what he wanted to do in life, the frightening experiences of leaving his family to begin university life in a new city surrounded by a new clan. Tomás was happy. These were the things he had wanted for as long as he could remember.