Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Not the the Gillers but...

At the end of Granville Street
Toronto looked dirty, mysterious and romantic, like something out of a noir film, as my taxi crawled along the Gardiner to Pearson Airport in the late November rain. I was on my way to attend the Bressani Prize ceremony at the Italian Cultural Centre and do a reading at the Istituto Italiano di Cultura in Vancouver (yes two separate entities) the next night. My little book, Made Up of Arias,  won the Bressani Prize in the category of "Short Fiction". Traffic crawled. Stopped. Crawled. As luck would have it I had left my umbrella at work and faced a rainy few days.

Clearly I should have asked for assistance in dressing this morning as I have put my black leggings on inside out and the black socks that I stole from R's side of the sock drawer have enormous grey "X"s on the ankles which are evident for all to see.

I had no idea how bare bones this WestJet flight would be - a more than four hour flight and no food, no movie? Just the occasional soft drink and a couple of cookies? Buy food you say? My cheap gene rebelled ... okay, well maybe just a turkey with brie sandwich and a coke... I notice, with some trepidation, not one but two babies adjacent to me, one on the left, one on the right. Oh no, I have turned into a person who gets rattled by a baby's crying on a plane. Luckily, the cute little butterball named Sophia next to me is delightful and never utters a cry - she even holds my hand for part of the plane ride.

Compelled to watch TV, or read, I get my fill of the E True Hollywood Story on the Kardashians (shh, please don't tell the husband), What Not to Wear and the prognostications of the brain trust on The View.

I know "a guy who knows a guy" (actually my cousin S's husband D) who used to work for an upscale hotel and was able to get me a very good rate on a room at the Hotel Vancouver in downtown Vancouver. Can you say lux?? Another offer was kindly extended by the Italian Cultural Centre for a discounted rate on a Holiday Inn in East Van near the Centre. But even I know about East Van...

Okay, confession time, ALC is a nervous traveler and I have rarely had occasion to travel without R who is excellent at managing directions, transportation, etc ... so I wanted a safe hotel in a good area so that I could sleep well at night (which is also a problem when I travel). I was very grateful to D for making this connection for me.

My room is not huge but quietly elegant, well appointed and very quiet. I spent the afternoon recuperating form travel (by that point I had been up and about for ten hours traveling) so I decided to do some reading and copy-editing of the “Uncanny” issue for Descant.

I had a light dinner in the restaurant in the hotel, not cheap mind you but not crazily expensive either. And I wondered what the staff was wondering about me as I sat and read and tried to blend in.

I made my way to East Van where the award ceremony was to be held at the Italian Cultural Centre Society. How much did I love that the Sikh taxi driver was loudly listening to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the way over there?

The crowd was small but friendly and appreciative. The four winning authors were lined up in the front row. Anna Foschi, co-founder of the Bressani Literary Prize, introduced each writer and then one of the four judges read excerpts of the comments about our work: Pasquale Verdicchio from San Diego for "Poetry", Caterina Edwards from Edmonton on the theme of "Emigration from Italy", myself in the "Short Fiction" category, then Michael Mirolla from Toronto for "Long Fiction".

The writers Caterina Edwards and Genni Gunn
I can’t tell you specifically what the judge said about my work (I was in a bit of a daze) but I can tell you it made me tear up so by the time I got to the lectern I was feeling emotional and could only speak about how special the book was to me and that it was written through two pregnancies – one successful, one not – and how close I felt, while I wrote Arias, to both my then unborn child J and my mother Antonia who had also lost her first child. I was trying to create a magical atmosphere where the man character, a child named Lilla, was as enchanted and intrigued as the mother Seraphina by the wonderful fantasy world that Seraphina had created.

Receiving the Bressani Prize for Short Fiction
Photographs were taken, very nicely too by Giulio Recchioni, Assistant to the Cultural Director at the Italian Cultural Centre Society, and we each read a few pages of the work. I think we were all visibly nervous. I couldn’t help wondering where all the gioventu (young people) were? Aside from the assistant from the society who had coordinated this event I was among the youngest there and by any measure I can no longer be described as young (immature maybe, young no).

Caterina’s friend, the Vancouver writer Genni Gunn, offered to take us to a restaurant – we were all famished. Traveling from East Van to the downtown core we passed through a very troubled region of the city. The shift from quiet residential area to a frightening streetscape with people experiencing their own special kind of hell was shocking and abrupt. Then just as quickly we were in a very "shiny happy people" sort of area with great restaurants and good neighborhoods. 

Caterina, Genni Gunn and I went for Japanese/Korean food at a great little place called Shabusen  - excellent and inexpensive. Great fun dishing on the lit scene with my gals and Caterina was kind enough to pay for our meal.

Home by 11.30p (2.30a Toronto time) - quickly and blissfully asleep…

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Michelle,

Congratulations again!! Thanks for the picture of the award. It is awesome to have a famous cousin-in-law :-))

I lost my bookmarks a while ago and I am visiting your blog after a few weeks. Thanks always for a wonderful reading experience ... in small doses!!