Cristina's Library

Joie de livres

Buy a book

booksLast year, I made the tragic mistake of going to Yorkdale mall on the first Saturday of December.

A deafening barrage of shrieking children, frantic parents, lazy walkers, loud talkers, anxious employees, aggressive hagglers, and booming holiday music hit me upon entering. It was a depressing composition of repeated staccato notes, in the phrases of “I’m sorry” and “Excuse me” and “Watch out!”

I felt like I was on fast-forward, my heart palpitating, head spinning, and green tea sloshing mercilessly out of its cup, burning my fingers.

Meandering through the crowds, I overheard different pieces of survival advice in conversation:

“Oh, I always have a big breakfast beforehand.”

“Take a few deep breaths, and you’ll be fine.”

“Coffee. A lot of coffee.”

It seemed that I was the only person who did not know what to do or where to go. I did not walk briskly through the mall with an intended road map in mind (first Williams-Sonoma for dad, then Roots for mom – she just loves those wool socks). The truth is, I possess none of the skills of a professional shopper. I wander, I look around, I pick up and put down. I found myself taking small steps and small sips of tea, gazing at items in store windows for a short time before moving on, my body gently rocked side-to-side by the rushing crowd.

Finally, I made it to the front of the bookstore.

Ah, peace and quiet.

Unsurprisingly, here, I finished most of my holiday shopping. It really is that easy. And if you believe your loved ones are not big readers, I beg you to think again. There’s an escape route for everyone.

They might like Canlit, non-fiction, romance, mystery, history, or art. They might have an idol, a pet, a New Year’s resolution to finally start yoga, a desire to learn French, or an inexplicable relationship with Mexican cuisine. There’s a book for them.

There are cookbooks, how-tos, big and beautiful photography tomes, literature on the performing arts, language, business, or travel. There are books for kids, teens, tweens, adults, grandparents. There’s a book for the plumber, the private dancer, the stay-at-home parent, the cheese addict, the architect, the storyteller, the graphic designer, the cinephile, the writer, the baker-on-the-side, the teacher, the music buff, or the wine aficionado in your life.

And in no way am I limiting the selection to shiny new hardcovers or glossy paperbacks. Do you have a book in your own collection that you think might benefit a close friend or relative? Give it to them. Let them know why. Books, and the stories inside of them, are meant to be recycled into new hands.

Growing up, my parents always gave my brother and I books, and then quizzed us on them afterwards to ensure that we read them. We spent hours in the library, and they took note of the books we were engrossed in. In December, we found them under the tree. In return, we wrote little poems and heartfelt messages in handmade paper cards. We signed them with our own insignia at the bottom, pretending that they were from Hallmark or Carleton: “Cristina Cards” or “Joseph Cards” circled with a sparkly gold pen.

My parents grudgingly accepted our small gifts, while insisting that we did not have to give them anything, that they had their family around the Christmas tree, which is more than enough. They appreciated the little things, the practical and sentimental value of a gift. They taught me the art and importance of truly giving.

So, my brother and I bought them books, too. Last year, I added to my father’s bookshelf Open Secrets: Wikileaks, War, and American Diplomacy. For my mother, The Glass Castle. For my brother, Flushed: How the Plumber Saved Civilization. (He’s a plumber).

You may not think so but, as I learned from my family, buying a book is an intimate and thoughtful act. It is as personal as a piece of lingerie, as gracious as a box of chocolates. It’s like placing a blanket on top of someone after they’ve fallen asleep, or smiling at a stranger. If you’re buying a book for someone this holiday season, you’ve made a conscious effort to enhance their life. You care. Think about how much consideration goes into choosing a book — it means that you are attentive to what they say, that you know and support what they’re interested in.

A book may not be the only gift you’re giving someone, but it is perfect on its own, or in addition to something else. Make it even more special by writing a little note inside. They’ll treasure it forever.

Toronto International Book Fair

Are you going to TIBF (Inspire! Toronto International Book Fair)? I’ll be reading from The Music Makers on Saturday November 15 at 1 PM at Booth #918, along with fellow AICW members. Hope to see you there!

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Talking to Strangers

My article in the November issue of The Florentine, Florence’s English newspaper!

Talking to Strangers

Full Text

Talking to Strangers: A Snapshot of Life in Chianti

I went to Florence to immerse myself in beauty. A few weeks ago, I leaned on the Ponte alla Carraia with a delicious treat from its namesake gelateria and looked out at the Arno. An old man on a bicycle stopped and stood beside me to do the same. We greeted each other, buona sera, and chatted. As he slowly climbed back on his bicycle, he said that my eyes are ‘full of light.’ ‘No,’ I replied awkwardly, never one to take compliments well. ‘It’s not me. It’s Florence that is full of light.’ He shook his head with a smile. ‘Something in your eyes, it says maybe you want to know the whole world.’ Then he rode away.

He’s right, the old man on his bicycle, making cryptic statements and reading people’s eyes. I do want to know the whole world. That’s what’s so beautiful in Italy: the relationships. That you cannot walk into a salon, a store or a café without indulging in pleasant conversation, a glance, a smile, either from those who work there or a fellow patron is enough to justify buying a crumbled old villa and settling down somewhere in the Tuscan hills—not to mention the local produce, perfect weather, Chianti wine and unique artisanal crafts.

It is such a change from life in Toronto, where many harbour almost a peculiar, inexplicable sense of refuge in anonymity. One can easily become another faceless person in the vast city, walking through the streets or sitting in a café without ever catching someone’s eye or engaging in genuine conversation. Sometimes I just want to talk to strangers. Which is what I do here in Greve in Chianti, where I am currently an artist in residence.

I awake to the sound of a cooing rooster, murmuring voices outside, a vine tractor meandering the vineyards. It’s harvest time, vendemmia. Each morning, I go to piazza Matteotti, Greve’s main piazza, for a cappuccino and brioche alla marmellata at my favourite place to sit and watch the world. The staff has memorized my order now. I once ordered a cappuccino without the brioche and received a startled look. The barista placed the drink on the counter and pressed the warm, soft pastry into my hands anyway. ‘Eat,’ he said. ‘It’s not right without.’

Despite its constant impermanence and change, there is a comforting sense of continuity here, an access to natural symmetry that cannot be found anywhere else. Things grow, die, replenish. People enter and leave. Time moves a little bit differently in Chianti than it does in other places—it’s slow enough to give you a true impression of who you are outside of the bustle of routine and industrial life, to make you stop and look at not only the world but yourself. It’s a special place.

Later, I walk into one of the many art stores to decide on a new print for my bedroom back home. As I’m considering the works, I hear a loud OINK! behind me. I turn—it’s Carmellino, the shop owner’s friend. The diminutive ‘-ino’ on the end seems far too young for this retired 60-year-old artist, but I realize people continue to call him this because he has never really aged.

OINK! He squeezes a stuffed piglet at us, and we laugh and shoo him away. He goes onto the sidewalk and squeezes it at tourists passing by, cradling their many purchases.

‘Buongiorno! Good day! Hello!’ OINK! OINK!

They give him dirty looks or roll their eyes. He comes back inside looking dejected. ‘Non ride più nessuno.’ No one laughs anymore.

The shop owner, Jacopo, turns the radio up louder—Michael Jackson is singing ‘PYT.’ He starts to sing. He grabs my hands with his hands that have wet paint on them and twirls me around. I laugh and chide him for dirtying my new white shirt, but, in spite of myself, dance along. It doesn’t matter really. It is a joy for me to simply come here every day, chat and browse the new paintings by local artists or the old photographs of Greve, grainy figures soaked in sepia, staring back at me. I like to imagine their lives back then, where their descendants are now, if they ever stood in this very spot.

I ask Jacopo how much the small Pinocchio painting is. It’s 30 euro, he tells me. Ah. Ok, I say. It’s wonderful. I will think about it. I begin to put the painting back. With serious looks on their faces,Carmellino and Jacopo talk in fast dialect. I can’t catch everything.

‘Ok … For you, 20 euro.’

‘Why?’

‘The economy here in Italy is very bad, as you know. So we need to try to sell our pictures. And we want you to have it.’

I give him 30 euro, and refuse the change.

Adieu à l’automne

Fleeting colours

Fleeting colours … Toronto, 2014

H.P Lovecraft

call-of-cthulhu

It’s the time of year, and the kind of grey Autumn day, to read H.P Lovecraft.

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.” – The Call of Cthulhu

“Pleasure to me is wonder—the unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability. To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty.” – Collected Essays, Volume 5: Philosophy

Journal entry: September 2014

The world has opened itself to me in the form of endless sunflower fields.

I breathe in the smell of grapes, churning nearby, and listen to the rooster’s morning music. Raindrops hover, bulbous, on blades of grass, shifting prisms of sunlight in the late dawn. I write beneath an olive tree, staring out at rows upon rows of slanted vineyards and lush olive groves.

Limitless, peaceful freedom is both a blessing and a challenge, I have discovered here. It’s a reminder that we must make an effort to engage in acts of human culture every once in a while. To allow ourselves to abandon ambitious pursuits, and simply read, write, exercise, cook, grow, and engage in meaningful conversation. After two months of travel through Europe, and 6 weeks at La Macina di San Cresci, a Residence for Artists in Greve in Chianti, Tuscany, I feel so privileged to not only have truly experienced life, but to have participated in the art of fine living.

I sampled delicacies from 7 different countries, danced all night, read by rivers, boarded boats and trains and tiny little cars on tiny little roads, went to the tops of mountains and bobsledded down them (and sprained my wrist doing so – perhaps I will rethink this particular adventure next time!), traversed valleys, strolled cities, drank cappuccinos, drank (a lot of) fantastic wine, discussed world issues with people from around the world, sat on cafe patios, made lasting friendships, lived and thrived in the countryside, counted the stars, learned, embraced.

And I did it with complete strangers, or completely alone.

Back in May, when I was accepted to the Artist Residency, the decision to go was difficult, but one that I felt I had to make. I was having trouble measuring myself against the world: I felt restless yet stagnant, unmotivated yet desirous, not at peace yet overcome by a peaceful sort of melancholy. I was exhausted from my routine. I needed time away to immerse myself in something new. I felt lost in the right direction.

With the support of my loved ones, I chose to grasp the opportunity, and took some time off work. And I’m so happy that I did. I set out to challenge myself, to examine my mind beyond my comfort zone, to complete a writing project, and to marvel at beauty. And I think I have found what I was looking for.

– Greve in Chianti, Tuscany, Italy

Here are a few pictures from my trip (not in order). For more, check out Instagram @crisrizz

Jan 7, 2:15 AM

It is a cold, frigid night in Toronto. How lonely the wind makes me feel, enveloping my body in isolation. There is a lot happening outside — snow squalls drift aimlessly and bitterly cold gusts blow garbage, trees, branches, into the street. The bumps and claps and booms make noise, noise that only emphasizes the loud emptiness of this place. I wondered, while walking up the frozen concrete stairs to my front door, how the city would look if all of our creation did not exist. It would be a barren land of ice-laden trees, shoe-print-free snow dunes, darkness after sunset. There would be no tire tracks, no street lights, no debris, no complaining about the weather. It would simply be, in its purest state, and then Spring would come and it would carry on beautifully with no one to see it, living and ageing gracefully anyway, dying, then born again. Are we simply in the way of the earth’s natural processes, or have we created them, new and scary and manipulated, like Dr. Frankenstein and his monster, having rebelled against nature only to die at the hands of his own creation, a modern-day Prometheus.