The Book Boost welcomes author Therese Gilardi to the blog.
Here's what she had to say...
Between St. Patrick’s Day and National Noodle Month, March is a celebration of my ethnic heritage, a sensory salute to my certainty we are indeed what we eat. I’ll never know for certain if the generous number of vowels in my surname endowed me with a special food gene, but I have my suspicions. You see, while other women mark momentous occasions with annotated scrapbook photos, I recall the seasons of my life in food.
When I set my table, I lay out the touchstones I need to get myself into a certain state of mind as both a diner and a writer. My menu is like my i-Pod playlist, something I shuffle whenever I feel I need to open my mind and my creative third eye to a new possibility. For example, if I’m serving up pasta in a pot I’m reliving my childhood, an endless round of christenings, communions and graduations commemorated by the mother of all Italian meals, a tin of rigs (for the uninitiated that’s a foil pan loaded down with homemade rigatoni, thick meat sauce and melted mozzarella cheese). One taste of this meal and I’m twelve again, with all of the yearnings and discomforts I need to get inside the head of my middle-grade protagonist.
Handmade guacamole and blue corn tortilla chips? I’m dipping back into dusty days on the barren plains of north Texas and the haunting miscarriage that led to my poem, “Dallas Delivery”. A few bites of those crunchy chips and I’m remembering the sense of failure when I lost my child, and the guilt I felt at eating a full meal (penne with tinned green beans) for the first time in months upon my return from the hospital.
Of course most of my culinary tricks of hand take me to lovely memories, and enable me to write from a positive perspective. For example, feeling grainy home-made applesauce slip through my teeth reminds me of my first home in New England, where my beloved daughter and her fabulous older brother taught me the meaning of the word contentment, which inspired one of my favorite essays, “Confessions of a Reformed Stage Mother”, a piece whose publication taught me that confiding about one’s shortcomings as a parent will not result in blackballing from civilized society.
I know I’m lucky; lots of writers through the years have felt the need to turn to the bottle for their inspiration, whereas I’ve been able to find my motivation in the market stalls, restaurant tables and numerous kitchens that have been a part of my life. During my twenty-three years of marriage, my husband and I and our children have lived in three U.S. and two European time zones. We’ve visited around twenty-five foreign countries and the majority of American states. From Boston to Bratislava, London to Los Angeles, the one constant for me has always been food. Where I’ve been to eat, what the food looks, tastes and smells like, and what conversations and interactions I’ve had with my fellow diners and servers are the first things I record in my journal whenever I visit someplace new, be it across the street or across the world.
Long after memories of monuments and museums have faded, I recall markets and dining tables, and how I felt as I tasted what a culture and its people value. I have found that even in countries where I don’t know all of the proper vocabulary, the language of the fork is universal. These culinary exchanges have formed the basis for many essays and short stories and have informed all of my senses, which I believe has helped me become a more intuitive writer. Like the legendary explorer Marco Polo, I have discovered that inspiration can be found all over the world. All I have to do is use my noodle.
A Note from the Book Boost: What a wonderful way to look at life--through food! There are few things more intimate than what we consume into our bodies for nourishment and the pure enjoyment of sustaining life. Thanks for joining us today, Therese! Please tell us more about your book.
For centuries Cupid has longed to be more than Venus’s arrow boy. When he’s sent to eliminate “Happily Ever After by Amelia”, the matchmaking business threatening Venus’s status as the goddess of love, Cupid decides to steal Amelia’s methods and make his own matches. While spying on Amelia, Cupid accidentally shoots himself with his magical arrow and falls in love with her. But bereaved Amelia doesn’t believe in the existence of Roman gods, and she’s certainly not looking for romance. She’s too busy perfecting the patented personality profile that’s made her Hollywood’s favorite matchmaker.
Disguising himself as a mortal financial advisor, Cupid manages to break through Amelia’s guarded exterior. As their passion deepens so does Cupid’s guilt about deceiving Amelia. Cupid’s interference with Amelia’s life causes her business to falter, leads to a sterile spring that threatens the animal kingdom and shatters the longstanding peace between the Roman and Greek gods. With the fate of the natural and under worlds at stake, Cupid must decide whether to reveal his true identity and risk losing the chance to live happily ever after with Amelia.
“You have to do something about that woman or before you know it, they’ll be tearing down all those statues of me and calling her the goddess of love!”
Venus flicked her cream, silk scarf over her slender shoulders as she peered through the ultra-powerful telescope she had set up in her hilltop villa, which was a replica of one of her favorite Roman palaces. She knew she should stop looking through the lens every hour, but she couldn’t help herself. For thousands of years, across all parts of the globe, high in the heavens and deep in the underworld, she’d been the undisputed queen of matchmaking. But now, for the first time in over two millennia, Venus was beginning to fear she’d met her match.
In the valley below, not far from a string of psychic reading rooms, the Ripley’s “Believe It or Not” museum, and the famous thirty foot white block letters that spelled out “Hollywood”, sat a glass fronted shop with a rose colored wooden door. Above its small bay window stood a pink and purple flowered sign that read, “Happily Ever After by Amelia”. Inside its small, wooden floored front room stood Amelia Coillard, her dainty hands wrapped around a large almond vanilla pie.
“I spent all evening making this for you. Thank you, thank you, thank you!” A tall woman wearing an enormous pear shaped ruby on her left ring finger sputtered as she bowed slightly. “Really, Amelia, you’re the best. David and I want to invite you to our wedding. On June twenty-first. It’ll be a way to mark our own new season together.”
Amelia smiled. She was used to these follow-up visits from grateful clients, women and even some men who had been certain they’d been fated to be alone until they’d discovered her matchmacking business.
“Glad we could help Susanna. Don’t forget to tell your friends about us.”
The woman giggled as she pushed past the wrought iron marble topped café table where Amelia met with clients. As she pulled the beveled glass door closed behind her, the intertwined pink and purple wooden hearts that hung against the wooden frame banged together. Amelia waved as Susanna disappeared into the rising March sun.
“We’ve got another wedding. Guess when,” Amelia called out to her assistant Jennie as she stepped into the backroom and placed the pie on a distressed pine sideboard, next to the boxes of chocolates, baskets of figs, bottles of champagne, potpourri sachets and bundles of beeswax candles. If there was a foodstuff or a house ware associate with love, lust or fertility, Amelia had received it from a satisfied client.
“Not the summer solstice,” Jennie groaned.
“You add up flowers in bloom, longer days and baby animals at the zoo and it can all mean only one thing. June brides. I adore our clients, but for the life of me I don’t know how they can be so sentimental.”
Amelia walked to the little cupboard in the corner and withdrew the fitted white crocheted sweater she always wore when she was at work. She’d purchased the sweater two years ago at the Rose Bowl flea market, right after she opened “Happily Ever After by Amelia”. The woman she’d bought it from told her it had originally been part of the trousseau of one of the old studio stars that lived up in the Hollywood Hills. Although Amelia wasn’t sure she believed the woman’s story, she had to admit that the sweater’s delicate pattern did resemble wedding lace. She smiled as she pulled the sweater over top of her black mini-dress and adjusted her wavy auburn hair over its pearl-trimmed collar.
“So what’s the day look like?” Amelia asked as she glanced out the window. “ Oh, wait, there’s Justin.”
She rapped her knuckles on the glass pane and smiled at a tall, slightly scruffy man in a red and black jacket. Like far too many of the people who roamed these streets the man’s prematurely wrinkled face and weathered body reflected the brutal realities of living rough in the hot California sun.
“I’ve got something for you.”
Amelia handed Justin the pie, along with a fork, cloth napkin and water bottle.
“Thanks Amelia. I’ll bring it by later,” Justin said, nodding at the place setting.
“No problem. Now, who do we have coming in today?” Amelia asked, turning back to Jennie.
“Three women coming in this morning to fill out their personality profiles. You know one actually had the nerve to ask me if you’d e-mail it to her so she could complete it on her own time? Yeah, and she can forward it to everyone she knows and before you know it your secret formula is out in the open.”
“It’s not as mindless as that. You make it sound like I’m just making random matches, sending someone out there to shoot arrows into an unsuspecting public. Who do you think I am, Venus?”
Amelia looked out the window at the back of her little storefront, toward the faded ocher stucco mansion with long French windows and a red-tiled roof that sat atop the highest of the Hollywood Hills. Long verandas seemed to wrap around the house, although it was impossible to know for certain if they ran across the back of the home, since the far side of the walled property was not accessible by road or foot. It sat atop a fault line. No one dared venture onto the rocky terrain, for fear of disrupting the crusty earth beneath the bougainvillea bushes.
Jennie put her arm around Amelia.
“Don’t go down that path, Lia. It’s not going to take you anywhere you want to be.”
"I don’t know what you mean.”
“Come on, let it go.”
“Do you have any idea how many cakes, cookies, tarts, baskets and bouquets I left on those stone steps? Do you know, I used to climb up to that gate every year on Christmas Eve and what should’ve been my parents’ anniversary and leave her these hand written letters I’d actually sealed with a kiss. I taped those little Hershey’s candies to the envelope when I was little and then, when I was in high school, I’d slather on red lipstick and run my mouth across the envelope. I can’t believe I was so stupid!”
“We all do dumb things.”
“Yeah but come on. Believing that an ancient Roman goddess exists and that she lives right here in my own neighborhood?”
“It does sound absurd when you put it that way. Plus everybody knows that house has been abandoned for decades. Why they don’t add it to the Haunted Hollywood tour is beyond me.”
Amelia nodded. As she took a final look at the mansion, she thought she saw a flash of rose-colored light shooting across the bottom floor.
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