Silver Linings (25) Risate di Gioia


Funny how the simplest things are the hardest to translate. The literal English translation of the title of this iconic film, starring two of the world’s best comedians of all time, Anna Magnani and Toto’, is “Joyful Laughter” and yet that’s all wrong. It doesn’t capture the soaring,  hysterical, belly laugh, jouissance of “Risate di Gioia,” nor the many levels of irony therein. “Joyful Laughter” just falls flat, yet this film is anything but flat. It’s brilliant fun start to finish. The official film title in English is “The Passionate Thief,” which gets a little at the irony but is still rather flat. The movie is perfect for our times, a glorious tribute to Italy, and as Manohla Dargis writes, it is “a blissful assertion of survival.”

(The version above is in Italian but it looks like you can screen it with subtitles here.)

Toto’ is Toto’ and there is no one like him. Born in Naples in 1898, Toto’ or Antonio Griffo Focas Flavio Angelo Ducas Comneno Porfirogenito Gagliardi De Curtis di Bisanzio was a genius known to Italians as “Il Principe della Risata” or “The Prince of Laughter.” He starred in 97 movies during his long career and was a fixture in Italian cultural life. I think it’s fair to say that you can’t really understand Italy until you have seen at least five Toto’ movies. As Umberto Eco wrote: “In this globalized world where it seems that everyone sees the same movies and eats the same food, there are still unbridgeable divisions between cultures. How can two peoples ever come to understand each other when one of them is ignorant of Totò?”

Anna Magnani is best known in the US for her role in the neorealist classic Rome, Open City and generally for her more dramatic roles, but she was an incredible comedienne as you will see here. Her notorious break up with Roberto Rossellini when he left her for Ingrid Bergman resulted in the rival films Stromboli and Vulcano, both shot in the Aeolian islands (one of my favorite places on earth). This extraordinary volcano-worthy love-triangle fiasco makes it into my novel A Man of No Moon.

Many compare the incomparable Toto’ to Buster Keaton but I would say his body of work is more akin to the Marx Brothers’ opus in style and message and sublime humor. A couple of days ago I heard raucous laughter coming from my son Leandro’s room. Usually, I hear the occasional dire “Call of Duty” outbursts such as: “Look out, someone’s in there!” Or, “Take him out! Now!” Or the groan of electronic death. This time I discovered he was watching “A Night in Casablanca.”

Wishing you “risate di gioia.”


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Silver Linings (24) Deus nobis haec otia fecit

Natalia Ginzburg

A friend sent me this reflection by Maggie Nelson published yesterday in the The New Yorker entitled “Finding Moments of Calm During a Pandemic.” Nelson describes re-reading Natalia Ginzburg’s essay “Winter in the Abruzzi” (this is Dick Davis’ translation and Lynne Sharon Schwartz has a fine one too), calling it “an essay I consider one of the most perfect and devastating ever written.” Of course, I feel that way about so much of Ginzburg’s work. Her voice–clear, stark, urgent–is a voice for our times certainly, as this article in Jacobin so well delineates. But what has always drawn me to Natalia Ginzburg, and why I think she is one of our great and enduring writers of all time, is that the abiding message of her work, no matter how dark, and it can be very, very dark, is one of joy. Long before the universe decided to weigh in, Ginzburg has been speaking to me through her body of work, which I read again and again, assuring me with ever sentence that our saving grace is our capacity for joy and we can find it anywhere, anytime if we decide to look.


Here’s a great resource for finding books for free in this weird time.

Here are beautiful coloring books by Nancy Blum that you can print at home. My mother is loving these.

And here is the delightful text for a children’s book that a friend and colleague of mine, the artist Meera Thompson, has shared to help “keep kids busy.” It has been providing endless joy to my daughter, Ayane, and her friends as they illustrate it: R. S. V. P. activites PDF

Puzzle Progress: We finally finished the frame on our 5000 piece puzzle of Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights”!


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This is how I feel…

On a good day:

And this is how I feel on a bad one:


(Don’t worry “Silver Linings” will be back tomorrow. I just thought I’d revive my “This is how I feel…” series to mix it up a little.)

(And although I find the first video here hilarious, there is a disturbing truth to the underlying misogyny the message suggests. Amidst all the Covid-19-related bad news we keep hearing, waking up to this headline–UN details “horrifying global surge” in domestic violence as women are being trapped with abusive partners during lockdowns–was heartbreaking and the antithesis of a silver lining.)


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Silver Linings (23) Elena Ferrante and Ann Goldstein Go Zooming

My great friend and fellow translator Ann Goldstein will be reading from Elena Ferrante’s new novel The Lying Life of Adults tomorrow night! The Center for Fiction and Europa Editions have put together an inspiring and innovative virtual event on Zoom. Hope to see you there!

MONDAY 4/6 | 9:15PM (EST)

Our Brilliant Friends:
After Dinner Book Club and Watch Party

Join Elena Ferrante’s translator, Ann Goldstein, Europa’s Editor in Chief Michael Reynolds, the Executive Director of the National Book Foundation, Lisa Lucas, and Executive Director of the Center for Fiction, Noreen Tomassi, for an informal online conversation about Ferrante’s novels and the HBO adaption of My Brilliant Friend.

This conversation will be followed by an exclusive reading by Ann Goldstein from Ferrante’s new novel, The Lying Life of Adults. Then, stay with us in our virtual “living Zoom” as we watch My Brilliant Friend episode 4, a pivotal episode in the series and the first to be directed by the acclaimed Italian director, Alice Rohrwacher.

+ Elena Ferrante titles are 10% off at our online bookstore! Order today!



Monday April 6 beginning at 9:15pm

  • 9:15pm (EST): Start (click on your Zoom link, which will be sent shortly before start time)

  • 9:15-9:50: Conversation and Q&A via “chat”

  • 9:50-10:00: Reading from The Lying Life of Adults

  • 10:00-11:00: Our Brilliant Friends Watch Party live from our virtual Living Zoom. Stay on the line as we watch episode 4 together, commenting via Zoom chat. (Viewing the episode requires an HBO subscription. We will NOT be streaming the episode via Zoom. During this segment, video and audio will be off, but Zoom “chat” will be on for comments, questions, cheers, and gasps)


Please Note

  • The Lying Life of Adults can be preordered at The Center for Fiction Bookstore for 10% off

  • This event will be recorded and available to anyone who RSVPs from April 7

  • A transcript of questions asked and comments made both during the conversion and during the airing of the episode will be available to all participants

  • All participants (except the speakers and readers) will be automatically muted during the Zoom call. But muted doesn’t mean silenced! Use Zoom’s chat function to interact with each other, with the group, and with the designated speakers

This event is co-sponsored by Europa Editions and The Center for Fiction.

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Silver Linings (22) Spiritual Hand Holding Through Our Blood


quantum entanglement

So I was wondering when and how the universe would speak to me again and they did today indirectly, randomly, serendipitously which is the universe’s preferred way of communicating with me and frankly my preferred way of hearing from them–that direct thing was way out of pocket. They spoke to me during my run in Riverside Park this morning through an oncologist at Johns Hopkins on a podcast. You will need to listen through to the very end of this excellent, hopeful, informative, at moments devastating and heartbreaking 38 minutes Radiolab report to hear Dr. Tatiana Prowell’s message from the universe.

This Radiolab episode is on the science behind immunity sharing, something called “convalescent plasma transfusion,” a century-old procedure that could very well help us bring this pandemic under control sooner rather than later, before too many of us have to die. And you, or someone you know, will very likely play a role in bringing this miracle about. Through Dr. Prowell the universe explains why this method will work–symmetry, the beauty of the essential, the deep truth of what it means to be alone, the deeper truth that we are not alone–things the universe holds dear.

I will warn you, however, that there is a harrowing moment when Dr. Prowell describes the true existential horror of what this virus will cause humans individually and collectively. The universe, as we know, is not an entity of sheer goodness. Remember when they spoke to me in Costa Rica they told me the universe is “tipped” toward joy–that is not exactly a panacea.  The universe is also cruel and ironic, or as a character in The Tiger King describes it: “There is a God, her name is Karma, and she has a sick sense of humor.” But I believe in my heart that the universe ultimately has our back, and at the end of the podcast they tell us a very universe-y thing: an answer to our latest existential challenge is within, both literally and metaphorically. Our own blood plasma. Simple, elegant, obvious. I urge you to listen and then I urge you to act.


If you have recovered from Covid-19 and want to donate plasma, national and local donation registries are gearing up to collect blood.

To sign up with the American Red Cross, a national organization that works in local communities, head here.

To find out more about the The National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project, which we spoke about in our episode, including information on clinical trials or plasma donation projects in your community, go here.

And if you are in the greater New York City area, and want to donate convalescent plasma, head over to the New York Blood Center to sign up. Or, register with specific NYC hospitals here.

If you are sick with Covid-19, and are interested in participating in a clinical trial, or are looking for a plasma donor match, check in with your local hospital, university, or blood center for more; you can also find more information on trials at The National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project.




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Silver Linings (21) The Undersampled Majority

The undersampled majority

This is a photograph of  Annie Easley (1933-2011), another trailblazing black woman scientist who worked at Nasa during the “Hidden Figures” era. Easley is an inspiration for computer scientist Timnit Gebru, born in Ethiopia, now a resident in the US. Gebru is leading the charge to expose bias in the “alogrithyms that run our lives.” She is the co-lead of the Ethical Artificial Intelligence team at Google and has devoted her career to addressing the dearth of women and minorities (aka “the undersampled majority”) in the datasets used to train algorithms. Read more about her and the other women trying to fight the phenomenon of “mathwashing” that allows tech companies to reinforce and further disseminate racist and sexist practices. Yet another example of women, and in particular black women, in the vanguard of fighting for social justice in every aspect of our lives.

And for a little more from me on pioneering women scientists:







From our friends across the pond:

Here’s a wonderful, hopeful poem entitled “What I Know” written by my darling friend, the writer, musician, and poet, Alba Arikha who’s social distancing in Herefordshire, on the Welsh border, read by the Irish actress and Beckett performing genius Lisa Dwan, whom I have also had the pleasure of meeting.


And over at

…there is a particularly marvelous silver lining of a post today about journaling. I have seen her journals and am beyond envious. They are each works or art, artist’s books, beautiful to see, touch, hear, feel, and smell. She has written an article about journaling and teaching her students the art at Wirecutter. Here’s a little taste:

“At a recent medical check-up, I told the doctor about the stress of being a mother of teenagers and the daughter of a mother with dementia. He prescribed more journaling to recover some calm.”

So take inspiration from Martha, pick up a pen or open a google doc, and start chronicling. Doctor’s orders.

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Silver Linings (20) Feathered Friends

You really need to watch this all the way to the end.


التباعد الاجتماعي

dervaytern zikh fun andere

soziale Distanzierung

on reste à la maison, faites pareil

stay the f— home

Read about how people across the globe are discussing and translating “Social Distancing.” 


The Italian Red Cross thanked Michele and Stefania for all the amazing masks they made!



And on my run in Riverside Park, another of our feathered friends swooped in front of me, nabbed a sparrow in midair, and then had a feast for dinner perched on a branch while little feathers floated down from above like ash.




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