I recall times in my life when the combination of what I was reading and where I was reading came together in such an extraordinary way that they were among the things I thought of whenever I heard John Coltrane's "My Favorite Things".
One such satisfying moment occurred Saturday, July 27, in the midst of the antique market at a small piazza in Perugia, the capital of Umbria, located about 30 minutes from Panicale, where I have been for the five weeks with Nancy Silvertron.
I was there on that hot noon with Nancy and LIz "Go Go" Hong. As they shopped for tiny coffee pots, miniscule chairs and sunglasses, I sat on a bench and read the climatic scene of "The Death of Manolete" by Barnaby Conrad,
Though surrounded by people strolling past and inspecting trinkets. I was so deeply immersed in the story of the August 28, 1947 fatal goring of the greatest bullfighter of his time that I was glad Nancy was browsing at a slow pace, even by her anti-Senna standards.
I first heard about Manolete from my father when I was a teenager. My dad, Tony Krikorian, had never seen him, but spoke of Manolete in a way that brought him to life for me. Manolete was the greatest figure in all of Spain right around the time of Seabiscuit. and during and past World War II.
About six months ago, I mentioned Manolete in passing to Larry Silverton, Nancy's dad. He was stunned I even knew of Manolete and he told stories about him and said I must read the book "The Death of Manolete" by this Barnaby Conrad, who Larry knew.
I took it along to Perguia and while the girls shopped, I took a wonderful, and sad adventure to Spain.
Later, i started thinking about those rarified moments where place and book have united in my life to create lasting memories.
The last known occurrence was reading Laura Hillenbrand's "Seabiscuit", one of my all time favorites books. I was at Philippes the Original Frenh Dip and reading the chapter of the book that described the match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral. Exhilaration in hardback.
That rich L.A. setting - 1908 restaurant crowded with its world wide clientele, the five dollar glass of Havens merlot, the double dipped Lamb with swiss - and the match race. Talk about a daily double.
Two other memores of book and place are even more beautiful to me, though they were in the saddest of times. The deaths, 15 years apart, of my mom and dad. The book was the same both times, "Les Miserables". In 1987, as my mother was dying of ovarian cancer, I'd go to a park in Gardena, off Western Avenue, with a blanket, the book and a bottle of Smirnoff. Fifteen years later, as my dad was dying of lung cancer in the VA in West Los Angeles, I read Victor Hugo's masterpiece again, much of it at the bar of the Viceroy Hotel in Santa Monica. Le Miserables will always be my favorite book, even more than "Southside".
Another memorable book and place. "So Big" by Edna Ferber , read on the Amtrak train that runs between Fresno and Bakersfield. That book is about a widow with a big baby who eeks out a living on a farm south of Chicago that has real hard dirt. Talk about a book that I would not be interested in, that's it. But, the writing. the storytelling was so compelling it made me realize any tale was worth reading if the writing was sublime. There is a passage in the book I read on this southbound train where the timeline of the story jumps from the past to the present in such a wonderful fashion that I clearly remember being mesmerized. "So Big" didn't make me want to become a writer, but it did it teach me, or rather reminded me, powerfully, the pleasures reading could bring.