Something there is that doesn’t love a wall

Writing Inspiration on the Amalfi Coast

I’ve been stuck lately working on a chapter in the novel. I know, it happens to writers all the time. The writing rarely flows continuously without a hiccup here or there to slow things down. Like the washboard surfaces on the dirt roads that were so much fun to ride my bike over when I was kid, I may keep writing and writing, but sometimes the words come out with a struggle, all bumpy and hard. Other times, the words for a particular scene may not come at all, even if I know what happens next. I was mulling over the flow of writing and the idea of writer’s block the other day while making dinner. As I stirred the pasta sauce and it bubbled away, the image of a wall came to mind. Not any kind of wall, an old stone wall. The kind that used to separate farm land before modern fences and the kind that are used to build walls and terraces here on the Amalfi Coast. The kind that fall apart and need to be rebuilt. The first line from Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall” ran through my head, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” Writers, I thought. Writers don’t like walls.

Scala Torre dello Ziro Watchtower

When I’m stuck, it’s often not because I don’t know what I’m trying to write or what is happening next. That’s writer’s block, for me, when you find yourself unable to describe what you’re writing or what’s happening next. I often get stuck waiting for the right words to come. I can be a frustrating experience when at other times they come so easily. But I’m not one to sit around waiting for Inspiration to arrive, and my work as full time freelance writer has taught me that Inspiration ain’t ever going to show up at your door with a project fully written by a deadline if you don’t roll up your sleeves and work hard at it.

I see these periods of struggle more like a wall rather than a block. Sometimes they fall down naturally, just like the stone walls Frost describes putting back together each spring with this neighbor. Ideas expand and swell the tiny gaps and send the walls tumbling down just like ice in the winter. Other times you can peek through a hole and find it just large enough to squeeze through and get to the other side. If that fails, there’s always the good old bulldozer. Put on the work boots and helmet, pick up the pen, and plow right on through. (It’s an imaginative wall anyway, so what does it matter how big of a mess you make?) All that matters is that you end up on the other side with some words on a piece of paper or typed on the computer. Sometimes it doesn’t even matter how good they are. That’s what editing is for, right?

Spring crocus on a stone wall Amalfi Coast

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.

What do you do to break through walls that block your creative process?

Annual Reading Meme 2011

I’ve never been much for memes. While I enjoy reading them, and have even taken my turn at writing one, I’ve never felt like the questions related to my life in a way that made me want to return year after year. For the past few years, however, I’ve been keeping a reading journal where I note down the books I’ve read and try as often as I can to write my thoughts during and after reading. I don’t always succeed, but it’s a habit I enjoy improving.

Recently, the idea of a Reading Meme popped into my head. (Read: this morning.) After a few basic searches didn’t turn up a series of questions that seemed quite right, I sat down and wrote my own. So in the span of a very short time, I’ve gone from a meme skeptic to a meme writer. Well, there you go! Here’s my first Annual Reading Meme for 2011. I invite anyone interested in reading to share their own reading memes as a fun way to swap recommendations for great reads and new authors!


What books did you read in 2011?

Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris by Graham Robb

The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious—and Perplexing—City by David Lebovitz

Markets of Paris by Dixon and Ruthanne Long

Paris Art Nouveau by Janine Casevecchie

What Matters Most by Luanne Rice

A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The French Gardener by Santa Montefiore

Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

Sea of Lost Love by Santa Montefiore

Echoes by Maeve Binchy

Last Voyage of the Valentina by Santa Montefiore

The Italian Matchmaker by Santa Montefiore

La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World’s Most Enchanting Language by Dianne Hales

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Gelato Sisterhood on the Amalfi Shore by Chantal Kelly

Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas

Secrets of Paris by Luanne Rice

The French Gardener by Santa Montefiore

Favorite book of 2011

Favorite book of the year?

This is a tough one given that I read books by some of my favorite authors in 2011. Top of my list for last year would be a tough call between several books by Santa Montefiore. If I had to choose just one, it would be The French Gardener. I’ve loved all Montefiore’s books that I’ve read so far, but this one has a spot in my heart as the first book by her that I read. I’m thrilled to look over at the stack of Montefiore’s books I have still to read on my desk waiting for me in 2012. Even better, Montefiore’s hard at work writing more, with a new book, The Legacy of Fairfield Park, scheduled for a July UK release and a book set in Ireland in the works. Such a relief that I won’t soon run out of books to read by my favorite author!

The book that surprised you the most?

Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor. I was taken by the beauty and intensity of this mother and daughter co-authored book. After reading Traveling with Pomegranates, I’m eager to sample Sue Monk Kidd’s fiction writing style in The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair. Both are on the bookshelf waiting to be read in 2012!

The book that inspired you the most?

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. This one tops my list as most inspiring read of 2011 due of its impact on my personal life, as well as my work and writing. I picked it up in the Omaha airport last March to read during the flight home, and was most of the way through by the time I arrived back on the Amalfi Coast. It’s a book I returned to again and again over the year, and I continue to enjoy Rubin’s daily Moment of Happiness Daily Quotation emails and insights. Looking forward to her next book, Happier at Home, due out this coming August.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Most inspiring read of 2011

How many fiction and how many non-fiction?

Fiction: 12, Nonfiction: 9. This number surprised me since I was left with the impression that I read only fiction last year.

Are there any books on the list that you’re embarrassed to see there? Why?

I’m embarrassed to see Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf on my reading list for 2011. Certainly not because of the author, but because I had to admit to myself last year that I was 31 and hadn’t yet read anything by Virginia Woolf. Phew, glad I took care of that one!

Favorite new author of 2011?

This is an easy one to answer for 2011. Without a moment’s hesitation – Santa Montefiore. (Have you picked up on a theme for 2011 yet?) Her writing style, intriguing plots with twists and turns that often keep me guessing, and lovely characters I don’t want to leave behind at the end of each book has made her not only my favorite new author of 2011, but my favorite author period. Santa’s enthusiasm and generosity are gifts I will treasure for the rest of my life.

Last Voyage of the Valentina by Santa Montefiore

Currently rereading from 2011

Is there a book on the list you know you’ll read again?

There are two that I can guarantee I’ll read again, because I’m currently rereading Last Voyage of the Valentina by Montefiore. I rarely reread books (with the exception of Pride and Prejudice, which I read about every other year), but some books are just too good to read only once! I was enchanted by this book—and its sequel The Italian Matchmaker—set on the Amalfi Coast. Stayed tuned … soon I’ll be sharing reviews of both of them on Ciao Amalfi!

The Traveling Writer

Seine River in Paris

Crossing the Seine on a winter day

I wrapped my scarf around my neck an extra time against the cold wind as we crossed the Pont d’Arcole toward the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. The weather in Paris had been mild compared to our previous January visits, but along the Seine I could feel that the temperature had dropped according to the predictions. In the distance, I spotted the dark spire of Notre-Dame shooting up between two buildings along the Quai aux Fleurs on the Ile de la Cité. A great Gothic cathedral on an island. This is the magic of Paris – that magic is real.

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

Viollet-le-Duc's spire on Notre-Dame

Walking along the cobblestone streets that have inspired so many writers is a quietly moving experience. As I stood in front of the towering facade of Notre-Dame, I felt humbled and small thinking of great writers, such as Victor Hugo, who have captured something of the beauty of this building in the art of their written words. It’s not a question of comparison that intrigues me, but a current that runs deeper – that fascinating way travel and writing overlap and interact, swirling together like the water of the Seine at the tip of the Ile de la Cité. Traveling to Paris over the past week brought up this question every time I pulled out my camera or notebook to try to fix an emotion or memory.

Detail from the Facade of Notre-Dame

Stone detail on the facade of Notre-Dame

Today I happened across Matador’s 50 Most Inspiring Travel Quotes of All Time, and not one to ever pass up a qood quotation, I read through the list from beginning to end. One by British travel writer Freya Stark caught my attention and begged to be read over and over again.

“Travel does what good novelists also do to the life of everyday, placing it like a picture in a frame or a gem in its setting, so that the intrinsic qualities are made more clear. Travel does this with the very stuff that everyday life is made of, giving to it the sharp contour and meaning of art.”

It made me realize that there is no point in trying to straighten out the currents of a river as they blend together. Travel and writing both bring the art of life into sharper focus, by making us look at the new or the familiar with different eyes. The point is simply to travel, to question and to write.

Laura Thayer in Paris

In front of Notre-Dame in Paris

Book Review | Gelato Sisterhood on the Amalfi Shore by Chantal Kelly

Gelato Sisterhood on the Amalfi Shore by Chantal Kelly

The beautiful Amalfi Coast, travel stories, history, traditional Campania recipes and, of course, gelato – I think I fell in love with Chantal Kelly’s book Gelato Sisterhood on the Amalfi Shore before I finished reading the back cover. It was a joy to dive into the story and join Chantal Kelly as she takes readers along with her on a seven day tour in Campania, with stops in some of the region’s most iconic spots like Capri, Sorrento and the villages of the Amalfi Coast. Along the way Kelly shares a nice balance of historical details and personal anecdotes from her previous travels in Campania.

The book opens in Rome where her group of 10 women arrive to tackle jet lag while discovering some of the city’s ancient and modern treasures. On their transfer to the Sorrento Peninsula in Campania, the group stops off for a visit to explore the ruins of Pompeii. The next day they’re off to discover Campania’s ancient Greek heritage at Paestum. A brief stop at Vietri sul Mare gets the ladies in a flurry of ceramic shopping excitement, but it’s not until their third day in Campania that they get the first full taste of the Amalfi Coast’s beauty by visiting Positano.

As their travels continue to Capri, Sorrento, Ravello and Amalfi, with wine tasting in Positano and a morning cooking class in Sorrento, readers are also enticed to fall in love with this special part of southern Italy. I enjoyed reading Kelly’s stories from her travels, and loved how they reminded me time and time again of my first trip to Campania in 2007 with my mother. One of her descriptions of the Amalfi Coast particularly hit home with me, and I imagine it will for anyone who has visited here.

“The Amalfi Coast is simply spectacular, divine, stunning, fascinating, splendid and breathtaking. These adjectives are often used to describe this stretch of the Campania coastline, considered one of the most impressive in Italy, if not all Europe. However, dazzling words cannot begin to arouse the feelings that only a visit can inspire. On site, you will simply succumb to the alluring charms of the Amalfi Coast just as I did, and your sojourn, after you leave, will linger forever in your memories as one of the most wonderful in your life.” – Chantal Kelly from Gelato Sisterhood on the Amalfi Shore

One could say I’ve made a career out of doing just this. Trying to capture in words—which somehow always seem insufficient no matter how “dazzling” they are as Kelly describes them—that way in which the natural beauty and particular qualities of the Amalfi Coast change something inside of you. There is a shift, sometimes imperceptible in the moment, that you feel has changed you forever. In my case, from the moment I stepped on the tourist bus in Amalfi that sunny February day in 2007, I felt how this place had already begun to stir something deep in me that I am still discovering day by day.

Inscribed at the beginning of Gelato Sisterhood on the Amalfi Shore are the wise words of Thomas Jefferson, “One never really knows how much one is being touched by a place until one has left it.” No place in the world does this ring truer for me than the gorgeous landscapes that you’ll find on the Amalfi Coast, on the coastline surrounding Sorrento and the island of Capri. These are places that seem somehow just too beautiful to be true when you first see them. The American writer John Steinbeck captured this sentiment perfectly in an oft-quoted description of Positano written in 1953, “Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.”

Nearly sixty years later, Kelly’s book proves that the Amalfi Coast’s allure is as strong as ever. Whether you’ve always dreamed of coming to this stunning part of southern Italy or you’ve been time and time again, you’ll enjoy joining Chantal Kelly on her journey to Campania in Gelato Sisterhood on the Amalfi Shore. And just to tempt you a little more, here’s the lovely book trailer to enjoy!

Visit and for more information, and be sure to stop by Chantal Kelly’s Gelato Sisterhood on the Amalfi Shore Facebook page for updates, stories and events!



DISCLOSURE: I received a copy of this book as a gift from the author. The opinions expressed here are wholeheartedly my own.

NOTE: The links in the post are Amazon affiliate links, which means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will earn a small commission. You will not pay more when buying a product through my link. Thank you in advance for your support!

A Writing Life

Not long ago, I changed the tagline of Ciao Amalfi from “Savoring Daily Life on Italy’s Amalfi Coast” to “A Writing Life on Italy’s Amalfi Coast.” This small change reflects a significant shift within myself, one that has been happening so gradually over the past four and half years that I had hardly even noticed.

View of Ravello from Scala

Life in a new country is all about savoring.

As you look around and absorb your new home—slowly finding your own place and how you fit in—all you can do is enjoy the flavors of new foods, struggle your way through understanding a new language and discover the beauty of another landscape. Such a dramatic change of scenery takes time to absorb, and even more time to begin to see how it has changed you.

As I struggled to find my way in the world of freelance writing two years ago, I brought the daily act of writing into my life in a new way – work. It has been a challenging and rewarding experience, but let’s just say that some days have been better than others. Over time, however, the good days have far outnumbered the difficult days. Along the way, something unexpected happened. Writing became a part of my daily life, something essential to be savored and crafted, much like cooking dinner each night.

Since this past summer I’ve been pursuing some other projects that have kept me away from home and all those daily habits. This time away has allowed me to reflect on where exactly my passions lie and what I need to do to pursue them. The biggest hole I have felt over the past summer is the loss of my writing time each day.

Old Stone Building on the Amalfi Coast

Just as I’ve been discovering the depth of my passion for writing, this morning brought me a perfectly timed treasure of inspiration from Diana Strinati Baur at A Certain Simplicity, as she shared about the experience of writing her novel and the decisions we make each day to pursue our passions.

Decide to do. Forget about trying. Just do it. Give it your heart and soul and mind and time, whatever it is.  – Diana Strinati Baur from Decide

So what is it for me?

To write and publish the novel with my mother.

There it is in all its simplicity and complexity – the thing that I am giving my heart and soul and mind and time to. Over the past months I have been slowly pulling away from the commitments that keep me away from my writing desk. I’m making decisions and changes with one thing in mind – the novel. It’s time. I’ve felt it coming for many months now, but it is finally time to be done with the trying and get busy with the doing. I am grateful every day to have such a passionate and inspirational companion to share this creative journey with – my mother.

If you are in the process of working toward a goal or passion, wherever your creativity may lie, I recommend reading Diana’s post called Decide. It is a gift of inspiration that I know I will return to again and again. I look forward to sharing our writing adventures with you, and I hope you will share your creative journey, too!