Mar 30, 2022 | Letterario

Today is all about celebrating BIRTHDAYS:  My Sister’s Birthday – BUON COMPLEANNO SUSAN! – A Great Writer’s Birthday, and The Upcoming Birthday of Lorenzo in July which WE’RE GOING TO CELEBRATE WITH A PARTY IN ITALY ON LAKE COMO (more details below)!

But first, a quick look back.

I launched STARVING FOR ITALY last year on my mother’s birthday, May 2. It was a tribute to the amazing support she gave to me and my Italian life.

One of my best memories – ever – is the last trip Lorenzo and I took with Mom to Italy for Christmas in 2006.

Here Mom is, raising a toast at Bar Basso, our favorite bar in Milano.

Cin-Cin!  (And I miss you)

So for returning to the blog in 2022, it seemed more than appropriate to post today on my sister’s birthday, March 30.

Susan has carried on our mother’s legacy of love and support to every corner of our family in all kinds of endearing ways and places.

Here we are, sisters, standing in front of the Castello San Giuseppe in Ivrea the following year, 2007.

Happy Birthday dear sister!

But it is not only family birthdays I want to remember today.

Last week I worked on an essay prompted by writing advice I received many years ago by the writer and teacher Stewart Stern. Dipping back into his wisdom, I noticed it was the centenary of Stewart’s birth on March 22, 1922. So I’d like to pause and pay tribute to a great writer, and person.


When I first had the idea to write about opera and La Scala, I wasn’t sure if I should write a novel or a screenplay for a movie. So I enrolled in a screenwriting class in Seattle, taught by Stewart Stern, a name I did not know. What a wonderful treat was waiting for me.

Stewart Stern was a legendary Hollywood screenwriter.

He wrote Rebel Without A Cause for James Dean.

He wrote The Ugly American for Marlon Brando.

He wrote Rachel, Rachel for Joanne Woodward, a film directed by her husband Paul Newman. Stewart wrote a book about the experience, No Tricks in My Pocket, and did background for a memoir by Newman (to be published later this year).

And then he wrote Sybil for Sally Field, earning Stewart an Emmy.

When Stewart found Hollywood to be too toxic – Is there any question about that after Sunday’s Oscars? – he left screenwriting, moved to Seattle and became a teacher.

In the class, Stewart taught us that we need to bring our own personal emotions to the page. One day, we each had to describe an emotional incident in our life.

I told the story of being treated shabbily at the end of a relationship decades earlier, my voice still trembling with pain and rage. When I finished, Stewart looked at me and said,

“That will find its way into your writing.”

And he was right, it has…  A pivotal scene in my novel Verdi’s Flame is based on that experience.

Here’s a final memory of my days with Stewart Stern:

He brought to class huge scrapbooks with photos and clippings from his Hollywood days.

The pictures of a handsome Brando in his crisp white suit in Asia during the filming of The Ugly American were stunning.

Here’s one of Stewart, Brando and the film’s producer – That’s Stewart with the script in his hand, Brando with books.


AND FINALLY!!  BIG NEWS!!  We have tickets to Milan, and we’ll be back in Italy in July!!

Today marks 922 days since we’ve been to Italy, and counting…

Non vediamo l’ora di rivedervi!!

The birthday plans for Lorenzo are not yet final…  BUT, we will be in TORNO on the shores of LAKE COMO, and the birthday party will be un pranzo on the lake on SATURDAY, JULY 30. Mark that date in your calendars, mi raccomando!

A presto!

For More Information

Bar Basso, a historic bar in Milan, has been our favorite for decades. We recommend the Long Drink secco [dry], as my mother is drinking above. Or, Bar Basso is also home of the Negroni Sbagliato. If Maurizio Stocchetto is behind the bar, please give him our regards.  Bar Basso, Via Plinio 39, Milano

The Castello San Giuseppe in Ivrea is a wonderful hotel with a storied history… This is the place that the great librettist Arrigo Boito and the great actress Eleonora Duse fell in love in 1887. Yes, I know, I wrote a book, Verdi’s Flame, about it!

Stewart Stern: Read moving tributes to Stewart by his fellow thespians and screenwriters following his death in 2015. His writing advice is captured in a 2006 podcast in two parts. The publisher Knopf announced the memoir of Paul Newman will be released in 2022.

TORNO, LAKE COMO, LORENZO’S BIRTHDAY PARTY.  We are still working out the details, but we will celebrate Lorenzo’s birthday at Torno with a pranzo on Saturday afternoon, July 30, on the shores of Lake Como. An email will go out in the coming week with more details. If you need more information, or did not receive an email, please contact me at

Postcard from Lake Como

Torno at night



  1. I am glad you are blogging again in 2022! I want to read your novel again after reading this post. Congrats on booking tickets to Italy.

    • Thanks Laura! Verdi’s Flame has changed quite a bit from the early draft you read, and is due for another revision. Then I’d love for you to read again!

  2. Love you Dear Sister! Thank you for the lovely birthday message. It is wonderful to see the picture of Mom and then the two of us at Castello San Guiseppe. What a magical dinner we had with our Italian family that evening!

    • Hope you’ve had a marvelous day. I look forward to a summer of IN PERSON [no Zoom] celebrations!


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