Sunday, July 10, 2011



I decided to write 'My Italian Adventure' on the morning of August 15, 1986, when I was in Marianna, Florida working on the design and construction of my new prison project. In fact, it was 3 a.m!

The night before, I was spending a sleepless night, thinking about this and that, when I started to recall, in some detail, my wonderful time in Italy. Incidents from the entire period kept popping into my head. I then made myself concentrate only on the time before Ed had come to visit me in Firenze—to see how many aspects of the trip I could remember. It became so interesting to me and so exciting that I decided to pick up the story the next night. As I was falling asleep around three, I thought, I should write this down!

While I was writing this short story, I gave copies to various people to hopefully enjoy the story and also to give me feedback. Most were kind; some very helpful:

Judy, a neat lawyer at my weight reduction clinic, read an early version. She said she got so excited about the description of the food, that she had to go out to an Italian restaurant! Oh, well!

Kay, the executive assistant to my boss at work, liked it so much, she insisted that, I bring in my sketchbook. I brought her not only my sketchbook, but my photographs and postcards as well. She was delighted to see the photos and able to connect them to the story right away. She had just travelled to Italy, and liked reliving parts of her trip. She helped me pick out the best pictures for the story.

One day, I was sitting in the waiting room at my clinic, and was talking to Judy about ltaly. A lady whom I had seen there before, but did not know, overheard us and began to talk about being in Rome a few months before. She related, "There's a neat square in Rome that has a restaurant with the best chocola..."

"Tartufo Nero," I interrupted, "and it's in the Piazza Navona at the Ristorante Tre Scalina!"

Neither she nor I could believe that we had made that connection. None of the other people in the waiting room of the weight reduction clinic could believe we were sitting there, talking about a particular dessert that was only available halfway around the world! She divulged that directly across the piazza is a little trattoria that, reputedly, has the finest cappuccino in Italy, cautioning me to remember that they only serve it in the morning, which is the only time Italians drink cappuccino—yet another reason to return to Italy!

The spelling of 'tsatskes' was difficult to discover. I asked several people at work. No one knew. I asked Scott, my boss, whose wife is Jewish. He called home and his wife and mother-in-law (after an hour-long consultation) came up with 'tchotchkes', adding that if I really wanted to know the accepted spelling I should get The Joys of Yiddish by Leo Rosen. Sure, I thought, I'll just pop out and buy it. I finally asked Gayle, my boss's secretary. "Who's Jewish around here?"

After explaining what I was up to, she responded, "Harriet in Research would probably know."

Harriet explained that Yiddish is not a written language, therefore, there are several ways to spell the word. It's written phonetically. She suggested, 'chachkas'. I liked that for I had tentatively typed in ‘chakas.’ She also suggested that I go talk to Gerry in our Medical division.

Gerry knew less than anyone. But when I mentioned The Joys of Yiddish, he suggested I go to our library. I shrugged that off assuming that our specialized prison library wouldn't have such a book.

However, the next day, when I was in the library asking two other questions: the correct spellings of "Shirley MacLaine" and "Versailles." I off-handedly asked the librarian if he had a copy of The Joys of Yiddish. "Yes," he said matter-of-factly. Sure enough, there it was on the shelf in paperback. There were six spellings with ‘tsatskes' preferred that I'm now using. I looked at the definitions and saw not only my intended usage of 'bric-a-brac', but also another curious definition of 'a sexy, wanton woman'! At the end of my visit he said, delightedly, "It's the first time in months that I've had to use three reference books to look up information for the same request."

My adventure in Italy lasted four memorable months. Believe it or not, it took me four months to create this short story, so once again

  ---Life Imitates Art.


Donald Cooke Voth, Donald Voth, Don Voth


Caliban said...

So glad you were inspired to write down the story of your visit so that we today can relive it with you. It truly was a memorable visit filled with all the joys of life, crammed into four months. Could there have ever been a more interesting and satisfying experience traveling? Until someone tells me otherwise, I will tend to think not.

Don Voth said...

Thanks, Robert. I shall never forget the four month adventure. It still often brings me pleasure to recount those wonderful days.