The Whitewashed History of Los Angeles

PASADENA, Calif. — Los Angeles's booming rise out of the 1880s, roaring on through the 1920s and the coming of the Great Depression, is a historical marvel, writes Bill Deverell in his new book, Whitewashed Adobe: The Rise of Los Angeles and the Remaking of Its Mexican Past. But, as the title suggests, this growth was interwoven with the city's often troubled relationship with Mexicans and Mexican Americans.

That relationship, writes Deverell, an associate professor of history at the California Institute of Technology, was expressed in the ways in which elite city-builders approached Mexicans and variously co-opted, appropriated, and even obliterated the region's connections to Mexican places and Mexican people. Published by the University of California Press and available in bookstores now, Whitewashed Adobe begins by describing the bloody years of the 1850s just after the conclusion of the Mexican-American War, in which ethnic hatred ran high, and hangings and shootings of Mexicans were not uncommon.

Yet within a generation, Deverell writes, the city's business interests, looking for a commercially viable way to establish urban identity in Southern California, borrowed Mexican cultural traditions to put on a carnival called La Fiesta de Los Angeles. Ethnicity came to bear as well on later efforts to corral and fill the tempestuous Los Angeles River with concrete. Proximity to the river had long been one marker of Mexican Los Angeles, says Deverell, just as the river itself had bounded (and continues to do so to this day) neighborhoods separate from the commercial districts of downtown. Concrete and fencing, he says, drove the point home.

City leaders turned to the resident Mexican population for workers to build the modern metropolis. Deverell also examines the ethnic dimensions to the official Los Angeles response to the nation's last major outbreak of bubonic plague, and concludes by considering the Mission Play, a famed drama tied to regional assumptions about history, progress, and ethnicity.

"Among the most important scholarly traditions in coming to terms with the history of this region are studies of urban growth and studies of ethnic relations," says Deverell. "My new book is a modest attempt to put those two concerns together in a scholarly investigation of Los Angeles history."

It was not that powerful Anglos were trying to render Mexicans invisible, writes Deverell. On the contrary, assimilation was specifically not the goal. Instead, he says, the goal was to keep Mexican peoples, newer arrivals as well as long-standing Californians, expressly visible on the landscapes of the burgeoning city but very much isolated within specific "containers"--containers created by discriminatory wage systems, increasing public segregation in schools and social spaces, and political exclusion.

This often grim history of racial exclusion has implications for how the future of Los Angeles will continue to be shaped, he writes. "If the city of the future is to work at all," he says, "we must look closely at how these containers were built, who built them, and how they got filled. Then we have to work together to make sure that we take them apart."

On May 26 at 7:00 p.m., Deverell will give a talk about his book at the Los Angeles Central Library, Fifth and Flower Streets, Los Angeles. Admission is free, although reservations are suggested. Please call (213) 228-7025.

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Internet voting will require gradual, rational planning and experimentation, experts write

PASADENA, Calif.--Will Internet voting be a benefit to 21st-century democracy, or could it lead to additional election debacles like the one that occurred in 2000?

According to two experts on voting technology, the use of the Internet for voting can move forward in an orderly and effective way, but there should be experimentation and intelligent planning to ensure that it does so. Michael Alvarez, of the California Institute of Technology, and Thad E. Hall of the Century Foundation write in their new book that two upcoming experiments with Internet voting will provide unique data on how effective Internet voting can be in improving the election process.

On February 7, 2004, the Michigan Democratic Party will allow voters the option of voting over the Internet when casting their ballots in the party caucus. Then, for the presidential election on November 2, voters covered by the Uniformed and Overseas Civilian Absentee Voting Act who are registered in participating states will be able to vote over the Internet thanks to the Federal Voting Assistance Program's Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment (SERVE).

In their book Point, Click, and Vote: The Future of Internet Voting (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2004), Alvarez and Hall outline a step-by-step approach to moving forward with Internet voting. Their approach focuses primarily on the need for experimentation. Hall notes, "The transition to the widespread use of Internet voting cannot, and should not, occur overnight. There must be a deliberate strategy--involving experimentation and research--that moves along a rational path to Internet voting."

Alvarez and Hall base their conclusions on four key points:

= There should be a series of well-planned, controlled experiments testing the feasibility of Internet voting, targeting either special populations of voters--such as military personnel, individuals living abroad, or people with disabilities--or special types of elections, such as low-turnout local elections.

= Internet security issues must be studied more effectively so that voters can have confidence in the integrity of online voting.

= Legal and regulatory changes must be studied to see what is needed to make Internet voting a reality, especially in the United States. Election law in America varies at the state, county, and local levels, and it is likely that laws in many states will have to be changed to make Internet voting possible.

= The digital divide must be narrowed, so that all voters will have a more equal opportunity to vote over the Internet. Competitive pricing and market forces will help to lower barriers to becoming a part of the online community.

As Alvarez notes, "There were Internet voting trials conducted in 2000, but no meaningful data were collected, making it impossible to know whether they were a success. The 2004 Internet voting trials provide an opportunity to collect the data necessary to understand how Internet voting impacts the electoral process."

Alvarez is a professor of political science at Caltech and is co-director of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project. He was a lead author of Voting: What Is, What Could Be, which was published by the project after the 2000 elections. He has published several books on voting behavior and written numerous articles on the topic as well. In 2001, he testified before Congress about election reform and has appeared as an expert witness in election-related litigation. Alvarez has a Ph.D. in political science from Duke University.

Hall is a program officer with the Century Foundation. He served on the professional staff of the National Commission on Federal Election Reform, where he wrote an analysis of the administration of the 2001 Los Angeles mayoral election, "LA Story: The 2001 Mayoral Election," that was published by the Century Foundation. He has written about voting and election administration for both academic and popular audiences and has testified before Congress on the topic. His forthcoming book examining the policy process in Congress, Authorizing Policy, will be published later this year by the Ohio State University Press. He has a Ph.D. in political science and public policy from the University of Georgia.

Robert Tindol

Caltech Researcher Receives DoD Contract to Study Internet Voting

PASADENA, Calif. - A California Institute of Technology political science professor has received a contract for $1.8 million from the Department of Defense to study the viability of Internet voting for military personnel and overseas civilians.

R. Michael Alvarez, along with Thad E. Hall of the Century Foundation, in Washington, D.C., will head up the Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment (SERVE) evaluation project which will study the effectiveness of Internet voter registration and voting, and the costs of the system. They will consider the differences in cost and accessibility between Internet registration and voting and kiosk-based electronic registration and voting. They will also study security and administration of the system.

Internet registration and voting systems should greatly enhance the voting process for overseas civilians and uniformed military personnel.

"This will likely be one of the most significant studies of Internet voting, and we should learn a great deal about the effectiveness of the Internet for registration and voting," said Alvarez, codirector of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project. "In particular, as military personnel and overseas citizens find it difficult to vote, Internet registration and voting could make the process much easier for them. The SERVE project may mean that more Americans overseas can participate in our political process."

"Following the voting difficulties experienced in Florida in the 2000 election, Caltech and MIT joined forces to try to better understand voting technologies," said Caltech president David Baltimore. "This contract will greatly advance our goal, because the military voting population offers an ideal situation in which to examine the issues and opportunities in Internet voting. We are very glad that Dr. Alvarez has been provided this opportunity."

During the 2000 election cycle, the Federal Voting Assistance Program, which coordinates state and local elections overseas, conducted a small-scale Internet voting project called Voting Over the Internet (VOI) to study remote registration and voting for American citizens living outside the country. They found that it was feasible and worth further research and development.

"SERVE also presents a unique opportunity to understand better the way in which elections are administered. Analyzing how well administrators implement this new technology will help us learn how problems can be avoided in the future," remarked Hall.

SERVE seeks to study the scalability of VOI's Internet voting technology as well as the impact of Internet voting on voter turnout and on the local election officials who process the registration and voting materials.

The current project outline involves the participation by as many as a dozen states or more, hundreds of local election officials, and hundreds of thousands of voters in the 2004 election cycle.

Traditionally, voters must first register to vote, then request an absentee ballot. The local election official must send the ballot to the voter. The voter then fills out and returns the absentee ballot, after which the election officials must determine if the ballot meets legal requirements. Mail transit time and the mobility of military personnel have been the biggest barriers to the enfranchisement of these citizens.

In 2005, the findings of this project will be reported to the Secretary of Defense, the U.S. Congress, and state legislatures, who will use these results for policy-making and legislative purposes.

MEDIA CONTACT: Jill Perry, Media Relations Director (626) 395-3226

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Caltech Professor to Help Implement Federal Election Reform in California

PASADENA, Calif.— Michael Alvarez, professor of political science at the California Institute of Technology, has been appointed to the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) California State Plan Advisory Committee. The purpose of the committee is to seek public input and provide policy guidance to assist the secretary of state of California in drafting the state's initial plan for compliance with federal mandates contained in HAVA.

The 23-member committee is composed of "individuals who are selected for their expertise, knowledge, and because they are stakeholders in the elections community," said Secretary of State Kevin Shelley.

The Help America Vote Act will fundamentally alter the way elections are conducted in California and across the nation. Signed into law on October 29, 2002, HAVA is creating a new federal agency, the Election Assistance Commission, to serve as a national clearinghouse on election information and to provide federal standards for voting systems. HAVA will require all states to implement sweeping changes by next year—during the presidential election cycle—to ensure preparedness and efficiency for future elections.

Alvarez was a team member and co-director of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, which analyzed the voting technology system in the United States after the controversial 2000 presidential election, and made recommendations for improvements to the American voting system.

According to Alvarez, "The Caltech/MIT team was involved in the development of HAVA, and most of the recommendations in our 2001 report found their way into HAVA. It is exciting now to be part of the process that will make the provisions of HAVA a reality for California."

For more information on the Help America Vote Act, visit:

For more information on the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, visit:

Contact: Deborah Williams-Hedges (626) 395-3227

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Three Caltech Faculty Named to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

PASADENA, Calif. — The American Academy of Arts and Sciences has elected three California Institute of Technology faculty members as academy fellows. They are Fred C. Anson, Elizabeth Gilloon Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus; Joseph L. Kirschvink, professor of geobiology; and Colin F. Camerer, Rea A. and Lela G. Axline Professor of Business Economics.

The 2003 class of 187 fellows and 29 foreign honorary members includes four college presidents, three Nobel laureates, and four Pulitzer Prize winners.

Among this year's new fellows and foreign honorary members are Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations; journalist Walter Cronkite; philanthropist William H. Gates, Sr., co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; novelist Michael Cunningham; recording industry pioneer Ray Dolby; artist Cindy Sherman; and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Donald Glaser.

"It gives me great pleasure to welcome these outstanding and influential individuals to the nation's oldest and most illustrious learned society. Election to the American Academy is an honor that acknowledges the best of all scholarly fields and professions. Newly elected fellows are selected through a highly competitive process that recognizes those who have made preeminent contributions to their disciplines," said academy president Patricia Meyer Spacks.

Anson has carried out pioneering work on the electrochemistry of polymers, on the catalysis of electrode reactions, and on electrochemical reactions that involve ultrathin coating of molecules on electrode surfaces.

Kirschvink, who has been honored by students for his excellence in teaching, studies how biological evolution has influenced, and has been influenced by, major events on the surface of the earth. His most significant contributions include the "snowball" earth theory—the theory that the entire Earth may have actually frozen over several times in its history, possibly stimulating evolution. Another original concept concerns the Cambrian evolutionary explosion that he believes may have been precipitated in part by the earth's rotational axis having moved to the equator in a geologically short interval of time.

Camerer's research in experimental and behavioral economics, integrates psychology with economics to explore the impact on decision sciences and game theory. His research uses economics experiments and field studies to understand how people behave when making decisions. Such research is helpful in predicting economic trends and in understanding social policy. Poverty, war, cross-cultural interactions--most social issues are affected by decision psychology.

The total number of Caltech faculty named to the academy is now 82.

The academy was founded in 1780 by John Adams, James Bowdoin, John Hancock, and other scholar-patriots "to cultivate every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, honor, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent, and virtuous people." The academy has elected as fellows and foreign honorary members the finest minds and most influential leaders from each generation, including George Washington and Ben Franklin in the eighteenth century, Daniel Webster and Ralph Waldo Emerson in the nineteenth, and Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill in the twentieth. The current membership includes more than 150 Nobel laureates and 50 Pulitzer Prize winners. Drawing on the wide-ranging expertise of its membership, the academy conducts thoughtful, innovative, non-partisan studies on international security, social policy, education, and the humanities.

A full list of new members is available on the Academy website at

The academy will welcome this year's new fellows and foreign honorary members at the annual induction ceremony at the academy's headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., in October.

MEDIA CONTACT: Jill Perry, Media Relations Director (626) 395-3226

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Voting: Where We Have Been, Where We Are Going

PASADENA, Calif. - Americans are proud of their democracy. But the controversy over the Florida recount in the 2000 presidential election revealed profound flaws in the way we vote. The smooth transition of government, a hallmark of American democracy, seemed to hang on the workings of antiquated voting technology--the punch card and the chad.

"America is on the verge of a profound transformation in the way people vote," notes Michael Alvarez, a professor of political science at the California Institute of Technology. As computer literacy and information technology become universal, the momentum is developing for an entirely new voting system: the Internet.

On Wednesday, April 23, Alvarez will discuss the ongoing transformation in how we run elections in his talk, "Voting: Where We Have Been, Where We Are Going." It is one of the ongoing Earnest C. Watson Lecture Series that takes place on the Caltech campus.

The problems in the 2000 election were even deeper, and more difficult to resolve, than just old voting machines. "As many as six million votes may have been lost in that election," Alvarez notes, "mainly due to problems in voter registration files, long polling place lines, as well as the faulty voting machines." Some transitions have begun, as many states and counties are replacing their old punch-card and lever voting machines with newer technologies. And in the near future, most states will grapple with significant changes in how they register citizens to vote. But these changes are unlikely to be lasting. The transition to Internet voting is already under way in the United States. and elsewhere in the world, says Alvarez. The Department of Defense is expanding its program, initiated during the 2000 election, to provide for absentee balloting for military personnel. The United Kingdom and Switzerland have employed Internet voting in their local elections.

Yet problems remain. There are, as yet, no standards for security--a problem made more difficult by the fact that the vote is secret and "receipt free"--and there is the prospect that the digital divide may create inequities in participation in America.

Alvarez's talk will focus on how much progress has been made in fixing the problems that were discovered following the 2000 presidential election, and then will consider how new information technologies like the Internet can be used to make voting more accessible and secure in the near future.

For over 81 years Caltech has offered the Watson Lecture Series, ever since it was conceived by the late Caltech physicist Earnest Watson as a way to explain science to the local community. The lecture will take place at 8 p.m. in Beckman Auditorium, which is located near Michigan Avenue south of Del Mar Boulevard, on Caltech's campus in Pasadena. Seating is available on a free, no-ticket-required, first-come, first-served basis, beginning at 7:30 p.m. Parking is available in the lots south of Del Mar Boulevard between Wilson and Chester avenues, and in the parking structures at 341 and 405 South Wilson and 370 South Holliston Avenue.


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Physicist and Writer Alan Lightman to be Writer-in-Residence

PASADENA, Calif. - Merging science and art is a tricky task, but one well worth the effort, notes the physicist, science writer, essayist, and novelist Alan Lightman. As he wrote in a recent essay in the New York Times: "When the science is integrated so that it is part of the human drama, part of the beauty and mystery of human existence, then science and art have achieved a perfect harmony."

Lightman, who has taught both physics and writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), will give two public presentations during the week of April 7 as writer-in-residence at the California Institute of Technology. He will begin the week as a panelist in a Science Writing Symposium on Monday, April 7, at 4 p.m. in Baxter Lecture Hall (free and open to the public).

On Tuesday, April 8, Lightman will give a seminar on "The Physicist as Novelist," in which he will consider similarities and differences between how scientists and artists understand the world. The seminar will take place at noon in 315 Baxter Hall on the Caltech campus. The event is free and open to the public, but is primarily aimed at faculty across academic disciplines.

Then on Thursday, April 10, Lightman will read from a selection of his writings, including his new novel, Reunion, to be published this July. The reading, also free and open to the public, will take place at 8 p.m. in Dabney Lounge.

Lightman earned his PhD in theoretical physics from Caltech in 1974, and focused his scientific research on gravitation theory, the structure and behavior of accretion disks, stellar dynamics, radiative processes, and relativistic plasmas. His research articles have appeared in numerous peer-reviewed journals. For his contributions to physics, he was elected a fellow of the American Physical Society in 1989 and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science the same year.

Lightman's novels include Einstein's Dreams (1993), Good Benito (1995), The Diagnosis (2000), and the forthcoming Reunion. He has also published six nonfiction books and many essays in magazines such as Harper's, the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, and the New York Review of Books. In 1996 Lightman was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The writer-in-residence program is part of Caltech's Words Matter project, which is intended to foster appreciation of writing in its many forms and to offer undergraduates opportunities for close contact with accomplished writers. Words Matter is coordinated by Steven Youra, director of the Hixon Writing Center. For more information, go to

Contact: Mark Wheeler (626) 395-8733

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Author Reveals her "Gut Feelings"

PASADENA, Calif. – Merrill Joan Gerber, a lecturer in creative writing at the California Institute of Technology, maintains a prolific pace with her own writing. This month her 24th book will be published--Gut Feelings: A Writer's Truths and Minute Inventions, a collection of highly personal essays and powerful tales that verge on memoir. In these writings Gerber reveals the truths and inventions of a writer's vision, and the use of life as the raw material of art. Her personal essays range widely, from the mysteries of love and marriage to painful encounters with suicides and family deaths.

She writes of her apprenticeships with celebrated writing teachers Andrew Lytle and Wallace Stegner and recounts her ghostly (and ghastly) experiences during a month at Yaddo, the famous retreat for artists. Gerber includes three pieces in the book originally published as stories but which blur the line between fiction and memoir, demonstrating Gerber's contention that the deepest secrets in life beget the most passionate fictions.

About her fiction, Gerber says, "Most of my work comes from the close observation of family life. Of course, life is chaotic, and in fiction, you take control of the material and shape it, redesign it, to give it meaning."

"These pieces move back and forth across the boundary between memoir and fiction," says Janet Handler Burstein, a professor of English at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. "They are vivid and gripping, with memorable characters and events. One narrative moves deeply into a marital relationship suggesting a kind of paradigm for the systole and diastole of marriage that I found profoundly moving. And troubling. And satisfying."

Gerber has taught at Caltech since 1989. Gut Feelings: A Writer's Truths and Minute Inventions is being published this month by the University of Wisconsin Press. Her books include Botticelli Blue Skies: An American in Florence (a travel memoir), the novels Anna in the Afterlife (which was chosen as a "best book of 2002" by the Los Angeles Times), and King of the World, which won the Pushcart Press Editors' Book Award as an "important and unusual book of literary distinction. Another novel, The Kingdom of Brooklyn, won Hadassah Magazine's Ribalow Prize for "the best English-language book of fiction on a Jewish theme." Her short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, the Atlantic, Mademoiselle, and Redbook, and in many literary magazines. Her short story, "I Don't Believe This," was chosen for Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards 1986.

The author can be reached at or via her webpage at

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Caltech Historian Awarded Grant to Study Trust in Financial Markets

PASADENA, Calif. – If the social climate of France in the 1790s could be summed up in a phrase, it would be "tumultuous times." The French Revolution was winding down; Napoleon was winding up. Hyper-inflation was occurring, money had become worthless, and many financial institutions collapsed.

It would take 60 years before France's capital markets would recover, 60 years before enough trust could build up again between lender and borrower to help the country's economy start over.

Philip Hoffman studies trust. An economic historian at the California Institute of Technology, Hoffman, a colleague from UCLA, and one from the Ecoles des Hautes Etudes in France, have been awarded a $146,694 grant from the Russell Sage Foundation entitled "Trust Supporting Institutions and Economic Growth: Local Credit Markets in France, 1740-1899."

If this sounds like some arcane, dusty research, it is, laughs Hoffman. "We spend most of our time in damp archives, pouring over hand-written ledgers that are more than 200 years old." But his research into how trust evolves and its implications on long-term financial growth has an eerie resonance with today's times, he says, "due to such events as the violation of trust due to Enron, the Arthur Anderson auditing mess, and the like."

Hoffman and his colleagues chose France because of its excellent archived material, the fact its financial institutions are representative of much of Europe, and because its history provided a "natural experiment" when the French Revolution struck.

Hoffman is interested in learning how credit markets evolve, and where trust comes from, because, he says, "at the heart of our research lies a simple fact: in every financial transaction one party entrusts his or her wealth to another party.

"During the French Revolution, the government simply printed money which resulted in hyper-inflation during the 1790s," he says. "The result was to ruin many investors and cause a collapse of the lending market in Paris." Thus, post-revolution, there was no trust between lender and borrower. How then did trust come back? he asks. Are there differences from market to market? Can it be explained by the level of wealth on the part of an institution or individual?

While the research is just beginning, Hoffman says their preliminary work suggests there are striking differences in how trust evolves, and that it can't all be explained by economic factors. "We're finding regional variations, differences between northern and southern France in how quickly trust returned," says Hoffman. "Part of it, for example, was a distrust of outsiders in some regions, which meant there was no new infusion of capital."

Hoffman says they will be able to examine and hopefully explain the long-term consequences of trust as it pertains to France. And while there is a great tie-in to what's going on in today's financial markets, "we don't, of course, know the outcome and consequences." That remains to be seen.

The Russell Sage Foundation is the principal American foundation devoted exclusively to research in the social sciences. Located in New York City, it is a research center, a funding source for studies by scholars at other academic and research institutions, and an active member of the nation's social science community. The foundation also publishes, under its own imprint, the books that derive from the work of its grantees and visiting scholars.

One of the oldest private foundations in the United States, the Russell Sage Foundation was established by Margaret Olivia Sage in 1907 for "the improvement of social and living conditions in the United States." In its early years, the foundation undertook major projects in low income housing, urban planning, social work, and labor reform. It now dedicates itself exclusively to strengthening the methods, data, and theoretical core of the social sciences as a means of improving social policies.

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Caltech Author Publishes Travel Memoir

PASADENA, Calif. – Merrill Joan Gerber admits she was not pleased when her husband, Joe, a history professor at Pasadena City College, was asked to take a group of American college students to study in Florence, Italy, for three months. Gerber, a lecturer in creative writing at the California Institute of Technology, simply was not interested in leaving the comforts of home, her friends, and her aged mother.

Still, she went, and in a classic case of turning a negative into a positive, Gerber has written a travel memoir as a result of her experiences in Florence. Botticelli Blue Skies: An American in Florence, to be published November 1, relates her slow conversion from reluctant traveler to intrepid explorer.

The key, it turns out, was the extended stay. "You can't get a sense of a country by staying only two weeks and doing tourist things," says Gerber. "It takes time just to learn the currency, learn the rudiments of language, and understand the acceptable modes of behavior."

She and her husband rented a four-room apartment on the outskirts of Florence, and almost instantly became engaged, learning to live like locals. They met the neighbors, shopped at the nearby supermarket, and teased out the confounding bus schedule. "You become privy to real life by living there," says Gerber, citing the requirement to wear surgical gloves before you can feel the tomatoes at the local store, having to pay for her grocery bags, and battling squadrons of mosquitoes each night.

Then there was the infamous underwear incident, in which Gerber, who was hanging laundry on a clothesline, dropped a pair of underpants which landed on the balcony below her own. Protocol required writing out a note--dictated by her husband in Italian: "A favor--I am sorry, a piece of clothing has fallen. Please return it to the apartment on the fourth floor. Grazie."

And "Lo and behold," as Gerber writes: "The next morning, the pair of underpants arrives, without fanfare, by an invisible messenger, at my front door. It is left neatly folded on the floor. To my dismay, when I retrieve it, I see it has a hole in it. What will the Italians think of me? Look what shame I have brought upon my country."

Instead of sticking to the conventional tourist path, Gerber soon followed her instincts, making discoveries without tour guides droning in her ear, taking time to shop in a thrift shop ("Italian designer dresses for $2!" she says), and making friends with her landlady who turns out to be a countess (and who invites Gerber to visit her farm in the country near Siena).

Through a U.S. writer-friend, she meets a University of Florence professor whose specialty is American Women Jewish writers. She speaks to his class, and one young woman decides to translate eight of Gerber's stories into Italian for her master's thesis. Tangentially, she becomes involved in the lives of the 30-odd students she and her husband are traveling with. "Love matches made and lost," says Gerber, "and much hitting the discos at night, and falling asleep in class the next morning."

Gerber earned her master's in English from Brandeis University and was awarded a Wallace Stegner Fiction Fellowship to Stanford University. She lives in Sierra Madre with her husband, who is retired from his job as history professor at Pasadena City College. Gerber has three daughters and two grandsons.

Botticelli Blue Skies is Gerber's twenty-third book; her novels include Anna in the Afterlife, and King of the World, which won the Pushcart Press Editors' Book Award for an "important and unusual book of literary distinction." The Kingdom of Brooklyn won the Ribalow Award from Hadassah Magazine for "the best English-language book of fiction on a Jewish theme." Her short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Mademoiselle, and Redbook, and in many literary magazines. Her short story, "I Don't Believe This," won an O. Henry Prize Award in l986. In spring of next year, University of Wisconsin Press will publish a book of her collected essays, Gut Feelings: A Writer's Truths and Minute Inventions.

Gerber will read from Botticelli Blue Skies on November 20 at 7:30 p.m. at Distant Lands Bookstore, 56 S. Raymond in Pasadena. Please RSVP at (626) 449-3220. The author can be reached at or via her Web page at

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