I miss Italy.
It is so cold in Seattle. There has been snow on the ground for the past 5 days, which is weird for here. I have to scrape ice off the car each morning and when I arrive at work it is near impossible to pull my bum out of that heated car seat to get inside. It is easier to get out of bed in the morning than to get out of that warm car. Man, I love seat heaters.
On Monday I was driving into work with my darling and pulled out my phone. I looked at the weather. The high for the day was something terrible like 35. I flip through the other locations in my phone… It was 61 in Siena. I miss being in Siena. It feels like a lifetime ago that I lived in Italy. I try and find little things around the house, at work, in my daily life that remind me of my time there. I don’t want the experiences, and the changes in me, to slip away, but the daily grind can be pretty mentally consuming.
I never got around to writing up some of the books I read when I was there. And now since I’ve got Italy on the brain, it seems like a good time to revisit this.
When I was in Italy, I tried to read books about Italy, specifically Tuscany when I could find them. I’ve already talked about my experiences with A Room With A View, A Death in Tuscany, and The Portrait of a Lady. But I did not limit myself to fiction. I also read three very interesting autobiographies. Under the Tuscan Sun, A Tuscan Childhood, and The Reluctant Tuscan. I have to say, I enjoyed each one of them. They were all interesting and charming in their own ways. The one thing they all agree on? The beauty of Tuscany and the kindness of the people. And interesting enough, they are all about people that were not born in Italy learning that Italy is their true home.
So, if you are looking for a way to disappear to another, sunnier, more pasta filled place in your mind, I recommend any of these books. They might just inspire you to do something crazy and new with your life too.
Under the Tuscan Sun
This is certainly the one of this collection that people will be most familiar with. Not only was it a top seller, but it was made into a movie starring Diane Lane.
Under the Tuscan Sun was written by Frances Mayes. It tells the story of how she fell in love with Bramasole, an abandoned farm villa outside of a small town in Tuscany. Frances spends the year as a professor in California and decided to buy Bramasole, a 300 year old house and spend her summers restoring the house with her boyfriend. It is a place of peace and beauty, but also one of lots of work.
There is this quote from the book that I immediately dog eared when I came across it. I want this. It is a vision of how life should be, summed up in a description of what she wants the outdoor table by her house to be like.
“I have considered my table, its ideals as well as its dimensions. If I were a child, I would want to lift up the tablecloth and crawl under the unending table, into the flaxen light where I could crouch and listen to the loud laughs, clinks, and grown-up talk, hear over and over ‘Salute’ and ‘Cin-cin’ traveling around the chairs, stare at kneecaps and walking shoes and flowered skirts hiked up to catch a breeze, the table steady under its weight of food. Such a table should accommodate the wanderings of a large dog. At the end, you need room for an enormous vase of all the flowers in bloom at the moment. The width should allow platters to meander from hand to hand down the center, stopping where they will, and numerous water and wine bottles to accumulate over the hours… If the table is long enough, everything can be brought out at once, and no one has to run back and forth to the kitchen. Then the table is set for primary pleasure; lingering meals, under the trees at noon. The open air confers an ease, a relaxation and freedom. You’re your own guest, which is the way summer ought to be.”
The book describes the small town that Frances falls in love with. It is also a detailed account of what it is like to restore Bramasole. She deals with bureaucracy, workers, the struggles of multi nation living, and learns to find great joy in the little things in life. The simplicity of Italian food, fresh produce, the smell of sheets dried on the line, and the general beauty of rustic living.
It is a lovely and inspirational tale.
The Reluctant Tuscan
This book was written by Phil Doran. Phil worked for years as a comedy writer in Hollywood. The tale takes place at a time where his career is suffering. He is getting pushed out of the industry by the young up and comers. He struggles to find work, but finds plenty of stress. His wife is a sculptor and travels frequently to Italy to train and work. She loves it there. He couldn’t imagine leaving Hollywood. On one of her trips, she buys a run down “rustic” farmhouse for them to remodel and move into. He is shocked and not terribly excited. Why move to a place where he doesn’t know the language and where he can’t get Chinese food at any time of the night? What about his work?
Turns out, his wife was worried about his happiness and health and decided the only way to save her husband and their marriage was to do something drastic.
Phil Doran writes a funny, and charming story of his move to Italy, the crazy and wonderful people he meets, the insanity of Italian bureaucracy, the beauty of family, and the importance of living your life. It is not always easy for him, but he eventually realizes the truly important things in his life and finds happiness in the Italian way of living.
This book is very similar to Under the Tuscan Sun in many ways, but where that book is full of introspection and beauty, The Reluctant Tuscan is full of characters. He tells hilarious stories about his neighbors and the ways of doing things. It is Under the Tuscan Sun told as a standup. Very fun little book.
A Tuscan Childhood
This autobiography tells the tale of Keeta Beevor. She wrote the tale at the end of her life, before she died in 1995 at the age of 84. The story is about her upbringing in Italy. Her English parents moved her and her brother to a castle in Italy at a young age. She describes growing up in Tuscany in the early 1900s as well as the effects of World War 2 on her family, friends, and property.
This was a fascinating tale. Learning about the social structures, history of wine making and olive oil making in the time period was wonderful. So much done by hand. So much done only with the help of friends and family and a town that supports each other. There is considerable charm in the story. Her father built a rooftop garden at the old castle, in the same place that was formerly filled with cannons. He was an artist. Spending a childhood frolicking through the hills of Tuscany sounds pretty magical.
This was a charming historical tale about finding yourself in Italy. Not as funny or emotional as the first two books, but interesting in a different way. If you are interested in the lives of average people in a different time period, you will enjoy this read.
Dreaming of Italy. Hope your holiday season is going well. I’m looking forward to making lots of fun gifts for family and friends over the next few weeks. Remember, gift giving is not about the money you spend, but the way you show the people you love how you feel about them.