Sunday, November 16, 2003

After I told my future mother-in-law how much I'd enjoyed Under the Tuscan Sun, she scoffed a bit and said that there were so many better books in that genre--and then proceeded to send them all to me! A few weeks ago I received a box from Amazon full of books about Italy, which was quite a nice little surprise. Several of them I'd heard of before, since they'd been excerpted in a book I reviewed here a while back called Desiring Italy--narratives by Iris Origo and Lisa St. Aubin de Teran. Because the box came at a time when I'd just gathered up from our shelves a stack of books that need to be read so that they can consequently be gotten rid of, I haven't delved very far into Italy yet. I have, however, read the one most recommended by Odious's mother, viz. Paulo Tullio's North of Naples, South of Rome, and another called Within Tuscany, by Matthew Spender.

The descriptions of food in the former were so good that they made me feel hungry despite reading the book while violently ill with the flu. Italians seem to be always sociable, and what better way to socialize than through food? Tullio describes not only the meal preparations of pasta (an excellent pastime which we have enjoyed upon occasion) and other dishes, but also the killing and preparing of a pig, and the gathering of the entire town for a huge dinner at the local restaurant. Unfortunately the author lacks an elegant writing style, but after a while I got used to the roughness of his prose, and it almost seemed a complement to the subject.

Within Tuscany lacked the coherence of the other book, as the author seemed interested in every aspect of his local area. Because of this the book had no overall flow to it--a chapter on beekeeping was followed by a chapter on visiting Michelangelo's quarry followed by the history (such as it is) of the Etruscans followed by the sculpting of a crucifix for the local church. It was all interesting, but I had trouble getting into the book because it was so disjointed. Also I was irritated by the recurring presence of a captivating young woman who kept Spender's mind on things other than his wife and children.

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