A Thousand Days in Tuscany


A Thousand Days in Tuscany

Monday, September 13th, 2010

The subtitle for this book is “A Bittersweet Adventure” and that it is. I have had this book for quite a while. I’ve loaned it out only after having the recipient swear to return it. Usually with books that I have read and liked I just give them away. For some reason when I first read this I was quite smitten. Of course I’m an incurable romantic as well as an A Thousand Days in TuscanyItalophile and this book has heaps of both. So I reread it recently with the intent of doing a blog post on it. I had a lot of mixed feelings about it. As romantic as I am, I must say that it is, well, a bit florid. Marlena, the author, has never met an adjective she didn’t like and uses her entire arsenal without reservation. So while I still love it I will say that it is a bit overwrought. In my rereading I started kind of at random at first and it was a happy chance that I landed on Chapter 6 – “Vendemmiamo” – “Let’s pick grapes”. There was such beauty in the communal endeavor of picking the grapes and then celebrating the conclusion of that chore with a fantastic rural, rustic and delicious meal that it was quite a tear jerker – not out of sadness but rather the beauty of it all. There are wonderful characters in the book, not the least of which are the author herself and her Venetian husband. But most of all there is the “Duke”, Barlozzo. I don’t remember his first name or even if it is mentioned. He’s been a resident of this rural Tuscan very small town, village really, for his whole life. He’s lived through the extremely trying, starvation times during the big war and has knowledge of how to manage everything. Mushrooms, truffles, chestnuts, olives, cooking a leg of wild boar? Leave it to Barlozzo to show the way. Almost surprisingly a cultured philosophical gentlemen in the most meager of surroundings. Of course he’s quite the rascal as well. You can’t help but fall for him as the author does. The other true star is the community. While it is hard to truly imagine I can’t help but yearn for a community so tightly knit and caring for each other even though everybody knows everything about everyone. That’s one of those tradeoffs that I’ve never been faced with but again never sought out. It does make you wonder how life would, could, be different had the stars been aligned differently.

I actually have cooked two of the recipes from this book. One I cooked before I ever saw this book is called schiacciata with grapes. It was in one of Giuliano Bugiali’s books and I cooked it while staying in a rented cottage at harvest time in the Napa valley. The other is the one with sausages with grapes and I thought that it was great. The recipes are only sort of incidental to the rest of the book but provide a nice enrichment. There is a bittersweet sadness at the end that is profound but you shouldn’t skip to that like I skipped to chapter 6. For that it is really best to start back at the beginning so that you get the full weight of the context.

I truly do recommend it. After all, a little grandiose language is a small price to play for the good feelings that I get from this book.  See if you can make it though without tears. If you CAN make it through that means that you too are a romantic and can’t avoid the tears of both happiness and sadness. And of course you’ll also know what to do with a leg of wild boar if you are ever lucky enough to have one left on your doorstep.

Have you read this book or either of her other two?  Also do you have any favorite Italophile books that you would recommend?

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2 Responses to “A Thousand Days in Tuscany”

  1. Dana Says:

    Hi Joe,

    I have’t read Ms. De Blasi’s third book, but I have read this one. It was good, but I really liked a Thousand Day’s in Venice better. It was a little less dramatic and more down to earth I think, as I remember it. Both, however, give the reader a good idea of the challenges and quirks one faces in Italy, and are good studies of Italian culture. I consider them must reads for anyone considering living in Italy.

    Too Much Tuscan Sun, by Dario Castagno is a very funny read. You get some insight into Italians, but mostly what I got out of it was how NOT to act as a tourist in Italy! He was tour guide, and talks about his experiences with mostly American travelers. He also wrote Too Much Tuscan Wine, but I wasn’t as impressed with that one; just not the same excitement that I got out of the first one.

    La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind, but Beppe Severgnini, is also very good in my opinion. It is written with humor and gives great insight into some of the nuances in Italian Culture. He also wrote Ciao, America!, which is also good. It is not really about Italy though – in this one he talks about living in the United States.

    I also thought Goethe’s Italian Journey was good. Though it was written in the 1700s? I think? Some things he talks about seem familiar in the culture today. He doesn’t seem to spend much time with the Italians themselves, and is a bit patronizing at times, but I think it’s worth a read.

    I also have a good list of titles looking at Italian art and architecture – generally late medieval and renaissance, but that is probably for another post.

    Dana

  2. Joe Says:

    Dana,

    I have read her Venice book too and also the next one set in Orvieto, “The Lady in the Palazzo”. That last gave quite a view into the bizantine and to me (and her) ways that Italians sometimes go about things. Thanks for telling me about those others, I like the idea of “La Bella Figura” just from the title alone. I just need more time ;^)

    Joe

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