'How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare that after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.' No one made any reply. She then yawned again, threw aside her book, and cast her eyes round the room in quest of some amusement. — from Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen (1775-1817)
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October 29, 2010

Much, Much, Too, Very

Some of the same people Brunetti had seen in the courtroom stood in front of the counter, wineglass in one hand, tramezzino in the other. A steady current of relatively cool air flowed from the open doors at both ends of the narrow bar: it was a relief to step inside, and not only because of the abundance of wonderful things on display in front of them. What kept Sergio and Bambola at the bar near the Questura from imitating what was on offer here? The tramezzini they made seemed, in contrast to these, pale representatives of the species. Looking at Vianello, Brunetti asked ‘Why couldn’t the Questura be closer to here?’
       ‘Because then you’d eat tramezzini every day, and never go home for lunch,’ Vianello said and ordered a plate of artichoke hearts and bottoms, some fried olives, shrimp, and calamari, explaining, ‘It’s for all of us.’ He also asked for an artichoke and ham tramezzino and a shrimp and tomato; Penzo chose bresaola and ruccola, Speck and Gorgonzola, and Speck and mushroom; Brunetti practiced moderation and asked for bresaola and artichoke and Speck and mushrooms.
       They all chose Pinot Grigio and large glasses of mineral water. They carried the glasses and plates to the small counter behind them, set them out, and handed out the sandwiches. When each had eaten his first tramezzino, Vianello raised his glass; the others joined him.
       Penzo stuck a toothpick into one of the fried olives, bit off half of it, and asked, ‘What client is it you wanted to ask me about?’
       Before Brunetti could answer, a man passing by patted Penzo on the back and said, ‘They feeding you or arresting you, Renato?’ but it was said, and taken, as a joke, and Penzo returned his attention to finishing his olive.
Why is there so much talk of food in Donna Leon’s mysteries, including this latest one? Does it tell us anything about the characters, or provide a vital clue? OK, we sense that Brunetti is trying to watch his weight, and we see that Penzo (a lawyer who represents someone who knows the murdered man) stops eating his lunch (‘By now, Penzo should have glanced up or looked at him, but he continued to study his sandwich, as though it, and not Brunetti, had spoken to him’) when Brunetti’s questions make him uncomfortable. But I’m sure it’s there because Donna Leon’s characters are so well drawn, and so human, and so Italian, that what they eat, what they read and where they walk are all things that fill them, and make us hungry to spend more time in their company.

The last book in the series (About Face) started off with Guido and Paola inching their way along an icy street, on their way to a dinner party, and talking about Paola’s other husband, Henry James. (In this one, Paola makes a comment about him, and Guido has to leave the room because he cannot think of what to say in response.) In this one, Venice is in the grip of a heat wave, and everything that happens (except the murder) is colored by that.

I’ve read the last two or three of these mysteries as audiobooks, and the recordings, narrated by David Baldacci (the accents, the pauses, the passing references to place names) are very well done. There is a little less of Brunetti’s family in this one, and a little less of Paola’s cooking (the Brunettis go to the mountains, but Guido is called back, and it’s too hot to cook), but that lets us see more of Guido and his assistant, Inspector Vianello. One of their investigations, under the table, involves Vianello’s aunt, who begins to act strangely and visits the home of a well-known and highly suspect healer, while the other involves the brutal murder of a civil servant who may be involved with corruption in the courts. There’s another death, and we see Brunetti calming himself with a pizza and an evening spent reading Tacitus, and taking a stand when the odious Vice-Questore dismisses that death as unimportant, again. The mystery unfolds slowly, but steadily, and I didn’t mind that at all.

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Believing that they would be away for two weeks, Paola had cleared out the refrigerator. He opened it, found some onions in the bottom drawer. Two containers of plain yogurt. A piece of vacuum-packed parmigiano. He opened a cabinet and found a small jar of pesto, a six-pack of canned tomatoes, and a jar of black olives.
       He called Paola’s telefonino number. She answered by saying, ‘Fry the onions, then add the tomatoes and olives. They don’t have any pits. Make sure you put the parmigiano in a new plastic bag, one of the zip-lock ones.’
       ‘I miss you desperately, too,’ Brunetti said.
       ‘Don’t get smart with me, Guido Brunetti, or I’ll tell you it’s 14 degrees and I’m wearing a sweater in the house.’ He started to defend himself, but she added, ‘And there’s a fire in the stove.’
       ‘I know a lot of lawyers who handle divorce work, you know.’
       ‘And we went for a walk this afternoon; three hours, full sun, and the Ortler is still covered with snow.’
       ‘All right, all right. I’ll beat Patta into confessing and come up tomorrow.’
There was only those tramezzini, a pizza, and a little bit of pasta in this book, so it was nice to also peek through a few pages of Brunetti’s Cookbook, a book I learned about on Bookish NYC. The book combines ‘culinary stories’ by Donna Leon with recipes by Roberta Pianaro, and the recipes are often matched by excerpts from the books. I found a few (on this first look) that I’d like to try (Orecchiette with Asparagus, Ravioli with Squash, Butter and Sage, Pear Cake with Confectioners’ Custard) … and a few that I wouldn’t (Veal Tongue in Vegetable Sauce, Stewed Black Cuttlefish), but what I’m most looking forward to, if I can keep the book a little longer, is reading those excerpts. (I’ve already enjoyed the one where the Raffy teases Ciara, a reluctant vegetarian, with mad zucchini jokes.)

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1 comment:

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I always pick these books up and then put them down, I'm never sure why I don't get them, they look so intriguing (not to mention that I have been to Italy twice and believe in my heart that I should move there!). I need to check out the audio book -- this may be a great gift idea for my in-laws who like to listen to audio books when they drive on their road trips, and they love Italy as well!!

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