The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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May 5, 2019

Armchair traveling ...




Is Mormino Penna the prettiest street in Sicily?  In one of my guidebooks, the novelist Elio Vittorini is quoted as saying that Scicli is the most beautiful town in the world. Walking along this street, I think maybe he's right.  The buildings are a soft, monochromatic palette:  buttercream, sand, ivory, limestone, white. When I was little, I was taught that the streets of heaven were paved with gold. But this street must be as splendid because the smooth-worn stones gleam like pearls. Pink oleander trees and pale, human-scale palazzi line either side. How destructive that 1693 earthquake -- but what a fervor for beauty it inspired.  We stop at a bar just to catch up with our senses.  Men are reading the paper, a woman pulling a sweater over the head of her baby, the waiter wiping the counter. Just as if they didn't know they must be angels, because this is heaven, gilded streets or not.
I have to admit that I have the best commute.  There's a university shuttle that runs between two campuses, and I just happen to live along its route.  It's almost never crowded {except when half of the Harvard Band gets on, with their instruments}, and usually fairly quiet {same}, and best of all, except when I have the chance to visit with a friend or neighbor along the way, I can count on a good 15 to 20 minutes of reading time each way.  For the last two weeks, I've been spending them in small towns in Italy, and it's been a lovely way to sort of travel there.

Although I've greatly enjoyed all of her books about Tuscany, I wasn't especially excited about this one at first, but I'm so glad I kept reading. Mayes and her husband -- sometimes with friends, sometimes with their teenage grandson -- traveled to every region of Italy, visiting villages and small towns, looking at churches, visiting museum, staying in interesting hotels or country inns or farmhouses, going to wineries and markets, tasting wines, and eating glorious meals (though she's quick to admit when they have an occasional terrible one). I thought the food might be what drew me in (and it did), but I found that I looked forward to the times when she described the towns they visited.  I actually decided that I was glad that there were no pictures, because her vivid writing allowed me to imagine them. Especially whenever she described the colors of the buildings ('buttercream, sand, ivory, limestone, white'), and I found myself daydreaming about having a soft fuzzy sweater in each one.

See you in the piazza:  new places to discover in Italy, by Frances Mayes
Crown Publishing, 2019
Borrowed from the library

3 comments:

Lisa said...

This makes me realize how long it's been since I've done any armchair travelling.

JoAnn said...

This seems like a different approach for Mayes and I'm not surprised it's well done. Will need to own a copy of this one... think I'd enjoy it more in periodic small doses (or short trips?)

Audrey said...

It still captures her lovely writing style... and it really does lend itself to dipping it into and reading in short doses. I'm often grateful for a book like that.

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