Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Not in a Tuscan Villa by John and Nancy Petralia

The text that appears on the cover of this book is:  Not in a Tuscan Villa:  During a year in Italy, a new jersey couple discover the true Dolce Vita when they trade rose-colored glasses for 3Ds.  Quite a mouthful, but actually quite accurate!  This couple, who co-author the book in alternating chapters, really do open their eyes to the real, in-depth Italy, by embracing all the experiences they possibly can in their year of living in Italy.  They readily admit:
Living in another culture, not just visiting it, has reshaped our view of the world.
I enjoyed this book more after all the mechanics of moving to Italy were out of the way.  The "5-Ps" is what I call the mechanics:  preparation, packing, plane, papers, phones (which includes internet access).  These things are tedious for the authors, holding up their enjoyment of Italy.  They can be tedious for a reader, too!  I understand that they wished to convey to others, who might want to make the same journey, what was entailed, but I'm not one of those people, so I found myself reading faster and faster to get past that part.

Sticking with the book was well worth it!  When the authors finally settle in Parma, the writing is more about their growing social circle, their tours around Italy, and the stories of connecting with the ancestors and the living relations of the husband, who is a first-generation Italian-American, or more precisely, Sicilian-American.  The account of their trip to his namesake town in Sicily, Petralia, is especially lovely.  As is the admission:
Our other life exists on a distant planet.  Strangely, I don't miss it.  Italy's dolce vita, sweet life, bewitches me like dark, savory chocolate.

The couple was based for much of their stay in Parma, Italy.  Here is a lovely 2 minute video postcard of Parma to give you an idea of the city.


Intelligently, the couple study Italian before moving there for their year-long adventure.  In Italy, they aim to become fluent in the beautiful Italian language, and they plan to travel the country from the Alps to Sicily.  Retired, and able to finance their trip by renting out their U.S. home, these adventurers take the leap with their eyes wide open.  They are well-informed about Italy, the language, the culture, the food, the art, the history, and they strive to become even better informed during their stay in Italy.  They are the ideal Italophiles!

And they are amazingly open-minded, so open-minded that they come to reverse their thinking on two of the most emotive subjects in the U.S. today:  President Obama, and a national healthcare system!  The husband touches on this in his introductory chapter, which immediately caused alarm bells to ring in my brain, along with the words:  Don't say that now!  Half your audience just put the book down!

Changing one's opinions, especially those held emotionally as well as intellectually, is not an easy thing for people to consider doing.  For many people, these sorts of views become part of who they see themselves as being.  To threaten that is something one should do at their own risk.  These authors are not afraid of the risk.  They proceed over the course of the rest of the book to describe their encounters with Italians and with aspects of Italian society that made them question their firmly held views.

I wonder if their account will alter anyone else's views?  Or, perhaps, the mistrust of Americans who have lived outside the U.S., except for soldiers, that I have felt firsthand, makes some readers too wary of what they are reading to really appreciate the 20/20 perception that came to this couple, not from hindsight, but from a distance, from across an ocean, from within a kinder, gentler, more generous system of governance.   

Their 3D vision is not just focused on Italy, but it turns toward the U.S. and to the history of Italian-Americans, and to America's historical relationship with Italy.  I found those chapters of the book to be some of the most interesting chapters, together with the sections that conveyed the husband's experience growing up as a hyphenated Italian.

But, for me, the most fascinating chapter in the book was the one about the investigations and trials that dragged on in an attempt to bring the killer/killers of the young, English student of the Italian language, Meredith Kercher, to justice.  They share the greater details from the investigations that appeared in the Italian media than appeared abroad. 

And the no-nonsense, common sense, clear-eyed view of the murder suspects and their behavior is refreshing, especially when one considers the hype that accompanies the reporting in many countries, and the focus on the physically beautiful suspects, to the point of obliterating any mention of the innocent victim, someone's loving child, who died a pointless death.

Their return to the U.S. is as jolting as their arrival a year earlier in Italy.  The authors admit:
We've grown accustomed to living smaller and more simply.
Another problem is:
I miss the daily foray into some new aspect of foreign life.  The sense of newness that every day brought.  ....  I miss the sense of community that doesn't exist here [the Jersey Shore].
To find out how they deal with those feelings, and how they dealt with the barrage of new sensations, thoughts, experiences, art, cities, food... you can read this curious, intelligent couple's book Not in a Tuscan Villa.

Here are links to the e-book and paperback editions of Not in a Tuscan Villa at Amazon.com:

You can find a wider selection of e-book formats from the on-line Smashwords site:  epub, pdf, doc, mobi-Kindle...  If you are located outside the U.S., I recommend you purchase you Kindle book via Smashwords to avoid the foreign surcharge Amazon.com tacks on e-books sold to customers outside the U.S.

Visit the authors' website for lots of information, including a reading group discussion guide.

This review is by Candida Martinelli, of Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site, and the author of the cozy-murder-mystery novel AN EXTRA VIRGIN PRESSING MURDER, and the young-adult/adult mystery novel series THE VIOLET STRANGE MYSTERIES the first book of which is VIOLET'S PROBLEM.

No comments:

Post a Comment