Saturday, August 04, 2007

A Thousand Days in Venice

I have finished book 2 in my Armchair Traveler reading challenge extravaganza. It was a tough one, but I succeeded at 11:30 last night.

My second book was also one that didn't make the initial cut--I'd never heard of it till it was chosen as this month's book club selection. The book is A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena De Blasi.

Marlena De Blasi was a chef in St. Louis who traveled to Italy and fell in love with Venice and a man named Fernando. He visited her in St. Louis, where they decided to marry, she sold her house, got rid of most of her possessions, and moved to Venice, marrying a man whom, throughout the book, she calls "the stranger".

A Thousand Days In Venice tells the story of her first meeting with Fernando through their wedding and on into the time that they decide to leave Venice and try something else. Not only is the book a story of their love affair, but it's also a tale of culinary adventure, Italy, and the need to learn new customs and ways of doing things when moving to a new land. The book includes a number of recipes, not a one of which I'm likely to cook, but it adds a nice touch.

Have you ever read a book that's just too good? In many ways, I felt this was that book. The first half is achingly slow moving, with tales of their not-quite romance and the details of De Blasi's move and her first days in Venice. But as I got to the end, and read about Italians in general and Venetians specifically, it seems as if this is how they operate, and therein lies the beauty of the book. It's as if De Blasi is the builders renovating her Venice home--taking measurements, arguing about the small details, and then disappearing for a few weeks.

Italy has always been high on the list of places I want to go in the world, but I must say, De Blasi has turned me off on Venice a little bit. Perhaps it is her own upper crust ways and if I were down "with the folks" it would seem a bit less stratospheric, but the people seemed a bit eager to point out her faux pas. The culinary world of Venice was a bit beyond me as well--I for one have no intention of eating pasta washed in squid ink--bless the squid who sacrificed, but no thank you.

Still, many of the people were very warm and inviting and understanding--as for instance was the case on Marlena and Fernando's wedding day when the Italian custom is for the guests to accompany the bride inside but Marlena insists that her cab driver circles the church until everyone is inside. Charmingly, the cab driver does so, not wishing to hurt the American bride's feelings by telling her to get out of the car.

The book was a wonderful excursion into Venetian life in so many ways, but it's not the Italy I want to see, so I'm glad to have a different take on things. I'm glad to have read the book, glad to have finished it (there was a time when I would barely crack it open and I'd be sound asleep), and glad to move onto the next thing. De Blasi is apparently working on a book about her life in Tuscany, where she moves after Venice, but after reading an interview with her on, I have to say, she is not a person I warm up to, so I'm not sure if I will read that one or not. It'll be a while before it's out, and even longer till it's out in paperback, so I have some time to think about it.

Two down, four to go :-) I'm not sure which will be next, but I'm sure it'll be as interesting as the first two.

2 pearl(s) of wisdom:

Lesley said...

Sounds a bit like 'Almost French' - the woman marrying a foreigner and trying to live in a strange country type memoir. Glad to see you figured out how to cross out your finished books!

Trish said...

Its interesting reading your review because I just finished The City of Falling Angels for this challenge (about Venice as well). I've been to Venice, but it wasn't my favorite place in Italy. I fell in love with Tuscany, especially Florence, but it could have also been because I didn't spend very much time in Venice (not more than a day really). Thanks for the great review!