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I'm a writer, a freelancer, a crafter, a nail polish mixatrix, a tea drinker, an unconventional life-liver, a journaling junkie, an introvert, a chronic-pain-sufferer, an idealist, a geek, a TV-lover. Welcome to my corner of the web!

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Friday, March 4, 2016

What I learned from The Reluctant Tuscan


When I'm feeling restless--which is most of the time, since I grew up moving every few years--I read travel narratives. Since I've been SO restless the last few years, when we went to the Library Book Sale this past December, I picked up a bunch of travel books, and as it happened, most of the ones available were about Tuscany. It's like a mini-library of books about people moving to Tuscany had been emptied out on the table. This is the first of those that I've read so far, and it was so much fun.

Phil Doran is a TV writer on sitcoms, totally on board with the LA lifestyle, until his wife--and artist--tells him she bought a house in Tuscany, and she wants them to live there together and have a life together, instead of the half-together, half-separate they've been working with for years. He thinks she's insane, but he loves her, so he goes along with it--mostly. The house, however, is a wreck, and the town, though beautiful, is a microcosm of How Things Work Differently In Italy, and he has a lot of LA anxiety to work through to really get on board.

The book is charming, funny, ridiculous, and even when he hates every moment of what's going on, makes me really want to eat everything ever made in Italy. It's also full of these little nuggets of wonderfulness that make Italy look really appealing, even when he's complaining about how hard it all is.

Here's some stuff I learned from reading The Reluctant Tuscan:

  • Unreliable narrators are fun even in first-person biographical stories!
  • "when it's three o'clock in New York, it's 1537 AD in Florence"
  • Italian has the best words: cittapazza - "crazy town", sussuroventi - "whispers in the wind"
  • There's a whole cowboy culture in Italy, and there's a rodeo in the summer where they gather and show off their tricks.
  • During WWII, Tuscany had it bad, and when they were liberated by American soldiers, they dedicated a day to remembering the end of the war for them.
  • The differences between life in LA and life in Tuscany are so stark that they may as well be on different planets.
  • There's this hint that America feels like it wants all that old-world stuff--the community center, the small-town feel, the history, the beauty--but that we don't know how to do it right or organically, and so we wind up with these manufactured things that serve the same purpose but don't have the depth--prefab neghborhoods, malls, organized markets, stuff like that.
  • Writing about something after the fact gives you the perspective to show how wrong you had it as a humorous quirk, while leading the reader to the truth that you discover by the end of the book--if he'd done this without that perspective, all his fighting and complaining would have come across much more annoying and unfair, and less like lessons being learned.
  • Italians can hold a grudge a crazy long time!
  • That area of Italy is where, historically, important artists have gone through since at least the Renaissance, and it means that it's full of Art.
  • In August, practically the whole country--and a lot of the countries around them--closes up shop so that they can all go to the beach at the same time.
  • The food there sounds amazing.
  • People in the area go to operas as a recreational thing in the summers. Like, when was the last time any of us did that?
  • Some of the buildings in this book are over a thousand years old.
  • Olives don't get picked, they get shaken and knocked from the tree into big nets, and it's a whole-community event when it's time to harvest, because the olives won't wait.
  • If a Tuscan is really worried about you, he'll bring a box of fruit and veg from his own garden.
  • Italians don't work on schedules like Americans tend to expect.
  • You need a road to have an address, and you need an address to file construction paperwork, and until your paperwork is filed, you can't do any construction--so the road there happened in the dark of night, mysteriously.
  • Italians live every emotion they feel--it makes them loud and super-emotive, but it probably also makes them happier and healthier.




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