Tuesday, February 18, 2014

At Least You're in Tuscany by Jennifer Criswell

The full title of this books is At Least You're in Tuscany, A Somewhat Disastrous Quest for the Sweet Life.  The book is a memoirs about one year in the life of an Italian-American woman who attempts to emigrate to Tuscany, Italy, at the age of thirty-eight-going-on-eighteen, with her elderly dog.

Like many people who live hyped-up lives, the slow pace of life in much of Italy, and the prioritizing of food, friends and family, captured the author's heart.  A previous trip to Italy had:
...opened my eyes to a different type of existence

So, the author gives up her life as a lawyer and leaps head first into a life of unrealistic dreams of becoming a successful writer in Italy.  She readily admits that:
It certainly wasn't the sensible thing to do.
And very quickly her fanciful dreams of what life in Italy will be like, crumble into dust, and she learns that:
...living a dream is very different from having a dream

To be honest, I found that the litany of bad decisions by the author made me wonder about her sanity.  She didn't wait for all the papers she needed to claim Italian citizenship before leaving the U.S.  She didn't same enough money to last at least a year.  She didn't find a cheap place to live.  She chose a town with little employment opportunities.  She took her aging dog with her, which was surely stressful for the dog, but more importantly, it was very expensive.  She...

Okay, I'll stop there.  I suspect much of the fun people find in reading this account of a search for the good-life in Italy, is a large dose of schadenfreude, taking joy in another person's woes.  If it is, I won't spoil it for you.

So you know what attracted the author to this part of Italy, here is a lovely 2 minute video postcard of Montalcino and Montepulciano and the surrounding area:


For the author, one of the biggest draws of Italy seems to be Italian men.  She has a fetish-like attraction to them.  Their dark looks and forward manners make a compelling combination for her.  Add to it handsome dark looks and a sexy Italian accent, and she admits she is like "a moth to a flame".  That is likely the curse of non-Italian women since the days of Katherine Hepburn and her Summertime fling with a married Venetian man, that was watched on cinema screens around the world, in Technicolor.

The tagline reads:  She came to Venice a tourist...and went home a woman! 

At one point the author mentions that the inhabitants of Montepulciano, the town she has chosen for her new home, are not happy with Francis Mayes's book Under the Tuscan Sun, and the film adaptation of the book, some of which was filmed in Montepulciano. 

In the back of my mind, I wondered if the townspeople would be happy with this author's book.  What about the wife of the man she took as a lover, or the people who befriended her, or those who chose to keep their distance from the latest foreigner to fall in love with Italy and to show up without a clue?  How do they feel about having a cameo in this memoirs?  I'm not sure how I would feel about that, to be honest.

What I really missed in the book, however, was any reference to the author writing.  She tells us, and everyone she meets in Montepulciano, that she is a writer, and yet we never hear of her writing.  It was only when reading another review of this book that I learned the book was created from a blog she kept during her first year in Italy.

It would be have nice to know how the book came into being, perhaps in an epilog.  An Epilog would have added greatly to the book, in my humble opinion, for it seems the author has lived in Italy for four years now, and is working steadily, if not lucratively, and she has this book published.  This information would give a nice ending to the book, something that it lacks at present. 

The author's experiences are not unique, but she is very honest about her own failings, and has an amusing, self-deprecating humor.  She is a fluid writer, who confidently tells her tale.  This is the kind of book you would gift to any friend who says they are going to emigrate it Italy, so they can be forewarned that they need to learn the language first, they need to secure an income, they need to realize that people live in big cities for the freedom to live an anonymous love-life, that they are not the first person to have this dream, and that the dream might actually be better dreamt than lived.

I don't write this to be mean, I write it from experience.  Life in Italy is hard. 
  • The unemployment rate his very high.   
  • Starting a business is prohibitively expensive.   
  • The workings of the public services take little account of the public, and are anything but a service.   
  • The cost of living is very high.   
  • Housing is in short supply.   
  • Prejudices against American women are strong.  
  •  It is not an immigrant society, so immigrants are not welcomed, and are most often resented and shunned.   
  • The position of women in society is a generation behind the U.S.   
  • The government pension system is on the brink of bankruptcy.   
  • The public healthcare system is archaic and poorly provided for.   
  • The treatment of animals can be brutal.
Forewarned is forearmed.  So if you are considering a move to Italy and hope to work and make a living there, read this book to learn what not to do!  ;-)  

From the book's description:
When dream meets reality. . .

Endless fields of flame-like poppies. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. The sweet, rhythmic chime of church bells.

Months upon months of unemployment? Struggling to communicate with locals? Duvets frozen on the clothesline?

Jennifer Criswell's move from New York City to Tuscany was not supposed to go like this. She had envisioned lazy mornings sipping espresso while penning a best-selling novel and jovial group dinners, just like in the movies and books about expatriate life in Italy.

Then she met reality: no work, constant struggles with Italian bureaucracy to claim citizenship through her ancestors, and perhaps worst of all, becoming the talk of the town after her torrid affair with a local fruit vendor.

At Least You're in Tuscany is the intimate, honest, and often hilarious tale of Jennifer's first year in Montepulciano. During that time, Jennifer's internal optimist was forced to work overtime, reminding her that if she were going to be homeless, lonely, and broke, at least she would be all those things--in Tuscany.

Through all her small-town bumblings, though, Jennifer's mantra, along with a healthy dose of enthusiasm and willingness to learn about Italian culture, helped her not only build a new, rewarding life in Italy but also find herself along the way.

At Least You're in Tuscany is a very attractive book published by Gemelli Press, a small publishing house that specializes in books about Italy. 

 Visit the book's page at the Gemelli Press website.

Here is a direct link to the book editions, paperback and e-book, available via Amazon.com:

Visit the author's website and blog.

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.

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