Thursday, February 25, 2016

Coins in the Fountain by Judith Works

It is difficult to review a book that is like several books in one, and that is the case with this book.  The memoirs was inspired by the author's time living in Rome, Italy, while she worked for two United Nations organizations.  The stay allowed the shopping and travel addict to indulge her dual addictions liberally.

We read about her work, her travels, her purchases, and also about her past and present life.  All is sprinkled liberally with quotes, Italian words, humor, history and Italian food.  Her travels in Italy left her a lifelong Italophile. heart remains in Italy with its abiding connection to the past.

Despite all her travels and reading, she admits: is impossible to know all of Italy with its overabundance of everything.
This book offers an abundance of anecdotes.  I had to put it down often because I came to feel it was an overabundance of stories, but that just means the reader will get their money's worth with this memoirs that is about much more than Rome and Italy.

Ever wonder what it would be like to work for one of the UN's charitable organizations?  You'll discover that in the book since the author worked for two such organizations, both based in Rome.  The pampered existence for the ex-pats who too often revert to their worst when not surrounded by the social pressures of their home country to behave, is not as attractive as it might seem.

Ever wonder what it would be like to live in Rome?  You'll discover that in the book, in minute detail.  It might not be what you expect, because Italian cities are pretty horrible.  Only the history and art make them livable.  The pollution, expense, inefficiencies, crime, filth and lack of amenities that many of us take for granted, would put off most people.  The nearness to the Italian countryside is the biggest appeal of the city.

Ever wonder what it would be like to work in a personnel department?  You'll discover that too, in the book, since that is where the author spent her working career.  You'll see how one comes to view employees rather cynically from that perspective.

Ever wonder what sights are within easy drives, or overnight stays, from Rome?  You'll discover many of those, in much detail, in this book, because the author and her very supportive husband were rarely still, exploring central and southern Italy, even neglected regions like Basilicata.  Longer trips in Italy to Sicily and other popular locations are included too.

There are more stories than those, about trips to African countries and Cambodia and Spain, Italian food, parties, colleagues, the U.S. Forest Service (her employer in the States), shopping, more shopping, an ex-husband (who should have been spared inclusion in the book, in my humble opinion), markets, apartments, clothing, tourists, Gypsies (Roma), sailboat trips by her husband, and ex-pat life in-country and after returning home.

To spend that much time with one person, via their memoirs, you need to be able to relate to them on some level.  If you share some of her pre-Italy U.S. American life experiences, that would help.  She doesn't always behave honorably, and shows some superficial values, but that is mostly forgiven because of her erudition and intellectual curiosity.  Everything is filtered through a U.S. lens.

The author admits to having lived a sheltered U.S. American life of affluence and ignorance before moving to Italy.  Actually, I was very surprised she got the job in Rome; she seemed an unlikely candidate for a foreign post, lacking language, life and work experience.  She became a person one could consider very greedy for new experiences.

If you enjoy history along with your travel stories, peppered with thoughtful literary quotes, you should enjoy this book.  I think it might hold most appeal for armchair travelers, readers who like living vicariously through others, or those who are planning to go on an extended tour of central and southern Italy.

From the book's description:
Innocents Abroad collide with La Dolce Vita when the author and her husband arrive in the ancient city of Rome fresh from the depths of Oregon.  While the author endeavored to learn the folkways of the United Nations, her husband tangled with unfamiliar vegetables in a valiant effort to learn to cook Italian-style.

In between, they attended weddings, enjoyed a close-up with the pope, tried their hands at grape harvesting, and savored country weekends where the ancient Etruscans still seemed to be lurking.  Along the way they made many unforgettable friends including the countess with a butt-reducing machine and a count who served as a model for naked statues of horsemen in his youth.

But not everything was wine and wonders.  Dogs in the doctor’s exam room, neighbors in the apartment in the middle of the night, an auto accident with the military police, a dangerous fall in the subway, too many interactions with an excitable landlord, snakes and unexploded bombs on a golf course, and a sinking sailboat, all added more seasoning to the spaghetti sauce of their life.

Their story begins with a month trying to sleep on a cold marble floor wondering why they came to Rome.  It ends with a hopeful toss of coins in the Trevi Fountain to ensure their return to the Eternal City for visits.  Ten years of pasta, vino, and the sweet life weren’t enough.

Part memoir, part travelogue, Coins in the Fountain will amuse and intrigue you with the stories of food, friends, and the adventures of a couple who ran away to join the circus (the Circus Maximus, that is).

Here is a direct link to the book at

Please visit the author's website and via Facebook.  She is the author of a Women's Contemporary Fiction novel set in Rome, City of Illusions, inspired by her experiences, that I reviewon this site.

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