The Lady in the Palazzo by Marlena de Blasi

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The Lady in the Palazzo by Marlena de Blasi

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Voluptuous, warm, inviting, sometimes rueful, de Blasi's third book about life, love, and cuisine across Italy is everything a fan of the genre could wish it to be but perhaps lacks that spark that could lift it into a book that everyone will want to read.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: December 2007
Publisher: Virago Press Ltd
ISBN: 978-1844082735

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Stirring polenta counterclockwise is to flirt with calamity. Any Umbrian will assure you of that.

At the risk of sounding like an utter Philistine, I'm afraid every member of my family - save me - will assure you that stirring polenta any which way is to flirt with calamity. They eat just about everything around here, except, that is, for polenta. Sigh.

This is the third memoir from Marlena de Blasi about life, love and food in Italy. The first saw this middle-aged American journalist up sticks and move - elope, almost - to Venice, to marry a man she met in a cafe while on holiday. She abandons grown-up children and a settled, successful life to be with Fernando. The second tells of their time in Tuscany. In this third episode, they move a little further south to landlocked Umbria, the only region of Italy with neither a coast, nor a border with another country.

They find themselves in Orvieto (you may enjoy the rather fabulous volcanic wine from the region), trying to rent and then renovate a dilapidated palazzo from the local nobility. This comedy of manners dances delicately throughout the book, subtly, and sometimes not-so-subtly, laying bare the intricacies of Italian social mores, snobbery and inbuilt corruption, with its equally unspoken set of mannered checks and balances. Chou and Fernando continue to discover one another in the most romantic of ways, and their middle-aged love affair is probably the most attractive aspect of the book, even more attractive than the food.

The food. Always brought to de Blasi through the people she meets. There is slow-roasted rabbit, bread, rough pasta, pesto, wine and enough to make the pages of the book positively wringing wet with your drool by the time you finish reading. It ends with a dinner party menu, complete with recipes, and I confess, I'd have liked more recipes for my money.

It's a lovely book, tipping over into American schmaltz very rarely, if barely at all, and voluptuously redolent with the sights, sounds, smells and above all tastes, of this region of Italy. We meet Miranda, in her seventies, but presented as attractive, vital and loving. There is old friend Barlozzo, the duke, lost in grief, but still up to buying a pair of Florentine leather trousers and strutting his stuff in them successfully in a way you simply couldn't imagine an Englishman ever achieving. And again, this is what I liked so much; this is a book about older people. It's not a book about the young, barging loudly through everything; it's a book of maturity. It's about older people, unafraid to continue to grasp what they can of life and enjoying every handful. There's something incredibly uplifting, reading about septuagenarians flirting like mad.

I think, though, perhaps this is a book for the fan. It's a book for people who find sensuality in food or description of landscape. It's a book for people who aren't in a hurry and who have read this kind of thing before. Others might just find themselves wishing for it all to hurry up. If you're in a rush, don't bother. If you like to savour, then it's the book for you.

My thanks to the kind people at Virago for sending the book.

Dan Hofstader is an American man in love with an Italian Neapolitan in Falling Palace while Nigel Slater's Toast talks about as voluptuous a relationship with food as any Italian.

Buy The Lady in the Palazzo by Marlena de Blasi at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Lady in the Palazzo by Marlena de Blasi at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Lady in the Palazzo by Marlena de Blasi at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Lady in the Palazzo by Marlena de Blasi at Amazon.com.

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