Saturday, January 24, 2015

Sharing a Favorite Author

Marlena de Blasi is one of my very favorite authors.  

I love to read.  I always have.  I can remember as a young girl in a small farming town in Iowa, reading nearly every single book in our small-town library.  My love of reading, over the years,  has included many of the classics; and now that I have airplane and travel time, some of the more popular best-sellers.  I am always impressed with how every book changes me, expands my thinking, alters my ideas.

I just finished another (my 3rd) of Marlena's very wonderful travel / food / love story / real-life  stories ~ and I thought I should share it with you. 
I started a couple of years ago, after our trip to Italy, to read her auto-biographys; the first is the story of her life in Venice as a transplanted American.  Her books are part-love story (Fernando, a native Venetian, sees her walking the streets of Venice, and is so taken with her that he watches, and waits; and a year later when she returns on another food magazine assignment, he finds her and  at last asks her for a date!); she ultimately gives up her life and restaurant in the US, moves to Venice, and marries him!   Her books are part food culture (she romanticizes food as much as her love affair); and they are partly her memoirs (she just tells her real-life story).  

 'A Thousand Days in Venice' is a wonderful read.
Especially for those who have visited this magical city.

But there's an abundance of wonderful love stories, true or contrived.  What really captures me about her writing is her focus on the culture of food ~ how much she loves having people at her table, how she embraces the more simplistic way of eating and living there in Italy.  

Her second book is equally as captivating, now they are in a small village in Tuscany (hence the name, 'A Thousand Days in Tuscany').   Here they make life-long friends, and build and re-fire (literally) the community oven so that the village can return to the customary communal baking of bread.  Some food customs I have never heard of; some local lore I would not have otherwise enjoyed.

She is nearly poetic in her reverence for, her respect for the food culture where she finds herself; she is one who actually lives the making and baking of the daily bread; foraging for mushrooms or truffles and wild herbs, picking fresh peaches from the orchards, and then making a meal of the harvest of the day; eating sometimes out-of-pan; sometimes out-of-hand. 

And she ends each of her books with some of the recipes she has described in the 'story'.  I am utterly fascinated.  Although I realize that I might not ever make 'white beans in a wine flask covered in wine and tucked into the overnight coals of today's fire', I love the thought that I might.  I simply love hearing her descriptions of the simple foods of the regions she lives in; how much that brings to life the environment and social setting where she finds herself living; and the interface between all that and the people that she meets and comes to love.

So I have just finished book #3, called 'The Lady in the Palazzo', which relates the Umbrian chapter of their lives.   By the final chapter of the book, I am crying. (Embarrassing, 'cause I'm poolside.) I've cried for days.  The beauty of what she was able to create is inspiring.  The sentiment of what she was able to create is endearing.  And the  resulting relationships of what she was able to create are empowering.

One of her underlining statements and concepts is:  'It matters not so much what's on the tables as who's in the chairs.'

For those of you who were a part of my 'dinner party phase', you can understand why this would make me cry!   Those of you who were there during some of my darkest days, loving and supporting me over shared breaking of bread; simple meals (I would be hard-pressed to produce a single 'recipe' that I served from that time period), but special times as we shared the space around my table, everyone bringing something from their kitchen and their heart to share.  I will never forgot those times, and the love and support and companionship that fed my wounded heart and soul.  Whether it was just 6 or 8 of us, or sometimes 14 or 16 or 24!   

Who's in the chairs is always more important
than what's on the table.

I think I am so moved by her books because she is writing her 'real-life' story (much as I am doing here on Passport Envy).   Nothing is contrived, nothing is invented;  she is just telling the story of her life.  No artificial ingredients, no artificial characters are necessary.  It's a pure tale of love, it's a pure rendition of friendships and relationships, and it's a pure passing of bread and wine.

All this with some of the most powerful prose I've ever been delighted to enjoy, such as this short paragraph (page 141).

"Our earth is so black it shines copper in the sun.  It's rich so we don't have to be", says the farmer called Gaspare, whom we met at the fava bean supper last summer.  "We make do with what the earth gives  up.  It's always enough to keep us.  If a person has more than he needs for supper and some to put by for tomorrow's lunch, he  has too much.  And with too much, you lose track of  things.  Too much to eat, too much money.  It's all the same.  What we can find and what we can grow is mostly all we have.  Living off the land wants a man's cunning and his reverence.  The rest is up to the gods.  Except when the cooks take over. Hah, when they take over, well, you've tasted what our cooks can do, haven't you?  They match the gods, miracle for miracle."

And this is what I love about Marlena's books!  

I see now that she has yet another book entitled 'That Summer in Sicily'.  I'm so delighted to have that to look forward to ~ I would be disappointed to have say good-bye to Marlena.


  1. This series sounds really great! I am going to check to see if they are released as audio books for my daily commute!

    1. I know that I checked on this as a gift for someone special (who has a long daily commute) and they did not, at that time, come in audio books. But that was awhile back. You would enjoy them very much, I believe. She has a writing style that makes you feel like you know her by the time you are finished reading what are, essentially, her memoirs. I know she is someone I would love to travel with!

    2. Well a book to read poolside is good then! I will check it out! Thanks for a great suggestion!


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