If you go to a bookstore, you’ll surely find a lot of memoirs about moving to Italy and living the Italian dream.
One of the most famous is undoubtedly Under The Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes, but there are many others. I have read quite a few of them and I had to admit they tend to follow the same cliché: moving to Tuscany, buying property there and finding the love of your life – which isn’t a bad scenario at all, to be honest.
However, these kinds of memoirs are more or less always the same. They are usually set in the Tuscan countryside or in Umbria, sometimes in Rome – all great places for a perfect romance. They usually involve golden light, rolling hills, wine, and food, sometimes love with a handsome Italian guy. The perfect Italian dream.
They are undoubtedly charming, but sometimes it is nice to read something different.
There is actually a lovely memoir about life in Italy as a foreigner, which somehow follows the same pattern but it does it in its own way. It is Extra Virgin by Annie Hawes, the story of an English woman who buys an old house in Italy, restores it and eventually moves there and changes her life. It seems like all other memoirs, but there are a few things that make it different.
First of all, it is set in Diano San Pietro, a tiny village perched on the hills of Liguria. It is secluded and far from the hustle and bustle of the Riviera, a bit rugged and wild. As the writer herself describes it “glamour, we soon spotted, was not the outstanding feature of the village of Diano San Pietro”.
And it is so true. Like many other villages of the Ligurian entroterra (backcountry), it is mainly the home of farmers and olive growers, who work hard and speak very little.
I know most of those villages quite well and the writer is able to picture them perfectly. Their ruggedness, the attitude of people towards foreigners – a tad hostile at first, then really welcoming -, the daily life there, everything is explained in careful detail and with great accuracy, in a funny and entertaining way.
In fact, one of the things that make this memoir different from many others I’ve read is the peculiar voice of the writer. She has an amazing sense of humor, is able to laugh at herself and her strange ways – when compared to those of the inhabitants – and this makes her account really brilliant and witty.
But there isn’t just one book, it’s actually a series.
As I mentioned, the first book – published in 2001 but still up-to-date – is Extra Virgin. In this book, the author describes how her love story with Italy began. Annie and her sister Lucy, in their twenties, go to Liguria for a 10-week agricultural job in a village.
While staying there, they fall in love with a rustico (a country house) and, since it is on sale for a super cheap price, they decide to buy it. Over the following months and years, they go back and forth from England, while restoring the building and the olive grove nearby.
This book is followed by Ripe for the Picking, where Annie tells the story of her romance with Ciccio, a chef whom she met in Diano San Pietro. She is now living in Italy full time and the book is a nice account of life in Italy, where she tells about relationships, meeting the in-laws and just getting used to a different way of handling things, while brilliantly depicting the characters that are part of her daily life.
The last book of this series is Journey to the South, which is a bit different than the others as it is not set in Liguria but in Calabria, a region in the south of Italy. The action moves there as Annie, now engaged to Ciccio, goes with him to his region of origin to seek out his roots, meet his extended family and get a feeling of the place where his family comes from.
Set in the deepest south, this book gives the author the opportunity of comparing life there to the one she is used to in the north and, at the same time, the reader enjoys an account of life in the south as well.
I have read all three books a while ago and found them really nice and entertaining, therefore I utterly recommend them to you if you want to read a true yet fascinating account of life in Italy.
By the way, have you read memoirs of life in Italy? If so, how did you like them?
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