(Trying something new, for your sake and mine: shorter posts. We shall see.)
Classification: memoir, non-fiction
Four years before the titanic (and well-deserved) popularity of Eat, Pray, Love, there came a quieter, shorter book about another middle-aged woman finding new life and love in a foreign land.
A Thousand Days in Venice tells the story of Marlena De Blasi, a chef, cookbook author, and journalist who travels to Venice in 1993 to gather notes for a series of magazine articles. One day, while dining in a café, she is approached by a stranger who wants a date with her. She refuses him – for several days straight – before finally relenting. She discovers that he is a bank manager named Fernando, and that he had seen her from across a plaza a year earlier, without knowing who she was. When he saw her again, after all that time, he decided it was fate. Marlena is intrigued, but she has to fly home to St. Louis. Back to real life.
Eighteen days after they meet, Fernando comes to America to visit Marlena. By the end of his visit, they have decided that she will move to Italy and marry him.
This is the stuff of fairy tales, and Marlena, who is no young, dewy-eyed girl (she has grown children of her own) knows it. Of their first meeting, she writes:
Why can’t Destiny announce itself, be a twelve-headed ass, wear purple trousers, a name tag, even? All I know is that I don’t fall in love, neither at first sight nor at half-sight, neither easily nor over time. My heart is rusty from the old pinions that hold it shut. That’s what I believe about myself.
Once she moves to Italy, the book floats from one beautiful scene to another. Marlena visits the butchers and bakers and fishmongers of Venice, and cooks for Fernando (the recipes for some of the dishes she writes about are given at the end of the book); her descriptions of ingredients and meals are delectable. She throws herself into renovating and decorating their apartment in that old and mysterious floating city. She and Fernando come to learn each other, and trust each other, in fits and starts.
It’s an unusual love story, and Marlena’s writing is poetic and dramatic – she is dramatic, a woman who pins up her long, dark curls with enormous flowers, a woman who paints her dining room walls a bright, lipstick-red. The book’s chapters bear these kinds of titles: “Why Shouldn’t I Go to Live on the Fringes of an Adriatic Lagoon with a Blueberry-Eyed Stranger?” and “If I Could Give Venice to You for a Single Hour, It Would Be This Hour” and “Have You Understood that These Are the Earth’s Most Beautiful Tomatoes?”
Who on earth wouldn’t want to read chapters with titles like that?
This is one of those books that I wish I had time to re-read. Maybe someday.