In April, The Other Side of the Tiber, Reflections on Time in Italy from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, also will be available in paperback. What the San Francisco Chronicle called "one of the best travel books of 2013" will be easier to carry along. Poet Rosanna Warren found Tiber "a rare and mesmerizing book;" America, "A beautiful meditation;" The Daily Beast, "a passionate account of a country's contours and its hidden wisdom." Phillip Lopate enthused, "one beautiful sentence after another. And then there is the humanity of it... ."
I am very fortunate to have found sympathetic and enthusiastic readers.
Most of the nearly thirty five years I have lived in Italy have been in Parma, an elegant city in the north. While I explore Italian life, my subject has always been pitched beyond the literal story of Italian life for expats. My topic has been identity: what happens when one writes outside of one's culture and language. The energies from the collisions and additions of two very different cultures have shaped my language and thought, taken me inside and out toward deeper focuses. Sometimes the fragments work like the cobblestones and mosaics that have made patterns last for centuries; I look for pieces that fit the complexity of what, in a memoir, we call self. Sometimes the material gushes like the lava from Etna; sometimes it invites meditation like the stillness of the Bay of Lerici in early summer. No country could better lend itself to this exploration than heart-breaking and heart-breakingly beautiful Italy.
The reality of being a straniera, a foreigner, a stranger (if we take the word literally), who will always remain so to Italians in basic ways, is an exhilarating and puzzling position. We all are strangers to ourselves at moments when we stop to ask,"What am I doing here?" or "where is home?" That sensation is often present, not necessarily as a sad feeling, but as part of the occasional perception of homelessness that builds up when one lives in another country and another language. So we take new views from where we are; our senses key into other worlds; we look back at our past, for a while, maybe with indifference or criticism, but then, with nostalgia, appreciation, different understanding. Meanwhile, Italy, the country one has adopted, keeps adding to the present in rich, life enhancing ways.
The Other Side of the Tiber, Reflections on Time in Italy explores this process of transformation starting from my early years in Rome, after I left a job in Oxford, England and was still carrying, like a Girl Scout, who had worked hard for her merit badges, my earlier years of growing up in Wisconsin.
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Book readings are interesting moments of exchange. Since many of mine take place in Italy, Italian is usually the language used even if the actual reading is in English. This one for The Other Side of the Tiber in hardback took place in a bookstore in Parma.
With good reason, Parma is famous for its tiny and fragile violets. With breathtaking wit, they pry open nearly all the fields of weary winter landscape and fill them with perfume. Their soft purple carpets are the first to whisper, bare feet.