Travel memoirs are one of my favourite forms of escapism and I have many favourites, charming books that tell the often-enhanced travel stories of people just like us but who get to travel, then write about it, then travel some more...and write about it. Now that's Utopia!
Another much-loved author is the effervescent Italian, Adrianna Trigiani, who has this to say - "The great Marlena de Blasi writes fairy tales for grown ups." Well, this book, and others that Marlena has since written, are my kind of fairy tale.
I was writing my entry for the A - Z Challenge and as my V is for Venice, I thought, why not review this luscious book?
A Thousand Days In Venice is a charming story about love found late in life and straight away the story will resonate with many readers. Marlena is a divorced American chef who decides to leave her material possessions and America behind and travel to Venice, Italy, and lo and behold she finds love with a "blueberry-eyed Venetian." At first she thinks she is too old for romantic love and intimacy and wants to run away but is inexplicably drawn into a romance which would seem to most, utterly impossible. It is a true-life memoir, and Marlena chooses to take a risk, to follow her heart and venture out into a world of new possibilities. She leaves her well-established life in the US, two grown children and a beautiful home in St. Louis to begin a new life with a Venetian she calls "the stranger."
Which I thought was a bit strange. It bothered me how she called this man, Fernando, "The Stranger," not just when she first met him, but through most of the book. But maybe it was deliberate. Maybe it added to the strange allure of Venice, a city where the idea of meeting and making love to a stranger is folklore during Carnavale.
Fernando, "The Stranger" is at times demanding in his wishes, which was strange since it was Marlena who was making the big changes, not him. He really wasn't the one giving up anything. He was also rather controlling in day-to-day living, just as you would expect of the stereotypical pampered adult male used to getting what he wants. He imposes his wishes on her and expects her to conform, yet you can tell Marlena isn't the type who would usually be pushed around by a man. I'm glad I gritted my teeth at his at times mincing habits as he did change later as the relationship developed.
As you can imagine, this is a mammoth crossroads in Marlena's life and she turns to her best friend Misha for advice. As Marlena is struggling with her feelings about this new-found love and discussing the ramifications with Misha she receives some poignant advice. "Now that it has presented itself to you, could you dare to imagine turning away form it for anything or anyone?" Misha tells of love she has once known. "I was afraid that the sentiments would change. I was afraid of some form of betrayal and so I walked away. I betrayed it before it could betray me. And maybe I thought life inside that intensity would suffocate me. So I chose a sort of pleasant, safe compromise, an emotion less than passion and more than tolerance. Isn't that what most of us choose?"
Don't most of us more often than not choose the "safe road" in our lives? Doing a Robert Frost and choosing 'the road less travelled' can be a scary thought and there are not many of us that have the stomach for it. I've read other memoirs of 50-somethings who run away from their life, find another country, find another man, and live either happily or confusedly ever after (check our the Australian Mary Moody's books on escaping to France. Hot. Hot. Hot.) Marlena's story was bringing up conflicting emotions for me as I both admired her for it, and felt maybe she was a little crazy for it too, especially with 'The Stranger' who I know I couldn't live with for a minute! But, ah, Venice I could live with forever!
Marlena de Blasi has a very descriptive writing style which is beautiful and lush. She takes you right into the streets of Venice. You can smell and see the foods that she describes with her chef's eye and palate and I could visualise myself walking down those same fascinating streets or sitting by the Adriatic Sea. (I've since visited Venice and followed in Marlena's footsteps but I took my own 'stranger' with me.) There were many thoughtful and insightful paragraphs that grabbed me in this book. Marlena. de Blasi makes you ponder choices in life and imagine wonderful world of possibilities that might just be in reach after all. But possibly more so in Venice than anywhere else seeing as it is one of the most fascinating and romantic cities in the world.
This was the first book of Marlena de Blasi's that I had read. I've since read all her travels through Italy - Tuscany and Umbria. Beautiful. Exciting. Being a chef, she has written at least two cookbooks on regional Italian food.
Would you like to be swept off your feet by an unexpected romance?
Would you give up your home country for your new love?
Do you enjoy reading travel narratives? Tell me about them...
L'Aussie's Verdict: 8/10