This morning I finished the most beautiful book that I have ever read: Tuscan Secrets by Marlena De Blasi. I purposefully tried to drag out the reading process because I didn't want the experience to end.
My Mum bought me this book a few months ago from The State Cinema book shop, and while I thought the title was a bit unimaginative, as soon as I began reading I was completely, totally hooked. The storyline itself is actually not altogether exciting as such, but the way in which De Blasi writes is truly breathtaking and has accelerated my obsession with Italy, its people and its food! It reminds me of the film Under the Tuscan Sun, which I also completely adore - and if you haven't seen it, I implore you to.
This novel tells the story of an older couple who have moved from Venice to Tuscany and goes on to describe the people they meet, the relationships they form, the love they come to feel for the land and the way in which they cook and enjoy their food. Traditional Italian recipes are interwoven throughout the text and the way in which food is discussed, respected and loved reminds me that the social norm of eating a meal is truly for so much more than physical nourishment:
Everyone settles in at the table then, passing platters and trays and baskets. There is the inevitable pouring of wine. And no supper truly Tuscan begins without the thin slices of cured meats, the crostini of chicken livers, the roasted bread smeared in oil. This night will be no exception. Federico's white beans and the sausages, charred now and crisped, spooned out with the thick, winey juices of the heat-swollen grapes, are eaten with the schiacciate and chunks of black-blistered, roasted pumpkin, the flesh caramelised to sweetness, their only condiment a whispering of salt. The harmony of these foods taken on this night and among these people is one of the most delicious in my life. (De Blasi, 119).
Every sentence is beautifully crafted, infused with history and emotion. The philosophical thoughts that are brought to the forefront have made me ask myself many questions, which to me, is one of the defining factors of a fantastic book. It is unlike anything I have ever read before in that it was the language and writing style that drew me into the story and caused me to outwardly sigh, smile and laugh due to the way in which De Blasi has put words together to create some of the most dazzling sentences that I've ever read.
I have always wanted to go to Italy, but this book has intensified my fascination with the country so much that finding a way to get there some day is at the very top of my wish list.
...until we smell, then see the somber violet breath of first light, trembling, blowing out the stars. Just a few at a time, a contained overture, until ecco, Apollo, shrieks good morning to the night, exploding what's left of the darkness, firing up the sky in great hallelujahs of amber and orange and the fierce pink of a pomegranate's heart. (De Blasi, 101).