The Sunday Review: Italian Ways by Tim Parks

I’m an Anglophile recently masquerading as a Francophile. I have not been to Italy yet, but books about Italian culture are certainly on my radar, as we are planning a trip to Italy in the spring with travel writer Linda Dini Jenkins. When my husband bought me a book for my birthday by Tim Parks about rail travel in Italy, I was pretty happy.

europe, italy, tuscany, crete senesi, asciano area, nature train, historical diesel locomotive

Although I’ve never been to Italy, I’ve been a Frances Mayes stalker follower for many years. Her blog is a delight and most of my mind-photos of Italy come from her Bramasole books. I’ve previously talked about Frances here and I’ve referred to her many times over my years of blogging. I’ve also had guest bloggers share their wonderful experiences in Italy, including friends Debbie and Kathy. I’ve been putting together trips to Rome for relatives this week and I’ve been drinking a lot of Italian koolaid. I was ready for Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo.

Click into the photo to read another point of view from an expatriate reviewer.

Click into the photo to read another point of view from an expatriate reviewer.

Although Mayes gave us some idea of the Italian sense of time and place,  Tim Parks’s almost sardonic take on Italy and its social structures came as kind of a culture shock to me. I should have know better; many of my blogging friends refer to issues with Italian trains, including Marisol at Traveling Solemates. We have our own issues here in Chicago with trains as well. I don’t know why I was surprised. Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo is exactly what the reviewers say it is — a revealing look at the dynamic between tradition and innovation in modern Italy. Another reviewer describes Italian Ways in this way.

“For every moment that Italy annoys Tim Parks, there are two in which it delights him.”

That’s pretty much the premise of Italian Ways. Parks tells the stories of his train travel in Italy through vignettes of the rail system and of the people he meets along the way — and it’s funny and poignant.

In reading the Christian Science Monitor’s review of this book, I also clicked into their list of top ten travel books to read before you go to Italy. My goodness, I had forgotten about A Room with a View and Daisy Miller. Those are going to definitely be on my reading  list for this year, along with a few more visits with Woody Allen in To Rome With Love.

So — should you read Italian Ways? Yes, but be aware that as Andrew Martin of The Observer says, this is a “warts-and-all” look at Italy’s trains and culture. It’s not a love story to Italy like Frances Mayes has penned in Under the Tuscan Sun and its sequels. As a traveler, I want to know about the warts I might encounter while traveling, so for me, it was a great book! Thanks, Music Man, for an excellent birthday present.


The View from Salzburg’s Hohensalzburg Castle

Today’s Photo of the Day takes us to Salzburg, Austria, for a view from the ramparts of the Hohensalzburg Castle, a medieval fortress dating from 1077.

GotMyReservations -- Salzberg, Austria

The view over Salzburg, Austria, from the Hohensalzburg Castle

For more Austria photos, check out my Austrian Pork Schnitzel and Cabbage Pasta Bake recipes, our visit to the Do-Re-Mi garden from Sound of Musicmy thoughts on visiting Vienna, our visit to The House of Music in Vienna, and Christmas in Austria.

I’m linking up with The Tablescaper for “Oh, The Places I’ve Been”, Travel Photo Monday” at Travel Photo Discovery, and “Travel Photo Thursday” at Budget Travelers Sandbox,  and Our World Tuesday so stop by and get some more inspiration for your travel bucket list!

Got my bags, got my reservations,
Spent each dime I could afford. 
Like a child in wild anticipation, 
I long to hear that, “All aboard!”

Music and lyrics by Bud Green, Les Brown and Ben Homer (1944)


The Sunday Review: A Summer in Europe

I wanted to like this book; I really did. It’s about traveling in Europe and learning who one really is. The author, Marilyn Brant, is local and knows people that I know. I’m likely to run into her someday and she’s an ex-teacher — all reasons that I should have liked this book better than I did.

Gwen is a thirty-year-old woman from Dubuque who has managed to become dull. She has a dull life and a dull boyfriend. She’s paralyzed by events from her past. She’s not a likely candidate for a romantic trip around Europe, yet she decides to go when offered a free trip with her aunt and her math-geek friends. Not surprisingly, she thaws out under the magic spell of Europe and frees herself from her past.

As I read this book, I kept thinking that it would make a better movie than it did a book. Brant’s imagery is luscious, and the quirky characters in the book would make a great ensemble movie like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I could see the two handsome brothers, Thoreau and Emerson, sparring with each other in a cathedral. I could see the romantic leads feeding each other pastries all over Europe. As another reviewer mentioned, Nia Vardolos could play this part — she did it before in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Should you read it? Maybe, if you like travelogues. That’s why I gave it four stars. For the plot, it’s about a two and a half because of its clichéd plot line and because I think the characters are overwritten. There’s very little subtlety in any of them, and a lot of stereotyping of the secondary characters. Still, there’s Rome and Florence and Venice and Vienna and London and Paris, and they make up for a lot in this book.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...