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From Barnes & NobleOur Review
A lighthearted travel memoir, Extra Virgin takes readers to the heart of a tightly knit Italian olive-farming community in the mountain village of Diano San Pietro. As Annie Hawes, a native of England, looks back over her 18 years in San Pietro, she recounts the tale of how she and her sister Lucy first stumbled upon the village. Lucy was the one who discovered the ad in a newspaper: "Ten weeks' work on the Italian Riviera, board and lodging included." Although Hawes lacked the skills required by the ad -- knowledge of grafting roses -- she decided to go anyway. The result is a delightful, funny memoir that follows the two sisters through their immersion in the food, language, and politics of San Pietro.
Over that fateful summer, Hawes and her sister manage to work their way into the hearts of the eccentric residents of San Pietro -- a community that is not very receptive to stranieri (strangers). The girls are constantly teased and criticized for a wide spectrum of behaviors that seem bizarre to the villagers -- drinking more than one cup of coffee in the morning, eating salad on the same plate as pasta, saying "Mmmm" when the food is particularly tasty. In spite of the teasing, the beautiful mountain village works its charms on the girls, and before the summer ends, the irrepressible pair have bought a dilapidated farmhouse high in the terraced hills above the village. Enamored of the landscape, Hawes writes: "The countryside around here is dotted with slate-gray rocks the size of haystacks, standing like prehistoric altars among the olive trees." The hard work of caring for their new property brings Hawes and her sister into the community's good graces. It sets them apart from the stranieri who buy up the rustic homes and then, since they are only interested in the tourist season, allow the precious olive trees to go to ruin. Another factor in the sisters' favor is their budget, which doesn't allow them to undertake the vast, expensive renovations that have helped the stranieri change the face of the Italian countryside. The open, inquisitive attitudes of the two sisters -- and their big appetite for the fresh, hearty food -- endear them to the villagers and help them turn their little stone house into a true home.
Through the ups and downs of their story -- the turbulent olive market, which has serious effects on every aspect of life in San Pietro; devastating summer fires; joyful festivals; and the satisfying olive and grape harvests -- Hawes presents the life of San Pietro in fresh, energetic prose.