The Barnes & Noble Review
A delightful compilation of the couple's humorous stories about getting acclimated to Maremma -- the poorest province of Tuscany -- David Leavitt and Mark Mitchell's In Maremma stands apart from all other travelogues about the pleasures of life in Italy. Combine one abandoned old farmhouse, a host of eccentric Italians, and some great decorating tips, and the result is a fast-paced book that leaves the reader chuckling aloud.
Leavitt and Mitchell's book reads like a conversation one would have with a good girlfriend over a fattening brownie and coffee. They divulge the dirt on fellow townies and poke fun at themselves -- mostly over decorating disasters, such as the orange walls they ended up with when they asked for a "a pale earth pigment based colour" called "single cream." Candid and unpretentious, In Maremma leaves the reader wanting even more tales from the duo.
Unlike other authors, who focus mostly on the gastronomic pleasures of Italy, Leavitt and Mitchell confess to getting sick of pesto, prosciutto, ricotta, and pasta. At one point, after three years of dining on fine Italian food, they craved nothing so much as peanut butter. Coco Puffs. BLTs. Even Big Macs! But shhh -- don't tell that to the people back home in America: "On visits home we behaved grandly, lorded our superior knowledge of European cookery over our friends and families, even corrected their errors. ('No, you never put parmesan cheese on clam sauce!')."
From the catchy chapter titles, such as "The House We Did Not Buy" and "Boredom," to the authors' anecdotes of how they morphed into Italians, In Maremma keeps the reader enraptured. (Soozan Baxter)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Novelist Leavitt and Mitchell (co-editors of The Penguin Book of Gay Short Stories) relate their first two years restoring and inhabiting a run-down farmhouse in Maremma, the poorest and (to tourists) least-known province of Tuscany. Each short chapter describes a different aspect of their lives there, from the incredible lengths of red tape involved in obtaining a driver's license (a holdover, according to a local restaurateur, from the fascist government's inclination "to make private life as difficult as possible, to discourage independent thinking") to "sheep jams" on the roads, for which local procedure is to drive right into the middle of the herd. The authors find that, in this "most boring of all European countries," "one grows to love boredom." Indeed, the authors can devote eons to decorating and landscaping. But they also "profit... from such old-fashioned... diversions as reading, listening to music, gardening, painting, doing jigsaw puzzles, cooking, playing with the dog." The character sketches generally illustrate the country's leisurely pace, e.g., their architect Domenico, when faced with a problem, suggests that they "study" it ("`Study,' in Italian, is synonymous with `put off'"). Although much of the book, replete with rapturous descriptions of furniture, drapes and paint, might be better suited to Elle D cor, the nuanced, sometimes funny depictions of the people of Maremma and the premium placed on quality of life are worthy of authenticity-hungry travelogue readers. (May 1) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Two US writers conclude their charming account of life in a non- chic Tuscan town with the insight that though they moved there "... to capture a dream less of Italy than of being foreigners in Italy, figures in a Forster novel," they have become Tuscans despite maddening bureaucracy and cravings for peanut butter. One wishes for a map, farmhouse remodeling photos, and observations on how they are viewed as an apparently gay couple. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)