The Lady in the Palazzo: At Home in Umbria

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From village feasts and rustic tavernas to ancient piazzas and moonlit balconies, the smells and tastes and sounds and soul of Umbria come alive in bestselling author Marlena de Blasi's evocative memoir. By turns romantic and sensual, joyous and celebratory, touching and humorous, de Blasi's account of moving with her husband, Fernando, to Orvieto, the largest city in Italy's Umbria, will appeal to anyone who delights in travel and shares the fantasy of beginning a new life in a...

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From village feasts and rustic tavernas to ancient piazzas and moonlit balconies, the smells and tastes and sounds and soul of Umbria come alive in bestselling author Marlena de Blasi's evocative memoir. By turns romantic and sensual, joyous and celebratory, touching and humorous, de Blasi's account of moving with her husband, Fernando, to Orvieto, the largest city in Italy's Umbria, will appeal to anyone who delights in travel and shares the fantasy of beginning a new life in a very different place.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Following A Thousand Days in Venice and A Thousand Days in Tuscany, de Blasi's new book, set in Orvieto, is ostensibly about her effort, with her Italian husband, first to find, then to renovate and at last to move into the ballroom of a splendid, dilapidated medieval palazzo. The renovation becomes an engrossing portrait of the town and some of its inhabitants. Nothing goes according to plan or schedule, but de Blasi uses the years (literally) of waiting to explore the life of the town, centering on the home-based caff -kitchen of her friend Miranda and the caff 's patrons. De Blasi's exuberance and her American disregard of Italian class distinctions at times distress her new friends and also her husband, but eventually, almost by accident, she pulls off a coup of diplomatic d tente just after they finally set up housekeeping in the palazzo. Vvid writing and an affectionate appreciation of the sounds, scenes and flavors of Italy, as well as of the somewhat eccentric Umbrians she meets, will charm lovers of that country. (Jan. 26) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
De Blasi's book will make you hungry, and that's a good thing. The latest gastronomic adventure from the author of A Thousand Days in Venice brings to life an Italian culture steeped in culinary tradition and social eccentricity. De Blasi's narrative focuses on the city of Orvieto a city "built on wine" in Italy's Umbria, where she and her husband, Fernando, search for a home and find one: a former ballroom in a 15th-century palazzo. Her exploration of her new life in Orvieto is meal-centered, showing us mouth-watering community feasts, fascinating culinary traditions did you know that polenta should only be stirred clockwise? and quirky characters who help pass the time between espressos and the construction in the author's home. Recipes are included, so in the end, de Blasi's Umbria may or may not be a place you need to visit, but, thanks to this book, it will already be a place that you have "tasted" and "seen." Recommended for public libraries. Mari Flynn, Keystone Coll., La Plume, PA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A third sumptuous volume about the author's quest to find a home in Italy. After A Thousand Days in Venice (2002) and A Thousand Days in Tuscany (2004), de Blasi and her husband move to Umbria, a place where "stories and sins are passed down like sets of silver." There, they enter into a complex, decidedly Italian contract with a local family, the storied Ubaldini, who own a grand, decrepit palazzo. The couple will pony up money to repair the old building, then move in for a few years of rent-free living. While the palazzo is being made habitable, they set up house in a charming cottage-charming, that is, except for the mold and the absence of a kitchen, which poses quite a challenge for the gourmand author. In describing this new life in Umbria, de Blasi follows the formula of her two earlier books, and it works like a tried-and-true recipe. The local eccentrics (and all the locals are eccentric, of course) are charming and sometimes speak real wisdom, though not so often as to be precious. When one of de Blasi's friends cautions her that "Most all of us abide in ruins. . . . Our own, the ones we inherit," he is speaking about more than old houses. The food, of course, is an epicurean's fantasy. The author prepares and includes the recipes for "rustic, refined" dishes like pan-sauteed pears with pecorina and brown-sugar gelato with caramelized blood oranges. In her hands, food also becomes the stuff of metaphor and simile: Her eye shadow is a dab of milk chocolate, she flicks away fatigue "like crumbs of old cake," walls are red like pomegranate seeds. De Blasi is a skilled, quirky writer; her prose is by turns reserved, rococo, earthy and, above all, fresh-fresh, like rich cream andstrawberries, she might say. Delicious.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781565124738
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
  • Publication date: 1/26/2007
  • Pages: 317
  • Sales rank: 1,357,422
  • Product dimensions: 4.78 (w) x 7.82 (h) x 1.24 (d)

Meet the Author

Marlena de Blasi

Laural Merlington has performed and directed for 30 years in regional theaters throughout the country. She has recorded over 100 audiobooks, including many by Fern Michaels, and is the recipient of several AudioFile Magazine Earphone Awards. In addition to her extensive theater and voiceover work, Laural teaches college in her home state of Michigan.

Good To Know

In our exclusive interview with de Blasi, she shared some fascinating insights about her background, her inspirations, and her life in Italy.

"Everything is inspiration to write. A writer never stops writing, even if it's in his head or on paper napkins. I've been desperate enough to scratch half phrases on my bedsheets, not finding paper and fearing to lose a thought should I get up to look for such."

"I don't think writers can be raised up in a creative writing class. I think it's a bold, bad lie to convince someone he should -- or can -- be taught to write. I think writers' groups can sometimes be helpful, but I'm mostly wary even of them. Writing is a private, solo, isolating, and very lonely job. But if you're a writer, it's all you ever want to do."

"[My first job] was as a radio voice and TV voice and face. My best contracts were with Peugeot -- (‘the best-kept automotive secret in America -- Peugeot') -- and Coty perfumes -- (‘if you want to capture someone's attention, whisper') and other sort of soft-sell products."

"I taught cooking on a PBS channel for a few years. I was very passionate about this opportunity and wanted the audience to not just learn formula, but to be inspired by the beauty and sensuality of the raw food itself. My first show was live. And not understanding my gaffe until the producer explained it to me, I opened by holding up a single, great, and splendid leek. Camera in for a close-up. I smiled my TV model smile and said: ‘First, you take a leek.' I know someone has since written a book with that title, but I can assure you my traffic with those words came long before it."

"Since I live in a 14th-century palazzo on the via del Duomo in an Umbrian hill town, there's not such a great deal from which to unwind. Our life is simple and full of rituals such as sidling up to the bar in our favorite caffè -- Montanucci -- at least four times a day for cappuccini, aperitivi, pastry, chocolate, and sympathy; I write very early in the morning for a few hours, and then at about nine we go to the morning markets, shop for lunch, sit in the caffè and talk to our friends, come home to cook and put our bread in the oven. We sit down to lunch at one, get up from the table at about two-thirty or three, nap for an hour. I write until about seven-thirty, when we take the passeggiata -- the evening stroll -- the moment when the whole town is out and about. We pick up a few things for supper, take an aperitivo with our friends, head back home, where we'll dine at about nine-thirty, or go out to dine at one of the typical, tiny osterie for which Orvieto is famous."

"How wonderful you ask about dislikes, though I'm not certain this sits in that category or in the one labeled ‘things that hurt.' But I find readers who judge style -- my style -- tiresome, presumptuous, often using the critical forum to air barely disguised ‘issues' of their own. And is there some glint of jealousy in their criticism? I'm not sure. That I see and feel life in a certain way and then write about it in my own voice, well, that belongs to me. Also I think it's that I find sarcasm, in all its tortured forms, to be simply naked insecurity. It's grand whenever a person states their sentiments. Better, if done so with a fine set of civil manners."

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    1. Hometown:
      Orvieto, a hilltown in Umbria
    1. Education:
      B.A., State University of New York at Albany; graduate studies in political science, New York University

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