After being utterly smitten by Marlena de Blasi’s A Thousand Days In Venice, I was keen to get my hands on her A Thousand Days In Tuscany. I was thrilled when I got hold of a copy soon enough, and finished reading it immediately.
A Thousand Days In Tuscany is a sequel to A Thousand Days In Venice; it begins where the earlier book left off. Marlena and her husband Fernando are just beginning to enjoy married life in Venice, when Fernando expresses a desire to ‘begin at the beginning’. In other words, he desires to start afresh at a new place, somewhere both of them would love, and go on to create the life that both of them had always dreamt of. Marlena does not have a job, and Fernando quits his job, too, to move to a pretty, little, run-down place in the lovely Tuscan countryside. Not a very practical thing to do, but then, this couple is famous for taking what seem to be impractical decisions on the spur of the moment. They have stuck to their decisions and lived beautifully by these decisions, though.
Fernando and Marlena begin to understand Tuscany – its culture, its people – and start falling in love with it. Their understanding of Tuscany is helped by their friendship with Barlozzo, a hard-core Tuscan who has been living there for ages and understands the countryside like no one’s business. Fernando and Marlena explore Tuscany together with Barlozzo, whom they lovingly call ‘the duke’, and their explorations and life in Tuscany are what this non-fiction book is all about. Marlena has included some of her favourite Tuscan recipes at the end of almost every chapter.
I was as charmed by this book as I was by A Thousand Days In Venice. It is a beautifully written book, with a lot of soul and love. The prose, as in the earlier book, is sheer poetry. It is rich, vivid and evocative, inspiring images in your head. I love the way Marlena writes, the way she describes the little and not-so-little things around her, drawing you in with her.
It is slightly more philosophical than A Thousand Days In Venice, but it is nowhere complicated or difficult to understand. I had a fantastic time reading this book, and thoroughly loved it, too.
Take this, for instance:
…I went wandering on the beach near their house one day and I saw a woman who was roasting potatoes over a driftwood fire. She wore several layers of long skirts and was all wrapped in shawls and scarves. She smiled at me and I sat down on the sand next to her, watching her. Pulling a silver flask from her pocket, she reached out and turned my palm upward, poured out a few drops of thick, dark green stuff into it, lifting my palm to my lips. She poured some out deftly onto the wrinkled heel of her own hand and sucked at it, closing her eyes and smiling. I did the same. At first I thought it was awful, like medicine for a stomachache, but as I swallowed it, really tasted it, I smiled, too. My introduction to olive oil….I wanted to be her. I wanted to be that woman on the beach. I wanted her skirts and her scarves, her shawls, her silver flask. I wanted to make a potato taste better than a chocolate pie. As much as anyone ever has, she let me see myself. Sometimes I think the Potato Lady must have been a dream or a red-wrapped spectre come to pass on the great secret that living in the moment and being content with one’s portion makes for the best of all lives. But she was real, Flori. And as I think about her now, she likely had her miseries. It was how she seemed to stand apart from misery though, how she pulled the beauty out of that afternoon as skilfully as she pulled the flask from her pocket. That was her gift to me. She made happiness seem like a choice.
… I feel sad that most of us will never, not even for one of the suppers of our lives, dine as Mathilde and Gerard did, feel the nourishment of their food and their wine and their love as they did.’
‘Do you know why that’s true, why most people will never have that?’
‘Probably because simplicity is the last thing a person considers as he’s madly searching for the secret to life. Mathilde and Gerard had so much because they had so little.’
Isn’t that beautifully expressed?
This is one of those books that is right after my own heart, each passage of it resounding somewhere deep inside me. Like this quote from the book that I particularly liked: ‘My father always said hell is where nothing’s cooking and no one’s waiting.‘
It is the kind of book that makes me dream, that makes me want to create ‘moments’ and ‘memories’ rather than achievements. It makes me want to run out to the garden and smell the herbs growing there, lovingly cut a few and leave them around the house, so that I can take in the scents of them all day long. It makes me want to live life in such a way that ‘death would find me dancing.’ And, of course, it made me look up Tuscany in the world up, and really, really long to go there someday. It made my heart swell with the sheer romance in the story, too.