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On the Spine of Italy: a Year in the Abbruzzi Hardcover – 9 Jul 1999
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One summer, Harry Clifton and his wife moved unnoticed into a village in the Abbruzzi mountains. Unnoticed, because although the village had a normal population of 90, the return of emigrants from America for the summer had swollen it to three times its size. For the months of July and August, they were lost in the flux of coming and going, as temporary as the rest. Their only strangeness in the eyes of the village was that they spoke little Italian and no mountain dialect. But the couple became the first outsiders to stay on in the village, into the autumn and the winter. They become embroiled in the politics of village life and make friends and enemies with the characters which people it. They learn much about modern Italy even in this most rural of settings - about modern Italians, relationship with the Church and State, the effect of emigration on small communities and how an ancient way of life in small pockets of Europe is under constant threat from encroaching towns.
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As a British ex-pat who lives in an Italian hill village I well understand how tempting it is to keep apart from the locals and their odd ways. Some of his observations are quite accurate although the whole thing reads rather as if he observes life by peering around a curtain rather than by going out and getting involved.
He also seems to find violence and threatening youths wherever he goes, both of which are amazingly rare in Italy.
Do read this if you've read all the others of the genre. It is at least some form of release from Francis Mayes' cheery, and equally unrealistic peasants but Annie Hawes "Extra Virgin" is a far better-written and more accurate book for those who want to know what living in rural Italy is really like.
Grazie tanto , e un buon libro!
The author and his wife spent a year in a tiny parish house in a very poor village high in the Abruzzi mountains. Little heat, not much food, pretty hostile villagers and a way of life filled with hardship.
This is quite a bleak, desolute book, but the author's prose is delightful. He has a keen eye for the world around him and finds much to enjoy despite the rather grim surroundings.
If you want to know what life is really like in rural Italy this is the book to read.
(But why did the publishers let so many typographical errors slip through?)
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In Clifton's Abruzzo, the villagers are furtive and untrustworthy. Wild birds are driven by hunger. Animals, both wild and domesticated, are starving, and horses are kicked and beaten with clubs. The streets are filled with fascist mobs in black leather, who exhibit suppressed rage. The sheep are lame, the sheepdog is nervous, and the cold is bitter. Pick a page, and there's a good chance you'll find some reference to something dark or depressing.
Clifton begins to hint at the possibility of redemption three pages from the end, and in the last sentence of the book he refers to the memory of a year of life that had been good, hinting at the sadness of loss that comes from the ending of something. Sheesh. Harry, you gotta lighten up, old son, and occasionally allow yourself to enjoy the moment!
The Abruzzo I know is not as depressing as Clifton's, and if you're looking for a travelogue, this ain't it. On the other hand, if you've had your fill of Frances Mayes (happens very quickly), or if you prefer Fellini to Rick Steves, this is a worthwhile read, and Clifton writes well, even if individual sentences are over-dramatized, over-poeticized, or simply overly dark.