Top positive review
14 people found this helpful
on 10 July 2011
This is a personal book. It is the chronicle of the author's sporadic encounters with Italy and the Italian psyche over a decade as he and his wife kept returning for more.
Like countless others before them, they started off in tidy Tuscany but gravited south to Sicily, Apulia and Calabria and west to Sardinia; they frequently stumbled off the beaten track where they encountered ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
It is a travelogue with a difference. Generally the places Niall Allsop visits are interesting not because of their historical or aesthetic track record but because of the people he observes or gets into conversation with; even the homes he gets invited into.
When visiting the tourist hot-spot of Florence he explains the rationale: "We do not instinctively home in on the nearest church or cathedral when we visit a town ... we're more likely to head for the bar or café with the oldest men sitting outside, one of whom might well drag us off, kicking and screaming, to the nearest church on the mistaken assumption that that's why we're there."
Generally he avoids such `hot-spots' and introduces the reader to places they will never have heard of but that soon become familiar, friendly places often with, on the surface, little to show but their inhabitants.
On his first visit to Sardinia, for example, he and his wife became close to two women who, unknown to them at the time, were protagonists in a family feud. It wasn't a serious affair, a small story in a small town with six bars. But when he left Scano di Montiferro for the last time, I felt that I had been there too, that I too knew these people and had been touched by their lives.
Similarly there is a little man in Apulia, the heel of Italy, I feel I know - but we've never met and probably never will; and although the tourist guides to the area will say that I must visit Alberobello, I think it's the one place I'll give a miss and head instead for Corigliano d'Otranto.
Stumbling through Italy is, above all else, an entertaining book, a book packed with characters, stories and anecdotes, frequently amusing, often enlightening, sometimes thought-provoking, never dull. Two chapters deviate from the general chronology to take a tongue-in-cheek look at the Italian language and the Italian driving experience.
If you've never been to Italy, read this and you'll be on the next flight; if you love Italy, then prepare to meet some of the people you might bump into next time you're there - provided, of course, you give most of the tourist trails a miss.
One last thing - Stumbling through Italy is well endowed with maps, a new one for each new area visited. For me maps should be an integral part of all travel books and I fail to understand why so many of the genre are mapless zones. Five stars for this alone!