Monday, December 10, 2007

A Tuscan Childhood, by Kinta Beevor

By the time I was one-third of the way through this book, I realized that the title was a bit misleading. There is more about Beevor's adult years documented here than childhood ones, but the constant theme is more about the area, the land, and the people, so not quite living up to my primary expectation was easy to forgive.

The travel descriptions, both in- and out-of-country were well-done; I had a very good feel for the scenery and the physical experience, and, the historical and geographic knowledge shared here definitely heightened my appreciation for my ancestor's homeland. The thing that makes this travel book special is that it was written by someone who has lived her research; and yes, you can tell the difference.

Also emotionally moving was her portrayal of the scope of wartime (political birth, hardships, and rebuilding). I have to say that I personally feel fortunate that my family emigrated to America well before this time, but I also have to wonder how well my distant cousins survived.

The list of Beevor's family and friends reads like a Who's Who of the literary and art circles of the time. In some sections, it seemed as though every other page had some reference to an author, artist, or book I wanted to follow up on; this book could really have used a good indexing.

The sad end to the "castles" truly made me melancholy for everything that's been lost due to war.

Here are some of the references and quotes I wanted to especially note:

"... we learned about the 'dance of the seasons', and how one should follow the rhythm of the year and its changing produce. One harvest followed another, domestic and wild crops alternating, each stimulating fresh dishes and all producing more than enough for immediate needs, so that the wise could dry or conserve enough to last until the following year. The earth, capable of producing such a perfect variety in the wild--garlic, mushrooms, chestnuts and truffles--possessed its own sacred mystery."

"They played Scoppa, which required the traditional Mediterranean pack of 40 cards with 4 suits--coins, goblets, swords and clubs (cavemen's clubs, not the conventional trefoil)--each running from one to seven plus a jack, queen, and king."

"Poggio Gherardo provided the setting for the first three days of The Decameron, when a group of young Florentines fled the plague of 1348. Boccaccio... had grown up only a few hundred yards away."

"Vernon Lee, alias Violet Paget, with her cropped hair and men's clothes with stiff collars... was particularly kind and gave me copies of all of her books, and more surprisingly, a loom, as if I were a character in one of her Tuscan fairy tales."

"Aunt Janet [Ross]... trusted [Giuseppe] Volti's opinion without reserve. It was he who provided all the recipes for her outstandingly successful book on Italian vegetable cookery, Leaves from our Tuscan Kitchen, first published in 1899, and still in print today in a version revised three quarters of a century later by my nephew Michael Waterfield."

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