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Friday, 29 November 2013

A Thousand Days in Venice - #book review for The Cephalopod Coffehouse.

I'm about to head off for my next overseas adventure in a few days, so out of time. Therefore I'm re-posting a book review I wrote for the Reading at Dawn book review blog, for one of my favourite genres - travel memoir. I have quite a collection as you can imagine. Here is just one of my favourites...





And before I get underway, I must advise you that I use Grammarly for english proofreading because I really like the idea of Grammarly as a metaphor for sentinels standing guard over my writing, slashing and burning all those typos, spelling and punctuation errors and grammar mistakes, but obviously kind enough to overlook my mixed metaphors.

A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi - a travel memoir


Travel memoirs are charming books that tell the often-enhanced travel stories of people just like us but who get to travel, then write about it, then travel some more...and write about it. Now that's Utopia...to me! 

Another much-loved fiction author is the effervescent Italian, Adrianna Trigiani, who has this to say - "The great Marlena de Blasi writes fairy tales for grown ups." Well, this book, and others that Marlena has since written, are my kind of fairy tale.

A Thousand Days In Venice is a charming story about love found late in life and straight away the story will resonate with many readers. Marlena is a divorced American chef who decides to leave her material possessions and America behind and travel to Venice, Italy, and lo and behold she finds love with a "blueberry-eyed Venetian." At first she thinks she is too old for romantic love and intimacy and wants to run away, but is inexplicably drawn into a romance which would seem to most, utterly impossible. 

Marlena chooses to take a risk, to follow her heart and venture out into a world of new possibilities. She leaves her well-established life in the U.S, two grown children and a beautiful home in St. Louis to begin a new life with a Venetian she calls "the stranger..." 

...which I thought was a bit strange. It bothered me how she called this man, Fernando, "The Stranger," not just when she first met him, but throughout most of the book. Maybe she thought it added to the strange allure of Venice, a city where the idea of meeting and making love to a stranger is folklore, especially during Carnavale.

Fernando, "The Stranger" is at times demanding in his wishes, which was strange since it was Marlena who was making the big changes, not him. He really wasn't the one giving up anything. He was also rather controlling in day-to-day living, just as you would expect of the stereotypical pampered adult male Mumma's boy used to getting what he wants. He imposes his wishes on her and expects her to conform, yet you can tell Marlena isn't the type who would usually be pushed around by a man. I'm glad I gritted my teeth at his at times mincing habits as he did change later as the relationship developed.

As you can imagine, this is a mammoth crossroads in Marlena's life and she turns to her best friend Misha for advice. As Marlena is struggling with her feelings about this new-found love and discussing the ramifications with Misha she receives some poignant advice:

"Now that it has presented itself to you, could you dare to imagine turning away form it for anything or anyone?" 

Misha tells of love she has once known:

"I was afraid that the sentiments would change. I was afraid of some form of betrayal and so I walked away. I betrayed it before it could betray me. And maybe I thought life inside that intensity would suffocate me. So I chose a sort of pleasant, safe compromise, an emotion less than passion and more than tolerance. Isn't that what most of us choose?"

Don't most of us more often than not choose the "safe road" in our lives?  Doing a Robert Frost and choosing 'the road less travelled' can be a scary thought and there are not many of us that have the stomach for it. I've read other memoirs of 50-somethings who run away from their life, find another country, find another man, and live either happily or confusedly ever after (check our the Australian Mary Moody's books on escaping to France. Hot. Hot. Hot.) Marlena's story was bringing up conflicting emotions for me as I both admired her for it, and felt maybe she was a little crazy for it too, especially with 'The Stranger' who I know I couldn't live with for a minute! But, ah, Venice I could live with forever!

Marlena de Blasi has a very descriptive writing style which is beautiful and lush. She takes you right into the streets of Venice. You can smell and see the foods that she describes with her chef's eye and palate and I could visualise myself walking down those same fascinating streets or sitting by the Adriatic Sea. (I've since visited Venice and followed in Marlena's footsteps but I took my own non-'stranger' with me.) There were many thoughtful and insightful paragraphs that grabbed me in this book. Marlena. de Blasi makes you ponder choices in life and imagine wonderful worlds of possibilities that might just be in reach after all. But possibly more so in Venice than anywhere else, seeing as it is one of the most fascinating and romantic cities in the world.

This was the first book of Marlena de Blasi's that I had read. I've since read all her travels through Italy - Tuscany and Umbria. Beautiful. Exciting. Being a chef, she has written at least two cookbooks on regional Italian food. 


  • Would you like to be swept off your feet by an unexpected romance?
  • Would you give up your home country for your new love? 
  • Do you enjoy reading travel narratives? Tell me about them...
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23 comments:

  1. The book sounds interesting, but not my usual genre. Swept off feet is one thing, changing entire life so quickly.... sounds scary instead of romantic.

    Great to meet you at this coffeehouse - hope you have a safe and wonderful journey!

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  2. I traveled quite a lot in my young adulthood and have, in fact, faced some of those choices. The whirlwind romances are fun but the quiet comforts of a simple life are under-appreciated, I think - at least in literature. A happy marriage doesn't make for a great novel.

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  3. Gidday Denise,

    That does seem an intriguing read. Travel memoirs seems a fitting theme as you head off for your next overseas adventure. May you have a wonderful time, my friend.

    I shall duly take the liberty of sharing your posting. Even on Farcebook.

    A good weekend to you.

    Gary :)

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  4. Thanks for sharing this intriguing story. I actually can visualize disappearing into a brand new life, it seems like a combination MidLifeCrisis+FreshStart. Some days there is nothing I wouldn't give for a clean, quiet house with only myself to care for...so this is almost more fantasy than memoir, for moi!

    I wonder if there are recipes?
    Best,
    Veronica

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    1. A lot of travel memoir certainly is fantasy... but enjoyable.

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  5. Hmm...The "Stranger" bit might get to me, since it would seem weird to keep calling your lover that. But, I think I would love something that paints a beautiful portrait of Venice. I like the idea of going down "a road less traveled" because it means you're not afraid to step out of your comfort zone and experience something new!

    Have a great trip!

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    1. It is really entertaining and they're still together many years later.

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  6. It sounds like a delicious book and very appropriate to review as you are heading off to an overseas adventure.

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  7. I'm not usually into travel writing, which is odd because I travel heaps and even considered writing my own travel memoir. But this memoir sounds more like a work of fiction, i.e. not "we went here and we saw that". :P I'll have to add it to my list!

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    1. It's one of my favourite types of writing. Just love reading travel experiences no matter how weird.

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  8. It is enjoyable seeing a country through another's eyes! Good review.

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  9. Where do these women keep finding the money to just travel the world and boink the locals? Well, I guess the latter is probably free, but still. She must have had a pile o' cash on hand for this adventure. I agree with AS that the whirlwind travel-romances are fun, but ideally they should only last a couple weeks. The culture clash makes true love almost impossible to sustain, as you indicate with your "Mumma's boy" comment. Although, judging by Marlena's surname, she has perhaps stuck with The Stranger?

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    1. Yes she has. They are still together many years on.

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  10. Would I travel away for love? Maybe. Love is a powerful force, though I do love home too :)

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  11. Great detailed review, Denise! Sounds like the sort of book I'd like to read if I ever get a chance to travel to Italy :-)

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    1. i hope you do Deniz. A glorious if a bit disorganized country...but no Italy this trip. :-(

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