Bonus - book review with Corinna Cooke
A note from Corinna...
I wanted to approach these book reviews from a slightly different perspective. Rather than chase down brand new books set in Italy I decided to pull from some of the fabulous books written over the years that you may have otherwise missed. Books that have helped and inspired me when I’ve planned my own trips. Books that introduce you to places you’ve not heard of before and books that show you a different side to the cities everyone already know.
Many if not most of the books written about moving to Italy have been written by people with lots of money. Folks who can drop 500,000 on an old farmhouse and another half million to fix it up. While exciting and inspiring these stories can by default lock some of us out of the dream. So to start us out on this adventure together I wanted to introduce you to the story of a regular couple who with no great financial backing were able to live the dream.
The Venice Experiment: A Year Of Trial And Error Living Abroad
by Barry Frangipane and Ben Robbins
Everyone who visits Italy wishes they could stay longer.
Some wish they could stay an extra month or two, others talk about moving there for good. But there’s another option you don’t hear about so often, an option that isn’t as finite as moving away from home forever and isn’t as costly as a 3 month vacation.
What if you could pack up and move to Italy for a year? What if you could work from home from your computer, so technically home could be anywhere in the world, so long as the internet connection was strong? Would you do it?
My secret plan to move to Venice was ready. It was time to see if my wife would buy into the idea of leaving our home to live for an entire year in a foreign country.
Florida couple Barry and Debbie Frangipane loved taking vacations to Italy. They particularly loved Venice, sometimes staying there for as much as a month at a time, exploring the walkways, bridges and canals, soaking up the history and making friends with local Venetians.
Deciding he wanted more than just a tourist experience in the city on the water, Barry cooked up a scheme to move to Venice for a year of cultural immersion. He wanted to integrate and assimilate into Venetian life, and experience life as a local.
Debbie didn’t need much (any) persuading. He could spend the afternoons working from their apartment and she could take a year off work to shop the local Venetian markets and cook local dishes with ingredients better than she could buy at home. They would bring their dog Freckles and their cat Alexandria - it would be perfect.
If this book were only a memoir of a year spent in Venice it would be worth reading. But Barry Frangipane is not only the quintessential storyteller, he is completely hilarious. As in laugh out loud, laugh til you cry hilarious.
From the craziness of navigating their way through the visa process, to trying to open a Mail Boxes Etc mailbox, to leasing an apartment where the power goes out every time Debbie fires up her hairdryer, Frangipane diffuses the exasperating Italian bureaucracy with humor, making you believe that with some patience and a sense of fun, you too can pull this off.
Barry initially rents a ground floor apartment in the lovely and un-touristy neighborhood of Santa Croce. (Note to self: never rent a ground floor apartment in Venice!) Unfortunately it had neither an oven nor a shower curtain and was humid, perpetually damp and in constant peril from the infamous aqua alta high tides. Even so they build a tremendous life there and give us fabulous insight into life in Venice. Barry takes us on his daily journeys exploring the city, meeting a cast of characters and finding funny things along the way. Or maybe its funny situations finding him?
One hysterical episode happens when Debbie buys a twenty pound turkey and invites 18 people for an American Thanksgiving but then realizes she has nowhere to cook it. After a suitable round or two of panic they ask the owner of a restaurant they frequent, who ends up giving them keys to her apartment. This is followed by multiple trips running through calle, over bridges and up and down flights of stairs with the turkey in the pan, as well as half hourly trips to baste the bird while it cooks.
In the end the party is a huge success.
Before long the Frangipanes move to a fabulous upstairs apartment in Cannaregio, where the electricity stays on, basil plants crash from the balcony down to the courtyard and where Barry makes friends with a lonely old man in the apartment below.
Gastone has largely become a recluse since his wife died a year prior, but with coaxing from Barry the two begin a daily ritual of going for morning coffee. At 8:30 each morning Barry collects Gastone who dresses in his suit for the outing, and the two walk arm in arm to coffee, where Barry sits on giant sacks of fragrant coffee beans and Gastone leans on the bar as they sip espresso. Then they head off to the baker or the fishmonger or the vegetable market, or the pharmacist, building a gorgeous friendship along the way.
Beyond the never ending humor that permeates every page, the magic of this book lies in the beautiful relationships the Frangipanes build with the truly remarkable characters they meet. (Including the fire chief)
You’ll find yourself aching to experience this side of Venice too. Far from the tourist crowds, yet only a minute away as the crow flies, their year takes place in the heart of the real world of Venetian life. Hidden inside the stories about the friends they make, the book is peppered with fascinating details about life in the city, and how it all works.
He doesn’t take you to any tourist destinations, yet you’ll find yourself taking notes as you read The Venice Experiment so that you too can visit some of the quirky and interesting places Barry stumbles upon, and try some of the foods he and Debbie eat at their favorite trattorie.
If you weren’t already in love with Venice before reading The Venice Experiment, you will be by the time you’re done. And you may just find yourself dreaming about moving to Italy for your own year-long experiment.
Bill Bryson fans will love this book.
The Venice Experiment is available in paperback and eBook on Amazon.
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