An expatriate British sculptor's eccentric view of his adopted home of Siena, Italy. Spender is marvelous when he describes the landscape shimmering with heat and layered with history; when he offers an artist's insight into Italian art (""Michelangelo is the first artist who makes us aware that there is as much to be said by not completing a work as by completing it""); when he describes the ancient methods stiff in use for making olive oil; and, above all, when he offers colorful, sharp, funny sketches of the ordinary people who are his neighbors. His description of playing in the local village band is a high point of poignancy and comedy. Spender bores occasionally, though, with desultoriness: In his wish to avoid writing a standard guidebook, he offers a rambling, highly personal collection made up of this impression, that historical rumination (was Shelley drowned by accident or killed by Italian robbers? What were the Etruscans really like? What were the significant events in the life of Savonarola?) that never quite cohere and that are uneven in their interest. Bewilderment assails the reader with sentences like, ""Art is often a disease that life acquires by contagion,"" and in hints about the author's ""long and peculiar marriage"" and his dalliance--lustful, paternal, unconsummated--with one Vittoria. She's a young Italian woman who appears in the narrative early on with no introduction and accompanies Spender on many explorations, but who's presented only in frustratingly impressionistic glimpses. The fascination she holds for Spender is never accessible to the reader. Spender is at his best when neither dryly detached nor too personal, when he presents the memorable people and the artistic and natural beauties of the region and suggests the tension between craving the privacy of an exile's life and suffering the loneliness of being a perpetual outsider.