Twelve stories set mainly in Italy that are meditative, slightly plotted episodic instances--but, at their best, often bright with landscape and reflection. The title story, representative of the tone throughout, is about a girl who can't ski (``Because I was terrified of it, as I was terrified of the century'') but who goes with the ``others'' on a ski-trip to the Italian Alps because ``her beloved'' is there (he's not aware of her feelings). While the others ski, she comes upon the house where Mahler wrote ``The Song of the Earth'' and speculates about him: ``Would Mahler have gone skiing?'' That is, it's a quiet celebration of artistry as opposed to assertion. Likewise, in ``The Gift,'' the narrator goes through all sorts of mental gyrations as she tries to decide on a wedding gift-- shopping, figuring all the angles--before realizing that she's gone through ``a lot of fuss about nothing.'' Some of these pieces are like that, whereas others leave an indelible mark: ``Cypresses,'' for instance, which is a reminiscence of a marriage; and ``The Rachmaninoff House,'' which is one of the few stories here with a social context. In it, the narrator becomes fascinated by the music that emanates from a house she passes: ``I couldn't imagine why everyone passing in the street didn't stop and crowd around the house and raise their faces in amazement.'' This entrancement leads her into a story that finally involves refugees and the war. ``The South,'' written in diary form, is an uncharacteristically lively account of a boyfriend's visit to southern Italy, while ``You Can Always Go Down to the Sea'' is a lyrical evocation of an older woman's move to Brighton. Altogether, slight or even a little precious--but, still, a number of stories here compensate with a journey that is ``slow, inwards and down.''