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THE LADY IN THE PALAZZO by Marlena de Blasi Kirkus Star


At Home in Umbria

by Marlena de Blasi

Pub Date: Jan. 26th, 2007
ISBN: 1-56512-473-1
Publisher: Algonquin

A third sumptuous volume about the author’s quest to find a home in Italy.

After A Thousand Days in Venice (2002) and A Thousand Days in Tuscany (2004), de Blasi and her husband move to Umbria, a place where “stories and sins are passed down like sets of silver.” There, they enter into a complex, decidedly Italian contract with a local family, the storied Ubaldini, who own a grand, decrepit palazzo. The couple will pony up money to repair the old building, then move in for a few years of rent-free living. While the palazzo is being made habitable, they set up house in a charming cottage—charming, that is, except for the mold and the absence of a kitchen, which poses quite a challenge for the gourmand author. In describing this new life in Umbria, de Blasi follows the formula of her two earlier books, and it works like a tried-and-true recipe. The local eccentrics (and all the locals are eccentric, of course) are charming and sometimes speak real wisdom, though not so often as to be precious. When one of de Blasi’s friends cautions her that “Most all of us abide in ruins. . . . Our own, the ones we inherit,” he is speaking about more than old houses. The food, of course, is an epicurean’s fantasy. The author prepares and includes the recipes for “rustic, refined” dishes like pan-sautéed pears with pecorina and brown-sugar gelato with caramelized blood oranges. In her hands, food also becomes the stuff of metaphor and simile: Her eye shadow is a dab of milk chocolate, she flicks away fatigue “like crumbs of old cake,” walls are red like pomegranate seeds. De Blasi is a skilled, quirky writer; her prose is by turns reserved, rococo, earthy and, above all, fresh—fresh, like rich cream and strawberries, she might say.