UMBRIA by Paul Hofmann


Italy's Timeless Heart
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A charming and delightful, yet flawed, excursion. Two-thirds the size of Connecticut, and with a mere 800,000 residents, Umbria has often languished in the shadow of Tuscany, its more famous cousin to the northwest. Long known as “the green heart of Italy,” it has lately become a preferred roost for British and Americans long priced out of Tuscany, who are seeking an Italian home or an abandoned farm as idyll. For the average tourist, Umbria registers for the jewel-like cities of Perugia, Orvieto, and Todi, as well as for the religious shrine of Assisi. Former New York Times Rome bureau chief Hofmann (The Season of Rome, 1997, etc.) takes us on a leisurely stroll through the region’s countryside, towns, and history, beginning with the ancient and mysterious Etruscans. He shows a fine eye for the landscape, a sensitive palate for the cuisine, and a warm regard for the people. Beyond these, he also informs us of the best time to view the frescos of Perugino in the Collegio del Cambio in Perugia, and warns that fines for dogs found dallying in the Piazza della Signoria in Assisi may come to $625. (He’s also sensitive to the semipagan and erotic subtexts of the so-called “Celery Festival.”) Although Hofmann has often proved to be a master of understatement in his Italophile writings, here the narrator’s language sometimes falls curiously flat. The 27-page appendix, an “Umbrian Directory,” while perhaps indispensable for travelers, gives the book a brochure-like and inappropriate tone. And the subtitle is never really explained: Umbria may justly lay more claim to being Italy’s “timeless heart” than can cosmopolitan Piedmont, say—but not all readers will agree about this. More persuasive are those gently rolling hills, covered with grape vines and olive trees. Still, highly recommended.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8050-4687-X
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1999


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