A collection of short essays on the author’s experiences living as an American expat in Italy.
Helm-Ropelato divides her collection into three sections: Learning Curves; Food, Glorious, Food; and Observing Italians. The first section discusses everything from learning the Italian language to a book review. The second features restaurant review–style essays and stories of the author’s own cooking experiences; many of these essays include recipes, too. The final section revolves around Italian culture and customs as well as profiles of different Italians the author has met. The essays, only loosely connected, don’t tell any overarching story; some are original to this collection, while others were previously published in newspapers and on the author’s own blog. The articles’ extremely short lengths make the book a quick read, which also means Helm-Ropelato only has time to scratch the surface of an idea before she moves on to a new topic. Though she’s writing about her own life, the work doesn’t have the feel of a memoir because her tone is carefully guarded. “Franco and our friends, a married couple, are passionate and veteran mountain walkers,” she writes in “The Art of Seeing in Cortina,” which is about as personal as any of the essays get. She writes about the arduous trek through the mountains and the blisters she gets on her feet, but there’s very little about her husband or the unnamed friends. This lack of detail, coupled with brevity, prevents the essay from having much real power. Though there are some humorous touches, the practice of keeping the reader at arm’s length means that these touches will likely only produce a small smile and not a guffaw. The book works well as a classically styled travelogue, and the descriptions of off-the-beaten-path travel destinations and new dining experiences will be appreciated by travelers seeking an Italian adventure that goes beyond the traditional guidebooks.
The clear, if somewhat dry, writing style will appeal to readers planning their own Italian excursion.