In this comedic memoir, a Dutch couple moves to the Italian countryside with hopes of opening a bed-and-breakfast.
In 2007, Smulders and his husband, Nico, left their native country of the Netherlands and traveled to Pavia, Italy, to search for a new home. The author intended to spend the next six months working on his master’s degree in medieval culture while his husband enjoyed the reprieve provided by a sabbatical. They managed to find their dream home in the municipality of Montecalvo Versiggia despite the apparent laziness of their real estate agent, and they successfully bought it for the grand sum of $200,000. Of course, the building needed work before it could properly welcome paying visitors, so the pair hired a contractor—a memorably dyspeptic man named Torti—to steward the project. Despite the relative modesty of the job’s scale, plenty predictably went wrong, and the author describes the foibles of renovation with verve and humor. The author depicts Italy’s notoriously Byzantine bureaucracy as a relentless antagonist that made even the most menial tasks difficult: “Italy is a country full of rules and regulations, but these rules and regulations were not created to shed light on what is right and what is wrong, in fact quite on the contrary,” the author observes. “It seems that they were actually designed to deprive one of clear-cut solutions.” Smulders finally abandons his studies—in part, because he’s given virtually no guidance from an absentee academic supervisor—and instead devotes himself to the eventual unveiling of the B&B, called “Villa I Due Padroni.” Smulders provides a running commentary on Italian culture that’s both perspicacious and sharp-witted. However, sometimes it becomes overly digressive; there are several pages, for example, devoted to the drama of finding and using a toilet. Also, the prose can be overly exuberant at times—it’s astonishing how many sentences end with exclamation points. Still, this is a charmingly lighthearted recollection, even when the author faces genuinely exasperating trials, and it’s as good an introduction to the inimitable Italian ways of everyday life as one is likely to find.
An often funny, if sometimes-meandering, tour of Italian culture.