Thursday, March 24, 2011

An Unusual View of Italy's Risorgimento

We all recognize this Risorgimento character   on the left....

           ...but who was this ?

If you want  to learn more about the Risorgimento, especially   the little-known  international aspects  of Italy's  unification movement,     this is a  book for you.

Until now the stories of  the 1000 Irish volunteers of the St. Patrick's Brigade who fought for the Pope and the  1000 English excursionists who sailed to Italy to fight with Garibaldi were  forgotten episodes of the Risorgimento.

"The Irish and English in Italy's Risorgimento"   now available in a limited edition of 200 numbered copies , promises  to  become a collectors'  item.

 Thanks to research spanning several decades  I have been able to unearth  documents and information  on the process that prompted Irish and English volunteers  to risk their positions and lives to fight in the Risorgimento battles of  far-away Italy.

Contents  include  confidential letters, diaries and secret documents regarding the Irish and English who volunteered to fight in  battles  on Italian soil in  1860.
There are  chapters on the foreign brigades, attitudes towards the papacy, volunteers' culture shock, spies,  scandals, propaganda, the English -and Irish- who volunteered for Garibaldi,  missing medals, caricatures, scandals and doubles, sailing for Sicily, correspondents, poetry, music and the volunteer movement, lists of  Irish soldiers.
180 pages, index, maps, bibliography, 10 pages of   images and  portraits.

Order  directly  from the author   and pay   with paypal. Cost  15 euros  plus postage.
For  the e-book format  contact .

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Wisdom of Tuscany by Ferenc Maté

In his latest book Ferenc Maté gives an intimate look into life in the Tuscan countryside and why  it should be a model for sustainable living in our global world.
 He also gives some pointers on how this can be achieved..even if you don't happen to live, as he and his family do, in a beautifully restored ancient Tuscan villa surrounded by vineyards.

With humor and personal tidbits about his early life in Hungary,  growing up in Canada and as a world traveler, Maté explains that it is not the quantity of stuff, the size of house,car or boat, but the little things and personal  connections that make life satisfying.

His musings on the importance of neighbors, freedom of children to grow up in a healthy society, the ability to find satisfaction and magic in small simple things all strike true notes.
 A good read from cover to cover, the book can also be opened at random for  a daily dose of Tuscan wisdom.  It is almost like sitting down with Ferenc for a chat over a glass of vino - which he mentions often, since he and his wife Candace produce one of Montalcino's wonderful wines.

an ancient convent surrounded  by the  vineyards  

The Wisdom of Tuscany is not a romp through the luscious Tuscan landscape and lifestyle, it goes beyond the pretty prose that fills travel books and  Hollywood  films. Nor is his prose anything like that of "instant" writers who blog about their  golden expat lifestyle.

The Maté family are year round residents  who make a living creating fine wine and  books - both difficult tasks that can be backbreaking and lonely.  This book is also a hymn to small town safety, the multi-generational family, closeness to nature and quality of life. 
As the world gets more  global and hectic  our sense of isolation increases. The fact that people continue to need each other and stick together as they do in smaller Italian towns is reassuring. 
entrance to the cantina 
Provincial Italy -in any of the 20 regions, not just Tuscany- is not a "golden ghetto" for the elite. Those of us who are permanent residents face problems daily that are very real, problems that a 2-week visitor does not see nor even imagine. Even expats who have trasferred permanently  to Italy spend years in the "honeymoon phase" before  becoming aware of what really goes on. 

In the past few years the rolling landscape of central Italy has been experiencing  an invasion of monstrous giant  eolica towers of wind farms "planted" on the  photogenic hills by unscrupulous speculators who live far away. Some towns have problems with arsenic in the water  and we all know of bright young university graduates who have had to emigrate abroad to find decent jobs. 
An interior courtyard 

As a long time resident  I found some of the book's observations obvious, almost hackneyed. But then I realized that  Maté's  target audience is made up of the thousands of wishful North Americans who live in mega-cities and bland suburbs.  It is easy to forget how different things are "over there" for we do   get used to wine at meals and freshly baked bread every day. After a few decades  we take  these things, and  our extra virgin olive oil,  quite   for granted forgetting that these are  considered luxuries  outside of Italy.

Ferenc must have kept dedicated diaries of his first impressions  for his narration  creates  images   that roll easily off  the  keyboard. His style is witty and  the language  similar to that of Polish-born novelist Conrad, who, like Maté , wrote in his second language -English.
Come in for a glass of wine
Wisdom of Tuscany ends with a selection of simple recipes  by  family friend Pino Luongo; basic foods to be enjoyed with family and friends  gathered  in the kitchen and of course, a glass of Maté's Montalcino.

Next month I hope to showcase another writer who escaped the big city to follow a simpler, but tougher, lifestyle. I already have a few in mind, but readers' suggestions are welcome.