Whatever else we can say about James Hamilton-Paterson, he is a very funny man. If you ever found yourself in the Italian countryside gazing at the villa next door and wondering who lives there and who, for gosh sakes, is coptering in and out, after reading this novel, you may very well decide you don’t really want to know. It may be entangling, and may, after all, be the end of all you hold dear.
Gerald Samper, British biographer to the rich and famous, buys an old villa in need of repair in Tuscany’s Apuan Alps region. He is told, as is his nearby neighbor, that the owner of the nearby villa is rarely in residence so his quest for privacy and solitude is guaranteed. Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, the resident of the villa he can see from his own is none other than a well-to-do refugee from a Soviet republic, with all her entangling connections.
Samper likes cooking, and we are treated to recipes inspired by the abundant local produce, but dreamt up entirely within the convoluted confines of Samper’s own twisted mind: Mussels in Chocolate, say, or Baked Pears in Gorgonzola with Cinnamon Cream, Lampreys in Sherry, Alien Pie, which features smoked cat mixed with baby beets, nasturtium leaves, pureed prunes, and green bacon...or my personal favorite, Tuna Stuffed with Prunes in Marmite Butter. But Samper deprecates (with good reason) the specialties his neighbor offers him, delicacies delivered direct from the former Soviet republic of Voynovia. As described by Samper:
”…brightly colored voynovian objects that were delicate to the same extent that traffic cones are. There were awesome pellets like miniature doughnuts wrapped in candied angelica leaf and injected with chili sauce. Others looked like testicles set in dough. I gathered these were pigeon’s eggs and couldn’t catch her name for them although the phrase that came to me immediately was Christ on a Tricycle. Spearmint eggs?”But this book is not about cooking, despite the title. It is about living the good life in Tuscany among other artists—writers, musicians, filmmakers, realtors--magicians of all stripes. And what of Fernet Branca? It is a digestif concocted in Italy that, given as a gift to the new arrivals of Le Roccie, is purchased a second time to return the courtesy, and becomes a central feature of the misunderstandings among the residents and visitors there. It is described in Wikipedia as having the flavor of “black-licorice-flavored Listerine."
This book counts towards the 2011 Europa Challenge. The Europa Challenge Blog: Cooking with Fernet Branca by James Hamilton-Paterson
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