The Hills of Tuscany, by Ferenc Máté
The author – born in Transylvania, fled to Hungary, fled to America – and his Irish-American wife, Candace, are wanderers. And their travels brought them to Tuscany where Máté, with a bit of indecision from his wife, tried to find the perfect farmhouse. Their search was full of drama, comedy, tragedy (the perfect house of which only 3ft of walls remained in their case) and farce.
But, in the end, the pair find La Marinaia, The Sailor’s Wife, the Tuscan house of their dreams (you always do, there are plenty of them) and, with assorted estate agents, work out the cost in millions of lire by drawing figures in the dust of the car bonnet. It all rings so true: the pair try to prise a codice fiscale (a sort of identity-card-cum-tax-number) out of an official who declares it is absolutely impossible. So they reveal they are journalists (a useful trick anywhere but a war zone) which causes the bureaucrat to reconsider. As Máté writes, the thing is then as good as done.
Unlike the grey men in suits, the Tuscan peasants come up trumps: little packets of goat cheese are brought by shy children; the pair join a family feast (when is it going to stop?) and help with the harvest. They avoid the giant supermarkets and chase the baker down narrow streets to find his shop and experience Tuscan village shopping – which is equivalent to grand opera in its noise, gestures and unlikely plots.
The book is funny, full of Italian expressions, often not translated, but you get the idea, and true to life. Nowhere are the Italians patronised. The only question I have is where did Máté find his junk shops?