#39 A Review of A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi

In recent years I’ve become a voracious reader of the memoir genre.  I love learning about the interesting lives of other people!  In some instances I want to be them and in others I’m glad I’m not them!  When I saw that Barnes and Noble was having a travel themed eBook sale I quickly grabbed some of the memoirs.  A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi happened to be one of these selections!

In this autobiographical tale of food and romance, Marlena De Blasi first takes us to Venice, Italy in the late 1980’s.  She is a food journalist and chef, and is on her first trip to Venice.  In the Piazza San Marco, a man, whom she affectionately calls “the stranger”, spots her from across the Piazza and instantly falls in love with her from afar.  When he sees her again, this time a year later, he decides that it is fate and that they must be together.  Marlena, fresh from a divorce, politely declines the man’s affections, thinking herself too damaged and hurt to be of any use in a relationship.  However, as luck would have it, only a few short months later she finds herself packing up her life in America to move to Venice and marry this “stranger”.  Although the culture shock is enormous, Marlena finds herself embracing the new and exciting smells, sounds, and life that this exciting city has to offer.  She cooks traditional American dishes for her new Italian friends to try, while they teach her to dance in the candlelight.  Complete with numerous recipes of her own creation, Marlena tells her tale of life and love in one of the most romantic cities in the world.

At the end of this novel, I had very mixed emotions.  I’ll start with some of the areas of the work that could use some improvement, then work towards its strengths.  Initially, I thought the book was very hectic – I kept reading and felt like I was being thrown all over the place.  The concept/true story element is what kept me reading, but the flow of the book was rough.  The best way to describe what I mean is it felt like I was reading something that had been translated oddly.  It’s extremely difficult to try to explain what I mean here, it wasn’t poor word choices or the story proper, more the way it was structured and pieced together.

Additionally, the relationship between Marlena and “the stranger” seemed really odd at times.  He wanted a marriage, yet it was completely one-sided (when he quits his job at the bank, he just does it, even though they discussed waiting till they got their affairs in order).  She up and leaves her life and her children in America, moves to Venice for this man, and yet she feels restricted in the things that she can do and say to him.  One example is her cooking.  Obviously, cooking and food are HUGE parts of her life, having been a chef and restaurateur.  She becomes ashamed of this at certain points, and she writes of having to hide her trips to the market.  It’s almost as if she has an alternative life outside of her marriage, creating an entirely different life out there with the merchants and market people.

What was great?  Her descriptions of Venice and food are astounding.  Having been to Italy before (see my recaps here, here, here, here, here, and here) I know that it generates strong feelings in a person.  The landscape and buildings are stunning to see.  To read her words and thoughts so eloquently put was very rewarding.  I found myself at a loss for words on many of the things during my trip to Italy/Spain, so it was rewarding to find someone who could write about the beauty of it all so well.  In all, this beautiful imagery that de Blasi is able to conjure up in her book was enough to keep me from becoming too upset over the odd flow of the book.  It’s still definitely a worthwhile read for the recipes alone!  I can’t wait to try some of them out, they look quite delicious!  So, if you’re in the mood for a book that will take you on a mini-tour of all the sights and sounds that Venice has to offer, as well as a personal back story, give A Thousand Days in Venice a try.

3 out of 5 Stars

This is my eleventh completed review for the Around The Stack In How Many Ways Challenge

A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (2002)
eBook: 288 pages
ISBN: 9781565125896

Europe Trip Recap – Day 6 (As told by Todd)

Why hello there loyal readers.  I know by now you are enamored by our trip to Italy (just kidding), but I figured I’d spice things up a bit and tell you about day 6 from my point of view.  Just as a disclaimer, my point of view mainly concerns food and cool scenery, so this description may be a bit heavy in those areas (no pun intended). Anyway, we pulled into port and immediately began our one hour trip to Positano on the Amalfi Coast (southwestern coast of Italy, above the

Kim in Positano

“boot”).  We had a driver named Nico who drove us from city to city, offering some tour guide-esque comments and funny observations about tourists in general (he mostly drove Americans and thought we were hilarious… I guess Jersey Shore didn’t totally kill our rep?)  He was native to Sorrento, so he knew the roads like the back of his hand.  This was very lucky, as the majority of the drive to Positano is on the edge of a cliff!  Finally we arrived in what I think of when I think of an Italian town in the movies: Positano.  Although it’s not a really large city, Positano was filled to the brim with colorful shops, lots of people, and a general smell of lemon in the air (they’re famous for Limoncello).  The people we met there were incredibly nice and really eager to talk to us.  It was definitely a highlight of the trip for me and a place I would definitely like to go back to.

I ate the lemon on the left (the massive one)

After we took some pictures and I ate some of the native lemons (which actually taste kind of like bread; they are on the left in the picture), we drove back the way we came and arrived in Sorrento.  I must stop here and tell you that Sorrento was definitely my favorite town in all of Italy and I would totally become an ex-patriot and live there if I had tons of money and the ability to speak

Us in Sorrento

more than “bathroom” and “beer” in Italian.  Sorrento was an awesome city that was filled with old-school Italian charm and had a really cool vibe to it.  I had the most fantastic/delicious/should be illegal it’s so good pizza there in a small restaurant called da Gigino, recommended by Nico.  Unfortunately I have no picture of said pizza because it was so delicious it absorbed all of the light around it, but you can take my word for it.  After shopping and walking around Sorrento and wishing that I could live there, we had to reluctantly get back into the car with Nico and continue our journey on to Pompeii.

After driving about another 40 minutes of so, we arrived in Pompeii.  Originally covered in almost 30 feet of ash, Pompeii was engulfed during an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.  Although much of the artifacts in the original city are now preserved in a museum, it was still really cool to see all the original houses and streets in the city.  It’s much, much bigger than I originally thought.  We could spend literally a day or two there and still not see every little plot of land.  Although it was really hot in the beginning, it soon started to rain lightly and we appreciated the cool breeze.  We then made it back to the boat with a half hour or so to spare in time to take a nap and get ready for dinner.

Of course, being on vacation and all, we couldn’t have just any dinner, we had Cirque Dreams and Dinner!  Taking place under a tent built-in a room on the boat, we got to see some awesome acrobatics and funny acts.  It was definitely a great end to an awesome day.  Tune in tomorrow for day 7 of our Eurotrip…

Bonus pics:

Amalfi Coast

Pompeii

Europe Trip Recap – Day 5

Civitavecchia

Wednesday’s port stop was the one I was looking forward to the most, Rome!!.  The  Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, St. Peter’s Square, St. Peter’s Basilica and more! For whatever reason cruise ships are not allowed to dock near Rome, so we docked in Civitavecchia.  Civitavecchia is an hour away from Rome by train, so we had to be off the boat super early if we wanted to see everything Christine had planned. 

We took the train straight to St. Peter’s square, where we found it set up for the Pope’s weekly Wednesday morning mass.  Unfortunately on mass days they close down St. Peter’s until 1pm, which completely screwed up our schedule.  Since we had TONS of things to see, we left and began working

Pantheon

our way across Rome towards the Pantheon.  Along the way I was able to see the amazing juxtaposition that is Rome.  What I mean by this is that as you’re walking through Rome you are surrounded by all of this history right? Yet, all of the buildings are surrounded by modern shops or offices or apartments.  I’ll be able to show you exactly what I mean when I tell you about the Colosseum.  Anyway, back to the story.  Our first adventure stop was the Pantheon, so after about a 20 minute walk from St. Peter’s we turned a corner and BOOM, there she was.  Let me first tell you how shocked I was at its size.  This thing was built in 126AD and is as large and sturdy as some buildings we have around today.  Its original purpose was as a temple to the gods, but now it’s the burial site of the first king of United Italy as well as the famous sculptor/painter Raphael, and others.  All of the light for the interior of the building is provided by one oculus in the center of the ceiling.  It’s a pretty awesome feat that the entire room is lit up by this one circle in the ceiling.  Ah ancient architecture, how ahead of your time you were.  The square that the Pantheon sits in is amazing as well.  There is an enormous obelisk that sits outside, towering and watching over the Pantheon. So beautiful…..

The Trevi Fountain

Now for my favorite part of the day.  We left the Pantheon and began to go over to the Trevi Fountain.  Of everything we saw on the entire trip, this is what blew me away.  I’d seen pictures of the fountain previously, but nothing prepared me for the exquisite perfection that is the Trevi Fountain.  Legend has it that if you throw (backwards over your shoulder) coins into the fountain that it guarantees you’ll return to Italy some day.  With that in mind I marched Todd to the water’s edge and proceeded to keep dumping change into his hands. 

Todd and I

We split up the pile and I wished with all my might that I could someday get back to see this fountain again.  I was so moved when I turned the corner and first saw it that it literally knocked the wind out of me and I won’t lie I shed a tear or two at the sheer beauty of it.  The fountain was designed in the Baroque style back in 1762 and is the largest of its kind within Rome.  When I had originally seen pictures of the fountain I had no idea that it was almost 86 feet high! It just towers over all of the gelato shops that surround it.  Fearing that we didn’t have enough time to complete everything, we took our pictures, threw our coins, basked in the beauty of the fountain, then hightailed it in the direction of the Colosseum.

Roman Forum

King's Memorial

Now remember when I told you that I could show you easier the juxtaposition that is Rome when talking about the Colosseum?  Well here we go!  In order to get to the Colosseum you must walk through the ruins of the Roman forum.  Dead smack in the middle of these ancient ruins is a HUGE memorial dedicated to the first King of United Italy. It’s really fascinating that as you walk through what’s left of this enormously powerful ancient culture, you find a huge symbol of modern-day power built in thick marble that will most likely stand the test of time.  Seeing these pieces side by side really made me stop and reflect on everything that we were seeing that day.  This juxtaposition of old and new is all throughout Rome and I think it’s one of the reasons why I liked Rome best of all the ports. 

Colosseum

View from the top of the Colosseum

After my little reflection time we walked down the street from the memorial and walked right smack into the Colosseum.  It’s such a shame to see it crumbling apart.  We found out on our audio tour that many of the buildings (St. Peter’s being one of them) in Rome were built using stones from the Colosseum.  It wasn’t until one of the Popes decided that it should be preserved that this practice was stopped.  Christine was telling us that the last time she was there much of the basement where they kept the slaves/animals hadn’t been opened up, so she was excited that we got to see it totally open.  We heard on the audio tour that back when it was still being used in ancient days a whale had washed up on the shore and it was decided that it should be used in a show at the Colosseum.  Something like 40 bears were put inside the belly of the dead whale and when it was hoisted onto the stage they opened the mouth of the whale, let the bears out, and watched them fight to the death.  Some crazy shit happened at the Colosseum.  We were all starving after touring, so we looked for a place to grab some lunch.  Let me tell you, we had the best spot in the house.  Take a look…

View at lunch

It was the perfect end to the morning.  We had some beers and pasta and had the most amazing view you could ever imagine.  (PS Todd got a margarita pizza for lunch and it was the BEST pizza I’ve ever eaten in my entire life – pic will be at the bottom of the post)  After lunch we hopped into a cab and headed back to St. Peter’s to end our tour of Rome.

 

St. Peter's

I have never in my entire life seen a line longer than the one we got on to enter the Vatican.  Holy crap.  Please look up a map of St. Peter’s Square and find out what the square footage is.  Then imagine a line that snaked around the entire square more than one full-time.  It was insane.  After waiting on the line for what seemed like forever, we made it up to the security checkpoint and into the Vatican.  St. Peter’s Basilica is filled with more statues, paintings, frescos, murals, and tombs then I ever thought could possibly comfortably fit into a building.  It is by no means crowded with them, but every inch of wall space has some type of art upon it.  I can’t even fathom the length of time it must have taken for each piece to be completed.  If you, my readers, ever make it to Rome I highly suggest you see this church.  Even if you’re not a religious person, you have to go for the artwork alone.  You will be astounded by its grandeur.  I have so many pictures of so many random things inside the Basilica.  If you want to see some, shoot me an email, I’d be more than happy to share!

 

Italian Countryside

Following our trip through the Basilica we stopped for a quick cappuccino and hopped back on the train for the hour-long ride back to Civitavecchia.  The Italian countryside is SO green in this area.  All throughout the trip that was one thing that constantly stood out to me, even when driving down their highways.  In the area’s that we had traveled to up to this point we had beautiful scenery as our backdrop.  It was utterly picturesque.

 

Ice Bar Crew

Once we were back on the boat we decided on a quick nap and then it was off to the Svedka Ice Bar!!!  When they tell you that these places are cold, holy crap are they cold.  My sister and I made it all of 20 minutes in the bar, while Todd, Jason, and Mark lasted closer to 50.  (Mad props go out to you three for staying in there that long!)  Everything in the bar is literally  made of ice.  The bar, shelves for the liquor, seats, and yes, even the drink glasses!  There were ice benches and ice sculptures of polar bears and vikings, and even an ice throne!  It was the best $20 I’ve ever spent.  After the ice bar we headed to dinner which was followed by bowling.  Yes, I said bowling!  Todd, Jason, and I were feeling antsy and so instead of heading to bed headed to one of the six bowling lanes on the ship.  You’d think that bowling on a rocking ship would be difficult, but to be honest it didn’t feel any different to me.  We went to our favorite bar on the ship following our game, had some drinks, and found our way back to our beds around 12:30am.  The entire day easily makes the top three best days of my entire life. 

 
Check back later for my next recap of Positano, Sorrento, the Amalfi Coast, and Pompeii!
 
As always, more pictures:

Polar Bear Sculpture in the Ice Bar

Best Pizza EVER!

Living With A Book Addict – Traveling With A Book Addict

(Note: as you read this we are currently cruising towards Italy.  That is as long as we didn’t miss getting on the boat…)

What do you get when you have an 8 hour plane trip to Europe?  8 hours of uninterrupted reading, of course.  At least that’s how Kim sees it.  Yes, your beloved blogger Kimberly and myself, along with my sister-in-law Christine and her fiance Jason are going on a 7 day cruise in Europe!  We begin in Barcelona, traveling to Florence/Pisa, Rome, Naples, Palma Majorca, and finally returning to Barcelona.  It’s both Kim and my first trip to Europe, and we couldn’t be more excited to go.

I usually don’t consider myself a nervous traveler, but planes do make me slightly uncomfortable.  Facing an 8 hour trip across the Atlantic is something I’d rather not do, but I’ll most likely be able to distract myself with books and movies.  I hope to make a good dent in the first book of The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins.  As most of you know, Kim is quite a fan of said series, and has even appeared on the well-received podcast “The Hunger Games Fireside Chat”, discussing the upcoming film and other Hunger Games related materials.  As for Kim, I believe she will be bringing a total of 4 books in her carry-on, as well as another 8 or so in her luggage.  Normally this would be cause for some astonishment, but as you know I am quite used to this now.  I can only hope that our carry-on will fit in the overhead compartment.

Aside from reading, I’m quite looking forward to the ability to experience Italian culture and cuisine.  Christine has made quite the itinerary for us to follow at our ports of call, and we will be renting a car in Rome to see the sights.  Jason and I get to drive the rental car, and I’m quite interested to see how driving will be in Italy.  Fortunately, we’ll still be on the right side of the road, although the kilometer/mph change will be disconcerting at first (how do you say “I meant to go 100 kilometers an hour instead of miles” in Italian?)

Additionally, we’ll have an extra day or so ahead and after our cruise in Barcelona.  My sister recently returned from a semester in Spain, and although she never went to Barcelona, the stories she’s told me about the people and culture seem to be really inviting and exciting.  Unfortunately, although she spoke almost fluent conversational Spanish, I can speak no more than a 1 year-old Spanish baby would.  Hopefully we can get by on some good ol’ fashioned English.

So, next time you hear from me I will be a world traveler (ok, not exactly world, but more than I’ve seen before).  Until then, happy reading and bon voyage!