The Literary Salon – Enchanted April

Last April I posted about a delightful book, Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnin, and since it is April again, I thought this would be a good selection for this month’s Literary Review.    Although this book was written almost a hundred years ago, it’s a favorite of mine for it’s theme of beauty and hope, and how a lovely environment can renew one’s life and perspective.  Here’s a link to the blog……Enchanted April.    I hope your April has been enchanting too! 

The Enchanted AprilThe Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I absolutely loved this book, but I had watched the movie first. A timeless tale with a lovely story line and such vivid descriptions of flowers, gardens and beautiful countryside that you almost felt like you were there.

Italian Villa - AMc - 2015

Italian Villa – 2015

The Literary Salon – Travel Books

If you’re not fortunate enough to get away for a vacation this year, what better activity than to curl up with a travel book and listen to the March winds howl, (like a lion the same way they came in).    Last year I wandered into the travel section at bookoutlet.com and never left.   There are so many wonderful travel books available, it’s difficult to narrow it down to just a few, but here are some of my personal favorites.    (Warning: travel memoirs can be equal parts enjoyable and annoying.   There can be a fine line between reading about someone’s wonderful experiences in a sunnier place, especially when you are still in the dull dreary dregs of winter, and resenting the hell out them.    But remember there can be comfort in staying home too…see The Golden Age of Travel post).      

The Pioneer

Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim, was published in 1923, and could be called the first travel memoir of it’s kind.   Set in Italy, I profiled it in a blog last year – see link   How could a book with a captivating opening sentence like this, not be good.    

“To those who appreciate wisteria and sunshine.  Small medieval Italian castle on the shores of the Mediterranean to be let furnished for the month of April. Necessary servants remain.  Z, Box 1000, The Times.”

The King and Queen  

A Year in Provence (1989) by Peter Mayle was the first travel memoir I read, and I found it LOL funny.   He went on to write a whole series of memoirs  (read) and a few novels (not read), about Provence.   He made Provence so famous that at one time he moved to Long Island to get away from all the publicity.   He died last year, shortly after his last Provence book was published, My Twenty-Five Years in Provence – Reflections on Then and Now, (read) which is a summary of his life there.   

If Peter Mayle is the King, then Frances Mayes, of Under the Tuscan Sun fame, is the Queen, and she made Tuscany a very popular place to visit.   It’s been 25 years since her bestselling book, and she has written wrote four or five more travel books, (read) and has a new one coming out this year See You in the Piazza – New Places to Discover in Italy.  (on order)  She also wrote a novel, Women in Sunlight, last year, which I found so unreadable that I can not recommend it.   I’m still not sure how a novel about four women who travel to Italy can miss, but it did.   Travel memoirs are definitely her forte.   

My Personal Favorite

Susan Branch is my personal favorite of all the travel writers.    For those who think of her as just The Heart of the Home cookbook author, did you know that after she lost her publishing contract with Little and Brown in 2009, she started self-publishing and now has a trilogy of marvelous illustrated journals, with a fourth on the way next year about England, Ireland and Wales.   Her first, Martha’s Vineyard, Isle of Dreams, is about her move from CA to Martha’s Vineyard in the 80’s after a divorce, which I enjoyed as that is a part of the world I would love to visit.  (Her second is about growing up in the 60’s and 70’s and is not really a travel book, but more a memoir of her youth).  

A Fine Romance:  Falling in Love with the English CountrysideA Fine Romance: Falling in Love with the English Countryside by Susan Branch

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

 

Her third, A Fine Romance, is about her trip to England and is full of photos and watercolor illustrations, of such sites as Beatrix Potter’s farm in the Lake District and the Jane Austen House in Chawton. 

Susan Branch book

Susan Branch book

I find her monthly newsletters inspiring, and you can check out her books and order them from her website.    I wish she would venture into France and Italy.   

A Paris Year - Janice MacLeod

A Paris Year – Janice MacLeod

All About Paris

One of my favorite books about Paris, is Janice McLeod’s, A Paris Year, which I profiled last year in a blog titled, April in Paris – Part Two  A watercolor artist, her journal is illustrated with her own artwork, and is a quirky and whimsical look at her day to day life in Paris.  

A Paris Year - Janice MacLeod

A Paris Year – Janice MacLeod

Italy Revisited

Marlena de Blasi has written three memoirs about Italy – A Thousand Days in Venice, A Thousand Days in Tuscany and The Lady in the Palazzo – At Home in Umbria, which was my favorite of the three.    Her books are well-written and  often poetic, but sometimes irritating with respect to her ex-pat mentality and whining about their failure to fit into a foreign culture.   So if you want to read about someone who makes an impulsive decision to buy a run down palazzo and then complains about how long it takes to renovate it, then this book is for you.    So much of appreciating a travel memoir is based on finding the essayist appealing, still it’s an interesting if illogical journey.  

My Current Read

Elizabeth Bard wrote Lunch in Paris – A Love Story with Recipes, about her  move to Paris and subsequent marriage to a Parisian, which was good, even if I wasn’t much interested in the cooking part, (there are recipes at the end of each chapter).    But I am really liking her second book, Picnic in Provence – a Memoir with Recipes, about their move to a small village in Provence, with their young son.   The writing is honest and real and so well done, that it’s easy to overlook the fact that she has a wee bit of a privileged princess attitude.  

Le Road Trip book

My Latest Discovery

My latest discovery is Vivian Swift, another watercolor artist, found while browsing the bookoutlet website.  (I feel like I’m regressing to my childhood with all these picture books!)    Le Road Trip – A Traveler’s Journal of Love and France is a self-illustrated memoir of her fun and whimsical jaunt through France on her honeymoon.

Le Road Trip Book

 Her latest book (2015) entitled, When Wanderers Cease to Roam – A Traveler’s Journal of Staying Put  details the pleasures of finding a place to call home (Long Island Sound) after 23 years of wandering – because sometimes there’s nothing nicer than staying home and reading about travel!    

As you can see, my tastes run to England, France and Italy.   But there’s a whole wide world out there.  What is your favorite travel book?

 

Three Coins in the Fountain

lily pond waterfall

While trying to take a picture of a water lily in my neighbors fish pond I was struck by how lovely the music of the waterfall was.   

lily pond waterfall

There’s something about the tinkling of water in the background that is so relaxing, be it a small backyard waterfall or fountain, or one in a local park or in a big city like Rome.    

concrete structure with group of people statues

Photo by Sarah Acconcia Norris on Pexels.com

The Trevi Fountain in Rome is one of the most famous fountains in the world.  They say if you throw a coin in the Trevi that your return visit to Rome is guaranteed.   Back in the last century during the Audrey Hepburn/Roman Holiday craze there was a movie called Three Coins in the Fountain, a 1950’s chick flick, about this same legend.    I watched it recently (inter-library loan having managed to locate it in some obscure archives, thus saving me the $60 advertised on Amazon), and while as a movie it was rather dated, the scenery and especially the fountains were…….bellisimo.   (Coins are meant to be thrown using the right hand over the left shoulder.  An estimated 3,000 euros are thrown into the fountain each day.   The money has been used to subsidize a supermarket for Rome’s needy;  however, there are regular attempts to steal coins from the fountain, even though it is illegal to do so.   Wikepedia)   

If you are a Frank Sinatra fan like me, the best thing by far about the movie, other than the stylish clothes of the era, was the song of the same name.  

While replying to a comment back in August, I stumbled upon a travel blog about Rome, with lots of gorgeous photos.   So if you wish more information check out this blog……there’s no point in me recapping the whole history of the Trevi fountain when there is a very excellent blogger (Musings of a Whimsical Soul) who already has.    

There are two fountains near where I live, one in a local park where I should be walking every day for exercise but don’t.  There is often a cold wind off the river in the winter and in the summer it is too hot, but I have no excuse for spring or fall.   Still, is is lovely to look at while driving by. 

Fountain

The other one is a larger more expensive fountain downtown.    Someone with a lot of money and no heirs (or spending their inheritance), bequeathed $250,000 to the city for a waterfront legacy.    Although officially named after it’s benefactor, it is commonly known as the Fish Fountain, because of the fish on the sculpture, thus destroying any hope he might have had for lasting fame.   It looks nicer on a clear blue sky day, not foggy like here.  Although still warm, we have had many cloudy, rainy days in September and a whole week of the same forecast ahead.    

Fountain

For those of us with less money, the craft store, Michael’s has their fountains on end of season clearance now.   

water fountain

Not quite the Trevi…..

A small indoor fountain can provide some tranquility over the winter as well as add moisture to the dry air. 

 The local garden center was all sold out of outdoor fountains, although they assured me that one of their landscape architects could design me something like this. 

garden waterfall

No thanks, it looks like a cross between a fake fireplace and a sacrificial alter/crypt.   Still, something smaller for next summer would be nice – gardeners like to plan ahead.   In the meantime, I will throw a coin in one of the fountains, and make a wish that the warm weather would never end.   

Arrivederci Summer!    I know someday you will return…

Enchanted April

“To those who appreciate wisteria and sunshine.  Small medieval Italian castle on the shores of the Mediterranean to be let furnished for the month of April. Necessary servants remain.  Z, Box 1000, The Times.”

Despite being written almost a hundred years ago the book, The Enchanted April, is just as enchanting today.   Four very different women, all unknown to each other in dreary post WW1 Britain, answer an ad for an Italian villa.   Two are married but taken for granted by their husbands, one is single and beautiful but tired of grabby men, and one is a widow facing a sad lonely old age.  They have nothing in common other than they are starved for beauty and love, and for the fresh air and sunshine of the Italian coast.

Italian Villa - AMc - 2015

Italian Villa – 2015

I watched the movie first, before I read the book, which is what I would recommend.   The movie is from 1992 and while film quality has improved tremendously since then, it is still a lovely period drama, (and if I’m ever reincarnated I want to come back with straight black bobbed hair). 

My Good-reads review:

The Enchanted AprilThe Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I absolutely loved this book, but I had watched the movie first. A timeless tale with a lovely story line and such vivid descriptions of flowers, gardens and beautiful countryside that you almost felt like you were there.
I ordered the book because it is one of those timeless classics you simply have to own.   It was a bestseller in it’s day, 1923, and was based on a month long trip the author, Elizabeth von Arnim, made with her husband to the village of Portofino, Italy, which soon became a famous tourist destination because of the success of the book.  They stayed at the Castello Brown, (now a museum), which is where the movie was filmed seventy years later.

It’s such a charming story, that it might inspire you to grab three of your girlfriends and go off on your own Italian adventure.   Who wouldn’t want to live la dolce vita?

Tuscan Villa - AMc - 2015

Tuscan Villa –  2015

Of course in the book the villa came complete with all the necessary servants, so hiring a chef to do the cooking would be the sensible thing to do.  (You could invite Amal for tea, she’s British and may be in need of a cuppa and a break from the bambinos).   Isn’t that part of the attraction of period pieces, there was always someone to prepare the meals, wash the dishes, care for the children…..and look after the garden.

It’s not surprising that there were such lovely descriptions of the flowers and grounds in the book, as the author’s first bestseller was Elizabeth and Her German Garden in 1898.   I have not read that one yet, as I plan on reading it outside on the deck whenever it gets warm enough, as inspiration for gardening season.   But I did read her book, The Solitary Summer, last summer which I enjoyed also, which concerned her need for solitude and beauty in the countryside with her April, May and June babies.  Her first best seller was published anonymously, and the subsequent ones as by the author of Elizabeth and Her German Garden.   Because these books are old and often out of print they are best ordered online.

Perhaps there is something about being in such a lovely setting that inspires love.  In the book their husbands became more appreciative, although no one runs off and has an affair, (it was a more decorous time), well only the single one.    I remember reading once in a book on Italy about a medical condition called, Stendhal’s Syndrome, which is an emotional reaction to too much loveliness.   A handful of tourists are treated for this every year in Florence, having been overwhelmed by an excess of beauty.    Finally a medical condition we can all aspire too!   Of course we don’t have to go to Italy to experience beauty in our lives – it is all around us, we just have to pay attention.   Is it possible to surround yourself with an excess of loveliness, especially in a world which so often seems full of evil, hate, and ugliness?   Perhaps not, but  it is an admirable goal to  choose to focus on what is lovely in the world, and so much better for your health!   Buona giornata!

Quote of the Day:   “It is their manners as a whole, their natural ways, bonhomie, the great art of being happy which is here practiced with this added charm, that the good people do not know that it is an art, the most difficult of all.”  (Stendhal on Italy)

Song of the Day:  April Love by Pat Boone