March 15, 2013

The flowering of a friendship

By Marlena de Blasi
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Like an Aegean zephyr, Marlena de Blasi’s breathless, poetic voice caresses us and carries us along in swooping currents though her newest adventure in the Tuscan region of Italy. Picking up where her previous memoirs (Tuscan Secrets, among others) leave off, Antonia and Her Daughters begins with de Blasi and her husband, Fernando, contemplating their new home in Orvieto. Now that the renovations to their home at 34 via del Duomo are complete, she has lost the solitude and silence in which to write her books, so she sets off to find a quiet pensione in the countryside where she can work in peace, with weekly visits from Fernando.

Soon after she arrives at the guest house, de Blasi meets Antonia, the matriarch of a large family, set in her ways and suspicious of outsiders. Antonia is “startlingly beautiful,” but “if a cold fish could speak, it would have her voice.” While de Blasi at first wonders just what kind of life she has stumbled into, Antonia’s daughters, Filippa and Luce, welcome de Blasi warmly, seducing her with their winsome stories of life with Antonia.

Very slowly, Antonia warms to de Blasi, welcoming her to meals, walking through the countryside in search of wild herbs and regaling her with story after story. “We’d throw open the windows to the night, swaddle the rising bread with quilts against the breeze and . . . Antonia would tell us things. Things we’d forgotten or would never understand about food, about men, about the panacea of bitter weeds.”

Eventually, de Blasi and Antonia grow so close that they walk arm in arm over the hills and through the woods. “Up the hill, back down the hill. As she bends her head down nearer to mine, I incline towards Antonia’s shoulder and we are a triangle, one side shorter than the other, making our way up the slope of the white road.”

De Blasi’s vivacious, seductive and gorgeous voice radiantly evokes the haunting beauty of the Tuscan region, as well as the deep friendship that evolves between her and Antonia.

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Antonia and Her Daughters

Antonia and Her Daughters

By Marlena de Blasi
Allen & Unwin
ISBN 9781742374079

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