After spending ten days in Italy, I understand exactly two words in Italian: bonjourno and ciao – good morning and goodbye. Actually, make that three. The word “pizza” is Italian, isn’t it? Although I didn’t understand the Italian swirling around me, I did love listening to it. It can be fun to hear language without knowing what’s being said. It’s like listening to music. Two friends could have been discussing their plans for the evening or when to do the laundry, but to me, their conversation added to the scenery and made me feel far away from my everyday life.
During our trip, I was also reading a foreign novel – but luckily it was from England so there was no language barrier. Here’s what happened: I used the trip to justify buying two new books for my Nook – Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. As it turns out, I can’t tell you about either one. I forgot my Nook charger. Ugh. This is the challenge of reading on a device. It’s all fun until someone gets hurt (or forgets their charger.) I had a few issues of The New Yorker with me as well – something to read while planes took off and landed and devices had to be turned off. Of course, after reading every article in the magazines, I was starting to get a little fidgety and irritable. I told my husband that it was somewhat urgent that we find an English language bookstore in Florence.
So, once again, my summer reading plans were sent down another road, but happily so. I discovered Nancy Mitford. Mitford (1904-1973) was one of the legendary British Mitford sisters – there were six of them. The Pursuit of Love, one of her most popular novels, has been in my bookcase for years, but I’ve never read it. It was among the many books I planned to read someday – but I’m not sure when that day was. When I saw it in an English language bookstore in Florence, I knew the day had arrived. Yes, I had a copy of it at home, but desperation does not lead to economically sound decisions. Now I have two copies.
Published in 1945, The Pursuit of Love is politically incorrect, sometimes jarringly so. That being said, the novel is a wise and witty portrayal of English upper class life in the period right before WWII. I loved it. The Pursuit of Love is about Linda (based on Mitford’s own life) and her search for the perfect relationship. The story is not about war or the pros and cons of socialism or anything “serious,” but, as Zoe Heller writes in the introduction to the edition I bought in Florence, “Jane Austen, lest we forget, devoted the entirety of her estimable oeuvre to posh people’s love lives and never once got round to mentioning the French Revolution or the slave trade.”
The best part is – there’s a sequel. I bought Love in a Cold Climate too. And, yes, I already owned that one as well. Better to be safe than sorry.
The other book I read in Venice was Olivia Goes to Venice by Ian Falconer. Of course, I already knew the popular picture book, but it was fun to read it while eating gelato – a fourth Italian word I now know!