It’s June, so breaking a New Year’s resolution I return again to blog briefly about a book that I’ve just started – Deirdre Madden’s Remembering Light and Stone. I couldn’t resist because of this wonderful passage on Italy – tying in nicely with BB Scimmia’s post of some time ago on Imagining Italy
Madden’s narrator seems to be in that great club of anglophone writers who are in love with Italy, but not blinded by the romance of Tuscan hills – Tim Parks, Tobias Jones, and John Foot all spring to mind, all in non-fiction capacities. Theirs is a living and breathing country full of contradictions and concrete, one that is not reduced to being a renaissance theme park or idyllic rural get-away to where stressed executives can regroup in search of their humility and humanity.
“The third aspect of S. Giorgio is there to be seen by anyone who comes at any time of the year, but it’s the least considered because people don’t want to see it. The part of S.Giorgio I’ve been talking about so far is the old part of the town, up on the hill. As is the case with almost all the Italian hill villages which are visited by millions of tourists every year, there’s a modern part to S. Giorgio. It begins outside the town walls, with a few stray houses, then a few blocks of apartments, then the whole thing spills down the side of the hill and gets properly into its stride, almost as a village in its own right. The railway station for S. Giorgio is down there. When you arrive you can get to the upper village by bus, or if it’s not too hot you can walk. People who come to visit generally get the hell out of it as fast as they can, they have a sublime facility for pretending they haven’t even seen it.
For the lower part of the town is too like the places they’ve left, as brash and vulgar and unattractive as modern provincial towns anywhere in Europe. The housing there is generally blocks of apartments made of cement with brwon sliding shutters and little balconies. Italy uses more cement every year than any other country in Western Europe, a fact which people generally don’t want to know, because it doesn’t fit with the image they have, but if you go thee and keep your eyes open it won’t seem to suprising a statistic. just beyone the village is a big wide autostrada. It cuts through the plain and goes north past Assisi and Perugia, then on up to Siena and Florence.”
And all the while, her narrator is examining her surroundings in Italy to avoid focussing on the Ireland she has seemingly fled. If her insights into Ireland are on a par with this passage on Italy, I’m in for a good read.