Christine Strelan - Between the Covers

Italian Joy

Carla Coulson

Penguin Lantern 2005

This is another of those books about affluent Anglo-Saxons reinventing themselves in funkier cultures. Mercifully, there are no renovations, no patronising chuckles over picturesque natives in Provence or Tuscany. Carla Coulson is more convincing than those smug wankers. Her unadulterated gushing combines with sharp observation and receptiveness to her adopted home. She experiences Italy by immersing herself in the lives of her hosts, eager to learn their language and participate in their rituals. As well as the expected raves about food and fashion, she devotes chapters to Vespas, shrines to the Madonna, and washing lines (apparently Italians abhor automatic dryers. And rightly so).

The descriptions of her hunky Florentine lurve-beast are a bit much; we only need to be told once that he is tall, dark and handsome, with tiger-eyes. On the other hand, she is so enraptured with everything Italian, and her dashing Latin amore is clearly part of the package.

Luckily for us, her new career is in photography, which brings me to Italian Joys five-star design and presentation. Everything about this book is stylish: the layout, the inventive cover and the numerous illustrations. Physically, its a gorgeous artefact, even the paper feels nice. Coulsons Italy does not come in travel brochure colours; its got a lovely, retro look reminiscent of old Fellini films. Her collection of Madonnas is particularly beautiful.

I did wonder though, if there are any cranky, wretched Italians; all the people here look like theyre having a grand old time, beaming over their coffees and mopeds. Perhaps Coulson chooses only the delighted faces; I cant see her publisher accepting a book called Italian Misery. Quality of life does seem to be a priority, and think of what Italian migrants have done for Australia. Without them, we might still be eating chops and three veg every night, and the state of our cafs doesnt bear thinking about.

Italian Joy is indeed full of joie de vivre, an exuberant hymn to simple pleasures. It has about as much depth as a piece of focaccia, but sometimes, focaccia is exactly what you feel like. Especially if youve wine, pecorino and sun-dried tomatoes handy.

Books reviewed are available at the Book Warehouse in Keen Street, Lismore, and at Lismore Shopping Square.

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