Thursday, October 31, 2013

At Least You're In Tuscany - by Jennifer Criswell

Genres: Memoirs, Travel, nonfiction, satire, relationships, community, Tuscany, Italy
Kindle File Size: 610 KB
Print Length: 220 pages
Formats: Kindle, Paperback, 
ISBN13: 9780098210237
Published date: September 28th 2012
Publishers: Gemelli PressLLC (September 28, 2012)
Edition Language: English
Purchase link: Amazon Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.;  Barnes & Noble

Endless fields of flame-like poppies. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. The sweet, rhythmic chime of church bells.

Months upon months of unemployment? Struggling to communicate with locals? Duvets frozen on the clothesline?

Jennifer Criswell's move from New York City to Tuscany was not supposed to go like this. She had envisioned lazy mornings sipping espresso while penning a best-selling novel and jovial group dinners, just like in the movies and books about expatriate life in Italy.

Then she met reality: no work, constant struggles with Italian bureaucracy to claim citizenship through her ancestors, and perhaps worst of all, becoming the talk of the town after her torrid affair with a local fruit vendor.

At Least You're in Tuscany is the intimate, honest, and often hilarious tale of Jennifer's first year in Montepulciano. During that time, Jennifer's internal optimist was forced to work overtime, reminding her that if she were going to be homeless, lonely, and broke, at least she would be all those things - in Tuscany. 

Through all her small-town bumblings, though, Jennifer's mantra, along with a healthy dose of enthusiasm and willingness to learn about Italian culture, helped her not only build a new, rewarding life in Italy but also find herself along the way.

What do you do when you want to make your dream your address, like Marcel Proust; you idolize Italian men; you imagine life on earth should be about all things Italian, and you have “Che palle!” or “Porca miseria!" or “Stronza!” down pat? And what if your mom periodically, okay at least twice a day, yelled "Vaffanculo" at your brother? Yeah, right, you declare your life as a lawyer in New York obsolete; you move to Tuscany - Montepulciano, to be exact - the lock stock and dog way. It is the place you were destined to be, right?

Right. And then reality strikes. Warm-blooded Italian men and hot-headed Italian mamas become part of morning coffees and late afternoon hang-outs on a stoop. Talks about food overshadow overworked bureaucracy  money running out and job-opportunities denied due to the Italian's principles and a stilted use of the language. Life gets tough, winters get more snow than the north pole and still no job, no money. Destiny is suddenly defined by resilience and hope. Optimism and depression become bed mates, while the town ensures that every passionate step will go through the gossip mill.

" I saw myself through the eyes of my closest friends who kept telling me how brave and how adventurous I was. Yes! Look at me! La Regina dell’ Avventura! The Queen of Adventure! But as I learned quickly enough, living a dream is very different from having a dream—and I was about to meet a whole different me along the way." 

Jennifer Criswell wrote an online journal of her day to day experiences settling in and applying for citizenship in Italy. It is still a delightful blog to follow. This book was born from it.

Russel Crowe's movie "A Good Year" had the same enchanting effect on me. It was about an arrogant, narcissistic Brit inheriting a wine farm in France and is forced to get to know the local population on their terms. It is due to this movie that I wanted to read this book. What a better way is there to experience a country than to read a book like this which is much more than a tourist trap, and much nearer to the core than a travel journal. This is the real deal.

I looked up the town, Montepulciano, on the internet, but to be honest, I was so not impressed. The expiry date stamped all over it, is just as ancient as the town's history. Dull, dreary and dated. And those hills! Who wants to live in a place where there is no flat street of any kind in sight? But Jennifer brings the town and its people so colorfully to life, I am now more curious than ever! And of course I am going to try all those recipes. Her honesty makes the experience so much more than just a memoir.

Nope, I do not want to live there, ever. But I would love to visit and see how she is doing now. She did sell us the idea of bright red poppies scattered everywhere on an otherwise color-devoided landscape. Actually, she introduced all the colors of the rainbow to us through the culture, people, gardens, language and her emotional landscape.

Montepulciano it is then. Anyone interested in joining the trip? But do yourself a favor and read this book first. This is a light-read, but an entertaining one. 


Jennifer Criswell is a lawyer turned writer.  After a trip to Italy in 2001 changed her life and her direction, she chucked her legal briefs to pursue her love of writing.  Jennifer followed this dream to New York City where she supported herself (just) for over six years by walking dogs on the Upper West Side.

Jennifer has authored three novels, and her current project, AT LEAST YOU’RE IN TUSCANY: A Somewhat Disastrous Quest for the Sweet Life, is an honest and funny memoir about the reality of following your dream.

Jennifer lives and writes in a small hill town in Italy with her sidekick of a Weimaraner, Cinder.  They are always on the look out for new adventures… and new gelato flavors! 


Dori Lavelle said...

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Deanie Humphrys-Dunne said...

Hi, I just became a follower as well. Best wishes, this sounds like a fun book to read.

Margitte said...

thanks, you two! I am following you back! Really much appreciated.