essential reading and viewing list when you move to italy

Or, ok, when you’re just going to visit.

Truman Capote’s travel writings in “Portraits and Observations”

Alright, you’ve caught me out: he’s my favorite writer and I love to read just about anything he put on paper. I only wanted to weigh down my suitcases coming out here with three books total, and this was one of them. He actually lived for many years in Europe, in Sicily and Ischia as well as Switzerland and beyond, so he knows the land and its people quite well, and reading his descriptions and encounters makes you wish for an older time, simpler perhaps — but then many parts of Italy are still this way, nuns walking down blistering sidewalks, old buildings with creaky windows opening up to age-old vistas. So it’s the perfect fit, really. His experiences are never picture perfect, but he spins everything into something so beautiful you cherish even the mistakes and mishaps. If you like his writing, also check out his book of letters, “Too Brief a Treat.” There are many that cover his travels and all the places he lived with even more candor and humor.

Le Divorce

It’s about Americans in Paris, but I really liked this book for its insights into the things that come up when you cross any two cultures, step outside your own world, and end up feeling farther away from but also closer to it. Seems kind of chick-lit-y but I’ve found this to have a lot of depth; it’s one of few books I’ve read several times. There was a movie made of it a few years back with Kate Hudson and Naomi Watts, it’s quite stylish and worth seeing, but not as good as the book (are they ever?) in my humble opinion.

The Talented Mr. Ripley

If you’ve seen it, I probably don’t need to say more. Years after watching it, so many scenes still stick in my memory, the quintessential cliches of “Italian life,” but many of them true in some way. And well, every time you see a nice old boat here in Italy (picture taken this weekend in Lake Como), you might be reminded of a certain climatic scene… Such a modern classic.

Under the Tuscan Sun

Ok, it’s cheesy as all get out, idealistic, wishful thinking. But as I’ve said, everyone who comes to Italy does it for love. Just don’t dance in a fountain here like that one nutty character does. Those things are seriously dirty in reality. And if you live in an old building, you will relate to this film in so many more ways than you could anticipate…

La Dolce Vita, 8 1/2

I’ve written about my love for Fellini films before, these two being my favorites. La Dolce Vita is so quintessentially Italian that it’s sort of chicken/egg whether this film captures that 1960s style or helped create it. Anouck Aimee’s character in the film is my favorite, though it’s a small role: she plays this gorgeous aloof aristocrat with black sequins and huge Wayfarer sunglasses, the height of sophistication and mystery. Love.

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Anything else you suggest I check out? Do you like to read or see specific films before a trip to help you frame your experiences? Do you like to set expectations and a mood beforehand, or do you prefer the experience of travel all on its own?

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