Review: Merullo's Italian Summer

Micronesia RPCV Roland Merullo’s The Italian Summer: Golf, Food and Family at Lake Como that was published by Touchstone earlier this year is reviewed here by Leita Kaldi Davis nee Bevacqua (Senegal 1993-96). You don’t even have to like golf, food, family or Italy to like this book.

italian-summerThe Italian Summer:  Golf, Food and Family at Lake Como
by Roland Merullo (Micronesia 1979–80)
Touchstone/Simon & Schuster
April 2009
272 pages

Reviewed by Leita Kaldi Davis (Senegal 1993–96)

In The Italian Summer Roland Merullo takes his wife and two daughters to Lake Como for an idyllic vacation filled with enchanting landscapes, medieval cities, vivacious people, delectable wines and gluttonous meals. Roland, aka Orlando, also learns important lessons in relaxation that he needs not only to fully enjoy life, but to improve his golf game.

I don’t golf and wouldn’t know the difference between a bogey and a birdie, but I thoroughly enjoyed Merullo’s emotional reactions to his own game and that of other fascinating characters on Italy’s golf courses. “If golf shows you nothing else,” he confides, “it shows you the cracks in your interior architecture . . .” and he feels that in playing golf one can move toward perfection (or not) with the absolute precision of every score.

The book is not a travel guide, except for some roadside commentaries during long drives around the Tremezzino, nor is it a cultural essay,  a golf manual, or a spiritual odyssey, though Merullo has explored darker, deeper topics in his other books. (Here he sometimes seems fascinated with Mussolini’s evil legacy.)  It is instead a happy book about a happy time in a beautiful place.

Merullo and his family savor everything about Italy: old places, buildings, furniture, stones, trees, home-grown food, even animal carcasses hanging in butcher shops, and the Italian language.  “The words sink into us, the shapes and colors and textures and tastes sink into us.”

Having spent a few years in Italy I responded to Merullo’s lyrical descriptions of Lake Como where mountain peaks “. . . caught the bottoms of cumulus clouds as they drifted past . . .” and salivated at his descriptions of  pasta arrabbiata (hot and red) and bosco (creamy with mushrooms).  He’s right about Italians viewing “food as sacrament.”  I loved all his characters, from his Italian family in Revere, Massachusetts to his Como neighbors Davide, Paola, Pietro and Luca.  Merullo gets underneath the easy caricatures that Italians lend themselves to and explores instead their disarming human-ness, perhaps best expressed by Goethe:  Il ditto di Dio si vede negli italiani.  The finger of God is seen in the Italians.  (You won’t be surprised that I am, of course, Italian.)

Leita Kaldi Davis worked for the United Nations in New York and UNESCO in Paris, for international development programs at Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and Harvard University.  She worked with Roma (Gypsies) for fifteen years, became  a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal at the age of fifty-five, then went on to work for the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Haiti for five years.  She retired in Florida in 2002.

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