A THOUSAND DAYS IN VENICE by Marlena De Blasi
Genre: Biography and Memoir
How Acquired: BookCrossing
Reading Began: January 20, 2005
Completed Reading: January 27, 2005
Overall rating: Six out of ten
Recommendation to others: Simple story of romance at a mature age, filled with sensual descriptions of regional Venice and the food it inspires.
Further Reading By This Author: A Thousand Days in Tuscany : A Bittersweet Adventure
Comments: I suppose it’s natural to compare this book and author to Without Reservations by Alice Steinbach—both being memoirs of mature women embarking on adventure in European settings, both involving an unexpected romance. In comparison, I’d say Steinbach’s story was more enjoyable; her adventures seemed to suit me better, and she seemed a person that I would enjoy knowing. De Blasi’s story was full of beauty and language, but the substance was, more or less, one note. Not that I didn’t enjoy it—I did! But I had trouble with the reading of it, feeling much ado about little.
Of course, that would imply that the author’s story had been diminished. I did feel that way for quite a while in the reading of the book. Not until I reached the chapters directly surrounding her wedding plans did I feel truly engaged in the outcome of this woman’s story. But once engaged, I was surprised to see it end so quickly. Marlena De Blasi managed to draw me in close enough to want the rest of the story, that told in A Thousand Days in Tuscany to be precise. In doing this, in using the first three-quarters of the book to describe less than a year of her “thousand days” and the last three chapters to scurry through the remainder, I felt that Venice was simply a preamble to the real story. Which is a shame because there was terrific imagery in it that could have accompanied something larger. I look forward to the sequel.
Favorite Characters: It’s an interesting thing to be a woman nearing “a certain age” and not be drawn to the woman who is the center of this story, but rather to her Venetian husband whom she struggles to understand. While I would have naturally put myself in De Blasi’s shoes, being an American with dreams of Europe, I am more like Fernando than I ever realized, having lived a life much as his was prior to meeting the author. Practically everything Fernando said and did as part of his adjustment to life with De Blasi is familiar and similar to the ways I see my own life. The little speeches he gives throughout the book seem as if they could come from my own heart, so I find myself wondering just how I would adjust were I to experience something similar to this romance of theirs.
“I understand now about using up my time. Life is this conto, account,” said the banker in him. “It’s an unknown quantity of days from which one is permitted to withdraw only one precious one of them at a time. No deposits accepted. … I’ve used so many of mine to sleep. One by one, I’ve mostly waited for them to pass. It’s common enough for one to simply find a safe place to wait it all out. Every time I would begin to examine things, to think about what I felt, what I wanted, nothing touched, nothing mattered more than anything else. I’ve been lazy. Life rolled itself out and I shambled along sempre due passi indietro, always two steps behind. Fatalità, fate. Easy. No risks. Everything is someone else’s fault or merit. And so now, no more waiting,” he says, as though he’s talking to someone far away off in the wings. Chapter 2: There’s a Venetian in My Bed (pp. 25-26)
“A few weeks ago I would have never even looked up at those birds, I would have never even heard them. Now I feel part of things. Yes, I feel connected. I think that’s the word. I feel already married to you, as if I’ve always been married to you but I just couldn’t find you. It even seems unnecessary to ask you to marry me. It seems better to say, please don’t get lost again. Stay close. Stay close to me.” Chapter 2: There’s a Venetian in My Bed (p. 33)
The following paragraph is how I imagine my own romance would be. This is how I dream it, when I choose to dream it.
Never was there even a flickering sense of my having been beckoned up onto a white horse by a curly-haired swain, by the man-who-would-be-king, my one-and-only-meant-to-be-mine. I never felt the earth crack open. Never. What I felt, what I feel, is quiet. Except for those first hours together in Venice, there has been no confusion, no confounding, none of the measuring and considering one might think to be natural for a woman up to her knees in middle age who thinks to jump the moat. Now all the doors are open, and there is warm yellow light behind them. This does not feel like a new perspective but like the first and only perspective that has ever belonged only to me, the first perspective that has been neither compromised nor redrawn. Fernando is a first choice. I never had to talk myself into loving him, to balance out his merits and defects on a yellow pad. Nor did I have to, once again, remind myself that I wasn’t getting any younger, that I should be grateful for the attentions of yet another “very nice man.”
Too often it is we who won’t let life be simple. Why must we squeeze it and bite it and slam it against what we’ve convinced ourselves are our great powers of reason? We violate the innocence of things in the name of rationality so we can wander about, uninterrupted, in our search for passion and sentiment. Let the inexplicable sit sacred. I love him. Chapter 2: There’s a Venetian in My Bed (pp. 34-35)
And so I had to decide what would go over the sea and what would stay; and the most puzzling things made the short list … like so many pieces of so many places where I’d lived. Small evidences of past lives, I thought. Proof of my well-decorated nests. Were they, perhaps, to cushion my landing? Chapter 4: Did It Ever Happen to You? (pp. 50-51)
“The Mediterranean culture in general and the Italian culture in particular operate on a different standard of impressions and judgments. You’re not nineteen, you know, and the best they’ll think about you is that you ‘must have once been a beauty.’ It will be important if you can make them think you have money, which you don’t. Nothing else much will matter. This is an eccentric sort of move you are making and most will be wary of you and ask, ‘What is it she wants here?’ It is inconceivable for them even to consider purity of motive because they contrive so. Every move is staged to effect a countermove. I don’t suggest this is singularly Italian, but I do suggest that the intensity of this sort of posturing is as rampant there today as it was in the Middle Ages. Clever as you are, you’ll still be too childlike for them. There’s too much Pollyanna in you for their tastes. That you are an eternal beginner, if that can be contemplated at all, will seem frivolous to them.” (spoken by Misha in) Chapter 8: Everyone Cares How They Are Judged (pp. 103-104)
Whether we call it controlling or enabling or the more poetic “taming”, power issues don’t rear up as frenzied in a marriage between older people, the riper souls understanding these maneuvers to be ruinous. Older people get married for different reasons than young people do. Perhaps it’s that in a younger partnership, the man lives on his side of the marriage and the woman on hers. Gracious opponents in competitions over career, social and economic status, frequency and intensity of applause, they meet at table or in bed, each exhausted from the solitary race. In a later marriage, even if they work on different things, they’re still working as a team, remembering that being together is why they got married in the first place. Chapter 12: A White Wool Dress Flounced in Twelve Inches of Mongolian Lamb (p. 160)