Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Different Italian Perspective in 'The Reluctant Tuscan'

Phil Doran wrote for award-winning sitcoms such as Sanford and Son, Who's the Boss?, The Wonder Years, The Bob Newhart Show, and All in the Family. A few years ago, after all of his showbiz fame had begun to fade, his wife visited Tuscany in order to spend time sculpting. While there, she bought a house. After the initial shock wore off, Doran traveled there to visit and see their new abode.

The home required extensive renovations in order for the couple to move in -- along the way they discover that rather than being a few hundred years old, it is actually probably more like a thousand years old. Although Doran is somewhat... well... (you guessed it!) reluctant to make a permanent move from their Brentwood, California, mansion, he eventually gives in (somewhat, anyway) and they begin the long, drawn out process of fixing up a house in Italy.

The Reluctant Tuscan: How I Discovered My Inner Italian began as an article Doran proposed to write for the Los Angeles Times about the things he despised in Italy. I believe the name was something like, "Ten Things I Hate About Italy." Unlike most writers who wax poetic about the beautiful countryside, food, and architecture, the Hollywood-driven Doran finds little to like. To a modern American, life in Italy is not all creature comforts and internet browsing. The Dorans initially have no heat, no hot water, little electricity ("Italy," he writes, "has its own system of guaranteeing no one uses too much power. As soon as you plug in more than three things, all the lights in your neighborhood go out and all your neighbors start screaming at you" (244). Doran is comedic in his portrayal of himself, his wife, and the friends they make in the small village of Cambione.

However, as his time in Italy progresses, there comes a change in Doran's perspective. While there are still minor and not-so-minor irritations (insurance companies that won't pay up after a car accident, neighbors stopping by in the middle of the night, goats given as housewarming presents), Italy and its slow ways begin to grow on Doran. In the end, he writes:

I have come to believe that the Italians should rule the world. Not that they'd want to. After all, they did it once, and despite their best efforts to civilize us, it still ended up in the hands of the barbarians. And then, what about the Renaissance? Just how many times do they have to show us? . . . . I found myself wondering why my compulsion to be back in L.A., working in show business, had mysteriously vanished. . . . Living in cambione had certainly changed me. The irony of it was, when you broke down the name of the town you got cambiare, "to change," and -one (OH-nay), the suffix Italians use to say "big." That's right: Big Change. (304-305
Throughout his time in Italy, Doran periodically emailed his agent about projects he had tried to pitch prior to leaving California. Doran came to be somewhat of a travel agent for his Hollywood agent and other friends in L.A. He would often recommend hotels, sites to see, and restaurants before they trips to Italy for pleasure or business. In the end, his agent passed on all Doran's Hollywood ideas, but urged him to write a book about his new life. Doran chose to do so, and the result is this memoir.

Read an excerpt here and then pick up a copy for yourself to make a funny and unique trip to Italy.

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