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Has anyone read and/or followed the Book: Italy, The Places In Between by Kate Simon? It reads like poetry.

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Has anyone read and/or followed the Book: Italy, The Places In Between by Kate Simon? It reads like poetry.

Old Jul 28th, 2004, 04:01 AM
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Has anyone read and/or followed the Book: Italy, The Places In Between by Kate Simon? It reads like poetry.

One of the many books I purchased for my trip to Italy in October is Italy, The Places In Between by Kate Simon. I was very surprised at the writing style. It reads like a book of poetry!

Here is some of what the back of the book says about about the book:

"captures the spirit of the wonderful small towns and breathtaking regions around, between, and beyond the large urban centers."

"In this reissue of her 1984 classic, Kate Simon reveals the special charm of the Umbrian hill towns, the enchantment of the Etruscan tomb paintings of Tarquinia, the beauties of Siena's Campo, the sublimity of the Giottos in Padua, and the watery grace of Treviso. She also recounts the delights of dozens of other overlooked sites-from the mountainous Friuli region northeast of Venice to the sun-blessed villages of the Southern Adriatic...." - Book World

If you have read this book, have you followed the outline? Since 1984 was quite a while ago I wondered if anyone has any updates to the info in the book?

The publisher's note reads:

This is a reissue of the 1984 edition. We believe the book stands on its merits as an observant and eloquent work of travel writing. The "Notes" sections at the ends of chapters - which reference hotels, pensione, and restaurants, and give locations and approximate prices - consist of choices made by the late author herself. The information has not been revised or updated."
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Old Jul 28th, 2004, 04:22 AM
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I know and love the book, but I read it chiefly to choose places that I want to go, without necessarily following Kate Simon's routes.

And I definitely would not rely on any of her hotel or restaurant recommendations; in 20 years, an awful lot can change!

One example: She writes very scathingly about the aged retainers at the Palazzo Ravizza in Siena. Since then, the Palazzo Ravizza has been modernized (without losing the charm of the old palazzo) and its staff are mostly very pleasant and efficient young people.
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Old Jul 28th, 2004, 04:35 AM
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But I didn't really answer your question: I think if the publisher hasn't updated the information, it's a fairly sure thing that no one else has.

Two other things that you might want to bear in mind: Simon had, I think, a very outgoing personality and a good knowledge of Italian that allowed her to connect with Italians in a way that very few tourists can today. For another, Italy has become a much more sophisticated and expensive country in the last 20 years, and even the small towns with the modest trattorias where the locals used to gather have changed and evolved.

It's a wonderful book that captures many of the things that make one love Italy but not to be relied on, I think, as a practical guide to the Italy of today.

P.S. Kate Simon has written another book in the same vein entitled "Rome: Places and Pleasures." Also wonderful, but also to be used with the same caution as "Italy: The Places In Between."
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Old Jul 28th, 2004, 05:14 AM
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Hello Eloise.

Thank you so much for responding to my post.

Yes, it has been 20 years, 1984 doesn't sound like so long ago, but yup, it is!

I realize would be very foolhardy to try to follow her trails without checking out updated info.

It would be very interesting to hear from those that have followed the trails and have them post updated information don't you think?

Does anyone know of a more current book written in a similar fashion?

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Old Jul 28th, 2004, 06:27 AM
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Even more personal than Kate Simon's book is "Italian Days" by Barbara Grizzuti Harrison. Again, she has the advantage of being able to speak Italian, being of Italian ancestry. Also a very outgoing personality who does things that I, as a more cautious person, would perhaps not dare to do. But Grizzuti Harrison is absolutely terrific on the "experience" of Italy. It's a long book that covers a lot of ground but well worth the time, in my opinion. It's not a real guide book either, although she does mention some hotels she stays in and some restaurants that she eats in. It came out in 1990 (it's now available in paperback), so it's a much more contemporary view of Italy. (I think the "sorpasso" -- when Italy passed Great Britain on the standard-of-living scale -- was in 1986 and the major turning point for Italy.)

If you enjoy Kate Simon, I think you would enjoy "Italian Days."
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Old Jul 28th, 2004, 09:12 AM
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I've been a Kate Simon fan for years and was pleased to see that her Italy book had been reissued, partly because I think she deserves to be read more and partly because my old copy is falling apart.

I agree that you definitely can't just follow her routes and expect things to be the way they were then. But I read lots of old travel literature (as distinct from old guidebooks which, I admit, I also read sometimes) and think it can be very evocative and informative.

Some of her other books that I've liked and used for background, though not for actual instructions, are "Mexico, Places and Pleasures" and "England's Green and Pleasant Land." She also wrote a book about the Gonzaga family, dukes of Mantova, called "A Renaissance Tapestry," which you might enjoy if you're planning on going there.

One thing that I like about her books, in addition to her writing style, is her ability to write from a personal point of view without making the book about her. Unlike most people, I'm not a big fan of the "my new life in Italy/France/Wherever" school of writing, but I do like reading informed personal observations.

If you're going to Rome, I highly recommend The Companion Guide to Rome by Georgina Masson, which isn't really comparable to Simon's book except insofar as it has a personal voice and is well-written and well-informed. It goes in and out of print and has been recently revised.

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Old Jul 28th, 2004, 03:29 PM
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I couldn't agree more that there is a distinction between travel literature and guidebooks and that some of the older books in both categories are well worth reading. To my mind, no one -- with the possible exception of Henry James -- has written as evocatively on Venice as James (now Jan) Morris, whose "Venice" originally appeared in 1960.

I too dislike the "my new life in" books; I find the oh-so-popular books by Frances Mayes oh-so-condescending and, what is almost worse, oh-so-uncomprehending of Italy and Italians. If one reads them with any amount of care, one realizes that she has almost no interaction with Italians (with the exception of the oh-so-picturesque people at the market in Cortona) and that all her social relations are with the expatriate community in Tuscany, which is, God knows, very thick on the ground.

For a very different kind of "my new life in" book, I can highly recommend Mary Taylor Simeti's book on Sicily, "On Persephone's Island." She knows the Sicilians, she lives with them, and she presents them as they are: with both their wonderful and their less wonderful qualities. The book is, perhaps, a little bit outdated, since it was written in 1986, when only a few very courageous Italians were leading the fight against the Mafia, which has since been won, to a greater or lesser extent, but it is still an exceptionally clear-sighted introduction to Sicily.

And as for Georgina Masson, I have the first edition (1965) of her Companion Guide to Rome. While I realize that a great deal of the factual information in the book is outdated (e.g., the statue of Marcus Aurelius now on the Campidoglio is a copy and the original is in one of the Capitoline Museums), I hesitate to buy the latest revision because I fear that it will no longer be "her" book... On the other hand, I have also read reviews that say that the Englishman who has done the revisions (I forget his name) has, if anything, contributed to the book through his greater understanding of and emphasis on the Baroque monuments of Rome.

Whatever. Travel books on and guidebooks to Italy now occupy two complete shelves on my bookcases, and I suspect that they will continue to take up more and more space. Some of the books I add are, inevitably, disappointing, but it's the odd exceptional book -- of which Barbara Grizzuti Harrison's "Italian Days" is one, in my opinion -- that make the investment worthwhile.
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Old Jul 28th, 2004, 05:54 PM
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This is wonderful information and I am emailing the link to this post to my mother.

By the way, she is an architect/builder/artist/sculptor, so if anyone has any suggestions for good reads that may interest her I would be happy to pass on any suggestions.
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Old Jul 28th, 2004, 06:39 PM
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If your mother is an architect, she may already have read one of the other books on my shelves of books about Italy: "The Perfect House: A Journey with the Renaissance Master Andrea Palladio" by Witold Rybczynski. (It's out in paper.) It's a very personal view of the Palladian villas in the Veneto, which makes them seem not at all austere or forbidding but almost homey. Since I happen to think that Palladio's villas are among the most humanistic achievements of the Italian Renaissance, the book struck a very warm chord with me. I should add, though, that it has been criticized for not having sufficient images of some of the things Rybczynski talks about at some length. Since I have two or three books of photographs of the Palladian villas, I personally did not find this a problem. In fact, I found it a wonderful book that I would recommend warmly.
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Old Nov 4th, 2004, 03:36 AM
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I've stumbled across this older post and will note the books for reference. I've recently completed "A Thousand Days In Venice" by De Grasi and was wonderfully engrossed. If the books noted here are of similar caliber, what a wonderful holiday reading list in preparation for return trip to Italy in May '05. This time I'll be bringing Mom & Niece along with DH.
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Old Nov 4th, 2004, 05:25 AM
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I always love Book threads! I missed this one and will also jot down names and titles.
Thank you PLMN
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