Julie & Julia: A Blogging Foodie In France Weighs In

I was excited to see Julie & Julia*. After all, it had three things going for it that are near and dear to my heart:

  1. Paris
  2. Food
  3. Blogging

And, it did have all three of those things in it. Enough of #1 for me to recommend it to someone who loves Tumblr pictures of the City of Lights. Not nearly enough of #2, though – I wanted the frittata scene from Big Night. The feast part of Babette’s Feast. The opening scene of Eat Drink Man Woman. I was ready for food, and instead I got a Nora Ephron movie. Which I should have expected: Julie & Julia was written by Nora Ephron. But before I get flamed, let me explain.

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Scathing Movie Review: Under the Tuscan Sun

Marco and I just watched Under the Tuscan Sun.

It had wonderful cinematography. The house, Diane Lane and Raoul Bova were beautiful.

Now. Please pay attention. If you

A) loved this movie, and/or

B) think I’m swell, and/or

C) you think this film has a plot for which I might give away spoilers

I am warning you: Stop reading now. Otherwise, join me for some tea and cynicism after the jump.
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The Cheese Lady, for Italiaphiles Everywhere

Jessica at WhyGo Italy recently told the story on Robin‘s blog, MyMelange, about how a single Italian sealed the deal on her abiding love for Italy. In honor of that story totally making me teary, I’m reposting this story, from my book, about My First Italian: The Cheese Lady.

Every Wednesday is Lavinio’s market day. Several streets are blocked off to allow for a long line of vendors selling everything you could ever want, in no particularly organized fashion – kitchen utensils, jeans, fruit, vegetables, lingerie, down comforters, shoes, meat, clock radios, cheese, flowers, CDs, purses in haphazard piles.

Every Tuesday night I would sit down with my translation dictionary and make a list of the things I needed, in case I needed to talk about them when I got there. But for the most part, the good thing about shopping this way was that I did not have to speak too often. I would gather up my purchases, show them to the vendor, and pay without saying more than buon giorno or grazie. I did not want to be outed as The American. I desperately wanted to fit in, which unfortunately often robbed me of the ability to speak at all.

But my deep and abiding love for all things dairy finally forced me to reveal my gulping, stuttering self to the Cheese Lady.

She was probably about 50; she was built like a Parma ham and had hands like baseball mitts. Her warm, genuine smile and the intoxicating smells from her stall targeted her as My First Italian.

Oh, how I studied the night before. I wanted to make sure I got the softest, stinkiest, yummiest cheeses she had.

That morning, I approached the stall and patiently waited for pretty much every customer in town to leave. I did not want witnesses to the butchering I was about to do to their language. Finally, it was my turn.

I quietly launched into my prepared speech about wanting cheese, which was probably the most formal declaration of love she had ever heard in her life. I must have said the right thing, because before I knew it she had come around the counter and was force-feeding me small pieces of about 114 different kinds of cheese.

“Si,” I’d say with a smile; or sometimes, with the most apologetic face I could muster, “Non mi piace.” After she had wrapped up my selections and I paid her, I turned to leave and she waved and said, “Ciao, bella.”

Now, this was a perfectly normal thing for her to say. She had probably said it 20 times that day. Everyone in Italy says it all the time, coming and going. I am sure she forgot about me four seconds after I left.

But even writing this now, three languages and five years later, it makes me teary. It was the first time an Italian had said it to me. Even though I was obviously not Italian, and had probably sounded like an injured seal, she said, “Ciao, bella” to me.

She was My First Italian, and I will never forget her.

Travel Books, Part Two: Not-So-Favorite Ones

A follow-up to my popular post, Travel Books.

Here are some travel books that just didn’t do it for me.

Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
In this memoir of her buying, renovating, and living in an abandoned villa in Tuscany, Frances Mayes reveals the sensual pleasure she found living in rural Italy, and the generous spirit she brought with her.

Holy shit, did I hate this book. I’m sure she is a lovely woman, and I’m sure her home is lovely as well. But I could not get over how ridiculously condescending she was when describing her interactions with Italians and the Italian culture. She infuriated me.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Plagued with despair after a nasty divorce, the author, in her early 30s, divides a year equally among three dissimilar countries, exploring her competing urges for earthly delights and divine transcendence.

This book is actually fine, and quite entertaining. I am truly sorry that her life fell apart, and I am truly happy that she found peace and a solid love. However, I disliked it for two intensely personal reasons:

1. Her time in Italy. That’s supposed to be my book. Now everyone will think I wrote my book after she wrote hers, trying to ride her coattails all the way to Oprah.

2. The means with which she lived this exploratory year were given to her in the form of an advance to write about the trip she was taking with that money. You know what? Give me an account full of cash and a year to go explore the world, and I’ll give you a great book, too.

Spanish Lessons by Derek Lambert
British journalist Lambert and his Canadian wife, Diane, find just the right place when they visit La Jara, an unassuming Spanish village inland from the Mediterranean shore of Costa Blanca.

This book combined the worst elements of everything I hate about fellow travelers and travel writing: The smug sense of entitlement; the condescending tone when describing the host country and its citizens; the sense that every moment is dripping in poetic opportunity; everything, everything.

I think that’s it. I haven’t read a ton of travel writing, and I’m fortunate to have loved most of what I have read. Even in this list, I only really hated two of the three.

Travel in Entertainment – Miss Expatria Reviews

Hello! I was thinking I’d start a review day of my favorite travel-related entertainment obsessions. I’d like to kick off this series with perhaps an unusual choice:

The Jason Bourne Collection. It’s an action film, smartly done, and Matt Damon is easy on the eyes. But, let’s look at the things I absolutely fetishize about these films.

1. “I’ll give you ten thousand dollars to drive me to Paris.”

I wish every day that someone would come up to me and say that – and I don’t even drive. It’s the best line, ever.

2. Bourne retrieves a Swiss bank code from INSIDE HIS BODY and when he is shown to his private room to view what is in his account, he is handed a metal box containing a dozen passports all bearing his photo but different names; cash in a dozen different currencies; a loaded gun; and various other implements of disguise. Where is my metal box?

3. He can speak any language fluently. Yes please!

4. He gives Run Lola Run – yes, I know that’s not her name, but that’s what I call her – money to get away and she uses it to open a scooter rental place and cafe on a beach somewhere. Smart girl. Me, I’d open a bookstore; but the location would be the same.



5. Because of the depth of Bourne’s obsession to find out who he is, no matter where it takes him he sees every location in terms of exits, vantage points, sniper’s nests. This is travel-jaded taken to a whole new level. I’ve had to watch every film twice, just to get the plot down because the firs time I was too busy coveting every amazing apartment, farm house, beach-side residence and outdoor market.

6. Julia Stiles’ character. I keep tapping on my walls, hoping to find a hi-tech room hiding behind the charming French stucco. I want to be part of an elaborate trap involving the tram system in Berlin. And as my mother well knows, nothing would please me more than walking away from a cafe table while dismantling my cell phone and leaving it in pieces behind me.

Miss Expatria’s book and movie reviews. The Roger Ebert for the travel addict in us all.