I just finished reading The Artisan’s Star by Gabriella Contestabile for Italy Book Tours. In my opinion, if I had to use one word to sum up this book, it would be “passion.” Everything that happens in the story involves some form of it – from the passionate love between a man and a woman, to the passion an artist has for his craft. The story revolves around Elio at it’s center, and how he became passionate about perfume making. We learn about the loves of his life: his beautiful Greek mother who taught him about scents, the two older women with whom he learned the passion of love, his wife who shares his life, and his little “stellina” (his daughter!) who is the star of his life. The story takes place mostly in Florence where the author goes into great detail to make you feel like you are walking with the characters through the streets of this ancient city. We are introduced to other artisans who are passionate about their crafts and learn how, even in these modern times, they create their beautiful crafts like they were created hundreds of years ago. We are also transported to Grasse, the perfume capital of France, where we learn a lot about the art of perfumery. I have to say that this was all new to me and I never realized all the hard work and study that goes into making a perfume.
Ms. Contestabile’s book was very detailed and very descriptive, but at times, almost too much. I found my interest waning at times and I had to force myself to continue reading. She switched back and forth in the timeline, too, which was a bit distracting. The basic premise of the book was good, with the central theme of passion for one’s craft, excellent. She was successful in relaying that passion as it was evident in Elio’s and the other character’s lives.
Meet the Author:
Gabriella Contestabile is an author, educator, and owner of SU MISURA JOURNEYS, a boutique travel company connecting people to the artisans of Florence. She emigrated, with her parents, from Italy to New York City in 1959. In her pre-writer life, she worked as a foreign language teacher, management development specialist, and fragrance/cosmetics executive. Gabriella is a strong advocate of the arts, of multiculturalism, and of social justice—a passion inspired by reading Dickens and Dante at a very young age. She has been an active volunteer with Dress for Success for over eight years and is a member of the Slow Food NYC Food and Farm Policy Task Force. She lives on the Upper West Side with her husband, her daughter, her mom, and a furry Shih–Tzu named Oreo. ‘ The Artisan’s Star’ is her first novel. She is currently working on a collection of short stories, also set in Italy, and a screenplay.
While searching on Amazon for some historical fiction books, I came across this one by Joanne Lewis. Set in Italy during the Renaissance, it sparked my interest as these are always my favorites! I was about to write it down on my reading list to look for it at my public library when I noticed the Kindle version was only 99 cents! How could I go wrong by buying it? So, as convenient as is possible, I downloaded it to my ipad kindle app and began my virtual journey. I have to say, I was a bit dubious about it being good since it was so inexpensive but was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a good read and kept me interested throughout!
The story goes between the past and the present and links the two stories together brilliantly. It begins with the story of a girl, Dolce Gaddi, who lived in Florence at the same time as the great architect, Filippo Brunelleschi. She studied his architecture, especially that of the great unsupported dome he built on top of Santa Maria del Fiore, the beautiful cathedral of Florence.
She learned architecture on her own and called herself an architect. Being female, though, her achievements were never acknowledged until a present day contest that strove to find the true designer of the lantern that sits on top of the dome. This is where Filippa enters, a present-day young woman who had led a rough young life, in and out of prison and drug use. All her life her Grandfather would tell her the story of the contest and both of them would study anything they could to find clues as to the existence of the young female architect whom they believed designed the lantern. Filippa travels to Florence to search for the evidence and her journey leads her on a path to find her true self.
Being a historical fiction novel, I wondered what part of this story was true, so I did a bit of my own research. Of course, everything said about Brunelleschi was pretty accurate, except for the part about him adopting a son, Andrea. I couldn’t find any evidence of this in any of my readings. And then, the fact that a girl had designed the lantern must have been fictional because there wasn’t any mention of that in any of the historical documents I read, either. Nonetheless, the description of life in Renaissance Florence was, I believe, a close approximation of how things really must have been. Ms. Lewis brings both old and new Florence to life with her vivid descriptions – you can actually feel yourself walking the streets of this very ancient town.
I can highly recommend the book and enjoyed it immensely. I did have a few moments of disconnect with the story where I felt I must have missed something along the way. But this didn’t really deter from the enjoyment of the book. I was actually sad to have it come to an end. I wanted to continue learning about the characters.
Well, it looks like the cast of Jersey Shore will be spending this season in the land of their ancestors….only that La Bella Italia isn’t too keen on having them there. But can you really blame Italy? After all, this pathetic group of low lifes give a bad name to Italian Americans, and real Italians don’t want anything to do with them. They are the furthest examples of what authentic Italians are all about.
So the mayor of Florence, the lucky city that has been given the privilege to host this lovely group, has laid down some ground rules that the cast (and producers) have been asked to follow. First of all, they are not to be filmed drinking in public or in any bars or clubs that serve alcohol. The producers have been asked not to promote Florence as a drinking town, and Italy must be promoted for its culture. This show is to be about Italy, and not some yahoos visiting Italy and performing their stupid antics in public. Hmmm….seems to me that this may make for a boring season if the cast can’t act in their drunken, sleazy ways. This idea may backfire in MTV’s face! Now, don’t get me wrong…I can appreciate this show as a comedy and a parody on the Italian American stereotype, but when they go to Italy and try to “fit in” because they think they are real Italians, this goes a little too far. But hey, it’s ratings…and even bad publicity is a good thing these days as it seems to be the mantra for today’s entertainers (just look at Lindsay Lohan and all the attention she is getting for being “bad”)! Kind of a sad state of affairs…what happened to being popular because your talent merits it?
I have to be honest here, but I have never watched Jersey Shore. Growing up in San Francisco, I was surrounded by these “Guido” characters and it always turned me off. Those guys strutting around like peacocks with their shirts opened to their belly buttons, donning a heavy gold chain and “corno”, trying to speak Italian when all they knew were the swear words – these guys were GUIDO’S TO THE MAX!!! And I think I’ve had my fill! Plus, the Italian American organizations have really come down hard on this show because of it’s negative stereotypical portrayal of Italians that I didn’t want to support it.
So, we shall see how long they last in Florence….and if they learn anything about how to act like a real Italian!!
Jersey Shore Florence pic courtesy of TMZ!