25 May 2017
Book review: Living in Italy: The Real Deal - How to Survive the Good Life - an expat guide (2017) by Stef Smulders, ***
Stef is a Dutch expat who moved to Italy in 2008, accompanied by his husband and dog, to start their bed and breakfast Villa I Due Padroni in the Oltrepò Pavese wine region, just 50 km (30 miles) south of Milan. In 2014 Stef published his first book (in Dutch) about their life in Italy. This is the English translation that is available since November 2016.
The author sent me the book asking to review it, and I am grateful for that. It is at times interesting reading, though so many foreigners have come to Italy to renovate a quaint property that one hardly finds anything new: bureaucratic complications, delays, Italians who have funny habits and don't know what they are doing but are so charming.
Though I do not doubt they sincerely love Italy I feel the authors do not really think highly of Italians. Once Barzini, the great journalist, said "Italians respect Germans but don't like them. Germans like Italians but don't respect them". I feel the Dutch couple in the oltrepò pavese feels the same.
Also I don't understand why the text is interspersed with Italian words. Yes, sometimes there is no obvious translation, but why write "architetta" instead of the English "architect"? It does not add much at all.
More broadly, the book's title is a bit misleading. It is not a book about life in Italy, but about the couple's renovation project, which takes virtually all of the book.
"How to survive the good life" kind of gives it away: it seems to suggest Italy has a lot to offer except they make so difficult for you... if only it could be run by Dutchmen...