Head over Heel: Seduced by Southern Italy by Chris Harrison, 2009, Nicholas Brealey Publishing
Australian writer Chris Harrison captured me first with his opening quote from Luigi Barzini: “In the heart of every man, wherever he is born, whatever his education and tastes, there is one small corner which is Italian… ” In my family, there is a low-brow version of Barzini’s sentiment: There are only two kinds of people in the world—Italians and those that want to be. This book made me glad I am a little Italian. It also strengthened my urge to return to the sunny Italian south.
Harrison’s memoir draws us into Andrano, the village in Puglia he moved to after a love-at-first-sight encounter, and long distance romance with an Italian woman. In Andrano he learns to tolerate being wakened by the amplified voice of the vegetable seller roving through town in his truck, and to navigate the governmental obstacle course for residency and a driver’s license.
His stories rang true with my own experiences in southern Italy’s small towns, and colorful detail brings them to life: the festivals both religious and gastronomic (he favors the latter), the tragicomedy of nearly every interaction with the local carabinieri, and the challenges of teaching English to the most apathetic students.
Personal relationships have their own challenges, and Chris and Daniela discover when they move to Milan for work, and live with her brother. Daniela’s father wanders in a fog of Alzheimer’s disease, and her mother cares for him. Her family doesn’t always understand Chris and his Australian ways.
Entertaining all the way through, Harrison’s book also carried me back to Italy as I read. The south, and Puglia, are not often the subject of such books, and for me this added to the appeal. I found myself reading excerpts to my husband, and thinking of various friends who might also enjoy reading the book. You might enjoy it too–I recommend it!