Books to Feed Your Vacation Dreams to Tuscany and Paris

October 18, 2006

If you are counting the days until you set foot on the cobblestone paths of an Italian village or dreaming of the moment you gaze at the beautiful Parisian skyline from your hotel window, perhaps a few books with European settings can satisfy your vacation dreams, if only for a short while.

At once entertaining and enlightening, these books have the power to transport you to places you might otherwise never see as a tourist. They offer new perspectives for the well seasoned traveler. And even if you’ve never been to the place described in a particular book, when you actually arrive there, you’ll feel it’s a place you’ve always known.

We have gathered a selection of books that reveal the world in their pages. These stories, some true, others fictional, are filled with rich color. You’ll get to feed your imagination through the stories’ major events and the details of everyday life that these books describe.

Italy:  The Miracles of Santo Fico

DL Smith’s novel is set in the small Italian hill town of Santa Fico that in six decades has seen very few tourists. The town with its decaying, dried up fountain has only one treasure to speak of -- a fresco of St. Francis that is believed to be the work of Giotto.

When long lost, prodigal son, Leo Pizzolo, returns to the town and attempts to exploit the mystery of the fresco for his own personal gain, events quickly turn from measured and tense, to comical and touching. Leo is forced to conjure up some divine interventions and trade in his own dreams to save the people he loves.

A story in which staged miracles give way to real ones, the book’s old world charm and the nuances of small town Italian life make it hard not to fall in love with the characters and the world in which they live.

Paris: Paris to the Moon

Adam Gopnik, an American writer for the New Yorker, spent five years in the 1990s living in Paris with his wife and son. His keen observations and outsider’s perspective offer an insight into what makes Paris, Paris.

The book of essays flows seamlessly among reports of national events (such as transportation strikes) discussions of cultural issues in France (such as the “Crisis of French Cooking”) and musings about Gopnik’s daily life in France compared to life in the US. But the book’s charm is in the little details.

Gopnik describes his frustratingly, humorous quest to join a gym, where he must contend with a stream of physical exams and interviews just to work out. You will be inspired by a small rebellion he carried out with other Parisians to protest the purchase of a local brasserie by a restaurant tycoon. And you will be amused as Gopnik practices how he will carry out the difficult task of telling a taxi driver to make a u-turn, something that cabbies apparently were loath to do on his street.

The respect and love he has for the city comes through in this book along with the life, which his wife describes as a “beautiful existence,” that he had there.

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