Talking Location With author Charlotte Rixon – Newcastle
Novel set in Montalcino, Tuscany, plus we chat to Alexander McCall Smith
21st June 2016
My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith, novel set in Montalcino, Tuscany.
Why a bulldozer? The roads in Italy comprise highways and winding roads populated by drivers who, from the outside, have a death wish. Have I myself not fantasised about driving a vehicle that is impervious to the shouts and lane dodging and hogging that is part of the driving experience in Italy? Something big and powerful, that commands the road? (A Land Rover perhaps?). Certainly not a bulldozer, yet in fact that would fit the bill, rather absurdly; and thus it is that food writer Paul Stuart arrives in Pisa only to find it is a festa weekend and there is no car available for hire (there is a digression which involves an attempt to hire a car, followed by a short prison spell, which sees him incarcerated with hirsute serial offender Occhidilupo…).
And so it is that Paul sets off for Montalcino in a bulldozer, puttering along at a fair rate and ruling the road from his elevated cabin. In this beautiful hill top town, he is set to complete his book, but also enjoy the food, the views and the people. Through his eyes, the reader is a wonderfully immersed, through fiction, into Tuscan life and especially into life in this beautiful hill top town. Paul’s regular eatery is the Caffé Fiaschetteria, which actually exists, and there is sampling of the local wine, whether it is simply the Rosso di Montalcino or the superior Brunello di Montalcino.
Soon, however, Paul’s bucolic life is under threat as his ex girlfriend announces that she is going to visit. For what reason he is unclear, but soon Gloria, his editor, is hot on her heals. This is turning out to be an increasingly stressful sojourn for our hapless hero… A lovely story set in the heart of Italy.
Delightfully, the book is dedicated to the wonderful William Dalrymple, author, historian and world travel writer.
Check out this link to see the publicity video for My Italian Bulldozer… (produced by Polygon)
Tina for the TripFiction Team
And over to the author who has kindly agreed to answer our questions:
TF: I have often fantasised about the kind of vehicle that would facilitate an easier passage when driving on Italian roads, something robust, elevated and not too fast. Surprisingly, I had never considered a bulldozer! How did you decide on this absurd but actually rather ‘practical’ vehicle for Paul to drive to get to his destination?
AMcCS: I think this came about by accident. I suppose that I had in mind a completely unsuitable vehicle and a bulldozer suggested itself. The absurdity of it is something that really appealed to me.
TF: The writing is so evocative of the Italian hill town Montalcino. You clearly know it very well, dining at the Caffé Fiaschetteria, which actually exists. How did you settle on the town for the setting as a backdrop?
AMcCS: I first visited Montalcino when I was studying, a long time ago, in Siena. Over the years I have been back there from time to time and have always liked being there. It is, in my view, the perfect Italian hill town, surrounded by beautiful countryside, and with a long and interesting history. It seemed just the right place to be the setting for this novel.
TF: One of the characters in the book has a vineyard, but his vines grow just outside the boundary of the area that produces Brunello di Montalcino, a fine wine. Yet his wine, Rosso di Montalcino, is just as good but doesn’t have the kudos (nor the income for the owner). Assuming from the wonderful descriptions in the book that you are wine drinker, what wines do you yourself enjoy?
AMcCS: I enjoy wine. I do not know a great deal about it, but I do read books and articles on the subject. I like Italian wines and have a particular taste for Brunello di Montalcino, which features in this novel. There are hundreds of different wines in Italy – a remarkable range – from very delicate white wines to great big wines from the South. They go so well with Italian cuisine – another great gift to the world!
TF: I am now keen to visit Montalcino, as I am sure many other readers of the book will be. Your book is bound to increase the volume of visitors to this wonderfully scenic area. What effect might that have and what are your top tips, please?
AMcCS: Montalcino is a very welcoming place, and you will love it. I would suggest that you try to visit other than at the height of the season – spring can be lovely, and the autumn too. But even if you go in summer, the town is quite capable of absorbing visitors. My tips to enjoy it: walk through the town from one end to another – it won’t take long. Sit on the walls and look out over the countryside – it a bit like being in an aeroplane. If you need somewhere to stay, then the Albergo il Giglio is the place. From the Albergo you look out over the roofs and vineyards below you – you are sometimes higher than the birds flying down below. Also, visit Sant’Angelo in Colle, a short distance away – another magical little town.
TF: What is next for you in terms of travel and writing?
AMcCS: I have started a new novel set in France, in la Vienne, a lovely rural part of the country. I was there recently and it is all fresh in my mind – I am very much enjoying the process of writing. This summer I shall not be going anywhere in particular, other than the Western Highlands of Scotland, where we have a house. I shall be sailing among the Scottish islands.
Thank you so much to Alexander for answering our questions.
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