Lead Review. Plus Talking Location With author Judith Works
- Book: Coins in the Fountain
- Location: Rome
- Author: Judith Works
How does a North American woman, stationed in Rome for the UN, acclimatise to the weird and wonderful world that is Rome? Armed with an Italian Dictionary, the biography of the Borgias and a Michelin Guide for the city (printed for the first time way back in 1959 apparently) she was ready to embrace the Eternal City.
Judith Works is offered a work-posting to the city and with affable husband Glenn in tow, the two set up home in the EUR District of the city (the letters standing for Espozione Universale Roma). This is not the Rome of ruins but the brainchild of Mussolini, the area earmarked to celebrate 20 years of Fascism in 1942; but the war came along and put significant dampers on his megalomaniac plans.
At first her Anglo Saxon reticence to engage in full-on life in the city is utterly palpable. She observes the chaos from the sidelines, lamenting the poor kitchen and bathroom facilities and colourful disorder that makes Rome what it is. But – whilst mild-mannered Glenn is in the background getting stuck into experimental Italian cooking – she begins to mellow as the city works its magic on her. For sure, it remains at heart frustrating in many bureaucratic ways, but the complex edifice that is the city of Rome and its history is soon there for the taking and absorbing. And absorb and wonder she does, Rome, she determines is much like living in an opera.
All things atrocious and shameless flock from everywhere to Rome (Tacitus). “Not much has changed in that regard from the turn of the second century AD”, she writes.
They spend a couple of years there and then return to North America. But she must have thrown several coins into the Trevi Fountain (doing this means you will return to the city) and they return once again, still charmed and addicted to the city. Her wonderment grows and with it the reader embarks with her on adventures, enthralled by her discoveries and simple pleasures – mainly food it has to be said (and what’s not to like about that!), as she fills her book with a rich pot of interesting observations and facts, peppered with useful tips. She herself masters the art of sprezzatura (or as much as someone who is not born in Rome can) – the art of making the difficult look effortless.
Her descriptions of the food markets are sumptuous and she muses how many other countries, including her own, have disappeared into a culture of clingfilm and ready-made meals, and what a loss to the senses that really is. She ponders the observation that many food markets also feature stalls of shoes… perhaps the two somehow go hand-in-hand, but hers is not to question the apparently tenuous connection.
And Christmas, what joy. The build-up starts so much later in the calendar, early December, when it’s time to set up the ubiquitous presepi: figures are collected year in, year out to build up a delightful and unique nativity scene to create the presepio. She delights in the stalls on the Piazza Navona but as this memoir was written when the lira was still the currency of Italy, I am sad to report that the Christmas market no longer takes place (it stopped a couple of years ago). But you can still enjoy her recommended visits to Volpetti for all your deli needs, purchase you confetti (the common nuptial sweets) in Sulmona (just feast your eyes on the vast arrays on this website) and head over to the Taverna dei Barbi in Montalcino.
As the Kirkus Review of this book says: “Armchair-travel books are rarely as good as this one”
Click here for #TalkingLocationWith, including amazing photos of the city by the author.