The Other Side of the Tiber
Reflections on Time in Italy
By Wallis Wilde-Menozzi
Farrar Straus Giroux, Hardcover, 9780374280710, 372pp.
Publication Date: April 23, 2013
List Price: $27.00*
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A moving and illuminating memoir about a singular woman's relationship with a fascinating and complex country
A fresh, nuanced perspective on a profoundly perplexing country: this is what Wallis Wilde-Menozzi's unique, captivating narrative promises--and delivers.
"The Other Side of the Tiber" brings Italy to life in an entirely new way, treating the peninsula as a series of distinct places, subjects, histories, and geographies bound together by a shared sense of life. A multifaceted image of Italy emerges--in beautiful black-and-white photographs, many taken by Wilde-Menozzi herself--as does a portrait of the author. Wilde-Menozzi, who has written about Italy for nearly forty years, offers unexpected conclusions about one of the most complex and best-loved countries in the world.
Beginning her story with a hitchhiking trip to Rome when she was a student in England, she illuminates a passionate, creative, and vocal people who are often confined to stereotypes. Earthquakes and volcanoes; a hundred-year-old man; Siena as a walled city; Keats in Rome; the refugee camp of Manduria; the Slow Food movement; realism in Caravaggio; the concept of good and evil; Mary the Madonna as a subject--from these varied angles, Wilde-Menozzi traces a society skeptical about competition and tolerant of contradiction. Bringing them together in the present, she suggests the compensations of the Italians' long view of time. Like the country, this book will inspire discussion and revisiting.
Praise for The Other Side of the Tiber, named one of the “Best Travel Books” of 2013 by Longitude
“An ardent Midwesterner transplanted to Parma, Wallis Wilde-Menozzi returns to the Rome for her youth in this soulful meditation on the people, places, ruins, statues and allure of the Eternal City. She’s particularly astute on art (with two chapters on Carravaggio and one on Michelangelo), but it is her ability to conjure the life of the city that sets the book apart. After reading the book, you too will want to linger in the atmospheric Arco degli Acetar, where once upon a time she rented a room.” —Longitude
“The Other Side of the Tiber celebrates the spontaneity, bureaucratic complexity, and cultural abundance that is Italy today. Permesso, the Italian word for work permit, gave Mennozi what she was really after in 1968: permission to write . . . An insider’s reflections on 30 years in Italy [The Other Side of the Tiber] resists the clichés of split vision—ancient/modern; north/south; timeless/chaotic. Instead Menozzi focuses on how such opposites can nurture a life in search of transformation. Menozzi is an elegant writer who never falls into contemporary memoir’s culture of complaint. Her subject is Italy’s layered identity. But the memoir’s deeper story reveals how buried parts of herself surfaced. Over time, she discovered a deep capacity for commitment, not just to creative work, but also to a new marriage, motherhood, and a settled life in Parma, where she now lives. The eye ‘used to the bluer light of the Midwest’ from a Wisconsin childhood soon adapted to ‘the scorching raven black streets of Rome.’ Menozzi turns that eye on a Mediterranean world, ‘clustered excess to be admired, picked, displayed, eaten, enjoyed.’ The memoir is itself an open market. Written in short, self-contained sections with headings such as ‘Memory,’ ‘Layers,’ and ‘Hungry and Untrained Eyes,’ it offers glimpses of the Pantheon’s light, paving stones, kiosks, volcanoes, Italian donuts, pink marble, walking shoes, the frescoed walls of empress Livia’s dining room, ‘depicting palms, cypresses, quince, pomegranates, doves, and laurel.’ Together, these short sections mirror the working of memory itself, offering a slideshow of Italy across time, from the Etruscans to today’s Slow Food movement . . . Italy’s ‘tangled and mysterious strata’ of human quest and survival play out in Menozzi’s stories of her first years in Rome. The most haunting is a clear-eyed account of a scene of domestic violence she witnessed in a courtyard. In telling that woman’s story, Menozzi subtly reveals her own . . . The Other Side of the Tiber is itself a master key that unlocks Italy with its centuries of ‘connectedness and community.’” —Alexandra Johnson, The Christian Science Monitor
“Wallis Wilde-Menozzi’s beautiful meditation on Italy takes the reader on a journey of discovery that transpired over three decades of a life richly lived. The work is at once a memoir, travelogue, history lesson and cultural excavation. The author’s memories of life in Rome, where her journey begins, and ultimately Parma are the foundation for vignettes about the Italian people, art, language, media, religion, rituals, food and landscape. Her reflections are enlivened by liberal references to works of poetry and prose, depictions of paintings and sculpture and her own photography. The book inspires spiritual contemplation, as illustrated by a powerful line that reflects its essential message: ‘Consciousness of the mystery of life, the existence of good and evil as well as the infinity of love, is a powerful hope.’ . . . Wilde-Menozzi is a studied writer, whose thick prose often permits the reader to share sensually in her recalled experience. The Other Side of the Tiber is not a quick read; instead, much like the delicious food she describes, each chapter is meant to be savored.” —Diana Owen, America Magazine
“An American writer’s dreamy incantations on many decades living between Rome and Parma. Wilde-Menozzi . . . meanders among youthful reflections and lasting impressions of her long life in Italy to create both a lyrical journal and traveler’s guidebook . . . Coursing through the various chapters like the living river Tiber are the work of the great artists Michelangelo, Bernini and Caravaggio within some favorite haunts like the Vatican Museum, catacombs and churches. A sense of “inclusion” pervades the eternal city, the author writes, while its enduring squares seem to bear witness to history. She also chronicles her treks to Siena, Etna and the economically challenged south, specifically Puglia, to explore the plight of refugees. Her whimsical observations range from reflections about a 100-year-old man who walked the mountains around Turin, to the Italian way of justice, to the sad destiny of a young woman who was stabbed during an argument with her husband. From her early “hungry and untrained eyes,” Wilde-Menozzi arrives at moments of elegant sagacity and inspired humility . . . [A] useful collection to haul on a trip to Rome.” —Kirkus
“Beginning with her hitchhiking entrance to Rome, Wilde-Menozzi stitches together memories, impressions, and images to tell a very personal story of her time in Italy. She has an amazing eye for the nuances of daily culture and an ear to the subtleties of language. She takes the reader from Rome, with its close-knit neighborhoods and concern for the poor, to Parma, Puglia, and farther south. She introduces us to a people who are warm, generous, deeply religious, and passionately patriotic. She reveals the art of Michelangelo, Caravaggio, and Bernini and how that art has influenced a nation. And she spends considerable time talking about the Slow Food movement, which insists on food in local restaurants and markets being grown locally. The food is fresher and cheaper, and it ensures a livelihood for the local farmers and vintners. In short, readable sections, her memories and impressions lead the reader on a journey to discover another side of one of the most mysterious and romantic countries in the world.” —Elizabeth Dickie, Booklist
“A commanding intelligence is at work here, graced with uncommon generosity. After this encounter, I know I’ll read the book again. Already it is a life companion, a book that has comforted me and—this is the odd part—strengthened me.” —Patricia Hampl, author of A Romantic Education and The Florist’s Daughter
“A rare and mesmerizing book; a meditative memoir that feels like its description of a Bernini fountain, ‘an event under way.’ With a touch both light and sure, Wallis Wilde-Menozzi summons to her memory and our vision her long years of living in Rome and Parma in a free-associative, cumulative, and detailed portrait of Italy. Her observations, unromantic and beautifully focused outside the self, reflect the parallel story of the birth of the writer. Italy has given her what Saint Augustine found: ‘a self changed by a new inner life.’” —Rosanna Warren, author of Ghost in a Red Hat
“Wilde-Menozzi’s stunning prose and astute cultural observations untangle meanings in a country where ancient history constantly brushes up against contemporary life, compassion trumps individualism, and beauty infuses every cobblestoned step. By unearthing patterns in her life choices, Wilde-Menozzi enriches our own—and the reader couldn’t find a more enlightening guide to Italy and to an Italian state of mind.” —Maria Laurino, author of Were You Always an Italian? and Old World Daughter, New World Mother
“Like a statue of earnest workmanship pulled from the golden river after years, Wallis Wilde-Menozzi’s affecting memoir The Other Side of the Tiber is an act of recuperation of an earlier self, set in an immortal city. ‘Rome is memory,’ Wilde-Menozzi asserts. And as in any book about Rome, one of the main players is ambiguous and brilliantly costumed Time.” —Karl Kirchwey, Andrew Heiskell Arts Director at the American Academy in Rome and author of Mount Lebanon Praise for Mother Tongue
“Richly absorbing . . . Part autobiography and part travelogue (Parma bread, Correggio, and local politics are described with equal fluency) . . . [with] drama, enchantment, and grist.” —The New Yorker