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Pasquale's Nose: Idle Days in an Italian Town    by Michael Rips order for
Pasquale's Nose
by Michael Rips
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2001 (2001)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Pasquale's Nose is an unusual travel tale, a memoir of 'Idle Days in an Italian Town'. It blends a series of character sketches of local inhabitants with philosophy, historical commentary and dry humor. Nebraskan Rips who had 'not worked for years' accompanied his wife and baby daughter Nicolaia to Sutri, a small so-called Etruscan village in commuting distance from Rome. As his wife paints surrounded by bees, Rips spends his time collecting eccentrics. He clearly delights in the ironic and absurd and finds plenty of both in his new surroundings.

Sutri, dating back to 1000 B.C., is a self-contained society that views all passers-by as 'Sutri / outsiders', but Rips' family gains some acceptance through their child and his habit of frequenting the central Piazza and its cafés. The author explains the widely held theory that 'the Sutrini are descended from the Etruscans and thereby embody an ancient and unpleasant collection of traits that is found nowhere else in Italy' but goes on to tell us that 'Romans ran the Etruscans out of Sutri five centuries before the birth of Christ'. As well as ancient history, the author includes locals' war memories, both horrific and hopeful - from the experiences of Italian prisoners of war, to people who watched as their families were bombed, or those who hid both American flyers and Jews from the authorities.

The origins of the Sutrini is not the only fable about the area. There is also the tale of the beans' cure for Charlemagne's gout - invented to enhance tourism. Sutri is famous for its beans, 'fagioli regina' that 'are dense and bulbous and taste of chestnuts'. The author experiences them while dining with the owners of a café situated in a 'palazzo made of wine' (wine was actually used instead of water in its concrete). The next day he is 'jolted by an intestinal phenomenon'. He is in search of transportation to the nearest hospital when a local, recognizing the source of his malady, intercepts with a rough local remedy. A 'vaporous cataclysm, a gaseous exorcism, of such enormity that it echoed through the square' results - the author suffered from an excess of potent fagioli.

A variety of recipes are spread out for the reader's delectation, including Bruschetta of Herod, hen of the pharaohs, and pizza monticanaglia made with horse fillets. Quirky characters include the Mezzadonna who appears at the front door of his palazzo every day in the same 'floor-length, blue silk dressing gown'; an illiterate postman on a motor scooter followed by a crowd of people waiting to extract their mail; 'half-and-half' Frank with the 'sparkling red hair'; the Philosopher whose 'life is swollen with fools'; a blind boot-maker; an illicit porcupine hunter; and Pasquale with his 'halfway lot for abused and neglected cars' and an extreme nasal sensitivity to the smell of feet.

During his time in Sutri, the author appears to be experiencing a personal crisis, so that one wonders how much the peculiarities of the picture are colored by its observer. But despite a tone which is at times lugubrious, Pasquale's Nose is unique, entertaining and funny; good fare for armchair travelers or anyone who has wondered about living in a small Italian town.

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