Marlena de Blasi's new book, The Lady in the Palazzo: At Home in Umbria, is primarily a story about waiting, albeit waiting in a place most people would be grateful to visit as a tourist. The book begins, as did the genre-defining A Year in Provence and Under the Tuscan Sun, with the requisite property search, but de Blasi has been living in Italy for years and is married to Fernando, also known as the Venetian, and they navigate the rocky waters of Italian real estate relatively easily. They find an apartment in a decrepit old palazzo (hence the title) owned by the Ubaldini family in Orvieto, apparently one of the least welcoming but most picturesque towns in Italy. The apartment, a former ballroom, is missing a floor and in-fighting among the extended Ubaldini clan has left it vacant for decades, but negotiations are successfully concluded and de Blasi and Fernando move to a temporary apartment as renovations begin. Temporary becomes more than two years and they fill their time with work (de Blasi is a food writer, her husband a retired banker, and they lead small tours of Italy) and getting to know Orvieto and its inhabitants. We meet a hearty peasant woman with prodigal culinary gifts ( Miranda-of-the-Bosoms ), a wise old man who has suffered the loss of his true love, a rundown noble and a quirky pair of shepherds, but they rarely move beyond their typecast roles. Months after moving to Orvieto with no end to the construction in sight, the author writes, I have discarded the notion of control and allowed myself to be seduced by the beauty of the wait. De Blasi may have allowed herself to get too complacent; there is too little depth here to bring the place and the people off of the pages and into our hearts. Still, there are certainly beautiful moments in The Lady in the Palazzo as well as some wonderful descriptions of life as a writer and cook in Italy.
Megan Brenn-White has written and edited for the Let's Go travel guide series and is the author of Bake Me a Cake (HarperCollins).