Book: A Thousand Bells at Noon by G. Franco Romagnoli

Good, but I wish it were better.

G. Franco Romagnoli
A Thousand Bells at Noon: A Roman Reveals the Secrets and Pleasures of His Native City
Perennial, 2003
ISBN: 0-06-051920-7
US $12.95
261 pages

G. Franco Romagnoli was born in Rome in 1929 and moved to Boston, Massachusetts in 1955. He has lived there ever since, managing restaurants, writing cookbooks, and doing a television show on Italian cooking for public television. In the late 1990s he returned to Rome with his American wife for an extended stay and wrote A Thousand Bells at Noon. In each of the book's 13 essay-like chapters he takes up an aspect of Roman life: food, film, religion, death, medical care, and so on. The chapters are not all equally successful. Perhaps not surprisingly given his background, Mr Romagnoli is best when the subject touches on food and conviviality. Happily for the reader it does pretty often. On other subjects he's not as interesting or enthusiastic. The conclusion to the chapter on religion is a trifle cute and perhaps even trite, and there's little in the chapter on film other than that, for financial reasons, there used to be a significant Roman film industry and when the financial reasons disappeared so did most of the industry. The good parts of A Thousand Bells at Noon are quite good but there's a fair amount of dross here as well.

Mr Romagnoli occasionally mis-steps in choosing which Italian words he needs to translate and which can be left to context. And there are a few infelicities such as "enjoin" for "conjoin" (p. 36). Mr Romagnoli's editors seem not to have done him very many favors. But there are real pleasures of language here as well. Mr Romagnoli quotes a passage about the Campo Verano cemetery from a pamphlet on Roman cemeteries and in the next sentence he comments (p. 177):

    And, but it is only my opinion, the architecture, like
    the prose, is replete -- in a lugubrious key -- with a
    considerable amount of kitsch.

Who but someone from Italy could have written such a marvelous sentence?

Posted: Mon - January 5, 2004 at 09:58   Main   Category: