Tidewater Review - August 2013

A Thousand Days in Venice: An Unexpected Romance

reviewed by

Anne Stinson

A Thousand Days in Venice ~ An Unexpected Romance by Marlena De Blasi. Algonquin of Chapel Hill. Paperback. $13.95. 233 pp.

Anyone who has been to Venice, or hopes to go there some day, will love this account of an American woman who not only spent several years in Italy on vacation, but also met and married an Italian man.
Instead of part of a week spent in the city of canals, gondolas, beautiful architecture and mouth-watering food, Marlena spends 1,000 days immersing herself in the culture. She becomes the middle-aged bride of a middle-aged man who speaks very little English and is very set in his bachelor ways.
Hollywood’s corniest screenwriters would blush at the scenario of a romance that begins when Fernando falls in love with the profile of an unknown American woman he sees on the street for a brief moment. She vanished completely until the following summer when ~ Poof! There she was again, walking down the street.
Fernando began a furtive courtship that resembled the behavior of an adolescent stalker ~ finding the restaurant she often patronized, he telephoned her from the lobby, always too shy to approach her.
His life story spilled out ~ a cold, demanding father who chose a profession for his son and kept a close rein on his life. Years spent studying under the restrictive tutelage of Jesuits, and no contact with females. Shyness became a habit. Fernando had been a bank manager for years, and had spent this last year hopelessly in love with a woman he had never met.
They finally meet face-to-face on the same day that Marlena is due to join friends and fly to the next city on her itinerary. She is a newspaper writer and has completed her notes for a three-part story she has been assigned to write about Venice.
Marlena returns to her home in St. Louis, only to find Fernando on her doorstep two days later with a marriage proposal.
Along with her duties as a food writer, she is also a chef and owns a cafe in the city. During his visit Fernando helps her with her early-morning baking and pasta making. Marlena is both drawn to him and uncomfortable with him. She refers to him in her mind as “the stranger” she is beginning to love.
After a few weeks together, Fernando returns to Venice to begin the complex task of filling out the paperwork that will permit their marriage in Italy.
Marlena is certain that her love for Fernando is as strong as his, so she begins to close down her attachments and responsibilities in St. Louis and transfers her life to Italy. She is, she thinks, prepared for the transition and the possibility of bumps along the road.
She understands that it might not all be smooth sailing, and that realization comes in handy. The language gap is sometimes frustrating, and her days in her new country, without the routine of work and friends, occasionally creates a vacuum in her life.
Fernando is back in his familiar tasks as a bank manager, but she is restless. She needs to find something on which to focus. She spends her mornings in the food markets and her mid-day meals at modest cafes with fishermen and farmers who bring fresh produce every morning. She makes it a habit to eat where they eat. It can be awkward because she is an outsider and the old men are all friends. She is an intruder, but slowly they accept her presence and learn to appreciate her interest in their food.
Her afternoons are spent upgrading Fernando’s modest apartment and exploring the beautiful city that is her new home. She joins “the stranger” when his work day is over and they become even more bonded as they dine and drink before returning to the apartment to discuss the frustrating business of marriage plans.
Fernando is tasked with the job of maneuvering through the maze of bureaucrats and clerics who take a dim view of nuptials for a non-Italian, non-Catholic, to an Italian. After months of red tape, Fernando finally holds the precious papers in his hands and they become husband and wife.
They still converse with their Italian to English and English to Italian books between them, but each is improving. Other differences are annoying, however. Fernando is frugal to a fault, measuring small amounts of food when it is his turn to cook, and Marlena, whose passion is food, sometimes waits until he’s asleep, then cooks hearty amounts of pasta and eats it by herself. These small differences have no affect on their love for one another.
Each of them adjusts to the other’s quirks and peace reigns in their lives. Just as Marlena falls more deeply in love with the beautiful city, the Queen of the Adriatic Sea, Fernando quits his long-term job at the bank. He wants to sell the apartment and find another home north of Venice.
The two spend weekends touring and eventually choose a farmhouse with a two-year lease. Marlena scouted out the farmer’s market in the tiny village near the farm and cooked to her heart’s delight. Fernando mellowed in the sunlight and space. They were happy on the farm, but decided to move on to Tuscany when the lease expired.
They were on the road again, in search of the perfect home. The 1,000 days in Venice were over. They were now embarking on a new adventure.
The hardcover of this romantic memoir was published 10 years ago and somehow I missed it. Instead, I read and reviewed Marlena’s sequel in the interim.
The De Blasi couple were indeed in Tuscany, not far from Florence, or as they call it, Firenze. They lived in a dreadful basement apartment full of mold and dampness while their wonderful palazzo was being restored from years of emptiness.
Buying an ancient grand house is not easy in Italy, but Fernando contacted the family members who no longer could agree on who was willing to take on the immense chore of restoring it. Marlena’s book that chronicles the restoration to its original grandeur is a delight ~ so much so I was tempted to pull up stakes and move to Italy myself.
Alas, my copy of that cherished book, Lady in the Palazzo, is nowhere to be found in my maze of shelves, although it is well worth spending the time for its search. In the meantime, I urge readers to read the prequels, A Thousand Days in Venice and A Thousand Days in Tuscany.
An added treat to her books are lessons in speaking the melodious Italian language and some of Marlena’s authentic Italian recipes, followed by a list of places she recommends for food and lodging for tourists who come to the region.
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself wishing you were there and finding a bank manager with blue eyes like the sky over a magic place. Maybe, just maybe, it could happen to you, too. Ciao!

Anne Stinson began her career in the 1950s as a free lance for the now defunct Baltimore News-American, then later for Chesapeake Publishing, the Baltimore Sun and Maryland Public Television’s panel show, Maryland Newsrap. Now in her ninth decade, she still writes a monthly book review for Tidewater Times.