“Italy seemed like the best place to view our relationship from a safe, therapeutic distance; a place where we could assess the past as if it had been some kind of psychosocial experiment whose results had been submitted for peer review, and where we could regard the hurt, the rage, the what-ifs, the sharp words, the crushing disappointments with breezy dispassion. Who was I kidding?”
I have a love of all things Italian- Italian food, the Italian language, the places of Italy- and so naturally, any travel literature based in Italy grabs my attention immediately. It was another novel written by Jane Christmas (which will no doubt find itself reviewed on here in due time) that led me to this gem, and I was pleasantly surprised by the familiarity of her writing and yet the difference in topic and mood. It is by no means the typical story you would expect of traveling across Italy, but it is a necessary read for any daughter or mother out there.
After years of a back and forth emotional tug of war with her mother, Christmas believes a trip to Italy will be just what is needed; a journey filled with history and aged beauty for her antique-loving mother but more importantly, she aspires this to be the opportunity for them to breach the distance in their mother-daughter relationship with the aid of good food, warm weather and copious amounts of wine. What transpires is anything but what Christmas expected. Not only does the weather and food turn out to generally be a disappointment (can wine ever be a disappointment?), but she soon discovers the realities and difficulties of traveling with an elderly mother who requires a walker, catches a cold days upon arrival and who deems the state of a person’s hair to be the most important and telling feature of every individual.
For all the serious and emotional topics discussed, Christmas keeps the book alive and light with her wonderful sense of humor, which thankfully is etched into her writing and keeps you chuckling to yourself from the first page to the last. Another high point of the book is how clearly she conveys her thoughts and the struggles she endures through the trip. She balances so much perfectly; being realistic but not overtly judgmental about the past and her relationship with her mother, describing Italy in all its glory (or lack of in certain cases) and keeping the reader invested and entertained with stories of all kinds. Her writing style is never boring and you can almost sense the dread in her words each and every time she is forced to lug that red walker out of the back of the rental car. The language and how she weaves this adventure are infused with brutal honesty and a clear respect for the emotions experienced along the way.
Being a lover of Italia, I have to say the representation of Italy was not what I expected, but it was something I came to respect the further I read. Italy, like all countries, has the good and the bad. So often we are overloaded with the appeal of the place, the country-side villas and wineries, the grandiose wonder birthed from walking the century old streets of Rome, the baritone smoothness of a man serenading the couple in his gondola on the Great Canal of Venice, but the reality is, not every trip is full of such marvels. Christmas reminds you of that. Sometimes it snows when all you have are flowey skirts and sandals, sometimes your car won’t fit down those medieval streets, sometimes the bread is stale and the soup tasteless. It was refreshing to see this truthful depiction. Now that I have finished the book, I feel as though some of this portrayal was done to mirror Christmas’ (somewhat idealistic) expectations for the healing opportunity with her mother. Christmas had jovial images of sitting on a trullo patio (look them up on the net, the appeal of these little sanctuary houses cannot be underestimated) drinking wine with her lively mother, laughing while repairing all the harms and sharp words that had been exchanged in the past. In reality, Italy was not what she expected, nor did things with her mother advance as she previously thought and hoped they would.
The central event of the whole book is the ever present desire to mend a relationship injured over the years. Christmas remains respectful but gives an honest explanation of why and how her relationship with her mother has come to be, and how she wants to mend it. Like everything in life, it doesn’t go quite to plan, but by the end of the book (and the flight back to North America) Christmas has come to an acceptance, that forgiveness and patience were the best doses of relationship-repair medication she could have taken. There are so many instances in the book where a mother or a daughter will relate, nod their head, give that slight tilt of the eyebrows that conveys understanding or agreement. Some are negative, but many are also positive. There is much to be learned about the inexplicable mother-daughter relationship within Christmas work and hopefully a bit of encouragement to all mothers and daughters out there to take the risk and give your own relationship some attention and care.
Kudos must be given to Christmas for being brave to write so openly and honestly about the relationship with her mother, and for anyone out there sitting in the mother or daughter benches, it’s a humorous and necessary read. In the end there may even be a bit of an itch to try such a daring adventure with my own mother, a thought I am sure numerous people will have after reading Incontinent on the Continent.
Devon – athousandbooklife
Other books by Jane Christmas: What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim: A Midlife Misadventure on Spain’s Camino de Santiago de Compostela (2007)