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Travel / Memoir / Italy


Botticelli Blue Skies
An American in Florence
Merrill Joan Gerber

"The French novelist Stendhal became physically ill in Italy, overcome by trying to absorb it all. He gave his name to a syndrome all travelers risk."
—Rick Steves, Postcards from Europe Web site

When writer Merrill Joan Gerber is invited to join her husband, a history professor, as he takes a class of American college students to study in Florence, Italy, she feels terrified at the idea of leaving her comforts, her friends, and her aged mother in California. Her husband tries to assure her that her fear of Italy—and her lack of knowledge of the Italian language—will be offset by the discoveries of travel. "I can't tell you exactly what will happen, but something will. And it will all be new and interesting." Botticelli Blue Skies is the tale of a woman who readily admits to fear of travel, a fear that many experience but are embarrassed to admit. When finally she plunges into the new adventure, she describes her experiences in Florence with wit, humor, and energy.

Instead of sticking to the conventional tourist path, Gerber follows her instincts. She makes discoveries without tour guides droning in her ear and reclaims the travel experience as her own, taking time to shop in a thrift shop, eat in a Chinese restaurant that serves "Dragon chips," make friends with her landlady who turns out to be a Countess, and visit the class of a professor at the university. She discovers a Florence that is not all museums and wine. With newfound patience and growing confidence, Gerber makes her way around Florence, Venice, and Rome. She visits famous places and discovers obscure ones—in the end embracing all that is Italian. Botticelli Blue Skies (accompanied by the author's own photographs) is an honest, lyrical, touching account of the sometimes exhausting, often threatening, but always enriching physical and emotional challenge that is travel.

"Gerber doesn't lead the reader through Italy; rather she lets us go along with her on her trips to the supermarket, the ballet, a synagogue, a friend's farm, an artist's villa. . . . Her eyes are sharp, and she has the ability to observe vividly. She deftly captures character, selecting just the right action, gesture, or fragment of speech. She gives a wonderful sense of what most travel books leave out—the exhaustion, the frustration, the mosquitoes, the mystery of public transportation, the need to go to the bathroom."—Jenijoy La Belle, author of Herself Beheld

Merrill Joan Gerber teaches creative writing at the California Institute of Technology. She is the author of seven novels and four volumes of short stories, including the prize-winning King of the World and The Kingdom of Brooklyn. Her most recent novels are Anna in Chains and Anna in the Afterlife, as well as a memoir, Old Mother, Little Cat: A Writer's Reflections on Her Kitten, Her Aged Mother . . . and Life, and a book about writing, Gut Feeling: A Writer's Truths and Minute Inventions, also published by the University of Wisconsin Press

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Blue image of foreign currency and a postcard of "The Birth of Venus"

December 2002
LC: 2002002833 DG
304 pp.   6 x 9  
39 b/w photos
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Cloth $26.95 t
ISBN 978-0-299-18020-1
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Visit Merrill Joan Gerber's personal website.

"For those who have traveled to Italy, this book will be a delicious reminder. For those who have never been there, it is a seductive invitation. For those afraid to travel, the book provides an antidote to fear. For those who will never travel, the book is the next best thing to the real experience."

—Susan Koppelman, editor of Women in the Trees

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Updated February 22, 2012

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