Memoirs From The Motherland

What a fabulous read! In my mind The Youngest Son is a cross between Brian Sewell’s awesome and often humorous DVD series The Grand Tour, and the epicurean adventures of Matthew Fort in Eating Up Italy from the the seat of a grossly underpowered Vespa scooter. Add to this mix some very personal attachments to Italy by way of birth, and you have The Youngest Son by Oreste LeRoy Salerni.

Oreste Salerne is, or rather was, a professor at Butler University, after three decades of teaching he finally decided that it was time for a sabbatical. His  dream had always been to return to his birth place, Italy. Not just to visit but to teach, a way of giving back to the country of his heritage.

After three years of seeking out a suitable University and dealing with what seems like a mountain of paperwork, a story all unto its own, he finally achieves his goal, and on July 1st 2003 Oreste Salerne and his wife Marti arrive in Italy. The odyssey begins.

His teaching obligations at the University of Pisa do not commence until September 2nd, giving them plenty of time to explore this area of the country.

The Youngest Son is written in the style of a daily journal and takes us through the day to day adventures of two Americans rediscovering their heritage, and the people of the country. Their adventures are at times quite amusing, following a less than pleasant exchange with an irate Italian Oreste writes:

I told Marti that this was the second Italian A$$hole we’ve met in a month. Not too bad really when one remembers that obnoxious behavior is trans-cultural!

He also relates a story from some years earlier when visiting the city of Piza, he had decided to climb the leaning tower, only to quickly discover that the lean plays havoc with your equilibrium, creating a cross between motion sickness and vertigo. Stumbling down the stairs he makes it back out side, disoriented he lays down of the grass, an older Italian lady walks by, looks down and remarks ‘Un ubriaco sporco [a dirty drunk].

I really enjoyed The Youngest Son, but it should have a warning label on the front ‘Reading this book may cause weight gain’. There are so many descriptions of great food that by the tine I had reached page 100 I was ransacking the refrigerator! In fact I have an idea, Oreste makes reference to his wife cooking many of the Tuscan specialties, so I think Marti should write a companion book with all of these recipes in it, yum yum.

With side trips to Kakow, Poland, Basel, Switzerland and Bonn and Cologne, Germany, this book becomes quite the travelogue and guide to local culture. Paraphrasing Oreste, the swiss are rude, and  German cuisine is not of the standard of Italy.

I enjoyed his layman’s description of many of the architectural and works of art encountered on the journey. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of regurgitating the dry historian view. Rather he breaths life into the descriptions, giving his impressions.

Italy is one of the few parts of Europe I have not ventured to in my travels, but having read this memoir I do think I will put it on my list.

You can order your copy of this exceptional book by clicking on the Amazon icon at the top of this page.

Simon Barrett

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