The Other Side of the Tiber: Reflections on Time in Italy by Wallis Wilde-menozziThe Other Side of the Tiber: Reflections on Time in Italy by Wallis Wilde-menozzi

The Other Side of the Tiber: Reflections on Time in Italy

byWallis Wilde-menozzi

Paperback | April 8, 2014

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A moving and illuminating memoir about a singular woman's relationship with a fascinating and complex country

A fresh, nuanced perspective on a profoundly perplexing country: this is what Wallis Wilde-Menozzi's unique, captivating narrative promises-and delivers.
The Other Side of the Tiber brings Italy to life in an entirely new way, treating the peninsula as a series of distinct places, subjects, histories, and geographies bound together by a shared sense of life. A multifaceted image of Italy emerges-in beautiful black-and-white photographs, many taken by Wilde-Menozzi herself-as does a portrait of the author. Wilde-Menozzi, who has written about Italy for nearly forty years, offers unexpected conclusions about one of the most complex and best-loved countries in the world.
Beginning her story with a hitchhiking trip to Rome when she was a student in England, she illuminates a passionate, creative, and vocal people who are often confined to stereotypes. Earthquakes and volcanoes; a hundred-year-old man; Siena as a walled city; Keats in Rome; the refugee camp of Manduria; the Slow Food movement; realism in Caravaggio; the concept of good and evil; Mary the Madonna as a subject-from these varied angles, Wilde-Menozzi traces a society skeptical about competition and tolerant of contradiction. Bringing them together in the present, she suggests the compensations of the Italians' long view of time. Like the country, this book will inspire discussion and revisiting.

Wallis Wilde-Menozzi lives in Parma, Italy, where for decades she has observed Italian life and participated in its dialogues. Her memoir, Mother Tongue: An American Life in Italy, was published in 1997 by North Point Press to critical acclaim.
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Title:The Other Side of the Tiber: Reflections on Time in ItalyFormat:PaperbackDimensions:384 pages, 8.02 × 5.56 × 0.98 inPublished:April 8, 2014Publisher:Farrar, Straus And GirouxLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0374534314

ISBN - 13:9780374534318

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Read from the Book

I Memory  The poet seeks what is nowhere in all the world and yet somewhere [s]he finds it.—Plautus, circa 180 B.C.E. 1“Tevere,” he said. I was in a truck heading to Rome, hitching a ride. But when I reconstruct the conversation, when the truck driver continued to shout, “Tevere, Tevere,” as he gestured beyond the autostrada, I can’t find many details. I was on my first trip to Italy, a student in a miniskirt and with little sense of danger. I was not yet teaching in Oxford.That he was talking about the river Tiber, flowing down to the sea at Ostia, below the Po, below the Arno, the old river that is older than the Latins and more forcefully managed than all the Roman legions, never crossed my mind. Nothing I knew corresponded to those syllables and I could not fit them to the small cars, the Cinquecentos, and shaggy eucalyptus trees along the shoulders of the road. I was stumped and embarrassed.I had gotten that far hitching from Oslo and briefly crossing into East Berlin.The word the truck driver was shouting was far enough from the sounds in English that I couldn’t make the leap. Why that moment in particular has remained a vivid memory, I can’t say, except that it holds something that squirms with life. The recollection physically stirs my stomach: It’s not all pleasant nor all bad, nor the only time that the perception of hurling forward without knowing enough has coincided with a feeling that an insignificant event is hinting at something greater.The sensation of frustration exists, pristine, suspended from the exact moment I could not see the broad, often muddy river that must have been flitting in and out of view. Some memories are seeds, randomly dropped, but they hold their inheritances intact, waiting to spring from the right ground. We notice them when they unexpectedly bloom.2Four years later I came to know the real Tiber after I impetuously fled to the Eternal City, leaving a tenured job and my first marriage, which was troubled from the beginning. I chose Rome because it seemed an easy place to survive. I left Oxford overnight, hurt, angry, and frighteningly free, carrying my portable Smith-Corona and fifty pounds sterling. With that dramatic break, I started to refind independence and unbury my wish to become a writer. I stayed, living alone near the Campo de’ Fiori in 1968, 1969, and part of 1970. Later I came back to Italy, later still married an Italian, and have now lived in Parma for thirty years. The Tiber in Rome is most vivid to me as a thick brown flow lined by synchronized rowers in the spring and a steelier, stronger force shadowed by gulls in November. Most summer days toward evening, it becomes hammered sheets of copper and gold. When currents slow, its waves polish themselves into swirling columns of marble.The Tiber is where these reflections begin. The long dialogue with Italy started with a word, Tevere, a name that I could not see and did not know. It started because I was looking for something fundamental. Often, like the impenetrable word, the real world seemed as if it were running parallel, hidden to me. A few basics in that dialogue are clear to me now. Many exchanges took place without my making conscious choices. Most let me explore what holds life together.Italy possesses extraordinary master keys that it offers to everyone, even without their asking. It takes time to discover which ones work. Many that I tried opened strong and stunning realities beyond my shadow’s reach. Many led me, as they have so many others, to learn more about the heart.3It would not be necessary to point out my salt-and-pepper hair in order to reveal that I am no longer the same person as the girl hitching a ride. Nor do we need to dwell on disturbing spectacles of Italy’s recent leader for conclusive evidence that the Italy of modest lifestyles, the Cinquecentos, the small cars and safe rides that once existed, no longer is the norm. I think, though, if I observe, as Heraclitus did, that the river is never the same, any changes I describe will be deduced from looking at surfaces and totaling up statistics.Instead, I want to focus on the slow moves of the self: its transformations, however sputtering and unwilled. There, change appears more circular and takes us in more meditative directions. This is the experience I wish to give words to. I want to frame the effect of time carrying earlier time in Italy and how this shapes perception. This version of time happens, in part, because Bernini’s angels and Virgil’s Bucolics continue to exist and claim attention. Paleolithic peoples’ flint blades found in the mountains carry traces of having cut grain and meat; it makes yesterday seem a very long stretch. Prayers carved in Ligurian seawalls still cry out into the darkness of today’s violent seas. My point of view dwells on depths too deep for projection; physical presences too numerous to initiate discussion without acknowledging dense, tangled, and endlessly defined human roots. Even if one has the radio on and it is tuned to the present, a battered bell from some ancient tower will still count the hour.Sfogliatelle, the shell-shaped pastries filled with ricotta, are nearly the same today as when I first bit into their crispy layers on a street in Rome so long ago. Probably the pastry remains a quite good attempt at replicating the sweet that was made when Neapolitans rolled out their sheets of dough in the seventeenth century. The sweet is a conscious effort to deny time its novelty. It must be done in a certain way. It speaks of a certain place, of certain people: a mother and a grandmother. That particular connotation of abundance, piccolo tastes of pleasure and long gazes of time and repetition, draws on a sense that certain things, if not eternal, have reason to be perpetual. The layers of significance are the result of a particularly Italian mentality that has been cultivated, often at a great price. To those who inherit the mentality, it is a basic spell, too enchanting and old to imagine why one would ever want to give it up. Memory as time that stays never allows for a freely running river, and thus life cannot be seen that way.When you get into an Italian river, the story is not that you cannot step into the same river twice. You know you will, even when you wish to assert that you are free of all that. You step in, recognizing that you are surrounded, as so many generations have been. Some Cassandra may warn you to look out for sharks. This will seem an absurd intrusion, another instance of myth. But the observer will insist that it’s important to keep your eyes skeptically scanning. Then he will mention evil. It’s annoying to worry about evil on a beautiful day amid such extraordinary beauty. But he will hold his ground, because Italians have tenacious memories. If a shark happens to appear, he warns, more will gather. This most probably nonexistent shark, this darkness, slithers deep, even when clear water is showing only blue sky. Copyright © 2013 by Wallis Wilde-Menozzi

Editorial Reviews

"An ardent Midwesterner transplanted to Parma, Wallis Wilde-Menozzi returns to the Rome for her youth in this soulful meditation on the people, places, ruins, statues and allure of the Eternal City. She's particularly astute on art (with two chapters on Carravaggio and one on Michelangelo), but it is her ability to conjure the life of the city that sets the book apart. After reading the book, you too will want to linger in the atmospheric Arco degli Acetar, where once upon a time she rented a room." -Longitude"The Other Side of the Tiber celebrates the spontaneity, bureaucratic complexity, and cultural abundance that is Italy today. Permesso, the Italian word for work permit, gave Mennozi what she was really after in 1968: permission to write . . . An insider's reflections on 30 years in Italy [The Other Side of the Tiber] resists the clichés of split vision--ancient/modern; north/south; timeless/chaotic. Instead Menozzi focuses on how such opposites can nurture a life in search of transformation. Menozzi is an elegant writer who never falls into contemporary memoir's culture of complaint. Her subject is Italy's layered identity. But the memoir's deeper story reveals how buried parts of herself surfaced. Over time, she discovered a deep capacity for commitment, not just to creative work, but also to a new marriage, motherhood, and a settled life in Parma, where she now lives. The eye 'used to the bluer light of the Midwest' from a Wisconsin childhood soon adapted to 'the scorching raven black streets of Rome.' Menozzi turns that eye on a Mediterranean world, 'clustered excess to be admired, picked, displayed, eaten, enjoyed.' The memoir is itself an open market. Written in short, self-contained sections with headings such as 'Memory,' 'Layers,' and 'Hungry and Untrained Eyes,' it offers glimpses of the Pantheon's light, paving stones, kiosks, volcanoes, Italian donuts, pink marble, walking shoes, the frescoed walls of empress Livia's dining room, 'depicting palms, cypresses, quince, pomegranates, doves, and laurel.' Together, these short sections mirror the working of memory itself, offering a slideshow of Italy across time, from the Etruscans to today's Slow Food movement . . . Italy's 'tangled and mysterious strata' of human quest and survival play out in Menozzi's stories of her first years in Rome. The most haunting is a clear-eyed account of a scene of domestic violence she witnessed in a courtyard. In telling that woman's story, Menozzi subtly reveals her own . . . The Other Side of the Tiber is itself a master key that unlocks Italy with its centuries of 'connectedness and community.'" -Alexandra Johnson, The Christian Science Monitor"Wallis Wilde-Menozzi's beautiful meditation on Italy takes the reader on a journey of discovery that transpired over three decades of a life richly lived. The work is at once a memoir, travelogue, history lesson and cultural excavation. The author's memories of life in Rome, where her journey begins, and ultimately Parma are the foundation for vignettes about the Italian people, art, language, media, religion, rituals, food and landscape. Her reflections are enlivened by liberal references to works of poetry and prose, depictions of paintings and sculpture and her own photography. The book inspires spiritual contemplation, as illustrated by a powerful line that reflects its essential message: 'Consciousness of the mystery of life, the existence of good and evil as well as the infinity of love, is a powerful hope.' . . . Wilde-Menozzi is a studied writer, whose thick prose often permits the reader to share sensually in her recalled experience. The Other Side of the Tiber is not a quick read; instead, much like the delicious food she describes, each chapter is meant to be savored." -Diana Owen, America Magazine"An American writer's dreamy incantations on many decades living between Rome and Parma. Wilde-Menozzi . . . meanders among youthful reflections and lasting impressions of her long life in Italy to create both a lyrical journal and traveler's guidebook . . . Coursing through the various chapters like the living river Tiber are the work of the great artists Michelangelo, Bernini and Caravaggio within some favorite haunts like the Vatican Museum, catacombs and churches. A sense of "inclusion" pervades the eternal city, the author writes, while its enduring squares seem to bear witness to history. She also chronicles her treks to Siena, Etna and the economically challenged south, specifically Puglia, to explore the plight of refugees. Her whimsical observations range from reflections about a 100-year-old man who walked the mountains around Turin, to the Italian way of justice, to the sad destiny of a young woman who was stabbed during an argument with her husband. From her early "hungry and untrained eyes," Wilde-Menozzi arrives at moments of elegant sagacity and inspired humility . . . [A] useful collection to haul on a trip to Rome." -Kirkus"Beginning with her hitchhiking entrance to Rome, Wilde-Menozzi stitches together memories, impressions, and images to tell a very personal story of her time in Italy. She has an amazing eye for the nuances of daily culture and an ear to the subtleties of language. She takes the reader from Rome, with its close-knit neighborhoods and concern for the poor, to Parma, Puglia, and farther south. She introduces us to a people who are warm, generous, deeply religious, and passionately patriotic. She reveals the art of Michelangelo, Caravaggio, and Bernini and how that art has influenced a nation. And she spends considerable time talking about the Slow Food movement, which insists on food in local restaurants and markets being grown locally. The food is fresher and cheaper, and it ensures a livelihood for the local farmers and vintners. In short, readable sections, her memories and impressions lead the reader on a journey to discover another side of one of the most mysterious and romantic countries in the world." -Elizabeth Dickie, Booklist"A commanding intelligence is at work here, graced with uncommon generosity. After this encounter, I know I'll read the book again. Already it is a life companion, a book that has comforted me and--this is the odd part--strengthened me." -Patricia Hampl, author of A Romantic Education and The Florist's Daughter"A rare and mesmerizing book; a meditative memoir that feels like its description of a Bernini fountain, 'an event under way.' With a touch both light and sure, Wallis Wilde-Menozzi summons to her memory and our vision her long years of living in Rome and Parma in a free-associative, cumulative, and detailed portrait of Italy. Her observations, unromantic and beautifully focused outside the self, reflect the parallel story of the birth of the writer. Italy has given her what Saint Augustine found: 'a self changed by a new inner life.'" -Rosanna Warren, author of Ghost in a Red Hat"Wilde-Menozzi's stunning prose and astute cultural observations untangle meanings in a country where ancient history constantly brushes up against contemporary life, compassion trumps individualism, and beauty infuses every cobblestoned step. By unearthing patterns in her life choices, Wilde-Menozzi enriches our own--and the reader couldn't find a more enlightening guide to Italy and to an Italian state of mind." -Maria Laurino, author of Were You Always an Italian? and Old World Daughter, New World Mother"Like a statue of earnest workmanship pulled from the golden river after years, Wallis Wilde-Menozzi's affecting memoir The Other Side of the Tiber is an act of recuperation of an earlier self, set in an immortal city. 'Rome is memory,' Wilde-Menozzi asserts. And as in any book about Rome, one of the main players is ambiguous and brilliantly costumed Time." -Karl Kirchwey, Andrew Heiskell Arts Director at the American Academy in Rome and author of Mount Lebanon