BrainstormUSA finds this book to be captivating so far.
The maestro of expat books, Tim Parks tells it exactly how it is to live as a foreigner in Italy. Boy, are we strange animals, or are we different animals from the Brits anyway. This book, which ideally must be read after "Italian neighbours", is about having kids - bilingual, bicultural kids, "growing up Italian". He starts to notice minute details - he manages to write whole chapters about daily life on the beach in Pescara in the Summer, and what could be more monotonous and predictable than an endless sequence of days on the beach with two small kids? But it's a totally new life for the son of the Mancunian reverend, and he becomes a kid himself in the monotonous, ritualistic days in Pescara. Even though the sand is too hot and dry to build a proper English sandcastle.
They shock the whole village by having their first daughter when they're still poor and - gasp! - living in a rented, furnished flat! NOBODY in Italy breeds before owning their own house, possibly being paid for by their parents! On the other hand, parents in Britain don't buy houses "for when the kid will get married" and keep them pristine and primed (and empty) for decades...
The best scene in the whole book is when he goes to a neighbours' meeting (the dreaded Italian "riunione di condominio") leaving the tiny tot asleep in his apartment, which is next door, "And what if she wakes up", stammer the horrified neighbours, "Oh well, we'd all hear her cry, the door is unlocked, I'd be at her bed in half a second", "...THE DOOR IS UNLOCKED?" - the neighbours nearly call the police for child neglect.
The kids then grow up and are sent to school, where they will surely study a much better syllabus than in England - they do proper maths, proper grammar, proper homework - but also learn very quickly that the key to succeed is to say exactly what the teacher wants to hear, with terrifying peaks of schmaltzy political correctness; personal opinions are not valued, every kid writes basically the same essay on any given topic, the "kids say the darnedest things" attitude dies very early in Italian children. I can relate to that, as I still remember a couple of particularly hypocritical scenes with my primary school teacher (who first told me to study Luther for my school-leaving exams, SHE told me, I didn't decide, and then on exam day she asked in front of the commission "so why did you *choose* to study Luther?". Bitch. But I was able to rattle a perfect and slimy politically correct tirade on the merits of the cranky old priest on the spot, proof that I am a perfect product of Italian schooling).
The kids also learn that a school trip can be ruined by bad weather. Bad weather, in Italy, obviously means "a few clouds in the blinding blue sky and a remote possibility it may rain a couple of drops in the evening", but in Italy that's enough to let mothers decide they're not sending the kids to the school trip. Going on a trip with umbrellas and raincoats is simply unconceivable so they might as well cancel it completely.
When the son is a bit older he develops a passion for fishing. Cue a magnificent chapter about the hapless Englishman and his bilingual (English-Veronese, with all the repertoire of vivid local swear words) kid in a squalid fake, cement fishing pond, a kind of place I didn't even know existed, trying to catch anything at all.
It's absolutely fascinating: there are hundreds of tiny details of daily life which Parks notices and classifies as non-British, stuff we do every day but never noticed before.
For the record, his daughter is now 20-ish and sings in a glam rock band back in Verona, so, the kids are alright.