Three years after Michelle Damiani and her family stayed in Umbria, Italy for a year, the author offered me a chance to read her memoir, while actually I was spending my summer holidays in Tuscany, Italy. Il Bel Centro: A Year in the Beautiful Center is a blog turned into book. An American family from Charlottesville, Virginia, delved many possible Italian cities to spend a sabbatical year, and found Spello to be that vibrant and attractive to go there in July 2012. Il Bel Centro is part travelogue. Not only did Michelle, her husband Keith (graphic designer) and their three children (Nicholas, Siena, and Gabe) plus two cats stay in Spello, they traveled to Rome, Florence, Venice, Paris, Brussels, and other places in Europe. Their three children went to school in Spello, learned Italian, became friends with locals and were part of all kind of cultural festivities throughout the year. Michelle is a food lover, enriched her knowledge of ingredients, pasta, meat, vegetables, local restaurants, and Italian customs. Of course meetings with people, from the local alley ladies, nurseries and doctors, teachers and shop owners take another important part of the book. Language and art lessons, flowers and landscape, past and present, religious and cultural festivals, performances and celebrations fill up the year. Quakers‘ faith meets Catholicism.
Il Bel Centro is lengthy, almost diary full of details, Italian words. Near the end of the year emotions rise, while the family had to decide whether or not stay, call Spello their permanent home, or rethink in the U.S. and come back again later. “This whole year illuminates one indelible truth. Pasta is good, love is better.”
About the author
Michelle Damiani is a freelance writer, clinical psychologist, and food lover currently living in Charlottesville, VA. Her heart, however, is in Spello, Italy, where she and her family spent a year growing accustomed to being fish out of water, grappling with the hardships of parenting on foreign soil, and ultimately cleaving into the soul of Italian village life. Before that year abroad, Michelle wrote short fiction–one of her stories was recently awarded first place in the Hook Short Fiction contest, juried by author John Grisham. While in Italy, she used the time that her children were in Italian public schools to write a blog about their experiences. The blog, Il Bel Centro, was awarded the bronze award for best Italian blog by Expatsblog. Once back in Charlottesville, she transformed the blog into a book, Il Bel Centro: a Year in the Beautiful Center, now available in print and e-book.