"I was not prepared for Italy.
Luckily, Italy was waiting for me anyway."
Il Bel Centro: A Year in the Beautiful Center is the story of an American family's move to a medieval hill-town in central Italy. Filled with evocative, lyrical prose, the book is a passport to a simpler life, but it also chronicles the hardships and discovery that accompany the act of leaving behind language, support, school, and familiar customs. The family grapples with teachers' old-world styles of discipline, unlocks the secrets of Umbrian cuisine, and grows accustomed to the early morning sight of the baker in his underpants. All five of them weave into the fabric of the town as they lay petals and blossoms on cobblestone streets in the annual all-night flower-carpet festival. Il Bel Centro evokes the pleasures of small town Italy and opens the gate into a world where a good lunch will take one straight into dinner.
Praise for Il Bel Centro
Huffington Post, August 2016
While celebrating an anniversary, American psychologist Michelle Damiani and her husband made a decision to move abroad for a year after saving up. That conversation took their family to a village in Umbria, where Damiani blogged daily about her new life, full of fear, food and fun.
Back in Charlottesville, she turned the blog into a book, offering a realistic look into what happens when you uproot your family to immerse yourself in a foreign culture, attempting to raise kids in an unfamiliar environment. Though there were plenty of hardships along the way, according to her bio her heart remains firmly in Spello, Italy to this day.
Michelle Fabio, Bleeding Espresso
Well-written and Vulnerable, 5 stars
To fulfill a lifelong dream, Michelle Damiani moved her husband, three school-aged children, and two cats to Spello, Umbria in central Italy to live for a year.
Although she found a community ready to embrace her family, Damiani also encountered several stumbling blocks, including language difficulties, bureaucracy, and differing educational philosophies.
Written in a journal format that traces Damiani's journey nearly day by day, Il Bel Centro provides a rare glimpse into a transplanted family's sojourn in Italy.
Damiani opens up and shows incredible vulnerability within these pages, and parents will especially appreciate her concerns and frustrations as a mother attempting to guide and nurture her children through this life-changing time. Her descriptions of the people, customs, and food of Umbria are particularly enticing.
If you can't get yourself to Italy for an extended stay, Il Bel Centro is a worthy substitute. Highly recommended.
** A version of this review originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Ambassador, the magazine of the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF). I was given a review copy by the author in exchange for an honest review. **
PRIMO Magazine, October 2016
For those with small children who want to live in Italy, “Il Bel Centro” is a must read. The book conveys all there is about daily life in the country, from the way Italians shop for food to the bureaucratic maze all must endure. Michelle gives us a glimpse of Italy’s incessant rules and regulations when she encounters applying for short term residency. She writes: “Another day at the posta, another endless line. Finally the woman who dismissed us yesterday beckons us to her window, but dismisses us once again because we haven’t noted the fee for the permesso on the application...They get you coming and going.”
No doubt, Michelle found life in Italy far different than the United States. Refreshing was the means of commerce and how simple transactions were in Italy; exemplified when they leased a car in Assisi. She writes: “When I hear the word ‘Assisi’ I think of Saint Francis’ birthplace. I never considered this spiritual destination as home to a FIAT dealership. And yet, it was at the Assisi FIAT dealer that Keith was granted a car, with no contract, no forms, no problem. I didn’t know that St. Francis was the patron saint of car leasing.”
Italian American by marriage, Michelle quickly comes to appreciate Italian human touch. She writes: “Italians are intent on making eye contact...When we first arrived, I felt exposed and vulnerable at that degree of eye contact. Now, I love it. It feels like a moment when guards come down and kindred spirits are summoned.” “Il Bel Centro” reads in many ways like a romance novel. In this case it is the author who falls in love with a country and way of life. It is a grand book to read.
Michelle, a child psychologist, and her husband along with their 3 children leave their comfortable lives behind to live in the center of Spello, a small hill town in Umbria, where the children attend the local school and the family experiences local life. I enjoyed following the ups and downs of becoming part of the town and was sad when they left at the end of their year. Her book doesn’t involve buying or restoring a house so it gives the feeling of something a little more attainable to the average person than the others.