PRAISE FOR IL BEL CENTRO
Huffington Post, August 2016
"Ten Fascinating Books about Living in a Foreign Country."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.
Chrissy writes, "Five stars. This book was a highlight of my summer reading. Michelle's style of writing draws you in and makes you feel as though you are a close family friend getting a glimpse into their adventures in Spello. Both my husband and I read the book and even discussed it with our children. It has inspired us to start planning our own year abroad."
An Amazon customer writes, "Five stars. This is a wonderful, wonderful book. I have read many travelogues about Italy and Il Bel Centro surpasses them all. Not only does Michelle Damiani write vivid and beautiful descriptions of Spello, its culture and its residents, it is written with much warmth, passion, and love. I didn't want it to end!"
Serena writes, "I just finished reading this book and found it delightful! I was sad when it ended. It was finely written, introspective, poignant and heartfelt. I loved the titles two way meaning and the details of the food and the people. As a native Italian, living now in the US, it brought me home....I hope you can go back soon Michelle, so you can write a sequel! Brava!!"
An Amazon customer writes, "Five stars. In the book, Michelle discusses the problems with "must-sees" when traveling, so I'll refrain from referring to this as a "must-read" :) but I'll tell you this—I originally read every post of her blog, then read the book cover-to-cover on vacation, and upon finishing went right back to the beginning to start again. It is that dimensional and colorful—I feel like I'm reading or learning something new every time. I have a mild obsession with expat blogs and journals, and while this shone such a beautiful light on her family's experience living in Italy for a year, it was also a very realistic and honest narrative. She has a wit and sarcasm about her that is so refreshing and humorous, making for such a fun and beautiful read. Pour yourself an espresso or Aperol spritz and order this book - then pour several more while reading it! I'm so glad to have learned about the town called Spello and definitely hope to visit one day! P.S. Michelle includes recipes, and the cover photo is absolutely stunning—worth it to purchase the physical book!"
From C., "Five stars. Michelle Damiani weaves such a spell in this flowing book about her family's year in a small Italian town, I half expected to find an actual spell or two intermingled with the log of days, photographs, and recipes. By turns witty and profound, Il Bel Centro is a must-read for anyone considering the ex-pat life, for anyone who has a family, and for anyone who wants to be gently engaged in rethinking what it means to be an American family in the early 21st century."
JJB writes, "Five stars. Beautifully written!!! I loved reading this book...it was like savoring a lovingly crafted, exquisitely inspired Italian meal. Michelle Damiani is a gifted writer with a pitch-perfect ability to convey how deeply transforming this year in Italy was for her and her family while, at the same time, allowing the reader to feel as though the experience was deeply personal. I read the last few chapters wiping away tears because the writing was so superb and the author's insights so deeply compelling and revelatory.
Mary Kate writes, "Five stars. This book was beautifully written and very engaging. It was by far the most enjoyable travel memoir that I've ever read...the recipes are wonderful."
Cherita writes, "Five stars. What a marvelous book. I have read several other books telling similar stories but none as well written as this one. The author tells her story vividly and with such emotion. I was sorry to finish this book which is I think the ultimate compliment."
Tilana writes, "Five stars. I read voraciously and am seldom moved enough to review a book. This time I am. Could not put it down. Beautifully written. Felt as if I were there as well. Kept on going back to 're-read some pages. Very much like the author's take on life."
Elly writes, "Five stars. I loved, loved this book. Fabulously written, engaging, and entertaining."
Pat writes, "Five stars. Lively, brought you right to the center of an Italian home."
Janet writes, "Five stars. Great read... loved the language... loved the recipes. It was a pleasure to read. A different perspective on living in Italy. Made me feel I was sharing their year as an expat."
Donna writes, "Five stars. Leaves the reader with a wonderful sense of hope... beautifully written from the heart... only wish the family's adventure went on and on!"