Time out in Tuscany

The Spectator, February 7, 2009 | Go to article overview

Time out in Tuscany


THE LAST SUPPER: A SUMMER IN ITALY by Rachael Cusk Faber, £16.99, pp. 219, ISBN 9780571242566 £13.59 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

In the spring of 2006, Rachel Cusk and her husband decided to take their two small daughters out of school and spend three months, a season, exploring Italy.

She felt too settled, too comfortable, and if her friends wondered at what seemed like a curse of restlessness, what frightened her more was the opposite, 'knowing something in its entirety', and coming to the end of that knowing. 'Go we must', she decided, and 'go we would'.

Italy which had so pleased D. H. Lawrence, one of the writers and travellers she returns to on her journey -- Italy, said Lawrence, was tender 'like cooked macaroni -- yards and yards of soft tenderness, ravelled round everything' -- seemed to offer the perfect mix of art and history. Cusk and her husband packed their car with books, clothes and a few games and toys, and set off across the Channel on a freezing spring dawn. From the first, she was extremely conscious of the need to blend in with her new surroundings, to 'gain some foliage, some camouflage'.

They had one fixed destination, a house rented for a few weeks not far from Sansepolcro in Tuscany. For the rest, it was a question of wandering and discovering. Having crossed France, they entered Italy through the tunnels from Ventimiglia, paused in the Garfagnana, from where a whole community had once migrated to Scotland, visited Lucca, and drove around the quarried mountains of Carrara. Later they would stop in Assisi, Arezzo, Florence, and, in the growing heat of early summer, drive down to Rome, Naples and Pompeii. Sometimes they stayed in small hotels; sometimes they camped. …

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