*** Italian Ways by Tim Parks

I had very modest expectations when I picked up Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo. I thought it might be another happy and naive memoir of a tourist who falls in love with Italy, but I was very happily surprised to find that it was written by a British professor who has lived there for decades but continues to be able to describe, mostly kindly, the mores of Italians, whether their inability to leave him alone when he’s reading a book on a train or the complete lack of a rational process for selling train tickets (rather too much on this particular point, in my mind, but so eloquently said).

Don’t expect a rational, one chapter-one topic approach but allow the narrative to bring up topics as diverse as the poor treatment of immigrants, the  disdain of Northerners for Southerners and vice-versa, the ill-considered investments in obscure railway routes by the European Union, the Olympic games victories of the city of Crotone, née Kroton (in the fourth century BC!), and its status as the host of the Pythagoras school, yes, that Pythagoras. As I said, messy, but erudite and yet most pleasant to read.

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