Book Review: David Farley’s “An Irreverent Curiosity”

Italy, Spiritual Travel, Travel Books & Movies, Travel Philosophy — By on January 19, 2010 at 6:00 am

An Irreverent Curiosity By Sarah Amandolare
LG Entertainment Editor

*****

The thing about Italy is that it’s far too chaotic to characterize. Despite the plethora of titles based on the idea of an Italian paradise with rolling Tuscan hills, plenty of wine and grandmas wearing black, the idyllic Italy is just one side of the story. David Farley’s “An Irreverent Curiosity” shows us several other sides that amount to a refreshingly accurate and human portrayal of the beloved proverbial boot.

Jesus’ foreskin propels Farley’s quest in Calcata, a tiny hilltop village outside Rome. He hopes to find the resting place of the odd relic, which has quite a history: replicas in France and throughout Italy, and whispered tales of robberies and curses have left it shrouded in mystery for centuries. Somehow, each obscure detail of the relic’s past is woven into Farley’s pleasantly paced account of his year in Calcata.

Alongside this historical background, and between humorous anecdotes of visits with Catholic Church leaders and imposing Italian figures, Farley introduces an unforgettable cast of characters who aid his mission to uncover the Holy Foreskin. Subtly, the colorful mannerisms and curious habits of Farley’s accomplices are revealed, and as the story progresses, this motley crew comes across as more Italian than perhaps even a full-figured Nonna ever could.

Words like “rollicking” and “eccentric” figured prominently in the reviews I’d read of “An Irreverent Curiosity” before starting it myself, and I expected as much. But what took me by surprise was the level of acute observation that Farley displays beneath a veneer of humor and, yes, irreverence. A travel writer who so skillfully spins cultural observation into a scene, as Farley does, is rare. Certain descriptions, such as the “aloof but friendly demeanor” of a policeman, and situations, including a party to celebrate a Calcata funeral, were so evocative that I was instantly reminded of Rome, where I taught English years ago.

The more I read, the more I realized how easy the author was making this all seem – moving to an obscure village where he knew no one, pursuing research at one of the most intimidating institutions in the world (the Vatican), and getting to know the people of Calcata. Those who’ve attempted an ex-pat life know how difficult and tedious a process acclimation can be, but Farley seems unfazed by it all. He displays an ability to set people at ease, whether it’s a woman who lives in a cave full of crows, or an outspoken chef insistent on using curry in his pasta dishes.

And isn’t writing really only half the battle of a travel book? To bring a place to life on the page, the writer must know it intimately, which can only be achieved by being oneself and encouraging others to do the same.

*****

Click here to order “An Irreverent Curiosity” and to find out more about author David Farley!

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