The book begins in Italy, but the author's story begins with a chance meeting in Washington, D.C., in 1969 at a play's read-through. The author was married and had a year-old daughter; Jill Eikenberry was engaged to an actor in Montreal. By the time they got to dress rehearsals, they were
"waist deep in a love affair that's lasted for thirty-five years and counting."
The book is the story of the life they made together, and one cannot find a better guide to
la dolce vita than Michael Tucker. Follow along and he shows you that the good life is good food, good wine, good friends, but above all a good relationship.
We are told at the beginning that, just as they celebrate the start of their TV serial
L.A. Law, Jill discovers that she has a new partner – cancer. Devastating.
"We lay down on our bed on West Eighty-ninth Street, pulled the shades and held hands in the dark. Jill was looking at the end of her life. I was looking at life without her." That is the only mention of the disease. Such a rollicking good time follows, so completely does Michael Tucker draw us into his adventures, that we forget all about the cancer (and so it seems, do they).
Jill, the nester, settled in Marin County, says yes to the purchase of a 350-year-old cottage in Umbria, and they are off. Caroline, their multi-lingual personal assistant (who is fired from the job only to be accepted as a part of the family) is a partner in the purchase. Eight boxes of kitchen accessories have preceded them and await their arrival – a gentle reminder that food and its making is an important part of their lives. They settle into the slower rhythm of the land.
"Jill and Caroline have a way of making breakfast into a full-length play which unfolds in long, slow, Chekhovian acts."
Lunch is a three-hour affair, and ten minutes between meals spent
shopping qualifies the morning as productive.
They become part of the ex-pat community – Bruno and Mayes who sold them the cottage, Martin and Karen, and their guide to the new land, Jo-Jo, and her husband Bruce. Jo-Jo is the expert in all things Italian but dancing:
"Benny Goodman and Jo-Jo were not in any way marching to the same drummer. At one point – she was coming at me out of a spin at seventy miles an hour, minimum – I frankly didn't know what to do with it. My whole life flashed in front of my eyes. Just standing my ground – or God forbid trying to catch her in some way – would have been to commit suicide. I held out my arms wide, running back and forth like a shepherd, somehow herding her toward the center of the room."
The descriptions are so gorgeous, the language so simple that one is compelled to make quiet time to reread the book. "To have a partner of a lifetime - for a lifetime – is rare stuff." The author generously makes the readers his partners. What a perfect read.