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Book Reviews

Piazza: Italy's Heart and Soul, Joe Bauwens & MaryBeth Flower
by Jennifer A. Ray, Wild on Books Reviews

Italy has long been at the top of my list of countries to visit if ever given the chance. Sadly, budget and vacation time are currently prohibitive factors for such a trip. That’s the beauty of books such as Joe Bauwens’ and MaryBeth Flower’s PIAZZA: ITALY’S HEART AND SOUL – they can transport you to places you’ve dreamed of, through the splendor of their photography and the descriptive footnotes teaching a bit of that region’s cultures and traditions.

When you open the book, you are immediately captured by the colorful flags born by the sbandieratori of Gubbio, and can almost feel their movement as they run, proudly bearing their flags.

You can feel the press of the crowds when you turn to the depiction of the Ceri Marathon. Then a castle in Vernazza seems to be carved from the seaside bluff it tops, rather than being built upon it by mere men.

As exciting as some of these photos are, still others convey a solemn peace and stillness, such as the picture of the Santa Maria della Salute church in the dark of night, with lights spotlighting its majestic dome.

Mr. Bauwens and Ms. Flower miss nothing, including pictures of citizens in traditional costume as well as people in modern dress. We find children laughing and playing, and other people from all walks of life, who through the very normalcy of their pictures, depict everyday life in Italy more surely than mere words. From the pink-haired woman on her cell phone to the pony-tailed man on his unicycle, we experience it all.

I can almost taste the rich cappuccino when I see the pictures of this dark treat decorated with whimsical chocolate designs atop the foam.
I can imagine sitting at an outdoor cafe quietly watching all of these sights go by as I sip my own cup, careful not to burn my mouth.

But the creators of this coffee table book don’t rely on just pictures to deliver the Italian experience – they draft prose as picturesque as their photographs to completely immerse you in the details of the event, the town, the feel of the place.

I’d expected PIAZZA: ITALY’S HEART AND SOUL to assuage some of my wanderlust, but instead I find I want even more fervently to wander through the rainbow town of Burano. I want to coast through the watery streets of Venice in my own gondola, with a gondolier pointing out spots of interest in a thick Italian accent. I want to dance in the street to the beat of the street musicians on the Ligurian shore.

Italy is a country steeped in history and this beautiful tome clearly shows this in everything from the architecture to the people to the traditional celebrations. It’s the next best thing to being able to visit Italy yourself. For a taste of Italy sure to fuel a few daydreams, pick up a copy of PIAZZA: ITALY’S HEART AND SOUL.

Piazza: Italy’s Heart and Soul
By Don George
Award winning former Travel Editor
San Francisco Chronicle

Apr 26, 2007

This sumptuous coffeetable book is as sensual, robust, colorful, stylish, passionate, illuminating and altogether enchanting as the inimitable institution it celebrates.

One of the defining glories of Italy is the piazza. The piazza is the center – geographical and spiritual – of just about every Italian village, town and metropolis. “Piazza: Italy’s Heart and Soul” is a sumptuous new book that celebrates this inimitable institution in all its roles and richness. The writer-photographer team behind the book, Joe Bauwens and Marybeth Flower, crisscrossed Italy for five months to produce this portrait of 25 piazze, ranging from Aosta, Orta San Giulio, Udine and Cortina d’Ampezzo in the far north to Cefalu and Taormina on the island of Sicily.

While Bauwens and Flower include spectacular shots of famous piazza such as San Marco in Venice, del Campo in Siena and San Pietro in the Vatican, for me the real delight of the book is the simple photos that capture the everyday warmth, passion, camaraderie, and style of piazze humble and grand throughout the country. We see the piazza as the stage for extravagant commemorations and elaborate operas, but also as the setting for the everyday rites of morning espresso, afternoon play and evening passeggiata.

Unlike some coffeetable books, “Piazza” does not preen itself as a sacred tome that is almost too precious and pristine to be touched; rather it presents a living, breathing, jostling, sometimes rough-edged and always robust portrait of Italian life at its center, lived and evoked in all its sensual splendor. By the time I finished this book, I could smell the espresso in those cafes, hear the pealing of church bells and cries of budding soccer stars, feel the country’s stylish pulse all around me. “Piazza” enchantingly immersed me in Italy. Joe and Marybeth: Your passion shines through. Grazie!

[Piazza: Italy’s Heart and Soul, text and photography by Joe Bauwens and Marybeth Flower; published by Eccola Press; hardcover; 240 pages; $50.]

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