Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo (Anglais) Broché – 5 juin 2014
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Descriptions du produit
Revue de presse
"A treat equivalent to a ride on the Orient Express" (Wall Street Journal)
"Like the best train journeys, you don’t want it to end" (New Statesman)
"A very funny hosanna to Italian railroad locomotion in all its rackety glory" (Evening Standard, Books of the Year)
"Parks has the keenest of eyes for the telling of amusing detail ... He remains the best interpreter of Italian ways in Italy" (Sunday Herald)
"Tim Parks has written a book about Italian railways that is engrossing, entertaining, and wonderfully revealing about the country and its people. It makes perfect armchair travelling – a delight from beginning to end" (David Lodge)
"The book is, as Tim Parks says, a search for the Italian character, which he evokes in dozens of gorgeously written scenes; but beyond that Parks is exploring the dynamic between tradition and innovation... Underneath everything, Parks is trying to come to a point of loving the world in all its confusion and frustration, and by the book's end he does, he does. Bravo" (David Shields)
"This latest peg on which to hang another ruminative book about the character of Italy provides Parks with a first-class ticket to ride as a lively, erudite raconteur in salty daily negotiation with what he calls a ‘dystopian paradise’" (Iain Finlayson The Times)
"With Paul Theroux apparently winding down, there might be an opening for Parks as a new laureate of international railways" (Andrew Martin Observer)
"Parks is also a railway enthusiast and this delightful book is the story of his love-hate relationship with Italian trains" (Literary Review)
Présentation de l'éditeur
From the bestselling author of Italian Neighbours, An Italian Education and A Season with Verona
Longlisted for the Dolman Travel Book Award
In 1981 Tim Parks moved from England to Italy and spent the next thirty years alongside hundreds of thousands of Italians on his adopted country’s vast, various and ever-changing networks of trains.
Through memorable encounters with ordinary Italians – conductors and ticket collectors, priests and prostitutes, scholars and lovers, gypsies and immigrants – Tim Parks captures what makes Italian life distinctive. He explores how trains helped build Italy and how the railways reflect Italians’ sense of themselves from Garibaldi to Mussolini to Berlusconi and beyond.
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The book is very well written and proved to be a quick read -- aside from some slow-moving meditations on timetables, station announcements, etc. (a lot of which might fall completely flat on a reader who has not been in Italy, or not frequently, since much of what he observes has changed over the past ten years). As other reviewers have remarked, the first half, largely comprised on observations made in Parks's home base in Verona/Northern Italy, is more complex and engaging, while the second half of the book, especially the sections regarding the south of Italy are a bit shoddier and feel almost forced. Some of the earlier chapters could stand on their own as self-contained essays, and I'd recommend them without hesitation. They are insightful and humorous.
The book's unevenness aside, there are larger problems. First, at its core, the book is an investigation of"national character," akin to what numerous Anglophone writers (primarily English, but also Americans) have done over the centuries with Italy (and other "exotic" lands) and even what an Italian, Luigi Barzini did as well back in the 1960s. For me, it's a dated endeavor, and I can't help but think of what my reaction would've been if Mr. Parks had been written about my culture, my hometown of New York City or my Italian American neighborhood. I would probably cringe, and say, no, that's not true; or, oh, yes, I can see that. But, ultimately, what purpose does such a book serve? And who does it serve?
Then there is the subject matter, the vehicle, if you will, to understanding this national character: trains. How they are organized, how stations are laid out, details about railway personal, etc. What happens on trains: who brings what to eat, how close people sit to one another, what people talk about, etc. Occasionally, Parks might remark on the passing landscape or interject an historic factoid. At times it can be repetitive, even boring. The sections that I enjoyed the most, the early ones, offered the richest, most layered telling of the story: history, landscape, station, train, people, etc.
Finally, there is Mr. Parks, the Englishman, the Anglo, the white man. Parks tells us repeatedly that he's been in Italy for 30 years (since his late 20s). He appears to have married an Italian woman, raised his children there, and been generally successful. But, his feathers are ruffled every time an Italian takes him for a foreigner, which they always do upon hearing his accented Italian, but even more annoying to him: they almost always know he's a foreigner (that is, an English/American/Canadian) just by laying eyes on him. Why he is irritated by this is baffling to me (and I have lived in other countries for extended periods, speak other languages, and grew up in a family of Italian immigrants who spoke broken English -- we all want to fit in, but we can rarely escape our roots, the places that formed us, nor would many of us want to). At times, he projects his sense of irritation with being the perpetual foreigner onto immigrants in Italy. He remarks in two or three places that there are no black ticket collectors, and looks forward to the day when the children of immigrants in Italy (in particular African immigrants) will be go through school to become railway workers. In these instances, the text is too thin, and glosses over so many complex issues facing Italy at the moment, not the least of which is a demographic change, whereby a country that was 30 years ago, entirely native-born (a place that people emigrated from, not immigrated to) to a country that has seen a foreign-born population grow from nothing to 10%. Parks doesn't give the reader much context here, and so one could easily mistake Italy's race problems with those of America or England, imagining they come from the same root. Here, the text is confusing and contradictory. The very things that Parks seems to dislike about Italy are inextricably linked to the things he seems to love: its provincial mentality, its strong local cultures, its dialects/languages, its traditions, familial ties and friendships, the weight of its history, etc. Parks appears to love all this, remarks on numerous occasions that such things have died out -- if they even ever were -- in England and in much of continental Europe. It's usually precisely those places with strong local cultures that seem to attract expatriates, often privileged folks who wish to partake of that which they never had, namely a strong community with "colorful" customs. Such is what distinguishes the expatriate from the immigrant; the former is drawn to a place because of its culture, while the latter seeks primarily to earn a living and may go anywhere to do so.
In the end, as it is with so many books about "national characters" or books about one's adopted lands, we ultimately learn more about Parks, his system, his character, and his prejudices than we do about the Italian people, north to south, or of the country's rail system. He's not a bad guy by any stretch of the imagination, and a few off-handed remarks aside, he does write lovingly about Italy. While not a wasted endeavor, the book is easily recommended to some already well-aquatinted with Italy, but to others who are curious about the landscape, the people, the history, the language, or the contemporary challenges, I would suggest looking elsewhere.
My impressions of Italy spending far less time there than the author is one of complexity much in common with my Indian experiences, especially the Government bureaucracy and the attitudes towards efficiency or lack thereof. But within that complexity there is much to enjoy, learn and love in Latin cultures which many Anglo Saxons never seem to get. This author is an example of the latter despite being married to an Italian and having lived there for decades.
It is the author's right to choose what to portray but this book is much more about how Italy doesn't conform to what he wants and to his ego than his experiences in discovering Italy, the good, the bad and the ugly and how they are intertwined. The book might have been saved by either being humorous or being insightful but is neither.
The style grates after a while as incessant whining where only the bad things happen.
His reading of the culture is also wrong.
For example, he finds inconsistency in what the country is trying to do to modernize and what it really is and attributes it to a national character that is beyond hypocrisy and has learned to live with that inconsistency without even thinking about it. This is a wrong reading of reality because it is not the same people wanting to modernize and yet the same time content with old mores and habits. Like any country with a long history, there are people who try to cling to the past and there are people who want to move into the future. The inconsistency is a symptom of the conflicts of those two while they co-exist, not the compartmentalized inconsistency within the same people. This is just one example of the total lack of insight which makes it feel like reading just a complaint book with very little understanding.
Not worth the time it takes to read.
I could identify with so many of Parks' observations on the Italian psyche - and his experiences with the ticket vending and validation machines. At times, I laughed out loud. I couldn't help myself. When I tried to read some passages aloud to my son, I would start laughing so hard the words I tried to repeat became unintelligible.
This is not a book about trains, although there is a great deal of interesting and, perhaps, useful information about Italian railway nuances included. It is a book about many universal themes, including variations on the sense of smell. That, of course, is what makes it art. It is by no means an anti-Italian or mean-spirited book in any way. Yes, he draws fun from stereotypical behaviors, but shows us the soul of Italy - its people. Everyone can criticize their government - any government. Parks points out so many instances where the Italian governments, the railway system, beurocracies and beurocrats of all types give folks plenty to criticize and bemoan. But, he shows us a railway that can homogenize a still very parochial people - all with the same kinds of passion, loyalties, hopes, frustrations, disappointments, and their matchless Italian ability to accommodate and rise above those systemic irritants. His railway brings a realization that things do not need to be the way they are - they just are, for now.
Parks is a likeable and readable passenger with a wonderfully twisted eye for detail. He takes so many human encounters on life's railway and weaves them into the uniquely Italian experience, it is hard to believe he is uno straniero. I suppose thirty years in the country should do that to a person. The voice is so Italian. Ya gotta love him, even if you have to allow him a little hurried self-indulgent meditation/relaxation at the end of the book - for which he was late. After all that he has been through, he deserves it.
I highly recommend this easy and enjoyable ride while you wait to accumulate più soldi for your next trip to Italia. You'll love your fellow travellers, unless of course they've soiled their britches or something. You will find most definitely a little Italian within yourself. It is just plain fun.
This book recounts the author's adventures, misadventures and observations in seven years of train travel around Italy-commuter trains, high-speed trains, crowded trains in the industrial north, virtually empty trains in the economically depressed south, trains that leave early, ghost trains that are not listed on any timetable, trains that are loaded onto ferries, and of course trains that are habitually late. The first few chapters, which recycle material he wrote in 2005, describe trains and ticketing procedures that no longer exist; in the Preface, Parks admits that "seven years later, Italian trains have changed enormously," but apparently he couldn't bear to discard his out-of-date notes on the baroque complexity of ticketing on the Interregionale and Intercity trains during that period.
No matter: whether commuting in 2005 or touring Sicily in 2012, Parks dislikes everything about Italian trains. He dislikes the local trains because they are too crowded in the north and almost empty in the South. He dislikes the Eurostar and the high-speed Italian trains because he regards them as creating a class society that favors the rich. He dislikes directional signs, retail shops in train stations, food in train stations, schedules, and most of his fellow passengers.
But this account of his travels is about more than trains. Parks draws broad generalizations about Italy and Italians from anecdotes about fellow travelers-Southerners who share their food; "gypsies" who distribute cards seeking handouts; migrants leaving Sicily; and people who find inventive ways to game the system and ride wihout buying a ticket. (Warning: these scams don't work in 2013). He rhapsodizes about the scenery and describes a Greek vase in a museum at agonizing length-had he never seen one before?-but he has little good to say about any living Italians, and no appreciation of modern Italian culture, either the economic and social crises of recent years or the rich traditions that survive.
A few train trips in Italy will tell you more about train travel-and about Italians-than anything in this book.