Memoir courses with the pleasures of Italy
Roland Merullo, an Italian-American who grew up in Revere and has often written about his boyhood there, has written a light, engaging memoir about a Merullo family summer vacation spent at Lake Como in northern Italy. Merullo’s days are filled with playing golf, as he strives to break 80 at his favorite course (where actor George Clooney is a member). Merullo’s evenings are taken up with scenic drives, long conversations with colorful locals, and the sensual pleasures of eating some of the best food in the world.
Merullo comes to Italy for one reason: “to learn to relax . . . I was hoping the Mediterranean air would shift me down into a slower gear, not just for the summer we spent in Italy, but permanently.’’ Merullo recounts several dramatic rounds of golf at various courses around Lake Como, as he plays with an international array of German businessmen, Russian women, and an elderly Italian man who plays so slowly and badly that the gentlemanly Merullo nearly flees in despair. During one round, Merullo just misses scoring below 80 and describes the frustrating allure of the game he loves: “You make your careful, painstaking ascent toward a good score. And then one small carelessness, a momentary lapse, and you slide a hundred feet back down the slope.’’
Food is another crucial theme in Merullo’s account. He describes family meals, many eaten with new Italian friends, at restaurants where both hospitality and great cooking are sacred rites. Food is serious stuff in Italy: “eating has about it the sense that you are participating in some familiar yet sacred act that might lead to a sudden enlightenment. Food is not trifled with here.’’ The Merullo family, especially his two young daughters, continually seek out the best pizza in Italy.
The locals, in Merullo’s recounting, are creative, disorganized, highly individualistic, and drive without much care for the rules of the road. Sometimes, Merullo finds the daily creativity of Italian life (or lack of precision, depending on one’s view of it) beguiling, sometimes not. “You could observe this anarchic tendency while standing in line, too, and there it was not charming. If you let your attention wander, the person behind you would suddenly be the person in front of you.’’
Merullo is a fine observer of Italian culture and an excellent storyteller. Anyone who loves golf, Italy, long family vacations, or just summertime will find much to enjoy in his lively narrative. During the summer’s final round at his favorite golf course, he plays well and needs to sink a single putt on the 18th hole to shoot 79. “I walked up to the ball and stood over it and felt my hands start to shake as if I were putting for the lead in the British Open . . . I hit it, and in it went.’’
As Merullo explains in this memoir’s final pages, his Italian summer filled with golf, great food, family, and new friends did indeed help him slow down after his return to his Massachusetts home. His summertime memoir about “la dolce vita’’ does have the feel of a long, gentle birdie putt that finds its way into the center of the hole.
Chuck Leddy is a freelance writer who lives in Dorchester.