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Literary travel through reading and the imagination

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Editor’s Note: Today Katy Stewart takes us on some literary travel through three inspiring fiction reads and the imagination.

Let me take you on a journey. We’ll stop in five countries on three different continents. We will sample the most evocative, sensuous and fabulous food and drink on offer. But wait, put your passport down, don’t stress about packing. The only thing you need for this adventure is a good imagination. We will be traveling by way of three books which combine exotic destinations, intrigue, and culinary passion.

1. Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani (New York and Italy)

Let’s start our literary travels in Little Italy, New York City. Temptation lies in wait on every corner in the form of delicatessens and pizzerias, but our first stop is at the Angelini shoe company to Meet Valentine Roncalli. She is the thirty-something protagonist of Adriana Trigiani’s latest series of books and she’s right here in this workshop. Valentine lives and works with her grandmother, the feisty eighty-year-old Gram.

Valentine is cutting out some leather, but her mind is on the incorrigible Roman who is an Italian chef at a restaurant just a few streets away. There is a definite spark between these two; in fact Valentine is thinking now of the way they made risotto together last night, slowly blending the finest Arborio rice with cream and saffron. It must be very hard not to fall in love with a man who can cook like that. We don’t have time to try any now, but the author has thoughtfully provided a selection of recipes at the back of the book, so you can try them out when you get home. Right now, we have a plane to catch, with Valentine and Gram, to Italy. I think Gram has brought some homemade biscotti for the flight – you must try some.

Although Valentine and Gram are in Tuscany for a business trip, this sun-drenched landscape practically begs for romance. Gianluca runs the family tannery business – and he is one hot Italian. Food and love intertwine here, even though Valentine has so far only gone to dinner with him – at that charming little trattoria where they dined last night – she already feels guilty. Will she be able to resist him and concentrate on saving the family business? I know you are longing to find out, but we really must make a move.

2. The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith (Edinburgh)

Our next flight is to Edinburgh to meet Isabel Dalhousie, a creation from the pen of Alexander McCall Smith. Isabel is a philosopher with an inquisitive streak that gets her mixed up in all kinds of trouble. She’s also the founder of The Sunday Philosophy Club, as the title of the book suggests, and she’s always pleased to welcome visitors.

Edinburgh is a beautiful city; a place that’s easy to fall in love with. Scotland does have a reputation for serving haggis and deep-fried chocolate bars, but you’ll be relieved to know that’s not what we’ve come for. Let’s join Isabel in her neice’s delicatessen, where over a light lunch of sundried-tomato focaccia, top-quality parmesan and Italian olives, she will explain the dramatic and shocking event she witnessed last night: a man fell to his death from the balcony of the opera house. She suspects that it was no accident. Don’t worry that she seems to go off-topic, her philosophical musings are quite normal. She just needs someone to act as a sounding-board. We can continue talking as we wander down the Royal Mile, then we will have to go.

3. The Various Flavors of Coffee by Anthony Capella (London and Kenya)

We need to do a bit of time-travel now. We’re going back to nineteenth-century London, to the premises of a certain Mr Pinker. Can you smell that wonderful aroma? I was just thinking it was about time for a cup of coffee. This is the world brought to life by Anthony Capella in The Various Flavors of Coffee.

That man with the ostentatious clothes and the flamboyant manner is Robert Wallis. He is a writer and has been employed to accurately describe the subtle nuances of each coffee.  That one, you see, has a smoky taste to it, while this mocca is complex with notes of fruits and flowers. Robert is also beginning to discover the sensuality of coffee, particularly when in the company of Emily Pinker. But to prove to her father he would make a worthy husband, he must travel to Africa and set up a plantation.

We’ll use the luxuries of 21st century transport to reach Kenya while Wallis must travel by land and sea. Well, look at that! We’re here just in time to witness a traditional coffee ceremony. That proud, fierce slave-girl is Fikre. Watch closely as she slips a single coffee bean into Wallis’s palm; see the fire burning in her eyes. Does she desire him? He certainly desires her. But then he thinks of Emily at home in London – with the exchange of a single coffee bean, he feels his world unraveling.

Alas, we cannot linger, we have to return home. Have you finished Very Valentine? Maybe we will catch up with her again in New York. I’ll give you The Sunday Philosophy Club to read on the plane and you can find out how Isabel’s investigation is getting on. There will be a chance for us to return to Edinburgh one day, I’m sure. And as for Wallis and the Various Flavors of Coffee? Some African exoticism will be just what you need to combat the end-of-travel blues.

We must part ways now, thank you so much for coming. Enjoy the books, won’t you? I wonder where our next adventure through literary travel and the imagination will take us?

For more Travel Belles’ articles about literary travel, you may be interested in Books to Read to Get Ready to Visit Rome and 6 Literary Spots in Rome.

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Header Photo by Nextvoyage



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About the author

Originally from Salisbury in the UK, Katy Stewart is an itinerant freelance writer. She indulges her passions for travel, film and literature at her blog, Starry-Eyed Travels. You can follow her on twitter @SEtravels.

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