Andrew Cotto, author of three novels and numerous magazine and newspaper articles, lives real life in Brooklyn, but dreams of Italy ever since a life-changing year in a Tuscan village over fifteen years ago. The experience, especially the wine and food, finds its way into the pages of his new novel, Cucina Tipica, An Italian Adventure.
Many Americans dream of living for a year or two in Italy, but you actually did it. Over fifteen years ago, you and your wife and your eighteen-month-old daughter pulled up roots in New York and moved to Tuscany for a year. How did you make that happen when so many people don’t?
Good question. It must have been a combination of youthful indiscretion (we were in our early-30s at the time) and a burning desire to do something different. In reality, the move was part of my transition from the corporate world to that of writing/teaching, so there was going to be some limbo time while I wrote and planned…Why not spend it in Italy?
Your new novel, Cucina Tipica, An Italian Adventure, is set in the same small Tuscan town where your family lived during that year in Italy. Besides the setting and the food, how did your experiences in Antella, near Florence, find life in your novel?
Besides the setting and the food (which the novel makes clear are very important to me), the best thing about Antella was its representation of everyday life in Italy. There were no tourists (besides us!) and, therefore, a quaint rhythm that we loved. We spent a lot of time just hanging around the piazza or the café; I regularly visited the butcher (who quickly became a dear friend and ambassador) and the fruit/vegetable stand, the groceria and gelateria…Just immersing in a traditional community without the trappings and burdens of tourism was very special. We made friends that we keep till this day, and I paid homage to their lifestyle in the novel (even using actual characters, such as the butcher). It’s intended to juxtapose with life in America, in general, and New York City, in particular.
The title of your book and the wild boar cavorting on the cover imply that Italian food is another character in the story. It that true? And specifically, how does cinghiale (wild boar) figure in the plot?
Yes, it is so true! Food and setting are characters in this book, and the food in particular plays a very important function as it doesn’t just provide the characters (particularly the protagonist, Jacoby, who has a “golden palate”) with sustenance and pleasure, but also a real sense of wellness. It is eating well (and drinking well, I should add, as there’s lots of wine consumed) that validates the everyday beauty of being alive. This is somewhat grandiose sounding, I know, but I believe it to be true and something so often overlooked.
As far as the cinghiale goes, you’ll have to read the book to discover the very important role a particularly malevolent and large one plays in the plot. I’ll give you a hint: It’s very “barn to table.”
What are the best aspects of being an American living in Italy? What are the worst aspects of being an American living in Italy?
Beyond the obvious aspects of eating/drinking amongst natural beauty and human achievement, I love being an American in Italy because it’s liberating. There are no civic obligations, no need to follow the news or current affairs. My Italian is functional, but I can easily tune out any conversation and therefore not be privy to conversations others are having (all I hear is lovely language exchanged). I don’t worry about the day to day minutia that complicates life when one is at home and in the grind. This is a big part of the book where Jacoby wants to be an “American Italian” – an identity, I guess, slightly less official than an ex-pat.
I know this is contradictory, but the hard part is being removed from America, as there is – for me, at least – a need to follow what’s happening at home, if even only tangentially at times. I love America and so want to be part of that whole “more perfect union” prospect.
How did your year in Italy change the trajectory of your life? Or did it?
As noted, I was transitioning careers, so my life was going to change at that point whether I spent it in Italy or not, but – that said – the experience of living, really living, somewhere else inspired a great appreciation of place and how the “where & when” of our existence has such an impact on our lives. I take this knowledge into the classrooms where I teach and the narratives I create. Obviously, my love of food and wine, also, increased dramatically, and this informs my life everyday as does the knowledge that there is a place on earth that I get to dream about regularly and visit fairly often.
What question do you wish people would ask about Cucina Tipica, An Italian Adventure?
It’s a tie between:
Where will the sequel take place?
Who will play Jacoby in the movie?
(TuscanTraveler should have asked Andrew to answer his own questions…)