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Fed up with cold, foggy London and the high cost of real estate, Annie Hawes is persuaded by her sister Lucy to travel to Italy and graft roses for the winter. The sisters arrive in rural Liguria with some formal Italian, no knowledge of rose grafting, and visions of Mediterranean men and sun. What they find is a town full of hard-working, wary olive growers smack in the middle of an olive oil depression who think these two young Englishwomen are nuts. Extra Virgin tells the story of the sisters' acclimation--theirs to Liguria and Liguria to them--and how they fell in love with a crumbling farmhouse in the hills.
Annie quickly finds that though they are only two miles from the Italian Riviera, it might as well be a hundred. Liguria is an old town full of time-honored peculiarities, especially in regard to espresso consumption (never, ever, after lunch; it will close your stomach) and swimming before summertime officially starts. "Seawater at the wrong time of year is even worse for your health than coffee at the wrong time of day, and the beach is only deserted because, as far as the citizens are concerned, if you put so much as a toe into the water before June you are certain to die within the week from exposure or pneumonia or both," says Hawes. Eventually, the sisters are accepted by the townsfolk, though they find the idea of the women buying the farmhouse and running it themselves (there are 50 olive trees on the land) fantastical.
Extra Virgin draws you in to the heart of Liguria and its inhabitants. Hawes has a knack for drawing characters and especially for describing the luscious meals that they are served--and eventually learn to cook. "Lucy and I are kindly allowed to make the tomato-and-basil salad," Hawes says, "and do our best not to be offended by being complemented on how like a proper tomato-and-basil salad it is." Pour yourself an espresso (as long as it's before lunch) or a grappa (aids the digestion), and then sit down to enjoy Extra Virgin. --Dana Van Nest [via]