Book: My Dolce Vita, by Jean Govoni Salvadore
The energy and winning personality of this 84-year-old memoirist shine through My Dolce Vita, her memories of working in Rome for TWA and at the classic hotel Villa d’Este on Lake Como. Since both those jobs (as of the writing of the book, she still worked at Villa d’Este) involved public relations, she rubbed shoulders with hundreds of famous people–movie stars, journalists, novelists, fashion designers and the merely wealthy. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on whether you thrive on celebrity news, that turns the book into a running list of famous names to be dropped interspersed with inserts of pictures of stars posing as they alight from airplanes or attend events at the famous hotel.
Salvatore has such a seemingly straight-forward and winning personality, that it seems churlish to find fault. She claims she always wanted to be a writer and did in fact write a newspaper gossip column in Rome and has penned three other books promoting Villa d’Este. Memoirs, however, are tricky animals. While we all have an assortment of life incidents and favorite stories that we like to pass on to friends and relatives, to be readable and memorable, a memoir must have the same structure that any good story needs. That means it needs a unifying theme and incidents should be arranged to illustrate that theme and build to some sort of conclusion. The best memoirs give the reader some “take away”–something that sounds familiar, that can help the reader understand some of the bigger issues of life–preferably overcomingobstacles.
For that reason, the opening section of the book is the most satisfying. It talks about Jean’s life as a young girl, after she has returned to her parents native Italy from Britain where she was born and started school. It was a privileged life where she lived in Switzerland and in Paris before returning to Italy, where she had to add Italian to the English and French she already spoke.
But the privileged life went downhill quickly with the rise of Mussolini and the start of World War II. Seeing life in Rome during this period through the eyes of someone who lived through it starts the book off with an interesting story. The name-dropping starts early though, beginning with Dirk Bogard who was a neighbor in London and insertion of the Rosselini films made about the war and Mussolini, who had worked for her grandfather. After the war, as Rome became “Hollywood in Europe”, she worked for TWA, principally baby-siting movie stars as they arrived and departed.
After everyone told her for many years that she should write a book about her life, she saw a quote from Mark Twain about the way he wrote his autobiography–jumping from subject to subject as they came to mind, and she decided to follow his “advice.” That makes the book very jumpy indeed, and many sections are brought back into focus by the elementary statement, “But to get back to…”
This lucky lady has lived on the grounds of Villa d’Este on Lake Como for about 40 years, and spent all that time hob-nobbing with the super rich and famous. Who wouldn’t love that kind of life? Lake Como has become very trendy in the past decade or so, partly because George Clooney owns a villa practically next door to the Villa d’ Este. (And yes, she uses his name several times, although there is no indication she ever actually came in contact with him.)
The Villa d’Este was named the best hotel in the world by Forbes back in 2009. Packed with carvings and architectural details that go back as much as 400 years, it sits on a piece of the most gorgeous landscape in the world. I only wish that Salvatore’s book of memoirs had spent a bit more time describing the fantastic hotel.
In case you are not heading for Lake Como and are not in the market for a $1,000 a night room, you can get a close look at Villa d’Este at their website. And if you are fascinated by the history of buildings, this one is a hum-dinger!
Finally, take a break and visit right now:
The picture of Lake Como comes from Flickr.com and is used with a Creative Commons license. Learn more by clicking on the picture. The video at the bottom is from You-Tube. The book was provided to me by the publisher for the purposes of review. Unfortunately, nobody (not even George Clooney )has invited me to visit Lake Como as their guest.
Lake Como has always been high on my list, but I missed it when I was in Switzerland and again when I was in northern Italy. Sigh! Have you been there? Better yet, share with us any names you would drop in your own memoir. I’ll go first. Once Jerry Lewis parked his yacht outside a bayside restaurant in San Diego and walked right by our table, Ken tells me. I was busy eating. And at a conference, I once rode in a hotel elevator with Jim Hensen, the creator of the Muppets. It was just the two of us, and he was very shy. To my amazement, he was going to the dining room by himself because he didn’t know anybody to eat dinner with.