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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

August 02, 1992|KAREN STABINER

ITALIAN NEIGHBORS by Tim Parks (Grove Weidenfeld: $19.95; 328 pp.) Parks started out the highest form of tourist--he had an Italian wife. Still, they slunk into Montecchio, just outside of Verona, their very car (an un-Italian bright orange Passat) advertising their outsider status. He emerged, after a year-and-a-half, knowing that he likely would not go home again, and no longer cared. He had acclimated himself to the lovely madness of his small-town society. The woman who had thrown a tantrum upon his arrival, insisting that the flat he and his wife rented belonged to her, had accepted him and directed her rage at newcomers. He unraveled the logic behind parallel streets that suddenly diverge, never to meet again, and began to appreciate the sensibility of Italian beverage rituals: cappuccino only in the morning (never insult a good meal by pouring foamy milk on top of it), espresso round the clock, and apertivi only after an appointed hour in the afternoon. The tale of his gradual, always eager assimilation is one of the most delightful travelogues imaginable. As he so rightly puts it, this is not a travel book. It is an "arrival book," and so vivid, so packed with delectable details, that it serves, in this recession, as a more than decent substitute for the real thing.

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