Pasquale's Nose: Idle Days in an Italian Town

by Michael Rips

On those rare occasions when I pick up a book by an author I'm not
familiar with, just because the title catches my eye, I
usually regret it. Whatever nuance I read into that title often has
little to do with the substance of the book. Yet, when I saw
PASQUALE'S NOSE on our reviewers' list, it gave me pause ---
Pasquale just happens to be my favorite aunt's married name. A
frail connection at best, but you have to admit it's an intriguing
title. Knowing that the Pasquale ancestors were from Italy (where
the memoir takes place) and given the coincidence in names, how
could I possibly resist?

Described as a journey of the author's experiences and
self-revelations while living in Italy, it really offers so much
more for the reader: Part travelogue, part memoir, and
unquestionably a study in human behavior. Michael Rips launches the
narration by characterizing himself as a man who had reached a
pivotal point in life. Married, with a young daughter, and entering
that philosophical phase in which all humans ponder where they've
been and where they're going, he had developed a complete state of
inertia and it weighed heavily on his mind. His wife, who seems to
have formed a clear perception of life's priorities and of Michael
as well suggested they move to Italy so she could pursue her
painting career while he pondered; and, despite his initial
objections, they wound up moving to the Italian town of

Sutri is an ancient Etruscan community situated north of Rome in a
region of Italy that is as picturesque as it gets --- "medieval
towns perched on hilltops, volcanic lakes, abandoned beaches, and
mountains forested with chestnut and oak trees." The imagery of a
Tuscany-like village might suggest that this memoir resembles other
books in recent memory, depicting romantic vistas, peaceful havens,
and charming tourist attractions. What you'll find instead is one
of the quirkiest gatherings of people you could ever imagine,
viewed through the wondering eyes of an outsider who embraced the
people and the culture wholeheartedly.

Rips relates many of the stories from the perspective of his
café chair on the piazza, a location that was well-suited to
observing the variety of colorful characters that inhabit Sutri.
Incredibly, he became an accepted member of the piazza's daily
occupants and the community as a whole, even though the locals were
normally hostile toward foreigners. His depictions of the old men
of the piazza, for instance, are both touching and humorous and in
many ways reflect the universality of human behavior.

"The social structure of the piazza is as fixed as its
architecture. On the outside of the square, sitting on the stone
benches just in front of the buildings, are the old men, the
guardians of the square. Though not one of them is well-off, they
make a point of wearing sports jackets and pressed shirts when they
visit the square. They speak quietly to each other but most of
their days are spent in silence, watching others."

These are the storytellers, the authorities on the history of the
community --- its events, its scandals, and its residents. And
there's a whole parade of marvelous people that Rips encountered
while living in Sutri; it's their engaging stories that form the
substance of PASQUALE'S NOSE. One of the few somber chapters
relates the tragic life of the bean farmer, Vittore, who became one
of the old men of the piazza. Another revolves around the puzzling
behavior of "The Philosopher," a man of unknown identity who
engages Rips in frustrating dialogues. And there's the outrageous
Sabina, a restaurant owner who could teach New York's "soup guy" a
thing or three.

In addition to the wealth of anecdotal stories, Rips also includes
a random selection of relevant recipes. The culinary fare of Italy
seems to be an obsession with most anyone who travels there, and
Rips made note of many dishes that are specialties of the Tuscia
region. Apart from the delicious descriptions of pasta and
pastries, he discovered foods that had become part of the folklore
of the region, such as fagioli regina beans, "Bruschetta of Herod,"
and believe it or not, porcupine. His early introduction to a dish
prepared with the finest beans in Italy is just the first of many
episodes in which the author takes you down the proverbial path of
presumed seriousness before eventually leaving you in absolute

If there's any flaw at all in the presentation, it would have to be
the brevity. Leaping from story to story, the passages sometimes
read like a collection of random journal entries rather than a
continuously flowing prose. And even though Rips has a real talent
for integrating two seemingly divergent stories with some ingenious
surprise, readers still may wish he had expounded a bit more. That
said, this is still a remarkable debut. Humor, compassion, and an
obvious zest for life permeate every page of PASQUALE'S NOSE,
making it one of the most delightful memoirs you'll ever discover.
As for the origin of the title, there is a Pasquale and his
nose is memorable. But you'll have to read about it for
yourself --- I'm not spoiling the fun!

Reviewed by Ann Bruns ( on January 22, 2011

Pasquale's Nose: Idle Days in an Italian Town
by Michael Rips

  • Publication Date: April 9, 2002
  • Genres: Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books
  • ISBN-10: 0316748641
  • ISBN-13: 9780316748643