Living in a Foreign Language

BOOK: Living in a Foreign Language

Praise for
Living in a Foreign Language:

“Not at all the usual actor's memoir, but a simple toast to eating, drinking, and innocent merriment in old Umbria.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Reading books on wine provides an invaluable, yet often insufficient, wine education. Without knowledge of the wine accompanying food, you're nothing but a wine geek. Books like
Living in a Foreign Language
provide such an ideal context for how to truly enjoy wine with food that they should be required reading for all oenophiles.”

The Washington Post

“[A] charming book. It literally grabbed my by the taste buds and took me for an epicurean excursion.”

—Phil Doran, author of
The Reluctant Tuscan:
How I Discovered My Inner Italian

“Michael Tucker's
Living in a Foreign Language
is a rollicking, food and fun-filled chronicle of his and his wife Jill's international traveling circus. From New York to Los Angeles to Marin County to Italy and New York again, it's an odyssey of change and growth filled with good wine, fine food, and great friends. Infused with love, the Tucker's saga of building a home (and a life) in Umbria, Italy, is as warm and irresistible as a freshly baked pizza.”

—Steven Bochco, Hollywood producer and creator of
L.A. Law

“If you've ever dreamed of living in an ancient stone villa set high above the Italian countryside—and who hasn't?—
Living in a Foreign Language
is a seduction, a warning, an encouragement, and a guide to making a dream come true.”

—Mary Doria Russell, author of
The Sparrow

“One quarter of the way through I realized this wonderful experience of Italy was going to have a last page, which I couldn't and didn't want to happen. I devoured each moment!”

—Bernadette Peters

“Michael Tucker's life is full of adventurous and lusty choices. He writes about them with just as much boldness. Whether it's an Italian lesson in Rome or the first pizza party in his four-hundred-year-old kitchen in Umbria, his descriptions make you feel as if you're guests in his home.”

—John Lithgow, actor

“When their last child went to college, actor and epicure Michael Tucker and his wife actress Jill Eikenberry impulsively bought a cottage in Northern Italy. It's a long way from Hollywood and the fame of
L.A. Law
to a rustico in the Umbrian countryside—physically, spiritually, and philosophically. Let Tucker be your guide.”

—Alice Leccese Powers, editor of the anthologies
Italy in Mind
Tuscany in Mind

Living in a Foreign Language

Also by Michael Tucker
I Never Forget a Meal: An Indulgent Reminiscence

Living in a Foreign Language

A Memoir of Food, Wine, and Love in Italy

Michael Tucker

Photographs by Kristine Walsh

Copyright © 2007 by Michael Tucker

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, or the facilitation thereof, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Any members of educational institutions wishing to photocopy part or all of the work for classroom use, or publishers who would like to obtain permission to include the work in an anthology, should send their inquiries to Grove / Atlantic, Inc., 841 Broadway, New York, NY 10003.

“I Can't Give You Anything But Love”, Words and Music by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields © 1928 (Reprinted 1956) COTTON CLUB PUBLISHING and ALDI MUSIC. All Rights for COTTON CLUB PUBLISHING Controlled and Administered by EMI APRIL MUSIC INC. Print Rights for ALDI MUSIC in the U.S. Controlled and Administered by HAPPY ASPEN MUSIC LLC c/o SHAPIRO, BERNSTEIN & CO., INC. All Rights Reserved. International Copyright Secured. Used by Permission.

Published simultaneously in Canada
Printed in the United States of America

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Tucker, Michael, 1944—

Living in a foreign language: a memoir of food, wine, and love in Italy / Michael Tucker.

p. cm.

ISBN-10: 0-8021-4362-8

ISBN-13: 978-0-8021-4362-4

1. Spoleto Region (Italy)—Description and travel. 2. Spoleto Region (Italy)—Social life and customs. 3. Tucker, Michael, 1944—4. Cookery, Italian. 5. Wine and wine making—Italy. I. Title.

DG975.S75T83 2007
945'.651—dc22                                                                      2006052626

Grove Press
an imprint of Grove / Atlantic, Inc.
841 Broadway
New York, NY 10003

Distributed by Publishers Group West

08  09  10  11  12  10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2



“Avrai tu l'universo, resti L'Italia a me.”
You may have the universe, if I may have Italy
—Giuseppe Verdi

“We can be bought, but we cannot be bored.”
Possiamo essere comprati, ma non possiamo essere annoiati
—Alfred Lunt & Lynn Fontanne

Living in a Foreign Language


that nestles around our house like the strong, safe lap of an infinitely patient grandfather. We called it a mountain until we hiked up to the top one day and saw the snowcapped Sibillini stretching out across the horizon. No, it's a hill—one of many
that climb to the east of us and roll out to the north and south, shimmering with silver-green olive leaves as far as you can see. The tiny stone house sits tucked into the side of the hill so that our bedroom window isn't exposed to the early rays of the sun, but that morning I was up with the first soft light in the sky. I had slept the sleep of the sated. Perhaps the three glasses of grappa at the end of dinner had helped a bit with that. Along with the bottomless pitcher of the local red wine that went down so easily with the wood-grilled lamb and the fried potatoes. God, those potatoes. Maybe it was all a dream; I never eat potatoes after a big bowl of pasta. Not in the same meal. Not in real life. The pasta, by the way, had been simple—just noodles in olive oil with about a half-pound of fresh truffles shaved
over the top. Truffles pop out of the ground like weeds around here.

The sky did a cross-fade from gray to light blue and one by one the birds started to sing. I had nowhere to go for a couple of hours; I just lay there and listened to them. I had flown over two days earlier to close the deal on this farmhouse in the hills of Umbria and I was heading back to California later that afternoon. My inner clock was totally confused at this point, but sleep wasn't really the issue; I could sleep some other time.

The Rustico—that's its name—has been standing on this hill looking west out onto the vast and verdant Spoleto valley for over 350 years. “Rustico” means a farm workers' cottage, a place where migrant workers slept when they came every year to harvest the olives. Now it was going to shelter two migrant actors.

I went down to the kitchen and made a pot of coffee. I sat at the table under the pergola just outside the kitchen door and watched a bird with black and white striped plumage and a smart-ass Woody Woodpecker look on his face squawk and swoop down from the trees, strafe the vegetable garden and then soar up for a couple of laps around the chimney. You could already tell it was going to be a hot day. But inside the Rustico, with its three-foot- thick stone walls—which make it look considerably larger on the outside than it feels inside—it was as cool as a wine cellar.

I called Jill in California, where it was nine o'clock the evening before. Totally confusing. I told her all about yesterday's meeting at the
office, where I signed the papers and passed over the certified checks—one above the table, one below. I told her how the
solemnly intoned the whole contract, pausing after every line for the English translation. It all felt quite official. I told her how Bruno and Mayes, who sold us the house, and JoJo, who brokered the deal, took me out to lunch afterward at Fontanelle, a restaurant a few miles up the hill from our new house.

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