By Walter Sanders
So what’s a nice Jewish boy from Newark doing in a hospital in Siena, Italy?
Two things: Sam Hilt is recovering from successful heart surgery. Second, he’s using the recuperation time to colorfully describe the effects of an even more life-altering condition—the Tuscan Bug.
Many susceptible people contract the Tuscan Bug when they visit the Renaissance region. Hilt caught a particularly virulent strain during an unplanned jaunt to Italy when he was an undergrad at Brandeis University.
After returning to the U.S. and earning his degree, Hilt spent nine years in graduate studies gaining a masters in comparative literature, a masters in psychology, and a doctorate in Renaissance studies.
During his busy life teaching seminars in art and psychology at several graduate schools in the California Bay Area, the Tuscan Bug went dormant. But when he and his wife, Pamela Mercer, visited Tuscany in 1991, the virus really flared up. Summer-long stays led to buying a house near Siena, and then finally moving to Tuscany with Pamela and their daughters, Siena and Emma. The couple have created Tuscany Tours, which hosts small specialty itineraries of Tuscany and beyond.
Telling the Tuscan Tale
Hilt’s book Turning Tuscan: A Step-by-Step Guide to Going Native traces his journey to a new home.
The narrative soars when he explains, with considerable wonder, the first impressions of immersion in village life. He realizes that Italian life really does have a fair share of sole, vino, and mandolino. He deftly explores learning the language, watching his kids dance with ease to Tuscan rhythms, marveling at the artistry of the woman who makes the coffees at the local bar. Pamela’s evocative poetry, sprinkled throughout the book, adds dimension.
Upon reflection, he distills the three ingredients that make Italian life blissful for him: beauty, time, and authenticity. He realized that he’d better capture these fresh observations before they became a routine part of his new life.
With time, the challenges of everyday reality in Italy sometimes exposed a less than dolce vita. For these, he provides hilarious reportage on mind-boggling bureaucracies, the frustrations of customer service, and the little cultural quirks that become apparent when you actually live and work in a foreign place.
Hilt uses the term “bubble” to describe his collective life experiences and influences. The hospital episode, and the thorough review of what has led him to Italy, has expanded his bubble.
Like a gelato in the piazza on a blistering day, Turning Tuscan is molto divertente.
Have you dreamed of living in Italy? Where would you make your home?