by Edith Cody-Rice

Bella Figura is a book in the tradition of Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes.  A woman with a  high stress life faces a crisis, bails from her unsatisfactory situation, flees to Italy or some other slow and sun drenched spot and experiences a transformation in values. In the case of Kamin Hohammadi, an Iranian immigrant to Britain, she loses her high profile, glamorous job as a magazine editor in London, England and decides to use her severance package to fund months in a friend’s apartment in Florence. What she finds is community, slowness and a savouring of life as it passes. The Italian concept of Bella Figura, which literally means “beautiful figure or form” encompasses more than physical style. It includes the Italian love of beauty, food, life in general and an appreciation of the moment. Achieving Bella Figura is a goal in itself.

The book chronicles one year in the life of the author in Florence, month by month. At the beginning of each chapter, she includes an interesting device: she indicates what produce is in season, the scent of the city, the Italian moment and the Italian word of the month. Take into account that Ms. Mohammadi did not speak Italian when she arrived in Florence. For January, she writes,

  • Produce in Season :blood oranges
  • Scent of the city : woodsmoke
  • Italian moment: my apartment is in a palazzo (she sas just arrived) and
  • Italian word of the month: salve.

And the end of each chapter she includes simple Italian recipes that she has mentioned in the text. So it is part cookbook,  a stylistic touch with a nod to Elizabeth David.

The book is a little charmer, light, perhaps a bit too much life coaching. But it pains me to read how badly she handles men. Although she is looking back and is no doubt wiser, the reader can clearly see what she apparently could not: that she is a mark!! She is a romantic, allows herself to be badly treated and as her mother tells her at the breakup of one relationship, “You know why you are crying azizam? It’s not so much for that man, really. It’s because of the death of the fantasy.”

It might have been more elegant to skip some of that – a prominent feature of the book, but this is biography and these men were important to her, it appears. In any case, the book and even the amorous adventures do carry one briefly away to Tuscan sun, markets brimming with stunning produce, the Ponte Vecchio, and the intimacy of a real neighbourhood, something she had apparently not enjoyed in London. And yes, she did achieve bella figura.

Bella Figura is published by Appetite by Random House

284 pages