Angela Paolantonio is the author of The Ghosts of Italy (2016). In Still Life With Saints (2020), she trades Mulholland Drive for via Fontana to live in the house where her Italian spirit was born, on a magical lane among the women of the village who take her under their wing and into their lives. Call it magic, serendipity, or maybe a dispatch from a past life Angela is compelled to listen and act on her inner voice. In her sequel to The Ghosts of Italy she's no longer out of her league. Italian folklore rules her days. Still Life With Saints the song of her nights.
Still Life With Saints is a sequel to the 2016 The Ghosts of Italy, and continues the journey Angela Paolantonio began in her first memoir of her old country Italian family roots. In this continuation, she moves from Los Angeles to the village of Calitri, where Italian women take her under their wings and help her explore her heritage.
There she continues her life and discoveries, transporting readers into a life journey that captures the village's culture, nuances, and sights and sounds with lovely descriptive passages: "How do I feel when I have to leave the place that is now running in my veins? I am lost. To walk the village each day is to walk within an Alan Lomax recording. The sights and sounds are authentic, the traditions deep and true. They are in the pastoral lilt of women’s voices in summer, heard from behind a beaded doorway, or men’s acapella singing in a grotto in winter, the tufa stone acting as a natural acoustic enhancer. I am transported by their longing..."
The introduction, in which she returns from a Christmas holiday in that village to feel newly lost in her Los Angeles environment, will feel quite familiar to any who have journeyed to another place, only to find its lure more powerful than the abode they once called home.
As Still Life With Saints returns to that world and explores it more fully and deeply, readers are transported by discoveries that lead to inevitable change: "One thing rang true and had been coming on for some time: the more I found myself embedded in the traditional ways of her old village—a novice to the slow-cultured pious life of the bundled women on via Fontana—the more I wanted to return to it, to live it."
Too many memoirs about such journeys gloss over the real day-by-day challenges of cultural transformation. One of the strengths to this account is that it pulls no punches, but delves right into that process: "The everyone’s fantasy of “living in Italy” was quickly dispelled by the culture shock and differences of this world to mine, or even to what Americans think as Italian life. Los Angeles’ Mulholland Drive to the Centro Storico and the legend of water; from the fountains of via Fontana to the Colorado River and the engineering feat of bringing water to the village and Los Angeles, religious, pagan, and all in between the challenges of living here then. No American shower was the least of it in my new, two-room stone house. There was no heat, no landline, no internet, no TV or radio, up to love loss and reverse immigration consequences. Leaving not the village but the USA behind."
The result is a powerful survey of family roots, national ties, and the journey Angela Paolantonio embarks on as she moves between two very different worlds; one of them both familiar and alien at the same time.
From myths and legends to romance and a form of 'reincarnated soul journey', Still Life With Saints proves even more captivating than its haunting predecessor The Ghosts of Italy. It's a top recommendation as a powerful memoir both for prior readers and newcomers interested in cross-cultural encounters and life changes.
D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
STILL LIFE WITH SAINTS (2020) joins THE GHOSTS OF ITALY (2016) as a Library Journal curated selection for the Indie Author Project (IAP) Commercial Collections Memoirs Program for Queens Public Library & Garden City Public Library, NY & the National Library database on Overdrive.
The boot-shaped peninsula of Italy conjures iconic images; gondolas under Venice’s Rialto Bridge, Michelango’s David in Florence, trendy, well-dressed tourists sipping an Aperol spritz, or visitors in Vatican City waiting to view the Sistine Chapel.
In her latest memoir, Angela Paolantonio takes us to a different Italy entirely. It is a place no less beautiful, sensual, or spellbinding, yet it is far away from the teeming crowds and four-star hotels. Angela’s Italy might even belong to a different time, as she embraces an unexplored set of values and lifestyles.
Her story takes place in Irpinia, known as the land of the wolves in Campania, 70 miles east of Naples, populated with wise and wild women, living connected to earth’s natural rhythms, where self-sufficiency and ancient wisdom rule the day.In her first memoir, The Ghosts of Italy, Angela finds her Italian soul. At the start, she lives and works as an artist agent in Los Angeles. During a vacation in Rome, she takes a quick side trip to Calitri, the ancestral home of her paternal grandparents. The book is aptly named–Angela often felt a ghostly presence, especially around her Italian relatives. In Calitri, she was swept up by forces within her, a wild matriarchal and ancient calling, that flings her from her busy, urban life to Via Fontana, the street where her grandmother was born. She buys her grandmother’s childhood two-room stone house, falls in love with an Italian man, and builds a new life in Italy’s wild south.
In her second memoir, Still Life with Saints: Italian Adventures of Magical Spirit, Angela takes us deeper into her world on Via Fontana and we experience a seasonal year in the “old village” with the “ladies of the lane,” the well-respected women, in their wild country culture, reminiscent of pre-patriarchal times. Here she lives, and walks, settles into her roots, and becomes tenderly accepted by the women of the lane.
Angela Paolantonio has always lived her life surrounded by art, and now, her muse is this wizened life on Via Fontana. In Still Life with Saints, the book cover exemplifies Angela’s eye for beauty and magic. A seasonal Red Admiral butterfly floats on a dark nocturnal background. Open the book to view the front and back covers, and see the complete painting by Giovanna Garzoni, a seventeenth-century Italian still-life artist. Angela knew it would make a perfect cover. She says, “A butterfly symbolizes the transition of the soul, the essence of my story.”
Much the same way that the Firefox series brought us deep inside Appalachian mountain culture, in Still Life with Saints, Angela seeks to record the lives and legends of the land of the wolves. “Just like many wild places, this feminine culture will die out,” Angela says. “To me, the mature women of the village define the wild woman archetype.” In their grandmotherly acceptance of her, Angela likens them to the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers. The women of Via Fontana have gathered Angela into their world; she learns of the planting, the harvest, and the saint’s days that inform the rhythms of village life. Angela writes about their traditions, folklore, daily life, and spirituality. She beautifully weaves all of it into her own, very personal story.
More than anything, Angela’s second memoir takes us deep into her inner journey. The Ghosts of Italy quickly joined the list of top Italian travel stories. Still Life with Saints: Italian Adventures of Magical Spirit, due to be released December 2020, is a journey not to be missed. Ellen Shick for Pink Pangea
Angela Paolantonio, an American expat living in Alta Irpinia, writes about Italian food, religion, community, and spirituality with an immense amount of reverence and care. Shirking the narcissism found in some personal-growth memoirs, Paolantonio focuses on her deep appreciation for the people, customs, and world around her.