Guest Editor, Jane Rowley
All those carbs and a lifestyle almost entirely focused on food and its preparation has left Penelope Green, author of Girl by Sea, absolutely & svelte. Dressed in slim black pants and a tank top that accentuates tanned and toned arms, it\’s ludicrous to think her boyfriend\’s affectionate nickname for her is â€˜chunky\’! Â “As any female will know there are days when they just feel a bit chunky,” laughs Penny.Â “I was saying to Alfonso, â€˜I feel a bit chunky\’ and he sort of looked at me. Chunky or the way you pronounce it in the Neapolitan dialect means hips,” she explains. The bi-lingual joke stuck, although having a boyfriend that now and again calls you â€˜chunky\’ in public, raises a few eyebrows.
It was boyfriends, or rather, the lack of any decent prospects and a sense of frustration with her job as a publicity manager that motivated Penny to radically alter her life path. Â “On paper (it was) a very glamorous job but my heart wasn’t in it,” recalls Penny.Â “I’d also split up with a guy and I was just sick of going out with guys.”Â When most of us feel restless and unhappy we resort to chocolate, a new hairdo or maybe treat ourselves to a holiday, but not Penny; she went to live in Italy.
After a three month intensive language course Penny set herself up in Rome and plunged into life as a Roman.Â Her first book When in Rome recounts her adventures and pursuit of a new life. It was while living in Naples and researching her second book, See Naples and Die, that Penny met Alfonso, a musician and excellent cook.Â In Girl by Sea Penny describes their life on the tiny island Procida, an hour\’s ferry ride from Naples.Â This is the Italy all tourists hanker after.Â Small friendly family-run restaurants and bars and shop-keepers who take the time to describe the best way to cook the special of the day, all jostled together in the requisite centuries old pastel coloured village with steep cobblestone streets, clinging to the hillside around a picturesque harbour.
But Penny Green\’s book is no amused report of quaint locals and their disengaged, slightly backward lives rather; it is a celebration of a culture which values family, friendship and food.Â She craves â€˜belonging\’ and her efforts at carving a meaningful life on the tiny island become the material for Girl by Sea. From festivals that celebrate centuries of heritage to how residents of Procida cope with their relative isolation.Â Penny has a talent for drawing out people\’s stories which she brings together to create a montage of modern Italy.
Initially Alfonso\’s presence helps ease them into the tight-knit community of Procida but it soon becomes clear Penny will be spending more time alone. Â “Alfonso quickly became the chef in our household because he’s a very good cook,” explains Penny.Â “When he left the island for a couple of months I nagged a gorgeous woman called Elisa to teach me to cook.Â I’d just go around to her house and watch her cook every lunchtime or dinner and just picked up things.Â I’d always been very rigid with my cooking but now I’m much more experimental and I think that comes from just cooking and spending more time in the kitchen.”
Penny doesn\’t keep the secret of mouth-watering Italian food to herself.Â Sprinkled throughout her book are twelve of her favourite recipes enabling the reader to cook their way into a vicarious Italian experience.Â But it\’s the secrets of the heart that keep you reading Girl by Sea.Â Like so many of us Penny is searching for her place in the world, nurturing a romance into a loving partnership, forming friendships and discovering the essence of happiness.Â These travels and discoveries she shares generously with her reader. “I’ve definitely re-found my sense of independence and confidence,” says Penny. “I tend to take things too seriously sometimes but being in Italy really I just felt like I loosened up a lot and learnt to enjoy life a lot more.”
Girl by Sea is a tonic for anyone who wonders if they are brave enough to take a new path in life. “If you are really at a point in your life where you are just feeling dead inside and nothing is stimulating you, I think you need to go away to perhaps appreciate what you have in your life,” says Penny thoughtfully.Â For those of us who believe in kismet this book is also an affirmation that somewhere, out there; there is a place, a person to love and a life for all of us.Â “I’m just a big believer that we can overcome any hurdle if the dream is there,” says Penny smiling. “I think you can only gain from any experience where you throw yourself out there and go to a new country.Â It’s an expansive mind broadening experience so I’d say go for it.”
Available now:Â Hachette RRP$35.00
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- Giveaway: Girl By Sea | 3 November , 2009