When you think of a typical travel memoir, what kind of journey comes to mind? For me, it’s the picture of a woman on her own, travelling to a new place in search of something, often ineffable, and discovering something unpredictable about herself along the way. Yet, we don’t always travel on our own. There are plenty of family travel memoirs, and the latest is Pip William’s One Italian Summer.
Pip convinces her husband that they should become WWOOFers in farms around Italy, and temporarily take their two sons out of school in the Adelaide Hills of Australia in order to furnish this dream. Her goal is nothing smaller than finding the good life. Surely, those who live and work on farms Italy have found it, and Pip aims to copy their magic. It’s an intriguing, complex quest, especially with three other people to consider, manage, appease and depend on throughout the journey.
Pip learns a lot in their stay on four different farms throughout Italy, as well as their jaunts to various famous Italian cities in between farm stays. She often daydreams about what it would be like to be alone, or to live one of those shadow lives she inevitably gave up to live her current life with husband Shannon and sons Riley and Aidan. She even upholds flirtations, if only in her mind, with strangers or farm owners, and tries on the identities of the women she meets and admires who help run farms. Through this, we learn fleetingly about her past travels and dreams, what she gave up and gained through her eventual choices to move to Sydney and then Adelaide with her husband, to have her children and choose work that she found meaningful, and then draining, and how she intends to improve her lot with the help and model of others.
With each farm, Pip tries on a new life and wants it to fit, but is also honest with herself about what she knows would make her live her most fulfilling life. Pip is drawn to baking bread, which she gets to practice a bit in Italy, but is it really the baking she loves, or the time in between while waiting for the dough to rise when she can sit and write in her journal, when all is still and quiet?
As is the way of all good travel memoirs, what Pip learns by the end is not what she expects. Her sincerity is winning, as well as her humor and self-deprecation. Throughout, she is trying to find herself among all this good life in Italy, but it’s also clear that she already knows herself deeply, and a radical transformation is neither possible nor desired. Instead, it is the smaller aspects of her life that can be changed.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone thinking of WWOOFing, traveling with family, or interested in how another woman sought out the good life for her and her family, and what she came up with. Pip has a keen eye and lovely way of drawing the reader close and making you feel like a good friend. Reading her story, you will learn the difficulties, frailties, and rewards of trying to be a mother, wife, farm hand and traveller all at once.