by Melinda Gallo

Jeff Shapiro at the Teatro del Sale

This morning I went to the Teatro del Sale to attend a book discussion group. I received an email from Jeff Shapiro, the author of "Renato's Luck," in which he said that he was coming to Florence to talk about his novel with this book discussion group, and he welcomed me to come along.

I was really excited to be able to hear him speak again and have looked forward to it for the past few days after I got his email. I had met Jeff at the McRae's bookstore when he talked about his other novel, "The Secrets of Sant'Angelo."

I love Jeff's novels as I feel that he writes with an authentic Tuscan voice that represents its villages and its people. He captures the characters and the language better than anyone else I've read. Reading his novels, I feel almost as if I live in the Tuscan village that he writes about.

I had never been to the Teatro del Sale, but had walked past it many times. I walked inside the large doors and was surprised to find an entrance filled with a handful of people. There was a long row of shelves on the right wall filled with jars of marmelata (jam) and bottles of vino. It reminded me of a general store that I've seen in the movies. One woman behind the counter called out to me, "Mi dica." (Tell me). I told her that I was there for a book discussion group and she handed me the list of rules for the circolo (club). After I read over them, she gave me a modulo (form) to fill out. I paid 10 Euros to join the club for the year and 5 Euros for colazione (breakfast).

I was instructed to walk back into the large room where tables were set up. A few people were already enjoying their colazione (breakfast) and in the was a large stage with a grand piano. The stage is probably used for the dinner shows that I had heard about.

Along the wall on the right side was a kitchen with huge windows behind which the cuochi (cooks) were busy working. A large buffet table was set out with different types of bread, butter, various marmelate, cereal, tea, coffee, juice, and delicious torte (cakes).

Because I didn't know anyone, I sat down at a table by myself and selected a few things to eat from the buffet table. I saw another table with a lot of people, but I wasn't sure if they were a part of the book discussion group or not. I sat back down and ate while I waited for Jeff to arrive.

Jeff arrived as I sat down at the larger table with the book discussion group. I met a few of the people before Jeff began speaking, but we didn't have much time to talk as we were all looking forward to listening to Jeff talk about his novel.

We were all mesmerized by Jeff's intriguing discussion of his novel. We were all enchanted with his anecdotes about living in a countryside town outside of Siena. He is one of the rare Americans that has a charming Tuscan accent when he speaks Italian.

Most of the people left around 11AM, but a few of us stayed longer to hear Jeff speak some more. After another half hour, we had to let Jeff get back to his life. We walked out of the Teatro del Sale together and walked our separate ways.

I was so happy that I was invited to the book discussion group as I had only heard about them, but had never participated before. It was, of course, a special treat to have the author of the novel come to speak to the group as well. Now, I just hope he completes a third novel so he can come back again to speak to us all.

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