A New Narrative in Travel Writing: Bella Figura

“My only ambition now was to live as well as the Italians”

Bella Figura, Kamin Mohammadi

A couple months ago, I walked into a Hudson store in the Port Authority bus terminal desperately searching for something to read on the commute home. After browsing for a little while, I gravitated to a beautiful book cover with a sketch of a dark-haired Florentine woman. The figure of the woman was both casual and classy, a strikingly elegant beauty. This is the kind of beauty that we crave to achieve. Beauty that you can’t buy, but you must feel from within. I wanted it. Scrawled in a wispy cursive across the front is the title, Bella Figura: How to Live, Love, and Eat the Italian Way. Without so much as skimming the synopsis, I grabbed the book off the shelf and bought it. They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but in this instance it worked in my favor.

Bella Figura follows the life of the author, Kamin Mohammadi. In 2007, Kamin suddenly finds herself jobless after years of working a corporate media job in London. Her dearest friend is planning to move imminently. Her longtime boyfriend has recently broken up with her. As her life undergoes a series of unwelcome changes, a unique opportunity presents itself; An acquaintance offers Kamin a vacant apartment in Florence temporarily. Desperate for a change of scenery, Kamin tentatively leaves her old life behind. As she phrases it, “my life, when it all came down to it, had proved surprisingly easy to put away” (17). In Florence, Kamin finds a much-needed escape from the hectic London lifestyle. With the beauty and charm of Tuscany as a backdrop, Kamin can finally pursue her true passion, writing. Over the course of one year, she develops a love for the Italian way of life. Her experience in Florence rejuvenates her from the inside out. She attains beauty by cultivating that from within. Throughout her process of self-discovery, Kamin cultivates a community of friends and finds a home for herself in Florence.

Although it is advertised as a travel memoir, the book focuses on taking pleasure in every day life. Kamin tries to embody this Italian ideology of “bella figura” and encourages her readers to do the same. Kamin titles each chapter as a “How to,” such as “How to Taste the Sweetness of Life” and “How to Take Pleasure in Yourself”. True to these chapter titles, the book feels like a self-care book even more so than a travel book. Kamin invites readers to join her in the self-care journey. For example, Kamin learns how to cook and is constantly trying new recipes throughout her time in Florence. To engage her readers, she includes recipes at the end of each chapter for the readers to try themselves. Self-care also takes many forms for Kamin. She demonstrates self-care by getting a fresh haircut, spending much needed alone time, going on dates, meeting new friends, trying new foods, and going on walks. I think it is important to show the range and the accessibility of self-care. Although she has the privilege of Italy as her backdrop, most of the things she recommends are easily doable for all readers no matter their lifestyle. I would recommend this book to anyone who feels unfulfilled or lost. I recommend this book for anyone who wants to take pleasure in every day life but struggles to prioritize that into their day-to-day hustle. Kamin crafts a beautiful book filled with rich observations. Readers will find a welcome escape by trying this book. They will also find great advice and great insight by following the Italian principle of creating a bella figura.

The outstanding feature in the book that separates Bella Figura from similar travel books is Kamin, herself. As it says in the author’s bio, Mohammadi was born in Iran, and she was forced to move to the United Kingdom in 1979. Throughout the book, Mohammadi relates her experiences in Florence to her childhood memories in Iran. At the book’s start, there is a sense of driftlessness in the author, a woman who never found a home after leaving Iran. Through travel, Kamin talks about how she is able to reconnect with her Iranian roots. The city of Florence becomes her home away from home in a way that London never could be. When she writes about London, she describes a drab city with dull food. London is a cosmopolitan city where people are too busy and too stressed out to enjoy life. Florence reconnects Kamin with her past. She lovingly remembers Tehran as she walks the streets of Florence. She recalls the traditional Iranian meals that her mother made for her as a child as she learns to cook for herself. At the onset, I worried that Bella Figura was just another Eat, Pray, Love. I didn’t want to read the book unless it offered a new and interesting narrative in travel writing. Mohammadi breathes life into what it means to be a travel writer. Bella Figura succeeds because the author did not travel to Italy to act as a passive observer or a passing tourist; She came searching for a new way of life and a home, something which she had not been able to find since she was forced to leave Iran as a girl.

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