Calabria is the toe of the boot that is Italy -- a rugged peninsula where grapevines and fig and olive trees cling to the mountainsides during scorching summers. Calabria is also a seedbed of Italian-American culture; in North America, more people of Italian heritage trace their roots to Calabria than to almost any other region in Italy.
Mark Rotella's Stolen Figs -- named a Best Travel Book of 2003 by Condé Nast Traveler -- is a marvelous evocation of Calabria. A grandson of Calabrese immigrants, Rotella persuades his father to visit the region for the first time in thirty years; once there, he meets Giuseppe, a postcard photographer who becomes his guide. As they travel around the region, Giuseppe initiates Rotella -- and the reader -- into its secrets: how to make a soppressata and 'nduja, and, of course, how to steal a fig without committing a crime. Stolen Figs is a model travelogue -- at once charming and wise, and full of an earthy and unpretentious sense of life that now, as ever, characterizes Calabria and its people.