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Synopsis: "What is the Mediterranean? A thousand and one things at the same time. Not just one landscape, but innumerable landscapes. Not one sea, but a series of seas. Not one civilization, but civilizations piled up one upon the other." (Fernand Braudel) This is all true, but the great paradox of the Mediterranean is that, despite the fact that the region is so varied, it presents itself as a single, coherent image, a system where everything blends together as one unified entity. In order to explain this paradoxical cohesion, the author leads us on an exploration of the many different features that make up the geographical, philosophical, and cultural identity of the Mediterranean. In particular, a quest is set for those elements that constitute what Roland Barthes referred to, in speaking of Cy Twombly's work, as the "Mediterranean effect."

From Booklist: For art historian Girard, his beloved Mediterranean is an "idealized dreamscape, a sentimental geography," a place wide open to the sort of dynamic interpretation and celebration that transpires within the covers of this unique, ingenious, colorful, and sophisticated volume. Girard begins with a lithe history of the region and its maps and then moves on to cover centuries' worth of regional representations. Diversely styled landscapes give way to lively analyses of Mediterranean narratives, such as Ulysses and The Thousand and One Nights; various archetypal figures--the monarch, odalisque, and fisherman; quintessential locales; and the arts, which, in keeping with his sensuous approach, include cuisine and gardening. These categories are wonderfully and aptly dishabille and energetically illustrated with a great range of reproductions, including Roman mosaics; works by Ingres, Corot, Matisse, Picasso, and Magritte; and lots of photographs, including portraits of Gina Lollobrigida and Anna Magnani. Girard's thoroughly enjoyable approach to a place so often burdened by historical reference is as refreshing as it is enlightening. Donna Seaman
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