Friday, February 26, 2010
Mini-Review of "Every Day in Tuscany" by Frances Mayes
Almost twenty years ago, the publication of Frances Mayes' "Under the Tuscan Sun" signaled the dawn of a new era in the perennial love affair between American travelers and all things Tuscan. This month, she continues her string of fascinating memoirs with "Every Day in Tuscany - Seasons of An Italian Life."
I am one of those Americans who has fallen under the spell of Tuscany - Firenze, Siena, Chianti, the Ponte Vecchio, the three versions of Michelangelo's David that can be found within Florence, the Duoma, the Uffizi. I absorbed the sights, sounds and flavors of this book with great gusto. If, after reading Mayes' latest offering, you are not tempted to book a trip to Italy this summer, then I will be surprised.
The structure of this latest memoir is set between the bookends of Mayes' arrival with her poet husband, Ed, in Cortona for their annual season in Tuscany at her beloved villa of Bramasole and their departure for their winter home in North Carolina. In her chronicling of the intervening months, she leads her readers down a leisurely path that introduces them to some of the colorful characters in town, her life-embracing neighbors, the kitchens of some of the best cooks in the world, and the vineyards and olive groves of the surrounding hillside towns.
Another thread that weaves together her meandering narratives is her love for the paintings of Luca Signorelli. She and Ed visit many Tuscan towns to have another look at some of her favorite Signorelli paintings and frescoes. Spicing up the pages of each chapter are recipes that Mayes has gleaned from treasured Italian friends, and words and phrases from the colorful Italian language. Her use of these phrases is wonderfully instructive, rather than intrusive.
She describes in loving detail some wonderful places I look forward to visiting - townsal like Urbino, Citta di Castello, Sansepolchro, Umbertide, Perugia.
When she first made the investment in the crumbling Bramasole, Mayes was regrouping after a divorce. The town folks embraced her - but cautiously. Along the way, there have been occasional indications that she was still viewed as an outsider. But the anecdotes she shares in this latest memoir make it clear that as a byproduct of her investment in the community of Cortona - and in her serving an evangelist for the ethos and frame of mind that is Tuscany - the Tuscans have now embraced her wholeheartedly as a valued member of the community and family. She describes the subtle growth and evolution of her own mind set about Tuscany - its people, its foods, its wines, its history, its joys and challenges.
This book is a total delight - like a warm and comforting taste of freshly pressed extra virgin olive oil. I encourage you to read it if you love Tuscany - or are open to being seduced by its multi-sensory beauty and charming homeliness.