I remember when I first put this memoir on my “to read” list. I was
talking to a woman on an evening train from from Siena to Firenze in Tuscany.
She was an American, and happened to be in the middle of reading it—kept
saying how wonderful it was to read it while she was actually in Tuscany. Looking
out through the train window at the golden dusk over the gorgeous countryside,
which if anything was more golden and more gorgeous than the enticing image
on the cover of the book, I decided I had to read the book when I got back.
If anything could help me to relive/enhance my few days of experiencing gelato,
Michelangelo, and other Italian wonders, I was game.
Of course, due to the length and constant juggling of my “to read”
list, I didn’t actually
read this particular book until a year and a half
later. I read the bulk of it sitting on a plane to Alaska, a very different
sort of place. But sure enough, this delicious book took me back to and further
into that land of the golden dusk. It made my arrival in an equally laid back,
not quite as warm weather-wise or nearly as historical, but nearly as charming
in a different way sort of place seem even more disconcerting. Finishing the
book on the way to such a different place heightened my sense of being a traveler,
being a bit dislocated once I emerged blinking into each of the worlds, but
charmed by both. A sense that was somewhat appropriate, considering the book’s
Frances Mayes, a professor from California, writes in this book about taking
a gamble at a transition time in her life—she, with her significant other
Ed (they married in one of the books), buy a house in the hillside town of Cortona,
Italy. They then spend their summers and vacations attempting to renovate and
luxuriate in the house and to enjoy Italy in general. This book mostly deals
with her earlier Tuscan adventures with renovating the house—Bella Tuscany,
the companion book, (which I actually like a bit better—perhaps because
she has greater settledness and knowledge of her subject in it) deals more with
the luxuriation in it. I’m quite fond of both books though—they both
drag you into a culture from the eyes of an inside/outsider in Italy. Someone
who’s taken the risk of putting down strong roots in a different sort of
Looking at Italy this way—from a familiar perspective that’s moved
further ahead than most of us—gives us a truer picture of what it’s
truly like to adjust to a new culture. To not just eat the food of a country
or learn to prepare it, but to watch the local markets for what’s in season.
To not just ooh and ahh at how picturesque a villa is, but to put sweat into
making it even more beautiful. And to learn how to hire contractors to help
you without knowing the language or culture that well. Most of all, it gives
us a picture of how a culture can change you. This book will make you want to
go breathe the Italian air just to see for yourself. Which in my mind makes
it a highly recommended book.