Volumptuousness of Italian life
“I thought I was strange to feel this way. Since I've
met so many people who read Under the Tuscan Sun, I've found out
that lots of people feel this way. It's complicated but feels so
very easy. The warmth of the people, the human scale of the
towns, the robust food, yes, but I've begun to think, too, that
it's the natural connection with art, the natural exposure to
beauty on a day-to-day basis.” –Frances Mayes
Frances Mayes presents a sensual celebration of Tuscany with
hypnotic descriptions of culinary bliss and everyday rituals on
long days when she savors the sun. This is creative writing
heaven! She is not only a best-selling author, widely published
poet and gourmet cook; she is also a travel writer who can
describe lands and culture in sensuous and evocative language.
Halfway into the book, I became heady with the desire to just
run away to Tuscany. I want to write like her, I want to think
like her, I am intoxicated by her creativity.
I first fell in love with creative writing when my teacher in
Africa explained metaphors to me. It is no wonder I have just
completely fallen in love with Frances Mayes' writing style. I
also discovered she is a creative writing professor at San
Francisco State University and has directed The Poetry Center
and chaired the Department of Creative Writing.
Frances first started visiting Tuscany when she was fresh out
of college. In 1985, she rented a farmhouse for the first time
and enjoyed going to the local markets to buy suntan lotion and
culinary specialties. After this visit, she and Ed rented
various farmhouses around Tuscany and finally decided to buy
Frances Mayes gives a vivid and compelling account of how she
bought and started restoring this farmhouse in Tuscany. “Under
the Tuscan Sun” is really an outgrowth of the diary she kept
about her experiences when she first moved to Italy.
She sees homes as metaphors for the self and gives herself to
decorating and renovating them with a certain passion. "The
houses that are important to us," she writes, "are the
ones that allow us to dream in peace."
In sumptuous detail, Frances Mayes describes her home and
Italy like a delicate poem as she balances enjoyment of life
with responsibility to finishing an extensive renovation. Her
writing shows she is most at home in Italy and enjoys immersing
herself in words that describe her private escape. She is living
the fantasy and sharing every delicious bit of her joy in this
I love her observations about life. While they sometimes have
little to do with Tuscany, they are enlightening. Through
gorgeous descriptions, she says: “Life is beautiful, take deep
breathes, enjoy food and pleasure.” Through intimate
reflection, she considers how life changes so we can go forward
in our thinking.
She writes about tours of ancient churches and towns,
fig-pollinating wasps, the ancient tile roof, books with blue
leather binding, art, festivals, walks through the piazza,
gardens and even gives us her precious recipes.
Then she continues to describe lush fruits, vegetables, and
flowers, olive groves, orchards, and vineyards violet blue
hazes, pelting rain, green landscapes, olive oil, hot
waterfalls, olive wood fires, cool walks through chestnut
forests, blood oranges, jars of plum jam, mascarpone custard,
cherries, bees burrowing in pears, pecorino cheese, fertile
earth rich as chocolate cake, wild strawberries, white peaches,
fresh herbs and baskets for picking tomatoes.
Thankfully I had some fruit cobbler and pecorino in the
refrigerator or I would have gone half mad not being able to
taste fruit and cheese after listening to the completely
A similar house in Tuscany
She also vividly captures a humorous moment when she has
cement poured all over her head and gives a hilarious recounting
of her first wall-building endeavor. She paints evocative
descriptions of nearby Cortona, thinks about Elizabeth David’s
recipe for peach marmalade and considers passages from books by
Henry James and D.H. Lawrence. Her knowledge of the world is
impressive and fascinating. I even learned an interesting and
amusing fact about James Joyce.
I’m going to admit that a few times while listening to the
unabridged version narrated by Barbara Caruso, the writing was
so beautiful I was at times overwhelmed. I believe many of us
feel a deep need to live in an almost rural community where
people actually care about their neighbors or at least talk to
them. Frances is now an honorary citizen of the town.
At the end, she starts to talk about her life growing up in
the South and focuses on religion and even makes a few
observations about the sensual life and afternoon naps. There
are moments throughout the book when she stops to compare her
Californian and past Georgian existence with this Italian
While some may say this is domestic sensuality at its best, I
think it is love. Love for the land, love of food and love of
life. Frances Mayes sees beauty in life and this book will be
equally loved by those who also share the desire to find beauty
in the simplicity of existence. Many have read this book and
have changed their lives. The descriptions of life that moves at
a slower pace have the power to make you want to leave America
fast and arrive in Tuscany early.
Read or listen and then plan your escape! I’ve just printed
out information about a farmhouse in Tuscany. I shall continue
to dream. I’m also going to go make some Biscotti!
A lyrical account of a love affair with Italy you will never
Additional books you might want to possess:
The Best American Travel Writing 2002
Bella Tuscany: The Sweet Life in Italy
This review is for the book and the unabridged recorded book
version narrated by Barbara Caruso. The Barbara Caruso version
can be rented by calling 1-800-638-1304
~The Rebecca Review .