I am a fan of Frances Mayes first book, "Under the Tuscan Sun" and thought I would really enjoy this book, but I was rather disappointed and had a lot of mixed feelings about it. The things I liked about her writing style is that she sometimes writes with a kind of flourish, lyrical and almost poetic in her descriptions. But I didn't like that this book read more like a blog more than a story of her life there. Sometimes it felt like a lot of random thoughts that didn't have much of a direction. It had a "thrown together" feel. Rather than feeling involved in the book like I did with her first one, I found it difficult to concentrate on it. It took me weeks to get through and I actually started and finished a couple other books while I was reading it.
I liked the recipes that were included and loved the idea of the Italians eating fresh and seasonally available foods. I liked her description of people eating and enjoying life rather than over analyzing everything they put in their mouths like many of us do here. She had many descriptions of simple meals that went on for hours, of food being a celebration rather than just a means of nourishment. This she conveyed well.
What I didn't like was her description of "ex-pats" and tourists in Italy which came off as being condescending. Although she has owned a home there for many years, from what I've read she lives both there and in the U.S. during different parts of the year and it seems likely that the Italians would put her in that same "ex-pat" category. The book reads like an American living in Italy not as someone who is really a part of the community.
I thought the long discussions of her trips around the country to see the art of Luca Signorelli were just plain tedious. Perhaps including photos of his works would have made it more interesting but her descriptions weren't enough to hold my interest and instead of drawing me in, my mind just wandered. I would rather have read more about the different towns, many of which I've visited, and gotten more of an insider's view rather than the tourist's view that she provided.
I loved her descriptions of her grandson Willie's experiences when he came to visit. You could feel her love for him in her writing and had an idea of his amazement with Italy as seen through a child's eyes. I could also feel her sense of loss when his vacation was over and he had to leave.
If I could have given the book 2 ½ stars, that would have been my rating, but giving the book the benefit of the doubt I'm giving it 3. I really wanted to like this book more than I did.
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.
I received this uncorrected proof from the Amazon Vine program, and was looking forward to a book like Under the Tuscan Sun. However, in the 20 years since Frances Mayes bought Bramasole, she has become one of those expats who have lived somewhere long enough to imagine they are "native" and somehow superior to the tourists who visit. I was surprised when I began reading this book to realize that the innocence and sense of wonder from the first book was gone, and that she has basically a shallow life of gazing at paintings and attending five hour feasts with influential locals who have taken her into the bosom of their families.
Things I liked about her book:
- She still has a very colorful and visual way of describing the towns, food, gardens, and people of Tuscany. Her book is written to loosely follow the seasons, from the time they arrive in spring from the USA to when they shutter up the house and return to the USA in winter. One can almost smell the blooming flowers and dusty hot streets of Cortona from her writing.
- She included many recipes for authentic Italian food, several of which which I plan to try.
- I was pleased to read that so many Italians keep backyard orchards, gardens, rabbits and chickens. This is how "slow food" is meant to be - locally raised, freshly harvested and prepared at home. Our American fast food diet could learn a lot from this lifestyle.
- She obviously loves her grandson very much, and enjoys seeing the world through his eyes.
Things I disliked about her book:
- Luca Signorelli, the Renaissance painter, is mentioned on just about every page. At one point I felt like reminding the author that she has a husband already, and that Luca has been dead for 400 years. Try to move on.
- Wine, wine, wine. I know it's an important part of Italian cuisine, but she goes way overboard on descriptions of wine at every meal. She tosses around the name, vintage and vintner of every wine she comes across as if anyone but a Tuscan would recognize them.
- She is somewhat pretentious in describing how she and her husband are invited to wine tastings at private vineyards, given use of private residences on their travels, and are dear friends of all the best people in town. She devoted a whole chapter to the time she was introduced to Robert Redford at some artsy fete and came to call him Bob.
- Mayes and her husband evidently do nothing except go to dinner parties, attend the opera and theater, stay in quaint little hotels in resort towns, pick herbs and vegetables from their garden (tended by a gardener), gaze at paintings in museums, meet friends for coffee in the piazza, and plan what to eat at the next meal.
- She considers herself a (celebrity) resident of Cortona, and yet not once does she mention doing any kind of community service or donating to local charities. Is there no orphanage, old age home or soup kitchen that could use some help? With her connections and money, she could do a lot of good. I guess that would interrupt her dinner party schedule.
- She mentions throughout the book that they have hired hands to tend the garden and orchard, to do landscaping and house repairs, and a woman to help cook and clean inside. I'm not sure how she can feel such a soul connection to Bramasole when she never gets her hands dirty taking care of it.
- One of her French expat friends from the early years in Cortona dies, and she laments being out of touch with him for so many years. She goes to the cemetery and roams around looking for his grave (while talking about Signorelli, naturally), but doesn't find it. This one story was so telling to me. Had she not kept in touch with anyone from her early days, especially fellow expats? Nobody in town could tell her about his funeral or grave? Is she so immersed in being Tuscan that her old friends don't matter?
I probably would have bought this book since I loved her first one so much, but I would have been disappointed in it. I have lived all over the world and have enjoyed learning about different foods, cultures, languages and religions. I hope I never came across to any other expats or the locals the way Frances Mayes come across to me - rich, pretentious and shallow.
on March 29, 2010
Tsk, Tsk, Tsk! In Frances Mayes new book, "Every Day in Tuscany", she has become the quintessential "Ugly American". Her foot-stamping, petition-signing tantrum over the building of a swimming pool for the locals within sight of her view from the terrace of Bramasole left me with a feeling of deep embarassment. She is the sort of American I shy away from when I go to Europe. She has become a self-absorbed ex-pat and I fear the Tuscan sun has set on her novels for me forever. I'm so glad I read "Every Day in Tuscany" in the book store and did not spend my good American dollars on a book that was such a huge disappointment. I relished every word of "Under the Tuscan Sun" but Frances needs to move on. I have.
Let's get to the bottom line right off the bat - I think this subject matter has run its course for this author.
I absolutely adored "Under the Tuscan Sun" and passed my copy around to anyone who would take it and recommended it to anyone who would listen. When "Bella Tuscany" came out, I snatched it up and enjoyed it as well. Both of these books are still on my bookshelf after multiple purges and many, many trips to the used book store to sell books I no longer want. When this one was made available to read, I grabbed it thinking it was time to revisit Tuscany. It has been twenty years since "Under the Tuscan Sun" and I can hardly believe it.
This particular installment is more of the same and yet very different from the others at the same time. Ms. Mayes shares her life in Tuscany with the reader in such a way as to feel like you are there with her - that's the good part. Very flowery language but it somehow fits the subject versus feeling overdone. That ability to draw pictures with words is a hallmark of all three Tuscany books and an incredible gift she has. I also truly enjoyed the inclusion of her daughter and grandson this time. The love for her family just glows from the pages.
What I didn't like about the book:
* It feels like the author is just rambling along and whatever she thinks, she writes
* There is no structure or purpose to the book
* The wonderful stories of the people populating Tuscany are largely missing
* The emphasis on food is way overdone (recipes are included) and just took over the book
* The are pages devoted to describing paintings by Italian artists and I found myself not caring
As I said at the beginning, I think she has done all she can with this topic and needs to quit while she is still ahead. The repetitive and rambling nature of the book wore on me over time.
on April 16, 2010
First off I would like to see this author expand horizons. Because the author has written on Tuscany before I expected there to be a lot of repetiveness in this book and there was. Also, I did not like the Blog-style of the book. I felt like it was something I have read before countless times. Travel books on Tuscany have become so excessive that most of the new books probably seem to be repetitive. Overall, I felt it was a dull and predictable book.
on July 16, 2010
I struggled through the first 100 pages and quit - too many other good things on my reading list. This would work well for a blog, not a book. I wouldn't call this a memoir either; more like "Dear Diary, this is what I did today in Italy" only dressed up with lots of adjectives. Don't spend the money, don't borrow it from the library.
I really tried to like this book. I kept putting it down and picking it back up---and that's exactly what I didn't like about it. Pretty much you could pick a page anywhere and read it out of sequence and it wouldn't really matter. There's not a whole lot of sequential story going on---mostly just Ms. Mayes' stream-of-consciousness commentary about wherever she happens to be.
She tries to tie it together by bringing up an Italian artist now and then (Luca Signorelli). To me, this link was too forced.
Also, there are passages that, whether it was her intention or not, seem primarily like name dropping. Great that she got to discuss literature with Robert Redford, but what did they actually *say*?
Finally, there are recipes. This seems to be a trend now; I just finished reading Lunch in Paris (which is a tight, energetic memoir I did enjoy) and it had recipes also. I don't have time to make my own pasta (nor do I have my own bread oven!) but readers may enjoy this feature. It seemed a bit gimmicky to me.
If you have read her other books, which I have not, then you will probably relish this book as a chance to visit with an old friend. If you are familiar with the area, that may capture you as well. The rest of us may want to give this one a miss; I won't be passing it on to friends.
If Eleanor Lavish had a blog, it would look a lot like "Every Day in Tuscany." The book is a collection of vignettes from Frances Mayes, famed for her Tuscan life and home renovations. There is little narrative and no chronology. There are some loose themes, such as Renaissance art, architecture, food and more food. On the whole, there's nothing holding the book together. It really feels as if Mayes sat down every day to floridly describe her convivial meals with neighbors or her pleasant day trips around the countryside, and that's about it. I found myself parodying it my head, and I realized that EM Forster already had this down pat with dear Miss Lavish in A Room with a View.
on February 25, 2010
Oh, that I could live the happy, hapless life of Frances Mayes. Wandering down tree-lined paths, shopping at the market in the piazza, going to fabulous dinners in hidden cafés, receiving approving nods and glances from italian neighbors, having flowers brought to me by natives, gathering fresh fruit and herbs in my private gardens while renovating yet another home in Italy. Reading her blog in book form is like living in a dream of rich, bourgeois splendor...
And that's exactly the problem I have with this book. It's like an endless Calgon commercial. The only thing missing was Fabio, waiting between the sheets at the end. Instead we get Ed, the handy, helpful husband who's always there to do a bit of cooking or open a bottle of serendipity.
Instead of SOME kind of story or thread to help keep this book from floating away like a gossamer hallucination, Mayes gives us flowery paragraphs of her life. Some pages are random thoughts which don't even seem to relate to one another. A few chapters of this type are fine, but please, Frances, where's the "salsicce"? A person can only take so much shopping, wandering and gathering.
Aside from a brief episode involving a threatening letter accompanied by a handgranade, there wasn't much real meat in this book. If there had been some kind of underlying STORY here, I would have been more engrossed. As it was, I read this book at many sittings, watching someone else savor the good life while waiting for the end. I wanted to visit the real Tuscany in my mind during a cold February, but instead I mistakenly bit the wrong side of the mushroom and ended up in Mayes' Wonderland, living the charmed life of Frances and knowing full well that if I were to go to Tuscany, my visit would not be anything like what I read simply because it can't possibly be as dreamy as she purports.
The one high mark I can give this "diary" is her decision to include a few recipes, although many of them involve ingredients that are difficult to find. For those, Mayes earns a star and her descriptive writing earns her another. But what could have really moved this review up to a 4 or 5 is the missing underlying theme that ties the whole together.