Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Just finished reading...

...UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN by Frances Mayes.

Before I left for Tuscany two months ago, I wanted to read UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN by Frances Mayes but I was busy with the Huysmans book À REBOURS (in case you missed it, see my review here). But I returned from my visit to Italy with the Tuscan countryside freshly imprinted onto my imagination, and read Mayes’ book with firsthand knowledge.

Part travelogue, part home remodeling chronicle, part cookbook and part prose poem ode to Tuscany, it is by turns informative, funny, touching and thought-provoking. She records the journey of finding a property in Tuscany to buy (a house that comes with the name of Bramasole, which in Italian means “to yearn for the sun”), and recounts the trials and tribulations of restoring a structure that is surely hundreds of years old. The extra-trying issues of getting permits from a government that seems to prize slowness and inefficiency, and tradesmen who take weeks off at a time for a saint’s feast day are ultimately worth it though, as she and her partner Ed transform the house into a place full of meaning and memory.

Her passages where she muses about life in Tuscany and how people live it is a bit like cultural anthropology with Mayes playing Margaret Mead, trying to figure out how the natives live and why they do what they do. Something about life in this area resonates with her though, and she begins the process of understanding and assimilating. It gives those with little or no experience of Tuscany a great introduction.

And the passages where she describes the sights and smells of the land around her are at once lovely and obviously inadequate since it is difficult to match in words the passion and intensity of something so vital and real and complex.

I especially enjoyed her thoughts on the meaning of "home" as she compares her upbringing in rural Georgia to Tuscany, and meditates on the nature of "home" itself. But don't misunderstand... this is not philosophy or great literature. She does not delve as much as skim.

Recommend? Certainly. It is light, summer reading…


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