April 1999

Under the Tuscan sun again

By Frances Mayes
By Frances Mayes
By Frances Mayes
By Frances Mayes
Review by
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Frances Mayes, the Peter Mayle of Italy, has done a difficult thing. Bella Tuscany, her second book is even better than her best-selling first. After seven summers of restoration, Mayes's beloved villa, Bramasole, needs only a few finishing touches and she can spend more time pondering The Sweet Life in Italy. Mayes looks at the world with an artist's eye and writes with a poet's lyricism; you see the verdant spring green that so enchants her, smell the lush roses, taste the fava beans fresh from the garden. As before, Mayes reads, and her Georgia-accented voice, now familiar, is a pleasure to hear again. If this doesn't make you yearn for an Italian idyll, nothing will.

Frances Mayes is, first and foremost, a poet. She once said, "When I wrote the last line of Under the Tuscan Sun, I wrote the first line of Bella Tuscany. I knew I was not through writing about Italy." She writes about the Tuscan countryside with such powerful description and sensuality, the reader is transported to the slow pace of Cortona, Italy, where one simply breathes, notices, and appreciates life's small pleasures.

Bella Tuscany continues the story of Frances and Ed's restoration of Bramasole, a 200-year-old Italian farmhouse, and their subsequent awakening to Italian culture. Every day holds a new adventure whether it be pruning olive trees, cooking mushroom ravioli, hosting house guests, traveling to Venice or Sicily, or browsing an antique market. Though Mayes is in Italy, the lesson to be learned here is that anyone, anywhere, can find amazement in the smallest object or in the most mundane place.

Mayes covers almost every aspect of Italian culture art, landscape, food, language, and history. She visits museums and reflects on the meaning and beauty of art. She buys old monogrammed linens and imagines who made them. She uncovers frescoes on the walls, wondering whose rough hands painted them. When she visits ancient monasteries she finds a spiritual kinship with those people who came before her. The sights and sounds of Tuscany often trigger Mayes's remembrance of her Southern roots, where she first realized this sense of place. The smell of lilacs or lavender in Italy take her back to her childhood in Fitzgerald, Georgia.

Bella Tuscany urges the reader to form an appreciation for the sometimes overlooked enjoyments of life from dipping weary feet in a cool Etruscan fountain on an August day, to sipping an afternoon cappuccino in a sidewalk cafe. The book evokes a series of images, paintings that capture the essence of the green, sweet, slow life in Italy. It is for anyone who has ever desired the romance of a faraway place or longed for a season of renewed possibility.

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