Friday, November 25, 2011

Italy On My Mind

Hey Readers!

Hope your Thanksgiving day was a memorable one! We kept it chill here ourselves, which was nice. Having just had our wedding last month, we didn't really have the funds to travel out to in-laws so we stuck to the homefront and counted our blessings here :-)

The air here is starting to turn icy, so in response I turn to my "armchair vacation" kind of books - I suppose any book could qualify as such really but I focus on travel writing or books in sunny locales specifically. It took me a bit longer than anticipated, but I worked through Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. Wasn't quite as poetic as I was hoping. Mayes is a talented travel writer, absolutely, but for some reason I wasn't expecting quite such minute detail on construction projects on her Italian villa, Bramasole (which she explains translates to "to yearn for the sun"). I did realize when I started the book that it was about the renovation of the house for the most part but I thought there'd be a little more about the actual town the house was in and the people there. She does talk about them some but it's mostly her business interactions with them.

This book had an amazing run of 2 1/2 YEARS on the
New York Times Bestsellers List!
Mayes is mainly known as a travel writer
but has also written a novel entitled Swan

Parts of the book just came off a bit dry, not to mention the fact that she sometimes fixated on odd things and then went on for pages about some tangent thought (ie. towards the end of the book she has quite a long, not always clear rant regarding religions of the world that feels like it came out of left field with everything else going on). Well within her right, as it is a memoir and who's to tell you what you can't say in your own memoir, right? Some of the minutiae just wasn't my cup o' tea, that's all. Still, I do like her style when she does describe areas she visits in between construction jobs.

Bramasole - Mayes' villa in Cortona, Italy -
Mayes tells of the renovators using the phrase "Petra, Siempre Petra"
(Stone, Always Stone!) while digging up rock around the foundation and garden areas -
I can certainly relate to that problem in my garden! 

The nook for religious offerings described in Under The Tuscan Sun

Frances Mayes

Mayes said -- and I can completely understand
 as it took me time to learn myself - "I'm beginning
to trust that the gods are not going to snatch my firstborn
if I happen to enjoy my life."

For those of you who might remember the film adaptation of this book starring Diane Lane (one of my favorite actresses) - I'll tell you right now that while Lane "plays" Mayes in the movie, the movie bears almost no resemblance at all to the real life story of Mayes.  That being said, the film is still a beautiful movie on its own merits! Just don't expect an exact translation, 'cause it ain't even close - about the only thing they stuck to was some names and an Italian locale.

Cortona, Italy

Diane Lane & Raoul Bova in Under The Tuscan Sun -
In reality, Mayes did not have a quick fling with a hot Italian
 but was already very much with her husband Ed. 

Lane's on-screen adaptation of Frances Mayes
There were a number of cultural things Mayes mentions that I found interesting - she discusses the lives of saints quite a bit (I too have a fascination with them), as well as the local festivals such as Ferragosto and the various Sagra festivals. She mentions the ever-present Fiats (becoming oh so popular here in the States now) and the Alfa Romeos zipping along the countryside, the sight of Capuchin monks in brown robes and white caps (the inspiration for the cappuccino drink) and visiting the Basilica Santa Margherita - which, when I looked it up online, I discovered is STUNNING inside!


Alfa Romeo

The name "cappuccino" comes from the sight of Capuchin monks
 in brown robes and white caps. 

Interior view of Basilica Santa Margherita 

Mayes and her husband Ed spend quite a bit of time traveling to different towns around Italy, finding wines to stock in their wine cellar at Bramasole. I, myself, am not a huge wine afficianado, so my mind glazed over those descriptions but the way she made the buildings, ruins, even the dishes in restaurants seem so tactile was really impressive. Just on this quality alone, I am sure I will pick up her other Tuscany themed books one day. I did also read her memoir A Year In The World, in which she spends a year traveling to all her dream destinations. I enjoyed Tuscan Sun overall, but I got infinitely more out of Year In The World  but as far as discussing that book here, I want to break that one up into sections by the countries she visits, as there's a good bit of cool stuff there to talk about!