Book 9: Bella Tuscany – Frances Mayes

You can’t help but love the way Frances Mayes writes her books. You can tell she has a background in literature, but truly loves writing. Her rich descriptions and colorful asides take her beautiful memoirs from just being books to being journeys. Having read Under the Tuscan Sun and A Year in the World, when I found out Ms. Mayes was speaking as part of the Lowell Lecture Series at the Boston Public Library I had to go and listen. I had a brief opportunity to speak with her after the lecture about A Year in the World and her growing up in the South, however it is her time and writings in Tuscany which brought her into the public eye and to Boston in particular.

In Bella Tuscany we once again join Ms. Mayes and her partner Ed and their various friends, acquaintances and neighbors in Tuscany. We are immediately reintroduced to Bramasole, their house, which is almost a character in its own right with a unique and quirky personality. Although it has been a few years since I read Under the Tuscan Sun, the similarities in the beautiful writing style and the ill temperament of Bramasole remain. There are a couple of sad portions of the memoir, but the ebb and flow of life in San Francisco and Cortona, Italy show that with sadness comes change and the future.

I enjoyed this volume of her memoirs almost as much as Under the Tuscan Sun. This was in essence a crash course in Italian art, architecture, villa maintenance, language and food. It clearly builds upon her first memoir, but highlights the little differences of having spent many more seasons working and living in Tuscany. Rather than facing a daunting new task and foreign everything, we experience Mayes joy and wonderment about the ordinary. We travel further afield from Bramasole and receive more insight into the life and experience of living in another country.

Her descriptions from tiles and linens to the tastes of food and the age shown on people’s hands and faces are so beautifully crafted images slowly appear in your mind as if remembered and not created. Her honest acknowledgment and clear passion about her quirky habits truly gave an insider’s view of what you would stumble across on a shelf in Bramasole. The descriptions and her subtle nods to humor help the reader to feel as if they’ve always been old friends with the author.

The recipes throughout the book (I think there are more in Under the Tuscan Sun) all sound incredible and seemed relatively easy to make. And if her descriptions are anything to go on, they will be divine. I’m hoping to get a chance to attempt some of them once I’m settled in at my new place. I can definitely see a Julie and Julia type project, but there are far fewer in Ms. Mayes memoirs.


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