La bella Italia. I will never tire of reading about Italy. And reading this book, I need not close my eyes and concentrate hard enough for me to visualize anything. Italy is everywhere, on a vast canvas. On the stark white desk top at work, the cubicle walls, at home out on the porch, I have been seeing the Tuscan rooftops, the sun-mellowed walls and pretty faded blue and green shutters; olive groves and vineyards, a limonaia here, a bright bowl of clementines there; all parade in front of my eyes, they do not mock, they allure.
Under the Tuscan Sun is the journey of author Frances Mayes and her husband Ed in buying and restoring an old stone stone house, Bramasole (yearning for the sun), in the heart of Cortona, Tuscany. Bramasole, with a facade the colour of faded apricots and pretty green shutters enchants its way into your heart. Ms.Mayes comes to Bramasole at a crossroads in her life. In her own words, any arbitary turning along the way and she would be elsewhere; she would be different. Under the Tuscan Sun is not just the quintessential travelogue; unravel all the wonderous sights, people and food described till you can actually see all of it in front of you in glorious technicolour, and you will find a vein of seriousness, a rediscovering of the self, slowly, lovingly. This is what Bramasole nay, Italy itself becomes to her. Italy and Mayes come together not with flamboyance and pomp, but with a soft tread, a gradual understanding that deepens into an intense bond. The more she unravels the cultural layers of Italy, the deeper the bond becomes. This, I suppose is all that I am going to tell you about this book. The rest you will have to find out for yourself. Rest assured that it contains a magnificent account of life in rural Italy - the people, the place, Bramasole, the olive groves, the roses and the wildflowers, the vineyards and the food, always the food. These are the shades with which Mayes has painted her canvas but to me, what makes Under the Tuscan Sun such a winner is that it offers much more.
Read the book and revel in the delight that is Mayes's Italy. I can think of few better ways to spend my time. This is a particularly lovely section of the prologue that I just can't help copying:
"My reader, I hope, is like a friend who comes to visit, learns to mound flour on the thick marble counter and work in the egg, a friend who wakes to the four calls of the cuckoo in the linden and walks down the terrace paths singing to the grapes; who picks jars of plums, drives with me to hill towns of round towers and spilling geraniums, who wants to see olives the first day they are olives. A guest on holiday is intent on pleasure. Feel the breeze rushing around those hot marble statues? Like old peasants, we could sit by the fireplace, grilling slabs of bread and oil, pour a young chianti. Under the fig where two cats curl, we're cool. I've counted: the dove coos sixty times per minute. The Etruscan wall above the house dates from the eighth century B.C. We can talk. We have time."
I know that there are gazillions of travel books on Italy, books done, dusted and shelved but every once in a while you come across such gems as Living in a Foreign Language and Under the Tuscan Sun. What sets these books apart is their souls, which, I like to think is a direct extension of the writers'. In the case of Under the Tuscan sun, the soul is deep and reflective with flashes of humour here and there, but most of all, with an immense love for the land and the simple life. The kind of soul that rejoices in simple pleasures such as fireflies dancing in the night or chestnuts roasted by the fire. How can you not love that?