Back-of-the-book blurb: Frances Mayes offers her readers a deeply personal memoir of her present-day life in Tuscany, encompassing both the changes she has experienced since her earlier memoirs appeared, and sensuous, evocative reflections on the timeless beauty and vivid pleasures of Italian life. Among the themes Mayes explores are how her experience of Tuscany dramatically expanded when she renovated and became a part-time resident of a 13th century house with a stone roof in the mountains above Cortona, how life in the mountains introduced her to a “wilder” side of Tuscany–and with it a lively engagement with Tuscany’s mountain people. Throughout, she reveals the concrete joys of life in her adopted hill town, with particular attention to life in the piazza, the art of Luca Signorelli (Renaissance painter from Cortona), and the pastoral pleasures of feasting from her garden. Moving always toward a deeper engagement, Mayes writes of Tuscan icons that have become for her storehouses of memory, of crucible moments from which bigger ideas emerged, and of the writing life she has enjoyed in the room where Under the Tuscan Sun began.
She is Too Fond of Books’ review: Have you ever ordered a meal in a restaurant, say a Western omelet, and when it’s served you think, this isn’t what I expected. The ham and peppers are all mixed in with the eggs, instead of folded in the middle with the cheese. But, you eat it anyway, and, hey, it’s good! Really good. Yummy,warm, melted cheese; salty ham; crisp peppers. Well, if Western omelets aren’t your thing, substitute any other of your favorite comfort foods, forgive the mangled metaphor, and understand that this was my experience with Every Day in Tuscany.
It has been several years since I read Under the Tuscan Sun (and I haven’t read Mayes’ second memoir, Bella Tuscany), but I remember that book as having a clear beginning, conflict, and resolution (the filling separated from the eggs, if you will). In Every Day in Tuscany, Mayes’ gorgeous prose take the reader through the seven or so months she spends each year in Italy; each chapter focuses on one particular theme of her “Italian Life” – her husband’s birthday celebration, time spent with her grandson, wandering the countryside for hours, visits to the sea and vineyards, local lore, and historic arts. They are more of beautifully crafted observations than a story; in her heart, she always returns home, to Bramasole:
If I were a medieval woman weaving a family tapestry, the knowledge gleaned from living here would form my borders and backgrounds. Instead of a procession of men with falcons on decorated horses, or a lady mincing along on a unicorn, there would be the iconic long table, the gathered friends, the servers and diners, all loved faces and richly colored threads for the rose, the lemon, the twining bean, sunflower, moonflower vine, and all the creatures who also are as at home as we are where we live. Above the scene, I’d stitch the golden disk of the sun and jagged rays. Bramasole, from bramare, to yearn for, and sole, sun, means something that yearns for the sun.
Central to each chapter are friendships with both locals and other ex-pats who have made their way either to Cortona (the home of Bramasole, Mayes primary Italian residence, which she lovingly restored in Under the Tuscan Sun) or to the mountain community where she and Ed have restored a stone cottage. And where there are friends, there is food! Each chapter discusses food – shopping at the loca markets, foraging in the area around her home for nature’s bounty, preparing meals (not to be hurried, Mayes enjoys making the meals as much as eating them), and dining. From snacking on the terrace with Ed, to feasts for 25 or more, Mayes writes as if cooking were an effortless and sensous pleasure.
One of her passages about food and dining contrasts the Italian way with our typical American way:
At the call “A tavola!,”to the table, you flush with pleasure; you are coming into a celebratory ambiance. Something wonderful is about to happen. Food is natural, eaten with gusto. It must affect your digestion if you think the first quality of pasta is that it’s fattening. If the word “sin” is attached to dessert. I’ve never heard of a dish referred to as “your protein” or “a carb,” and there’s no dreary talk at all about glutens, portion control, fat content or calories. Eating in Italy made me aware of how tortured the relationship to food is in my country After a long Tuscan dinner, I feel not only the gift of exceptional company, food , and wine, but also an inexplicable sense of well-being, of revival. Dinner invigorates the spirit as it nourishes the body.
In order to share some of Tuscany’s gatromic delights with her readers, Mayes has included dozens of recipes (and there’s not a Western omelet in sight!). Here’s a sampling:
- Ravioli Ripieni di Patate con Zucchine e Speck al Pecorino (Potato Ravioli with Zucchini, Speck, and Pecorino)
- Pollo al Mattone (Chicken Under a Brick)
- Caldarroste (Roasted Chestnuts)
- Respelle al Procini e Ricotta (Porcini and Ricotta Crepes)
- Torta di Suisine con Mandorle (Plum Tart)
Every Day in Tuscany: Seasons of an Italian Life is an intimate insider’s view of a fairly carefree way to spend the majority of each year. Frances Mayes and her family do experience some conflicts (some with nature, some with locals), but for the most part it seems relaxing and enjoyable. She doesn’t flaunt the fame her earlier work has brought her, but welcomes the reader to share a bit of her ‘everyday’ experiences. If you enjoy travel, history, or food, Every Day in Tuscany will be a vicarious pleasure.
FTC disclosure: review copy provided by the publisher.