"What makes the people so friendly, no, not just friendly, so genuinely kind and generous?" Mayes asks an Italian friend, then turns her intense attention to answer the question herself. Her answers range from baci (kisses), an intimate expression that "keeps alive the joy we all are born with," to la piazza, the navel of Italy's intense sense of community, to a deep love affair with food and seasonal delights. (Mayes shares the latter and once again gives recipes from the traditional to the idiosyncratic while her poet-husband Edward treats us to a description of the olive harvest). Then there is the Tuscans' territorial attachment to the land. Place, Mayes writes, makes you who you are and it is by reading the landscape that you find the story of how the people lived. Like a guidebook written by a good friend who reveals to you all the secret places they've found, Mayes leads us from out-of-the-way towns to great frescoes to tiny restaurants with exquisite delicacies (and even gives you their addresses). Turn down any one of Mayes's streets and there is something to contemplate.
In the distance you see villages crowning a hill or protectively stacked against a slope. Every one pulls me toward its altarpiece, special triptych, arched gate, gothic window, or fountain. Every one has its opinionated, eccentric, friendly, and intrinsic characters who make each place deeply itself.
Once again, Mayes presents Tuscany as an irresistible place where the pleasures are unexpected, sumptuous, and downright enviable. Immersing yourself in In Tuscany is the next best thing to being invited home to Bramasole. --Lesley Reed