"The Bard of Tuscany" (New York Times) is back and better than ever. Two decades have passed since the purchase of Bramasole, Frances Mayes’s first Italian adventure into the meaning of home, made famous in Under the Tuscan Sun and Bella Tuscany. In Every Day in Tuscany, her third beautifully rendered memoir, Mayes generously serves up another delicious helping. She continues to contemplate the satisfaction of a life created by one’s own hard work, but also celebrates the joys of the piazza, reminisces on her South Georgia roots, reveals her love of architecture and painting, and is especially hungry to follow the trail (which she has generously mapped out for us) of Renaissance painter Luca Signorelli.
After transforming Bramasole, you’d think that Mayes would have had enough of repairs and renovations, but she expands the idea of belonging with the purchase of a mountainside cottage. One day, as she and husband, Ed, are picking blackberries on a rugged slope above Cortona, Mayes writes of being "fatally attracted" to a "lonesome beauty," a partially collapsed stone-roof cottage. This new home becomes a place of comfort, especially when something shifts, when "one glorious summer evening at Bramasole," Mayes writes, "something unexpected intruded on this paradise."
Enchanted by the simple life, a life lived in accordance with the cycles of the sun and moon, Mayes tells her story through the seasons of a country and those of the heart. Winter is about restoring privacy, summer for reading, moonlight swims, watermelon and plum crostata. Mostly, though, the seasons are made up of days meant for being. She admires the Italians for their ease and grace of pure existence. "How do Italian friends naturally keep the jouissance they were born with?" she wonders.
Since Mayes is a poet first, her prose is infused with startling and indelible moments, and she will always inspire you to cook something. Luckily, there are recipes for everything from Melva’s Peach Pie to Risotto with White Truffles, as well as mouthwatering menus, including Roasted Garlic with Walnuts and Guinea Hen with Pancetta. Of the choreography of the kitchen, she writes, "meat glistens, lettuces float, you sneeze, I sing oh, my love, my darling, and dough rises in soft moons the size of my cupped hand as planet earth tilts us toward dinner."
People are always eating in Mayes’s world, and eating well. But good food is essential for a good life, which includes travel and the private discovery of something no less significant than a new star. On watching a couple from Milan eat a midday meal consisting of a full antipasto platter, risotto, then steaks, she writes, "Those are delicious moments for the traveler--a fine lunch with someone you love, poring over the The Blue Guide and Gambero Rosso, a weekend to explore a new place and each other."
More than anything, Every Day in Tuscany is a book for all travelers, those hungry hearts craving a lesson in living life to the fullest, whether at home or on the road. "It is paradoxical but true," she tells us, "that something that takes you out of yourself also restores you to yourself with a greater freedom.... The excitement of exploration sprang me from a life I knew how to live into a challenging space where I was forced--and overjoyed--to invent each new day."
With Mayes as our luminous North Star, we can navigate our way to a place where--if we are lucky--we will choose the road less-traveled, find our own rugged mountainside, and become part of the landscape, perhaps even find a sense of self, if not a place to call home.