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am 10. März 2000
A reviewer below complained that "romanticising the mundane" was a flaw of the book. I agree with the fact that Ms. Mayes does glorify the trivial, yet I find that characteristic to be the ambience of the novel akin to the feeling you get after your first glass of wine on a warm evening. It makes you realize how little you pay attention to detail in your life. Awareness is a quality this e-Generation has suffered from w/its efficacy and speed.
I think that this novel helps heighten your sense of awareness in your own life. Ever arrive at your destination and forgot how you got there? How much in your life do you spend subconsciously making turns and shifting gears in a listless reverie?
This book gives you a sense of awareness that there is delight in the means, not the end. The vivacity lies in the wildflowers as you weed your garden, the sun on your face when you run your errands, the flicker of a candle on the wall, the smell of your first bite of apple. Did you ever roll down your window and smell the air when you drive?
This novel giggles a delight in immersing your self in the history and richness of a new land. Newness magnifies your attention to detail, where events, situations, and olives take on a whole new perspective. As a software designer who spends most of my day looking at the same flat screen of a laptop, I relish the visual imagery of the real world, as Frances Mayes seems to do in Italy.
As a bonus, this book was invaluable on and before my trip to Tuscany a few months ago. Days before our trip, I found myself preparing ribolitta and polenta, giggling when I realized what she meant by the chef's treat for the ribolitta. In Tuscany, it was delightful to add my own layer of interpretation to hers and other authors I have read (Try Matthew Spender).
As with most novels, you become intimate with the main character, whether you agree with their perspective or not (how many ppl really agreed w/Raskolnikov but liked Crime and Punishment?). You peer thru a window of words; you gain knowledge of how the world is seen through the eyes of another. And perhaps, you gain awareness on how you view your own world - be it Tuscany, Tennessee, or Taiwan -- and that awareness can be shared. Ms. Mayes sense of awareness is flows like wine poured from a friend, up late at night, sharing your lives.
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am 30. Januar 2000
I'm half way through this book. I told a friend of mine, who is married to an Italian woman and spends every summer there with his family, that I was reading this book. His comment, "She's a snot". My thought, "Exactly". That this writing has become so popular gives me the chills. Mix thinly minced Scarlett O'Hara with marinated Martha Stewart and saute with a luke warm Danielle Steele novel. This is junior college night class writer's workshop fare. Throw in a lot of foreign words to spice up your writing. Keep a diary of your inner thoughts. Cookbook writing oxymoron. Say arugula. However, the recipes do sound tasty and I think I'll try them. I spent some time in the south and came to recognize the new clothes of racism and the overweening sense of entitlement that still flows in those bloodlines. Instead of pickaninnies we have the more PC Italians, Poles, whatever, whose every gesture amuses Frances with their quaintness. She is actually jealeous of their sense of ample time and lack of hurry. They don't work near as hard as Frances in her busy, professional life back in San Fransisco. And look, a whole valley full of other writers, expats, literati who have all done rennovations. Break out the grappa. I smell a lucrative divorce settlement in the past..."The glass house in California..." Were there a lot of old Good Housekeeping magazines in that house? Do I seem like a frustrated, middle age man who has never pursued his dream and is stuck in a high work volume profession? Maybe. But I still don't like this book. Read Bruce Chatwin instead...real writing...real intelligence...real compassion.
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am 14. April 2000
I am glad I didn't spend money on this book, it was loaned to me. The first third was of interest - how to negotiate buying a house in Italy vs my own country of France. It then became the story of a wealthy American couple pretending to have spent their last penny buying this farm but still managing to go there from California three times a year, spending what must have been a fortune installing a central heating system. What happened to the fireplace? They pretend to live like the locals and certainly don't blend in. We learn that the author owns a Sub-Zero refrigerator in San Francisco, how relevant is this to the story? we also learn that Ms. Mayes's mother had a cook. In brief, I found this pretentious and not worth the paper it is written on, made a great tax write-off though for the Mayes....
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am 21. September 2003
In "Under The Tuscan Sun - At Home in Italy" food and travel writer Frances Mayes tells how she and her husband bought and lovingly restored an abandoned villa in Tuscany.
Through trials and tribulations which anyone who's ever had any building work done can relate to and sympathise with, to the wonders to be found in the local villages and countryside, Mayes describes every episode and encounter with warmth, wit and enthusiasm. She's also included plenty of local recipes you can try, to bring a little bit of Tuscany into your home!
This is more than just a travel book; it's an interesting look at living in a foreign country, as Mayes and her husband try to make Tuscany their home for part of each year.
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am 19. August 2001
Loving myself Italy I fell immediately in love with Mayes book. I enjoyed every page of it. The way she describes Italy is the way I experienced life there, too. It's not that only reading the book is full of pleasure. You can even straight go to your kitchen and cook one of the delicious recipes. Going to Italy in a way means coming home. It's one of the most lovely books I ever read. It combines all I like: beautiful country, irresitable landscape, nice people, great climate, cooking and not to forget speaking about a country which is the cradle of the human beeings, their history, culture. Read the book and have a good glass of vine, maybe a Chianty. And excuse my poor English.
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am 28. März 2000
This is the worst of the self-indulgent 'favourably slumming it' travel books I have read. We are meant to feel that the author has established a link with her environment and feels 'at home' in her holiday home environment, wheras she really is just another rich American pretending to be noble by doing some token manual labour whilst paying the locals for extensive house renovations. As an academic the author writes in a very pretentious style, and the inclusion of 2 chapters of recipes was a joke. Easily the worst travel book I have ever read. Look for something else.
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am 20. Juli 1999
With her passion and poetic views toward the beauty of Italy, the author of this book, Frances Mayes, finally came to a conclusion, "I AM ABOUT TO BUT A HOUSE IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY". Buying a villa with a beautiful name of Bramasol in the spectacular Italian countryside was a the first plane of her adventure for a life as a foreigner with a new language to know more about this country and lyrical lives of Italian people. She experienced quite different feelings from this rustic environment than an urban life style, which she used to have in San Francisco, California. However, she discovered there many pleasant aspects of Mediterranean life and culture "Under the Tuscan Sun". As Van Gogh visually described the vital energies actively circulating among the lives in nature under the hot Mediterranean sun with his spiritual aspect of knowledge and passion toward nature, she also expressed, as a poet, inner nature of people and outer indigenous cultures from different regions in Italian life. There are much of details that artistically expressed and mentioned by her talented descriptive writing and attitude; I might have missed many parts to write them all in this review. But this book was the best travel journey that I have read. This book is very recommendable and will be helpful for those people who have decided their summer vacation travelling in Italy and the students who want to extend their major studies in music in Italy. It provides many detail resources and information about Italian culture and unique life style that had fully understood from her personal experiences and the true opinions about their culture as a foreigner. No one should miss this book before he or she towards a new life in Italy.
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am 19. Juli 1999
I live in a resort town where we meet people like Frances Mayes all the time. They are retired, or starting a second fantasy career in a "quaint" place, and try to treat the locals with amused good humor (condescendingly)...when they remember their manners at all. Once in a while they too find they must lower themselves to "pitch a fit", like the Southern ex-patriate Mayes is force to do in Italy. Energy is expended trying to recall what exact charm their original fantasy of a life among the nicely weathered buildings and natural wonders held for them. Like Tuscany, it's hard to get things done here on time. It's hard to find help. It's the country, not the City and the inconveniences are hard to take -- even with money to pay for requested services...imagine! What these fancy transplants don't seem to remember, like Ms. Mayes, is that if everyone in their new home was like them -- able to throw money around and demand prompt service -- the place wouldn't hold many charms. It would simply be California, or New York City. Just another place to escape from.
Ms.Mayes is a poet, of course, so she Notices Everything. Poetry can take your breath away or annoy and Ms. Mayes book does both. I find it hard to feel too sorry for her particular hardships, and wish she would just not go into so much detail about them, would just lighten up. (I felt embarassed for her and the people she meets and scrutinizes -- many of whom I can't quite keep track of, although she graciously names them for us.) I felt anxious for her and Ed and worried that renovations wouldn't get done in time. Time is a constant worry, here, ironically, in a place that is inhabited by people who know how to live in the moment -- maybe the countryside's greatest treasure!
Bottom line: It's an inexpensive trip to a great place with an uptight aunt and her buff new sweetie. I found myself curious about "Uncle" Ed and wonder if he will write a book, too...
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am 5. Mai 1999
First the good news: there are some very fine recipes. And to save valuable time (and avoid disappointment), just copy the recipes and then toss the book away.
I was lured into buying this book by a plug on the back cover, to the effect that Ms Mayes ". . . does for Tuscany what Peter Mayle and MFK Fisher have done for Provence." Well, Peter Mayle is a particular fave rave of mine, so when I opened Ms Mayes book I expected it to be a celebration of life, a witty exploration of local customs, traditions, and cuisine, delicously presented; a book of humor and joy, filled with truly unforgetable characters. Wrong. The book is completely devoid of humor. There are no unforgetable locals. Unfortunately, this book is not really about Cortona or Tuscany. It is not even about refurbishing an old stone house in another country, though much of the book is Bob Villa Goes Tuscan. It is the story of the author, starring the author, with her psyche (doubly traumatized by divorce and the unspeakable horror of growing up in the Deep South) as Best Supporting Actress. The Tuscan locals, and even friends and family members are mere cardboard cutouts; a supporting cast all clad in grey. As to Tuscany itself, it is just a big sound stage filled with flea markets and restaurants. The author's musings towards the end of the book are smug at best and offensive at worst - I'm not even RC but I was particularly offended by her mocking ramblings about Catholic saints. The book is befouled by Politically Correct and Yuppie attitudes that are sometimes amusing and silly, but more often angry and fearfull; rigidly and righteously absolutist (eg, Ohmygawd-they-wear-fur-here-how-horrible).
Anyhow, though the book dragged on and on, I was determined to finish it. When I finally did get to the end and closed it and put it down, I somehow felt unclean.
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As an italian living in Tuscany, I found this book almost outrageous.
First of all, it is a really boring, endless description of THINGS - it could be a do-it-yourself book on restoring houses. From a woman that teaches creative writing, I expected something more. But what really annoyed me is that the author doesn't show the least interest in understanding and penetrating the italian lifestyle and culture. The book could be titled "A Stonehouse Somewhere In The Mediterranean Area", for all the relations it bears with Tuscany, or Italy. The interactions with the locals are limited to whatever work at the house they can do; there isn't the slightest interest in knowing them and their life. Mayes lives in her charming stonehouse immersed in the idea that her way of doing and seeing things is the only possible one; the doubt that "strange" behaviors could be explained by another history and culture never touches her. Being annoyed because people don't come to sand your ceilings in August is like wanting to send your kid to school on Thanksgiving...From what I gathered from the book, Mayes' only real interactions are with other americans, that share with her a quite distorted view of Italy. Her romantic views of the "nonna" living in the nice house in the country really made me laugh; ask any italian grandmother what it was like to live in a farmhouse 50 years ago: 20 hrs of work per day, cold, starving, meat only on Christmas and maybe Easter. And Mayes dreams about the "nonna" lovingly roasting the steaks on the fireplace!
Half of the italian words in the book are mispelled. The book might be intended for an american audience, but still the author could have taken the pain to show it to an italian "friend" before sending it to print. To me, it just shows once more how detached the author is from Tuscany, her "second home".
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