am 23. Juni 1999
Since I am a second-generation Italian woman AND a professor at a university, I lapped up Under the Tuscan Sun with more gusto than my own homemade gnocchi with puttanesca sauce. WHO was this woman, I thought, who was living my dream life??? There she was:buying a house in Tuscany, taking off for Italy the day after commencement, returning the day before classes start. That's MY fantasy. So I continued to read of Mayes' adventures and after I got used to the idea that someone else was living my fantasy... ok ok.. after throwing the book across the room a few times, I realized that here was an extraordinary writer who really could describe food well (an art as well as a science). My Mama Nora, who is very difficult to impress, was indeed impressed by her artful prose. So when Bella Tuscany came out, I was the first in line at the bookstore to buy and read more about Bramasole and my adventures.. I mean .. Frances & Ed's adventures in Tuscany. And then I got a little bored and abandoned the book about mid-way through. After commencement, I did finish it. I loved some of the pottery buying scenes only because I too have carted from hotel to hotel to airline to home, handpainted expresso cups, dishes, platters and pitchers from Deruta. My love of the pottery scenes was pure reader response, though. I wonder if readers who have never been there could appreciate the pure joy of being in those pottery markets. So I'm ready for a new format. Maybe Mayes could go into the lives of her Italian neighbors. Maybe weave some fiction into the landscapes. Since all of my relatives are Italian, I have a storehouse of stories waiting to be told or written-- each more compelling than the next. Again, I think Mayes needs to go someplace else the next time -- she and Ed can remain on the periphery, but maybe she can find the men playing bocce in the squares, find the women hanging the clothes to dry over the canals of Venezia. Interview them, tell their stories.... I want more. I've been to Italy many times and savor sitting in the piazze watching the Italians' expressive faces tell their stories. Mayes has talent to "show" instead of "tell" the reader about her travels. Thus the success of her books. My only consolation about my minor disappointment with Bella Tuscany is knowing that due to book sales, Mayes will have more money to beautify Bramasole. Because how many professors do you know can afford to buy heaps of lemon trees, 40 lavender plants, and fix the plumbing again all in one year??? Will I buy her next book as soon as it's out? Before reading the reviews? You bet!
am 7. Juni 1999
Frances Mayes has brought Italy to me here in Webster, New York. The first book, "Under the Tuscan Sun," made me hungry for more about Tuscany, the people, the foods & recipes, the history & geography, and especially the descriptive manner in which Ms. Mayes tells a delightful story along with everything else. "Bella Tuscany" has moved me more than any other book I have read. I lose myself in each one of her chapters. Then I find myself, understanding why, as an Italian, I interpret things the way I do, feel the way I feel, and relate to people of all nationalities the way I do. I savor each chapter, reading each word, and sometimes having to close the book because I cannot see the words through my tears. I have never traveled to any European countries and hopefully, one day soon, I will. Cortona and Venice will be on the top of my list. One of the most moving thoughts in the book, was her description of an old widow who was selling her home and of course wanted to sell it for more money than it was worth. Ms. Mayes states that the house probably looked the same way it did in 1750! The emotional value of the home seemed to override the real physical worth of the structure. Ms. Mayes tells us that the old widow reached out to her, took her hand, and pulled her into a different world. She wanted to cry out because the woman's grip was so strong, but she didn't. As a child growing up in Rochester, New York, and having grandparents that lived in an area populated by Italians (mostly Sicilians), I have met women like the old widow. They hold you so tightly...maybe thinking some of that youthfulness will rub off on them. When they spoke of their homes in Sicily, I used to wish they had pictures of the people and towns, but I only knew of those places from their descriptive reviews. I wished I could see and feel the beauty they described, beauty that they missed, coveying that feeling only in tearful eyes. They were always so happy to see you, even if you had just been there the day before. I will happily anticipate Frances Mayes next book on her life in Cortona. I would like to see a Frances Mayes PBS special! Thank you for this opportunity to voice by opinion of this wonderful book.
am 7. Juni 2000
Although I thoroughly enjoyed Under the Tuscan Sun, Bella Tuscany was a major disappointment. I don't think this book should be considered a "travel narrative" as it is really a personal, opinion-filled chronicle of one woman's experience in several different parts of the world (Minnesota, California, and Sicily- not just one village in the region of Tuscany). Although I envy Mayes' financial ability to travel at will between California and Italy, I do not envy her selfishness or ignorance. I could not relate to her buying ease, or her annoyance at having to travel home for the death of her significant other's mother.
Being the daughter of a native Sicilian, I was offended by her depiction of the people of the island. While the mafia is still existent there and plays a definitive role in the economic system of the country, it does not rule the lives of every man, woman, and child. If Mayes feels bad for the Sicilians, she shouldn't say so in this book.
After living with a host family in Tuscany, I feel I have only begun to grip the unique warmth of the people there. However, Mayes, a stereotypical American who spends summers there and "endures" some lessons in Italian, seems to feel she has become akin to the natives. A more intelligent writer would use a "show not tell" style to avoid condescending generalizations about the land and people. This book is not a total failure thanks to some good descriptive writing and humor those still struggling to learn the language can relate to.
am 28. April 1999
I have to admit that I am one of those readers who just loved Under the Tuscan Sun and was eagerly awaiting the release of Bella Tuscany, hoping for more of Mayes' stunningly poetic writing.
I found Bella Tuscany a little slower, even, dare I say it, boring in some parts, however it still held all those elements I loved about UTTS. In this book we learn about the pros and cons of italian style gardens with some beautiful sentiments borrowed from Pliny about gardens, happiness and life spent in elegant, intellectual freedom. I loved the idea of this and realised that this must strike a cord with the moneyed, intellectual Mayes.
Once again my mouth watered with Frances' descriptions of gastronomic feasts and then marvelled over the simpler pleasures of cooking with unfamiliar greens growing wild amongst your garden. I loved the historic feel to the book also. Ideas and thoughts borrowed from the inspiration of Roman roads, Renaissance landscaping and Sicilian/Tuscan/Venetian history.
Mayes spends more time in this book acquainting us with the ever-present yet somehow elusive Ed. We get more of an idea of the things they like to do, eat, see, explore. If you bought this book because you enjoyed the renovation of the farmhouse in UTTS you may be disappointed to find that they spend a good deal of time away from Bramasole. However, if you wanted to dip back into the lives of Frances and Ed and follow and join them as they explore "their" Italy, you will find this book every bit as enjoyable as UTTS.
am 23. Mai 1999
I'm proud of myself for finishing this giant yawn of a book. I really enjoyed UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN. Yes, it was over-fawning sometimes, as well as preachy and judgmental, but it was about something: renovating a tuscan villa. I loved it for the vicarious thrill of remodeling a house, gardening, cooking, and getting to know the neighbors in Tuscany. So, I presume, did everyone else. This book, however, skimps on everything I liked in the first book and splurges on everything I hated. Three or four chapters (at most) mention the villa, the garden, and the food. That's all. The rest (i.e. most) of the book is Frances Mayes preaching about life , art, politics, and people. We get endless pages on paintings. Does she like this one? Does Ed? Should we? And just when you think you can't take any more, you get whopped with a chapter called "Breathing Art". Yes, "Breathing Art". Beyond belief, isn't it. We also get her uninformed tourist's take on Sicily and the mafia, as well as her beginning Italian speaker's take on the difference speaking Italian makes to one's world view. Then, there is Ed's poetry.... I guess that in the success of her first book, Frances Mayes forgot who she really is: a two-bit lit prof from a two-bit California college who spends a few weeks each year in Italy. Nothing else could possibly explain this book.
am 6. August 1999
Personally I enjoyed "Bella Tuscany" more than I enjoyed "Under the Tuscan Sun", something I wouldn't have thought possible after loving "UTTS" so very much. I sighed for days after I finished it, in a perpetual state of jealousy. Why can't I have a villa in Tuscany? Why can't I buy all these wonderful things to creat my ultimate dream home in a country I love? It's just not fair! *sigh* (See!!)
I had expected to be disappointed because I was so excited about this second book, and usually high expectations lead to disappointment. Not so this time!
I wouldn't go so far as to say the title is misleading, as some have remarked. The book is still about Tuscany, with snippets of the other locations that are important in Mayes' life. It's a MEMOIR for goodness sake! And I think the whole "package" gives a better insight into who the author really is and why Bramasole is so important to her. After all, she is creating a contrast between her life in California and her "sweet life in Italy."
This is a MUST READ for anyone who loves travel, loves Italy, loves good food, good company, dream homes or gardening.
My only query: I want to know who the mysterious Ed is, and where can I get my hands on his poetry?
The dustjacket noted that Mayes is now writing a novel. I can't wait to read it.
am 26. Mai 1999
I so disagree with those who are unhappy with this book, which took me on a completely absorbing visit not only to Tuscany but also to other interesting places in Italy (and even Winona, Minnesota, the one place in the book I know well!). I guess that if all you're interested in is the renovation of a house, then Bella Tuscany might disappoint, but for me, the pleasure of reading Frances Mayes' wonderful prose, no matter what she's writing about, is more than worth the admission price. (The person below who calls her a "two-bit lit prof" ought to get his/her own pretensions in order.) I greatly enjoyed her descriptions of art, of the tribulations of learning a foreign language, of the small towns and churches and vineyards they visit, of the delicious meals they create. This is a memoir in the truest sense, Frances Mayes sharing with us the pictures of a time in her life, her thoughts, her joys. It is by no stretch of the imagination a "Martha Stewart" book; it is also not a social history or a treatise on the Italians or many of the other things that some readers seem to have expected it to be. For me, Bella Tuscany was a can't-put-it-down book, one from which I derived deep pleasure, and one that I will look forward to reading again.
am 12. Januar 2000
In "Bella Tuscany" Frances Mayes finally begins to notice there is more to Italy than Bramasole. Her expeditions to the South of the boot as well as to the Venetian area are very interesting. I just wish we didn't have to be informed of EVERY meal & menu she participated in!
However, the strengths of expanded horizons also proves to be a detriment as the reader discovers when Ms. Mayes feels obligated to also recount her life back in the States, the hassles, stresses, etc. Do we really need to know about her oh-so-traumatic house hunting problems in overpriced San Francisco? All I kept thinking was "Boy, she must have made alot of money on her first book to afford all this!" Luckily since I had gotten the books from the library I did not feel suckered as well!
The title of this book is "Bella Tuscany:the Sweet Life in Italy". When the prose follows the title, it is usually interesting and enjoyable, if a little pretentious. When it digresses (& oh does it ever!) it is just a waste of paper & ink. Too bad Frances Mayes can't buy a sense of humor about herself along with all her antique linen & wine. She really could use one!
am 23. Juli 2000
While I loved "Under The Tuscan Sun," Mayes' first tribute to Italy, I was enthralled for the first 3/4 of the book with it's complete focus on the farmhouse restoration, but she changed focus so much toward the end (traveling, food, etc.), that I was disappointed (just a little bit....). But, with "Bella Tuscany," Mayes had much more of a consistent weaving in and out: focusing equally on the farmhouse, travels, people, food, and her "other" life in California, that I really got caught up in HER life. I'll admit there were times when I had to put the book down, for sheer envy of her, but I also got to see her life in another sense this time. Like "normal" people, she had her share of losses and tragedies, and those annoying "friends" who suddenly wanted to visit her to have a free place to stay in Tuscany - hilarious! I laughed, cried and vowed to see Italy next year - especially Venice - her description made my mouth water! I found her candor about admitting she had stereotyped Sicily and her willingness to be "Un PC" refreshing. I can't wait for her next set of adventures in Tuscany to be published!
am 21. Juli 1999
I for one am deeply, deeply impressed with Ms. Mayes' command of the language -- she is a uniquely gifted writer and I am astonished that anyone could possibly contest this: I sense the aroma of sour grapes. Ah, well. Who could not be tinged with envy at a double life that embraces two of arguably the most stunning sites in the world -- San Francisco and Tuscany. Yet I feel that she has earned her place in the sun and should not flinch at its brilliance, or balk at the misgivings of others. As a writer myself, I find her restraint admirable -- she never waxes self indulgent or claims more than her fair share of expertise -- yet she is obviously a brilliant woman with more than her wits about her -- she exudes poetry. I am not surprised that she also writes poerty, and would like to see more of it. I am further intrigued by her easy relationship with her partner Ed and would like to see her try her hand at a love story -- she has so much to offer. Please, Ms. Mayes, do not be discouraged by the critcisms here. They are like distant wind. Turn your collar up and continue on. You deserve five stars from Zeus on down.