Friday, July 9, 2010

Pining for Italy

Can you even remotely believe that it's been 20 years since Frances Mayes happened upon her beloved Bramasole on the winding road that leads up the hill, which I've climbed, to Cortona? It just doesn't seem possible that so much time has elapsed since she penned Under the Tuscan Sun and changed forever the simple lives of those fiercely proud Tuscan people who have been inundated with tourists from around the world hoping to find their own little bit of heaven.

I admire Ms. Mayes tremendously. She is the perfect example of a person who has done what the "experts" say you must. She has followed her passion and it has, incidentally, brought her the wealth to continue to live that passion.
As a person who's been extremely fortunate herself over the past twenty years to have discovered her passion - librarianship - and been able to follow it and actually get paid a decent salary to become an expert on books and writing and even dabble a little bit, I have to confess that Italy and all things Italian are my other weakness. From the moment I first stepped onto the tarmac in Palermo, to my first grappa laced coffee, to my first ciao, I was hooked.

I thought it might have waned over the past few years as I've had the opportunity to visit new, exciting and far-flung places, but reading Every day in Tuscany, Seasons of an Italian Life, has been a not so gentle reminder that this is the place I would still love to retire to.

Just looking at the cover of the book, an aerial shot of the central piazza of Cortona where Betsy and I sat and slurped gelato one lovely, sun-drenched autumn afternoon, makes my heart begin to palpitate. What if I don't live long enough to get back there again? Oh, how I want to take Don and have him see it through my eyes.

Ms. Mayes and her husband Ed are poets and their supreme joy in the written word is always on display. I think that this is perhaps her most poetic book yet, in terms of her description of the endless - or as she refers to it - inexhaustible gift that is Italy. For food, of course, for art, for language and architecture, not to mention the glorious rolling hills, the vineyards, the sentry-like cypress trees that line the narrow roads, Italy offers an abundance of grace.

But truly it is the people that she, maybe inadvertantly, but inevitibly, revers. She and Ed have become locals. So much so that they've actually had to purchase and remodel another, smaller, what she refers to as (hold your laughter) a hunting cabin, hidden in the forest behind the main house, so that they can steal the privacy to write. I know, cry me a river.

Still, her explanation of how crazy it is to be sitting in the writing room at Bramasole with the weathered shutters open to the herb laden breeze, and suddenly hear tourists walking slowly by making personal comments about her, Ed or the house, as if they actually knew her from her books, is kind of funny and weird. Admirers deposit gifts in her mailbox.  I suspect it's just their way of saying thank you to her for opening up their eyes to the beauty of Italy. I thank her too.

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