Summary and book reviews of Bella Tuscany by Frances Mayes

Bella Tuscany

The Sweet Life In Italy

By Frances Mayes

Bella Tuscany
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  • Hardcover: Apr 1999,
    286 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2000,
    255 pages.

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Book Summary

Frances Mayes, whose enchanting #1 New York Times bestseller Under the Tuscan Sun made the world fall in love with Tuscany, invites us back for a delightful new season of friendship, festivity, and food there and throughout Italy.

Happiness? The color of it must be spring green, impossible to describe until I see a just-hatched lizard sunning on a stone. That color, the glowing green lizard skin, repeats in every new leaf. The regenerative power of nature explodes in every weed, stalk, branch. Working in the mild sun, I feel the green fuse of my body, too. Surges of energy, kaleidoscopic sunlight through the leaves, the soft breeze that makes me want to say the word "zephyr"--this mindless simplicity can be called happiness.

Having spent her summers in Tuscany for the past several years, Frances Mayes relished the opportunity to experience the pleasures of primavera, an Italian spring. A sabbatical from teaching in San Francisco allowed her to return to Cortona--and her beloved house, Bramasole--just as the first green appeared on the rocky hillsides.

Bella Tuscany, a companion volume to Under the Tuscan Sun, is her passionate and lyrical account of her continuing love affair with Italy. Now truly at home there, Mayes writes of her deepening connection to the land, her flourishing friendships with local people, the joys of art, food, and wine, and the rewards and occasional heartbreaks of her villa's ongoing restoration. It is also a memoir of a season of change, and of renewed possibility. As spring becomes summer she revives Bramasole's lush gardens, meets the challenges of learning a new language, tours regions from Sicily to the Veneto, and faces transitions in her family life.

Filled with recipes from her Tuscan kitchen and written in the sensuous and evocative prose that has become her hallmark, Bella Tuscany is a celebration of the sweet life in Italy.

Primavera

Fortunate that cypress shadows fall in wide bands across the sunlit road; fortunate that on the first day back in Cortona I see a carpenter carrying boards, his tabby cat balanced on his shoulders, tail straight up, riding like a surfer. The carpenter tosses the wood on sawhorses and begins to whistle. The cat bends and leans as he moves--a working cat. I watch for a few moments then walk on into town for a cappuccino. Thank you, I think. Fortunate that yellow blazes of forsythia light the hills. After seven summers on this terraced land, Ed and I feel a rush of happiness on turning the front-door key. I'm enchanted by the rounded Apennines, this quirky house that takes in the sun, and the daily rhythms of life in a Tuscan hilltown. He's far in love with the land. By now he knows the habits of every olive tree.

Fortunate. Otherwise, we might want to post a For Sale sign on the gate ten minutes after arrival because neither well pump is working: a grinding noise ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Mayes writes, "It can be dangerous to travel. A strong reflecting light is cast back on 'real life,' sometimes a disquieting experience." What does she mean? How does travel change your perception of yourself? Has a hidden piece of your identity ever been revealed to you through travel?
     
  2. While in Sicily, Mayes connects existential thoughts of death with traveling. "Why am I here where I don't belong? What is this alien place? I fell I'm in a strange afterlife, a faint blowing with the winds. I suspect the subtext to this displacement is the dread of death. Who and where are you when you are no one?" Do these thoughts of displacement enter your mind when you travel? Do you think they are connected to a ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
Kirkus Reviews

Yes, la dolce vita, but only for some. In the nearly 40 years since Fellini's film first ushered the expression into our lexicon, said vita has been drained of all its original sardonic content, its biting irony, and its social criticism. This sequel to Mayes's bestselling Under the Tuscan Sun, about her second home and life reborn in Tuscany, doesn't preserve Fellinis spirit either, though her account is inevitably charming. Sometimes, too, a tad annoying. For the author does occasionally come off (along with her husband) as cantankerous or supremely unself-conscious. Not appreciating the cold spring rains in Tuscany, for instance, the lucky pair decides, on a whim, to fly to balmy Palermo; on arriving in a hotel room without a view of that city's justly famous palm trees, gli Americani just march down to the lobby and demand one. To the accidental Italophile tourist, gathering water at a scenic town's small fountain may appear a quaint and rustic practice yet for the ancient women who must daily fetch and carry large jugs of water balanced atop their heads, the habit is laborious and boring, alleviated only slightly by the prospect of gossip. Yet we are finally won over by Mayes. Who could fail to affirm this poets lush descriptions of the rolling Tuscan hills, with their timeless olive trees and patient oxen? Equally beautiful are Mayes's evocations of Italians as sincere and welcoming. She realizes that, despite their fame for sweets, the natives actually enjoy foods with a bitter taste or, as husband Ed remarks, they "seem to have acquired more tastes than many of us." Other factual tidbits include a survey of the etymology of the Sangiovese grapeused for Chianti, Brunello, and Vino Nobileas deriving from the "blood of Jove." Lovely, and no small consolation to anyone who's far from Tuscany.

USA Today

Mayes displays a gift for conveying everyday life through her writing...Perfect for those with the yen but not the means for a second home...Mayes presents a simpler, less frantic version of how to live one's life.

Newsday - Susan Jacoby

A love letter to Italy written in precise and passionate language of near poetic density...A book to treasure, as the author so clearly treasures the life she engraves on our hearts.

Reader Reviews
Leanda Hunter

Under the Tuscan Sun and Bella Tuscany
I read and reread Under the Tuscan Sun and Bella Tuscany for the sheer beauty of Ms Mayes prose. Her writing has allowed me to fall in love with my own world of inner thought and writing, and for this I will forever be in her debt. Thank you Frances...   Read More

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