Thursday, March 16, 2006


MEMOIRS on the sweet life abroad are now considered a lucrative genre of travel writing by itself. For those with a passion for things out of the ordinary, Frances Mayes’s stories of the good life in Tuscany conjure visions of good food, busy marketplaces, Cortona farmhouses, sun-drenched gardens, music, language, the quirkiness of the locals, sipping a cup of coffee or reading a book at a trattoria or café, terraced olive groves and the harvesting of olives, grapes and wines. Her new travellogue, A Year in the World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveller (2006), should make interesting reading for those who would like to explore what it means to be a citizen of the world, feeling at home wherever you are.

MAYES Frances [1940-] Memoirist, poet, essayist, novelist. Born in Fitzgerald, Georgia, U.S. NOVEL Swan (2002) POETRY Ex Votto (1995); Hours (1984); The Arts of Fire (1982); After Such Pleasures (1979); Sunday in Another Country (1977); Climbing Aconcagua (1977) NONFICTION Bringing Tuscany Home: Sensuous Style From the Heart of Italy (2004); The Discovery of Poetry: A Field Guide to Reading and Writing Poems (1994) ESSAYS In Tuscany (2000) MEMOIRS Bella Tuscany: The Sweet Life in Italy (1999); Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy (1996)TRAVEL A Year in the World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveller (2006)

An excerpt from A Year in the World: “Europe can be divided into two categories — countries with riotous balconies and geraniums and bougainvillea, and countries without. Italy falls into category one, and nowhere more so than in Taormina. Like Capri, Taormina is where the gods tumped over their baskets of blessings. The earth has not formed, nor can I imagine, a place more captivating. Taormina's wavering coast below the town, a limpid sea, the perfectly positioned Greco-Roman theatre, and craggy Monte Tauro … rising above the village would be stupendous enough, but that basket of blessings also deposited Mount Etna, often disappearing in mist and suddenly reappearing like a mirage in the distance. In winter, from a sunny window, you see the cone frosted with snow. Today the volcano is clear-cut in the blue air, and I easily imagine lava beginnng to ooze down the slopes. …

“There’s a reason we congregate in these hotspots — to worship beauty and to feel its effects light up the electrolytes in the bloodstream. I am here for another reason as well. I am reading and rereading the Sicilian writers, Leonardo Sciascia and Giuseppe di Lampedusa. A few months ago I came across a telling line in Sciascia’s The Wine-Dark Sea. After a funny, ironic exchange on the shortcomings of Sicilians, a character “brightens up at the sight of the sea off Taormina. ‘What a sea! Where else would you see anything like this?’” I suddenly thought I would like to read these native Sicilian writers in situ and try to see how the island affects their work, how their works are shaped by the place. I would like to know Sicily; what better way than through the insights of passionate writers?


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