What I’m Reading: Bella Tuscany

Since my re-immersion in the world of academia, I’m finding it a bit difficult to read strictly for fun. I pick up a book, and by the time I come out the other end, I have half a notebook of ideas for research. That isn’t precisely a bad thing- I’d much rather have the creative juices flowing than otherwise- but it makes my leisure reading not quite so leisurely.

Hence, the travel memoir. While I come up with places I’d love to visit, I can enjoy the words more freely than when I am subconsciously tracking how frequently such and such word is used to describe…whatever.

This is the third book of Frances Mayes’ that I’ve read. My favorite is still Under the Tuscan Sun (don’t judge it by the movie of the same name- only the location is the same), but both A Year in the World and Bella Tuscany have images that are knock-you-over beautiful. I feel like I understand where she is coming from–I’m sure many people do–but she writes about getting away from the mad rush of the academic world- always writing, researching, reading, grading- and into a life that follows the planting and the harvesting and the morning cup of cafe at the village trattoria. Exactly what I so often need, even if, for now, it is only accessed vicariously.

In Under the Tuscan Sun, Frances Mayes talks about finding, deciding to buy, and restoring Bramasole, her Italian villa. A Year in the World focuses on more exploratory travels- short trips and original impressions of new places. Bella Tuscany is a combination of the two- the heart of the book is definitely in Bramasole, but she talks about several short-ish trips to cities in Italy.

Her descriptions of Venice keep coming to mind: “I long to go inside the houses, experience from the inside what it’s like to have high tide lapping at the lower floor, smell the damp marble, see the rippling shadows of the water on painted ceilings, push back faded brocades to let the sun in.”

Those rippling shadows of water on painted ceilings…

My grandparents owned a house on the Kentucky River–I remember lying on the indestructible brown Berber carpet in the middle of the summer, the river plishing and plashing below, watching the lacy white curtains billow in afternoon river breeze and the hundreds of points of light that the river’s reflection would throw on the white ceilings.

I think this is why I love books so much- that memory was buried under twenty-some years of detritus, but reading her description of a similar sight in Venice conjures those long-ago lazy summer days.

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