Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home In Italy

Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home In Italy

by Frances Mayes

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Overview

A CLASSIC FROM THE BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF UNDER MAGNOLIA

Frances Mayes—widely published poet, gourmet cook, and travel writer—opens the door to a wondrous new world when she buys and restores an abandoned villa in the spectacular Tuscan countryside. In evocative language, she brings the reader along as she discovers the beauty and simplicity of life in Italy. Mayes also creates dozens of delicious seasonal recipes from her traditional kitchen and simple garden, all of which she includes in the book. Doing for Tuscany what M.F.K. Fisher and Peter Mayle did for Provence, Mayes writes about the tastes and pleasures of a foreign country with gusto and passion.

Now with an excerpt from Frances Mayes's latest southern memoir, Under Magnolia

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780767917452
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 08/26/2003
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 16,205
File size: 9 MB

About the Author

In addition to her Tuscany memoirs, Every Day in Tuscany and Bella Tuscany, FRANCES MAYES is the author of the travel memoir A Year in the World; the illustrated books In Tuscany and Bringing Tuscany HomeSwan, a novel; The Discovery of Poetry, a text for readers; five books of poetry; and most recently a southern memoir, Under Magnolia.  She divides her time between homes in Italy and North Carolina.  Visit France Mayes’s blog at www.francesmayesbooks.com.

Read an Excerpt

In 1990, our first summer here, I bought an oversized blank book with Florentine paper on the cover and blue leather binding.  On the first page I wrote ITALY.  The book looked as though it should have immortal poetry in it but I began with lists of wildflowers, lists of projects, new words, sketches of tile in Pompeii.  I described rooms,  trees, bird calls.  I added planting advice, "Plant sunflowers when the moon crosses Libra," although I had no clue myself as to when that might be.  I wrote about the people we met and the food we cooked.  The book became a chronicle of our first four years here.  Today it is stuffed with menus, postcards of paintings, a drawing of a floor plan of an abbey, Italian poems, and diagrams of the garden.  Because it is thick, I still have room in it for a few more summers.  Now the blue book has become Under the Tuscan Sun, a natural outgrowth of my first pleasures here.  Restoring then improving the house, transforming an overgrown jungle into its proper function as a farm for olives and grapes, exploring the layers and layers of Tuscany and Umbria, cooking in a foreign kitchen and discovering the many links between food and the culture--these intense joys frame the deeper pleasure of learning to live another kind of life.  To bury the grape tendril in such a way that it shoots out new growth I recognize easily as a metaphor for the way life must change from time to time if we are to go forward in our thinking.



    

Table of Contents

Preface 1
Bramare: (Archaic) To Yearn For 5
A House And The Land It Takes Two 24
Sister Water, Brother Fire 41
The Wild Orchard 63
Whir Of The Sun 75
Festina Tarde (Make Haste Slowly) 90
A Long Table Under The Trees 107
Summer Kitchen Notes 124
Cortona, Noble City 138
Riva, Maremma: Into Wildest Tuscany 159
Turning Italian 180
Green Oil 194
Floating World: A Winter Season 205
Winter Kitchen Notes 220
Rose Walk 234
Sempre Pietra (Always Stone) 242
Relics Of Summer 258
Solleone 271

Reading Group Guide

1. "What are you growing here?" is the first line of Under the Tuscan Sun. In what ways does that question symbolize how the book came about? What does it say about Frances Mayes's life in Italy, and about her life in general?

2. Mayes writes of the traumatic experience of selling one house and purchasing another on various occasions in the United States. Why is the purchase of her house in Italy so qualitatively different from her other experiences with home ownership?

3. "The house is a metaphor for the self," Frances Mayes writes. Discuss some examples of this, both in her life and in your own.

4. What makes Mayes's writing style effective? How does her particular voice make her descriptions come alive? What images did you find to be particularly striking?

5. What are some of the qualities of Italian life that contrast most sharply with American culture? Which aspects of Italian life did Frances and Ed find it important to incorporate into their own lives? Which aspects would you have been drawn to?

6. How does the experience of purchasing and renovating Bramasole impact Frances and Ed's relationship, and how does their interaction affect their shared experience of buying, owning, and living in Bramasole?

7. How does the author change as the book progresses? How are her changes reflected in her tone and in her writing?

8. Mayes's house is called "Bramasole," which literally means "yearning for the sun." However, soon after she purchases the house, Mayes dreams that its real name is "Centi Angeli," or "one hundred angels." Discuss the ways in which this proves to be a premonitory dream. What are some of the other discoveries made throughout Bramasole and its grounds that lend a magical feeling to the house?

9. What role does food play, both metaphorically and literally, in the sense of delight that deepens Mayes's relationship to Tuscany and the house itself?

10. Mayes often portrays life in Cortona as timeless. How does she also convey that the timelessness is in many ways just an illusion? How does the "sense of endless time" affect her household?

11. What is Mayes's philosophy about the friend who speaks disparagingly of contemporary Italy and says it's "getting to be just like everywhere else--homogenized and Americanized" (p. 110)? How does Mayes's response address globalization in general?

12. Mayes's loving descriptions of food, her recipes, and her gardening tips add sensuality to the book, but what are some of their other functions in Under the Tuscan Sun?

13. What is Mayes's advice to readers who have "the desire to surprise your own life" (p. 191)? How would you respond to this impulse? What are some of the benefits and drawbacks to the time of life Mayes chose for embarking on a major change? Discuss some of your own turning points and "forks in the road."

14. Although Under the Tuscan Sun isn't a novel, would you say that in many ways it reads like one? If so, what is the spring, the inner tension, that propels the book forward and shapes its form?

15. Besides presenting us with wonderful descriptions of food, scenery, and people, what is the other major impetus of Under the Tuscan Sun?

16. As the book draws to a close, Mayes asks rhetorically, "Doesn't everything reduce in the end to a poetic image--one that encapsulates an entire experience in one stroke?" (p. 256). In your opinion, which image or scene best "encapsulates the entire experience" of Mayes's time in Italy?

Foreword

1. "What are you growing here?" is the first line of Under the Tuscan Sun. In what ways does that question symbolize how the book came about? What does it say about Frances Mayes's life in Italy, and about her life in general?

2. Mayes writes of the traumatic experience of selling one house and purchasing another on various occasions in the United States. Why is the purchase of her house in Italy so qualitatively different from her other experiences with home ownership?

3. "The house is a metaphor for the self," Frances Mayes writes. Discuss some examples of this, both in her life and in your own.

4. What makes Mayes's writing style effective? How does her particular voice make her descriptions come alive? What images did you find to be particularly striking?

5. What are some of the qualities of Italian life that contrast most sharply with American culture? Which aspects of Italian life did Frances and Ed find it important to incorporate into their own lives? Which aspects would you have been drawn to?

6. How does the experience of purchasing and renovating Bramasole impact Frances and Ed's relationship, and how does their interaction affect their shared experience of buying, owning, and living in Bramasole?

7. How does the author change as the book progresses? How are her changes reflected in her tone and in her writing?

8. Mayes's house is called "Bramasole," which literally means "yearning for the sun." However, soon after she purchases the house, Mayes dreams that its real name is "Centi Angeli," or "one hundred angels." Discuss the ways in which this proves to be a premonitorydream. What are some of the other discoveries made throughout Bramasole and its grounds that lend a magical feeling to the house?

9. What role does food play, both metaphorically and literally, in the sense of delight that deepens Mayes's relationship to Tuscany and the house itself?

10. Mayes often portrays life in Cortona as timeless. How does she also convey that the timelessness is in many ways just an illusion? How does the "sense of endless time" affect her household?

11. What is Mayes's philosophy about the friend who speaks disparagingly of contemporary Italy and says it's "getting to be just like everywhere else--homogenized and Americanized" (p. 110)? How does Mayes's response address globalization in general?

12. Mayes's loving descriptions of food, her recipes, and her gardening tips add sensuality to the book, but what are some of their other functions in Under the Tuscan Sun?

13. What is Mayes's advice to readers who have "the desire to surprise your own life" (p. 191)? How would you respond to this impulse? What are some of the benefits and drawbacks to the time of life Mayes chose for embarking on a major change? Discuss some of your own turning points and "forks in the road."

14. Although Under the Tuscan Sun isn't a novel, would you say that in many ways it reads like one? If so, what is the spring, the inner tension, that propels the book forward and shapes its form?

15. Besides presenting us with wonderful descriptions of food, scenery, and people, what is the other major impetus of Under the Tuscan Sun?

16. As the book draws to a close, Mayes asks rhetorically, "Doesn't everything reduce in the end to a poetic image--one that encapsulates an entire experience in one stroke?" (p. 256). In your opinion, which image or scene best "encapsulates the entire experience" of Mayes's time in Italy?

Customer Reviews

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Under the Tuscan Sun 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 130 reviews.
Mrs_Fitzwilliam_Darcy More than 1 year ago
I started reading this book knowing that it was going to be nothing like the movie. And let me tell you, I was right. I knew it wouldn't have the fluff and romance the movie did, and I was okay with that- or so I thought.
This book is beautifully written, and if you're one of those armchair travelers, you'll absolutely LOVE IT- go buy it right now! Although, if you're not...then think a bit more before.
I think that this book would be something fantastic to read if you wanted to relax and escape from your world, if only for a little bit. Maybe the reason I didn't like it so much was because I was on my school's winter break, and therefore- already too relaxed. This book had no action, no romance, and nothing really to get me INTO it. Then again, if I ever have a really rough day where everything seems to be going wrong- I will
definitely pick up this book and read a couple of pages. Because it's relaxing, it's interesting, it's descriptions are flawless.
If you want to read this book and ENJOY it, you have to love learning, because that's what it is, really. It's teaching you about her experience in Italy and the country's culture as well.
To sum it up, this book is for those who love biographies, beautiful and descriptive writing, culture, and something that you can sit down and relax to.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am an avid reader. I don't waste time on books if they don't catch my interest right in the beginning. Hey, there are sooo many books out there to read and so little time. Anway, this book is beyond words. I tasted the food described and felt the sun on my back and sensed the colors of the terrain. It was such a treat to read. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a book that transports them to another place! She has a new one coming out too....titled "Swan".
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think the best part of the book was to remind me how pathetic most Americans have become in reference to taking the time to enjoy the 'given'. 'Given' meaning such things as the simple joy of food, wildlife, what makes an individual unique, taking a walk, etc. In the U.S. we are so concerned with making a buck, doing things as fast as we can so that we have more time to do what? This book reminded me at least of what is most important and how the most enjoyable things in life are either in your home or right outside the door....
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am 18 years old, and I recently returned from a trip to Italy, on which I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Frances Mayes, right outside her home, Bramasole. For all of the readers who do not understand how she could love those simple things so much, it would be hard to imagine....unless you have been there, which I have. Italy, particularly the region of Tuscany, is a breathtaking place that cannot possibly be done justice in a book. I love this book simply because when I read it, I remembered how much I loved being there.
Bellamia77 More than 1 year ago
I was so disappointed after starting this book. It is a very hard read! In every way possible. It does not pull you in like it should, hard to follow and because of this hard to keep patient enough to keep reading and give it a chance. I'm not fond of Frances Mayes style of writing. The movie pulled me in and from there I loved the story. It hurts me to say I don't like the book. I normally like the book much better than the movie, that's just not the case now. Someday I may pick it up again and give it another try.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i was dissapointed. The book is wonderful in it s own way. Very discriptive and inviting with a few great cooking lessons in toe. however, i was really hoping it would be just like the movie , which this book is clearly nothing at all like the movie. It s almost as if it is 2 completly different stories that just happen to have the same name .
Laura28 More than 1 year ago
Under the Tuscan Sun follows creative writing professor Frances Mayes and her husband as they move to Italy and restore a villa, all while sampling the local food and learning how to be Italian.

This book is mostly about home restoration and food, two topics Mayes manages to make both humorous and interesting. I loved the book, but there were a few things that bothered me.

First, Mayes' descriptions of her childhood throughout the book scream of wealth and privilege... not nice at all. Secondly, her attitude towards the Catholic church really bothered me. She seemed to almost make fun of it, going to far as to mention that she wants a font of holy water for her home! I find this extremely offensive, being Catholic myself.

But those things are few and far between in the book, and besides them, the book is great, very relaxing to read and slow-paced, so it's easy to follow. It's good to read over and over, and the recipes included sound so delicious, you just want to try them yourself. Unless you're someone looking for a romance or action book, you'll love Under the Tuscan Sun.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderfull book on the exsperiences of Frances Mayers and her friend Ed who buy bramasole villa in Tuscany. The author goes into every detail about the house, gardens and problems with remodling. As well as the countryside of Tuscany. If you are looking for something like the movie, this book is not for you. The movie is pure fiction. This book is more like a biography, and need to be read as such.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you're after 'chills & thrills,' this isn't for you. This is an adventure of the spirit, for those who enjoy learning as they read. Ms. Mayes & her companion Ed Kleinschmidt take the risk of buying a run-down house in Tuscany &, over the succeeding summers, renovate it, making discoveries about the house, the surrounding country, their neighbors, & themselves.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I saw the movie of the same name and was very disappointed to see the only thing in common was the restoration of the villa. The movie was very meaningful and the book seemed like a painfully long blog. Wish I had bought the movie instead.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A married couple who live and work in california are rehab the house and garden not a divorcee if i went anywhere foreign to live it would be italy next to norway and a fyord buska
lynnelondon More than 1 year ago
But a lovely book to read. Gives a wonderful insight to living in Italy. Wish I could trade places with her!
HP_Enthusiast More than 1 year ago
This is a very detailed book. Like a previous review stated, it is not a "before bed" book. It's more of a rainy Sunday afternoon curl up on the couch with a book, blanket, and a glass of wine. I bought this book because I wanted to see how close the movie was to it. There are bits and pieces from the book in it, but doesn't come close. If you enjoy the movie, you will love this book. I can't wait to read Bella next.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A lovely book about a woman who took a chance and changed her life. The descriptions of the flowers, views and daily life are marvelous. Although I've never been to Tuscany, her book has taken me there and I will never forget it.
Anonymous 7 months ago
+++
Jax450 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The descriptions of food go on and on. Actually, the descriptions of EVERYTHING go on and on. They're not interesting or enchanting they are just words on a page. The main problems:Mayes' tone is condescending (and that's being kind). She acts as if she discovered Cortona, villa renovation and fresh produce. Please! I kept hoping a big Tuscan stone would hit her on the head so she could acquire a new attitude. When you are in Italy, your problem is NOT that the people don't speak English but that you don't speak Italian!I can't even describe the plot because there isn't one. Travel logs are fun, exciting, amusing; I didn't even crack a smile as I read about food, stones, food, Frances Mayes and food. So, she's a good cook. I got it already, no need to talk about it for 200+ pages.Characters besides Mayes and her high opinion of herself are nonexistent; 280 pages - is Ed her husband, her boyfriend, her slave? Whatever, I don't even care anymore. I'd feel sorry for him if I could figure out who he is.I could go on and on, but I'm not Frances Mayes so I won't.My advice to her is to get over herself. My advice to a potential reader is to get over your impulse to read this book.
KMWeiland on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is one of those few books the beauty of which I just can¿t over. Mayes¿s attention to detail is thrillingly mouth-watering. Makes me want to drop everything and buy a house in Italy. It does wander a bit toward the end, but, all in all, this is darn near close to perfect.
TheScrappyCat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've been so perplexed by reading the negative reviews of this gorgeous book. Many people complain about Mayes's "condescending" attitude. "Overpriveleged", they say. Some gripe that Mayes seems to dislike the locals; others say there's too much about food, too many recipes.Hmmm...I wonder. Are these people--maybe--just a bit jealous? Could that be the problem?Regarding these issues, I finished this book a few days ago, and I did not see ANY of these problems. No doubt she and her husband have money; they could not have purchased and restored Bramasole if they did not. However I didn't see anything indicating she feels superior to anyone else. She seems to love the local people of Cortona; her neighbors are friends, the people of the village appear to welcome the Mayses when they arrive for the summers and holidays. Frances and Ed did not speak Italian when they purchased the house, but she talks about being able to communicate well enough with those who don't speak English, and it certainly seems they have learned enough Italian to at least get by. Yes, there is some writing about food. Bramasole produces olives, grapes, and countless other fruits, vegetables, and herbs. She writes about how she learns how to use these items in her cooking, and yes, she shares some recipes. But it is in no way a cookbook. Food and wine are an essential part of daily living in Tuscany, so I think my question would be, why NOT write about it? Wouldn't you, in her place? Frances Mayes's writing is sensual, as in, 'of the senses'. Reading this book, you can feel the warmth of the sun, you can smell the flowers, the herbs, the very air. You can see the greeny-silver olive trees, and the luscious changing peach tones of Bramasole itself. I loved this book. I really loved it. To me, it was more about finding one's sense of self, one's sense of place in the world. I would never hesitate to recommend it to anyone. It's delicious.
bluepenguin1980 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I visited Tuscany last spring and this book initially brought back great memories. I would've finished it, had it not been for the condescending, distracting tone of the writer. I remember one passage in particular, where she is selecting her contractors for the renovation. She alludes to how the older renovator 's behavior lets her know that he understands who the serf and who is the master... or something like that... Sorry, the pseudo-elitist crap is not who I identify with. That really spoiled it, and I didn't get much further in the book.
doxtator on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This memoir details several summers as a woman and her husband purchase a house is Italy and begin the long restoration process. As the house is restored, they become members of the village community, and travel around. Frances Mayes descriptions of her life in Italy and the restoration of the house are wonderful, colorful reading. It's a delightful way to spend a few hours, delving into the luscious language of this memoir. There are a few spots where she gets a bit too deeply philosophical, stretches a bit too far, but the reader is soon back to the earthy narrative and the gracious neighbors and friends. Probably best not to read this book with an empty stomach as the many descriptions of food and drink will entice one to dream about their own trips to the kitchen, and to sun drenched lands where everything is lush and fresh.
Deesirings on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I got about halfway through this book and I've decided I don't even want to try to finish it, which is a rarity for me. It's far too descriptive of things that are dull to me and doesn't have enough about feelings and relationships or narrative or anything of interest to me. I was not enjoying it and then I got to a chapter of recipes and I just completely lost interest. Recipes? As part of the book I thought was intended to be read cover to cover? Really? Just does not work for me.
SFM13 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Italian life ... food; olives, cheeses, wine, etc... Beautiful descriptions and detail of renovationing an old villa. The property sounds like a garden paradise, and I am jealous of not being able to live there. The hardwork paid off; it was motivational and left me with a contagious desire to find a country home to refurbish and relax in. Must be nice to have time for a life like this.
Mrs.Stansbury on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was captivated by the movie so wanted to read the book. Trust me on this the two have very little to do with each other. That being said the book had some merit. Very dry read but I learned some things about Italy's history and culture and had I been inclined to learn new recipes at the time I read the book I would have enjoyed several Tuscan dishes. Do not read as a travel memoir instead read this book only if you are prepared to read about fixing homes, traveling ruins, and eating and dining in Italy. Not quite a cohesive story but look at each chapter and you should find some enjoyment.
shejake on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is a keeper. Unfortunately, I saw the movie first. It is hard to even recognize the story in the movie.
bibliophileofalls on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A book without a plot. More like a journal of the protaganist's story of restored an old home in Italy. Some good poetic writing. Lots about food.