Sunday, June 13, 2010

In Tuscany

In Tuscany by Frances Mayes

Rating: 3 Stars

Frances Mayes divides this book into seven chapters, the first titled ‘Baci’ (Kisses). This whole book is an ardent love-note laden with ‘baci’ to this land that has enchanted her.

Having written other books about this region of Italy, the author seems to find ever-new wonders to revel in and share – be it the many festivals, the ‘piazza’, the Tuscan kitchen, or the Tuscan countryside. The appeal of the book is greatly enhanced by the photography of Bob Krist, which captures images of a sun-drenched landscape awash in shades of amber and gold. As with all true travelogues, we’re also given a smattering of the Art, Architecture, and History of the land, along with engaging anecdotes of everyday life in Tuscany. My favorite one is about St. Lorenzo, the patron saint of cooks, who told his torturers as they were roasting him alive, “Turn me over, I’m done on this side.”

Clearly, the author finds Tuscany a feast for the senses. But as many other visitors have testified, the Italian experience is especially a gastronomic tour de force. The Tuscan table is a true carnivore’s delight, with its various savory meats, augmented by exotic delicacies like rabbit, wild boar, frogs’ legs, etc. Vegetarians, vegans, and those of timid palate, however, may find visiting Tuscany a slimming experience. As the author points out, the Italians themselves seem to have no need of any low-calorie diet. They have other tricks up their sleeves, besides red wine and olive oil.

Ms. Mayes has a loving, grateful appreciation for all things Tuscan, whether it’s the food, the people, the sunlight, the stones, the sky, the grass, or the flowers. Her finely developed aesthetic sense finds exquisite expression in the chapter titled ‘La Belleza’ (Beauty).

While one can hardly fault the writer for being enamored of this gorgeous land, I did find something odd. As a fairly recent immigrant to the U.S., I’m still wonder-struck by this vast country of large-hearted people. Ms. Mayes, on several occasions, draws comparisons between Tuscany and her own homeland – America. Inevitably, the good ole’ U.S. of A. seems to fall short of her standards. Does the author find so little to appreciate in America the Beautiful? After all, one of the most admirable things about the Tuscans is the love they have for their land, family, and neighbors.

Do we need to look at a country with the eyes of an outsider to value all that’s good about it? Perhaps what is needed, is a concomitant sense of belonging and yet not belonging, to experience on a daily basis the feel of joyous discovery of our own humble hometowns.

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