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What to read . . ?

This month's review is completely different from what we usually offer you, here; it is, for one, a very popular work, something that has seen the top of the New York Bestseller List, and furthermore, this work is non-fiction. Yes, we have brought you non-fiction titles, in the past, in the form of mythological tomes, but this is a charming personal memoir, one we think you might find interesting. Read on, dear patron, and enjoy.

Under the Tuscan Sun
Frances Mayes

Under the Tuscan Sun is something of a treat, for this reviewer. Right away I was struck with visions of Medici Palaces, the Uffizi Gallery, grand works of Italian Renaissance art and Princes dancing in my head, and I was not disappointed. The sweeping panoramas alone were enough to tempt me. Yet, the book offers more than that. Frances Mayes describes in minute detail all the little hills and valleys she and her significant other--Ed--faced as they purchased and renovated the five hundred year old villa of Bramasole, all the contractors they had to deal with, all the little colloquialisms they picked up along the way (my favorite must be the curse, Porca Madonna), all their insect roomies (scorpions!), the myriad olive terraces that dot their property, all the sites they visited (they explored dozens of Etruscan tombs; they discover a Medieval underground passage on their property--used by the Medici?), all the food! Frances Mayes takes as much time in the narrative to describe town markets, weekly shopping lists, recipes, and dinners as she does the contractors, faulty pipes, sandblasting, the rickety foundation, and the crumbling walls. And if you have a taste for Italian cuisine, that too is a nice little tidbit.

Her neighbors and helpers are quite interesting as well. There are the intrepid Polish workers that come to she and Ed's rescue when their Italian counterparts abandon them. These men come in, and like pros, transform nearly everything they touch, including, but not limited to, chandeliers, staircases, bathrooms, bedrooms, the kitchen, and an old crumbling wall that lines the property. They leave in her hands their language, their stories, their culture, and poetry, and you can tell they left an indelible mark on the author. Her neighbors are no different. Many drift in and out of the story, giving Frances and Ed all sorts of advice on the area of Cortona, on how to cultivate their olive trees, when to harvest the olives, and where to take the crop for pressing into fine green olive oil; there are a handful of quirky, profound, learned American and English expatriates that make their way into Frances' and Ed's life and bring them the recent history of Cortona (Rome, Florence, etc from the 1950s on) from their point of view, and who seem to have helped inspire Frances' creative Muse, if the recent publication of her first novel, is any indication.

All in all, it is the story of five years in a life, that of the life of a woman and man, but also a villa; it is a love story, but by no means in the traditional sense--though they do host a friend's wedding, during the renovations of Bramasole, so I suppose that can qualify. It is the love story of inhabitant to house, settler to land, artist to traveler, to history, and it all comes across so fully, in the telling, that it is no wonder so many have been enchanted by this tale. I know I have, and I hope you will too. I highly recommend Under the Tuscan Sun. For an enchanting, sweeping read, a charming, fairy tale-like slice of life, you can do no better. Enjoy!


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