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A Talk with Frances Mayes: Italy Beyond Tuscany

By Everett Potter

Writer and poet Frances Mayes lives the kind of life most of us can only dream about. Wandering through Italy, she and her husband, Ed, came upon a villa in the Tuscan town of Cortona. They bought and restored the villa, an effort she chronicled in her deeply charming best-seller Under the Tuscan Sun, which was later made into a film starring Diane Lane. Subsequent books like Bella TuscanyEvery Day in Tuscany and The Tuscan Sun Cookbook turned her from a chronicler into an expert and eventually into a celebrity. There have been other books as well, but now there’s See You in the Piazza, a diary of her extended travels in her adopted homeland with her husband.

It’s a road trip, a feast of small towns and villages of Italy, with lavish descriptions of meals eaten and wines tasted. In the hand of a lesser writer, it might not have worked so well. With Mayes at the helm, it’s a delightful ramble through parts of Italy that few of us have ever visited. The good news is that two decades on, she has not lost that sense of wonder and delight that informed her first Italian book. This one reads like a letter from a good friend, a literate one at that, on a delightful meander through off the beaten path Italy, venturing onto narrow roads and remote beaches. There are densely packed markets, unsung churches and small museums filled with minor masterpieces. It’s a book that should inspire many more road trips into the heart of rural Italy. I met Mayes nearly 20 years ago when she published Bella Tuscany and caught up with her recently when she was in North Carolina, her American home, on a book tour for See You in the Piazza.

Everett Potter: Frances, what I found wonderful about your book were the hidden towns and villages you went to and those places that were hiding in plain sight, such as Turin.  What were some of your favorites?

Frances Mayes: I think Turin was probably the biggest surprise. Of course, I knew about it, and I had a friend who grew up there, and he always hated it, so I just took his point of view. But I decided to go there and it was absolutely astonishing. It’s the greenest city in Italy. I’d always thought of it as a polluted industrial city and it’s not. They’ve done a great job of transforming it … read more

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