Mayes (A Year in the World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveller, 2006, etc.) continues to gather voluptuous memories in Tuscany…and Umbria, Liguria, the Marche and beyond.
This collection of two-dozen set pieces finds the author true to her romantic form—hungry to live as close to the bone in her corner of Tuscany as possible, to drink in equal measure from the local wine, the paintings of Luca Signorelli, village folklore and the lilac morning sky. Occasionally she slips into deliquescence, but mostly she’s stirring the reader’s gastric juices with luscious tales from the table or tendering a descriptive nugget that holds fast in the mind’s eye. This might be a day trip to nearby Loreto, “home of the house of the Virgin Mary, borne aloft by angels in 1294, and blown in a storm from Croatia, where it had paused en route from Nazareth”; a morning spent foraging asparagus, fennel flowers and figs; an owl that lifts the roof tiles and squeezes into the attic; or finding a grenade, with accompanying warning note, in her front yard. This last event was the result of a certain dissenting brashness she brought to a civic issue. Understandably distraught, Mayes never quite convinces the reader that the “bomba” will end her days in Cortona, but rather she will learn how to get her opinion heard without discovering explosives in the garden. Food is the pivot around which her days swing, and Mayes serves it forth with brio and dash—and recipes, including stuffed and fried olives, Parmesan flan and chicken under a brick. If the parade of art, food, elemental landscape and abiding camaraderie gives the reader a case of eye-ache and envy, the author can only be admired for having worked hard to earn the life and for celebrating it with such genuine relish.
Mayes the sensualist in full bloom.