Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Yearning for Tuscany

This week I watched a TV chef make cannelloni from scratch, and it put me in such an Italian mood that I dug out my copy of Under the Tuscan Sun and reread it one more time.

Frances Mayle was a respected poet, travel writer, and university professor when her long-time marriage fell apart and she decided to rethink her life.  She and her new Significant Other, Ed (last name not disclosed), bought and spent the next several years restoring an ancient stone farmhouse in Tuscany.  The name of the house was "Bramasole," an archaic Italian word meaning "yearning for the sun," and Mayle, who lived in San Francisco, felt that a little more sun was just what she needed.  Under the Tuscan Sun is the story of rehabbing the house, but it also includes Mayle's ruminations on the meaning in houses, why people travel, and how a culture is reflected in its cooking.  Her observations of the Tuscan scenery, food, and neighbors are so tactile that when I visited Tuscany for the first time a few years after this book was published, I felt as if I were coming back to a familiar spot.

 Hollywood made this book into a movie starring Diane Lane in 2003, but I couldn't bring myself to go see it.  The previews made it look like a banal lonely-woman-meets-Latin-hunk love story, sans Ed, and Lane looks (and sounds) nothing like the soft-spoken Georgia-born Mayle, who I met in 1999 at a book signing for her sequel, Bella Tuscany.  For me, one of the charms of the book was that Frances and Ed were already in love when they bought the house, and the travails of rebuilding it brought them closer together when it could just as easily have destroyed their relationship.

My only issue with reading this book again is that now I feel the urge to unearth my pasta machine and make some of that from-scratch cannelloni myself - or maybe Mayle's recipe for Wild Mushroom Lasagna.

"What is this thrall for houses?  I come from a long line of women who open their handbags and take out swatches of upholstery material, colored squared of bathroom tile, seven shades of yellow paint samples and strips of flowered wallpaper.  We love the concept of four walls. 'What is her house like?' my sister asks, and we both know she means what is she like." ~Frances Mayle, Under the Tuscan Sun

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