Thursday, March 25, 1999
If interminable winter finds you yearning inconsolably for the sun, or if you''ve ever found yourself longing to dig your hands into the dirt to make something grow-and filling the pantry shelves of your fantasies with gleaming jars that mimic the rows of your summer garden--beware this book. Likewise, if you''ve understood what it is to be homesick, without knowing for where. As surely as Frances Mayes is captured by the poetics of this special place, steeped in culture, and almost unimaginably timeless and rich, you''ll be seduced by the language of her stories. But be advised: Your journey into Mayes'' lush, Latin seasons may come at a high price; the lure that it leaves on your atavistic soul might just render you unwilling to return to "normal" life.
With the fine timbre of her voice still recalling her native home of Georgia, Frances Mayes spoke at Hartnell College last Wednesday evening. A recurrent theme in both her book and speech is the "obsession with place" that is peculiar to Southern writers.
When she first saw the place that would become her home in Italy, the house had sat empty for 30 years, three stories of stucco-covered stone. Still, it was much younger than the remains of the Roman brick road that ran through one side of the property, and almost new compared to the Etruscan wells where pure water still runs; wells that have made civilization possible since 8,000 years before the birth of Christ.
"The house had been given the name of Bramasole," she explained, from the archaic bramare, meaning to yearn for, and sole, sun. "When it rains or when the light changes, the faade of the house turns gold, sienna, ocher; a previous scarlet paint job seeps through in rosy spots like a box of crayons left to melt in the sun," she intoned. Its restoration, over the course of several summers, became her own transformation as well. It was "an interior journey that parallels an exterior journey," as she explained, one recorded in a scrapbook that ultimately became Under the Tuscan Sun.
The rhythm of the book perfectly echoes a sense of time that is alien to American culture. Its narrative piques the appetite for sacred places, and food that is miraculous in its lush simplicity. It lends us permission to take the siesta, dream of gardens yet unplanted, make love in the afternoon, and plan late suppers under the stars. Like a perfectly executed four-course dinner, each plate tantalizing you on to the next, it at once satiates the senses and leaves you hungry for more. And more there will be, when Mayes'' second volume is released in April.
This just in: Move over, Aunt Jemima. Everybody''s favorite Waffle Guy, Michel Chalon of Le Waf''s Del Monte Center and the Old Monterey Farmer''s Market, has three new custom-designed waffle carts, ready to dispense their caramelly, crusty Belgian treats. Anyone knowing of a permanent parking place to be repaid in kind. cw