Dario Castagno is a born Tuscan. Raised in London until he was ten, Dario's fluency in English and love of Tuscany, including exploring abandoned farmhouses and villas like the one in Frances Mayes' "Under the Tuscan Sun" and his experiences working in a Chianti winery, led him to create Chianti Black Rooster Tours. Dario gives personalized tours of the Chianti region to groups up to six, and in "Too Much Tuscan Sun" he chronicles seasonal life in Tuscany, cultural gems, and the all-too-often bizarre and demanding American tourists that he is saddled with.
Dario wrote the book as a rebuttal of Frances Mayes and other American writers who paint a dreamy portrait of Tuscany peppered with the notion of "aren't the Tuscans backwards and quaint!" when they run into un-American customs or try to "act American" and are misunderstood. Dario offers a moving account of the Palio and tragic events in WWII Italy, misunderstandings with Americans as presented by the Italian point of view, and an eye-opening chapter on the death penalty in America as reported by Italian media.
The book is arranged chronologically over the course of a year from February to December, with various interludes thrown in. Dario paints a lyrical picture of the various seasonal changes that occur in Tuscany's gardens and landscapes, the power of a passing thunderstorm, and the bounty of crops each season yields, along with mouthwatering descriptions of local Tuscan cuisine. Mixed in are remembrances of his rebellious psychedelic teenage years in Tuscany and earlier (brief) encounters with American college students studying abroad in Italy.
The bulk of the book is devoted to poking fun at the obnoxious stereotypical American tourists that booked Dario's tours: yelling as though Dario can't understand English, wearing large, gaudy, flashy jewelry, leopard prints and stiletto heels for sightseeing in the country, asking why Italians are speaking Italian (!), only eating at McDonald's because Italians can't cook Italian food like they do in America, claiming that caffe lattes and pizza are American culinary creations that the Italians confiscated, refusing to walk anywhere on a walking tour...the list goes on. There are several couples that are presented as happy, easygoing, and well adjusted, but overall the book tends to paint a negative picture of the American (and Canadian!) tourist in Tuscany. Although it reads humorously, it felt nigh stereotypical, but understandably; others of lesser means who may be more in tune with Italian culture probably can't afford to hire Dario and travel Italy in five-star hotels.
A very engaging read, but if Dario pens a sequel, please make it the adventures you've had with laid-back, adventurous, polite Americans who enjoy throwing themselves into Italian language and culture. I felt as though I were being punished via the hoards of loud, barbaric, stereotypical American tourists when, in fact, I can understand some Italian (I regularly listen to Italian pop music), I love to walk everywhere, and can deal with any change in plans with grace and enthusiasm. As a language- and culture-conscious tourist, I felt woefully underrepresented, but enjoyed Dario's in-depth cultural and gastronomic tour of Tuscany immensely (although I lived in Spain on two occasions, I've yet to visit Italy) and hope to one day tour the marvels of Tuscany for myself.