Top positive review
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A book to savour
on 12 December 2006
In my opinion, the previous reviews are a little harsh. I loved Mrs Mayes' books "Under the Tuscan Sun" and "Bella Tuscany" and couldn't wait to read about her travels further afield. I wasn't disappointed.
Mayes and her husband Ed pack their bags for a series of holidays, including Portugal, Spain, France, England, Scotland, Turkey, Greece and various Italian destinations. What we are reading is her personal travel diary. She often makes references to writers who lived and worked where she visits, and I think that sometimes she chooses her destinations on this basis. This is something I see has been criticized in some Amazon reviews, but Mrs Mayes is a writer and a professor of creative writing, it makes sense she would want to make a sort-of pilgrimage to certain areas that were home to authors she admires. Case in point: Granada, home of the poet Federico Lorca and the Burgundy region of France where the auther Colette was born. Mrs Mayes visits where these writers once lived, and muses on how their writing was shaped by their environment.
If you are familiar with Mayes' books you will know that the "concept of home" is central to her work. Could she call "home," the places that she visits? Some she could. She attempts to sift through the layers of each destination, studying the people, the food, the architecture, the history, trying to reach the essence of "home." I think she successfully does this in Portugal, where she decides that if she had not been to Italy first, her books may have been about the purchase of a Portuguese ruin instead. But of course Italy remains her true love, and there is a whole chapter, written as a letter to a close friend, that is devoted entirely to Italian cuisine. As in "Tuscan Sun," food remains a central theme.
Mayes' has an overwhelming curiosity. She takes with her "walking notebooks," dictaphones, diaries. She photographs everything. She picks up books on local architecture, local cuisine, even books on gargoyles and tiles. She takes cookery lessons. She brings with her books by native authors in order to get a sense of a place. How does she have so much energy while on holiday? She studies people, and makes up little stories about them. It is this curiosity of her surroundings and subsequent observations which makes her books so good.
OK, her pockets are a little deeper than the average tourist's. Certainly deeper than mine. Although costs are rarely mentioned, you know she isn't sleeping in a local youth hostel. But being able to afford up-market accomodation doesn't mean she doesn't connect with the local people, in fact I think she connects more so than the average tourist. I would love to have the time (and money) to travel as she has, and maybe someday I will. Until then, I'll read and re-read Mrs Mayes.