When my family moved to Tuscany a year ago, one of the first things I did was buy a copy of “Under The Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy” by Frances Mayes. This book came out more than twenty years ago in 1996. Most people are probably more familiar with the film version “Under The Tuscan Sun (2003)” starring Diane Lane. Like most spin-offs, the American romantic comedy-drama film was only based on a few parts of the book. Unlike the movie, the book was about the author’s love for Italy instead of a Hollywood love story.
Under The Tuscan Sun was written by an American writer/ professor who bought and restored an abandoned villa called Bramasole in the Tuscan countryside. Frances Mayes wrote some vivid and glorious descriptions of the typical life in 1990s Tuscany. In one chapter, she wrote down some recipes of Italian dishes that she learned from the local Tuscans. The other chapters talk about how she and her husband learned to live like the Italians as well as their trips to hidden gems in the different parts of Tuscany. Through her book, she inspired many others to embark on their own extraordinary travel adventures.
Tuscany From The Point of View of a “Straniera”
One of the reasons why I read the book was to understand more about life in Italy through the perspective of a foreigner (“
“I was pulled also to its [Italy’] sense of lived life, the coexistence of times that somehow gives an aura of timelessness.”-Frances Mayes
It is true. I have experienced this first-hand. Living in Siena, Italy is like living in the Middle Ages and in 2019 at the same time. Italians are known for valuing and preserving their culture and history. However, everything else is normal in terms of technology and the conveniences of modern life. Just like her, I experienced culture shock.
I have how Italians do some things differently (such as leaving their keys in the locks). I have also experienced a major paradigm shift when it comes to letting go of certain things and realizing that you do not have complete control of any situation.
Tuscany Twenty Years Ago Vs. Today
The way Frances Mayes described popular cities in Tuscany twenty years ago remains true in 2019:
“The tower still leans, tourists still take photos of themselves leaning to one side or the other in front of it.” (Pisa)
“In summer, wads of tourists clog the city as if it’s a Renaissance theme park.” (Florence)Frances Mayes
Just like her, when you have been living in a foreign country for quite some time- you distinguish yourself from “the tourists” and try to assimilate with the culture. (Yet I know that I stick out like a sore thumb because “I’m from Asia.”)
A Leap of Faith
I can also relate to Frances Mayes’s experience because just like her, my family took a leap of faith to move to Italy. Never in my wildest dreams have I thought of living in Tuscany. I am used to living in a busy metropolitan area, and honestly, my heart belongs to the big city. But for now, I know that Siena is a good place to raise a family.
Some thought-provoking excerpts:
Italy has taught me many life lessons, some of which were also described by Mayes.
“But often irrational decisions- which frequently come from some distinct instinct- turns out to be the best moves you make in your life.”
“Periodic renewal is always good.”
Always he took it [his coffee] black. “Your life must be sweet,” one
barristatold him, “to take your coffee so bitter”.
“Wonders. Miracles. In cities, we’re less and less capable of the imagination for the super real, ground down as we are by reality. In rural areas, close to the stars and groves, we’re still willing to give it a whirl.”
I recommend this book to anyone who wants to know about the life, arts, food and culture of Tuscany. It may inspire you to travel more and be more open to the world outside your own.
Have you read Under The Tuscan Sun or do you have a favorite book about Italy? I would love to read your comments.