Monday, January 10, 2011

Bella Tuscany: The Sweet Life in Italy

Last year’s New Years resolution was a smashing success in our household. Costly, but money well spent. Something of a life overhaul that has become firmly rooted into our way of daily living. This year, I’m going all out…books.

With the advent of the coursework for my Masters degree, reading for pleasure was largely shelved. (That came across as rather punny.) After three and a half years of reading what someone else has told me I should read, I have found myself burnt out on reading for quite a while now. There have been times throughout, like during the summer, when I certainly “have time” to read (and really, I’m sure that there has always “been time” but like everything else, it’s largely a matter of making time), but the desire was strongly lacking. Since the fall of 2007, the most I have read for fun was the summer after Abby was born just because I was sitting down and holding her a lot, and there wasn’t much else to do. But then the coursework began again, and the sob story continued. Woe is me.

Actually, I’m not trying to whine. I’ve really enjoyed the reading more often than not throughout all of the classes that I took. But now, I’m done with all of that, and I feel like I have some reading time suddenly readily available to me. So here we go. This is my New Years resolution, version 2011. Read and blog about one book a month for this calendar year. This doesn’t really sound like a lot, but I know that it will definitely still be a challenge at certain points this year, like April and May when track season is at its busiest and everything seems to be due to be immediately graded. (These 3 paragraphs will not be included in every subsequent post. Thanks for being patient through them!)

Consider the following my first installment: Bella Tuscany: The Sweet Life in Italy by Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun. I began it on New Years Eve and finished it on January 8th; so far…so good.

The most dominant thought I have after reading this book is how deeply it makes me want to visit Tuscany. As I read this, I kept trying to figure out when I could go. Maybe when Abby is three, we could leave her for a week…but I really want to have two weeks there if possible…would it be something we could do for our tenth anniversary? twentieth? The book is simply saturated with rich food descriptions, often very earthy and simplistic, sometimes complex and foreign. The food parts were definitely my favorite passages in the book, and thankfully, they predominated. My second passion in life—dreaming of my perfect house—corresponded well with the rusticity of Bramasole, the house in Under the Tuscan Sun. Admittedly, I bought this book at Half Price Books for $1 simply because I love the movie and have long wanted to read the books, so I figured this might be a good place to start.

The biggest negative to me is the proliferation of monotony that saturates the beautiful shadings of the rest of the book. This is monotony with an asterisk, though, because what reads as tedious to me is certainly not without interest to many other people…in this case, these parts are for the people who are into art history and Italian history. Mayes gets boringly tedious about things like Italian gardens and cathedral after museum after monastery. And I’m all for a little bit of this, but after a while, I just didn’t really care anymore. Her “bread and butter writing,” the parts where her descriptions and language affinity really shine, is really where she remembers meals, Italian ways of life, and neighbors in quaint detail.

There is, I believe, a certain unattainability that is not directly addressed in the book, likewise. In other words, if she just came out and said, “You know what, I’m living a dream life—working and living half of the year in San Francisco; being Italian the other half of the year. I realize that this is largely unattainable for nearly every American. I’m not the norm,” then I could accept the book for what it is. Instead, she never does come even close to saying this. Instead, she talks about flying to Venice over Christmas Breaks. Flying to Florence on a whim. Buying a house in San Francisco that reminds her of her Bramasole. Redecorating ad naseum (in both Tuscany and San Francisco). Five acres of garden, terraces, and landscaping. Basically, she’s wealthy. She lives a wealthy life, even if her whole point is that this was a broken down house and she’s restoring it. Everything she does in this book is essentially beyond my monetary ability. She spends too much time trying to come across as normal and not wealthy. I’m not buying it, and it leaves something of a dissatisfied taste in my mouth after finishing this. Normal people don’t take one whole day off to drive around Tuscany buying cases and cases and cases of wine to stock their cellar. Normal people don’t spend a week in Venice just because it’s cold and rainy in Tuscany.

Regardless, the book is mostly enjoyable, though I’m not overly fond of Mayes’s overall writing style. Uber detailed and somewhat monotonous. Yet it’s still something of an insider’s vacation to an exotic locale, one which has a beautiful simplicity. I can dig that appeal.

(Unprecedentedly, I have blogged twice today. If you are one of the very few people who purposefully read this, check out my other post from earlier today, too. I wrote it while glorying in the warm, winter sunlight. Then the widget woke up...)

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