A Year in the World: Journeys of A Passionate Traveller Paperback – Mar 13 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Even people who don't normally read travel books are aware of the old Italian villa that Mayes and her husband restored, chronicled in Mayes's bestseller Under the Tuscan Sun and three other books about Tuscany. So it's somewhat surprising when Mayes declares her wanderlust, her passion for other beautiful places in the world. She adores Tuscany, but also loves tasting other people's cuisines, learning their gardening habits, reading their poetry, swimming their waters. She's always looking around and wondering, "How do place and character intertwine? Could I feel at home here? What is home to those around me? Who are they in their homes, those mysterious others?" In this luminous volume, she and her husband visit southern Spain, Portugal, Sicily, southern Italy, Morocco, Greece, Crete, Scotland, Turkey and places in between. Usually they rent an apartment or villa, so they can cook, sprawl and feel like "locals." They survive a couple of package trips (a cruise around the Greek islands, a small charter around Turkey) which only highlight the pleasures of independent travel—having the freedom to wander and discover things for themselves, without a schedule. And happily, there's no mention of prices to mar readers' escapist fantasies. (Mar. 14)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
What Mayes accomplished in her popularization of Tuscany she now extends to a larger stage. Despite the title's claim, she does not reach everywhere on this orb, but she and her husband do manage a slow, deliberate itinerary taking them across much of Western Europe with a brief touchdown in Africa. Commencing with an excursion to Madrid in January, Mayes tours Spain down through Andalusia and the Costa del Sol. Portugal follows. By May, she returns to Italy, not to her beloved Tuscany, but first to Naples and then to Sicily. The couple spends time in Burgundy and Scotland before hopping back to Aegean lands. Wherever she goes, Mayes reflects at length on the cultural, historical, and literary highlights of the lands and peoples she visits. Mayes' touchstone in every locale is the region's cuisine. Her brief inventory of Portuguese soups alone could inspire a reexamination of that nation's cookery. Naples' pizza and cheese, Sicily's seafood, Crete's lamb, and Scotland's shortbread receive Mayes' encomiums. From time to time, Mayes even offers some recipes. Befitting her gifts as a poet, Mayes' prose shines with evocative imagery, bringing life to every subject she encounters across her peripatetic year. Mark Knoblauch
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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I get the sense that her heart wasn't really in this book. Maybe because the trips were taken over a span of five years, and cobbled together? Or because there's so much `padding' - endless quotes from her own or other people's writing. When she liked the place, her descriptions feel artificially enthusiastic, almost as if the book was paid for by the chamber of commerce. I got tired of reading that she could live there, or could imagine taking her grandson there, or wishes she was born there, or that it's SO much better than San Francisco. Where she doesn't live anymore, and hasn't for years. There are also too many stories about refreshing local characters who think Frances Mayes is the nicest, most tasteful, most interesting person they've ever met. Especially since these people tend to be waiters, cab drivers, rug salesmen or others whose business depends on charming the tourists.
Most of the book consists of sneering at her fellow Americans, or talking about people's personal appearance. This is boring and clichéd - and if you like that kind of thing, Bill Bryson does it better. There's also way too much name dropping (she's always mentioning "my friend so-and-so, the famous ____"). What happened to the ordinary, financially stretched, middle-aged college professor? She seems to be taking on the persona of a celebrity. She doesn't want to be crowded in with a group, doesn't want to associate with ordinary tourist types - now she deserves the VIP treatment. This is definitely a change from her previous books.
I think when it comes right down to it, there's too much Frances Mayes in this book. I thought I liked her, but what I really like is her writing style. It can still be magical - when she gets her ego out of the way. But when she puts herself front and center, she becomes more tedious and pretentious than interesting. Now I'm sorry I read this book, because I'm afraid it will spoil my enjoyment of the earlier ones.
Whereas Gilbert undergoes a cathartic experience that transforms her from an urban-dwelling workaholic, Mayes - having already experienced her own catharsis in refurbishing a 900-year old Tuscan villa - already seems well prepared for the pleasures and hazards of travel and often comes across as a dilettante in the way she and her husband Ed hopscotch the globe in search of a feeling of home all over Europe and the Mediterranean. Giving up the security of their tenured university positions, the couple covers quite a bit of ground, and in fact, each chapter represents a unique locale and consequently an idiosyncratic experience. As if hosting a travel series, they go to museums that range from the world-renowned Prado in Madrid to a Welsh museum filled with over one thousand teapots. In a less adventurous vein than Anthony Bourdain, they also dine on the local cuisine whether it is churros in Sevilla or Sally Lunn bread in the Cotswolds or Ed's constant quest for the perfect espresso. Academics at heart, they immerse themselves into the local literature to ensure they are not ignorant before coming to landmarks of historical or cultural significance.
However, as with Gilbert's book, the best passages in Mayes' book have to do with the local people that she and Ed meet and get to know. Mayes has a particular talent in describing unique characters like the aggressive, multilingual Istanbul rug dealer who sends notes in miniature looms or the Fez tour guide who loves to quote from Joseph Conrad. These are the people that bring the book to life. Frances and Ed, on the other hand, seem like observers, thoughtful tour guides for the upscale traveler. The author seems to be taking a page from Alain de Botton's "The Art of Travel" where he waxes fondly on the multitude of epiphanies brought about by one's own voyaging and mixing the resulting experiences with observations made by the great artists and writers. I just think Mayes doesn't quite elucidate those epiphanies at a meaningful enough level given the hodgepodge approach of their journey.
But in the end I think she is a self-righteous elitist. What was the final straw is when she was on Capri, and she looked at a group of tourists getting off a boat and thought if there were any Americans she didn't want to know. Ugh. Lady, those are the people who have bought all your books and made you and your weird poet husband Ed gazillionaires.
Speaking of Ed, I couldn't believe it when he was so sick in Morocco and she decided to leave him in the hotel room and go off on a tour of the place. You have got to be kidding me. How uncaring and selfish -- if that were my husband I would be doing whatever I had to do to get him back home and to see that he was comfortable so that he could recover.
I now feel about Frances Mayes the same way I feel about those people I was friends with for years and now no longer speak to or have anything to do with -- I will take some lovely memories of our time together, but it's best in the end if we just part ways.