A Place in the World

A Place in the World coverA Place in the World: Finding the Meaning of Home
Frances Mayes
Crown (August 23, 2022), 304 pages
Kindle edition $13.99, Amazon hardcover $23.99

I read the author’s Under the Tuscan Sun when it first came out in about 1997. I enjoyed her account of carving out a life in rural Italy. I therefore took notice of the publication of her latest book.

A Place in the World takes a much wider view of Mayes’s life and homes than did her Tuscan book. She writes about renting homes in Italy for the summer when she was an academic, a precursor to her purchase of the home in Tuscany with her husband Ed. She writes about the end of her first marriage and about how she and Ed kept returning to Italy when the other couple in the summer rental scheme dropped out. In the introduction she lists the various places she has lived, including a house on Hamilton Street in Palo Alto, a location I know well.

Mayes tells us about her childhood in Alabama, and about purchasing a home in North Carolina. We learn about the sale of the property, an in-town rental, and the purchase of another rural location in the area. She discovers the region was home to several distant relations about whom she knew nothing.

The author discusses family, holidays, and cooking. In one section of the book each chapter ends with recipes prepared on holidays and special occasions. She writes about life under COVID and how she and Ed had to return to Italy for the olive harvest under those conditions. She even tells us that early in her adult life she went to Provence to study cooking with Simone Beck (one of Julia Child’s two coauthors of Mastering the Art of French Cooking) at a time “before glorious farmers’ markets bloomed, before the nonstop master chefs, recipe blogs, and home cake makers trying not to look foolish on bake-offs, before the proliferation of excellent food websites.” And Mayes talks about the differences between American and Italian cooking: “I have never seen measuring spoons for sale in Italy.”

Mayes mentions the fact that Under a Tuscan Sun was made into a movie. I made a point of not seeing it, as I recall the reviews characterized it as a romance, something the book definitely was not. Mayes makes no complaints about the movie, however. I’m sure she collected a tidy sum for the movie rights.

I found A Place in the World highly readable and entertaining. It was an enjoyable diversion in these difficult days. In fact, Mayes tells us how to navigate difficult days:

quoteTune out, tune in. Unfollow those Facebook zealots who get on your nerves; even cat videos on Instagram are better. Víkingur Ólafsson on the piano or Joshua Bell on the violin or Yo-Yo Ma on the cello will justify the world every morning, raising your natural exhilaration and zest, rather than weighing the bloodstream with lead.

That’s advice I can pay attention to.

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