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On Tuscan Time

Photo of Frances MayesTwenty years after Frances Mayes (M.A. '75) sank her savings
into a dilapidated villa named Bramasole, the professor emerita's
love affair with Tuscany's people, food and lifestyle is still going
strong. In "Every Day in Tuscany" a follow-up to her New York
best-sellers "Under the Tuscan Sun" and "Bella Tuscany,"
Mayes shares her favorite Italian recipes and sicusses the restora-
tion of a second home in a wilder part of Tuscany.

I have a natural tendency toward tidy priorities. I can't help it. Every pot scrubbed and put away before the dinner is served. A semester's worth of preparation for the first class. The sheets ironed. Misplaced perfectionism takes time. Lots of it. Now I want to jump in off the high dive.

I've occasionally been willing to take a risk when prodded by desire. My big one was plunking down my life savings on this rundown little villa in Tuscany. You hear of people buying houses all over the place now but in 1990, I was in virgin territory, just hoping this was not my own private Donner Pass.

What I experienced was a great electrical charge to my habits. A grand zap. That act prompted so many other changes. I look back on crucible moments and see how each one burned up something in me and created the ashes from which other plans emerged. Maybe risk is a desperate form of play. You double the stakes and pray that the queen of hearts is dealt to your hand.

How do Italian friends naturally keep the jouissance they were born with? I've noticed that they don't talk about priorities. They work but don't become slaves. Always they have time to visit. Early on I learned that in Italian, there is no word for stress; it's a recent import: lo stress. Just wasn't a concept. Now lo stress exists, but in rural Tuscany work and play are happily still balanced, giving the chance not to just enjoy but to revel in everyday life. Especially the rituals of the table and the piazza. On my first trip to Italy in my twenties, I was having espresso with my husband under those arcades in Bologna. We had just arrived. The café was buzzing, waiters gliding around serving coffee, a musical chairs going on as people visited with one friend, then moved on to another table. The noise level shocked us. The laughter amazed us. The gestures had me secretly practicing in the hotel later. "They are having more fun than we are," I said. We were having fun, too, but not their kind of fun. I have ever since been drawn to that only -- Italian quality -- I have seen it nowhere else -- of taking great satisfaction in the everyday.

Photo of Frances Mayes"Every Day in Tuscany"by Frances Mayes

I never will completely get over the nagging sense: I should be doing something. But my friends and neighbors in Cortona don't have that particular demon. They are doing what they need to do by being. People who own so much historical time must feel more comfortable inside time. I see: Time can be a river for floating. Our friends drop in. They call and propose spontaneous excursions. They stay out late having dinner on Wednesday nights. We hardworking Americans instead fight time, wring time out, push up against time, clock ourselves constantly. Italians relish the day. Carpe diem, they repeated for so many centuries that they don't have to say it anymore.

Copyright © 2010 by Frances Mayes. From her book "Every Day in Tuscany," published by Broadway Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. Reprinted with permission.


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