RANCHO SANTA FE — On April 16, the Rancho Santa Fe Library Guild in partnership with Warwick’s, welcomed prolific author Frances Mayes to speak at its Author Talk Series regarding her newest work. The talk was held at the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club.
Mayes’ latest novel is again a love letter to Italy. Many know Mayes from her book “Under the Tuscan Sun,” which was adapted into a screenplay and released in 2003.
She has authored numerous books, and several are dedicated to Italy. Her seventh is titled “See You in the Piazza.”
Born and raised in Fitzgerald, Georgia, Mayes knew there was a bigger world than her hometown when she connected her love of travel from the books she read at her local library.
When Mayes visited Italy many years ago, the Renaissance architecture and art was an immediate draw, but other characteristics surfaced such as the vivacity of Italian life.
“That’s the reason I kept returning — I still love the art, architecture and so forth, but it’s the people that animate the place in such a special way,” Mayes said. “It’s amazing to me how even in places with tons of tourists, they (Italians) often really maintain their humanism and I found that really all over Italy — it’s still such a deeply humanistic country — I’ve always gone back whenever I could because it makes sense.”
Her passion for Italy triggered a home purchase in 1990 in Bramasole, Tuscany, based on her novel, “Under the Tuscan Sun.”
Conversely, “See You in the Piazza” unveils unique hidden places in Italy which are, for the most part in plain sight, but with a particular genesis in Puglia, Mayes said.
“My husband Ed and I were on a trip down there, and we were absolutely loving the tiny towns that we didn’t even intend to go to that we just happened upon,” she said, adding there were wonderful Romanesque churches. “Puglia is no longer an undiscovered place, but we were going to these little tiny coves where there was no one and jumping in the water. It’s that kind of spontaneity in travel that really means so much to me, and we were finding it off the road in Puglia.”
She said in a little tiny town, Troia, had an enormous rose window in its church right on the piazza.
“You sit there, and you think of all the people since the 1100s who have sat there and looked up at that rose window,” she said.
In a neighboring town, Osara, Mayes said she and her husband stumbled upon a bread oven that had been in operation since the 1500s.
“They make these huge loaves of bread that weigh 10 pounds, and they throw in a handful of straw just before they put in the bread, so it browns the crust with this burning straw. It was so interesting to realize what bread means in that culture, how all over Puglia they love their bread, and they bring back these old traditions such as the gathering of orzo was what originally made the Puglian bread so good,” she said.
It was these discoveries in these out-of-the-way places which fueled a sense of travel which rediscovered a sense of spontaneity that led to the creation of “See You in the Piazza.”
Mayes visited and wrote about more than 50 small towns 13 regions in Italy. These included Gaeta, Torino, Trento, Asolo, Parma, Trani, Santadi, Catania and more.
On her travels, she asked some of the local chefs if they would consider allowing her to use their recipes in her upcoming novel. She was pleasantly surprised when all of them agreed.
“These recipes are not typical Italian recipes — they are what the chef really wanted to represent as his region and what he did with the local ingredients,” she said. “So, if you feel an interest, try some of these recipes, and I promise you’ll learn some new things.”
Mayes said the end of her travels for “See You in the Piazza,” confirmed what she already knew: Italy is the most diverse country in the world.
“So, travel by all means, but my proposal is to get into some of these little places where you can restore this kind of authentic sense of the place and discover these little things that give the heart to travel,” Mayes said.