The Roman Forum, the Leaning Tower, the Piazza San Marco: these are the sights synonymous with Italy. But such landmarks only scratch the surface of this magical country's offerings. In See You in the Piazza, Frances Mayes introduces us to the Italy only the locals know, as she and her husband, Ed, eat and drink their way through fifteen regions - from Friuli to Sardinia. Along the way, she seeks out the cultural and historic gems not found in traditional guidebooks.
Frances conjures the enchantment of the backstreets, the hubbub of the markets, the dreamlike wonder of that space between lunch and dinner when a city cracks open to those who would wander or when a mind is drawn into the pages of a delicious book - and discloses to us the secrets that only someone who is on intimate terms with a place could find.
Mayes (Under the Tuscan Sun) gives a sparkling and irresistible view of Italy in her eighth book, in which she and her husband explore the country from north to south. Mayes begins in Piedmont and ends in Catania, Sicily. Along the way she treats readers to "oh-pull-over" views, looks inside glorious churches, descriptions of innumerable meals (in Sardegna "the seafood fritto misto comes to us hot and crisp, and the grilled fish under a heap of chopped celery and tomatoes"), and recipes for the dishes they ate (e.g., gnocchi with wild hare from Friuli-Venezia Giulia). Mayes weaves into her narrative historical background (in mid-11th-century Puglia, Frederick II "built castle, mint, treasury and... brought twenty thousand Arab Muslims from Sicily" as troops) and practical travel tips, such as not checking luggage on planes and packing gold-colored sandals (they transform casual to dressy). Mayes has a wonderful eye for detail as she lyrically describes her surroundings, like a river that's "a long skein in the moonlight, as though a woman has unfurled her silvery gray hair." Travel, she explains, provides a chance to see life anew and helps form rich memories. Readers will want to take their time, savoring this poetic travelogue like a smooth wine.