Category Archives: Italy

Terrible Ideas

If you’ve known me for any length of time, either personally or social-networkily, you probably also know that I’m a Frances Mayes stalker. Trust me, if I ever get to Tuscany, the first place I’m going is Cortona and you’ll see my photo standing in front of Bramasole all over Facebook and my blog.  I know she doesn’t live there anymore, but maybe she’ll come back to check on it and come out to say hello to me. One can only hope.

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Katherine: It’s a nice little villa. Rather run down, but redeemable… Are you going to buy it?
Frances: The way my life is currently going, that would be a terrible idea.
Katherine: Mm, terrible idea… Don’t you just love those?

There are many memorable quotes from my all-time favorite movie, Under the Tuscan Sun (see my review here), but this one is probably my favorite, because my life is full of terrible ideas. And I love them — most of the time.

So how does this relate to my blog? If you were sitting here in my office with me, I’d invite you to check out my Drafts folder in WordPress. Over the last 2 1/2 years, I’ve published 219 posts — averaging about twice a week. That’s not so bad, considering I have a full-time teaching job. But wait. I also have 77 unpublished drafts in there. That’s an average of 2.56 per month that I DIDN”T publish. Why not? Were my ideas so terrible that they weren’t worth the light of day?

The oldest draft is from October, 2010, and the title speaks for itself. “Things I Love: Free Time” — there’s nothing written in that draft beyond a cute topic sentence. I wish I had made time to write that one; it would be interesting to read what I was worried about at that point in my life. I’m still looking for free time.

Recently I started going through old recipes boxes that we got from my husband’s aunt. She’s almost 103 years old, and I was going to do a recipe series where I cooked her “receipts.” I actually made Golden Shrimp Casserole and photographed the process. I never published that draft because the casserole was TERRIBLE. I think we finally threw out the last of it after we tried to cover it up with cheese to make it palatable. So much for “Aunt Rachel’s Recipes” from January 8, 2012. Trust me, I’ll never publish that one.

Then there was last week’s unpublishable rant about something at school. Let’s just say I thought better about publishing it — maybe I’ll put it in my book about 100 Things I Never Want to Do Again when I retire. It was definitely a terrible idea to publish it, but at least I got it off my chest and it’s safe in my computer. Or is it…?

The good news, for those of you that enjoy my book reviews, is that there are four GOOD ideas waiting to be finished up and published. I think you will love reading about The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted — a very good book. Interestingly, the premise of that book is a terrible idea that turns into love and happiness for the characters. 🙂

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P.S. I’m pretty sure I AM going to publish my rant about who put Adele in this ugly dress when her amazing talent deserves a truly amazing dress. Did they think we couldn’t see the grandma underslip she was wearing, apparently so she could wear the support bra she definitely needs? I mean, really. More on little black dresses that WORK on another day.

P.P.S. Thanks for staying with me. I made a goal to try to keep my posts under 500 words, but this one slipped over the edge. I hope it was worth your time.

31 Days in Europe: Bella Abruzzo!

Have you ever had one of those weeks in which you think that you might not be able to hold it together? I think we all have them. Those are the weeks when we need our go-to friends. One of my best friends now lives in another state and really, I miss her pretty much every day. It was great to see her last week, but it took me over an hour in traffic to get into the city after work. That’s how much I love her. And I love her even more for writing a guest post for me this week. Enjoy another visit to Italy!

Italy had not been on my A-list of European countries to visit.  I am a rabid Anglophile, and also took five years of French in school, so both of those countries are higher on my list of vacation destinations.  I have been to England three times, but never to France.

Then our friends Linda and Tim, who travel to Italy every year, proposed a group trip to a part of Italy that they had heard about but never visited.  The chance to travel with them and several other friends, was too good to pass up, so May saw twelve of us flying to Rome, crowding into three cars, and driving about two hours west to the region of Abruzzo.

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Abruzzo is not on the radar for most Americans.  In a way this is a shame, since it is a beautiful but somewhat impoverished area, which could use the tourist dollars.  On the other hand, it is refreshingly unspoiled and free from the usual tourist crowds.

We spent four days in Sulmona, a town of about 25,000 people. This town, by the way, was the filming location of a recent George Cluny movie, The American.

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After Sulmona we traveled north to the tiny town of Civitella del Tronto.  This is located between the Grand Sasso mountain range and the Adriatic Sea.

Image credit: KSF

As we approached you could see the town perched precariously on the side of a hill, under the looming walls of a huge ruined fort.

Image credit: KSF

Following the road through the medieval gate into the town, we arrived at the Hotel Zunica 1880, our base for the next three days.  The Hotel was wonderful.  It offered gourmet food, cooking classes, and tours of nearby vineyards and olive groves, as well as views of the Adriatic from our room, but the high point of the visit, to me, was the town itself.

Image credit: KSF

Image credit: KSF

All the buildings were made of old, old stone that looked piled together in no particular order.  Streets were narrow, with stairs that went up, and ramps that went down, and nooks and crannies everywhere.  Ruins were next door to rehabs, and they all had breathtaking views of the valley below.

Image credit: KSF

Image credit: KSF

Image credit: KSF

The town was a fairy tale place, and I fell in love.

Image credit KSF

31 Days in Europe: Tuscany Revisited

It’s Friday, Friday, and I can hear Rebecca Black’s stupid song in my head. I’ve had to erase recordings off of my DVR because I haven’t had time to watch the old stuff and the new stuff — Project Runway and Dancing With the Stars and The Sing Off and House — is much more important to me right now. Go Yellow Jackets!

So, tonight I’m taking the easy way out. Click here to read my second most popular post of all time and the one that continues to get more hits than any other. Since we have been in the Italy mode most of this week, let’s revisit Tuscany and one of my favorite authors, Frances Mayes.

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This post  linked up with hundreds of other 31 Day-ers. Join the fun and visit other bloggers as they share a piece of themselves. I’m still number 568, by the way.

P.S. If you’re reading, please “like” me on Facebook. I’m trying to migrate over to a professional page rather than my personal page and my daughter and her friends are getting lonely…

31 Days In Europe: A Revisit to an Italian Oldie but Goodie

Tuesdays are particularly bad for me in keeping up with blogging in general, and the pace of this 31 Day stuff is really putting the screws on me. Yet, I persevere because I love it!

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Today I’m linking up a previous post about traveling in Italy. Sadly, I have not yet been there but am waiting patiently until my school schedule (or lack thereof) allows me to go to Italy in the spring. Until then, I have to enjoy other people’s travels vicariously, including another pair of our traveling friends who are leaving for Tuscany on Friday. Yes, I’m envious.

Enjoy your day and come back tomorrow for some more photos — I’m not sure where we are headed. Any requests? I could really use some comment love today.

This post  linked up with hundreds of other 31 Day-ersJoin the fun and visit other bloggers as they share a piece of themselves. I’m still number 568, by the way.

Under the Tuscan Sun Search Love

I’m getting all of this traffic from my review of Frances Mayes’s Under the Tuscan Sun. Could that be from the group going to Italy with Linda Dini Jenkins? I wish I knew.

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I also wish I were going.

Book Review: Under the Tuscan Sun

If you’re like me and love to armchair travel, you’ve probably already read Under the Tuscan Sun and quite possibly, you’ve seen the movie starring the glorious Diane Lane. If you’re like me, you’ve wallowed in the thought of coffee on the piazza in Cortona and actually meeting Frances Mayes. And, if you’re really like me, you’ve done all of these things multiple times — like gobs. Since I just finished listening (for about the tenth time) to Frances Mayes reading her own book courtesy of my car stereo, I thought it was time to put my writing where my ears and eyes have been for the last thirteen years since I first discovered Mayes.

Mayes was originally a poet, and it shows up in all of her prose. Her descriptions of her purchase, renovation, and life in an Italian farmhouse are lyrical. One of the story lines that resonates especially well with me involves the going back and forth between San Francisco and Italy, and how each trip to Italy represents a new step in the renovation and renewal process. Since both Ed and Frances Mayes are professors, their rhythms follow the academic calendar, and so do mine. I know what it is like to have a list a mile long, waking up that first blessed morning of “vacation” ready to face the next round of cleaning, gardening, and renovating. As each Italy vignette unfolds I can almost physically feel Mayes relax, enjoy Cortona at Italy’s pace, and then gear up to return to her life in San Francisco. Maybe that’s why I originally loved her style so much.

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As Mayes continues her story beyond renovation, the reader is treated to visits to restaurants, cathedrals, and vineyards. That’s my kind of travel and since it’s all written in first person,  I can imagine myself touring Italy — with husband driving, of course! The sequel to Tuscan Sun, Bella Tuscany, is more of a travel memoir than Tuscan Sun, but continues Mayes’s love affair with Italy, its food, and its slower paced lifestyle.

Mayes’s book was made into a Under the Tuscan Sun (Widescreen Edition) movie of the same name and stars Diane Lane. Although it’s not even remotely the same, I love the fantasy that Audrey Wells created using Mayes’s original story. The characters that revolve around Frances (Lane) bring new depth to factual pieces of Mayes’s life, such as divorce, the support/lack of support of friends, and reinventing herself both literally and figuratively. Who cares if they aren’t exactly true? The movie was filmed in Cortona and other locations in Italy and is a visual treat. It’s a movie I can watch again and again.

You can imagine my surprise when I read the reviews of Under the Tuscan Sun on Amazon. Tucked in there among the glowing recommendations are some negative thoughts about Mayes; the best is calling Tuscan Sun “Martha Stewart does Italy.” As a person who used to video tape ALL the Martha Stewart episodes before there were DVRs and online reruns, I’d actually call that high praise. Sadly, that reviewer just doesn’t get who Mayes is as a writer. I think I do.

I’ve gobbled up the rest of Mayes’s books, including Swan, a kind of Gothic mystery set in the South,  and A Year in the World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveler, another travel memoir that takes the reader beyond Italy. The coffee table books about Italy are beautiful and deserve a check out from the library. I haven’t read her poetry book, but may look for it in the library. In researching this piece, I’ve discovered that there’s a brand new sequel to Tuscan Sun, and I’m going to use my end-of-the-school-year gift cards to buy Every Day in Tuscany: Seasons of an Italian Life. Its reviews tell me that I will probably love it, since the types of things that the reviewers don’t like are the ones I liked about her other books. I’ll let you know. I also discovered that she now longer lives in San Francisco, and has gone back to her Southern roots by purchasing a home in North Carolina.  She blogs relatively often at Frances Mayes’s Journal, and the posts reveal a pretty down-to-earth human being.

Finally, a note of caution. Frances Mayes apparently has been happy to ride on the bandwagon of fame and has some spin-off credits under her name. You can buy “At Home in Tuscany” furniture through Drexel Heritage and she and Ed hawk Bramasole olive oil on the internet. You can even buy Bramasole flatware, but I think this product is just capitalizing on the name. It’s pretty, though, if you’re in the market! And, if you’re actually lucky enough to visit Cortona, the city web site gives you explicit directions on how to get to Bramasole.

I leave you with my favorite quote from the movie and another blogger’s summary of its source.

“Terrible ideas…don’t you just love those?” (Movie quote from Under the Tuscan Sun) This was a line in the movie by actress Lindsey Duncan, who played the captivating Katherine in the movie. The statement was made when she first meets Lane’s character, Frances, in Tuscany. Katherine asks Frances if she is going to buy a villa that she is looking at posted on the wall. Frances chuckles about what a terrible idea that would be given her circumstances. At this point, Katherine looks at her mischievously and says this wonderful line, as if daring Frances to go ahead and buy it.

Terrible ideas sometimes turn out to be our best ones. I think that for Frances Mayes, buying this rundown house was probably a terrible idea, but it led to my love affair with Mayes’s writing and her beloved Cortona, Italy. I thank her for having a crazy idea and following through with it.

This post is just full of Amazon links. Feel free to purchase through my Amazon Associates account; it may help pay for my long-awaited trip to Italy!

Linky Love: Renting Italian Villas

This isn’t my year to do Italy, but I’m already thinking about next summer. My blogging friend Linda Dini Jenkins has written a wonderful post about renting villas in Italy for your next vacation.

Last summer we traveled with our friends Mark and Kathy in England and are looking forward to traveling with them again. For Christmas, they gave us Linda’s book, Up at the Villa: Travels with My Husband. For me, travel memoirs are like peanut M & Ms; I just can’t put them down until I’m all finished. Linda’s lovely book was no exception and I devoured it in one sitting. Ever since I saw Enchanted April for the first time, I have always wanted to rent a villa in Italy with friends. Apparently I’m not the only one, as Linda’s interview with Mario Scalzi proves.

If you are interested in traveling in Italy or just reading about it from your arm chair, I encourage you to link up with Linda. She’s a great writer with practical travel advice. Viva the Villa Experience!

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links, but I wouldn’t tell you to buy or read something if I didn’t believe in it. I’m just keeping it real.