A Year in the World:
Journeys of a Passionate Traveller

by Frances Mayes


Broadway Books, 2006. ISBN 0767910052.
Reviewed by Judith Helburn
Posted on 04/11/2006

Nonfiction: Travel/Adventure

A Year in the World is stimulating reading for two types of travelers—those who tour in their armchairs and those who hope to visit some of the featured European and northern African spots. Frances Mayes, who wrote Under the Tuscan Sun, displays her passion for visiting off-the-path spots and connecting with the locals. She and her husband, Ed, are always on the look-out for the perfect cup of coffee and the most delectable meals and pastries. A Year could even be considered a book for "foodies". Their considerable walking on these trips must be what keeps them from turning into butterballs.

Mayes travels the way I would like to travel and has visited several countries and cities which my husband and I recently toured. We, however, traveled in the tourist bus and remarked often that we needed more time and would have to return. Now, we have a good idea of lovely side trips and eating adventures.

But this is far more than a guide to cities and countries. Mayes does her research and weaves in the history and literature and poetry of the place. We hear about the sites from local writers through Mayes' well honed narrative. I marked many passages which were delicious to me and list some here to lure the reader:

  • You are released [from your own boundaries] because you are insignificant to the life of the new place.
  • These fountains and courtyards invite strolling, reading Rumi, sipping jasmine tea. [The Alhambra in Granada]
  • Arm's-width streets twist, climb, double back, drop. Whitewashed houses with flowering pots and crumbling ruins with gaping courtyards open to small plazas with birds competing in the trees for best song of the morning. [Lisbon]
  • Where else in the world does someone tango in the street? [Naples]
  • We use red pepper flakes decorously in Tuscany. Here, they tip the jar. [Southern Italy]
  • Mad twisted gargoyles look down at us. One pokes his rear end outward so that roof water drains out of his bottom. [Burgundy]
  • The shining dome of sky over us resembles an inverted glazed, cobalt china teacup. [Capri]

I even found the recipe for limoncello, an alcoholic lemon drink I first tasted in Naples. Yum! Mayes caused me to yearn to return to places I've barely touched upon. She lures me towards places I have not yet visited. She does so with graceful descriptions, poetry, history, food and attitude. I look forward to our next venture to Europe with this book and ones Mayes suggests in hand.

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