A Year in the World By Frances Mayes
I may not be traveling this spring - but I have had the pleasure of visiting some of my favorite European cities, and discovering new places with Frances Mayes as I read A Year in the World. Frances Mayes is well known for her books Under the Tuscan Sun and Bella Tuscany. She and her husband Edward own homes in California and Cortona, Italy. Not being prepared to actually spend a full year traveling, they made a dozen long trips over five years, in different seasons, to complete a year of travel. This is not the same experience as a full year away from home - but it is what most of us could manage if we desired to.
Frances Mayes writes “Travel releases spontaneity… full of choice, free to make love in the morning, sketch a bell tower, read a history of Byzantium, stare for an hour …Free to go, and free to return home bringing memories.”
Travel is also about discovery - discovery of a culture and a place, but also about yourself and who you are in the world. It is an opportunity to be away from what I call “my real life” and spend time in exploration without the daily expectations of home.
The locations in this book are all European - places we can imagine going ourselves quite easily. Frances and Edward Mayes are obviously quite affluent and can afford to stay at the Ritz in Madrid, for instance - they like their comforts and can afford them. I may not be able to stay at the Ritz myself - but I can enjoy the fact that the Mayes's stay there.
I have been to some of the places Frances Mayes visits in this book and I enjoyed exploring places I know with the author. I have been to Madrid several times and love the city as much as they did. It was a delight to read about their discovery of the wonderful museums, galleries - and especially the restaurants, as they experience them for the first time.
The city of Seville, in Andalusia, is another wonderful place - I could happily return time and again. As Frances Mayes says “I could live here.” The Mayes are as interested in the food of a country as they are in the history and art and Seville is a place of fabulous food. From Seville they travel to the ancient Roman town of Italica, then the ruins of Carmona, and on to Rhonda - all places I love. Then to Granada; once a sleepy unspoiled city where only the Alhambra attracted tourists, it is now the place where street people from Northern Europe seem to spend the winter. Good restaurants are few and far between and the city has become an unpleasant place to spend time. Go see the magnificent Alhambra and get out of town. It was a delight to follow this couple on to Ubeda, Baeza and Cordoba, all towns I have explored and fallen in love with, as did they. It was after a day at the Alhambra, that Frances Mayes writes “How have we lived so long without knowing what we’ve learned on this trip?”
Another trip finds them in Venice, a city they have been to before. Again a city to be visited time after time. This time they leave Venice on a ship for a rather dismal voyage through the Greek islands to Turkey, with guided tours along the way.
This is an experience they find very frustrating, since they are normally very independent travelers. Several years later they return to Greece and Turkey, taking a sailing trip with friends and are able to explore the islands and coastline with fewer people, at a time of year with fewer tourists.
As we all discover it is necessary now to travel in the off-season in order to enjoy Europe without overwhelming numbers of tourists - trading sunshine and warm weather for less crowded streets, restaurants, museums and galleries.
Frances and Edward Mayes are experienced travelers; they read about the places they are going - history and fiction as well as guide books.
They sometimes rent houses - they research the hotels and restaurants thoroughly, but leave room for discovery.
They are fortunate to be able to afford to ditch hotels or houses which turn out to be disasters, and find something more to their liking.
Through it all they relish the experiences of new places, and the comfort of favourite cities they have known on earlier trips. They have fun; they seem like thoroughly nice people.
I admit to some jealousy that I can’t travel as often as they can, and in such style, but it was a pleasure to go along with them from my armchair.
If you are planning a European vacation, this is the perfect book to read on the plane. Enjoy your trip!