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A Year in the World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveller    by Frances Mayes order for
Year in the World
by Frances Mayes
Order:  USA  Can
Broadway, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I have a problem with reading travel literature - it gives me itchy feet, and Frances Mayes does a particularly good job of it! She tells us that 'Travel releases spontaneity. You become a godlike creature full of choice ... You open, as in childhood, and - for a time - receive this world.' Events that made Mayes' and her husband Ed's feet itch again included the deaths of her mother and close friends, and a building sense of carpe diem.

Mayes describes A Year in the World (a title that hints to me of mindful traveling), sharing a series of trips, in which she works hard to understand and empathize with other cultures, often quoting a region's famed writers and poets. Typically she and Ed stay in rented houses rather than hotels, and pick restaurants recommended by locals (I drooled over the frequent descriptions of foods eaten - like Spanish tapas - and wines drunk). Mayes thoroughly explores places, most of which I've been to, but makes me feel that I passed through too quickly, only skimming the surface. Travel destinations include Spanish Andalucia, Portugal, Italy (Naples, Taormina, Capri, Mantova, Sicily), Fez in Morocco, France's Burgundy (where she remembers the writer Colette), Britain (garden to garden), Greece and Turkey (on a cruise ship), Crete, and Scotland with old friends.

Mayes' words made many connections to my own experiences. When she says that Spanish 'Flamenco lights a brushfire in the blood', it reminds me of a wonderful evening comparing the fire and spirit of local amateur dancers to the poised professionals who had previously left me cold. Pride of place is evident in a Portuguese waiter's summary, 'My country is very small but very much.' Mayes also delves into fascinating topics related to the places she visits, such as the historical origins of mosaics so prevalent in Muslim architecture. And, as a writer, she explores the depth of her 'interest in the mysterious intertwining of character and place.' Her descriptions are delightful as in this letter home from south Italy (where she also writes a paean to pasta): 'A white village with houses like sugar cubes above the sea, arm-wide cobbled streets running under Moorish arches, and outrageous flowers swagging off balconies like bright skirts of ballgowns.'

Frances Mayes is a traveller's travel writer. I challenge you to read A Year in the World without acquiring the urge to start planning your own next trip - you'll find plenty of inspiration on where to go, and on how to get a strong sense of the places you visit, from reading this book.

Listen to a podcast interview with Frances Mayes at

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