Skip to main content

“The greatest gift of travel: the steep learning curve. Second best: how your vision refreshes and you see with infant eyes. Third: memory. How the places seen will layer into life as time moves on,” Frances Mayes writes in See You in the Piazza, the latest among her memoirs on living and traveling in Italy.

Taken together, her points extend a clear road map to anyone seeking to make the most of a summer vacation. As I travel to parts of America I’ve never before seen, I find her wisdom becoming woven into my being.

Mayes lives out these ideas in evocative detail. It’s her signature strength, one I’ve relished while reading her renowned best-sellers Under the Tuscan Sun and Every Day in Tuscany. Employing such visceral language, she leads Piazza readers around corners of Italy that even many locals don’t know — it’s a picture-perfect capturing of the countryside.

While venturing through the Campo Tures village, she writes, “Here in the voluptuous valleys and idyllic green hills sloping up to raw and haggard mountains, I close my eyes. The power and spirit of this landscape … must be that you enter it as an explorer. What lies over the next pass? The Dolomiti are in Italy but there’s a bedrock German culture, too; these are mountains but not remotely like any seen before; the air is fresh but I want to gulp it like spring water….”

Along her journey of the country’s 13 regions, we sense her joy and closeness with her husband and grandson. In addition to glimpsing their interplay, we feel her love with all of Italy — from Piemonte to Sicilia. Once after exploring a mystical garden in the rain, she tucks in another bit of wisdom: “Gardens and houses. My obsessions. He was onto it, this Gregorio Barbarigo, the mastermind of this symbolic garden walk. Everything you bring or grow or create or care for in this realm moves you closer to the life more abundant.”

For certain, See You in the Piazza is not an electrifying page-turner, but a lyrical travelogue to savor poolside or a practical guide to earmark for an upcoming trip. In that spirit, Mayes provides the recipes from some of her favorite Italian restaurants.

If the mark of a seasoned writer is turning places into living characters, Mayes is surely a standout.

Ari Pinkus

Ari Pinkus is a writer for the American Communities Project and a former writer and editor at the National Association of Independent Schools in Washington, DC, where she played a pivotal role in producing and editing the content of Independent School magazine. She launched and oversaw the magazine’s blog, Independent Ideas, which frequently covered cutting-edge topics like creativity, digital citizenship, mindfulness, sustainability, and diversity.