Stomachs were growling and mouths were watering at the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club on Tuesday, April 16. Not just because it was around lunch time, but because author Frances Mayes was offering a delicious rundown of regional Italian delicacies. Speaking in a lilting southern drawl, she held rapt the more than 100 attendees. Mayes described firm, earthy white truffles, sweet whipped caramel desserts, and, of course, pasta, “the national anthem” of Italy, she said, with a wry smile.
Mayes was in town, courtesy of Warwick’s of La Jolla and The Library Guild of Rancho Santa Fe, on a tour for See You in the Piazza, her new memoir just released by Penguin Random House. The book is a journey through remote parts of Italy, where she and her husband traveled for a year and a half, discovering surprising local fare and historical sites. By her own account, they ate their way from Friuli to Sicily, and the book includes her keen observations and rich descriptions, as well as some 15 authentic recipes straight from Italian chefs.
She may be most famous for Under the Tuscan Sun, a bestseller that was made into a movie, but Mayes is also a professor, essayist and poet. In See You in the Piazza, her seventh book set in Italy, she said she aimed to reveal “places hidden in plain sight,” small towns, restaurants and hidden treasures that may not make it to most guide books. Her ultimate goal, she said, was to show “what it is about a place that unlocks that place,” and what wonders are “back and beyond the corners.”
Hailing from tiny Fitzgerald, Georgia, Mayes took a post-college trip to Italy that changed the trajectory of her life. She fell hard and today she lives part of the year in North Carolina and part in Tuscany. And many of her books, including this most recent one, are love letters to her adopted country.
Judging by the audible “oohs” and “ahs” during her presentation, Mayes succeeded in whetting the Rancho Santa Fe crowd’s appetite for travel and for food. Luckily, after the presentation, there was antipasto spread on the patio, ready for Mayes and her fans to devour.
For more information on Mayes, visit www.francesmayesbooks.com.