CORTONA, Italy — Who says love isn’t forever? At least one love affair seems to be everlasting, that of Americans for Tuscany.
Case in point: the ongoing success of the book, “Under The Tuscan Sun,” by Frances Mayes and the release next month of the movie based on it, which will star Oscar nominee Diane Lane. The book also inspired a concert for cello and string orchestra by the Russian cellist and composer, Nina Kotova, and a Tuscan Sun Festival held earlier this month in Cortona, an hour’s drive from Florence.
“This book keeps leading me in different directions — it has taken on a life of its own,” said Mayes, who’s the first to marvel at its success since its publication in 1996 and two-year run on The New York Times Best-Seller List.
“I think people responded to a woman in her midlife taking a big risk and making a change. I believe a lot of people have this dream,” said Mayes, a poet, and an accomplished storyteller with an eye for details, a fine sense of humor and an ongoing passion for Tuscany. In “Under the Tuscan Sun,” Mayes recounts her experience buying an old villa in Cortona, Bramasole (which means “yearning for the sun”), and restoring it with the help of her husband, Ed, and her share of typical Italian muratori (masons). The Touchstone Pictures movie version, which will be released Sept. 26, takes a slightly different tack, though. In it, Mayes is played by Lane, who travels to Cortona to escape depression and pick up the pieces of her life after a divorce. Here, she finds love, falling for the Italian heartthrob, actor Raoul Bova.
Mayes closely collaborated with director Audrey Wells, who also wrote the script. “I didn’t mind the changes at all, I actually expected them,” said Mayes, who saw a video preview of the movie and “loved” it. “The spirit of the book is there, it’s the same as the film’s.”
Mayes said she made an immediate connection with Lane, whom she describes as “a real-life fairy-tale princess.” Lane owns a house in Georgia and Mayes is originally from that state, although she spent 33 years in the San Francisco Bay area, teaching creative writing at San Francisco State University.She first met the film’s producer, Tom Sternberg, in a wine store in Pienza with actors Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow during the filming of “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” which Sternberg also produced. “This movie came about through a chance personal meeting. We made contact and when I said I was living in Cortona, he asked me if I knew the author of ‘Under the Tuscan Sun,’” Mayes recollects with a smile.
And her probing of Tuscany continues. She’s currently writing a new book, “Tuscan Home,” due to be published by Broadway Books in November 2004, which was inspired by her passion for the region’s interiors, food and wine. And next month, Mayes will launch in the U.S. a Tuscan-inspired furniture line called At Home in Tuscany, produced by Drexel-Heritage of North Carolina. “The line is based on antiques I bought here, traditional fabrics and linens,” she said, pointing out, for example, that Bramasole’s front door is a reproduction of the front of an old armadio (wardrobe) she purchased here.
There’s also a travel book, “A Home in the World,” in the works, which will be published by Broadway and is about a tour Mayes took around 12 countries, including Morocco, Spain and Greece.
Although Mayes often refers to her passion for food and wine and a selection of recipes is included in “Under the Tuscan Sun,” in the book she also hints at her love of shoes. “I love clothes and shoes and buy everything here. Given the fact that I travel a lot, often on business to give talks, Giorgio Armani is perfect for me, his suits work in so many occasions,” said Mayes, who is partial to colors. As for shoes, “Prada, Prada….I’m a big fan of the Prada outlet [in Tuscany] and the Prada boutique in Florence.”
“Frances has a special magnetism, she is one of our most sensitive writers and she touches the heart of women with her love of beauty,” saidKotova, a friend and neighbor of Mayes’ who, along with the writer, was the Tuscan Sun Festival’s artistic director. Kotova performed her first solo concert at 11 and is a professional cellist, but also had a brief modeling career that helped her buy her first cello. The festival — which will be an annual event — combined music, film screenings, cooking classes, excursions to castles and wineries in Chianti, poetry readings and literary discussions, art tours and spa treatments. Emanuele Rachini, mayor of Cortona, said Mayes “has relaunched the idea of the grand tour, and Americans in particular really want to discover our traditions.”“It’s our way of giving back to Cortona — we feel so lucky to have landed here,” said Mayes.
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