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A Year in the World: Journeys of A Passionate Traveller (Anglais) Broché – 13 mars 2007

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Blood Oranges

Who cut down the moon's

(Left us roots
Of water.)
How easy to pluck flowers from
This infinite acacia.

--Federico García Lorca

January, old Janus face looking left at the past year and right toward the new. I'm for the new--no mournful backward glance. Make tracks, I write one night on the steamed kitchen window.

The year began with a break-in at my house while my husband and I were finishing dinner. Ed had just tipped the last of a vino nobile into our glasses. Laughing, we were talking about the turn of the year, with Nina Simone crooning "The Twelfth of Never" to us. We'd cleared the plates, the candles were burning down, and outside the dining room window we saw only our potted lemon trees, swaying snapdragons, and yellow Carolina jasmine, for January in California is a blessed season.

In a flash, everything changed. A man crashed through the living room window, screaming that he wanted to die, then loomed on the middle of the rug, his bundled body in ski jacket, droopy pants, and homeboy hat pulled down around his moony face. Even as I write this, my heart starts to pound.

"Give me a knife," he shouted. "I've never done this before, but I'm doing it now." I thought, not does he have a gun will we die, but he's goofy. Then terror pumped through every vein in my body. This can't be happening! Somehow, we'd stood up. Run. My chair tipped over. He lunged into the dining room. I threw my glass of wine in his face, and as he wiped his eyes, we ran out the back door. "I want to die," he shouted to us as we fled into a street darkened by conscientious neighbors in the middle of the latest corruption-engineered energy crisis. Our house was blazing like the Titanic; lights flared in every window. Our intruder had been drawn to us like a fluttering moth toward the screen door on a soft southern night.

Ed grabbed a phone on the way out and somehow called 911 as he sprinted across the street. We ran to separate neighbors, hoping to find someone at home on Saturday night. Startled new Chinese neighbors brought me in and handed me the telephone, though they must have thought I was mad, while the intruder followed Ed across the street to our neighbors Arlene and Dan. Interrupted in the middle of a dinner party, they pulled Ed in and slammed the door. Then our intruder broke through their door--just as the police drove up.

That was the beginning. The drugged young man was on the street again in a month. I found his sunglasses in a flower bed. Expensive. I threw them in the trash. The year rolled on and doesn't bear thinking about. Suffice to say the words surgery, hospitals, deaths. As the sublime September weather arrived, we all experienced the mind-altering, world-shaking attack on America. Go, bad year. May the stars realign.

Now, Janus, my friend, I am going to Spain for a winter month in Andalucía. Andalucía, land of the orange and the olive tree. Land of passionate poets and flamenco dancers and late-night dinners with guitar music in jasmine-scented gardens.

Ed flew to Italy a week ago because, as always, we have some complicated building project in progress. En route to Spain, he has detoured to Bramasole, our house in Cortona, to see about the drilling of a well for a nine-hundred-year-old house we have bought in the mountains. We want to accomplish a historic restoration on this stone house built by hermit monks who followed Saint Francis of Assisi. When I last talked to him, the dowser had felt his stick bend in exactly the spot where I did not want a well and had drilled down a hundred meters without finding a drop. We are planning to meet in Madrid.

From San Francisco, I board a flight to Paris and am happy to see my seatmate take out a book instead of a computer. No white aura and tap-tapping for the ten-hour flight. She looks as if she could have been one of my colleagues at the university. Is she going to Europe to research a fresco cycle or to join an archaeological team at a Roman villa excavation? I take out my own book, ready to escape into silence for the duration. She smiles and asks, "What are you reading?"

"A biography of Federico García Lorca--getting ready for Spain. What are you reading?"

"Oh, a book on John three thirteen."

"Three thirteen. I don't know that verse. We used to sing 'John three sixteen, John three sixteen' in rounds at Methodist Sunday school."

The flight attendant comes by with champagne and orange juice. "Just water," my seatmate and I say in unison. We begin to talk about travel and books, chatting easily, though I am, at first, waiting for a chance to retreat. We know nothing of each other and will part when the scramble to exit at Charles de Gaulle begins.

She asks a lot of questions. I tell her I am a former university teacher, now a full-time writer. I tell her about living part of the year in Italy, and that Italy has given me several books, written with joy. She probes. Are my books published? Are they popular? And if so, do I know why? What do I try to accomplish with my writing? How do I feel about people's responses to my books? On and on. I tell her that I'm embarking on the first of many travels and that I hope to write a book about my experiences. Why? What will I be looking for? I am drawn into lengthy explanations. I say I'm interested in the idea and fact of home. I'm going to places where I have dreamed of living and will try to settle down in each, read the literature, look at the gardens, shop for what's in season, try to feel at home. I'm talking more openly than usual with a stranger. Is she a psychiatrist?

"And you've never felt God's hand on yours?" She looks quizzically at me.

"No. I've felt lucky, though."

"Maybe you are bringing happiness to people through the will of God. Maybe." She smiles.

She answers my own questions evasively. She is holding something back, even in the basic exchanges, such as whether she is on vacation, that simple opening into conversation. Our little equation is out of balance. Finally, I ask bluntly, "What do you do?"

"I . . . I guess you could say I'm a speaker."

"On what subjects?"

Silence. She is gazing out the window. She is a very still person. "I'm part of a foundation. We try to help in communities with severe problems."

Vague. She sees my questioning look. She frowns. "We're involved in education, and orphanages, and churches."

"Oh, so it's a religious foundation? What religion are you?" I assume she is a Presbyterian or Methodist, a good volunteer for good works, or is involved in Catholic charities.

"I know this is strange, but I have a strong sense about you. I'll just tell you my journey." She then describes the surprise of her conversion, her subsequent adoption of six children from all over the world, her work in Africa and Russia. Her husband, a prominent lawyer, eventually had his own revelation and joins her in her missions. Dinner is served and we talk on.

"You've probably never met anyone like me, anyone who hears the voice of God."

"I think I haven't. You hear the voice of God?" Oh, mamma mia, I think.

"Yes, he's talking to me right now, all the time."
"What does he sound like?" I wonder if she is speaking metaphorically, living out a grand as if.

She laughs. "He's funny sometimes. Sometimes we dance. He's telling me about you, but I don't want you to think I'm a psychic with a neon sign in the window!"

I start to ask sarcastically if he is a good dancer and what kind of dances he leads her in--rhumba? But I don't. As a doubter with strong spiritual interests, I'm tantalized by her big holy spirit visitations. I imagine it feels like a mewling kitten being lifted in the jaws of an enormous mother cat and taken to safety. I'm ready myself but have never felt the slightest inkling that anything out there in the void is the least bit interested in the hairs on my head or the feathers of small sparrows. "If God is talking about me, I'd like to hear what he says because I've never heard from him before tonight." Where's the flight attendant? I'd like a big glass of wine. This is getting surreal. I'm thirty-five thousand feet above terra firma with someone who dances with God.

"Well, I will tell you that He says you have the gift of divine humility. How did you get that? It's so rare."

"Maybe it's a lack of confidence!"

"No, I've seen it in one priest, someone I consulted when I felt the urge to prophesy."

Whoa! Prophesy? "Oh, you're a prophet?" I toss this off casually, as though it were Oh, you're from Memphis.

She looks out the window. Sighs. "I know how it sounds. It's so simple." I see her struggling to explain. "I just wait to speak. I wait for God. Sometimes it's just sounds."

"Glossolalia?" She nods. "I've seen that. My friends and I used to peer in the windows at the holy roller and snake-handling churches way down in South Georgia." I don't say that those people fell to the floor writhing and drooling. That we ran away, scared out of our socks. This woman in her Dana Buchman suit and good haircut seems as sane as the United pilot of this plane.

"Have you ever heard of a Charismatic Prophet? That's my calling. I knew I was going to sit beside someone on this flight who would change my life. I always wanted to write. Now I hear how you do it and it frees me to try. God put me beside you. Someone, he says, with a holy approach to writing."

Now I'm really fascinated. Someone who not only hears the voice of God but speaks in the tongues of angels and knows what's coming toward us. And I like hearing God's perception that my approach to writing is holy. No one ever has talked to me about the nature of my involvement with words. I've heard plenty about the words themselves but not about the vocation I have. Turbulence starts to shake the overhead compartments. A queasy flyer, I begin to wonder if maybe she is an angel sent to accompany me to the afterlife when the plane spirals down into the Atlantic. But soon the seat belt light flicks off, and the long flight across the waters, black, then leaden, then streaked with sterling light, continues.

As we start our descent into the rainy skies of Paris, she says, "I don't do this. I don't like to debase my gift, but I will tell you something. You are travelling with three angels. One is ministering, one is protecting, and I don't know what the other one is for."

"Oh, no," I say, instantly pessimistic. "Angel of death."

She laughs. "God tells me you are too fatalistic. The third angel is something very good."

Maybe it's the skipping across time zones or the cabin pressure or the lack of sleep, but I willingly close my eyes and try to sense the presence of three angels. Privately, I'm shaken because when I first went to Italy and bought my house, I had a dream that the house held one hundred angels and that I would discover them one by one. Metaphorically, that came true. Starting my travels, I have been given by a stranger three angels to go with me. Without a shred of belief, I can't deny that I am touched.

I give her a list of books I've mentioned and a card with my first name printed on it. I start to write my address but decide that if she wants to reach me, God will direct her.

Madrid. All the connections worked. I find Ed waiting in baggage claim. He looks forlorn--he has arrived with a sinus infection, exacerbated by the changes in pressure while landing. I touch his forehead and find him hot and clammy.

"When I left Bramasole, I was feverish but determined to go. I had to--you'd be waiting. At the ticket counter in Rome, I discovered I'd left my passport at the house. I wanted to climb into a luggage cart and go to sleep. I couldn't face a two-hour drive up to Cortona and two hours back--besides, Giorgio had dropped me at the curb. I asked about the next flight and it was in three hours. I was totally screwed. Then--I don't know why--the woman handed me a paper to sign. And she said, 'You're going on this flight.' "

"You mean. You flew. Out of Italy. Without a passport?" I'm so shocked I can't utter a whole sentence. This seems impossible, but here he is, his steady eyes smiling at the thought that he slipped freely across international boundaries. We're waiting for my bag, but the remaining ones looping around the claim belt are fewer and fewer.

"Scary, isn't it?"

"After September 11 they let a man on a plane with no papers."

"Maybe it was because I was wearing an Italian suit. Another guy, badly dressed, was trying to get on, and they didn't let him."

My bag has definitely stayed behind in San Francisco or Paris. And I can't find the envelope with the claim check tacked on. Where's my damn ministering angel? I have been travelling twenty hours. We queue with a dozen others. Because I changed carriers in Paris, the pouty-mouthed Air France clerk assures me they have no responsibility for my lost bag, especially since I have no proof that I even checked a bag. A big Spanish man with a Zapata mustache takes my side, and two Australian boys start chanting "Air Chance, Air Chance." Finally, Miss Cool decides she'll take my hotel number and send out a tracer. As our taxi spins out of the airport on two wheels, Ed says, "Not for nothing is that etymological connection between travel and travail." The rain looks sooty falling on lead-gray buildings. Suddenly the driver swings around a circle with an enormous fountain; then we're on a tree-lined street along an esplanade lined with one grand building after another. Ah, Madrid. The hotel lights, blurry in the rain, look festive and welcoming. In our room we find a chilled cava, Spanish sparkling wine, sent by Lina, a thoughtful Italian friend.

Ed falls into bed after stoking himself with various antihistamines. I pop open the cava, pour a glass, empty both little bottles of bubble bath into the tub, and immerse myself. Since dinner is late in Spain, we planned to drift out at ten-thirty, but we're exhausted and instead decide to order room service. Ed feels dizzy. At eleven, the miracle of my suitcase occurs--there it is, wet, dirty, but delivered. I want comfort food. My first meal in Spain: spaghetti with Bolognese sauce.

From the Hardcover edition.

Revue de presse

“Those who want to find parts of themselves they didn’t know existed, take risks, have an adventure . . . and discover another culture altogether, with its different rhythms, tastes, smells, and ways of being human—those readers will find in Mayes a kindly, eager, tough-spirited guide.”
Houston Chronicle

“Mayes is a master at capturing a solid sense of place through her lush, poetic narratives.”
Orlando Sentinel

“It’s easy to understand why Mayes has become a kind of cult figure for seekers of The Good Life. She not only inspires us to seize the moment, sip the wine, and smell the roses, she also makes us feel it is quite possible to transform our lives, just as she did.”
Lexington Herald-Leader

“Mayes displays a gift for conveying everyday life through her writing . . . and presents a simpler, less frantic version of how to live one’s life.”
USA Today

“Frances Mayes is, before all else, a wonderful writer.” —Chicago Tribune

“Armchair travel is rarely this astute and fun.”
—Scripps-Howard News Service

“Nobody is better than Frances Mayes at giving the sharp sensory details that take you immediately into a place: colors, sounds, smells, tastes…Her writing captures the whole experience…This is travel writing of high quality, focused on beauty.”
—Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Befitting her gifts as a poet, Mayes's prose shines with evocative imagery, bringing life to every subject she encounters across her peripatetic year."

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Amazon.com: 94 commentaires
91 internautes sur 97 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Reluctantly dragged along with Frances Mayes 14 août 2006
Par Reading Mom - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
This book really irritated me. I loved Mayes's previous books and was really looking forward to reading this one. The concept, a year of traveling to different locations, seemed like it would be really interesting combined with Mayes' fresh perspectives, enthusiasm for discovery, feisty opinions and poetic descriptions. But somehow it didn't work.

I get the sense that her heart wasn't really in this book. Maybe because the trips were taken over a span of five years, and cobbled together? Or because there's so much `padding' - endless quotes from her own or other people's writing. When she liked the place, her descriptions feel artificially enthusiastic, almost as if the book was paid for by the chamber of commerce. I got tired of reading that she could live there, or could imagine taking her grandson there, or wishes she was born there, or that it's SO much better than San Francisco. Where she doesn't live anymore, and hasn't for years. There are also too many stories about refreshing local characters who think Frances Mayes is the nicest, most tasteful, most interesting person they've ever met. Especially since these people tend to be waiters, cab drivers, rug salesmen or others whose business depends on charming the tourists.

Most of the book consists of sneering at her fellow Americans, or talking about people's personal appearance. This is boring and clichéd - and if you like that kind of thing, Bill Bryson does it better. There's also way too much name dropping (she's always mentioning "my friend so-and-so, the famous ____"). What happened to the ordinary, financially stretched, middle-aged college professor? She seems to be taking on the persona of a celebrity. She doesn't want to be crowded in with a group, doesn't want to associate with ordinary tourist types - now she deserves the VIP treatment. This is definitely a change from her previous books.

I think when it comes right down to it, there's too much Frances Mayes in this book. I thought I liked her, but what I really like is her writing style. It can still be magical - when she gets her ego out of the way. But when she puts herself front and center, she becomes more tedious and pretentious than interesting. Now I'm sorry I read this book, because I'm afraid it will spoil my enjoyment of the earlier ones.
87 internautes sur 95 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
I was bored! 27 mars 2006
Par M.C. - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
Frances Mayes is a great a writer. I've read "Under the Tuscan Sun" and "Bella Tuscany" three times each and just love them. I had anticipated this new book for months before its release and was so excited to hold it in my hands. I wanted to savor every page. Very quickly, though, I was simply bored and kept falling asleep. Each chapter is divided by destination. To say Frances writes about food is an understatement. Pages and pages are filled with nothing but food and drink. It's tedious after a while. I thought perhaps it was because she was writing about Spain's food and Portugal's food (even hiring someone to teach her to cook the local food). I thought maybe I was only interested in her writing about Italy & that's why I was losing interest. I finally managed to get to the chapter in Sicily. Oh boy. The chapter had Frances writing about two Sicilian authors and reiterating their books for pages and pages, quoting lengthy paragraphs, comparing the two authors. I felt like I was back in college reading a boring essay. So I finally skipped to the chapter on Capri....a vacation dream of mine. Frances complained about other tourists there (as she did in Bella Tuscany). I just don't know if I'll go back and read the chapters on Greece and Ireland.
25 internautes sur 26 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
The Long Yawn 9 juin 2006
Par Zirondelle - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
Gad! Such a looooooong book! This would better be called "A Year (or Maybe 5) in Only Part of the World" since most of the places visited were European. Long-winded and loopy with adjectives, Mayes writes about food, literature, food, art, food, architecture, and food. I'm surprised she and her husband don't roll around the places they visit - they must each weigh a ton or two by now. I did enjoy the descriptions of the crazy Italian traffic HOWEVER I got a wee bit tired of hearing how fantastic European cities are compared to poor little ole' San Francisco. Traffic bad in Portugal? Look at San Francisco! Beggars in Naples? Just look at San Francisco! No place is perfect, and I'd much rather read travel stuff written by someone who has a more balanced prospective.
23 internautes sur 25 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Under the Tuscan Shadow Lies a Hopscotch Tour of Europe and the Mediterranean 22 mars 2006
Par Ed Uyeshima - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
I think the best travel essay books transcend the logistics of roaming through exotic locations to bring out a strong narrative thread that illuminates themes more resonant than the author's own self-discovery. Author Frances Mayes achieved a universal sense of liberation and self-acceptance with her most famous book, "Under the Tuscan Sun", but despite her immense gift in conveying the images of foreign cultures, she falls a bit short with her latest collection of essays. Timing also works against her as fellow writer Elizabeth Gilbert has recently come out with her own revealing diary of a year traveling abroad with "Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia".

Whereas Gilbert undergoes a cathartic experience that transforms her from an urban-dwelling workaholic, Mayes - having already experienced her own catharsis in refurbishing a 900-year old Tuscan villa - already seems well prepared for the pleasures and hazards of travel and often comes across as a dilettante in the way she and her husband Ed hopscotch the globe in search of a feeling of home all over Europe and the Mediterranean. Giving up the security of their tenured university positions, the couple covers quite a bit of ground, and in fact, each chapter represents a unique locale and consequently an idiosyncratic experience. As if hosting a travel series, they go to museums that range from the world-renowned Prado in Madrid to a Welsh museum filled with over one thousand teapots. In a less adventurous vein than Anthony Bourdain, they also dine on the local cuisine whether it is churros in Sevilla or Sally Lunn bread in the Cotswolds or Ed's constant quest for the perfect espresso. Academics at heart, they immerse themselves into the local literature to ensure they are not ignorant before coming to landmarks of historical or cultural significance.

However, as with Gilbert's book, the best passages in Mayes' book have to do with the local people that she and Ed meet and get to know. Mayes has a particular talent in describing unique characters like the aggressive, multilingual Istanbul rug dealer who sends notes in miniature looms or the Fez tour guide who loves to quote from Joseph Conrad. These are the people that bring the book to life. Frances and Ed, on the other hand, seem like observers, thoughtful tour guides for the upscale traveler. The author seems to be taking a page from Alain de Botton's "The Art of Travel" where he waxes fondly on the multitude of epiphanies brought about by one's own voyaging and mixing the resulting experiences with observations made by the great artists and writers. I just think Mayes doesn't quite elucidate those epiphanies at a meaningful enough level given the hodgepodge approach of their journey.
18 internautes sur 19 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
I'm done with Frances Mayes 18 juillet 2007
Par Jennifer Allison - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
Like many of the other reviewers, I enjoyed her Tuscany books. But by the end of this book, I can't stand her anymore. I will never buy or read another of her books. It's a shame, because there is some lovely writing here (the only redeeming factor that allowed me to give this book two stars rather than one), especially about the food and some of the nice people she has met.

But in the end I think she is a self-righteous elitist. What was the final straw is when she was on Capri, and she looked at a group of tourists getting off a boat and thought if there were any Americans she didn't want to know. Ugh. Lady, those are the people who have bought all your books and made you and your weird poet husband Ed gazillionaires.

Speaking of Ed, I couldn't believe it when he was so sick in Morocco and she decided to leave him in the hotel room and go off on a tour of the place. You have got to be kidding me. How uncaring and selfish -- if that were my husband I would be doing whatever I had to do to get him back home and to see that he was comfortable so that he could recover.

I now feel about Frances Mayes the same way I feel about those people I was friends with for years and now no longer speak to or have anything to do with -- I will take some lovely memories of our time together, but it's best in the end if we just part ways.
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