Frances Mayes and her husband Ed give up the security of their tenured university positions and the comfort of routine, and slip into their new roles of modern-day explorers and travel writers. They hope to find a comforting sense of home in a new place or places, if that is possible. They want to feel truly at home in the larger world.
Frances and Ed move across land and water in and on all types of conveyances --- jet plane, taxi, rental car, funicular, rowboat, bus, and cruise ship. And they wear out their shoes and boots walking and hiking, seeing marvelous new sights up close. They seem to cover every inch of tiny Capri on foot. In the Mediterranean they swim and snorkel, enjoying the many delights the water offers. Not surprisingly, they find many necessary souvenirs to purchase for themselves and friends.
In several locations Frances and Ed rent a house and settle in for a while to acquaint themselves with the history, culture, cuisine and people. In Fife, Scotland, they share a huge old house with long-time friends from California. Here Frances learns to prepare meals on that mainstay of British kitchens, the Aga stove.
They visit several different museums, including one on the coast of mainland Greece devoted entirely to worry beads, and a Welsh museum filled with over 1,000 teapots. Some are ordinary; others not quite so. One is shaped like an armored tank, and one even resembles Elvis. They purchase books on art, cooking, history and architecture wherever they go. They read the literature of local authors and study the books during their periods of rest, because even these intrepid travellers require a little downtime. When touring ancient churches, graveyards and ruins, they're knowledgeable about what they're seeing.
Both enjoy good food and wine, and they love sampling the local cuisine wherever they happen to be --- bangers and mash in an English pub, a variety of tapas in Sevillas, and basic, wonderful breads and soups in Portugal. Everywhere they travel Ed drinks the espresso --- he's on a quest for the perfect espresso.
Their journey does not always go smoothly. There is the forgotten passport, a touch of food poisoning, the junker of a rental car, and the requisite lost luggage. Neither Ed nor Frances sleep peacefully on board the cruise ship, and once in a while a home they rented turns out to be not quite as advertised.
Frances finds Wales and its ubiquitous hydrangeas in blooms of pink and blue "sublime" and in stark contrast to the mounds of litter and trash that line the roads of Athens. At a restaurant in Lisbon a diner seated near Frances notices her admiring his dessert. He reaches for Frances's fork and gives her a huge bite of walnut cake he had just been served. A very persuasive rug merchant in Istanbul charms them into making several purchases.
Does Ed find the perfect espresso? How often do Frances and Ed get lost? Do they run low on cash or energy? Do they ever get homesick for their actual homes in Tuscany and northern California? And do all the souvenirs fit in their luggage for the trip home?
All these questions, and more, are answered in A YEAR IN THE WORLD, which is certain to be another bestseller for Frances Mayes.
Reviewed by Carole Turner on January 24, 2011