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See You in the Piazza Reader’s Guide

By Frances Mayes

See You in the Piazza by Frances Mayes

READERS GUIDE

1. In See You in the Piazza, it becomes apparent that Italy is a country where “heritage endures.” In comparison to other places, why do you think that history and culture have been so carefully and successfully preserved in Italy?
 
2. In the book, Frances and Ed Mayes are accompanied by their grandson William during their tour of Piemonte, and by many old friends at various other times in their travels. How can our experience of a place be transformed by the people with whom we are traveling? What makes an ideal travel partner?
 
3. See You in the Piazza is full of literary references and often details of how numerous famous authors retreated to Italian regions. D. H. Lawrence wrote Sea and Sardinia. Ernest Hemingway wrote Across the River and into the Trees in Torcello, Ezra Pound and Joseph Brodsky are buried in the cemetery island of San Michele, and Lord Byron traveled to San Lazzaro degli Armeni to study language under the island’s resident monks. Why do you think Italy attracts so many writers of the world?
 
4. This book celebrates the diversity between towns “a half hour and a world away” from each other. Did it challenge any presumptions you had about what is quintessentially “Italian”?

5. Frances Mayes frequently describes the things she has gathered during her travels in Italy, from books and gifts for family and friends to the recipes she includes at the end of each section in See You in the Piazza. Can you list some of your favorite things that you have collected along your own journeys? Answers do not have to be specific to Italy, and you may choose, for instance, how you discovered your love of a certain type of regional wine or cuisine.
 
6. Frances Mayes mentions the tradition of Sunday pranzo, a leisurely meal in Italy during which “no one is in a hurry” and which “speaks of our best instincts: to gather with those we love and break bread.” Why do you think Mayes considers expressions of companionship and hospitality through sharing and eating food together to be so revealing of humanity’s best features?
 
7. In a country as beautiful as Italy, it is easy to idealize the past and paint over some of history’s ugliest chapters. When Mayes describes the remnants of fascist art and architecture in this book, do you think she hints that we should complicate our views of many layers of history in Italy?
 
8. When describing her visit to Friuli, Mayes claims that “there is mystery at the heart of the places that seem to belong to you.” What do you think she means by this? Have you ever immediately felt a sense of belonging or homeliness in a foreign place? What intrigued you about its “mystery”?
 
9. Frances Mayes claims that she is “always drawn to people who are indelibly bonded with a place.” How does our locationality, or relationship with a certain place, shape us as people?
 
10. Writing about Genoa, Mayes comments that architecture “reveals how life is lived.” With reference to the buildings described across various regions in this book, how do you think that architecture reveals how life is lived in Italy?
 
11. Having read See You in the Piazza, how do you think life is paced differently in Italy than in other countries?
 
12. When revisiting Scarperia with Ed, Frances Mayes finds it remarkable that little had changed in the village after thirty years. She writes: “The house we rented only has a new coat of paint. The misty pastures are the same ones I walked in. Time warps, as it often does in Italy.” What do you think she means when she writes that “time warps in Italy”? Why is it that certain places can have an effect on our perception of time?
 
13. Frances Mayes offers the following piece of advice for traveling through Italy:
 
“Put down a water glass on a map of Tuscany and draw a ring anywhere. Pick a hotel
in the middle of your circle, check in for three or four days, and venture out from there.
You will make your own discoveries. This throws the emphasis on spontaneity.”
 
What other snippets of seasoned traveler’s wisdom did you find most insightful in See You in the Piazza?
 
14. In the Epilogue of See You in the Piazza, Mayes lists what she considers to be the “greatest gifts of travel”: “the steep learning curve,” “how your vision refreshes and you see with infant eyes,” and “memory. How the places seen will layer into life as time moves on.” What “gifts of travel” would you add to this list?
 
15. In the final passages of the book, Mayes discusses the pleasure of returning home to Cortona after a period of traveling. Do you think it’s important to periodically leave home to travel in order to become more appreciative of it?
 
16. Are there now places that you want to see that are new to you? What attracts you to them?
 
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