The Hills of Tuscany

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Overview

This book is a true-life adventure of a couple who did what most of us only dream of doing: they gave up the rat race of the big city for a new life in Tuscany. Candace and Ferenc Mate - she a painter, he a writer - arrive from New York in the late 1980s knowing almost no Italian, and with only four weeks to find a country house to live in. They finally conclude the deal on the hood of a rusting tractor, with the agents speaking Italian and them responding in French, English and Hungarian - a Tower of Babel ...
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Overview

This book is a true-life adventure of a couple who did what most of us only dream of doing: they gave up the rat race of the big city for a new life in Tuscany. Candace and Ferenc Mate - she a painter, he a writer - arrive from New York in the late 1980s knowing almost no Italian, and with only four weeks to find a country house to live in. They finally conclude the deal on the hood of a rusting tractor, with the agents speaking Italian and them responding in French, English and Hungarian - a Tower of Babel version of Who's on First. So begins Ferenc Mate's memoir of their first year in this enchanted place. Living in an ancient farmhouse in the spectacular hills where The English Patient was filmed, he brings to life the real Tuscany: the neighbors, the countryside, country life, the farm family down the road who virtually adopt them and with whom they relive centuries-old traditions - the harvest, grape picking, wine making, mushroom hunting, woodcutting, the holidays, and, of course, the almost never-ending, mouthwatering feasts.
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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
This volume takes the author (A Reasonable Life) and his artist wife into the sensuous heart of Italy and urges them to stay against the comic and idiosyncratic odds that Maté calls the Italian way of life. Tourists in search of a break from the pressured rituals of New York, the Matés alight upon the area around Montepulciano, begin house-hunting in earnest, and fall upon a sort of paradise that they turn into home at last. All of this is superimposed against the backdrop of Tuscan seasons, rituals, and rustic anecdotes—-which are far more interesting than any of the author's reflections upon them. Maté never crosses that great cultural divide that hangs like a mist between traveler and native, keeping his real subject (Tuscany? himself?) forever at bay. Almost 100 pages of his memoir are devoted to the comic surprises of house-hunting and its incumbent bureaucracy, in which Maté rarely steps outside of pure caricature. Blissful about his marriage, rapturous about food and wine, Maté spends considerable time describing the sounds of bells tolling in the valleys after lunch, the fluttering of linen, and the aroma of chestnuts heating on a grill. But in the end, his recollections of everything else are little more than hot-air balloons tethered to nothing in particular. Lunches launch and cap the author's foray into this personal paradise and frame the friendships he developed with his neighbors in one dimension. He is more passionately observant about mushrooms, grapes, the flavor of new oil, and the simple rustic life than about the human beings who opened these pleasures to him. They're the missing link that makes one wonder if Maté likeshis Italian neighbors at all. Tuscany is a most compelling subject for the telling, but Sonoma might have been just as inspiring to this author. At its heart, the hills of Tuscany echo hollow when Maté asks to call them home.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385334419
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/28/1999
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.95 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Meet the Author

Ferenc Máté is the author of 15 books translated into 12 languages, including New York Times Notable Book A Vineyard in Tuscany and the Dugger/Nello historical sea adventure fiction series. He lives in a 13-century friary with his family tending vines and olives in Tuscany. Visit www.ferencmate.com
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Read an Excerpt

We stepped from the cool shadows of the archway into the warmth of the autumn sun. It was early afternoon, the narrow, flagstone streets were deserted, the shops closed; Tuscany was eating. Arm in arm in the autumn light, calmed by the warmth and the pitcher of red wine we had with lunch, we ambled in contented silence up the hill toward the piazza where the mosaic facade of the cathedral blazed like a million tiny stars.

We had been shivering while researching a book in the rain of Sweden, the cold of Finland, and the damp of Brittany, and in more than a month this was the first time we were warm. We stared at the mosaics. Then, glitter-blinded and wine-weakened, we went around to the small church garden, sat on a low stone wall, and like dreamers through the centuries before us, gazed out over the countryside below.

A sea of hills rolled to the horizon, covered by odd-shaped, lovingly kept vineyards and olive groves, orchards and fields: a freshly plowed field here, a bit of corn there, some hay, some woods, some pasture, all odd sizes, all open and unfenced. The plots were defined by the curve of a stream, or the crook of a hill, or the fold of a hollow, with boundaries of poplars or a ditch or nothing. Old stone houses were huddled on knolls surrounded by their cypresses, fruit trees, and vegetable gardens. On a ridge, in a wood, a monastery stood with a square steeple, and beyond it a tiny hamlet on a hilltop. Everything was small-to the measure of man. And over it all reigned the gentle Tuscan light, and silence, and a calm.

Candace was far away, her gaze fixed near the horizon, auburn hair glowing in the sinking sun. The air thickened with light. We sat.

After a while I suggested moving on.

Candace gazed. "You know," she finally said, "I'm getting tired of moving on. We've been 'moving on' for fifteen years. The houseboat, the sailboat, the mountain cabin, that garage in Laguna Beach, the attic in Paris, the cubbyhole in New York, the whatsit in the Bahamas. What was that thing with eight sides anyway?"

A tolling of bells from the monastery trembled in the air, sonorous and slow, drifting like a veil of melancholy over the silent hills.

"They're burying someone," Candace softly said, and looked as if it were someone she had known. When the bells were still and their echo had died away, the world remained respectfully silent. The sun sank behind strips of clouds and the air glittered with light. After a while, just below the town, rose the brittle sound of kindling being cut. Then a woman's voice, one accustomed to shouting, "Mario! Non troppo grosso! Per la Madonna!"

I laughed. "What did she say?" I asked Candace.

"She said she was sick and tired of moving on, and if she had to move on one more time, she was moving on on her own and leaving you behind like camel dung in the desert."

Mario chopped for a while, unhurriedly, rhythmically. The kindling must have been "non troppo grosso, "for no one gave him hell. Mario was toeing the line.

"I want to settle down," Candace said. "A tiny house, some trees, a vegetable garden."

"Sounds nice," I said. "Where?"

"Anywhere." She had said that louder and it echoed from the church walls. An old man with a narrow brimmed hat who had wandered into the churchyard turned and looked at us as if he had been following the conversation. I looked out at the hills, the warmth, the gentleness. "How about here?" I said, spreading a hand toward the valley below.

"Here?"

"Lots of room for vegetables. We could get an old farm-house and fix it up. Have a bit of land, some woods, a few rows of grapes, a wine cellar. Make our own wine. Old wood casks oozing that perfume, pigeons swooping overhead. A rooster on the dunghill. Olives. Can you imagine pressing our own olive oil, pouring it on a hunk of fire-toasted bread with a ton of garlic rubbed over it?"

"You're nuts," she laughed.

"Fine, a bit of garlic."

"I mean about settling here."

"Why not? The country is beautiful; the food the best; the people are wonderful, art even better. Concerts in churches and castles. I'll write, you paint. Even the weather is perfect. What more is there? We could have a little farm right there." And I pointed just over Mario's head at a small farmhouse near whose crumbling walls a handful of white somethings were grazing in the shade.

"A farm. You don't know a thing about a farm."

"I can learn."

"But you don't speak a word of Italian!"

"I'll take a course.

She smiled. "You don't even know where you are."

"I'll ask somebody."

She stared at me in silence. So did the old man, his face aglow with anticipation. Candace's eyes softened. "You're a nice guy," she said, like an attendant calming a mental patient. "But you and reality just don't mix," and she shook her head. The old man seemed satisfied with that. He adjusted his hat and left. The pulleys of the bells in the tower above us rumbled, the pins creaked, and with a great "whoosh" the enormous old bell swung out of the tower, then a wider swing, swoooshhh, then a deafening "Diiiinggg" then another "Donnggg," booming and thundering until both the air and earth shook. A short priest with large hands shuffled into the church, followed by some older women in ones and twos.

Candace got up. She seemed deep in thought. "You know," she said, "there are few things more scary than moving to a foreign country.

"Name one," I said.

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Table of Contents

1 THE LIGHT IN TUSCANY 1
2 TURN LEFT AT THE MADONNA 5
3 THREE HUNDRED MILLION!? 13
4 A HAMLET 27
5 OH SO-LE MI-I-O 35
6 BOAR! 50
7 HOUSES OF HORROR 59
8 EVIL WOMEN IN THE MONASTERY 66
9 HOME SWEET CASTLE 77
10 THE TUSCAN SEA 83
11 HAND ME A BRICK 95
12 LA MARINAIA 106
13 THE CONTRACT 118
14 AT HOME IN TUSCANY 121
15 NONNA AND THE WITCH 134
16 MOON OVER TUSCANY 140
17 A TUSCAN EASTER 147
18 THE FROGS 160
19 PICNIC AT THE RUIN 169
20 TORO 184
21 SUMMER NIGHT MUSIC 190
22 MOON DOG 194
23 NIGHTWALKER 197
24 DON FLORI 203
25 FUNGHI 208
26 VENDEMMIA 213
27 VENICE NIGHTS 222
28 WOODCUTTING 230
29 PORCA 233
30 SNOW 240
EPILOGUE 247
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First Chapter

Chapter One

PART I

1 THE LIGHT IN TUSCANY

September 1987 ~ Tuscany


We stepped from the cool shadows of the archway into the warmth of the autumn sun. It was early afternoon, the narrow, flagstone streets were deserted, the shops closed; Tuscany was eating. Arm in arm in the autumn light, calmed by the warmth and the pitcher of red wine we had with lunch, we ambled in contented silence up the hill toward the piazza where the mosaic facade of the cathedral blazed like a million tiny stars.

    We had been shivering while researching a book in the rain of Sweden, the cold of Finland, and the damp of Brittany, and in more than a month this was the first time we were warm. We stared at the mosaics. Then, glitter-blinded and wine-weakened, we went around to the small church garden, sat on a low stone wall, and like dreamers through the centuries before us, gazed out over the countryside below.

    A sea of hills rolled to the horizon, covered by odd-shaped, lovingly kept vineyards and olive groves, orchards and fields: a freshly plowed field here, a bit of corn there, some hay, some woods, some pasture, all odd sizes, all open and unfenced. The plots were defined by the curve of a stream, or the crook of a hill, or the fold of a hollow, with boundaries of poplars or a ditch or nothing. Old stone houses were huddled on knolls surrounded by their cypresses, fruit trees, and vegetable gardens. On a ridge, in a wood, a monastery stood with a square steeple, and beyond it a tiny hamlet on a hilltop. Everything was small--to the measure of man. And over it all reigned the gentle Tuscan light, and silence, and a calm.

    Candace was far away, her gaze fixed near the horizon, auburn hair glowing in the sinking sun. The air thickened with light. We sat.

    After a while I suggested moving on.

    Candace gazed. "You know," she finally said, "I'm getting tired of moving on. We've been `moving on' for fifteen years. The houseboat, the sailboat, the mountain cabin, that garage in Laguna Beach, the attic in Paris, the cubbyhole in New York, the whatsit in the Bahamas. What was that thing with eight sides anyway?"

    A tolling of bells from the monastery trembled in the air, sonorous and slow, drifting like a veil of melancholy over the silent hills.

    "They're burying someone," Candace softly said, and looked as if it were someone she had known. When the bells were still and their echo had died away, the world remained respectfully silent. The sun sank behind strips of clouds and the air glittered with light. After a while, just below the town, rose the brittle sound of kindling being cut. Then a woman's voice, one accustomed to shouting, "Mario! Non troppo grosso! Per la Madonna!"

    I laughed. "What did she say?" I asked Candace.

    "She said she was sick and tired of moving on, and if she had to move on one more time, she was moving on on her own and leaving you behind like camel dung in the desert."

    Mario chopped for a while, unhurriedly, rhythmically. The kindling must have been "non troppo grosso," for no one gave him hell. Mario was toeing the line.

    "I want to settle down," Candace said. "A tiny house, some fruit trees, a vegetable garden."

    "Sounds nice," I said. "Where?"

    "Anywhere." She had said that louder and it echoed from the church walls. An old man with a narrow brimmed hat who had wandered into the churchyard turned and looked at us as if he had been following the conversation. I looked out at the hills, the warmth, the gentleness. "How about here?" I said, spreading a hand toward the valley below.

    "Here?"

    "Lots of room for vegetables. We could get an old farmhouse and fix it up. Have a bit of land, some woods, a few rows of grapes, a wine cellar. Make our own wine. Old wood casks oozing that perfume, pigeons swooping overhead. A rooster on the dunghill. Olives. Can you imagine pressing our own olive oil, pouring it on a hunk of fire-toasted bread with a ton of garlic rubbed over it?"

    "You're nuts," she laughed.

    "Fine, a bit of garlic."

    "I mean about settling here."

    "Why not? The country is beautiful; the food the best; the people are wonderful, art even better. Concerts in churches and castles. I'll write, you paint. Even the weather is perfect. What more is there? We could have a little farm right there." And I pointed just over Mario's head at a small farmhouse near whose crumbling walls a handful of white somethings were grazing in the shade.

    "A farm. You don't know a thing about a farm."

    "I can learn."

    "But you don't speak a word of Italian!"

    "I'll take a course."

    She smiled. "You don't even know where you are."

    "I'll ask somebody."

    She stared at me in silence. So did the old man, his face aglow with anticipation. Candace's eyes softened. "You're a nice guy," she said, like an attendant calming a mental patient. "But you and reality just don't mix," and she shook her head. The old man seemed satisfied with that. He adjusted his hat and left. The pulleys of the bells in the tower above us rumbled, the pins creaked, and with a great "whoosh" the enormous old bell swung out of the tower, then a wider swing, swoooshhh, then a deafening "Diiiinggg" then another "Donnggg," booming and thundering until both the air and earth shook. A short priest with large hands shuffled into the church, followed by some older women in ones and twos.

    Candace got up. She seemed deep in thought. "You know," she said, "there are few things more scary than moving to a foreign country."

    "Name one," I said.

Read More Show Less

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2001

    A good book about living in Italy

    I read this book when it first came out and loved it. Great details about finding and buying a house in Tuscany. Lots of good information about living in Italy. An enjoyable read!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2001

    A good book about living in Italy

    I wrote a good review of this book when I read it (1999), but I want to comment again to say how enjoyable this book was. Read it if you are going to southern Tuscany or if you are thinking of moving to Italy. Lots of great details about finding and buying a house. Good details about life in Italy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2001

    A Delightful Read

    Mate has written a very personal book, full of personal insights into his interactions with his wife, his neighbors in a stunning Tuscan village, and his environment. He is a wonderful writer -- I would say he falls just shy of Peter Mayle (high praise) but well ahead of Frances Mayes.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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