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Under the Tuscan sun with author Frances Mayes

Under the Tuscan sun with Frances Mayes
Under the Tuscan sun with Frances Mayes 04:03

It's one of the most famous Villas in Tuscany, attracting a constant stream of tourists. Bramasole (its name comes from Brama, to yearn for, and Sole, for the sun) is the house that American Frances Mayes felt an irresistible urge to buy back in 1990.

"It was derelict," she recalled. "This whole front garden was practically in the road."

Mayes transformed the 300-year-old property, outside and in, even breaking through walls. "And when we started opening that, of course we thought the house was falling down," she laughed. "That was one scene in the movie that was really accurate."

The movie was "Under the Tuscan Sun," based on her memoir about restoring the house. The book spent more than two-and-a-half years on the bestseller list, much to the shock of this one-time professor and poet. "I expected it to sell like one of my books of poetry, which means not at all," Mayes laughed.

Frances and Edward Mayes at their 300-year-old Tuscan villa, Bramasole. CBS News

"Why do you think it touched a chord with so many people?" asked correspondent Rita Braver.

"Well, I've wondered that a lot. It's a woman taking a risk and doing something out of the plan, out of expectations, even her own expectations. And then, of course as a writer, I like to think it's the writing, you know?"

Frances Mayes. CBS News

The film does depart from the book, with lovelorn Frances (played by Diane Lane) taking up with an Italian lover. Which doesn't faze her long-time, real-life partner at all.

"The book is about two happy people who come to Tuscany and become happier," said Ed Mayes. "There's no movie at all there!"

But Ed, like his wife a poet and professor, was here from the beginning.

Braver asked, "Many relationships would never have survived the redoing of a house. What was the key?"

"I think it's love, respect, a sense of adventure," Ed replied.

Those adventures are featured in the seven other books Mayes has now written about Italy, including her latest, "See You in the Piazza."

Frances Mayes and correspondent Rita Braver in Cortona, Italy. CBS News

"Anytime you leave a party at night, the last thing someone says is, 'See you in the piazza,'" Frances said.


It focuses on off-the-beaten track towns, like her adopted village of Cortona, where she seems to know everyone.

The new book is also sprinkled with recipes, as the couple loves to cook.

And after all these years, Frances Mayes still marvels at the life she now leads.

Braver asked, "You never expected to have what happened, happen, did you?"

"No, no. Isn't that great though, not to be able to expect?" she laughed. "'Cause if you can expect it and predict it, it's not as much fun." 

 Eggplant Involtini and more from "Under the Tuscan Sun" author Frances Mayes                      

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Story produced by Alan Golds. 

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