Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Wisdom of Tuscany by Ferenc Maté

In his latest book Ferenc Maté gives an intimate look into life in the Tuscan countryside and why  it should be a model for sustainable living in our global world.
 He also gives some pointers on how this can be achieved..even if you don't happen to live, as he and his family do, in a beautifully restored ancient Tuscan villa surrounded by vineyards.

With humor and personal tidbits about his early life in Hungary,  growing up in Canada and as a world traveler, Maté explains that it is not the quantity of stuff, the size of house,car or boat, but the little things and personal  connections that make life satisfying.

His musings on the importance of neighbors, freedom of children to grow up in a healthy society, the ability to find satisfaction and magic in small simple things all strike true notes.
 A good read from cover to cover, the book can also be opened at random for  a daily dose of Tuscan wisdom.  It is almost like sitting down with Ferenc for a chat over a glass of vino - which he mentions often, since he and his wife Candace produce one of Montalcino's wonderful wines.

an ancient convent surrounded  by the  vineyards  

The Wisdom of Tuscany is not a romp through the luscious Tuscan landscape and lifestyle, it goes beyond the pretty prose that fills travel books and  Hollywood  films. Nor is his prose anything like that of "instant" writers who blog about their  golden expat lifestyle.

The Maté family are year round residents  who make a living creating fine wine and  books - both difficult tasks that can be backbreaking and lonely.  This book is also a hymn to small town safety, the multi-generational family, closeness to nature and quality of life. 
As the world gets more  global and hectic  our sense of isolation increases. The fact that people continue to need each other and stick together as they do in smaller Italian towns is reassuring. 
entrance to the cantina 
Provincial Italy -in any of the 20 regions, not just Tuscany- is not a "golden ghetto" for the elite. Those of us who are permanent residents face problems daily that are very real, problems that a 2-week visitor does not see nor even imagine. Even expats who have trasferred permanently  to Italy spend years in the "honeymoon phase" before  becoming aware of what really goes on. 

In the past few years the rolling landscape of central Italy has been experiencing  an invasion of monstrous giant  eolica towers of wind farms "planted" on the  photogenic hills by unscrupulous speculators who live far away. Some towns have problems with arsenic in the water  and we all know of bright young university graduates who have had to emigrate abroad to find decent jobs. 
An interior courtyard 

As a long time resident  I found some of the book's observations obvious, almost hackneyed. But then I realized that  Maté's  target audience is made up of the thousands of wishful North Americans who live in mega-cities and bland suburbs.  It is easy to forget how different things are "over there" for we do   get used to wine at meals and freshly baked bread every day. After a few decades  we take  these things, and  our extra virgin olive oil,  quite   for granted forgetting that these are  considered luxuries  outside of Italy.

Ferenc must have kept dedicated diaries of his first impressions  for his narration  creates  images   that roll easily off  the  keyboard. His style is witty and  the language  similar to that of Polish-born novelist Conrad, who, like Maté , wrote in his second language -English.
Come in for a glass of wine
Wisdom of Tuscany ends with a selection of simple recipes  by  family friend Pino Luongo; basic foods to be enjoyed with family and friends  gathered  in the kitchen and of course, a glass of Maté's Montalcino.

Next month I hope to showcase another writer who escaped the big city to follow a simpler, but tougher, lifestyle. I already have a few in mind, but readers' suggestions are welcome.



  1. Thank you for a very thoghtful and detailed review of this interesting book, Mary Jane!

  2. The beautiful photos that accompany my review are by Candace Maté.

  3. Candace Mate's photos prove the imagination is not always adequate when reading. Timing couldn't be better! I am currently reading A Vineyard in Tuscany, by Mate'. I have enjoyed The Hills of Tuscany also by Mate' of course.
    Having walked the strade bianche of the Val d'Orcia and peeked into abandoned farmhouses I can relate somewhat to the experience. However I did not realize the vastness of the property or castle. Mozzafiato! I look forward to reading his latest book. I imagine he will have to sell a lot of them to pay for that vineyard! Thanks, I enjoy your work.

  4. I think the income from the wine sales is also important. As a writer I know that book sales (unless you are Dan Brown or Frances Mayes) will not make you millions.

  5. Hi everybody!

    I got half through Maté's vineyard book and I am fascinated by his description of people with all their good and also vicious characteristics.
    Somehow I cannot help the impression of the Italian people being sort of Anarchists the way they tackle their affairs..
    Greetings from Berlin, Germany
    Hope to travel to the yard next year.

  6. Fantastic again Mary Jane! I pour across as much of your info as possible, you are a wealth of information and entertainment! Thank you for another great article,so glad I found you! Jamie

  7. I look forward to reading the books.
    Italy isn't all romance that's for sure (but there is enough of it to tempt me back)

  8. Interesting - I didn't know he wrote about Italy. Will have to get the books.

  9. It is very interesting. Not too many Hungarians were able to make Italy their "home". Good luck! Hilda