"Provence, again?" one may think, seeing Peter Mayle's latest effort. "Has the man nothing better to do than promote a region that's already overhyped and overpriced? Can't he turn his eye to a place that needs a touristic boost, like Bulgaria?"
However, there are reasons to plunge into the third Provençal book by Englishman Mayle, formerly a Madison Avenue copywriter whose bestselling A Year in Provence made the area a must-see for tourists and helped to quadruple real estate prices there. After four years in Long Island, Mayle has returned to France with continuing adoration.
Mayle discloses a world missed by tourists, be it the questions dry cleaners ask about wine stains or the mysterious murder of a small-town butcher given to making housewives happy with more than his displayed meat. He also incorporates guide-like tips--listing markets, cheese makers, and the essential how-tos of perfume sniffing and olive-oil tasting. What's more, this book gives a peek into the life of a bestselling writer. The role is not always an enviable one.
Mayle no longer fits into life in America--the vocabulary alone is enough to throw him off--yet in Provence, he is regarded as little more than a moneyed foreigner. Speared by the British press, he laments, "One of my crimes is to have encouraged people to visit the region ... far too many people ... and people of the wrong sort," an accusation that he denies.
And Mayle comes off as positively defensive in his attack of former New York Times food critic Ruth Reichl, who wrote that she was disappointed in the region. The title alone of chapter 3 hints at the sarcastic stabbings to follow: "New York Times Restaurant Critic Makes Astonishing Discovery: Provence Never Existed." Page after page, he roasts Reichl on the spit, creating a hissing Ruth Rotisserie that's most unbecoming from someone of his stature.
What most causes him to sputter is Reichl's admission that she "had been dreaming of a Provence that never existed."
"Where had I been living all these years?" writes the man who's helped to perpetrate the illusion of a land that is nothing but lavender fields, sunflowers swaying in the breeze, and fascinating characters every millimeter. "The Provence that Daudet, Giono, Ford Madox Ford, Lawrence Durrell and M.F.K. Fisher knew and wrote about--the Provence that I know--doesn't exist.... It's a sunny figment of our imagination, a romanticized fantasy."
Maybe. Having recently visited Provence, I agree with Reichl's critical assessment. Therein lies Mayle's ultimate charm. Crack open a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape, delve into Encore Provence, and voilà: it may be better than actually being there. --Melissa Rossi
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From Publishers Weekly
After a four-year leave, Mayle is back in the region he described in his bestselling A Year in Provence and Toujours ProvenceAand the British author's fans will be pleased that he decided to return to his adopted homeland, for his writing is as charming and witty as ever. In the first chapter, "Second Impressions," Mayle explains that he and his wife quit the convenient, efficient life in America for the "smell of thyme in the fields" and "the swirl and jostle of Sunday-morning markets" of Provence. Mayle goes on to make hash of former New York Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl's disparaging assessment of Provence, apparently based on a single August visit, and heaps scorn on those who consider themselves to be "travelersAintelligent, well-mannered, cultured"Arather than tourists (as he proudly labels himself). The author then assists future tourists by naming his favorite markets, vineyards, bakeries, chambres d'h?tes, even places to go for the best olive oil or honey. A chapter called "A Beginner's Guide to Marseille" is equally informative and offers the little-known fact that "La Marseillaise" was actually composed in Strasbourg. Mayle enticingly recounts his peregrinations around the truffle markets and his searches for the perfect corkscrew or melon, but it's his ability to capture the subtle cultural peculiarities that distinguishes his writing. Upon first arriving in France from the U.S., Mayle observes, "I think it was the sight of a man power-washing his underpants [with a hose] that really brought home the difference, cultural and otherwise, between the old world and the new." Line drawings not seen by PW. 130,000 first printing; author tour.-- that really brought home the difference, cultural and otherwise, between the old world and the new." Line drawings not seen by PW. 130,000 first printing; author tour.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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