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A Year in Provence Paperback – June 4, 1991
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Who hasn't dreamed, on a mundane Monday or frowzy Friday, of chucking it all in and packing off to the south of France? Provençal cookbooks and guidebooks entice with provocatively fresh salads and azure skies, but is it really all Côtes-du-Rhône and fleur-de-lis? Author Peter Mayle answers that question with wit, warmth, and wicked candor in A Year in Provence, the chronicle of his own foray into Provençal domesticity.
Beginning, appropriately enough, on New Year's Day with a divine luncheon in a quaint restaurant, Mayle sets the scene and pits his British sensibilities against it. "We had talked about it during the long gray winters and the damp green summers," he writes, "looked with an addict's longing at photographs of village markets and vineyards, dreamed of being woken up by the sun slanting through the bedroom window." He describes in loving detail the charming, 200-year-old farmhouse at the base of the Lubéron Mountains, its thick stone walls and well-tended vines, its wine cave and wells, its shade trees and swimming pool--its lack of central heating. Indeed, not 10 pages into the book, reality comes crashing into conflict with the idyll when the Mistral, that frigid wind that ravages the Rhône valley in winter, cracks the pipes, rips tiles from the roof, and tears a window from its hinges. And that's just January.
In prose that skips along lightly, Mayle records the highlights of each month, from the aberration of snow in February and the algae-filled swimming pool of March through the tourist invasions and unpredictable renovations of the summer months to a quiet Christmas alone. Throughout the book, he paints colorful portraits of his neighbors, the Provençaux grocers and butchers and farmers who amuse, confuse, and befuddle him at every turn. A Year in Provence is part memoir, part homeowner's manual, part travelogue, and all charming fun. --L.A. Smith
From Publishers Weekly
An account of the author's first frustrating but enlightening year in Provence opens with a memorable New Year's lunch and closes with an impromptu Christmas dinner. "In nimble prose, Mayle . . . captures the humorous aspects of visits to markets, vineyards and goat races, and hunting for mushrooms," said PW. Author tour. Illustrated.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Mayle's (and his wife's) adaptation to the Provencal lifestyle is sometimes painful, other times poignant and telling, but almost always extremely funny. He is a born raconteur, a master of the amusing anecdote, expert at rendering a farcical tableau.
The cast of characters of A Year in Provence are priceless. He describes them vividly and each lends color to the overall impression of les Provencals that we eventually come away with. Mayle pokes gentle fun at them and obviously has warm feelings towards them, even his fox-eating neighbor, Massot. Every inhabitant of the region has a strong opinion on a variety of subjects, and these opinions are often at odds with those of their neighbors. About the only thing everyone agrees on is the importance of food. Mayle's decsriptions of his gastronomical forays are rendered so vividly that I have started combing the supermarket here in Pinehurst for ingredients (pale imitations for the most part, sadly).
I was fortunate to find the unabridged tape of this book at my library. David Case did a great job at rendering the English disposition slowly succombing to the pace and timbre of Provencal life. Mayle is great company. I look forward to hearing more from him.
Mayle also writes of their journeys to visit fabulous restaurants and the French love of food and wine. He cultivates vines on his own property, and also learns to appreciate a perfect olive oil.
The tales of the endless string of visitors, some mere casual acquaintances, and some of whom invite themselves to stay, are also told with humour and restraint, though you definitely get the impression that they felt put upon from time to time. I also discovered that it can be brutally hot during the summer months in Provence, so I'm glad we're going in early spring !
"A Year in Provence" is not at all a travelogue, or even a guide book, but is a terrifically entertaining series of essays about living among the French in every season, being accepted (at least to a certain extent) into their culture, and enjoying all that this beautiful country has to offer.