Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Encore Provence - A Book Review

“Encore Provence” – the third in series on Provence by Peter Mayle, is the most delightful read, if you love France, or even if you don’t. A Francophile (I’d prefer calling him an Anglais Francison) he couldn’t get Provence out his system even as he pursued international acclaim in America…so he returned to the south of France and fell in love all over again with la vie Provencal!

In this Vintage Departures publication, Mayle presents a most appealing picture of life in Provence – from the secrets of the truffle trade, to a parfumérie lesson on the delicacies of scent, from an exploration of the genetic effects of 2000 years of consumption of foie-gras (smacking my lips even now as my tongue tingles in memory of the flavour) to the recipe for a perfect village…it is a very insightful, witty and charming tribute to his beloved Provence. He also includes helpful tips on what to do on a summer afternoon (a most delightful chapter), where to find the best honey or the best melons, how to create the perfect garden, the benefits of lavender, or the wonders of the olive tree….
A wonderfully poetic, hilarious, sometimes tongue-in-cheek account of Provencal life, revealing his love for the region, it makes you want to catch the first flight out and settle down to the delights of that way of life…

“Mayle’s prose is, as ever, as pure and welcoming as a glass of the house wine at a Provencal café” – The Philadelphia Enquirer.

“Delightful, amusing, and appealing.” – The New York Times Book Review

Here are a few excerpts pique your curiosity:-

“For everyone coming to France directly from America, the first and most nerve-wracking shock to the system is traffic shock, and it hit us as soon as we left the airport. Instantly, we were sucked into high-velocity chaos, menaced on all sides, by a hurtle of small cars driven, it seemed, by bank robbers making a getaway. The French-man on wheels, as were quickly reminded, sees every car in front of him as a challenge, to be overtaken on either side, on blind bends, while lights are changing or road signs are advising prudence. The highway speed limit of eighty miles an hour is considered to be an insufferable restriction of personal liberty, or perhaps some quaint regulation for tourists, and is widely ignored.

It wouldn’t be so alarming if the equipment, both human and mechanical, were up to the demands placed on it. But you can’t help feeling, as yet another baby Renault screams past with its trees barely touching the road, that small cars were never designed to break the sound barrier. Nor are you filled with confidence if you should catch a glimpse of what’s going on behind the wheel. It is well-known that the Frenchman cannot put two sentences together without his hands joining in. Fingers must wag in emphasis. Arms must be thrown up in dismay. The orchestra of speech must be conducted. This performance may be entertaining when you watch a couple of men arguing in a bar, but its heart-stopping when you see it in action at ninety miles an hour.” ***

“…an even more essential ingredient, joie de vivre – the ability to take pleasure from the simple fact of being alive.

You can see and hear this expressed in a dozen small ways: the gusto of a game of cards in a café, the noisy, good-humoured exchanges in the market, the sound of laughter at a village fete, the hum of anticipation in a restaurant at the start of Sunday lunch. If there is such a thing as a fomula for a long and happy old age, perhaps it’s no more than that – to eat, to drink, and to be merry. Above all, to be merry.” ***

“I could never understand how anything could be extra virgin. This has always seemed to me like describing a woman as extra-pregnant. How can there be degrees of virginity? I’d assumed it to be one of those flights of Italian self-promotion – my virgin is better than your virgin – that served no purpose other than to look impressive on the label…” ***

There is so much more, that tickled my funny bone, appeased my curiosity, tempted my senses…that conjured images of sun-kissed valleys and vineyards, of lazy afternoons spent relaxing in a hammock after a sumptuous meal washed down by a bottle (or two) of rosé wine, of meandering strolls through the countryside, of colouful, noisy, chaotic Friday markets in village squares, of the groves of olive trees and the customs of picking olives in winter (or grapes in autumn, for that matter!), or inhaling the perfume of bushes of lavender as you walk past quaint cottages that dot the countryside….

I think I’m well on the way of being called an “Indienne Francison” ;-)

P.S “Francais Francison” (fr-awn-say fr-awn-si-zon) is a term used to describe a French man who talks perennially about the wonders of France…I’ve bastardised the term to suit my purposes.

*** Mayle Peter, Encore Provence - New Adventures in the South of France,
© 1999 by Escargot Productions Ltd.

The Canonisation

FOR God's sake hold your tongue, and let me love ;
Or chide my palsy, or my gout ;
My five gray hairs, or ruin'd fortune flout ;
With wealth your state, your mind with arts improve ;
Take you a course, get you a place,
Observe his Honour, or his Grace ;
Or the king's real, or his stamp'd face Contemplate ;
what you will, approve,
So you will let me love.

Alas ! alas ! who's injured by my love?
What merchant's ships have my sighs drown'd?
Who says my tears have overflow'd his ground?
When did my colds a forward spring remove?
When did the heats which my veins fill Add one more to the plaguy bill?
Soldiers find wars, and lawyers find out still
Litigious men, which quarrels move,
Though she and I do love.

Call's what you will, we are made such by love ;
Call her one, me another fly,
We're tapers too, and at our own cost die,
And we in us find th' eagle and the dove.
The phoenix riddle hath more wit By us ; we two being one, are it ;
So, to one neutral thing both sexes fit.
We die and rise the same, and prove
Mysterious by this love.

We can die by it, if not live by love,
And if unfit for tomb or hearse
Our legend be, it will be fit for verse ;
And if no piece of chronicle we prove,
We'll build in sonnets pretty rooms ;
As well a well-wrought urn becomes
The greatest ashes, as half-acre tombs,
And by these hymns, all shall approve
Us canonized for love ;

And thus invoke us, "You, whom reverend love
Made one another's hermitage ;
You, to whom love was peace, that now is rage ;
Who did the whole world's soul contract, and drove
Into the glasses of your eyes ;
So made such mirrors, and such spies,
That they did all to you epitomize—
Countries, towns, courts beg from above
A pattern of your love.

By John Donne

Saturday, November 27, 2004

The Interview

34-24-36. 5’6”. Shiny black tresses caressed the curve of her neck, brushing lovingly against her shoulder, much like a lover would. The red waist-coat faithfully moulded her body, highlighting her assets beautifully. She wore a skirt that stopped just short of her knees – some silky material that shifted sensuously against her legs with each step she took forward…
Please have a seat...
Thank you, Sir.
Those husky tones could do a lot for a man’s imagination, not to mention the libido. As she sat down, her skirt shifted higher drawing the gaze down to her thighs. She shifted, her spine stiffened as she straightened in the chair.
My Curriculum Vitae, Sir. As you can see I completed my Masters from…
Her voice droned on in the background as his gaze drifted idly upwards taking in the nip of her waist and higher up, the proud tilt of her chin to the kohl-lined deep brown eyes that were sparkling indignantly with fire. If looks could, he would have burnt at the spot. He leaned back in his chair and smiled.
She would do. Oh yes, she would do alright...

(Inspired by John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing” – an influential book, in which he talks about the male gaze. He argues (successfully) that “men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.” Women continue to be “depicted in a different way to men - because the "ideal" spectator is always assumed to be male and the image of the woman is designed to flatter him” Berger was speaking with art in mind, yet his arguments are highly applicable in a quotidian situation – aren’t we as women, constantly aware of the male gaze, perpetually modifying our appearance to please it?)