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.

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