on 19 February 2006
Having thoroughly enjoyed A Year in Provence I was pleasantly suprised to find that Toujours Provence is even more entertaining. It is written in the same vain as it's predecessor, describing beautifully the rich scenery, characters and events of rural France, but as the author has more experiences to draw upon for this book, the stories have a bit more variety. Pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy a very entertaining read !
I purchased this book in a bookstore on the Cours Mirabeau, near Les Deux Garcons café, in Aix, in 1991. At the time, the bookstore carried only books written in French. This work of Peter Mayle’s had just been issued, in quick pursuit of the immense popularity of his initial work "A Year in Provence". “Toujours Provence” was released only in English in 1991, and somehow the bookstore had mistakenly ordered it, no doubt due to the title (In 1998 Mayle’s account was published in French). After my read in 1991, I concluded that it was not of the same caliber as “A Year in Provence.” Currently I ach to return to the many joys of Provence, and therefore decided to give this light-hearted work a re-read, and have concluded that it is as good as “A Year…”.
Mayle’s substance and style are unchanged from his previous work. There are a series of vignettes that often focus on the uniqueness of Provencal life as experienced by a recent expatriate “arrivée” who has taken up residence in the Luberon region (Mayle, who is English, arrived from London). The observations are a blend of the self-deprecating as well as the condescending. And he peppers his work with untranslated French (which I understand). Generally, though not always, the meaning can be determined from the context for those who know no French.
“A Year…” introduced me to the “Auberge de la Loupe” in Buoux, where I ate a wonderful dinner on a cold dark evening in November, 1989. Subsequently, on many repeat visits, I’ve enjoyed the “17 appetizer” lunch, along with the Tavel Rosé. Maurice is the owner of the restaurant, and Mayle’s wife arranged for “le pique-nique” with the owner for Peter’s 50th birthday. It was in grand-style, since Maurice’s avocation is the restoration of many 19th century horse-drawn carriages, which was the mode of transport to a glorious setting under the trees, with white linen tablecloths and the obligatory champagne. Mayle explained how he had grown to dislike picnics in England due to the often inclement weather. In the end, after the delights of a wonderful “lunch,” it did turn into un pique-nique anglais.
Food, and more food, and yet as he concludes, they have actually lost weight living in Provence. Many of his vignettes center on food and alcohol, and include a trip to a degustation in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, as well as a discourse on the origins and effects of pastis. He also describes his trips to two radically different restaurants – Hiély – in the heart of Avignon, near the Place de Horlage, and a truck stop on the N7 at Orgon. The key selection criteria for both: value for money. Other stories concerned seeing Pavarotti in concert at the Roman Amphitheatre in Orange, singing toads, Vogue magazine highlighting the various “escapes” of the rich and famous, the dog show and the wild fires that can decimate the countryside. Variegated, yes.
In the final chapter he raises the rather unique British admonition on “Going Native,” again a bit tongue-in-cheek. The expression was mainly used during the Raj, the British rule of India, and how the British were supposed to maintain a certain distance “from the native classes,” by adhering to their own rituals and clubs. One of Mayle’s visitors from England noted that Mayle was in T-shirt, shorts, barefoot, and seemed to be oblivious to a rigid time schedule. Had Mayle “gone native” and become a Provençal? And he answers in the affirmative, noting the gradual and at times imperceptible changes in his life, and that overall, they were much for the better, and had improved their mental and physical health. All the better, since he had no “native” guide to help him. Imagine if he had! 5-stars, on the re-read.