9:04 PM 14 APRIL 2017
“A Year in Provence” won the British Book Awards’ “Best Travel Book of the Year” in 1989 and without wishing to be disparaging, it is utterly charming! Month-by-month Peter Mayle describes his gradual assimilation into a new life in southern France and though not without challenges, the lifestyle retains enough of an idyllic quality as to be appealing to many a reader.
For example, the twelve months begins with a New Year’s Eve six course lunch with pink champagne. Typically, Brits have been enviously familiar with the obsession with food, which looms large in French culture, from the virtues of olive oil to the daily purchase of bread – vive la difference! More recently, of course, we are arguably catching up, but regular references to the importance of food and drink and the superior Gallic appreciation of all things gastronomical, does lend the book a sumptuous feel. Still, this is simply garnish for descriptions of the local characters and landscapes Mayle encounters, which form the main course of his book.
Just the idea of a farmhouse with six acres located between the medieval villages of Menerbes and Bonnieux seems exotic, “at the end of a dirt track through cherry trees and vines”. And though the author recounts the unexpected difficulties with the climate and getting a series of tradesmen to deliver on the promised renovations, the Spring “evenings of corrugated pink skies…” seem fair compensation for the fact that the swimming pool isn’t for all-year-round use!
However, for me, the highlight of the book is undoubtedly the rather genteel descriptions of a host of local people, with whom Mayle develops a seemingly genuine affinity and who in turn, appear to accept the Englishman seeking to share in their slice of the ‘better life’. Indeed, the incessant visitors from home almost became intruders, inhibiting Mr & Mrs Mayle’s desire to luxuriate in their new home and be seamlessly absorbed into the community.
The lasting impression is that our neighbour’s grass is inevitably greener, though it wouldn’t necessarily be everyone’s cup of tea. C’est la vie!