Peter Mayle: A Year in Provence and Toujours Provence
|First published 1989|
|First published 1991|
The whole phenomenon of British people buying and renovating properties in Provence, particularly in the Luberon region, that sits between Avignon and Aix-en-Provence really kicked off following the publication of Peter Mayle's "A Year In Provence" in 1989 and "Toujours Provence" in 1991.
Mayle was an advertising man who had published several humorous sex education books in the "Willie" series. as well as a book "Up the Agency", which somewhat trashed the world of advertising. The decision that he and his wife took to give up their previous lives and move to Provence with their two dogs is vividly described in a series of vignettes of life in the Luberon, which make up the two books.
The first book takes the reader through their first year in 12 chapters, one for each month, where some of the trials around buying and renovating their farmhouse, which sat between Menerbes and Bonnieux, are described, along with lively portraits of some of the charctors who make up their friends, workers and neighbours. We get to meet the pessimistic M. Faustin, who farms some of Mayle's land, the hermetic M. Massot, ever hoping to sell his dilapidated and unattractive property to some rich Anglos, the philosophical plumber M. Menicucci, who eventually installs central heating into the Mayle farmhouse.
Mayle gives some stirring accounts of some of the gastronomic bounty of the region, and gives in a quirky and affectionate style, a very approachable evaluation of the contrast between living a la Provencal and regular middle class English life and expectations.
The second book is less structured and in some ways less appealing, although it does have some wonderful highlights and anecdotes... the fiftieth birthday picnic above Buoux (sadly the Auberge at Buoux, which was so wonderful in these books, is now a sad shadow of its former self, and rather a tourist trap) was for me the highlight, and I also enjoyed the heroic gastronomic event at Chateauneuf-du-Pape, that Mayle very vividly describes in the chapter 'No spitting in Chateauneuf-du-Pape'. His account of attending a Pavarotti concert in the Roman theatre at Orange is also memorable... one can well believe that Pavarotti ate his way through the concert and had extra need of the famous large white hankerchief/napkin.
One of the sad events that followed on from the two books was that Mayle and his wife were so hounded by tourists and admirers that they eventually abandoned the region and somewhat fled to North America. Happily there was a happier ending as there is a third book in the series, 'Encore Provence', published in 2000, which describes Mayle's return to live in Provence, this time in the region of Loumerain, a little to the south east of his first house.
However, it is the first two books which led to the epic explosion of interest in English and other northern European people following in the footsteps of Mayle and in due course, as Mayle himself predicted, destroying some of the ambiance that attracted people to the region in the first place. The desire for luxury living with swimming pools and tennis courts, and a failure to bend to the traditional, season-driven lifestyle of the Luberon in many of his compatriots clearly saddened Mayle. People seemed to have read the books but not apprehended the mesage.