Reading about Provence can never replace being there, but Peter Mayle’s “Provence in Ten Easy Lessons” is a good way to remember the best of that beautiful area. After tasting my first pastis and gorging on cheeses and croissants, shopping in the open markets, and practicing my fractured French with a patient shopkeeper, I could connect with Mayle’s top ten list. He never mentioned the the rocky climbs rewarded with breathtaking vistas, the emerald green clear water, or the Mistral wind blowing hard enough at times to whip a landscape into a frenzy – but this was a short book – and Mayle has written so much about Provence in his other stories.

Learning to cook bouillabaisse with a master chef was an experience I’ll never forget. No wonder Julia Child fell in love with French cooking. I found myself intoning a sing- sing “bon appetit” often and looking for more recipes. Elizabeth Bard’s second memoir of her life in France, “Picnic in Provence” offers her recipes from the area – some worth trying.

A companion book I brought along – J. I. M. Stewart’s vintage book, “The Use of Riches,” was set in Italy, not France, but the story of the tortured artist and his vision reminded me of Van Gogh when I visited the asylum where he painted so many of his masterpieces. Stewart’s classic is initially confusing but worth the extra attention and the wait for the slow reveal; nevertheless, you must be persistent to connect. Languorous afternoons in the countryside of Provence may be the perfect setting to read it.

As I reluctantly retune my ear from French, Provence stays with me, and I found myself grinning when I greeted the American flight attendant with a hearty “bonjour.” She smiled back.


The Dream Lover and Marianne

9780812993158_p0_v1_s260x420Before reading Elizabeth Berg’s historical fiction The Dream Lover, my image of the author George Sand was the cigar-smoking, cross-dressing lover of Chopin, as portrayed by Judy Davis in the 1990’s movie Impromptu.  George Sand, born Aurore Dupin, is more than her movie stereotype, and halfway through reading Berg’s book, I stopped to find one of George Sands’ novels.  I had never read one.

The only book available in my library system was Marianne:

Marilyn French in her essay for the New York Times – More Than the Sum of Her Sex Life – motivated me to read more when she wrote about Sand:

This (Marianne) is one of Sand’s last works, a short pastoral romance, a love story in which the impediments arise not from external events but from the psychologies of the characters themselves. It is charming and utterly believable…One subject frequently found in Sand’s work – the attitudes of propertied men toward marriage and women as appropriate grounds for male exploitation – is only backdrop in this novel, although social pressures are as intricately woven into its fabric as are the joys of nature. The translation is a pleasure to read…

French’s forward in “Marianne” uses almost as many pages as Sands’ story,, but reading her short review of George Sands’ life created a good point of reference. Sands’ “Marianne” is only about 80 pages, and, at first, seems to be a lovely romance between a young woman and her older guardian. But Sands’ auspicious opinions on women and women’s rights quickly seep through the lines, providing a provocative as well as entertaining story. I plan to find more by Sands (she wrote over 100 pieces).

Berg, one of my favorite authors, detours from her usual fare of contemporary issues and follows her research well in delivering a readable and informative story in The Dream Lover about the French writer who has been ranked with Victor Hugo.  The story alternates between George’s childhood and her adult life as a writer.  No one living at that time could understand her passion – for men (and women), for her children, for writing, for living her own life on her own terms.  Perhaps few could understand it today, but more women are willing to try. Because Berg chooses key elements in the author’s life to evoke sympathy rather than criticism of her life decisions, the struggle of wanting it all – a career as a writer, a life as wife and mother, a satisfying romantic relationship – is sad and difficult to follow at times.

But after reading French’s introduction and Sands’ “Maraianne,” I’ve decided to begin again to read Berg’s The Dream Lover – with a better perspective on George Sands and relishing the discovery of how her life influenced her work.


Do You Have Time to Get Lei’d?

Originally posted on No Charge Bookbunch:

May 1st is Lei Day here in Hawaii.   Locals make leis, buy leis, give leis – and get lei’d.  Check out the photo gallery for this year at…

In Annapolis, my old hometown, May Day means fresh flower baskets on Main Street.

Photo credits: Baltimore Sun/Susan Reimer

Photo credits: Baltimore Sun/Susan Reimer

Recently, someone told me that reading is not just an escape; it’s a way of avoiding reality – time could be better spent than in reading.    Maybe so, or maybe reading is a type of meditation, a way to be mindless of your own issues and submerge into someone or something else.

Like meditation, the effect of reading a good book may be that you feel better, clearer, fresher – even more mindful.

crown flower lei

But this is Lei Day and May Day – so some time could be spent with the flowers…

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