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.