A Year in Provence

( 75 )

Overview

National Bestseller 

In this witty and warm-hearted account, Peter Mayle tells what it is like to realize a long-cherished dream and actually move into a 200-year-old stone farmhouse in the remote country of the Lubéron with his wife and two large dogs. He endures January's frosty mistral as it comes howling down the Rhône Valley, discovers the secrets of goat racing through the middle of town, and delights in the glorious regional cuisine. A Year in Provence transports us ...

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A Year in Provence

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Overview

National Bestseller 

In this witty and warm-hearted account, Peter Mayle tells what it is like to realize a long-cherished dream and actually move into a 200-year-old stone farmhouse in the remote country of the Lubéron with his wife and two large dogs. He endures January's frosty mistral as it comes howling down the Rhône Valley, discovers the secrets of goat racing through the middle of town, and delights in the glorious regional cuisine. A Year in Provence transports us into all the earthy pleasures of Provençal life and lets us live vicariously at a tempo governed by seasons, not by days.

An entertaining account of a year in Provence spent in a remote 200 year old Frech farmhouse. Told by an escapee from the advertising world.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
This lyrical, witty ode to Provence has become the template for scores of travel essays by Mayle admirers. None of them, however, can match the blend of lighthearted humor and sensuous detail that Mayle offers his readers in A Year in Provence. The chronicle of a former advertiser who undertakes the renovation of a ancient French farmhouse, A Year in Provence introduces readers to a wealth of quirky characters, lucious meals, and innumerable mishaps as the author and his wife settle into the Provençal lifestyle.
From the Publisher

"Delightful." —The Washington Post

"Get a glass of marc, lean back in your most comfortable chair, and spend a delicious year in Provence." —George Lang

"Engaging, funny and richly appreciative." —The New York Times Book Review

"Stylish, witty, delightfully readable." —The Sunday Times (London)

"Fascinating." —Christian Science Monitor

"I really loved this book." —Julia Child

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679731146
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/28/1991
  • Series: Vintage Departures Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 85,600
  • Product dimensions: 8.04 (w) x 5.30 (h) x 0.61 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Mayle
Peter Mayle spent fifteen years in the advertising business, first as a copywriter and then as a reluctant executive, before escaping Madison Avenue in 1975 to write books. His work has been translated into seventeen languages, and he has contributed to the London Sunday Times, the Financial Times, and the Independent, as well as Gentlemen's Quarterly and Esquire. A Year in Provence won the British Book Awards "Best Travel Book of the Year." Peter Mayle and his wife live in Provence.
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Read an Excerpt

THE YEAR BEGAN with lunch.

We have always found that New Year's Eve, with its eleventh-hour excesses and doomed resolutions, is a dismal occasion for all the forced jollity and midnight toasts and kisses. And so, when we heard that over in the village of Lacoste, a few miles away, the proprietor of Le Simiane was offering a six-course lunch with pink champagne to his amiable clientele, it seemed like a much more cheerful way to start the next twelve months.

By 12:30 the little stone-walled restaurant was full. There were some serious stomachs to be seen-entire families with the embonpoint that comes from spending two or three diligent hours every day at the table, eyes down and conversation postponed in the observance of France's favorite ritual. The proprietor of the restaurant, a man who had somehow perfected the art of hovering despite his considerable size, was dressed for the day in a velvet smoking jacket and bow tie. His mustache, sleek with pomade, quivered with enthusiasm as he rhapsodized over the menu: foie gras, lobster mousse, beef en cro?te, salads dressed in virgin oil, hand-picked cheeses, desserts of a miraculous lightness, digestifs. It was a gastronomic aria which he performed at each table, kissing the tips of his fingers so often that he must have blistered his lips.

The final "bon app?tit" died away and a companionable near-silence descended on the restaurant as the food received its due attention. While we ate, my wife and I thought of previous New Year's Days, most of them spent under impenetrable cloud in England. It was hard to associate the sunshine and dense blue sky outside with the first of January but, as everyone kept telling us, it was quite normal. After all, we were in Provence.

We had been here often before as tourists, desperate for our annual ration of two or three weeks of true heat and sharp light. Always when we left, with peeling noses and regret, we promised ourselves that one day we would live here. We had talked about it during the long gray winters and the damp green summers, looked with an addict's longing at photographs of village markets and vineyards, dreamed of being woken up by the sun slanting through the bedroom window. And now, somewhat to our surprise, we had done it. We had committed ourselves. We had bought a house, taken French lessons, said our good-byes, shipped over our two dogs, and become foreigners.

In the end, it had happened quickly-almost impulsively-because of the house. We saw it one afternoon and had mentally moved in by dinner.

It was set above the country road that runs between the two medieval hill villages of M?nerbes and Bonnieux, at the end of a dirt track through cherry trees and vines. It was a mas, or farmhouse, built from local stone which two hundred years of wind and sun had weathered to a color somewhere between pale honey and pale gray. It had started life in the eighteenth century as one room and, in the haphazard manner of agricultural buildings, had spread to accommodate children, grandmothers, goats, and farm implements until it had become an irregular three-story house. Everything about it was solid. The spiral staircase which rose from the wine cave to the top floor was cut from massive slabs of stone. The walls, some of them a meter thick, were built to keep out the winds of the Mistral which, they say, can blow the ears off a donkey. Attached to the back of the house was an enclosed courtyard, and beyond that a bleached white stone swimming pool. There were three wells, there were established shade trees and slim green cypresses, hedges of rosemary, a giant almond tree. In the afternoon sun, with the wooden shutters half-closed like sleepy eyelids, it was irresistible.

It was also immune, as much as any house could be, from the creeping horrors of property development. The French have a weakness for erecting jolies villas wherever building regulations permit, and sometimes where they don't, particularly in areas of hitherto unspoiled and beautiful countryside. We had seen them in a ghastly rash around the old market town of Apt, boxes made from that special kind of livid pink cement which remains livid no matter what the weather may throw at it. Very few areas of rural France are safe unless they have been officially protected, and one of the great attractions of this house was that it sat within the boundaries of a national park, sacred to the French heritage and out of bounds to concrete mixers.

The Lub?ron Mountains rise up immediately behind the house to a high point of nearly 3,500 feet and run in deep folds for about forty miles from west to east. Cedars and pines and scrub oak keep them perpetually green and provide cover for boar, rabbits, and game birds. Wild flowers, thyme, lavender, and mushrooms grow between the rocks and under the trees, and from the summit on a clear day the view is of the Basses-Alpes on one side and the Mediterranean on the other. For most of the year, it is possible to walk for eight or nine hours without seeing a car or a human being. It is a 247,000-acre extension of the back garden, a paradise for the dogs and a permanent barricade against assault from the rear by unforeseen neighbors.

Neighbors, we have found, take on an importance in the country that they don't begin to have in cities. You can live for years in an apartment in London or New York and barely speak to the people who live six inches away from you on the other side of a wall. In the country, separated from the next house though you may be by hundreds of yards, your neighbors are part of your life, and you are part of theirs. If you happen to be foreign and therefore slightly exotic, you are inspected with more than usual interest. And if, in addition, you inherit a long-standing and delicate agricultural arrangement, you are quickly made aware that your attitudes and decisions have a direct effect on another family's well-being.

We had been introduced to our new neighbors by the couple from whom we bought the house, over a five-hour dinner marked by a tremendous goodwill on all sides and an almost total lack of comprehension on our part. The language spoken was French, but it was not the French we had studied in textbooks and heard on cassettes; it was a rich, soupy patois, emanating from somewhere at the back of the throat and passing through a scrambling process in the nasal passages before coming out as speech. Half-familiar sounds could be dimly recognized as words through the swirls and eddies of Proven?al: demain became demang, vin became vang, maison became mesong. That by itself would not have been a problem had the words been spoken at normal conversational speed and without further embroidery, but they were delivered like bullets from a machine gun, often with an extra vowel tacked on to the end for good luck. Thus an offer of more bread-page-one stuff in French for beginners-emerged as a single twanging question. Encoredupanga?

Fortunately for us, the good humor and niceness of our neighbors were apparent even if what they were saying was a mystery. Henriette was a brown, pretty woman with a permanent smile and a sprinter's enthusiasm for reaching the finish line of each sentence in record time. Her husband, Faustin-or Faustang, as we thought his name was spelled for many weeks-was large and gentle, unhurried in his movements and relatively slow with his words. He had been born in the valley, he had spent his life in the valley, and he would die in the valley. His father, P?p? Andr?, who lived next to him, had shot his last boar at the age of eighty and had given up hunting to take up the bicycle. Twice a week he would pedal to the village for his groceries and his gossip. They seemed to be a contented family.

They had, however, a concern about us, not only as neighbors but as prospective partners, and, through the fumes of marc and black tobacco and the even thicker fog of the accent, we eventually got to the bottom of it.

Most of the six acres of land we had bought with the house was planted with vines, and these had been looked after for years under the traditional system of m?tayage: the owner of the land pays the capital costs of new vine stock and fertilizer, while the farmer does the work of spraying, cropping, and pruning. At the end of the season, the farmer takes two-thirds of the profits and the owner one-third. If the property changes hands, the arrangement comes up for review, and there was Faustin's concern. It was well known that many of the properties in the Lub?ron were bought as r?sidences secondaires, used for holidays and amusement, their good agricultural land turned into elaborately planted gardens. There were even cases of the ultimate blasphemy, when vines had been grubbed up to make way for tennis courts. Tennis courts! Faustin shrugged with disbelief, shoulders and eyebrows going up in unison as he contemplated the extraordinary idea of exchanging precious vines for the curious pleasures of chasing a little ball around in the heat.

He needn't have worried. We loved the vines-the ordered regularity of them against the sprawl of the mountain, the way they changed from bright green to darker green to yellow and red as spring and summer turned to autumn, the blue smoke in the pruning season as the clippings were burned, the pruned stumps studding the bare fields in the winter-they were meant to be here. Tennis courts and landscaped gardens weren't. (Nor, for that matter, was our swimming pool, but at least it hadn't replaced any vines.) And, besides, there was the wine. We had the option of taking our profit in cash or in the bottle, and in an average year our share of the crop would be nearly a thousand litres of good ordinary red and pink. As emphatically as we could in our unsteady French, we told Faustin that we would be delighted to continue the existing arrangement. He beamed. He could see that we would all get along very well together. One day, we might even be able to talk to each other.

THE PROPRIETOR of Le Simiane wished us a happy new year and hovered in the doorway as we stood in the narrow street, blinking into the sun.

"Not bad, eh?" he said, with a flourish of one velvet-clad arm which took in the village, the ruins of the Marquis de Sade's ch?teau perched above, the view across to the mountains and the bright, clean sky. It was a casually possessive gesture, as if he was showing us a corner of his personal estate. "One is fortunate to be in Provence."

Yes indeed, we thought, one certainly was. If this was winter we wouldn't be needing all the foul-weather paraphernalia-boots and coats and inch-thick sweaters-that we had brought over from England. We drove home, warm and well fed, making bets on how soon we could take the first swim of the year, and feeling a smug sympathy for those poor souls in harsher climates who had to suffer real winters.

Meanwhile, a thousand miles to the north, the wind that had started in Siberia was picking up speed for the final part of its journey. We had heard stories about the Mistral. It drove people, and animals, mad. It was an extenuating circumstance in crimes of violence. It blew for fifteen days on end, uprooting trees, overturning cars, smashing windows, tossing old ladies into the gutter, splintering telegraph poles, moaning through houses like a cold and baleful ghost, causing la grippe, domestic squabbles, absenteeism from work, toothache, migraine-every problem in Provence that couldn't be blamed on the politicians was the fault of the s?cr? vent which the Proven?aux spoke about with a kind of masochistic pride.

Typical Gallic exaggeration, we thought. If they had to put up with the gales that come off the English Channel and bend the rain so that it hits you in the face almost horizontally, then they might know what a real wind was like. We listened to their stories and, to humor the tellers, pretended to be impressed.

And so we were poorly prepared when the first Mistral of the year came howling down the Rh?ne valley, turned left, and smacked into the west side of the house with enough force to skim roof tiles into the swimming pool and rip a window that had carelessly been left open off its hinges. The temperature dropped twenty degrees in twenty-four hours. It went to zero, then six below. Readings taken in Marseilles showed a wind speed of 180 kilometers an hour. My wife was cooking in an overcoat. I was trying to type in gloves. We stopped talking about our first swim and thought wistfully about central heating. And then one morning, with the sound of branches snapping, the pipes burst one after the other under the pressure of water that had frozen in them overnight.

They hung off the wall, swollen and stopped up with ice, and Monsieur Menicucci studied them with his professional plumber's eye.

"Oh l? l?," he said. "Oh l? l?." He turned to his young apprentice, whom he invariably addressed as jeune homme or jeune. "You see what we have here, jeune. Naked pipes. No insulation. C?te d'Azur plumbing. In Cannes, in Nice, it would do, but here . . ."

He made a clucking sound of disapproval and wagged his finger under jeune's nose to underline the difference between the soft winters of the coast and the biting cold in which we were now standing, and pulled his woolen bonnet firmly down over his ears. He was short and compact, built for plumbing, as he would say, because he could squeeze himself into constricted spaces that more ungainly men would find inaccessible. While we waited for jeune to set up the blowtorch, Monsieur Menicucci delivered the first of a series of lectures and collected pens?es which I would listen to with increasing enjoyment throughout the coming year. Today, we had a geophysical dissertation on the increasing severity of Proven?al winters.

For three years in a row, winters had been noticeably harder than anyone could remember-cold enough, in fact, to kill ancient olive trees. It was, to use the phrase that comes out in Provence whenever the sun goes in, pas normal. But why? Monsieur Menicucci gave me a token two seconds to ponder this phenomenon before warming to his thesis, tapping me with a finger from time to time to make sure I was paying attention.

It was clear, he said, that the winds which brought the cold down from Russia were arriving in Provence with greater velocity than before, taking less time to reach their destination and therefore having less time to warm up en route. And the reason for this-Monsieur Menicucci allowed himself a brief but dramatic pause-was a change in the configuration of the earth's crust. Mais oui. Somewhere between Siberia and M?nerbes the curvature of the earth had flattened, enabling the wind to take a more direct route south. It was entirely logical. Unfortunately, part two of the lecture (Why the Earth Is Becoming Flatter) was interrupted by a crack of another burst pipe, and my education was put aside for some virtuoso work with the blowtorch.

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First Chapter

THE YEAR BEGAN with lunch.

We have always found that New Year's Eve, with its eleventh-hour excesses and doomed resolutions, is a dismal occasion for all the forced jollity and midnight toasts and kisses. And so, when we heard that over in the village of Lacoste, a few miles away, the proprietor of Le Simiane was offering a six-course lunch with pink champagne to his amiable clientele, it seemed like a much more cheerful way to start the next twelve months.

By 12:30 the little stone-walled restaurant was full. There were some serious stomachs to be seen-entire families with the embonpoint that comes from spending two or three diligent hours every day at the table, eyes down and conversation postponed in the observance of France's favorite ritual. The proprietor of the restaurant, a man who had somehow perfected the art of hovering despite his considerable size, was dressed for the day in a velvet smoking jacket and bow tie. His mustache, sleek with pomade, quivered with enthusiasm as he rhapsodized over the menu: foie gras, lobster mousse, beef en cro?te, salads dressed in virgin oil, hand-picked cheeses, desserts of a miraculous lightness, digestifs. It was a gastronomic aria which he performed at each table, kissing the tips of his fingers so often that he must have blistered his lips.

The final "bon app?tit" died away and a companionable near-silence descended on the restaurant as the food received its due attention. While we ate, my wife and I thought of previous New Year's Days, most of them spent under impenetrable cloud in England. It was hard to associate the sunshine and dense blue sky outside with the first of January but, as everyone kept telling us, itwas quite normal. After all, we were in Provence.

We had been here often before as tourists, desperate for our annual ration of two or three weeks of true heat and sharp light. Always when we left, with peeling noses and regret, we promised ourselves that one day we would live here. We had talked about it during the long gray winters and the damp green summers, looked with an addict's longing at photographs of village markets and vineyards, dreamed of being woken up by the sun slanting through the bedroom window. And now, somewhat to our surprise, we had done it. We had committed ourselves. We had bought a house, taken French lessons, said our good-byes, shipped over our two dogs, and become foreigners.

In the end, it had happened quickly-almost impulsively-because of the house. We saw it one afternoon and had mentally moved in by dinner.

It was set above the country road that runs between the two medieval hill villages of M?nerbes and Bonnieux, at the end of a dirt track through cherry trees and vines. It was a mas, or farmhouse, built from local stone which two hundred years of wind and sun had weathered to a color somewhere between pale honey and pale gray. It had started life in the eighteenth century as one room and, in the haphazard manner of agricultural buildings, had spread to accommodate children, grandmothers, goats, and farm implements until it had become an irregular three-story house. Everything about it was solid. The spiral staircase which rose from the wine cave to the top floor was cut from massive slabs of stone. The walls, some of them a meter thick, were built to keep out the winds of the Mistral which, they say, can blow the ears off a donkey. Attached to the back of the house was an enclosed courtyard, and beyond that a bleached white stone swimming pool. There were three wells, there were established shade trees and slim green cypresses, hedges of rosemary, a giant almond tree. In the afternoon sun, with the wooden shutters half-closed like sleepy eyelids, it was irresistible.

It was also immune, as much as any house could be, from the creeping horrors of property development. The French have a weakness for erecting jolies villas wherever building regulations permit, and sometimes where they don't, particularly in areas of hitherto unspoiled and beautiful countryside. We had seen them in a ghastly rash around the old market town of Apt, boxes made from that special kind of livid pink cement which remains livid no matter what the weather may throw at it. Very few areas of rural France are safe unless they have been officially protected, and one of the great attractions of this house was that it sat within the boundaries of a national park, sacred to the French heritage and out of bounds to concrete mixers.

The Lub?ron Mountains rise up immediately behind the house to a high point of nearly 3,500 feet and run in deep folds for about forty miles from west to east. Cedars and pines and scrub oak keep them perpetually green and provide cover for boar, rabbits, and game birds. Wild flowers, thyme, lavender, and mushrooms grow between the rocks and under the trees, and from the summit on a clear day the view is of the Basses-Alpes on one side and the Mediterranean on the other. For most of the year, it is possible to walk for eight or nine hours without seeing a car or a human being. It is a 247,000-acre extension of the back garden, a paradise for the dogs and a permanent barricade against assault from the rear by unforeseen neighbors.

Neighbors, we have found, take on an importance in the country that they don't begin to have in cities. You can live for years in an apartment in London or New York and barely speak to the people who live six inches away from you on the other side of a wall. In the country, separated from the next house though you may be by hundreds of yards, your neighbors are part of your life, and you are part of theirs. If you happen to be foreign and therefore slightly exotic, you are inspected with more than usual interest. And if, in addition, you inherit a long-standing and delicate agricultural arrangement, you are quickly made aware that your attitudes and decisions have a direct effect on another family's well-being.

We had been introduced to our new neighbors by the couple from whom we bought the house, over a five-hour dinner marked by a tremendous goodwill on all sides and an almost total lack of comprehension on our part. The language spoken was French, but it was not the French we had studied in textbooks and heard on cassettes; it was a rich, soupy patois, emanating from somewhere at the back of the throat and passing through a scrambling process in the nasal passages before coming out as speech. Half-familiar sounds could be dimly recognized as words through the swirls and eddies of Proven?al: demain became demang, vin became vang, maison became mesong. That by itself would not have been a problem had the words been spoken at normal conversational speed and without further embroidery, but they were delivered like bullets from a machine gun, often with an extra vowel tacked on to the end for good luck. Thus an offer of more bread-page-one stuff in French for beginners-emerged as a single twanging question. Encoredupanga?

Fortunately for us, the good humor and niceness of our neighbors were apparent even if what they were saying was a mystery. Henriette was a brown, pretty woman with a permanent smile and a sprinter's enthusiasm for reaching the finish line of each sentence in record time. Her husband, Faustin-or Faustang, as we thought his name was spelled for many weeks-was large and gentle, unhurried in his movements and relatively slow with his words. He had been born in the valley, he had spent his life in the valley, and he would die in the valley. His father, P?p? Andr?, who lived next to him, had shot his last boar at the age of eighty and had given up hunting to take up the bicycle. Twice a week he would pedal to the village for his groceries and his gossip. They seemed to be a contented family.

They had, however, a concern about us, not only as neighbors but as prospective partners, and, through the fumes of marc and black tobacco and the even thicker fog of the accent, we eventually got to the bottom of it.

Most of the six acres of land we had bought with the house was planted with vines, and these had been looked after for years under the traditional system of m?tayage: the owner of the land pays the capital costs of new vine stock and fertilizer, while the farmer does the work of spraying, cropping, and pruning. At the end of the season, the farmer takes two-thirds of the profits and the owner one-third. If the property changes hands, the arrangement comes up for review, and there was Faustin's concern. It was well known that many of the properties in the Lub?ron were bought as r?sidences secondaires, used for holidays and amusement, their good agricultural land turned into elaborately planted gardens. There were even cases of the ultimate blasphemy, when vines had been grubbed up to make way for tennis courts. Tennis courts! Faustin shrugged with disbelief, shoulders and eyebrows going up in unison as he contemplated the extraordinary idea of exchanging precious vines for the curious pleasures of chasing a little ball around in the heat.

He needn't have worried. We loved the vines-the ordered regularity of them against the sprawl of the mountain, the way they changed from bright green to darker green to yellow and red as spring and summer turned to autumn, the blue smoke in the pruning season as the clippings were burned, the pruned stumps studding the bare fields in the winter-they were meant to be here. Tennis courts and landscaped gardens weren't. (Nor, for that matter, was our swimming pool, but at least it hadn't replaced any vines.) And, besides, there was the wine. We had the option of taking our profit in cash or in the bottle, and in an average year our share of the crop would be nearly a thousand litres of good ordinary red and pink. As emphatically as we could in our unsteady French, we told Faustin that we would be delighted to continue the existing arrangement. He beamed. He could see that we would all get along very well together. One day, we might even be able to talk to each other.

THE PROPRIETOR of Le Simiane wished us a happy new year and hovered in the doorway as we stood in the narrow street, blinking into the sun.

"Not bad, eh?" he said, with a flourish of one velvet-clad arm which took in the village, the ruins of the Marquis de Sade's ch?teau perched above, the view across to the mountains and the bright, clean sky. It was a casually possessive gesture, as if he was showing us a corner of his personal estate. "One is fortunate to be in Provence."

Yes indeed, we thought, one certainly was. If this was winter we wouldn't be needing all the foul-weather paraphernalia-boots and coats and inch-thick sweaters-that we had brought over from England. We drove home, warm and well fed, making bets on how soon we could take the first swim of the year, and feeling a smug sympathy for those poor souls in harsher climates who had to suffer real winters.

Meanwhile, a thousand miles to the north, the wind that had started in Siberia was picking up speed for the final part of its journey. We had heard stories about the Mistral. It drove people, and animals, mad. It was an extenuating circumstance in crimes of violence. It blew for fifteen days on end, uprooting trees, overturning cars, smashing windows, tossing old ladies into the gutter, splintering telegraph poles, moaning through houses like a cold and baleful ghost, causing la grippe, domestic squabbles, absenteeism from work, toothache, migraine-every problem in Provence that couldn't be blamed on the politicians was the fault of the s?cr? vent which the Proven?aux spoke about with a kind of masochistic pride.

Typical Gallic exaggeration, we thought. If they had to put up with the gales that come off the English Channel and bend the rain so that it hits you in the face almost horizontally, then they might know what a real wind was like. We listened to their stories and, to humor the tellers, pretended to be impressed.

And so we were poorly prepared when the first Mistral of the year came howling down the Rh?ne valley, turned left, and smacked into the west side of the house with enough force to skim roof tiles into the swimming pool and rip a window that had carelessly been left open off its hinges. The temperature dropped twenty degrees in twenty-four hours. It went to zero, then six below. Readings taken in Marseilles showed a wind speed of 180 kilometers an hour. My wife was cooking in an overcoat. I was trying to type in gloves. We stopped talking about our first swim and thought wistfully about central heating. And then one morning, with the sound of branches snapping, the pipes burst one after the other under the pressure of water that had frozen in them overnight.

They hung off the wall, swollen and stopped up with ice, and Monsieur Menicucci studied them with his professional plumber's eye.

"Oh l? l?," he said. "Oh l? l?." He turned to his young apprentice, whom he invariably addressed as jeune homme or jeune. "You see what we have here, jeune. Naked pipes. No insulation. C?te d'Azur plumbing. In Cannes, in Nice, it would do, but here . . ."

He made a clucking sound of disapproval and wagged his finger under jeune's nose to underline the difference between the soft winters of the coast and the biting cold in which we were now standing, and pulled his woolen bonnet firmly down over his ears. He was short and compact, built for plumbing, as he would say, because he could squeeze himself into constricted spaces that more ungainly men would find inaccessible. While we waited for jeune to set up the blowtorch, Monsieur Menicucci delivered the first of a series of lectures and collected pens?es which I would listen to with increasing enjoyment throughout the coming year. Today, we had a geophysical dissertation on the increasing severity of Proven?al winters.

For three years in a row, winters had been noticeably harder than anyone could remember-cold enough, in fact, to kill ancient olive trees. It was, to use the phrase that comes out in Provence whenever the sun goes in, pas normal. But why? Monsieur Menicucci gave me a token two seconds to ponder this phenomenon before warming to his thesis, tapping me with a finger from time to time to make sure I was paying attention.

It was clear, he said, that the winds which brought the cold down from Russia were arriving in Provence with greater velocity than before, taking less time to reach their destination and therefore having less time to warm up en route. And the reason for this-Monsieur Menicucci allowed himself a brief but dramatic pause-was a change in the configuration of the earth's crust. Mais oui. Somewhere between Siberia and M?nerbes the curvature of the earth had flattened, enabling the wind to take a more direct route south. It was entirely logical. Unfortunately, part two of the lecture (Why the Earth Is Becoming Flatter) was interrupted by a crack of another burst pipe, and my education was put aside for some virtuoso work with the blowtorch.
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Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are designed to enhance your group's reading of Peter Mayle's delightful books about life in Provence, where he and his wife bought a two-hundred-year-old stone farmhouse nestled in the foothills of the Lubéron Mountains.
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 76 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 6, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    A Timeless Classic...

    For those who dream of escaping the rat race and "getting away from it all", this is the quintessential experience writ large. In this classic story, author Peter Mayle captures both the uniqueness and quirkiness that is rural France and its people while spinning a tale the reader will quickly fall in love with. From the challenges presented on their arrival through their transition to acceptance, Mayle captures the warp and woof of real life on every page. For those who lovingly treasure their "joie de vivre", this unforgettable book will easily enjoy an honored place on the shelf. Enjoy!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2004

    real, funny and outstanding...to be recommended

    I come from a small village not too far from where the book takes place and that was the cheapest trip back home that I have taken in the past ten years that I have lived in the US. So real and also so simple, I read it on the subway going to work and tears would come to my eyes from the description of the market, the food, the people , their attitude and so many many other things..then two minutes after I would be laughing out loud and people around me would just stare at me. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a simple and genuine good read about Provence. It is written in a very funny, English-humor-tongue in cheek kindda way. Thank you for a great trip and good memories .I could smell and taste Provence from Brooklyn, New York.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 14, 2001

    I'm not just French, I'm from Provence.

    This book brought back so many great memories of my growing up in Provence. Mr Mayle has done a fantastic job describing the way of life, the passion we have for good food, the scenery, this book definitely makes me homesick for Provence, and also made me laugh so much because only Mr Mayle could explain hunting for truffles so well! I have the movie (4 tapes, one for each season) of a year in Provence, it's hilarious! I highly recommend them!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 1, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    ENJOYED!

    Written in journal form, an interesting presentation, the charm of France is evident, and the French culture in their lifestyle is of laid-back glamour. I really enjoyed this!
    Another book I thoroughly enjoyed concerning Provence was EXPLOSION IN PARIS!! I could read that again and again!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2010

    Fun

    This is to fun to read, I have just moved from Cailf to Ohio so for me this was a nice way to know I'm not alone on learning new ways of life.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2001

    What An Entertaining Read!

    All I can say is 'just read it'. Mayle's tongue-in-cheek insights and observations are humorous and pithy - I loved every page of this book. My husband (non-bookworm-type) kept asking what was so funny.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2014

    Highly Recommended!

    This is an excellent anecdotal book! I'm enjoying every page, wishing all the while that we could buy a home in Provence and live the life of Peter Mayle and his wife! Can't wait to read the sequel! - "Encore Provence"

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 24, 2014

    Good Book

    It told what it is like to live in Provance. Ive been vegetarian 28 years yet constant talj of non vegetarian fiid made me hungry , the cheese and bread. The book was like being in Paris again.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2013

    Lovely story to pair with a trip to Provence

    I began reading this as I was on the airplane to Provence. Very enjoyable story highlighting the beauty and quirkiness of the area. It was great fun to run across a boulle game in progress just as I read that chapter. Delightful!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 13, 2013

    N

    N

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 19, 2012

    Would you like to escape to Provence?

    If so, this book is for you. A couple escape from the hustle and bustle of London to the country life of Provence. Very enjoyable light read.

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  • Posted August 6, 2011

    Great book

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  • Posted July 7, 2011

    Poop

    POOOOOOOOOP

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 21, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Ze French, zey are a funny race

    This is without a doubt the most joyful and wonderful book I've read in several years. I'm not quite sure how to describe it - is it a travel book, a biography, or some weird combination of the two? Or is it something else entirely? Peter Mayle and his wife, a typical middle-class British couple, decide to follow their dreams upon retiring and buy a house in the Luberon area of France - otherwise known as Provence. "A Year in Provence" relates the results of that decision, and true to the title tells of their travails and adventures over the year subsequent to the purchase of said dwelling. Mayle guides us through both their work on the house and their travels through the region. You will chuckle, and at times laugh out loud, at the descriptions of the various characters that the Mayles meet up with. With typical dry British humor they describe their first year as emigres to what for them is another planet. They must become used to the way that their new neighbors work (and play, in some cases), and learn not to explode at what they at first perceive as the ultimate in sheer laziness. Mayle has written at least one sequel, and I look forward to reading it. If it is as funny as this book it will be well worth the price.

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  • Posted December 17, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    "... the baking and eating of breads and pastries had been elevated to the status of a minor religion"

    Peter Mayle and his wife are shown doing a few things besides eating in Peter's 1989 book A YEAR IN PROVENCE. But of course eating is something that they and we do several times a day. And so a leisurely stroll with the Mayles down memory lane between January and December in a fairly remote rural area of ancient Provence, France does not move many paragraphs without a loving encounter with food and drink. *** Thus a lengthy meditation on searches in the forest for edible mushrooms, with a keen eye out for les serpents, is succeeded by reflections on baked goods: "Living in France had turned us into bakery addicts, and the business of choosing and buying our daily bread was a recurring pleasure." Visiting village after village in search of bread was an eye-opener. "After years of taking bread for granted, more or less as a standard commodity, it was like discovering a new food." There were "dense, chewy loaves." Some loaves "went stale in three hours" and on and on. No two bakeries produced quite the same products. Of the 17 bakeries in Cavaillon, outstanding was Chez Auzet. "At Chez Auzet, so they said, the baking and eating of breads and pastries had been elevated to the status of a minor religion" (Chapter - "October"). *** This passage is typical Mayle: calm, succinct, measured, concrete, loving. It the same voice that you hear describing local feasts, quirks of the search for truffles, blasting away with a variety of weapons in hunting season, harvesting grapes, getting building permits from and inspections done by French bureaucrats. This is a smoothly written book, as nourishing and refreshing as a fine red wine served with rabbit. -OOO-

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  • Posted August 5, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A Delicious & Inspiring Year in Provence.

    Spend a delicious year in Provence in a matter of days! Every stereotype of the Parisians (apparently and resoundingly true after reading this book) will be proven accurate through the light-hearted insights and (mis)adventures of a Brit ex-pat who moved to France on a whim. This charming and cleverly written read authentically relives each month/season though the eyes of a transplant in search of just simply living life. Who of all people knows better than the French? You'll be envious/inspired through his ingenious storytelling/observances. Maybe even find yourself in a love/hate (more love, come to think of it) relationship of somebody who one day left everything behind in the safe zone and threw themselves precariously in the middle of joie de vie.*

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  • Posted May 20, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A charmed life in an ancient land.

    This is a charming and whimsical account of a British couple who decide to live their dream and buy and move into a 200 year-old farmhouse in Provence. You get their first-hand account of the process of buying the home, moving into it, renovating the house and starting a vineyard. You also learn about life in a small village in Provence: How the villagers view life, what they think about politics, running their businesses, tourists and their neighbors. They live their lives according to the seasons, not the clock. They take pride in their craftsmanship and enjoy a job well done. Food is relished and meals are gastronomical feasts for the soul and the senses. They live life with gusto.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2010

    Brought alive the culture found in Provence.

    Found a delightful book written in a witty manner that encouraged more travel.To vacation from a villa and absorb the local culture. Couldn't put the book down as it read so easily. So impressed by the style and humor that I bought three more of Mayle's books: "A Good Year", "Anything Considered", and "Chasing Cezanne". Will be able to curl up with one of them, chuckle and enjoy the very presence of the characters involved. This is a new venue that gives history a different perspective.

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  • Posted March 2, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    "A Year in Provence" will leave you hungry for more!

    I loved this book and all of Peter Mayle's books about France. This book completely takes you to Provence with his stories of his life and the experience of food and relationships. After reeading this book, I'm hungry for more. I can't wait to go!!

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  • Posted January 31, 2010

    A quick, easy, read

    This was a fun read. A couple from Great Britian bought a farm house in Provence, France and they chronicled each month of the first year they were there. It gives a great picture of what it would be like to immerse yourself in a completely new environment. It makes me want to go to Provence one day. This is just a nice, light read.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 76 Customer Reviews

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