Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle

A Year in Provence
My mom gave me this book, as well as a couple more Mayle wrote about his adventures in France. The one thing I don't understand is how she can read books like this one and not have any desire to go visit the places he talks about, eat the meals he describes, and meet the oddball characters he lives among. I read passages to my wife, and daydreamed about traveling to Provence some day.

Mayle and his wife moved to the Provence region from London, bought a house, and settled in to enjoy la vie provencale. The structure of the book is that of the calendar of their first year, beginning with January and concluding with December, of course. Each month, each season in Provence has its own challenges and rewards, from the wind of the winter mistral to the baking heat of summer, the frustrations of remodeling an old chateau and the joys of delicious meals, fine wines and cheeses, and the viands and fruits of each season.

Both here and abroad, people rally round to donate blood after a natural disaster, but some things are not quite the same.

"In England, the reward for a bagful of blood is a cup of tea and a biscuit. But here, after being disconnected from our tubes, we were shown to a long table manned by volunteer waiters. What would we like? Coffee, chocolate, croissants, brioches, sandwiches of ham or garlic sausage, mugs of red or rose wine?"

I think I'd much rather donate blood in France.

As a neophyte plucker of morels in the Northwest, this bit surprised me:

"It had never occurred to me that a mushroom could be clinically tested before being permitted to enter and omelette, but, since the stomach is by far the most influential organ in France, it made perfect sense. The next time I went into Cavaillon, I toured the pharmacies. Sure enough, they had been converted into mushroom guidance centers...the small, muddy objects in the bags were inspected by the resident white-coated expert, and a verdict was pronounced."

On one of the meals they enjoyed at a neighbor's home:

"It started with homemade pizza - not one, but three: anchovy, mushroom, and cheese, and it was obligatory to have a slice of each. Plates were then wiped with pieces torn from the two-foot loaves in the middle of the table, and the next course came out. There were pates of rabbit, boar and thrush. There was a chunky, pork-based terrine laces with marc. There were saucissons spotted with peppercorns. There were tiny sweet onions marinated in a fresh tomato sauce. plates were wiped once more and duck was brought in. The slivers of magret that appear, arranged in fan formation and lapped by an elegant smear of sauces on the refined tables of nouvelle cusines - these were nowhere to be seen. We had entire breasts, entire legs, covered in a dark savory gravy and surrounded in wild mushrooms."

This book was a delight to read, though I had to take it in small portions, savored and digested slowly.

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