Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Toujours Provence by Peter Mayle

  Mayle's tales about he and his wife's sojourn in Provence related in A Year in Provence were truly delightful, so I looked forward with relish (and maybe a little ketchup and mayo) to this one. Mayle has settled in and nearly gone native by the time this one was written, so he's lost a little bit of the sense of being on the outside, looking in, that made many of his stories so droll, but there's still a lot to love here.

Getting away from the calendar progression of the first book, Mayle feels free to jump around a bit in his subject matter, ranging from the buying and selling of pedigreed dogs to the training of truffle pigs, to the traditions and manufacture of pastis (an anise flavored liqueur that the people of Provence consume in prodigal quantities), to a visit to the Chateau Neuf de Pape and more than a few tastes of its famous wines.

Mayle decries the "gentrification" of his beloved countryside when it is invaded by the beautiful people, and the movie stars, politicians, and other heavy hitters move in, cause property prices to skyrocket, and turn sleepy little towns into pop cultural tourist meccas.

Something that recalled to me fond memories of my vacation in Europe:

There were two stalls selling olives - just olives - in every conceivable style of preparation: olives a la grecque, olives in herb-flavored oil, olives mixed with scarlet shards of pimento, olives from Nyons, olives from Les Baux, olives that looked like small black plums or elongated green grapes. They were lined up in squat wooden tubs, gleaming as though each one had been individually polished."

Mayle's recounts the story of how he hears about a man who is training a group of frogs to sing the Marseillaise (the French national anthem) for Bastille Day celebrations. Is there a racial slur implied here? Anyway, he spends considerable time tracking down the location of the man and his frogs. In pursuit, he inquires of his neighbor, Massot, about whether it is even possible. Massot doesn't quite understand the question.

"I have never eaten toads," he said. "Frogs, yes. But toads, never. Doubtless there is an English recipe. No?"

"I don't want to eat them. I want to know if they can sing."

"Dogs can sing," he said, "You jut kick them in the couilles and then..." He lifted his head and howled.

I began howling as I read this, myself.

I love his descriptions of meals in Provence.

"We eased into lunch like athletes limbering up. A radish, its top split open to hold a sliver of almost white butter and flecked with a pinch of coarse salt; a slice of saucisson, prickly with pepper on the tongue, rounts of toast made from yesterday's bread, shining with tapenade. Cool pink and white wines...The alouettes sans tete (headless larks, but not literally) were hot and humming with garlic, and Michel decided that they deserved a more solid wine...Salad came, and then a basketwork tray of cheeses, fat white discs of fresh goat cheese, some mild Cantal, and a wheel of creamy St. Nectaire from the Auvergne...Scoops of sorbet were offered, and an apple tart, sleek with glaze, but I was defeated."

Time to knock off for a bite to eat. Happy Travels!

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