"Toujours Provence" by Peter Mayle

My first read of 2020 started with the book that I picked in the vintage bookstore in New Year this November which is called “Toujours Provence” by Peter Mayle. This book follows the first one in the series – “A Year in Provence” and tells us short stories about author’s life in Provence.

I really enjoyed this book – it was lightly ironic, magnetic and easy to read. The stories depict well the character of the French countryside and culture: they are ironic, but at the same time full of kindness and lightness. This was a great evening read – the stories of the author getting an education on proper dining from his French friend, or trying to buy 2 kilos of truffles and send them to London, or going to listen to Pavarotti in the local theatre. All of them were humorous and cheerful, playing around the stereotypes about France that we often hear about and dismissing or confirming some of them. The book has a vibe of the provincial stillness but at the same time stresses the pleasure of everyday things like making the necessity of having a meal – an everyday feast. All the best in the French character that is there comes through in the stories of Peter Mayle.

As always, here is my selection of the quotes/bits in the book that I enjoyed.

On seasons and time in Provence

“The days pass slowly but the weeks rush by. We now measure the year in ways that have little to do with diaries and specific dates. There is the almond blossom in February, and a few weeks of prespring panic in the garden as we try to do the work we’ve been talking about doing all winter. Spring is a mixture of cherry blossom and a thousand weeds and the first guests of the year, hoping for subtropical weather and often getting nothing but rain and wind. Summer might start in April, It might start in May. We know it’s arrived when Bernand calls to help us uncover and clean the pool.
Poppies in June, drought in July, storms in August. The vines begin to turn rusty, the hunters come out of their summer hibernation, the grapes have been picked, and the water in the pool nips more and more fiercely until it becomes too cold for anything than a masochistic plunge in the middle of the day. It must be the end of October.”

On the French language

“Where is the logic, for instance, in the genders given to proper names and nouns? […] I asked a Frenchman to explain this to me, he delivered a dissertation […] His speed did nothing to change my theory, which is that genders are there for no other reason than to make life difficult. They have been allocated in a whimsical and arbitrary fashion, sometimes with a cavalier disregard for the anatomical niceties. The French for vagina is vagin. Le vagin. Masculine. How can the puzzled student hope to apply logic to a language in which the vagina is masculine?”

More on the French language

“It is perhaps because of these perplexing twists and turns that French was for centuries the language of diplomacy, an occupation in which simplicity and clarity are not regarded as being necessary, or even desirable. Indeed, the guarded statement, made fuzzy by formality and open to several different interpretations, is much less likely to land an ambassador in the soup than plain words that mean what they say”.

On making friendship with the French

“The day when a Frenchman switches from the formality of vous to the familiarity of tu is a day to be taken seriously. It is an unmistakable signal that he has decided – after weeks or months or sometimes years – that he likes you.”

On nudists in Saint-Tropez

“The mayor, Monsieur Spada, has flown in the face of years of tradition (Saint-Tropez made public nudity famous, after all) and has decreed that in the name of safety and hygiene there will be no more naked sunbathing on the public beaches […] and he has empowered the police to seize and arrest any offenders. Well, perhaps not to seize them, but to track them down and fine them 75 francs, or as much as 1500 francs if they have been guilty of creating a public outrage. Exactly where a nudist might keep 1500 francs is a question that is puzzling local residents”.

On French food love

“So far as I know, there are no statistics to support my theory, but observation and hear-stopping personal experience have convinced me that a Frenchman with an empty stomach drives twice as fast as a Frenchman with a full stomach (which is already too fast for sanity and speed limits)”.

Hopefully, this bits illustrate the irony and humor that I mentioned earlier. On to the next read!

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