Peter Mayle and All That

Letter From Provence

Eleven years ago an Englishman called Peter Mayle followed in so many of his countrymen's footsteps and, tired of rain and taxes, bought a house in sunny Provence. The book he wrote about his life there, truly no more than a bundle of anecdotes about funny foreigners and their enviable gastronomy, did remarkably well, despite duplications. The author made a mint and understandably produced a sequel, equally full of palatable cliches.

Evidently his fame drove so many thousands to his Provençal front door that he and his third wife were forced to abandon the place and remove to Long Island. Whence he gave us a talking canine (A Dog's Life), following in the paws of Rudyard Kipling (Thy Servant A Dog). Mayle's travel books, flimsy as they may be, served to remind me of my youth after the war when I first explored that classic area of Avignon, Aries, and Aix-en-Provence, not to mention the fleshpots of Nice and Cannes (in one of which I met a much-decayed "Willie" Maugham). If Mayle's books recently lured me back to the region, they also prompted mc to escape the hordes and push on north to the Haute Provence, where, astonishingly, I found no tourists at all. It was as if I had been transported in time to when, thanks to a Vatican Count, I had seen the Sistina alone!

Just after the war, thanks to some felicitous connections, Coco Chanel lent a companion and myself...

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