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.
Beginning, appropriately enough, on New Year's Day with a divine luncheon in a quaint restaurant, Mayle sets the scene and pits his British sensibilities against it. "We had talked about it during the long gray winters and the damp green summers," he writes, "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." He describes in loving detail the charming, 200-year-old farmhouse at the base of the Lubéron Mountains, its thick stone walls and well-tended vines, its wine cave and wells, its shade trees and swimming pool--its lack of central heating. Indeed, not 10 pages into the book, reality comes crashing into conflict with the idyll when the Mistral, that frigid wind that ravages the Rhône valley in winter, cracks the pipes, rips tiles from the roof, and tears a window from its hinges. And that's just January.
In prose that skips along lightly, Mayle records the highlights of each month, from the aberration of snow in February and the algae-filled swimming pool of March through the tourist invasions and unpredictable renovations of the summer months to a quiet Christmas alone. Throughout the book, he paints colorful portraits of his neighbors, the Provençaux grocers and butchers and farmers who amuse, confuse, and befuddle him at every turn. A Year in Provence is part memoir, part homeowner's manual, part travelogue, and all charming fun. --L.A. Smith