There are many places I've always wanted to visit in Europe. I got to go to England once, but for much too short a time. I'd love to go back, and to Scotland, Ireland, Wales. I can't wait to go to Italy and see the art and architecture and devour the food. My mother's side of the family is German, so I'd love to see all that Germany has to offer, see where the wall was, feel the history. The Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Spain--there are way too many to mention them all by name. But I never really felt the pull to visit France. From what I'd heard, the people were rude, the smell was bad, and the Eiffel Tower was too touristy.
And then I found Peter Mayle.
I stumbled on A Year in Provence sitting on some bookstore table years ago, and I don't know what made me pick it up and take it home, but I did. Maybe I just wanted to stretch myself, to test my distaste for France and see if it was deserved. That sounds like me. So I read it. And I fell in love with Peter Mayle. And with France. Or, with his France, which seems to be the France less traveled by.
Last week I needed a break from the drudgery of October (although I shouldn't be complaining. This year, we're having a genuine, taking-weeks-to-power-down-from-summer autumn, instead of Kansas' usual overnight change from late summer to early winter), so I sped through Peter Mayle's Vintage Short, Provence in Ten Easy Lessons.
It's an inexpensive pick and a quick read, so if you want to try just a taste of Mayle or a taste of France, it's the perfect appetizer. But realize this, Mayle doesn't write like a travel writer. He's no Rick Steves telling you where to stay on a budget or some tourist guide offering walking tours of haunted castles. Although he's from England, Provence is in his blood, and his love for the French countryside. bleeds all over his books.
He breathes life into the fields of lavender, takes you into the shade of the olive trees, lunches with you in local cafes, lets you experience the soft thunks of the boules games, and feasts with you on wild game, fresh truffles, and local wines and cheeses and olives that are from just down the road. He introduces you to the people who live there, whose people have always lived there and would never consider leaving. His France is not the crowded, dirty, smelly tourist traps of so many travel books. His France is peaceful and reverent and moves at a pace all its own. In fact, I feel a little guilty typing this fast just thinking about the picture he paints of it.
His France I want to see. His France I want to live in and savor and cherish forever. And I will, even if it's only through his lovely prose. So I am forever grateful to him for widening my horizons and introducing me to France.