Peter Mayle and his wife decided to make the move from London to Provence, to buy and renovate a 200-year-old house, and this book chronicles their first year. Each chapter covers a month of that year as they eat, meet the locals, deal with visitors, and find their way in their new homeland.
This is not an exciting book. They aren’t risking their necks, traveling through the Amazon, and fighting off snakes. They’re just living out their lives as anyone would in a new country. As such, it’s a bit of a slow burn and possibly not that interesting if you aren’t a travel or food nut.
I found myself really enjoying the book, though. I love that first period when you move to a new country, or even to a lesser extent a new city, when everything is new and exciting. Every conversation is an experience, each meal is a titillating discovery process, every trip out of the house is a little adventure, and even the most mundane tasks can become challenges. You meet so many new people and learn so many new things that it’s like you’re living a concentrated life for a short time. Mayle captures that feeling quite well.
Here’s a snippet from his experience giving blood in Gordes:
In England, the reward for a bagful of blood is a cup of tea and a biscuit. But here, after being disconnected from our tubes, we were shown to a long table manned by volunteer waiters. What would we like? Coffee, chocolate, croissants, brioches, sandwiches of ham or garlic sausage, mugs of red or rosé wine? Eat up! Drink up! Replace those corpuscles! The stomach must be served! A young male nurse was hard at work with a corkscrew, and the supervising doctor in his long white coat wished us all bon appétit. If the steadily growing pile of empty bottles behind the bar was anything to go by, the appeal for blood was an undoubted success, both clinically and socially.
Mayle’s great at bringing you in to his world. He’ll make you drool over the food he’s eating and feel as if you know the people he’s encountering. He really has a gift for picking up those small detail that pull you in.