Toujours Provence by Peter Mayle. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991. 260 pages.
Having survived French bureaucracy, endless home improvement, goat races, hunters, Massot’s dogs, summer visitors, and other hazards during A Year in Provence, Peter Mayle brings us more of the same in Toujours Provence.
This time Mayle takes a more illustrative approach. Beginning with a pharmaceuticals marketing brochure that depicts a snail whose “horns drooped” and whose “eye was lackluster,” Mayle educates us about health concerns and approaches in Provence — including house calls. Anecdotes relate Mayle’s love of picnicking Provence style (with chef, wait staff, and linens); his quest for singing toads, truffles, and napoléons (the coins); his pursuit of Pavarotti and pastis; and, of course, his passion for the region’s fresh foods and fine vintages.
With a few exceptions, such as the history of pastis and the more sobering story of summer drought and forest fires, much of Toujours Provence will seem familiar territory to readers of the first book. For the most part, Mayle is in fine form, writing that Bennett, “looking like the reconnaissance scout from a Long Range Desert Group . . . had crossed enemy lines on the main N100 road, successfully invaded Ménerbes, and was now ready for the final push into the mountains.” Some anecdotes, like “No Spitting in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape,” end brilliantly, while others, such as “Napoléons at the Bottom of the Garden,” fall a little flat.
Judith Clancy’s delightful artwork is back, but what is missing from Toujours Provence are the quirky characters we came to love or at least wonder about. Most are mentioned or make a brief appearance, but mainly they are relegated to the background. Even Mayle’s neighbor Massot (“. . . it would be difficult to imagine a more untrustworthy old rogue this side of the bars of Marseille prison”), to whom half a chapter is devoted, is here more caricature than character. We know no more about him, or Faustin and Henriette or Monsieur Menicucci, than we did at the end of the first book. By now, Mayle’s circle has expanded , but no one he meets, from the toad choir director to the flic, is nearly as interesting as his neighbors or his builders from the first book.
Like an adequate movie sequel, Toujours Provence carries on in the same vein as its predecessor, with a slightly different or reduced cast and a little less originality and wit. Perhaps more appropriately, I should say it’s like a wine slightly past its peak — still worth drinking, but somehow not quite as enjoyable.
28 April 2008
Copyright © Diane L. Schirf