Ok it’s January, cold, bleak and raining. The decorations have been packed away, the weight from party nibbles has been packed on and I’m uncomfortably aware of the low balance in the checking account and the high one on the credit card. I don’t want to sound ungrateful after all of these winter festivities but I think I need a vacation. I want to go someplace warm where life’s pace moves with the seasons and nothing moves too fast. Someplace where living well is more than the best revenge. Oh heck, I want A Year in Provence.
A Year in Provence is one of those miracles that hit the publishing business about twenty years ago. Picture this: British author and advertising executive, Peter Mayle, accumulates enough money to retire early and move into an old, stone, farm house in the South of France. Living there, he finds, is both less relaxing and more fun than he ever anticipated. He writes an account of the strange and wonderful things he finds there (under the heading of strange include a neighbor who expects him to cook a fox; the expert who teaches him how to handicap a goat race; the winter gales that are cited as an affirmative defense in criminal cases and most of his visitors from England. Wonderful things include the light, every meal, every glass of wine, his wife’s patient optimism and the way everything seems to work out though never as expected). The book is published and becomes an international best seller. The poor man now has more money than God but no privacy because of all the tourists and book groupies beating a path to his door. He has to move to New York for some peace of mind. (Irony was created for situations like this.)
The thing is, A Year In Provence is about how to enjoy life as well as where to enjoy it. Mayle moved to France and, until the tsunami of popularity hit, enjoyed every minute there, even with frozen plumbing and a construction crew that demolished his kitchen in a day but took a year to rebuild it. Yes, he got frustrated on occasion but nothing was worth staying angry about. When the local butcher gave him an unrequested lecture on how to cook Pebronata, Mayle didn’t tap his watch and get impatient; he relaxed and enjoyed the butcher’s performance. When a rug or wine salesman tried to interest him in a pricy product, Mayle understands a salesman’s job depends on getting the customer to spend handsomely and the final choice to buy is his. He even learns to relax about the house improvements that take a year to complete. It will get done eventually and getting angry does nothing except raise the victim’s blood pressure.
As I said, I could use a vacation and when this column is finished, I’ll travel to the Luberon, if only in my mind. The temperature will be warm, the roads dusty and the light will explain why Impressionists painted outdoors. I’ll stop at one of the little roadside cafes and park my espadrilles under some quiet table where I can watch the old men playing at boules. The waiter will pour a glass of the vin ordinaire and serve the bread and tapenade that goes to each customer while I consider the menu. Am I cold? Am I tired? Don’t be ridiculous. I’m on holiday, lost somewhere in Provence.