Encore Provence? New Adventures in the South of France: A more fitting title may have been Chicken Soup for the Provencal Soul.
Englishman Mayle, author of the best seller A Year in Provence, has come back with a formulaic sequel. Returning to Provence after a 4 year hiatus in the U.S., this George Lucas of Provence brings us yet another tribute to his spiritual homeland. This time, though, itís more of a book of charming sketches than anything else.
Mayle is an astute, droll observer, from his takes on olive oil, the perfect corkscrew, foie gras, to how to be a nose for a perfumery. While his chapter on Marseille is simply insufficient, his attack of New York Times food critic Ruth Reichl (who wrote that she was disappointed in Provence and couldnít find any good food while there) is wickedly funny. (Reichl ends up sounding like a moronMayle painstakingly goes on to point out the best markets, restaurants,and grocery stores that she could have tried instead of running to a supermarket and then bitching about it.) The best sketches are those that combine descriptions of his surroundings with live Provencal characters and their ways. The chapter on truffling and the secretive truffle market sounds as if he were in the middle of an international arms smuggling ring, and the story of the small town butcher who romanced the Provencal housewives was thoroughly enjoyable. While his experience of buying a car in Provence is not one that anyone would want to repeat, he does offer insight into the stubbornness of the French. Meals are best described by people who enjoy eating, and Mayle does not disappoint: there are plenty of long lazy lunches described here.
To his credit, Mayle doesnít bother overanalyzing the Provencal mentality or gushing simply because something is French and therefore godly. All the same, I canít help but get the impression that this book is specifically geared to those Americans whose love of anything French is only matched by their total ineptitude in speaking the language or following the "When in Rome" golden rule of travel. Fortunately for them (and for the French who would otherwise have to tolerate them), they can live vicariously through Mayle in this light for-the-beach read. In any case, it will make you itch for travel.