After living in his beloved Provence for over 25 years, Peter Mayle died there earlier this year at a hospital not far from his home. As devoted fans, we mourn his passing and celebrate his contribution to the cultural exchange between France, the US and the UK.
Mayle is best known for the stories he told the English-speaking world about life in the Luberon. Beginning with A Year in Provence in 1990, Mayle wrote some 16 books set in the south of France, ranging from crime novels to personal memoirs. Mayle's perspective and narrative voice were equal parts epicurean, ascetic and humorist--a pleasant and entertaining mash-up of James Herriot and Pliny the Younger. From the outset, his stories resonated with readers weary with the vanity of existence--their existence, at least, as it was unfolding between the office and shopping mall. His accounts of village life in Provence afford the imagination a new start in a warm and sunny climate.
We were pleased to learn from his publisher that Mayle had just wrapped up edits on one final book at the time of his death. It is titled My Twenty-Five Years in Provence: Reflections on Then and Now and was just released in June. It features an intriguing mix of new biographical information. There's a chapter on the Mayles' old friend, movie-maker Ridley Scott and their collaboration in Provence. There's a collection of photos taken by Jennie Mayle, Peter's wife, and Mayle's commentary on each. There's the story of Mayle's attendance at a state dinner in the Élysée Palace with Queen Elizabeth and then-president Jacques Chirac. (All goes sportingly until he finds himself standing with his fly down in front of Prince Philip).
The book also offers classic Maylean insights... on the best restaurant in this or that village, the best way of shopping at village markets, insights into the gallic character... Driving habits and lunch time rituals--two opposite extremes of French culture--provide material for humor and reflection. He describes the "furious dramas that unfold once the Frenchman gets behind the wheel of his car" and contrasts this with the French commitment to sanity and leisure when it comes to mealtimes: "Lunch is taken very seriously in Provence...Business appointments, except those that include lunch, are rarely arranged if they conflict with the two sacred hours devoted to the stomach... A most civilized habit."
For all his English-ness, Mayle seems to have internalized the virtues that he saw in Provence. His parting words in the book are: "I must go. Lunch is calling." Well, Mr. Mayle, we wish you a fine lunch.