Reading guide for Encore Provence by Peter Mayle

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Encore Provence

New Adventures in the South of France

By Peter Mayle

Encore Provence
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  • Hardcover: Jun 1999,
    256 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2000,
    240 pages.

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Mayle returns to Provence after an absence of four years and plunges into a new round of adventures (including a fascinating tour of Marseilles, a visit to a school devoted to the development of talented nostrils, and a search for the perfect corkscrew) and new reflections on the treasures that make even the most ordinary day in Provence memorable.

For discussion: Encore Provence
  1. Mayle writes "Memory is a notoriously biased and sentimental editor, selecting what it wants to keep and invariably making a few cosmetic changes to past events" [p 6]. Do you think this is true of your own memories of favorite times and places?
  2. How do Mayle's experiences in America sharpen his appreciation of Provence? Why does he cite the bustling, colorful country markets as the best example of what he missed most during his time in America [p. 14]? How do the markets embody what he loves about Provence?
  3. What insights does Marius's story about the murder of the handsome butcher give you into the ways of life in a small French village? How does his detailed scenario of his own death shed light on the traditions and values of Provence [p. 173-5]?
  4. How does Mayle's "recipe for a village" compare to your own version of an ideal spot? Do you think it is possible to find such a place in America, or have we "advanced" too far to reclaim the kind of simple pleasures Mayle finds in abundance in Provence?
  5. Discuss Mayle's sharp attack on Ruth Reichl's assessment of Provence [p. 38-43]. Is he overly defensive about his beloved home or do you think that Reichl, a well-known critic, in fact failed to prepare herself properly for her trip and lacked the curiosity and the skills to seek out all that Provence has to offer?
  6. Mayle offers "Eight Ways to Spend a Summer Afternoon." Which of Mayle's recommendations appeal to you the most and why? What other outings described in the book--for example, the trip to the olive oil factory--would you add to your list of things to do while in Provence?
  7. Do Mayle's descriptions of the people he meets conform to the impressions you may have formed on visits to France or through books and movies? Mayle suggests that the leisurely pace of life, the sunshine, and the abundance of the south encourage the general good humor and cheerfulness of the Provenceaux [p. 12]. Do you think a similar dichotomy between north and south exists in this country?

     

For discussion of all three books:

  1. How does Mayle capture the atmosphere of Provence through language and imagery? Citing specific examples, discuss how he uses the senses of sight, hearing, and smell, as well as metaphors about food, to evoke a mood and create a memorable impression.
  2. How do you think natives of Provence would react to Mayle's descriptions of their life and land? Do you think he tends to idealize or romanticize run-of-the-mill events simply because they are unfamiliar to him?
  3. Did your impressions of Provence change from one book to the next? Did it become more or less appealing?
  4. Except for his detailed tour of Marseilles, Mayle writes very little about the art, architecture, and cultural history of Provence. Does this detract from the value of the books as accurate portraits of the area? As practical guides for travelers?
  5. In addition to his books about Provence, Mayle has written several novels. What elements usually associated with fiction add to the enjoyment of the Provence books? Is Provence portrayed in a more or less desirable light in his nonfiction?



Suggestions for further reading

Ann Barry, At Home in France; Mary Blume, A French Affair; Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island; Nicholas Delbanco, Running in Place: Scenes from the South of France; Harriet Doerr, Stones for Ibarra; M.F.K. Fisher, Long Ago in France, Two Towns in Provence; Frances Mayes, Bella Tuscany, Under the Tuscan Sun; Harriet Welty Rochefort, French Toast.


Ideas for 'Discussing' Encore Provence!

Host a Provençal evening with your reading group: For those who can't hop on the next plane to Nice, a Provençal event with your reading group is a wonderful alternative. With the words of Peter Mayle and a sampling of the tastes, sites, and sounds of the region, you'll have no trouble adopting a Provençal sensibility. Here are some suggestions:

Have a tasting:
The French are well known for so many delicacies that the possibilities are numerous here. An obvious choice is wine; consider a selection of French reds and whites and be sure to include a variety from the vineyards Peter Mayle recommends in Encore Provence (p. 46-67). Or, be a bit more inventive and consider an olive oil tasting. A couple of loaves of crusty French bread, a quick review of the techniques featured in Mayle's "Discovering Oil" chapter, and you're on your way!

Be a nose: Provence is also famous for its parfumeries, and one would be hard-pressed to find a more pleasant way to start off an evening than with a sampling of fine French perfume. Have each member bring a bottle of their favorite scent, and take turns deciphering the subtleties of the various fragrances. Again, pay particular attention to the techniques described by Mayle in his "How to be a Nose" chapter.

Take a pictoral tour of the region: As vivid as Peter Mayle's imagery can be, can add a whole new dimension to the book. Have any of your group's members been to Provence? If so, ask them to bring their photo albums with them. If not, supplement your armchair traveling with pictures from one of the many books on the region--some of the best images can be found in the new Fodor's Escape to Provence guide, a charming full-color hardcover guidebook that shows you exactly how breathtaking this region can be.

Enjoy a Provençal meal: Consider meeting in a local restaurant that specializes in Provençal cuisine, inviting a student from a local cooking school to your home, or, if you're more ambitious, cooking a meal with your group. Feeling energetic? Follow your meal with a friendly game of boules--and book discussion!

Suggested cookbooks:

A Passion for My Provence
by Lydie Marshall (HarperPerennial, 1999, paperback),
Provençal Light: Traditional Recipes from Provence for Today's Healthy Lifestyles
by Martha Rose Schulman (Bantam, 1994, hardcover).
Provence: The Beautiful Cookbook by Richard Olney, (Collins Publishers, 1993, hardcover)
Provence Gastronomique
by Erica Brown, photographs by Debbie Patterson (Abbeville Press, 1995, hardcover).

Host an evening of music and film: Even more than still photographs, motion pictures and music can evoke the character and ambiance of a place with wonderful clarity. Consider renting some classic Provençal films, or supplementing a delicious Provençal meal with some traditional music from the region:

Suggested films: To Catch a Thief (starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly); Fanny, My Father's Glory, and My Mother's Castle, (all based on the memoirs of Marcel Pagnol); A Year in Provence (a made-for-TV movie based on the first book in Peter Mayle's Provence trilogy).

Suggested listening: A Table in Provence: Authentic Sounds of the South of France in 24 Vintage Recordings, EMI

 

Page numbers refer to the Vintage paperback edition.

Reading group guide and suggested reading list reproduced with the permission of the publisher, Vintage.

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Vintage. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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