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
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?
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?
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
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?
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
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?
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
For discussion of all three books:
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.
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?
Did your impressions of Provence change from one book to the next? Did it
become more or less appealing?
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
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
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
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
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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