Reflecting on a Time Like No Other

What makes Provence so special?  I tried to answer that for myself in this article for the Christian Science Monitor, written on our last extended visit there in 2007.


There is nowhere else in the world where you can keep busy doing so little and enjoying it so much. One day you’ll understand.

Uncle Harry’s advice to Max in Peter Mayle’s ‘A Good Year.’

In the 15 years since his best‑selling book “A Year in Provence” made this region a tourism magnet, author Peter Mayle often has been pilloried by the French: Mayle casts Provence as a trifle, it’s been said, buoyant but lacking in depth. His characters are exaggerated. He first profited from the region, and then left it behind when crowds of tourists converged on the places he’d helped make famous.

But in truth the characters of Provence are exaggerated, often making their own statement, consciously and with humor. Life here is buoyant and lived dehors, on country walks and in outdoor city squares. And if Mayle stole some of Provence’s privacy, he clearly boosted the tourist trade in return.

As with Uncle Harry’s advice, delivered to a young Max years before he inherits the somewhat faded Provençal estate of his long-forgotten relative, Mayle’s characterizations of this region often strike me as uncannily on the mark.

The entrance to our 2007 apartment
A “mas,” or country house, in the hills above Aix-en-Provence.

Nearly 10 weeks into our stay here, my wife, Kathy, and I are living life in the slow lane, trying to measure each day by what we perceive rather than what we produce. In its way, that poses the most insurmountable challenge. For, as the humorist Art Buchwald wrote in his final column, published a few days after his death, “What’s it all about, Alfie?”

The rest of the piece can be found at the Christian Science Monitor here.


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