Many years ago, I was in the hospital for a very, very long time. The drugs I was on made it hard to concentrate on anything, and I spent most of my time asleep. It was a drag.
And then someone gave me a book.
A Year in Provence is a memoir written by Peter Mayle, a British ex-pat who’d moved to the south of France in the 1980’s. It’s a collection of vignettes covering a year in the life of a foreign author absorbing life in the French countryside. Mr. Mayle’s vivid, funny descriptions of expeditions in search of wine and of the mundane activities of home repair and car buying left me breathless with longing and laughter.
Now let’s be honest. Peter Mayle could’ve been my grandfather. But I fell in love with him. His lyrical tales resonated with me in a way few other stories ever had (or have since, for that matter). Mr. Mayle painted images of people and places that brought them to life, even for someone as far removed as a young woman lying lonely and listless in a hospital room over 5,000 miles away.
Over the years that followed, I avidly read nearly every book that Mayle published. I favored his memoirs over his fiction, but I still consumed them with a passion that bordered on compulsion.
They made me laugh. They made me imagine. And most of all, they made me HUNGRY.
As I’ve developed my taste for travel over the years, my utter longing to see the southern French countryside found its way onto a mental bucket list. Early on, my bucket list included such feats as running a marathon and climbing a mountain (yeah, those days are LONG over). But over time, that mental list began looking more like a map than a list.
So far in my travels, there isn’t one trip that has touched me as deeply or meant as much to me as my first and only trip to southern France, which I finally pinned on my map in 2017. All of the places Mr. Mayle mentioned in his memoirs were real, and I visited those that had most firmly embedded themselves in my psyche. For example, one chilly morning long before noon, Tigger and I were wandering the village streets of Menerbes where Mayle had lived when he first began publishing the Provence series. We strolled into the Cafe du Progres and raised a chilly glass of pastis (me) and red wine (Tigger) despite the earliness of the hour tribute to a wonderful author in a beautiful place.
And I cried like a baby. I literally wept.
A Year in Provence kept me sane in the hospital and inspired me for years afterward. I was so honestly and unabashedly thankful for the gifts of laughter and wonder that Mr. Mayle gave me that I cried in gratitude as I furtively sipped my too-early aperitif.
Tigger and I made our way through the Luberon, a valley northeast of Avignon that’s home to a number of tiny, lovely hill towns that rise over vineyards and fields of lavender. We were there in the autumn, so the lavender wasn’t in bloom. But the gorgeous silence in the luminous late fall sunshine touched me. I can still smell the burning vine clippings after the vineyards were pruned. I can still see the way rays of sunlight speared into dark corners along narrow lanes. I can still taste the lush, complex and downright sexy Gigondas wines that I drank almost to excess. When I travel, I want my experiences to move me enough that I can instantly recall the place just by imagining what my senses absorbed.
Sadly, Peter Mayle passed away just a few months after my visit to the Luberon. A lot of my friends laughed at me when I grieved his loss. “Oh, Hinky,” my girlfriend Fun Size giggled. “You take things SO seriously.”
That’s right. I do.
Mr. Mayle gave me so many gifts in his books. He taught me to be curious. He made me absolutely LONG to experience the place that had stolen his heart. He helped light the fire that burns in me all the time now, one that gives light and heat to my desire to see the world.
Sante, Monsieur Mayle. Merci beaucoup.
Hink is an aspiring traveler plotting global domination and looking for the funny.
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