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Authors: Peter Mayle

Toujours Provence

BOOK: Toujours Provence
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Peter Mayle
Toujours Provence

Peter Mayle spent fifteen years in advertising, first as a copywriter and then as a reluctant executive, before leaving the business in 1975 to write books. His work has been translated into seventeen languages, and he has contributed to the London
Sunday Times
, the
Financial Times
, and the
, as well as
Gentleman’s Quarterly

A Year in Provence
won the British Book Awards’ “Best Travel Book of the Year” in 1989. Mr. Mayle’s most recent book is
A Good Year
. He and his wife live in Provence.


A Good Year
French Lessons
Encore Provence
Chasing Cezanne
Anything Considere
A Dog’s Life
Hotel Pastis
Toujours Provence
A Year in Provence


Copyright © 1991 by Peter Mayle

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in Great Britain by Hamish Hamilton, Ltd., London, in 1991. First published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, in 1991.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Mayle, Peter.
Toujours Provence/Peter Mayle ; drawings by Judith Clancy.
—1st Vintage Books ed.
p.    cm.
“Originally published … in Great Britain by Hamish Hamilton,
Inc., London in 1991”—T.p. verso.
eISBN: 978-0-307-79189-4
1. Provence (France)—Social life and customs.  2. Mayle, Peter—
Homes and haunts—France—Provence.  I. Title.
 [DC611.P961M36   1992]
944′.9—dc20    91-50719

Judith Clancy’s drawings copyrighted by
and used with the permission
of the Estate of Judith Clancy

Author photograph © Jerry Bauer

Cover design by Carol Devine Carson
Cover illustration by Ruth Marten


To Jennie, as always,
and to the friends and partners in research
who have been so generous in so many ways:
Michel from Châteauneuf, Michel from Cabrières,
Henriette and Faustin, Alain the truffle hunter,
Christopher, Catherine, and Bernard

Mille mercis

Les Invalides

I had been to a pharmacy in Apt for toothpaste and suntan oil, two innocent and perfectly healthy purchases. When I arrived home and took them out of the bag, I found that the girl who served me had included an instructive but puzzling gift. It was an expensively printed leaflet in full color. On the front was a picture of a snail sitting on the toilet. He looked doleful, as if he’d been there for some time without achieving anything worthwhile. His horns drooped. His eye was lackluster. Above this sad picture was printed
La Constipation

What had I done to deserve this? Did I look constipated? Or was the fact that I bought toothpaste and suntan oil somehow significant to the expert pharmacist’s eye—a hint that all was not well in my digestive system? Maybe the girl knew something I didn’t. I started to read the leaflet.

“Nothing,” it said, “is more banal and more frequent than constipation.” About 20 percent of the French population, so the writer claimed, suffered from the horrors of
gêne abdominale
. And yet, to a casual observer like myself,
there were no obvious signs of discomfort among the people on the streets, in the bars and cafés, or even in the restaurants—where presumably 20 percent of the clientele tucking into two substantial meals a day were doing so in spite of their
. What fortitude in the face of adversity!

I had always thought of Provence as one of the healthier places in the world. The air is clean, the climate is dry, fresh fruit and vegetables are abundantly available, cooking is done with olive oil, stress doesn’t seem to exist—there could hardly be a more wholesome set of circumstances. And everybody looks very well. But if 20 percent of those ruddy faces and hearty appetites were concealing the suffering caused by a traffic jam in the
transit intestinal
, what else might they be concealing? I decided to pay closer attention to Provençal complaints and remedies, and gradually became aware that there is indeed a local affliction, which I think extends to the entire country. It is hypochondria.

A Frenchman never feels out of sorts; he has a
. The most popular of these is a
crise de foie
, when the liver finally rebels against the punishment inflicted by
, five-course meals, and the tots of
and the
vin d’honneur
served at everything from the opening of a car showroom to the annual meeting of the village Communist Party. The simple cure is no alcohol and plenty of mineral water, but a much more satisfactory solution—because it supports the idea of illness rather than admitting self-indulgence—is a trip to the pharmacy and a consultation with the sympathetic white-coated lady behind the counter.

I used to wonder why most pharmacies have chairs arranged between the surgical trusses and the
treatment kits, and now I know. It is so that one can wait more
comfortably while Monsieur Machin explains, in great whispered detail and with considerable massaging of the engorged throat, the tender kidney, the reluctant intestine, or whatever else ails him, how he came to this painful state. The pharmacist, who is trained in patience and diagnosis, listens carefully, asks a few questions, and then proposes a number of possible solutions. Packets and jars and ampoules are produced. More discussion. A choice is finally made, and Monsieur Machin carefully folds up the vital pieces of paper that will enable him to claim back most of the cost of his medication from Social Security. Fifteen or twenty minutes have passed, and everyone moves up a chair.

These trips to the pharmacy are only for the more robust invalids. For serious illness, or imaginary serious illness, there is, even in relatively remote country areas like ours, a network of first aid specialists that amazes visitors from cities, where you need to be a millionaire before you can be sick in comfort. All the towns, and many of the villages, have their own ambulance services, on call 24 hours a day. Registered nurses will come to the house.
will come to the house, a practice I’m told is almost extinct in London.

We had a brief but intense experience with the French medical system early last summer. The guinea pig was Benson, a young American visitor on his first trip to Europe. When I picked him up at the Avignon railroad station, he croaked hello, coughed, and clapped a handkerchief to his mouth. I asked him what was the matter.

He pointed to his throat and made wheezing noises.

“Mono,” he said.

Mono? I had no idea what that was, but I did know that Americans have much more sophisticated ailments than we do—hematomas instead of bruises, migraine instead of a
headache, postnasal drip—and so I muttered something about fresh air soon clearing it up and helped him into the car. On the way home, I learned that mono was the intimate form of address for mononucleosis, a viral infection causing considerable soreness of the throat. “Like broken glass,” said Benson, huddled behind his sunglasses and his handkerchief. “We have to call my brother in Brooklyn. He’s a doctor.”

We got back to the house to find the phone out of order. It was the beginning of a long holiday weekend, and so we would be without it for three days, normally a blessing. But Brooklyn had to be called. There was one particular antibiotic, a
state of the art
antibiotic, that Benson said would overcome all known forms of mono. I went down to the phone booth at Les Baumettes and fed it with five-franc pieces while Brooklyn Hospital searched for Benson’s brother. He gave me the name of the wonder drug. I called a doctor and asked him if he could come to the house.

He arrived within an hour and inspected the invalid, who was resting behind his sunglasses in a darkened room.

“Alors, monsieur …”
the doctor began, but Benson cut him short.

“Mono,” he said, pointing at his throat.


“Mono, man. Mononucleosis.”

“Ah, mononucléose. Peut-être, peut-être.”

The doctor looked into Benson’s angry throat and took a swab. He wanted to run a laboratory test on the virus. And now, would Monsieur lower his trousers? He took out a syringe, which Benson peered at suspiciously over his shoulder as he slowly dropped his Calvin Klein jeans to half-mast.

BOOK: Toujours Provence
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