A Year in Provence

My college friend Anna “Poofie” Malecke gave me this book, which she acquired from a little corner bookshop. It turned out that this book was also on my list to read to “prepare to study abroad” in Aix-en-Provence. So, I have decided to share my favorite extracts so as to understand the region and culture better:

On the accent: ” Half-familiar sounds could be dimly recognized as words through the swirls and eddies of Provencal: demain became demang, vin became vang, maison became mesong. That by itself would not have been a problem had the words been spoken at normal conversational speed and without further embroidery, but they were delivered like bullets from a machine gun.”

On Spring: “The almond tree was in tentative blossom. The days were longer, often ending with magnificent evenings of corrugated pink skies. The vineyards were busy again as the well-organized farmers treated their vines and their more lackadaisical neighbors hurried to do the pruning they should have done in November.”

On the open markets: “We walked slowly along the rows of trestle tables, admiring the merciless French housewife at work. [She] was selling free-range eggs and live rabbits, and beyond her tables were piled high with vegetables, small and fragrant bushes of basil, tubs of lavendar honey, great green bottles of first pressing olive oil, trays of hothouse peaches, pots of black tapenade, flowers and herbs, jams and cheeses–everything looked delicious in the early morning sun.”

On the lunch breaks: “Nothing was hurried. Work stopped at noon for lunch in the shade of a tree, and the only sounds for two hours were snatches of distant conversation that carried hundreds of yards on the still air.”

On greeting: “Only snobs kiss once, I was told, or those unfortunates who suffer from congenital froideur. I then saw what I assumed to be the correct procedure-the triple kiss, left-right-left, so I tried it on a Parisian friend. Wrong again. She told me that triple-kissing was a low Provençal habit, and that kisses were enough among civilized people. the next time I saw my neighbor’s wife, I kissed her twice. ‘Non,’ she said, ‘trois fois‘.”

On Aix: “The Cours Mirabeau is beautiful at any time of the year, but at its best between spring and autumn, when the plane trees form a pale green tunnel five hundred yards long. On the shady side of the street, appropriately, are the banks and insurance companies and property agents and lawyers. On the sunny side are the cafes.”

On the wine: “It had been our first experience of an evening formally dedicated to mass intoxication, and we had enjoyed it enormously. Any friend of the grape was a friend of ours.”

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