The Magic of Provence: Pleasures of Southern France

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Broadway Books, 2001 - Travel - 312 pages
When Yvone Lenard returned to her native France and purchased a house in a hilltop village of Provence, an enchanted world of food, wines, and unusual adventures–including chicken rustling, flirtatious advances from neighbors, and a séance–opened up before her. This is her account of the spell cast on her by Provence, from her first morning’s visit by a charming prince bearing a jug of the village’s vin rose to the growth of her friendship with a duchess in the local chateau. Lenard shares tales of travels to St. Tropez and visits from American friends who find unexpected romance and magic in Provence. Told with verve, wit, and Lenard’s deep understanding of the French language and culture, this memoir includes tales of others who have been drawn to the region, including Vincent van Gogh, Brigitte Bardot, and Princess Caroline of Monaco. Ways to re-create the magic of the region’s sensuous way of life include recipes for food and drinks, as well as tips for entertaining in the Provençal style.

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User Review  - nemoman - LibraryThing

A lightweight piece of fluff on Provence that ranges from terminal chirpiness to mindless self-absorbtion. Read full review


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About the author (2001)

The Prince and the Garbage Collector

Provence smiled on us that first morning, and, seldom

drinkers that we are, we were both drunk before noon.

The night before, my husband and I had arrived at our new hilltop village house in the Luberon, heart of Provence. We slept fitfully, not yet adjusted to the time difference, vaguely aware of roosters crowing most of the night. Their enthusiasm rose to greet the day, and later the sun, streaming in through open windows, woke us up, as the belfry bell rang eight times. When we rose, though, the rooms remained night-fresh and the tiles cool underfoot.

No food in the house, but we were both too jet-lagged to be hungry. Wayne left soon afterward to pick up a rental truck and drive to Marseille, hoping to get there during the short hours the customs office opens to the public, to collect crates of belongings we had shipped from the States. Alone, I wandered from room to room, discovering our still-unfamiliar domain, exulting in this adventure. Bliss and expectation danced in the air, like the brilliant motes caught in bars of sunshine traced by the shutters I had half closed against the rising heat of the day.

Almost directly above stood the castle that had enchanted us on our first--and only--visit to the village, its red standard emblazoned with the gold lion of Provence, snapping in the breeze. Suddenly, from an open window way up in the towers, a cascade of piano notes burst forth and descended, floating down the battlements. Someone was playing Chopin. Not the hesitant fingers of a child. A sure, expert hand was spinning light, airy music. Transfixed, I stood lost in reverie. Had we, unknowingly, stepped straight into some Camelot?

The sound of the kitchen door, noisily opened, drew me out of my trance. I would learn later that, in Provence, callers walk in that way, ignoring more ceremonial entrances, not bothering to knock, simply calling out: "Y a quelqu''un?" Anyone home? I found myself face to face with a tall, handsome blond man in his thirties, carrying a small, wicker-clad jug.

He didn''t introduce himself but took my hand and bent low over it. "Salut," he said, "we heard you had arrived. Il faut arroser a, one must drink to that. Do you have any glasses?" From the still-empty dish closet, I unearthed two jam jars and rinsed them, all the time thinking: This can''t be a village man, he is dressed much too casually. I suspected locals wouldn''t come calling at the house of strangers, wearing cut-off jeans and a shirt knotted at the waist. Obviously, someone else. But who could that be?

He filled the glasses with rose wine. "Taste this," he urged. "Just picked it up at the winery down below. Our rose is the best in Provence. Can''t travel, doesn''t age well. But when it''s fresh, it''s the Virgin Mary in silk panties. Like it? It''s still cool from the barrel."

The clear, pink wine smelled and tasted of fruit. It hit the tongue with just a hint of sparkle and, indeed, slithered down the throat as lightly as silk chiffon. "Well," added my visitor, "to your health, and welcome. Hope you like it here. Most Luberon villages already have a few American residents, but it looks like we''re catching up at last." We? Him and who else, I wondered. "Cul sec," he concluded, "Bottoms up," and refilled our glasses.

I know enough to offer a seat to visitors, so I tried to coax him to the terrace, where he could at least sit on the low surrounding wall, or to the living room, maybe. But he wasn''t interested.

"Much better here," he declared. "The tiles are nice and cool. Here, sit on the floor." And he showed me the way, sitting in the kitchen doorway, feet on the stone steps, patting the place next to him, the rose jug between us. Intimidated, yet entranced, I sat, too, on the kitchen stoop.

Who, who in the world could that be? His casually knotted shirt was sans buttons, but he wore a signet ring with an almost worn-off engraving. No clues there. Obviously, I don''t know him, yet he seems vaguely familiar. A TV or movie actor? I am not that up on French personalities. Blonds are rare in this Mediterranean land of dark-haired, olive-skinned people. Still, that profile, the clear blue eyes, the high forehead and slightly heavy jaw, why do I think I''ve seen it somewhere before? A chain hung from his neck, with a heavy gold seal attached. Twisting my neck as inconspicuously as possible, I tried to make out the engraving on the face of the seal. Perhaps there would be initials there, a clue of some sort? Pretending to squirm into a more comfortable position I managed to sneak a peak. Engraved on the face of the seal I distinguished something like a double-headed eagle, perhaps the emblem of some royal house.

Of course, now, I could figure out why that handsome face, with its square jaw, brought a vague feeling of deja vu. In spite of the rose''s mounting buzz, I finally put it all together. Something aristocratic, as well as the man''s very casualness, betrayed the highborn. Yes, yes: a couple of years earlier, a feature in Town and Country had caught my attention. The lead photo pictured a beautiful young girl, smiling a dimpled smile, strolling on the terrace of a castle in Provence, arm in arm with her fiance. She was, told the story, the daughter of a great house, niece of a duke, and a budding concert pianist; he, the scion of the royal house of a neighboring European country. Although his father had, a decade or so earlier, lost his throne to a military takeover or some such political upheaval, he was still very much royalty. The wedding held at the Provence castle--the same one looming above and that I recognized from the images I had seen then--had gathered crowned and uncrowned heads, as well as the entire population of the village. Festivities had culminated in farandoles in the meadow below, and fireworks that lit up the Luberon valley.

Given the uncertainties of politics, the man sitting now on my kitchen stoop, refilling my glass once more, stood in immediate line to a throne, and might very well, one day, become king in succession to his father. Impossible? Not if the citizens of his country tired of the military junta, or whatever system that governed them without the glamour of a royal court, and decided it would be more exciting to possess, once more, their own king and queen, princes and princesses, to enliven the pages of their tabloids, rather than having to rely on England and others for tales of princely scandal.

How does one behave in the presence of royalty? I guessed one, at least, gets off the kitchen floor, and I did. He looked up.

"What''s the matter? You don''t care for the rose?"

I don''t know how to curtsy. In any case, it would be hard to do in the direction of someone sitting on the floor.

"Monseigneur, Your Highness," I stammered, "I don''t feel I should remain seated in the presence of a man who could be king." He laughed wholeheartedly.

"C''est pas demain la veille, That''s not for tomorrow, or even the day after, so you can''t very well remain standing until it happens. You''ll have to sit down sometime. By the way, in French my name is Louis."

I told him my name.

"I know," he replied. "I understand you''ve been expected and everybody is curious. No one, though, would have had the nerve to barge in on you the way I did."

The piano, which had stopped playing for a moment, resumed its freshet of notes.

"Noise pollution?" he winked. "If it bothers you, I can tell my wife to close the window. She is practicing for a Chopin concert tour in the fall." He smiled. "And I''m told she''s the best." No wonder that a moment earlier I had stood enthralled.

And then, he was ready to leave.

"By the way," he added, "I must not forget I was sent here on an errand. My wife''s aunt, the duchess, would like to have you and your husband as her guests, for dejeuner at the ch?teau, a week from Wednesday. Quite informal, mostly family. I do hope you can come--and happy days in the Luberon," he concluded, pouring the last of the rose into our glasses. Then he bent low over my hand again, and walked out, whistling along with the piano.

Call me a snob, but I felt there should be glass slippers on my feet instead of sandals, and the rose did nothing to dispel the feeling that I had stepped through the rabbit hole, right into some fairy tale.

I was still shaking my head, trying to stop the spin of the rose (No, I thought, I couldn''t possibly be drunk. It''s just a pleasant little lilt), when the kitchen door opened again. The prince back so soon? I should have at least fixed my hair. No. A small white truck had pulled up in the narrow, one-way street in front of our house. The word Sanitation under the lion coat-of-arms indicated this must be the municipal garbage conveyance. A florid-faced, stocky man in a beret, a Gauloise stuck in the corner of his lips, was standing in the doorway. He touched his beret, shook my hand, and informed me that he, Monsieur Berange, with the assistance of a young helper (who didn''t seem allowed off the truck), handled matters of garbage collection and public sanitation. He had noticed our volets, shutters, were open, therefore we were in residence and would need garbage pickup.

"We come by every other day, early a.m. Leave your ordures outside in a tightly lidded can, otherwise roaming cats and dogs will spill it all over, and, with the steep slope, empty cans and such roll all the way down to the lower village."

As I was thanking him, the arrival of Wayne''s rental truck caused a major traffic jam in the narrow passage, and required a great deal of expert mane

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