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What Peter Mayle taught us about France, the French and Provence

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What Peter Mayle taught us about France, the French and Provence
AFP
16:06 CET+01:00
Author of "A Year in Provence" Peter Mayle was famous for his witty, insightful observations about life in France. Here, on the day his publisher announced his death aged 78, are some of his best lines about life in France and in particular sunny Provence.
With his three novels about the slower pace of life in Provence, Mayle inspired thousands of people to follow in his footsteps in pursuit of the same romantic dream. 
 
Here are some of his best observations about France and the French.
 
"The day when a Frenchman switches from the formality of vous to the familiarity of tu is a day to be taken seriously. It is an unmistakable signal that he has decided - after weeks or months or sometimes years - that he likes you. It would be chulish and unfriendly of you not to return the compliment. And so, just when you are at last feeling comfortable with vous and all the plurals that go with it, you are thrust headlong in to the singular world of tu."
-- Toujours Provence
 
"Depending on the inflection, "ah bon" can express shock, disbelief, indifference, irritation, or joy - a remarkable achievement for two short words.” 
-- Toujours Provence
 
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Peter Mayle. Photo: Alfred A. Knopf‏/Twitter
 
"We sat back, thankful that we had been able to finish, and watched with something close to panic as plates were wiped yet again and a huge, steaming casserole was placed on the table. This was the specialty of Madame our hostess - a rabbit civet of the richest, deepest brown - and our feeble requests for small portions were smilingly ignored. We ate it. We ate the green salad with knuckles of bread fried in garlic and olive oil, we ate the plump round crottins of goat's cheese, we ate the almond and cream gateau that the daughter of the house had prepared. That night, we ate for England.” 
-- A Year in Provence
 
“We had to be up early in the morning. We had a goat race to go to... We asked the old man confident in the knowledge that he, like every Frenchman, would be an expert. "The goats who make the most droppings before the race are likely to do well. An empty goat is faster than a full goat. C'est logique.” 
-- A Year in Provence
 
"Apart from the peace and emptiness of the landscape, there is a special smell about winter in Provence which is accentuated by the wind and the clean, dry air. Walking in the hills, I was often able to smell a house before I could see it, because of the scent of wood smoke coming from an invisible chimney. It is one of the most primitive smells in life, and consequently extinct in most cities, where fire regulations and interior decorators have combined to turn fireplaces into blocked-up holes or self-consciously lit "architectural features." 
-- A Year in Provence
 
Photo: Mike Slone/Flickr 
 
“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 two kisses were enough among civilized people. The next time I saw my neighbor's wife, I kissed her twice. “Non,” she said, “trois fois.”
 
I now pay close attention to the movement of the female head. If it stops swiveling after two kisses, I am almost sure I've filled my quota, but I stay poised for a third lunge just in case the head should keep moving.” 
-- A Year in Provence
 
"'Beh oui,' she said to her companion, waving her spoon for emphasis, 'il faut du temps pour la corsetterie.' You can't argue with that. I made a mental note not to rush things next time I was shopping for a corset, and leaned back to allow the waiter through with the next course.” 
-- Encore Provence: New Adventures in the South of France
 
Photo: Spencer Means/Flickr 
 
"The French, it seems to me, strike a happy balance between intimacy and reserve. Some of this must be helped by the language, which lends itself to graceful expression even when dealing with fairly basic subjects.... And there's that famously elegant subtitle from a classic Western.
COWBOY: "Gimme a shot of red-eye."
SUBTITLE: "Un Dubonnet, s'il vous plait."
No wonder French was the language of diplomacy for all those years.” 
-- Encore Provence: New Adventures in the South of France
 
"As our lawyer friend had noticed, men kiss other men. They squeeze shoulders, slap backs, pummel kidneys, pinch cheeks. When a Provençal man is truly pleased to see you, there is a real possibility of coming away from his clutches with superficial bruising." 
-- A Year in Provence
 
"It is at a time like this, when crisis threatens the stomach, that the French display the most sympathetic side of their nature. Tell them stories of physical injury or financial ruin and they will either laugh or commiserate politely. But tell them you are facing gastronomic hardship, and they will move heaven and earth and even restaurant tables to help you."
-- A Year in Provence
 
Photo: x1klima/Flickr
 
"The earth was frozen, the vines were clipped and dormant, it was too cold to hunt. Had they all gone on holiday?...It was a puzzle, until we realized how many of the local people had their birthdays in September or October, and then a possible but unverifiable answer suggested itself: they were busy indoors making babies. There is a season for everything in Provence, and the first two months of the year must be devoted to procreation. We have never dared to ask.” 
-- A Year in Provence
 
"The people of Provence greeted spring with uncharacteristic briskness, as if nature had given everyone an injection of sap."
-- A Year in Provence
 
"And, as for the oil, it is a masterpiece. You'll see."
Before dinner that night, we tested it, dripping it onto slices of bread that had been rubbed with the flesh of tomatoes. It was like eating sunshine."
-- A Year in Provence
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