Dear Mr. Mayle,
I am sorry that it is upon the news of your death that I am sitting down to write this note.
Thank you, Mr. Mayle, for introducing me to Provence. Before reading your books, I had a fuzzy idea at best of where Provence is and absolutely no conception of what it is like. A Year in Provence and your subsequent books Toujours Provence, Encore Provence, A Good Year, and others brought it to life. My first copy of a Year in Provence is stained from highlighting, with entire paragraphs drenched in bright yellow. I had no inkling when I first read it in 1989 that one day I would visit Provence, much less that I would end up spending months there doing research and publishing a book about it. Or that I would somehow acquire three more copies of it and be unable to part with any of them. I’m geographically challenged, but I can trace a straight line from my love of Provence to your writing.
Thank you, Mr. Mayle, for having the courage to abandon your novel so that you could turn instead to writing about what was intruding upon your concentration and which ultimately became A Year in Provence. Your example reminds me that it’s when we go with the raw, immediate experiences of life that we find the juiciest material for creative pursuits.
Thank you, Mr. Mayle, for creating characters whose personalities are as big as their prodigious appetites. Even the ones with unsavory habits and dubious work ethics have redeeming qualities. You chided your characters. You bemoaned your situation. But you always maintained an amused and forgiving attitude. You taught me to see beyond the hard-to-tolerate traits and appreciate the humanity.
Thank you, Mr. Mayle, for showing that a concise writing style can be deeply evocative. Your simple prose and well-chosen details convey so much.
Thank you, Mr. Mayle, for helping to prepare me for Provence. You decoded the twangy dialect that translates écrivang to écrivain. You warned me about the Mistral that rips through with such ferocity that it can blow shingles off a roof and rip the ears off a donkey, as the locals say. And so, I understood what was happening when I first experienced it in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and watched market goods fly off the tables like possessed spirits.
Thank you, Mr. Mayle, for inspiring me to broaden my appetite. For stretching the bounds of what I sampled and allow myself to enjoy: marc, pastis, saucissions studded with peppercorns, sweet cherries plucked from old gnarly trees along the side of the road.
Thank you, Mr. Mayle, for reducing my loneliness when I was traveling from village to village and market to market in Provence. Your books were constant companions, providing me with daily tonics of non-prescription relaxation. After long days on the road, I would return to home base and feverishly type up my notes and then stare at my computer screen for hours while organizing photos. Exhausted and spent, but my mind still racing, I would reward myself by pulling out of one of your books and savoring it until I fell into a deep sleep. Your writing kept me rested and entertained.
Thank you, Mr. Mayle, for helping me put my own daily ordeals into perspective. Your stories reminded me to step back and appreciate the humor in any situation. To mine the misunderstandings and mishaps for anecdotes that I could share with others.
Thank you, Mr. Mayle, for graciously providing a blurb for my own book about Provence, The Markets of Provence. It was an honor to receive your blessing and support—and to know that we shared an appreciation for markets as a view into the rhythms of rural life.
Thank you, Mr. Mayle, for leaving many works to remember you by and for continuing to introduce the region to new generations of readers. Whether we are in need of entertainment or escape, there are always your books that we can turn to—and Provence itself that we can keep returning to encore… toujours.
Peter Mayle passed away on January 18, 2018. For more about his life, read here.