Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

A Day in Provence

Oct 23, 2013

It was our first day in the south of France and we had stopped for lunch at an outdoor cafe in the lovely little town of L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. It was market day. The vendors in the square, who had been selling cheese, olives, spices, salami, fresh produce and helpings of paella topped with the largest shrimp I had ever seen, were beginning to pack up.

At the neighbouring table a group of about a dozen Brits were enjoying a boisterous meal, lubricated by a steady supply of beer and wine. A late-middle-aged man with a mop of grey-blonde hair seemed to be hosting and I whispered to my wife, in jest, that it was probably Peter Mayle.

Now most of you will know that Mayle is a British adman and writer who moved to France in the 1980s and wrote the hugely popular memoir, A Year in Provence, about his life there. Other books and movies followed, fuelling a romantic image of French village life.

Looking at my map I realized that the town of Ménerbes, where Mayle had initially lived, was not far from where we were having lunch. The possibility that we were seated next to the famous author became more than a joke. British tourists were pretty thick on the ground, but still... I instructed my wife to go into the square and pretend to take a photo of our table, while actually getting a snapshot of our neighbours (a trick I learned from reading spy fiction).

Later that day, back at our place, we googled Mr. Mayle and compared his photo with our own. It was him. Our visit to Provence had begun with a celebrity spotting!

Could anything more clearly indicate that our stay was ordained to be a wonderful one? Which it turned out to be.