For those who can’t hop on the next plane to Nice, a Provençal event with your reading group is a wonderful alternative. With the words of Peter Mayle and a sampling of the tastes, sites, and sounds of the region, you’ll have no trouble adopting a Provençal sensibility. Here are some suggestions:
• Have a tasting: The French are well known for so many delicacies that the possibilities are numerous here. An obvious choice is wine; consider a selection of French reds and whites and be sure to include a variety from the vineyards Peter Mayle recommends in Encore Provence (p. 46-67). Or, be a bit more inventive and consider an olive oil tasting. A couple of loaves of crusty French bread, a quick review of the techniques featured in Mayle’s “Discovering Oil” chapter, and you’re on your way!
• Be a nose: Provence is also famous for its parfumeries, and one would be hard-pressed to find a more pleasant way to start off an evening than with a sampling of fine French perfume. Have each member bring a bottle of their favorite scent, and take turns deciphering the subtleties of the various fragrances. Again, pay particular attention to the techniques described by Mayle in his “How to be a Nose” chapter.
• Take a pictoral tour of the region: As vivid as Peter Mayle’s imagery can be, can add a whole new dimension to the book. Have any of your group’s members been to Provence? If so, ask them to bring their photo albums with them. If not, supplement your armchair traveling with pictures from one of the many books on the region.
• Enjoy a Provençal meal: Consider meeting in a local restaurant that specializes in Provençal cuisine, inviting a student from a local cooking school to your home, or, if you’re more ambitious, cooking a meal with your group. Feeling energetic? Follow your meal with a friendly game of boules—and book discussion!
Suggested cookbooks: A Passion for My Provence by Lydie Marshall (HarperPerennial, 1999, paperback), Provençal Light: Traditional Recipes from Provence for Today’s Healthy Lifestyles by Martha Rose Schulman (Bantam, 1994, hardcover); Provence: The Beautiful Cookbook by Richard Olney, (Collins Publishers, 1993, hardcover); and Provence Gastronomique by Erica Brown, photographs by Debbie Patterson (Abbeville Press, 1995, hardcover).
• Host an evening of music and film: Even more than still photographs, motion pictures and music can evoke the character and ambiance of a place with wonderful clarity. Consider renting some classic Provençal films, or supplementing a delicious Provençal meal with some traditional music from the region:
Suggested films: To Catch a Thief (starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly); Fanny, My Father’s Glory, and My Mother’s Castle, (all based on the memoirs of Marcel Pagnol); A Year in Provence (a made-for-TV movie based on the first book in Peter Mayle’s Provence trilogy).
Suggested listening: “A Table in Provence: Authentic Sounds of the South of France in 24 Vintage Recordings,” EMI