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<a name="iti1"></a>Tapenade

It has been called the black butter of Provence (although it may frequently be green), and it is one of those happy gastronomic inventions that sharpen both appetite and thirst. Normally, therefore, you will find it served with your apéritif before you get down to the serious business of making your way through the menu.

The name comes from the Provençal word tapeno, or caper, and capers are an essential part of every tapenade recipe. Other ingredients can vary slightly according to taste, but I recommend following the instructions of Monsieur Meynier, the Marseille chef who invented tapenade more than a century ago. Here's his original recipe:

200 grams black olives, pits removed
100 grams unsalted anchovy filets
100 grams tuna in oil
large spoonful strong mustard
pinch of fines herbes
200 milliliters olive oil
a glass of Cognac

Take 200 grams of black olives, with their pits removed. Crush the olives, using mortar and pestle, together with 200 grams of capers, 100 grams of unsalted anchovy fillets, 100 grams oftuna in oil, a large spoonful of strong mustard, "pas mal de poivre," and a pinch of fines herbes.

As you crush, add, little by little, 200 milliliters of olive oil.

The final touch: mix in a glass of Cognac.
The resulting thick and wonderfully pungent black paste, gleaming with oil, is traditionally spread on small pieces of toast. But it would be a shame to restrict tapenade to toast. Try it with hard-boiled quail's eggs, with tomatoes, with fresh goat cheese, with plain grilled fish, or a cold vegetable omelette. I have also seen it used as a dip for potato chips and eaten, on its own, by the spoonful. It is that good.



There is a popular misconception that the language spoken in Provence is French. It resembles French, certainly; indeed, in written form it is almost identical. But remove it from the page and apply it to the ear, and Provençal French might easily be another language. If words were edible, Provençal speech would be a rich, thick, pungent verbal stew, simmered in an accent filled with twanging consonants; a civet, perhaps, or maybe a daube.


Before coming to live in Provence, I acquired a set of Berlitz tapes in order to improve my grasp of French, which I hadn’t studied since my schooldays. Evening after evening, I would sit and listen to cassettes of the most mellifluous, perfectly enunciated phrases—spoken, I believe, by a lady from Tours. (I was told that the accent of Tours is considered a jewel among accents, the most polished and refined in France.)


Every morning in front of the mirror while shaving, I would do my best to imitate this accent, pursing my Anglo-Saxon lips until they could pronounce something close to the Gallic u, practicing the growl from the back of the throat that is so necessary for the rolling Gallic r. Little by little, I thought, I was making progress. And then I left England to come south.


It was an instant farewell to the lady from Tours, because the sound of the words I encountered in Provence was unlike anything I had heard before. And to make matters even more incomprehensible, these words were delivered with an incredible velocity, a vocabulary gone berserk. My ears were in shock for months, and for at least a year I was unable to conduct any kind of sustained conversation without a dictionary. This I used much as a blind man uses a white stick: to identify obstacles and try to find my way around them.


To this day, many years later, there are times when words, even sentences, pass me by in a glutinous blur of sound. Living as I do in the country, I have noticed that the rural accent is perhaps a little thicker—or, some might say, purer—than in bastions of urban civilization like Aix or Avignon. But then there is Marseille, a special case. Here the unsuspecting visitor will have to contend not only with the accent but with an entire sub-language. How, I wonder, would the lady from Tours react if she were offered a pastaga, directed to the nearest pissadou, cautioned against employing a massacan, accused of being raspi, invited to a baletti, or admired for her croille? Like me, I suspect, she would find it all extremely puzzling, even comac.




pastaga = pastis
pissadou = toilet
massacan = a bad worker
raspi = miserly
baletti = a small dance; what used to be known as a bal populaire
croille = arrogance, effrontery, chutzpah
comac = extraordinary




It has been said that Provence is a region that has been rubbed with garlic. Whether you think of garlic as le divin bulbe or the stinking rose or the poor man’s panacea, there’s no getting away from it—in soups, in sauces, in salads, with fish, with meat, with pasta, with vegetables, on or in bread. And if there isn’t quite enough of it for your taste, you can always resort to this old Provençal habit: Take a clove of garlic (probably the one you always carry in your pocket for just such a gastronomic emergency), peel it, and hold it between the thumb and index finger of your right hand. With your left hand, hold a fork with its tines facing downward on a plate. Grate the garlic briskly across the tines until you have enough aromatic juice and fragments on your plate to season the food to your liking.


When considering garlic’s history and reputation, it is often difficult to sort out fact from legend. We are told that the laborers building the pyramids of ancient Egypt went on strike because their garlic ration was late in being distributed. This is confirmed by several sources and is probably true. On the other hand, you have the vampire-repellent theories—carry a head of garlic with you at all times, and rub garlic on window frames, door handles, and the floor around your bed for nocturnal protection—which probably aren’t. Other slightly dubious claims include garlic’s supposed ability to neutralize snake and insect venom; to cure leprosy, asthma, and whooping cough; and to protect against cholera and the evil eye (“Bon ail contre mauvais oeil”).


But nothing in the medical history of garlic, at least in Provence, is quite as impressive as the tale of the four thieves. It takes place in Marseille in 1726, when hundreds of inhabitants were dropping like flies from the plague. Our four thieves (today their nearest equivalent would be ambulance-chasing lawyers) visited the empty houses of the recently dead and ransacked them. Growing careless, the thieves were eventually caught and brought to trial. Fortunately for them, the judge had an inquiring mind. How was it, he asked them, that you were able to enter all those contaminated houses without being stricken yourselves by the plague?


Plea-bargaining ensued. In exchange for leniency, the thieves revealed their secret, a powerful elixir that made them immune from the plague. It must have seemed at the time as miraculous as the discovery of penicillin, and from that day on it was called le vinaigre des quatres voleurs, or four thieves’ vinegar. The ingredients are vinegar, absinthe, rosemary, sage, mint—and, naturally, garlic. (Absinthe is difficult to find nowadays, but pastis would probably be an acceptable substitute.) Not surprisingly, the Marseillais quickly found themselves among the most enthusiastic consumers of garlic in France. They still are.


There is no doubt about some other, less dramatic health-giving properties. Garlic is an antiseptic, a disinfectant, and an inhibitor of bacteria. It is rich in vitamins B1 and C. Medical studies suggest that garlic eaters show a lower incidence of stomach cancer, may be less prone than average to strokes and cardiovascular disease, and possess blood of exceptional purity.


Alas, the same cannot be said for their breath. Garlic-induced halitosis has been something of a social obstacle ever since man popped that first clove in his mouth thousands of years ago. King Henri IV of France used to eat a clove every morning. It was said by one of his contemporaries that his breath could knock over a steer at twenty paces. And yet he was also a renowned ladies’ man, which leads me to believe that his lady friends had discovered the only truly effective solution to the problem of garlic breath in others. Which is, of course, to eat garlic—and plenty of it—yourself.




The Provençal poet Frédéric Mistral, a man with a lyrical turn of phrase and a practical turn of mind, praised aioli for possessing, among its many other virtues, the ability to keep away flies. I have also known it occasionally to repel humans, particularly those delicate souls accustomed to a cuisine that is largely innocent of garlic. Aioli is not for those with timid taste buds.


Technically, it is mayonnaise. But it is mayonnaise with guts, and to compare it to conventional mayonnaise is like comparing a slice of processed cheese to a ripe Camembert. This classic recipe explains why:


For eight people, you will need sixteen cloves of garlic, the yolks of three eggs, and ne...

Revue de presse

“Mayle's affection for lavender fields and languid lunched continues unabated-and so does his influence.”
USA Today

“Mayle's magpie dictionary yields amusing facts . . . and useful information. . . . You'll soon succumb to his road-tested charm.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Whether he's smacking his lips in gustatory contentment or mock exasperation, Mayle's affection runneth over. . . . If there is anything charmless or depressing in all of Provence, its secret is safe with him.”
The Boston Globe

“After nearly two decades of writing about the character and the characters of Provence, Mayle's love for this rich and colorful region is undiminished.”
The Christian Science Monitor

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Détails sur le produit

  • Broché: 304 pages
  • Editeur : Vintage; Édition : Reprint (2 décembre 2008)
  • Collection : Vintage Departures
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ISBN-10: 1400095697
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400095698
  • Dimensions du produit: 13,2 x 1,7 x 20,3 cm
  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 4.5 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (2 commentaires client)
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Format: Broché Achat vérifié
C'est un des livres de Peter Mayle qui m'a plu le plus et cela donne très envie de le rencontrer lui ! Cest à coup sûr un très bon vivant et Dieu sait s'il s'y connait en boissons et nourriture de toute sorte. Mais dans ce livre aussi il y quelques redites qu'on trouve dans ces autres ouvrages, mais dans l'ensemble je le recommanderais à tous mes amis, sans hésiter; Cest un bouquin très instructif même;
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In the same vein as A Year in Provence, it is well written and one can feel Mr Mayle's love and tenderness for his adoptive country, not France but Provence. He seems fully aware of its defects but loves it nonetheless. We share his views, we are also Provence lovers...
I enjoyed the read at lot.
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69 internautes sur 77 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Everything the guide books leave out -- plus: great charm 2 novembre 2006
Par Jesse Kornbluth - Publié sur
Format: Relié
t was at a show of paintings by Cezanne and Pissarro at the Museum of Modern Art that I realized I wanted to spend my declining years in the South of France. Specifically, in Provence. My bedroom was the key image: a big bed, whitewashed walls, a shuttered window. And this, most of all --- a view of rolling fields of lavender.

This was not a fantasy of a late-life invalid. Of course I'd write. Probably about Provence. And then I remembered: Peter Mayle has already been there, done that. Indeed, he owns the franchise on Provence.

I would be annoyed by Mayle's dominance, but the thing is, I know him ever so slightly and he just might be the most pleasant guy on the planet. Opens the good wine for guests. Laughs at your jokes, etc. And is so not a greasy careerist, eager to sell out a beautiful patch of France for a bag of Euros. Listen to Mayle tell the story of his success:

I was doing some work for GQ magazine and I had a little bit put aside. We sold our house in England. But I had an idea for a novel that I had sold to a publisher in England. I was going to go out to Provence, lock myself away and whack out this novel and financial things would be more comfortable. I got there and was so distracted by what was going on that I didn't do anything on the novel. My literary agent kept ringing me up and asking to see pages and I eventually sent him some pages on why I couldn't start the novel. He took them to the publisher and said this actually is a much better idea than the novel and the publisher agree. "If he can do another 250 pages like this we've got something." They gave me a "modest advance" -- so modest in fact that it was self-effacing. We had a two-man publication party -- me and the publisher -- and he printed 3,000 copies and said, "There'll be a few left over but I'll give them to you at a discount so you've got them for Christmas gifts." About six weeks later, I was back in France and he called and said. "We sold them all. We're reprinting another 1,500 copies." Gradually it snowballed and then the paperback came out and sold a million copies in England...

And then Knopf picked "A Year in Provence" up for the American market, and you know the rest.

In "Provence A-Z," Mayle shares the offbeat information he has gathered while living in Provence for almost two decades. Very little of it is the stuff you find in guidebooks. Much of it is information gathered in cafes, where Mayle is fond of pastis (at 45% alcohol, the most intoxicating drink in the house). All of it makes you want to fly to Paris --- tonight, if possible --- and then take the TGV down to Aix. (Cautionary note: There are 16 million visitors to Provence each year. Try not to go in August.)

Here's a sample of Mayle's gleanings:

-- the origin of a bamboo forest near Nimes

-- the charms of Beaumes-de-Venice, which is so much more than a dessert wine

-- the genius of the bouffadou in lighting fires

-- the Provencal sun tan (Picasso, Mayle notes, was "the color of a well-cured cigar")

-- what to do with leftover ends of cheese

-- how to cook eggplant on a barbeque

-- the male goat "can copulate up to 40 times a day" (cheer up: each encounter lasts for only a few seconds)

-- the world's only corkscrew museum

-- the soaps of Marseilles, the best rose wine, salt from the Camargue

-- a hundred intangibles: the smell of a cafe, a hidden path, an afternoon nap, neighbors and so much more

And here, both to whet your appetite and to show you that there is no such thing as a "small" subject when a fine writer is at the top of his game, here is Peter Mayle on the subject of the air --- yes: the air --- in Provence:

A man in a bar once told me that the air in Provence was the purest air in France, perhaps even in the world. He was a large and somewhat aggressive man, and I thought it wise not to argue with him. In fact, I was delighted to believe what he had told me, and for several years I would pass on the good news to friends and visitors. "Every breath you take of Provençal air," I used to say, "is like ten euros in the bank of health." It wasn't until I started to research the subject that I discovered the truth.

Here it is: The départements of Bouches-du-Rhône, the Vaucluse, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, and the Var make up one of the four most polluted zones in Europe, a distinction they share with Genoa, Barcelona, and Athens. (Source: Greenpeace France.) Apart from the emissions coming from heavy traffic on the routes nationales and the autoroutes, the principal villains are to be found in the industrial complex --- l'industrie-sur-mer --- that straggles along the coast from Marseille to the Gulf of Fos and the oil refineries at Berre.

How bad is it? By August 2003, there had been thirty-six days during the year on which the level of air pollution exceeded the official limit of 240 micrograms per cubic meter. More was to come as the summer heat wave continued. And, so we were told, the pollution was not necessarily confined to the area immediately around those who produced it, but could spread as far away as sixty to ninety miles.

Since each of us breathes about thirty pounds of air each day, statistics like this make uncomfortable reading. And yet, walking every day in the Luberon as I do, it's difficult to believe that such a thing as pollution exists. The air looks clear and tastes good. Vegetation seems untouched. Butterflies thrive. Birds and game go about their business, apparently in rude health. Can it be that the mistral is protecting us by blowing away the foul breath of industry? I must consult the man in the bar. He will know.

I'd like to meet that man. And see Mayle in situ. Shall we gather in the late afternoon at that bar?
14 internautes sur 14 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
"Provence4: A to Z 2 avril 2007
Par William B. Sabey - Publié sur
Format: Relié
This is a collection of short essays about the culture of Provence in alphabetical order. I think it is typical Mayle, intelligent, bright, and whimsical without being "cute". It's a writing you can sample in at odd times.
22 internautes sur 25 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
PURE MAYLE = PURE PLEASURE, BUT..... 1 janvier 2009
Par Gail Cooke - Publié sur
Format: Broché
Beware all who begin reading this: I'm totally incapable of writing an unbiased review of anything authored by Peter Mayle. I'm a dedicated Mayle-ite, unabashed, unrepentant, and completely under the spell of this witty, charming chronicler of his Provencal experiences.

Thus, it is with the greatest reluctance that my comments re Provence A - Z are less than laudatory. For me it is precisely what the title implies - an alphabetical listing of words with each followed by a brief definition, description or explanation.. Some of the included listings were of interest to me; others were received with my version of a Gallic shrug.

We begin with "Accent" and learn that French is not truly the language spoken in Provence as we might expect but what is spoken is "a rich, thick, pungent verbal stew, simmered in an accent filled with twanging consonants." The closing listing is "Zingue - Zingue - Zoun," which we are told is used to describe the sound of a violin.

Yes, there are frequent flashes of the Mayle humor throughout. But, for this reader, Provence A - Z is adulterated Mayle, and I much prefer him pure - straight, if you will, without soda or water simply because he is one of the world's premier raconteurs, an amiable travel guide, and blessed with an unerring eye for humor in the most improbable situations.

If you've not read Mayle, I encourage you to let your introduction be A Year In Provence or Encore Provence - both are pure Mayle, pure pleasure.

- Gail Cooke
6 internautes sur 6 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
The Fantasy and Reality of Provence 16 mars 2008
Par Rebecca of Amazon - Publié sur
Format: Relié
Peter Mayle's "Provence A-Z" is a collection of personal interests and discoveries. There are amusing stories of construction complexities, the celebration of truffles and humorous stories of wild pigs eating perfectly ripe melons. Peter invites you into his world and as he explains the reality of Provence he keeps the fantasy of the perfect vacation alive and well. Since I recently made my own tapenade it was interesting to see a new recipe. There is also an explanation of why tomatoes are known as pommes d'amour. There are stories of unique fruits and visions of hills that are home to two thousand types of butterfly. I loved the story of the new puppy and you can't help but smile when you think of all the adventures Peter has on a daily basis. Overall, this collection of writing makes winter days seem a bit warmer and it is perfect as a cozy read by the fire.

~The Rebecca Review
Once I spent a weekend in Provence
4 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A great book to learn about Provence 18 janvier 2007
Par Phillip E. Hunt - Publié sur
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
An enjoyable collection about things in and of provence. Peter Mayle has done another winner.

An easy read and quite informative.
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