“We learned that time in Provence is a very elastic commodity, even when it is described in clear and specific terms. Un petit quart d'heure means sometime today. Demain means sometime this week. And, the most elastic time segment of all, une quinzaine can mean three weeks, two months, or next year, but never, ever does it mean fifteen days. We learned also to interpret the hand language that accompanies any discussion of deadlines. When a Provençal looks you in the eye and tells you that he will be hammering on your door ready to start work next Tuesday for certain, the behavior of his hands is all-important. If they are still, or patting you reassuringly on the arm, you can expect him on Tuesday. If one hand is held out at waist height, palm downwards, and begins to rock from side to side, adjust the timetable to Wednesday or Thursday. If the rocking develops into an agitated wiggle, he's really talking about next week or God knows when, depending on circumstances beyond his control.”
Thus does British writer Peter Mayle describe some of his encounters with several of the characters whom he hires to renovate the old farmhouse he and his wife purchased in the south of France. A Year In Provence is the first of his books on the subject of the couple's transplantation from the cloudy skies of England to the fields and hills of the Lubéron. He continues:
“These unspoken disclaimers, which seem to be instinctive and therefore more revealing than speech, are occasionally reinforced by the magic word normalement, a supremely versatile escape clause worthy of an insurance policy. Normalement – providing it doesn't rain, providing the truck hasn't broken down, providing the brother-in-law hasn't borrowed the tool box – is the Provençal builder's equivalent of the fine print in a contract, and we came to regard it with infinite suspicion.
But, despite their genial contempt for punctuality and their absolute refusal to use the telephone to say when they were coming or when they weren't, we could never stay irritated with them for long. They were always disarmingly cheerful, they worked long and hard when they were with us, and their work was excellent. In the end, they were worth waiting for. And so, little by little, we reverted to being philosophical, and came to terms with the Provençal clock. From now on, we told ourselves, we would assume that nothing would be done when we expected it to be done; the fact that it happened at all would be enough.”
Humorous and fascinating, Mayle's tale of his and his wife's first year in Provence flows seamlessly from month to month as it wends its way through the calendar. From dealing with beer-drinking brick masons to guests reluctant to leave at the end of a visit, the writers words are sure to leave you laughing, and maybe (or maybe not!) wishing for your own Provençal farmhouse. Be sure to read all about it!
Copyright © 2009, S. Halversen.
All Rights Reserved.