Letter FromrnProvencernby Geoffrey WagnerrnPeter Mayle andrnAll ThatrnEleven years ago an Englishman calledrnPeter Mayle followed in so many of hisrncountrymen’s footsteps and, tired of rainrnand taxes, bought a house in sunnyrnProvence. The book he wrote about hisrnlife there, truly no more than a bundle ofrnanecdotes about funny foreigners andrntheir enviable gastronomy, did remarkablyrnwell, despite duplications. The authorrnmade a mint and understandablyrnproduced a sequel, equally full of palatablerncliches.rnEvidently his fame drove so manyrnthousands to his Provencal front doorrnthat he and his third wife were forced tornabandon the place and remove to LongrnIsland. Whence he gave us a talking caninern(A Dog’s Life), following in thernpaws of Rudyard Kipling (Thy Servant ArnDog). Mayle’s travel books, flimsy asrnthey may be, served to remind mc of myrnyouth after the war when I first exploredrnthat classic area of Avignon, Aries, andrnAix-en-Provcnce, not to mention thernfleshpots of Nice and Cannes (in one ofrnwhich I met a much-decayed “Willie”rnMaugham). If Mayle’s books recentlyrnlured me back to the region, they alsornprompted mc to escape the hordes andrnpush on north to the Haute Provence,rnwhere, astonishingly, I found no touristsrnat all. It was as if I had been transportedrnin time to when, thanks to a VaticanrnCount, I had seen the Sistina alonelrnJust after the war, thanks to some felicitousrnconnections, Coco Chanel lent arncompanion and myself her villa situatedrnbetween Roquebrune and Mentonrncalled La Pausa. She was as happy to dornso as I was to have the little library therernto write in, one evidently used later, afterrnthe sale of the property, by WinstonrnChurchill for his memoirs. For at therntime Chanel needed the villa’s occupancy,rnbeing seared of a seizure. After all,rnshe had just scraped through a FreernFrench epuration invigilation in Paris andrngone to hole up in Switzerland atrnthe Beau Rivagc Hotel in Ouchy, byrnLausanne.rnThere I found her frankly fairly nutty,rnparanoically anti-Pierre Wertheimer, ifrnstill strikingly beautiful. La Pausa wasrnmore dilapidated than its owner when Irnknew it, apart from both having shownrnsigns of German occupanc}-. The proprietor,rnand her faithful maid, had been thernonly French citizens allowed to live onrnthe Rue Cambon side of the Paris Ritzrnduring occupation. Her chief Germanrnfriend (though probably not her lover)rnhad circumspectly fled to Sweden afterrnhostilities, while her perfume workers atrnGrasse were up in arms (in mollihcationrnChanel ordered free bottles of NumberrnFive to be handed out to GIs enteringrnParis, before she herself left the capital).rnFinally, it should be remembered thatrnher attorney at this time was the Comternde Chambrun (pere) who was living withrnand later married Josette Laval, whose fatherrnwas executed. B}’ now all this is inrnthe books, particularh’ one excellent biographyrnof the tough httle beauty. ThatrnLa Pausa was rundown when I lived therernwas par for the course in the region; thernsame could have been said of ConsuelornBalson’s vast property at neighboringrnEze. I was merely drawn to note the contrastsrnbetween then and the Maylianrnnow.rnFirst, there is of course the access, orrnfortunate lack of same. You may pick uprna direct flight from New York to Nice,rnbut you may not to Marseilles, whose airportrnhas turned into a Kafkaesque securityrnsystem, doubtless due to the influxrnof Algerians; in the Ime in front of mernthere I saw a priest having his socksrnlengthily inspected. Aix has been infectedrnwith much of the same, the leafy avenuesrnof my youth now so many parkingrnspaces, with single-occupancy, bulletproofrnglass antechambers guarding thernentrance to quite harmless-lookingrnshops, such as pharmacies.rnMeanwhile, if you arc thinking of motoringrnfrom Paris to this lucky region takerna St. Christopher medal with you.rnFrench autoroutes, unlike those in nearbyrnSwitzerland or Austria, are poorlyrnmarked, and if you get on the wrong onernyou are liable to be locked in for 50 kilometersrnor so. Stateside cloverieaf systemsrnare much needed here. But to drivernnorth for an hour or two toward thernHaute Provence and the neighboringrnLuberon is to enter another wodd. Myrnwife and I headquartered in charming,rnlittle-known Manosque which, with itsrnnarrow streets and sidewalk cafes set underrnchestnut trees, takes you back to earlyrnRenoir movies. In the fields around,rncarpeted with lavender, you are in thernworld of Jean Giono whose widow is stillrnvividly alive though over 100. Virtualrnlakes of these lavender fields lie betweenrnManosque and Fortqualquier; the onlyrntourist trap in the region seems to bernMoustiers Sainte-Marie, set in a superbrnsite at the start of the Gorges de Verdon,rnbut ovcrpopulated with bicycle trippersrnwhen last I saw it.rnBack, therefore, to the medieval hillrnvillage with their mouth-watering markets,rnlike Riez and Valensole and, finally,rnlittle Fuste, where a two-flower restaurantrnawaits the weary traveler. These institutionsrnmake one sigh for France. InrnFuste’s leafy garden dark-suited waitersrnmove about the tables with the somnambulistrngravity of monks at prayer.rnNothing unseemly disturbs the dispositionrnof dishes which arc shown the guestrnwith the solicitude of one attending tornan invalid or child. The kitchen is, ofrncourse, a place of art. Among the tablesrnwithout the maitre presides, a scholar inrnhis own domain, ever watchful, never obstreperous.rnThe wines tinkle out withrnthe authority of the rivulets of the Durancernnearby. And I have cause to reflectrnthat despite the horrible modern worldrnthat of Provence has still retained its sanity.rnBon appetitlrnGeoffrey Wagner’s translation of Gerardrnde Nerval’s Aurelia has just been reissuedrnby the Exact Ghange Press of Boston.rnLIBERAL ARTSrnPEACEKEEPERS ORrnPEDOPHILES?rnChild prostitutes are reportedly comfortingrnour men in blue. Accordingrnto a report by Mozambique’s formerrneducation minister, Graca Machel,rnU.N. soldiers on “peacekeeping” assignmentsrnhave sought out the servicesrnof child prostitutes in six countries.rnTribune News Services reportedrnin December that U.N. SecretaryrnGeneral Boutros Boutros-Ghali hadrnlaunched an investigation of therncharges, some of which involvernchildren as young as 12 years old.rn42/CHRONICLESrnrnrn