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A number of good years? That's life in Provence

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Nov. 5--To millions of readers the world over, English writer Peter Mayle is Provence. The man whose 1989 memoir A Year in Provence popularized France's rustic countryside for readers and, later, TV viewers made the region seem synonymous with country sunshine and a civilized life of leisure, fine food and good wine.

And its inhabitants? Adorably quirky, if not downright quaint.

Now, the place he has settled is featured in a movie based on his novel A Good Year. His friend, director Ridley Scott, talked him into writing the book and directed the film. Russell Crowe stars in the movie, which reaches theaters Friday.

We reached Mayle, 67, by e-mail, in -- where else? -- Provence.

Question: How much concern have you had, over the years, that your books popularizing Provence might spoil it?

Answer: There was a time when I almost believed all the articles (mainly in the British press) that said Provence had been ruined by the popularity of my books. I now realize that it was simply a case of the old truism that bad news sells papers.

In fact, Provence has not been spoiled, and I should know since I live here all year-round. It has changed -- there is more cultural activity, there are more restaurants, the local wines have improved -- but the important things have stayed the same. The pace of life is still pleasantly unhurried, the countryside is still empty and beautiful, the people are still friendly. And, strange to say, my critics have been silent recently.

Q: Your books seemed to foretell a rise in epicurism, especially in this country. Was that just an accident of timing, or did you see something in the economy or demographics in Britain and America that suggested the time was simply right for people to indulge in fine foods, travel and wine?

A: It was an accident, like so much in my career as a writer. The first book was a fluke, written in self-defense to placate a publisher who was expecting a novel. I had no idea that the world was on the brink of a surge of Epicurean enthusiasm. What a bit of luck.

Q: John Thaw played, of course, you in the televised A Year in Provence. But can one assume that your hero in A Good Year (an English bonds trader who inherits a winery in Provence) is something of an alter ego? What sorts of things do you have in common with Max?

A: I think a bit of the author often creeps into his fictional characters, as it has done with Max. Like me, he gives up a good job. Like me, he comes to Provence. Like me, he loves it and changes his life completely. So we have that much in common. He's younger, and he has the benefit of an uncle with a vineyard, which I unfortunately didn't. But there are those basic similarities.

I wish I could say that I was a massive influence on Russell's performance, but I wasn't. It was all his own work. There are maybe a couple of lines from the book, but that's about it. It was a terrific piece of casting, partly because it was totally unexpected. It's no secret that Russell is a fine actor, and it's fascinating to see him do something so different and so much lighter than his previous roles. His timing, in particular, is a joy.

A Good Year has been such a pleasant experience for me that I very much hope it happens again with another of my books. Hollywood, please note: There are several to choose from.

Q: Your years of travel and fame must have taken you to every corner of the globe. Surely you've found places more beautiful than Provence. And yet you keep returning. Why?

A: I've lived in Barbados, London, the English countryside, New York, the Bahamas and the Hamptons. Nowhere, for me, has that special mixture of beauty, climate, culture, architecture, tradition and cuisine that makes the quality of everyday life in Provence so enjoyable.

I can't imagine living anywhere else.

Roger Moore can be reached at or 407-420-5369.


Copyright (c) 2006, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.

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