Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Paris and Provence

Recently, I read a couple of books that I thought might be fun to contrast. They both are memoirs and take place in France, though it could be anywhere. What I was mostly struck by was their varying attitudes about time, one couple wants speed, the other to slow Life down. Neither was on subjects I knew anything about(car racing and truffles), so they were a learning experience, as well as interesting narratives.

Peking to ParisPeking to Paris by Dina Bennett
Alright, this book is about a lot more locations than Paris, but does end in Paris. The author, an American, and her French husband, Bernard participate in a transcontinental car rally. If like me, you’ve never heard that phrase, Wikipedia states that “Rallying, also known as rally racing, is a form of auto racing that takes place on public or private roads”. This particular race is to celebrate the centennial of the Peking to Paris Motor Challenge of 1907 and uses only old cars, 125 of them, some of which were new at the original race. Bennett and her husband are driving a 1940 LaSalle named Roxanne. Or rather, Bernard is driving the car and she is to be the navigator, certainly a challenge for someone with a light grasp of the GPS and who gets carsick when reading in a moving vehicle. Their adventure covers 7,800 miles in 35 days, in some areas so remote that the only other living creatures are a herd of wild Bactrain camels (in the Gobi desert). Though the journey is quite grueling at times, with breakdowns and tents in sandstorms, I was impressed at the easy relationship of the author and her husband; genuinely companionable and of an equal footing. There are maps, appendixes and a section of color photos that provide fact and figures for those wanting more information. They were a helpful addition.
For some reason, the narrative skips over most of the European leg of the race after Estonia, picking up in France as they near the finish line. Considering the detailed anecdotes about the previous part of the race, this absence is jarring and unexplained. It interrupts the flow of the book and makes the finish line feel rushed and disjointed. But other than that, it was an enjoyable account of something most of us would never think to attempt, but made me understand why some daring souls would.

Skyhorse Publishing 2013 262 pp. ISBN-10:1-62087-800-3

truffle dog,10 treesTen Trees and a Truffle Dog by Jamie Ivey
The author’s previous three books were about leaving the rat race in London, where he was a lawyer and moving to the south of France, where he became a wine merchant. In this book, he and his pregnant wife decide to build a house on the outskirts of a small village, drawn there mostly because the property contains the perfect conditions for growing truffles, which he sometimes refers to as “black diamonds” due to their value. Truffles are a type of fungus(like mushrooms) and cannot be cultivated, instead grow wild from spores on certain types of oak trees. Because they are found underground, humans usually can’t locate them, so pigs and dogs are used to find them, but the animals must have a knack for doing so. Ivey and his wife buy a rare petite chien lion dog, a breed known for their truffle skills. Named Snuffle, he’s a little black dog with poodle type fur and not sure he wants anything to do with truffles. As the book goes along, we follow the attempts to train Snuffle, the attempts to get their house built and the birth and toddlerhood of their new daughter, Elodie, all happening at the smae time. And told in a self depreciating way, leavened with humor. Ivey also has a keen sense of place and his descriptions of the seasons are especially evocative. I shall definitely be hunting out his earlier books.

Skyhorse Publishing 2012 285 pp. ISBN-10:1-62087-635-3

Jackie has never tasted truffles nor driven long distances, but she does like mushrooms on her pizza

One comment on “Paris and Provence

  1. Sue Williams
    June 24, 2013

    You have peaked my interest in both of these books. That race sounds like fun and you know I am a foodie so I know all about truffles. Thanks for great reviews!

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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