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French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork and Corkscrew    by Peter Mayle order for
French Lessons
by Peter Mayle
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

The full title of this book? French Lessons with Knife, Fork and Corkscrew. As the title suggests, it is a gourmand's adventure through France, where the author picks up tips from the natives on the proper foods to eat and how to enjoy them. Mayle, a transplanted Englishman, has written a series of books about life in his adopted country. His first, A Year in Provence, started my love affair with anything the author writes. Toujours Provence, Encore Provence, Hotel Pastis, A Dog's Life, Anything Considered and Chasing Cezanne all increased my passion for his work. This book has not let me down.

Aristocrats with Blue Feet, Love at First Sniff, Slow Food, Undressing for Lunch are all titles of various chapters. As they suggest, this book is written with great wit and an understanding of the country Mayle has grown to love. When not sure of something, he is not timid about asking for help. Invariably he finds someone willing to assist, like the man who introduced him to the technique of eating snails ... insert a toothpick into the shell, give a counterclockwise twist to dislodge the gastropod and pop it into the mouth. The author never was able to accomplish this without spattering his shirt with garlic butter.

I laughed out loud at a wonderful chapter on trying to live through three days of wine tasting without swallowing. Ceremonies for the time honored tradition of eating frogs legs made me want to try some. Honestly - and I'm a vegetarian. A contest to see who could consume four pounds of Livarot cheese in the shortest amount of time left me almost breathless for the winner, who had also drunk one and a half liters of cider to wash down the cheese in twelve minutes flat! Many of the restaurants and festivals mentioned by the author are listed in the last chapter.

Peter Mayle has made France his home and the French his friends. The region's food and wine form the added bonus to make his life with his understanding wife complete. French Lessons is a French pastry of a book, to be enjoyed by the armchair traveler as well as the die-hard adventurer. It should be kept on your bookshelf on the chance you should have an opportunity to journey to France and emulate the author's travels. What a marvelous trip that would be.

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