Provence today is a state of mind as much as a region of France, promising clear skies and bright sun, gentle breezes scented with lavender and wild herbs, scenery alternately bold and intricate, and delicious foods served alongside heady wines. Yet in the mid-twentieth century, a travel guide called the region a “mostly dry, scrubby, rocky, arid land.” How, then, did Provence become a land of desire—an alluring landscape for the American holiday?
In A Taste for Provence, historian Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz digs into this question and spins a wonderfully appealing tale of how Provence became Provence. The region had previously been regarded as a backwater and known only for its Roman ruins, but in the postwar era authors, chefs, food writers, visual artists, purveyors of goods, and travel magazines crafted a new, alluring image for Provence. Soon, the travel industry learned that there were many ways to roam—and some even involved sitting still. The promise of longer stays where one cooked fresh food from storied outdoor markets became desirable as American travelers sought new tastes and unadulterated ingredients.
Even as she revels in its atmospheric, cultural, and culinary attractions, Horowitz demystifies Provence and the perpetuation of its image today. Guiding readers through books, magazines, and cookbooks, she takes us on a tour of Provence pitched as a new Eden, and she dives into the records of a wide range of visual media—paintings, photographs, television, and film—demonstrating what fueled American enthusiasm for the region. Beginning in the 1970s, Provence—for a summer, a month, or even just a week or two—became a dream for many Americans. Even today as a road well traveled, Provence continues to enchant travelers, armchair and actual alike.