It seems that whenever a newspaper wants to generate a popular article for its tourist pages it sends one of its reporters down to Provence to write something. One gathers that there are no shortages of volunteers for such missions. Unfortunately, whether it is due to the quality or quantity of the wine, most of the subsequent articles lapse into overused phrases to the extent that you wonder if there isn’t a Provence Cliché Computer Program somewhere that generates the article for them. Anyway for those of you who want to write an article on Provence, let us give you some help.
The sky is of course always a perfect, deep, pristine or flawless blue (although you have to be careful that you don’t use the same clichés for the sea). The sun is gleaming, incandescent or baking. On this faultless or dazzling blue sea, gleaming white yachts bob and dance softly on gentle waves, the soothing noise of the soft metallic tap tap of the rigging intruding on this silence. (Yachts actually are very difficult to write about and depend very much on the political perspective of the paper concerned. Guardian readers are allowed to adopt a morally superior pose and be critical of the idle rich lounging on their boats. Other papers such as the Telegraph and The Times are allowed to imply that yachts are a fair and just reward for a lifetime working in business.)
Back on land there are of course, the soft, rolling hills bleached under the sun, broken by tufted pines (reaching up against the pristine blue sky) and ancient broken stone walls. (There’s often a little historical bit here to remind you that Provence is called this because it was a Roman province and this allows you to talk about the legacy of history, the passage of the years et cetera et cetera). It’s essential to refer to the wizened trees hung with olives; the endless rows of vines heavy with purple grapes. And if you write for a spring article, don’t hesitate to mention the glorious multi-coloured and fragrant wild flowers.
It doesn’t hurt to add a little bit about the smells of Provence: the borders of fragrant lavender; the hillsides covered with the delicate scent of thyme, sage, and rosemary; the mouth-watering aroma of bread fresh from the bakery. Add a little bit too about the noises: the cry of the swifts as they race down the narrow chasms of the streets; the clunk of boules in the shade of ancient plane trees; the clink of cutlery and glassware in the leafy squares; the monotonous chirping of the cicadas; the hum of bees.
It’s normal to talk of the villages: strolling gently through the half deserted, winding narrow stone-paved streets of small villages perched on the tops of hills. Mention too the crumbling stonework, the orange/red terracotta roof tiles, the faded blue-painted shutters.
Other clichés – which require some homework – involve mentioning famous names who live locally. So if you are in our area you could mention that there are properties owned by the Beckhams and Brad and Angela. A pity though about the departure of Johnny Depp, although you could mention that his villa complex – complete with pirate-themed room – is on the market.
It is also customary to allude to the locals: the old men with their berets sitting drinking pastis or coffee and glaring at the pages of Nice–Matin. And how about the women? Use of the word elegant in the context of young women is almost obligatory. But why not people your village with a couple of old ladies with bad dentition jabbering away in accented French?
So there you are. You can write your Provence article without even being here.