Thursday 30 May 2019

Catching up on French non-fiction

Waaay behind on book reviews, so it's catch-up time.

First up, Hot Sun, Cool Shadow: Savouring the Food, History and Mystery of the Languedoc by Angela Murrills and illustrated by Peter Matthews. This is my second book for the What's In a Name reading challenge which is being hosted by the Carolina Book Nook, covering the category of 'A temperature'.

The Languedoc (the name means Language of the Occitans I believe) region of France is in the south of the country and stretches from the River Rhone to The Pyrenees and the border with Spain. Angela Murrills and her partner, Peter Matthews, both living in Vancouver, fall in love with the area and this book charts ten years of visits leading up to them buying a house there. It's a celebration of their love of food, French food primarily, and their explorations of the region in order to try different dishes. The famous dish of the region is Cassolet, a casserole dish of confit duck, beans, sausage, pork, garlic etc. The author discovers that there's no one recipe, everyone has their own way of making it, this is hardly an unusual thing though. I also enjoyed the retelling of the history of the area, who built the Midi-Canal for instance, it was Pierre-Paul Ricquet, and as seems to be quite common, he died 6 months before it was opened. (There's a lovely TV series from 2007 made by Rick Stein where he does a canal trip down the Midi-Canal, available on dvd, as I have it, or on Youtube I suspect.) Murrills also covers the making of Vermouth, Pizza (the French say they invented it, not the Italians), denim (it's from Nimes thus d'nimes - 'denim'... I love all this language stuff!), cheese, wine, copper pans from Durfort, the list is endless. This is truly a delightful book, one of the best I've read on France and its food. It's quite clear the couple are obsessed with French food and every time they had to go home to Vancouver I must admit I felt quite sorry for them. Whether they're actually living there full-time now I don't know, this book was written in 2005 so it's possible they might be. I would like to think they are.

Lastly, One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence by Keith Van Sickle.

This book is in the same vein as the previous one, only the author is American rather than Canadian. It's much shorter and written quite differently, with short chapters that recount something that happened to the author or an opinion on a topic. The author and his wife lived in Switzerland for a while during which time they visited France quite a bit. Back living in the USA they missed France and took to spending a few months a year in that country, the idea being to improve their French to the point where they were able to make friends and converse with said new friends. This they managed to achieve with varying degrees of success, but naturally there were mishaps and adventures along the way. This was an entertaining book, a very quick read, the author's style is extremely conversational and self-deprecating. It's one of two and I bought them both for very little for my Kindle. Look forward to reading book two.



Sam said...

One of my British friends has recently retired and moved to France. I swear he posts something on Facebook at least three times a week about the great meal he is having in one small town or another. What a life...

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Hi Cath,

You know that I am not much of a non-fiction reader, however I do enjoy a good bit of research, so I spent a lovely few minutes checking out Keith Van Sickle's website.

I also managed to track down a very old web page for Angela Murrills, although she hasn't added to it since 2009! She also has a Twitter page she was using occasionally, but once again there is nothing since 2018 and her last book was published in 2010, so who knows where they might be living now - it would definitely be good to know they are still living the French dream, wouldn't it?

Happy Reading :)


Cath said...

Sam: Although I would never live anywhere other than the UK I do think your friend is very lucky and I hope he loves where he's living. I'm sure he does...

Yvonne: I haven't checked out KvS's website, I must do that.

Reading a book like that makes you feel like you know the author so you want to know what's happened to them. Most are easy to track down but it seems Angela Murrills is not. She's such a great writer you might have thought she would bring out more books but apparently not. Odd.

Thanks for stopping by. Just back from a long weekend away so just catching up on comments.

Judith said...

Hi Cath,
I left a comment late last week on this post. By any chance did it go to Spam? Just wondering. I really liked it.

Cath said...

Hi Judith, just back from a long-weekend so just getting around to catching up on things. I've checked my spam-box and the list of comments and replies and I can't see anything. I'm thinking it must've disappeared into the ether. Really sorry about that as I love your comments!

Anonymous said...

I discovered that Peter Matthews died in 2020. The link to the obituary is below. The obituary mentions that Angela Murrills died in 2019. Sadly, I cannot find an obituary for her.

Thanks for your analysis of these books and your blog.