This is one of the most charming books ever written about the South of France. A summer in Gascony – Discovering the Other South of France, to give it the full title, is all about south-west France, the opposite side of the country to the trendy and much more expensive Nice and the Cote d’Azur.
I know this part of the country very well and I can vouch for the quirkiness of the region that Martin Calder documents so well. The language IS still French but with a difference. The name Martin might seem simple to pronounce for us Brits and indeed the majority of the French population, but he became Martaing to Martin’s local friends. (Should have rechristened himself with an easy Gallic name like…er, Vercingétorix.)
Martin spends a summer working in Gascony and encounters characters who are warm, hospitable and full of humour. It’s a different pace of life from that of Paris or other big cities and Martin’s experiences were richer for it. Yes, the natives were friendly and there is even a hint of romance in the shape of a lovely German lass called Anja.
Jacques-Henri, a farmer and Martin’s employer, and his family are welcoming and give Martin a home for the summer. Even the stray dog Pattes (paws) is pleased to have him around. They, together, provide the backdrop to the season’s adventure.
There are wonderful food-filled interludes with plenty of paing et du vaing (bread and wine) but also Cassoulet, cornichons and the Mechoui which is a North African whole roast lamb so often the centre-piece of large gatherings and celebrations. There is an evening of Pastis and Peanuts and many encounters with live livestock and dead livestock. This is still France, where food is pivotal.
A Summer in Gascony offers a realistic look at southern French life. Martin describes the authentic French Market Day as not just resplendent in peppers and garlic but also seriously big knickers. This is a book filled with scenes that will make you smile.
Martin Calder has managed to capture the flavour of Gascony. It is independent and colourful. Its people embrace outsiders who appreciate its unique history and heritage. This is a lovely holiday read or a book to inspire next year’s tour de France.
A Summer in Gascony
Author: Martin Calder
Published by: Nicholas Brealey
Travelogue book review by Chrissie Walker © 2018