By Alphonse Daudet
Mon 19 Jul 10
"Letters From My Windmill" is my favourite travel campanion. I have had this book for years, and brought it on countless solitary trips, and could never bear to finish it.
Alphonse Daudet was a well known writer in his time, now over shadowed by time; and retreat into the lesser known French writers category. A native of Nimes in Provence; he had an immense love of the Provence countryside where he spent a happy childhood. This work is almost an auto biography where he described his memories of random people, experiences of the countryside while living in a deserted windmill somewhere in the region of Arles.
Daudet had a strong narrative style in his writing. The first line "It is the rabbits who have been taken aback!" sets the tone for the whole book. Every line speaks of the writer's fondness for the people and the places of Provence. He came alive in these surroundings, and he speaks with distaste of the city, Paris.
I brought this book with me when I travel to Provence last year. At the top of Les-Baux, there was the remain of a windmill, and imagine my delight in coming across it! Granted that it was not "the windmill", but it was still pretty special, especially as there was mention of Daudet in the tourists' introduction in the audio guide.
There was something enchanting in the way a forgotten time came alive in the book. Quirky characters, beautiful landscapes, humor, sadness, and a poignant sense of beauty. Every story is a gem, it was the little things that made a life; the really old couples in "The Old Couple", living on nothing more than a promise of having their beloved son back with them, and Daudet's own experience when he visited them, and was treated like their son, simply because he was a friend of their son. The dignity, longing, and humourous traits of the old couple was so powerful in allowng the characters to make an impressions, and tug at your heart.
To me, the stories in the book also speaks of the strong, resiliant, cheerful spirit of the Provence people. With the mistral ravaging through the countryside, the people of Provence are used to the rough, living their life alongside the wind; and making light of the hardship casted their way by nature. There was a certain stubborness, refusal to bow down to circumstances that characterise the people of Provence, which Daudet fully appreciated, and brought to life in his stories.