As a young couple just out of college, Helen and Dan Horowitz spent an entire summer camping in Italy and France. But they never bothered with the region south of the Loire Valley, a backwater called Provence.
Decades later, that hilly, arid area would be celebrated, even revered, the world over for its picturesque landscape of olive trees and lavender fields, rustic villages and wonderful food.
Now, Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, who retired from Smith in 2011, wonders how they overlooked it. “We would have gone to the hills of Provence if we had known about it,” she says now. “It made me curious: When did Provence come into our minds?”
From that curiosity came a book, A Taste for Provence, that traces how and why Provence entered the romantic imaginations of the traveling public, which now sees it as a place to connect with the land, eat simple and authentic foods and absorb the country atmosphere.
Horowitz is the Sydenham Clark Parsons Professor Emerita of History and professor emerita of American studies. She and her husband, Daniel, the Mary Huggins Gamble Professor Emeritus and professor emeritus of American history, have made four trips to Provence. “We’d tool around the areas where we stayed, spending time in smaller towns, experiencing the countryside and eating in different places,” she says. Along the way, she interviewed caretakers, delved into local history and learned what it’s like to own, maintain and rent out houses in Provence. She visited influential cookbook author Patricia Wells and nonagenarian winemaker Lucie Peyraud, who shared her secret of longevity: “I always drink wine, never water.”
Despite its new status as a travel destination, Provence remains largely uncrowded, Horowitz notes. “You can still be alone a lot of the time,” she said. “In Arles we were the only people on the van Gogh trail. I was uneasy in a Roman cemetery because there was no one else there, despite it being a major historic spot.”
In this excerpt from her book, Horowitz describes how Julia McWilliams Child ’34, who owned a house in Plascassier, used her popular television cooking show to bring Provence into Americans’ hearts, minds and living rooms.
SAQ, Winter 2016–17