Locals pay for the foreigner's fantasy

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The Independent Online
The clatter of military helicopter rotor blades will not be the first disruption that the long-suffering folk of Provence have had to put up with in recent years.

More than 10,000 Britons have moved there, most of them during the past decade, pushing up property prices, parking Volvos all over the place and committing repeated atrocities against the French language.

Worse still, one of them, the former advertising executive Peter Mayle, wrote two worldwide best sellers: A Year in Provence and Toujours Provence about his life there. Many locals were irritated at being caricatured as lovable but greedy peasants who reneged on deals, cheated the authorities, drank formidable quantities of pastisand developed homicidal tendencies behind a steering wheel.

The tourist influx soared as A Year in Provence sold 500,000 copies in Britain, was translated into 17 languages and became a BBC television series starring John Thaw and Lindsay Duncan.

While the series received adrubbing from the critics in Britain, it went down very well in Japan, striking an escapist chord in a country where millions of people live in a congested urban environment. A Tokyo travel agency organised pounds 3,000-a-head tours of Provence and soon disciplined lines of Japanese tourists were filing through local villages.

The author himself was finding life less than idyllic. Not only was he the butt of much criticism from French and British residents of Provence but many tourists thought that it was perfectly acceptable to turn up at his home and ask for an autograph or even to look round.

Mr Mayle has now moved to the United States, buying a pounds 1m house in a fashionable part of Long Island, New York. However, it would seem that peace is still eluding those who seek it in Provence.