Category Archives: Destinations

Eat Your Way Through This Mystery Set in Provence

Book: The Mystery of the Lost Cézanne by M. L. Longworth

Destination: Aix en Provence, France

This is the fifth outing for the Provence couple Antoine Verlaque, prosecutor, and Marine Bonnet, law professor. A painting disappears, that may or may not be an authentic work of the most famous resident of Aix, Paul Cézanne,  so we are treated to a secondary plot line that takes us back to the artist’s life.

When I previously reviewed Death in the Vines, an earlier installment of the Verlaque and Bonnet mysteries, I complained that it was difficult to keep the characters straight.  Whether my reading skills have improved, or M. L. Longworth has done a better job of individualizing the characters, I don’t know. But I did not have that problem with this book. Each character is unique and interesting. There are a lot of people to keep straight–mainly Verlaque’s cigar club members, the residents and manager of the apartment building where a murder takes place, the parents of both Verlaque and Bonnet, art experts, and policemen. The back story features just two characters–the artist and a young woman.

French Pastries
French Pastries – Arles, JohnPickenPhoto from

In addition to the human characters, a supposed historic bakery of Aix,  Michaud’s, takes center stage in both the present and the past. (It seems that Michaud’s is a literary creation, perhaps based on Reiderer in Aix, and borrowing the name of a former Paris cafe where Hemmingway and Scott Fitzgerald dined. Regardless of whether there ever was a Michaud’s in Aix, and where Cezanne picked up his pastries –and his tart–the description of breads and desserts had me drooling on the book. I also salivated over the meals eaten by the picky gourmet, Verlaque.

Aix, France
Cours Mirabeau in Aix, where Verlaque frequently strolls. Photo by MoritzP on

And therein lies the charm of Longworth’s series. The mystery–basically a cozy cum police procedural– is a light read and not particularly challenging as mysteries go. But she absolutely shines at placing the reader squarely in the Provençal atmosphere and mind set, and tempting us to travel there with loving descriptions of buildings, scenery and food and wine.  I have not been to Aix, and keep forgetting how to pronounce it (easier than it seems–ecks) but Longworth tempts me to add southern France to my destinations.

Cezanne painting
Paul Cezanne – Basket of Apples. “I will astonish Paris with an apple.” Photo from Click for info.

And as a further benefit, the mystery takes you into the world of the painter, Paul Cézanne. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the descriptions of where the artist lived. Perhaps the apartment (where the murder takes place and the painting goes missing) is poetic license just as the pastry shop is. Never mind.  The walks around Aix with Verlaque still give you a vivid picture of the old town. A highly recommended read for the traveler to Provence or the armchair traveler, as well as all fans of Cézanne.

This site describes a walk through Cezanne’s favorite places, and it also lists some good books about Cézanne.

Note: The publisher provided this book for review, which is standard procedure and has no influence on my opinions.  You should know that I am an Amazon affiliate, so any purchases you make through the links to Amazon in this post will earn me a few cents, even though it costs you no more.  Thanks for your support.

Road Trip in Surprising Alabama and Georgia

The third of articles I wrote for My Itchy Travel Feet appeared last week. The three all portrayed parts of our June road trip in Southern states, including three I had not visited before–Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina.

Little River Gorge and Falls
The Little River National Preserve in Alabama. Photo by Kenneth R. Badertscher

On our southern road trip, we wanted to cut through the northeastern corner of Alabama on our way from the Atlanta Georgia airport to Chattanooga TN. Not the direct route, but new territory to cover. I found some little-known byways and a couple of terrific parks (one in Alabama and one in Georgia) on this road trip. You can read about it at Exploring the South’s Little Known 3-State Byway.

To review other articles on our June Southern Road Trip:

Cloudland Canyon Georgia
Cloudland Canyon State Park rim walk, Georgia

Exploring Ashvilles’s Amazing Biltmore House

Adventure in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park

The Highlands of Alabama

3 Secrets for Planning a Unique Road Trip

Smoky Mtn Pk Newfound Gap state lines
Smoky Mtn Pk Newfound Gap state lines. This is where President Roosevelt dedicated the park in 1941, a year before my first visit (See story about Smoky Mountains)

Germany in Georgia

The Great Smoky Mountains

Smoky Mountain
Smoky Mountain Natonal Park, Cade’s Cove drive-through barn

Chattanooga, California of the East

Chattanooga from Lookout Mountain

North Carolina, Gilded and Green


What is This American Woman with 6 Children Doing in Nazi Germany?

Where: Germany before and during World War II

Book: A World Elsewhere: An American Woman in Wartime Germany by Sigrid MacRae (First published in 2014. NEW in paperback, August 2015.)

The year is not over, but I am already betting this will be near the top of my Best Ten Books at A Traveler’s Library for 2015. Pardon me if I gush, but Sigrid MacRae won me over beginning with her prologue, which describes the challenges of writing family history. As you may have noticed, I do a bit of that myself, and putting together oral history, documentation and letters into a real story can be quite a challenge. MacRae has written a family history that reads like a novel. Well done!

After explaining her sources, the questions she had about her young parents, and how different the woman in the love letters is from the mother she knew, she says this:

“What had brought such an unlikely pair together? And where did their eventual alliance leave me? Accidents of history had joined them, and the entangled mysteries of love, sex, and money.  How they had shaped me was yet to be determined, but where should the story of two lives whose strands ran separately far longer than they had been knitted together begin?…Tangents , vagaries, shifts, and turns are uncomfortable in the tyranny of chronology, yet history is tyranny too, and the convulsive history of the century that shaped my parents’ lives refused to obey any other imperative.”

These thoughts are familiar to anyone who is dealing with his or her own family history. But I had more questions about her family. Was love so blind that her mother did not understand what a dangerous place Germany was becoming in the 1930’s?  How does one continue to love a father who is a Nazi?  What prepared her privileged, upper class mother for the incredible struggles she would have trying to leave Germany after the war–particularly with six children? Why did she not leave earlier?

Sigrid MacRae's parents
Aimee and Henrich–the “unlikely pair.” Photo from author’s website.

I won’t try to outline how MacRae answers my questions, but she does answer them as well as her own, at least to her own satisfaction.  Some may think she is a little too easy on her father, but I admire the non-judgmental way she presents history. Since “history is written by the victors”, we rarely get to read about the life of the dispossessed aristocracy of Germany who had settled in cosmopolitan St. Petersburg. Those people suffered the same destruction of their lives as the Russian nobility. (Read about the Russian emigres in this book review.)

Sigrid Macrae's father's family
Some of the family of Heinrich, Sigrid MacRae’s father, in Germany in 1907. Photo from author’s website.

MacRae’s father, Heinrich von Hoyningen-Huene, came from that line of German aristocracy. Some reader’s reviews at Amazon complain about too much time in the book being spent on the von Hoyningen-Huene family–I think of it as the begats–but I was fascinated by the enormous family with its conservative traditions and enthusiasm for learning and culture. They certainly shaped the handsome Heinrich into an intelligent man with a restless, searching mind and a sometimes overly optimistic view of the world. After all, their family had survived upheavals of history before, so surely they could survive the Russian Revolution and the rise of Nazism.

We also rarely hear about the people inside Germany–even in government positions and in military offices–who hated Hitler and all he stood for. Heinrich fell into that category and allied himself with others of like mind. This follows a theme in an earlier book that MacRae co-wrote. That one, about the Germans who resisted–and worked with Americans to defeat– Hitler is called, Alliance of Enemies: The Untold Story of the Secret American and German Collaboration to End World War II.

Aimée seemingly has more concerns about the Nazis than her optimistic husband, and mentions their treatment of Jews,  but MacRae drops the subject of the persecution of Jews after the original mention. Of course, she would have no way of knowing what her father thought, how much he knew, whether he was guilty of at least complicity by silence. He was, after all, an intelligence officer–and that means propaganda. Perhaps she is wise to stick to describing the places she knew her father was, the battles she knew he took part in, than speculating about his part in the more publicized result of Hitler’s regime.

Her mother’s life, which started out so ideally–American with wealth travels as she wishes, meets a handsome–well, not a prince, but close– and falls madly in love. They marry and repair to an idyllic farm in the German countryside where they have five children. Then Hitler, World War, Heinrich a soldier, and economic disaster. On a leave, a sixth child, the author of the book, is conceived.

Sigrid MacRae as child
Left, eldest brother Friedrich, youngest child, Sigrid and Aimee in 1940s. Photo from author’s website.

The rest of the story I leave to you to read. The writing is intelligent and lovely. As you read passages from the letters of Heinrich and to a lesser extent from Aimée, MacRae’s father and mother, you can see where the writing genes came from. Heinrich is poetic (in several languages) and as a student of history, his letters are packed with references to important people and events of the past. Aimée writes with a lively, enthusiasm that makes you love her from the start.

Maps and family pictures complete the book’s ability to bring to life this unlikely family in a very unusual time and place. And I found those maps to be calling me to visit some places in Germany that I did not previously know about.

Note: The publisher provided me with the paperback of this book for review. That is standard practice, and has no influence on what I recommend to you.

There are links here to for your convenience. You need to know that although it costs you no more to order items through my website, I am an Amazon affiliate and make a few cents on each order. Thanks for your support!