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Nonfiction in Brief

PROVENCAL TALES Stories From the Land of the Troubadours by Michael de Larrabeiti (St. Martin's Press: $17.95; 222 pp.)

August 20, 1989|SONJA BOLLE

Every year the shepherds of French Provence take their flocks from winter to summer pastures. The annual migration has traditionally been made on foot, as shepherds have done since Roman times along the same routes. Michael de Larrabeiti, an Englishman interested in the medieval French literature, traveled with the Provencal men one summer and listened to their stories, trying to establish the shepherds as the heirs to the troubadour tradition for a doctoral thesis. He soon abandoned this scholarly effort, and instead chose to put together "Provencal Tales," which intersperses stories of the trip with the tales of rogues and romances the shepherds tell each other on the road.

At first Larrabeiti traveled with the shepherds as an outsider, but when one of their number fell sick, he became a working member of the crew. Gradually he gained the trust of the men, even as he improved his knowledge of their dialect. In the fields and rough shelters, over innumerable bowls of red wine, he listens as the men tell the stories they have heard over the years. "Provencal Tales" chronicles a way of life that is fast disappearing as the shepherds abandon the hard trek for more modern and efficient means of transporting sheep, and a body of literature that may become lost when there are no more evenings on the trail.

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