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Rich, Thoughtful Images of Provence and Ireland

July 25, 1993|COLMAN ANDREWS

PROVENCE: A Country Almanac by Louisa Jones (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $29.95, hardcover).

A book of pretty pictures of Provence is a cheap trick--an easy sell, an automatic "oooh" and "aaah." Luminous photographs of olive groves, vibrant fields of lavender, old stone farmhouses framed in wild rosemary and sunflowers--they're like cute shots of dogs and babies. You can't help but melt when you see them, but you hate yourself for it. Though there are plenty of pretty pictures in the present volume, many by the author herself--a Canadian who for more than 20 years taught Provencal culture to American students at the University of Avignon--there's also plenty that's less transparent and more ultimately satisfying.

Jones' book may be difficult to classify. (Though sections are divided according to the seasons, the "almanac" thing seems more a marketing conceit than a genuine organizing principle.) But in a series of brief chapters, she affectionately and vividly describes many of the pleasures, large and small, of this most famous part of France. Included are pieces on everything from luxury hotels and restaurants (as well as modest bistros) and wine estates to out-of-the-way museums, bird-whistle and ceramic tile factories, public gardens and more, from Nyons to Marseilles, Lunel to Aix. Less specific chapters evoke such abstracts as "Provencal Fragrance," and there are seductive-sounding recipes scattered throughout, from goat cheese tart to stewed truffles.

In all, this is a delightful book, from which even the old Provence hand may learn a thing or two (how it happens, for instance, that Buffalo Bill's dog is buried alongside Mistral in Maillane). A sole complaint: The photos don't always match the text--so that, for instance, a chapter on a bistro in Cabrieres d'Avignon is illustrated with a shot of autumnal poplars along an unnamed road.

IRELAND, photography by Tim Thompson, essay by Susan Poole (Graphic Arts Publishing Company, $37.95 hardcover).

Ireland is a tougher sell than Provence--racehorses and red-faced lads, say, instead of dogs and babies. But Tim Thompson (a sometime contributor to the Los Angeles Times) makes his case convincingly with this rich and varied photograph album, helped out by travel writer Susan Poole's lively, history-seasoned text. Though a few of the images--which show not just horses and lads but pubs, castles, churches, street markets, fishing boats, landscapes both stark and lush and more--might be faulted slightly for their posed-looking postcardish perfection, most are simply stunning. Golden sheep cross a jigsaw-puzzle of rock in County Clare, a house and bridge in County Donegal reproduce themselves in reflection in a deep blue river, trees in Tollymore Forest Park become a textured screen of ghostly green. . . . Lavender pales in comparison.

UMBRELLA GUIDE TO CALIFORNIA LIGHTHOUSES by Sharlene & Ted Nelson (Epicenter Press, $12.95 paper) and WESTERN LIGHTHOUSES: Olympic Peninsula to San Diego by Bruce Roberts and Ray Jones (Globe Pequot Press, $17.95 paper).

Probably no genre of public building stirs more romantic feelings than the lighthouse. Isolated, phallic, often perched upon some dramatic rocky crag, it suggests solitude, independence, power and solace all at once. It is architecture as emotional metaphor, and as such is endlessly attractive. Concentrating on California's seaward beacons, the Umbrella Guide contains brief histories and descriptions of more than 40 lighthouses both extant and defunct, with brief notes on visiting some of the former. (One of them, the deliciously Victorian East Brother Lighthouse on an islet in San Pablo Bay, is also a bed-and-breakfast inn.) Photographs are black-and-white and mostly not very distinguished. The volume by Roberts and Jones, who have also written on lighthouses of the East Coast, is illustrated with color photos, some quite nice indeed, but its historical notes are rather sparse. Lighthouse buffs will appreciate the Umbrella Guide; romantics might prefer the other book.

MILEPOST I-80: San Francisco to New York by Mary Lu Kost (Milepost Publications, $16.95 paper).

As fabled blacktop, Route 66 it ain't--but Interstate 80, which stretches 2,899 miles from the San Francisco Bay Bridge to Fort Lee, N.J., is both the longest and the most direct east-west route across America today. This ambitious, self-published work is an exit-by-exit guide to the highway, keyed to the mileposts or green mileage markers that line the route in every state but California. Gas stations, restaurants and fast-food joints, motels, campgrounds, tourist attractions, emergency services and other travel essentials are listed, and the text is salted with history and anecdote. The writing is colloquial; there are too many exclamation points and not enough commas. Strictly for its detailed practical information, though, this is a great read.

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