Robert Payne is a tried-and-true world traveler with books on the Greek, Persians, Israelis, Russians and Chinese to prove it. Here he tours the past and present of France in a sort of sojourn of the senses and right off on the first page sets the tone; ""Light smiles in France, and has the glow of healthy flesh....it comes joyfully and quietly, like a woman entering a room"". Payne is a good guide: scholarly, well- seasoned, stimulating. He knows legends and landscapes, art and history, whether it be of the Gauls and Romans, of the medieval or the modern, and his panorama is bathed in beauty: the churches of Moissac and Chartres, the fortifications of Carcassonne, the sleepy splendors of Arles and Nimes, the archaeological investigations at Entremont, Aix-on-Provence with memories of the Cezanne, the world of Van Gogh at Saint Remy, Paris and the studio of Brancusi. However for some tastes, it may be a little too much; if the trinitarian lilt of lumiere, lucidite, bespeak the French spirit, Payne's style- with its opulent oohs and ans- ultimately does not, unless it be the French of Flaubert's Salammbo. Still, with or without the decorative ardor, a good book.