Mont Ventoux, nicknamed the “Giant of Provence,” is a big mountain in a part of the south of France where it seems rather out of place. It is as though Whoever laid out the Alps later discovered there was one Alp left over and jettisoned it more or less randomly and all on its lonesome onto the inland plain above Marseille and Avignon. No mountain ought to be where this one is, especially such a tall and imposing one. Its name, “Windy,” is apt, as air currents swirl around its summit frequently and with significant force. It has a considerable literary and athletic history. In 1968 we lived in a rustic paradise on the edge of the small town of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, nearby. Ostensibly I was doing research at the Musée Calvet in Avignon, but it was the time of the Great Strike or Mini-Revolution, and we had to exercise flexibility and improvise somewhat.
Well, Petrarch did indeed write an elaborate Latin letter, addressed to his friend and confessor, the Augustinian hermit Dionysius of Borgo San Sepulchro, describing his ascent of Mont Ventoux. It is a spiritually uplifting cock-and-bull story, though people who go for the modern sensibility part seem to be able to swallow it. The fact that the letter’s supposed recipient was long dead at the time Petrarch wrote it is only one of several reasons I regard it as fiction.