It’s always a pleasure to have friends drop by the blog! The multi-talented Anne-Marie Simons and her husband Oscar, who is … hold your breath, ladies … an expert on Provençal cooking, paid a visit here last June. They shared their experience of retiring and relocating from the States to Aix-En-Provence in the south of France. If you missed the post before, take a minute to read it now.
Go ahead! I’ll wait!
As I said then, they are are living my dream.
I also said this: “They are perfect examples of how it’s never too late to do something different: true possibilitarians ~ which you know is one of my favourite words!” Read the post Anne-Marie has gifted us with today and you will see what I mean!
This is the initial stop on her extensive tour with the fabulous France Book Tours! I’m delighted to be the first to this party!
Here’s a synopsis of Taking Root in Provence:
Two expatriates left Washington DC in search of the ideal place to retire where climate, culture, accessibility and natural beauty all had a role to play. Curious about the vaunted quality of life in the south of France, they traveled the length and width of Provence where, preferring the city to the countryside, they decided to settle in the ancient town of Aix-en-Provence. That was in 1998 and Taking Root in Provence is the story of their slow integration into the French mainstream — both easier and more difficult than expected but ultimately successful.
In a series of vignettes Anne-Marie Simons gives us a warts-and-all picture of life among the French and with warmth and humor shares her lessons learned. Contrary to most publications about Provence, this book focuses on life in the city rather than the quiet countryside, and promises to be both informative and revealing to those who want to spend more than a passing holiday here.
For this part of her tour, I asked Anne-Marie if she would treat us to a bit more about her life in Aix-En-Provence. Enjoy!
At first glance, Aix-en-Provence is paradise. At least for this retiree. It has beauty, culture, an enviable climate, daily markets, is well located for international travel and lives at a pleasant pace. So far, so delicious. Yet, there are those who say: “But what do you DO there?”
The short answer would be “everything you do minus your job” but that does not say it all. We do as the locals do (given our intended goal of total integration), and that means that we go to market every day (instead of the supermarket once a week) and spend a lot of time cooking − from scratch, of course, including soups, stews and other slow-cooked food. We give a lot of dinner parties and are invited to dinner at a lot of friends’ houses since that is where social life takes place in France: à table. We go to movies a lot, often in the afternoons (cool in summer), because we live in a movie-mad town and have three cinemas with a total of 20 theatres in the old center close to home. I love to read and spend a lot of time hanging out in one of the five bookstores in the city center, and at various book fairs in the surrounding countryside where I sometimes appear as author but rarely sell because nobody speaks English. No matter, I love the fraternity of writers and marvel at the crowds who attend, even in the smallest villages. And of course, we walk everywhere in town since everything essential (food, entertainment, doctor, dentist, etc.) can be reached on foot. The car stays in the garage, reserved for out-of-town use only.
So – looking at this list – most of the time we do nothing extraordinary but take more time doing everyday things that feel and taste better than before, when they were done on the run and without enthusiasm.
Contrary to our working days in Washington where we spent weekends and vacations resting up from heavy work schedules, our summers in Provence are busy, not to say hectic, what with the July opera festival in Aix and the theatre festival in Avignon that get our full attention, as well as visits to and from friends who descend on Provence in summer. Culture blooms everywhere in this season, with concerts on village squares, in churches and chapels, or in castle courtyards. But high culture co-exists very happily with folklore here, and both draw equally big crowds.
Our Mediterranean climate and the French tendency to celebrate everything (harvest, solstice, animals, saints, foods) with a “festival” makes for many a weekend throughout the year with a festival to attend: olive, wheat or grape harvests, truffles, goats, specialty foods like calissons in Aix and navettes in Marseilles, any number of saints, and of course the famous chickpea; they all have their own celebration. And who would want to miss the Chickpea Festival?
Traditions are strong in France, and even though this is officially a lay country there is no lack of religious celebrations where the local saint’s statue gets carried around the village, followed by the notables and the Confrérie des Vignerons in official dress with tasting cups around their neck, a few Camargue cowboys on white horses, some beautifully dressed Arlésiennes in open coaches, and the traditional fife and drum band with dancers in Provençal costume. With lots of food on hand and wine à volonté, the idea is to Eat, Drink and Be Merry. France is unthinkable without it.
These festivities lose some of their charm if you don’t speak French, as does the daily market where nothing is bought or sold without a chat or at least a bit of advice. “So how was yesterday’s lapin? See? What did I tell you?” After all, it’s more than food you buy here; it’s tradition, a way of life, a mutually respectful peasant-bourgeois exchange that has changed little over time.
After the years of hard work and stress it takes to arrive at retirement, what greater reward than to slow down and have the time to enjoy your hobbies and the local offerings. If you are lucky enough to live in a place with good weather, good friends, good food and good healthcare, I would say: Grab that brass ring! Nothing lasts forever.
Thanks, Anne-Marie, and come back for a visit any time!
Anne-Marie will send a copy of Taking Root in Provence to a lucky winner. Leave a comment below and one name will be randomly drawn … AND the draw is international! Bonne Chance!
There are going to be many excellent posts from Anne-Marie and opportunities to win a copy of Taking Root in Provence at the other websites on the tour. Check out the schedule below! Keep entering and hopefully you will win a copy. I love this book!
VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR SCHEDULE
Monday, Nov 25
Guest-post + Giveaway at Patricia Sands’ Blog
Tuesday, Nov 26
Review + Giveaway at The French Village Diaries
Thursday, Nov 28
Highlights at Words And Peace
Friday, Nov 29
Review + Giveaway at Turning The Pages
Saturday, Nov 30
Review + Excerpt at Jorie Loves A Story
Her Argentine husband, Oscar, left a career in international development banking to become an expert on Provençal cooking and other local pleasures.
Buy directly from the publisher
Buy on Amazon
As many of you know, I am leading a women’s tour of the south of France in June 2014 and this book is right up at the top of my “Recommended Reading” list. Besides that, come hell or high water, I am going to meet and spend time with Anne-Marie when I am in Aix in June. We had to cancel a lunch last October (my fault!) and that’s not going to happen again!
After you read Taking Root in Provence, please take a minute to leave a review on the links above. It’s so important for authors to receive reader reviews and we are often shy about asking. Merci mille fois!