How to Make French Friends

Val and I are lucky–some of our best friends are French, people we’ve met while living in Provence.

We are sometimes asked, “How did you do it? Aren’t the French kind of standoffish?”

The answer is Non! There are wonderful people in France just like everywhere.

Having lived abroad twice now, we’ve learned a few things about making friends in a new country. Anyone can do it! If you’d like to know how, check out my article at The Planet D.

Ancient Treasures of Arles

What’s 2,000 years old, 100 feet long and used to float?

If you guessed a Roman barge, you win!  And you can see one now in the Arles Museum of Antiquity.

Arles was once an important Roman town, a trading center with a major port. Barges with cargo from all over the Empire plied the waters of the Rhone River.

Around 2,000 years ago one of those barges sank. It lay there quietly, covered by mud, until scientists discovered it about ten years ago.

Read the rest of the amazing story of how this barge was recovered and restored in Perfectly Provence.

Book Review–Drawing Lessons by Patricia Sands

SYNOPSIS

The author of the Love in Provence series returns to the South of France with a poignant portrait of a woman who must learn how to create a new life for herself.

Sixty-two-year-old Arianna arrives in the South of France for a two-week artists’ workshop full of anticipation but burdened by guilt. Back home in Toronto, she has been living with the devastating diagnosis of her husband’s dementia and the heartbreak of watching the man she has loved for decades slip away before her eyes. What does her future hold without Ben? Before her is a blank canvas.

Encouraged by her family to take some time for herself, she has traveled to Arles to set up her easel in the same fields of poppies and sunflowers that inspired Van Gogh. Gradually, she rediscovers the inner artist she abandoned long ago. Drawing strength from the warm companionship and gentle wisdom of her fellow artists at the retreat (as well as the vitality of guest lecturer Jacques de Villeneuve, an artist and a cowboy) Arianna searches her heart for permission to embrace the life in front of her and, like the sunflowers, once again face the light.

MY REVIEW

At an artists’ retreat just outside of the ancient Roman city of Arles, Arianna begins to rediscover her love of painting…and of life. She is helped along by her fellow artists, a colorful crew that becomes a supportive family over the course of the book. My favorite character was Bertram, a rather pompous Englishman who reveals surprising depth as the story unfolds.

This is a tale of love, grief and renewal, brilliantly told. All of us who have lost a loved one can understand the confusion and darkness that cloud Arianna’s mind. But slowly, petit à petit, she opens herself to new possibilities, connecting with her newfound friends and allowing the artist within her to reawaken. It’s a beautiful book, a mix of sadness, joy and discovery, as Arianna “reaches for that light in Provence.” By the end, her life has begun to move forward again.

I live part of the year in Provence and I tip my cap to Patricia Sands for her magnificent descriptions. She does a masterful job of capturing the glorious colors, sights and smells of this most beautiful part of France. From the weekly outdoor markets to the charming hilltop villages to the wild horses of the Camargue, Sands makes you feel as if you are in Provence. And she gives the mouth-watering Provençal food a starring role, reflecting the way that so much of French life revolves around the table.

Highly recommended.

Drawing Lessons is available from Amazon.

The French National Sport: Protesting

France is a very athletic nation, but is there a French national sport? There are certainly plenty of contenders.

It could be cycling. Or maybe soccer. And don’t forget pétanque–you get to drink pastis while you play! What could be more French than that?

But no. The real French National Sport is…Protesting. Millions of French people participate! And they love to play dress-up when they do.

You can read the whole article at Frenchly.

Fear the Beard

Photo courtesy of Mike Mozart

Once when I was in France my beard trimmer broke, so I went to buy a new one.

I found the tondeuse I was looking for in the same aisle that had hair dryers and curling irons and things like that.  Except that the beard trimmers were kept in a locked cabinet. What’s up with that, I wondered.

I tracked down a clerk and asked her to unlock the cabinet so I could get the one I wanted, one that only cost about $20.  She took it out but wouldn’t give it to me –

No, no, that would not be secure Monsieur!  Beard trimmers must follow a special security procedure!

Things went downhill from there.

You can read the whole story at My French Life.

Nutella: The Key to French Greatness?

Americans love peanut butter, just as Australians love Vegemite, and Brits love Marmite. We all have our national favorites.

For the French it’s Nutella, that sweet chocolate-hazelnut spread that kids grow up eating at breakfast. So it was shocking when French philosopher Régis Debray attacked Nutella , causing a national uproar. He might as well have gone after motherhood and the 35-hour workweek while he was at it.

Author and professor Mara Goyet responded with an essay explaining the ways in which Nutella is, in fact, at the very heart of French civilization. It’s very insightful and…hilarious!

You can read the full article at Frenchly.

The Five Sons of Carcassonne

One of the most impressive sites in France is Carcassonne, a beautifully preserved medieval fortress and one that is still imposing today.   For anyone who has seen the mighty walls of la Cité, it is easy to understand that it was once considered impregnable.

In the mountains nearby are the Five Sons of Carcassonne, mighty fortresses that once protected the French border with Spain.  They are an easy day trip from Carcassonne and definitely worth a visit.

You can read more about the Five Sons at A French Collection.

Bill Nye the Science Guy Explains the French To You

You might know Bill Nye The Science Guy from his TV shows. He’s kind of goofy and is always explaining things like magnetism and volcanoes and how blood flows through the body. And he’s a big fan of bow ties.

But you wouldn’t think of him as someone who would give you deep insight into the French. That would be the Existentialism Guy or the Postmodernism Guy, not the Science Guy, right?

Wrong.

You can read the full article at Frenchly.

Secrets of St.-Rémy: The Best Place for a Picnic

Just ten minutes from the center of St.-Rémy is a shady picnic spot known only to the locals. It sits along the shores of a lake created thousands of years ago by the Romans.

When hordes of tourists crowd into town, it’s nice to take a break in a quiet spot. So grab some wine and cheese and let’s go!

The Lac du Peiroou is a small reservoir, the result of a dam that spans two rocky outcroppings near the ancient city of Glanum. While the present dam was built a century ago, the original dam dates back to the first century B.C! The Romans put it there to supply water to Glanum and it may have been the first vaulted (curved) dam ever built.

The dam is at the bottom of the V

The lake has a wide, grassy area at one end, with trees that provide welcome shade on a sunny Provençal day. It’s the perfect place to spread out a blanket and enjoy a lazy afternoon. And stocking up for your picnic is easy – you can get everything you need at St.-Rémy’s Jardin des Alpilles. 

Dogs love it, too!

You can splash around in the small beach area to cool off, but don’t try catching any fish – you need a special permit for that.   So just relax, read a book and think about where you are going to have dinner.

 Is that a fish?

 

Getting There

Head south out of St.-Rémy in the direction of Glanum. About half a mile past the Tourist Office make a right turn onto Avenue Antoine de la Salle. There’s a small sign marking the route to Lac du Peiroou but go slowly and look carefully because it’s easy to miss.

After about a quarter of a mile, the road will fork and there won’t be any signs telling you which way to go. But have no fear! Turn left and go about 2/3 of a mile. At this point there will be a little road leading off to the left and you’ll see a small parking lot. The lake is just beyond.

If you drive, be careful along the last stretch because the road is narrow and a bit twisty. You can also bike or walk to the lake but beware – there are some hilly spots that you might want to avoid on a hot day!

What Would You Like to Read?

Hello!

One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence has been out for six months and has been gratifyingly well received.  Thanks to everyone who has read it and an extra-special thanks to those of you who have written a review.  I really appreciate it!

I’m planning to write a second book, continuing the story of the adventures Val and I have been enjoying in France.  Before I do, I would love to get your thoughts.  I have a few questions and would be very grateful if you would let me know what you think.

 

What did you enjoy about One Sip at a Time?

What would you have liked to be different in the book?

What did you expect but not find in the book?

What would you like to see in a second book about our life in France? How would you like it to be different from the first book (if at all)?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.  Or you can email me directly at author@keithvansickle.com.

Thank you!

Keith