If it’s Friday, it must be France …
It’s a pleasure to welcome Anne-Marie Simons to this spot today. She and her husband, Oscar, left Washington, DC, in 1998 in search of the perfect place to retire. They settled in beautiful Aix-En-Provence and are living my dream.
Anne-Marie is a vibrant and energetic woman and no wonder! Her resumé includes positions as a translator, teacher, journalist, sportswriter (covering Formula 1 races), and director of corporate communications. Today she blogs at PROVENCE TODAY where she keeps her readers up to date on the latest happenings in France. Drop in to visit and mention I sent you. And Oscar? Oo-la-la … after a career in international development banking, Oscar has become an expert on Provençal cooking!
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!
Anne-Marie has written a delightful book of vignettes of life in France ~ TAKING ROOT IN PROVENCE. Reading this book is great way to take your time and be immersed in the lifestyle, customs and quirks of living in France. Here is an excerpt from the chapter Vive La Différence.
Anne-Marie said, “I thought this might be a good choice, not because it is so revealing but because it concerns little everyday differences in such areas as grooming, eating, and a certain view of the world.”
The interest in the body, for instance – particularly by women – is different here than elsewhere. You try to make it look as good as you can, maintain it by putting healthy food into it, and show it off proudly and seductively. It is a subtle game of drawing attention to it and pretending not to care; a certain well rehearsed nonchalance.
Seducing by your appearance, your cooking prowess, your intelligence, your sexiness is the overriding mission of the Frenchwoman that starts young and never ends. Common sense and practicality be damned if it does not look good, and a stressed-out Parisienne rushing to work would rather risk breaking a leg on her high heels than use those awful “American” running shoes. There are more hairdressers and nail salons here than I ever saw elsewhere and they are all doing well. And whenever the hard-working Frenchwoman has some breathing space she is likely to go to a spa for a session of aqua-gym, a massage, a facial, waxing, or nail care for that never-ending maintenance. The fad of anti-aging products, or lotions and creams that promise a flat stomach and a tight butt – they believe in it and buy it. Hope springs eternal, and the job is never done.
So much for the outside, but the inside is not forgotten – especially that most important organ of all: the stomach.
Cooking and enjoying food is placed above literacy (alright, not quite) and if you live here it is essential that you share that interest. I take a gym class twice a week and all we ever talk about is food and recipes. Oscar goes to the market every day where he picks up not only fresh foods but also cooking tips and recipes, and listens to long discussions about the regional differences of certain dishes. There is not a single meal with friends where we don’t talk about food, and with the same passion as Americans might reserve for baseball or football. Eating here is a sensuous activity which is meant to give pleasure rather than mere nourishment, and people spend vast amounts of time in preparing, testing, eating and discussing food.
Another great pastime in France is debating. No matter what the subject or who does the talking, everyone argues, questions, reasons and protests, from the intellectual to the laborer; and this happens in the street, on radio and on television where most debates end in a cacophony of voices where everyone talks at the same time and nobody listens. Rien de méchant; it’s just the way they are and if you think differently it must be because you are a foreigner and the French know they are superior. Ha-ha.
So what does it mean to us who settled here 15 years ago? We don’t notice the differences anymore and have become part of the local fabric by speaking the language and doing as they do – and doing just fine, thank you. So they have weird shopping hours and in summertime close from 12 to 4PM? We too like a siesta, either at home or in the movies. The streets in Aix are dirty with dog poop and discarded sandwich wrappers? Bitch about it but don’t expect it to change. The world will keep on turning. Life’s too short and there is still so much wine to be tried. There is plenty to enjoy: the climate, the lifestyle, the markets, the relaxed pace, the in-town movie theaters and bookshops, and the many cultural events throughout the year − both high (opera) and low (chickpea festival) culture. And of course the great natural beauty of Provence. But you knew that all along, didn’t you?
Do you have plans to live somewhere different one day or are you already living in the place of your dreams? Is there something new you would like to try when retirement beckons? I know this time of life seems a long way off for many of you, but for others of us the time is now. Dream on!
Excerpts from Taking Root in Provence often can be found on the fabulous Bonjour Paris website where I love to spend time reading and dreaming. In fact I have a post there today about a village I often visit when I’m in the neighbourhood. Pop on over and visit with me!
Bon weekend tout le monde!