Expat Living in France
Here are just a few anecdotes from the last month of my life in France as I try to navigate where I come from and where I live now. I love living in France, but sometimes you’ll have to allow me a little rant.
Before I discovered food, my first love was black and white portraiture. When I was 18, I spent a dreamy year living in Florence, Italy. Fresh out of high school, I applied to a small studio called The Florence School of Arts. I arrived with a large suitcase and little idea of where I’d be living, what my classes would be or even how many other students there were.
First to arrive, I wrestled with the medieval key to the apartment and though exhausted, set out to explore the streets of Florence. I found a pizzeria and ordered an entire pizza. I picked one at random, not being able to read the Italian menu. An aubergine covered pizza was placed in front of me, dripping in olive oil. I slowly ate the entire pizza, alone in that pizzeria watching the elegant Florentines on the streets. At first, I was confused by the distinct taste of the pizza. Then, I succumbed to it’s delicious perfection. After that, I could never fully appreciate an American style pizza ever again.
When I got back to the apartment, the other students had arrived. There were only three. Canadian, Irish, Filippino and Belgian (via Sierra Leone) we were certainly an international group. It was the start of a year of history classes that took place in the streets or in museums, fending off persistent Italian men, discovering just how good pasta can be, and a lot of art making. It was wonderful.
It seems my love of markets has always been there, as I spent most of my time wandering them with a small camera. I asked all of these obliging subjects if I could take their photo before I did so. It’s only polite. I asked in Italian. Some days, I would set out to take portraits and approaching each person I would try and work up the courage to ask. It often occurred that I returned back to the apartment on the Arno without having taken a single frame.
Early in my discovery of photography, these portraits have a candid nature that I would find difficult to achieve today. They’re imperfect and I think, better for it. The were taken with film. The negatives were scanned so that I can share them with you here.
Obviously, I found it easier to approach men. Those Italian boys… how could you not love them?
One of the ways that you’re forced to adapt to Provence is living by the seasons. At first, it was awe-inspiring to see the kafuffle when certain fruits and veggies came into season. The debate in the street as to when they’re really ready… Now, I wouldn’t be able to live any other way. It’s principle to eat fruits that are only in season, even if they are available in some large supermarkets all year round.
I was recently in the States and I must say that even organic, highly priced fruit specimens had no flavour compared to the fruit here. I was in Florida! However, here, just like in the days of old, people only eat strawberries for about 6 weeks of the year. It’s worth the wait. The trick is to eat so many that you’re sick of them. No easy feat in my case.
On the 8th of April in Carpentras, you’ll find a market celebrating everything to do with the strawberry. I suspected to find all manner of products made from strawberries, the truth is that the basic ingredient is not mangled and coaxed into flavouring things it shouldn’t. You’ll find simply: enormous baskets of strawberries, jam, juice, and some elegant sugary confections. The local farmers sell directly to you and especially for this fair, at a lower price.
Gorge yourselves! You know you want to.
I came across this document in a pile of papers in a french flea market. It’s dated 1896. I find details like this really indicative of their time and culture. For example, the imagery of a military hat, canon, soldiers, rifle, and sword are most certainly indicative of their time. The inclusion of factory and ‘wagon,’ an English word?, point to the industrial revolution. Then again, both words are surprisingly still there in the modern chart. Can anyone think of a French word that starts with W?
I’d love to know who decides which words are chosen for these types of things. Are they chosen ‘par hazard’ or are they given much thought? It’s interesting to note that the first 2 letters in the modern French chart below use the same words. Of all the words in the world!
Do you know all of these? I must admit that I had to look a couple of them up for their exact definition. Even then, it’s tricky as many of the above images are toys.
Punnets full of the best tasting strawberries you’ve ever imagined have arrived at the local veg shop. There are new leaves on the trees and yes, it’s my birthday month!
The locals say that the season officially starts at Easter. To mark this, it seems that many events have been moved this year to easter weekend. Personally, I’ll be having fun making springy bouquets at the local flower shop.
Here’s my list of the best events happening this upcoming month in Provence. I’m so excited for the warmer weather. Are you?
The pottery market at Bonnieux is one of the many events happening this upcoming Easter weekend in Provence. This is one of my favourite pottery markets not only for the artists but for the location. Bonnieux is one of the hilltop towns located in the lower Luberon. It overlooks Menerbes, the town made famous by Peter Mayle‘s book A Year in Provence.
It’s been 2 years since I’ve launched Curious Provence!
A blog takes a lot of love but reading your comments and emails I must say that it’s worth it. Thank you for your support!
I’ve been wanting to address something for a while. There’s something you may not know about me. I’m terrible at lying. I would even venture to say that I just can’t do it. This is a virtue, though, as you can imagine, has gotten me into trouble. With age, I’m learning that lying can be beneficial. Especially for employers and the elderly. Kindness and lying sometimes go hand in hand. Anyways, I digress…
What I wanted to say is that I promise that you won’t find me promoting a product or activity on my site, or Instagram, that I don’t think is worth it. I get a lot of companies asking me to advertise their products without even testing them. I find this fundamentally wrong and quite frankly, unfathomable. Thankfully, in Provence, there are so many people that take their craft, no matter if it’s wine or woodworking, very seriously.
When it comes to restaurants; I just don’t recommend the ones where I’ve had bad experiences. Eating out is soo subjective. I need to eat somewhere a couple times at least until I decide. Anything you wanted me to do a review on?
There’s a theory with immigrants I’ve noticed. I wish I had known it before, though it may not have improved my patience. Apparently, once you’ve been in a new country for three years, it’s only then that you start to settle and find your place. I must say, it’s true.
It hasn’t been easy.
However, now that I’m reading French books (it seems I somehow got by without reading them in French class at school?) and I’m starting to make real friends, life is finally starting to make more sense.
Last Saturday Robin and I took a guided tour of Aix en Provence with Frédéric Paul.
A rising television star and truly passionate about history, Frédéric aims to share insights into the history of his native Provence. From Toulon, he’s a local on a mission hoping to spread appreciation for the little stories that make cities come alive.
Through Le Visible est Invisible (the visible is invisible), Frédéric explains the history of curious public art in the city as well as architectural details. I love this type of thing. I find that in cities like Aix en Provence, or perhaps any city with a lot of history, one can wander the streets and find all kinds of curious details. Remember to look up!
Frédéric offers 2 tours a week leaving from the tourist office in Aix en Provence. You can buy tickets directly from the Tourism office. You have a choice of three different types of tours including The Hidden Details of the Old Town, Aix off the Beaten Track, Aix Antique as well as the Historic Figures of Aix en Provence. These tours cost only 9 euros.
Otherwise, Frédéric also offers private tours that are very flexible. He can pick you up from your hotel and you can cover any type of history about Aix, Marseille or Toulon that interests you. His only requirement is that the tour takes at least two hours in order to do justice to the city. This costs 150€.
It’s a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. When on a tour, the ambling pace forces you to really take notice of the many fountains of Aix that seem to appear in every corner. It’s the perfect dose of history combined with an appreciation for architecture and art.
Frédéric has worked in many sectors but has seemed to find the good life in being a tour guide. His days are spent sharing his passion and wandering around a beautiful town. How could life be bad?!
I was interviewed last year by Adam Rozenhart, who hosts The Expats podcast, where he informally interviews Canadian citizens that have moved abroad.
Why would one do such a thing? Listen to my (perhaps embarrassingly giggly) interview and find out:
It’s amazing to find how much our situation changes here in France. We’re becoming more and more settled. I don’t think I could imagine moving back now.
Wondering what I do when I feel homesick? I take pride in my Canadian-ness and jive to this video: