Taking Root in Provence

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Ever wonder what it is like to live in Provence? Yes, we've all read Peter Mayle's books, and dreamt of moving there. But to actually do it? What's it like? We recently spoke with Anne-Marie Simons, author of Taking Root in Provence. Taking Root in Provence is a dream of a book - slowly going through each season in Aix-en-Provence, complete with festivals, daily routines, and the joys of life. We learn of hot summers, markets, traditional horsemen, festivals, strikes, Cezanne, wine, food, mistrals, opera, and more.


Each chapter is an ode to living in Provence - and it's not all smooth roads, as Anne-Marie ably discusses the challenges in living in a different country (with a new language!). This 'year in the life' book is such a fascinating glimpse into living in Provence - it inspires, teaches, and brings such joy in a life well-lived.


Anne-Marie Simons


Anne-Marie's life journey ranges from Holland to Paris, Brussels to the US and Canada, and back to Europe, finding a place in Provence. Anne-Marie has worked as a translator, teacher, journalist, sportswriter covering Formula One races, and director of corporate communications. Her Argentine husband left a career in international development banking to become an expert on Provençal cooking and other local pleasures. His recipes are featured at the end of the book - and you'll for sure want to dig in! I've already made the Torta Pasqualina (Spinach Pie) and it was delicious!



We had a chance to chat with Anne-Marie about her book, moving to Provence, and more. Here's what she had to say...


WE: Please tell us about your book, Taking Root in Provence...

AS: What to say about my book? It is the story of our life in Aix-en-Provence and our slow but total integration into French life. We now live like them, eat like them, entertain like them and (try to) speak like them. This is what we set out to do and we feel that we have been successful. Many of our foreign friends, however, live in pretty houses in the countryside, with pool, olive trees, rows of blooming lavender, and constant house guests. They are having a perfectly wonderful time, mostly with their guests and other expatriates, but few of them have learned to speak French or tried to mix with the locals. It is a matter of personal choice. Both their choice and ours are valid, but it is good to determine in advance what you want to get out of this French retirement. I know of some expats who sold their house after a couple of years because they did not " meet anyone" and found the French distant. This is a wrong perception: the French are not distant, but if you do not approach them they will not approach you.


WE: What was the genesis of your move to Provence?

AS: We moved to Provence because it was our favorite vacation spot but also because we felt that all around us in Washington people did not like the " dolce farniente" that we liked. In our view, doing nothing is not a waste of time; it is a way of passing the time differently. After long years of hard work we do enjoy taking 2-hour lunches, a siesta now and then, going to the movies without taking the car out, buying our fresh fruits, vegetables and fish at the market every day, having frequent dinners with friends at their place or ours. At lunchtime, our American friends start looking at their watch after 45 minutes (yes, even the retired ones) and are out the door after one hour, and even dinners have to start early and end by 10 PM because the guests have to get up early the next morning. I know I am generalizing and that Washington is an all-work-no-play town, but you might say that we were interested in playing and found nobody to play with. Europe has a different rhythm that suits us very well.


WE: What led you to travel writing?

AS: I don't consider myself a travel writer as such, but I wanted to describe our new life to our American friends and emphasize the differences in lifestyle. I would e-mail stories regularly and after a while some friends suggested that I should bundle these stories in a book. Once I had a sufficient number of stories, that is what I did.


WE: How can travelers best dig deeply into a culture?

AS: Most travelers choose a country that they already know something about that attracted them. They can then read guidebooks for practical tips and itineraries. Those who really want to dig deep into a culture should go beyond travelogs and read the history of the place, the literature of the place, learn the language and go as far as their interests take them. In some cases, this will mean that they move to the place and experience the local life in body and mind. You can' t go much deeper than that.


WE: What are your favorite places to visit?

AS: My personal favorites are cities like Marseilles, Toulouse (only the old center), Montpellier, Nice, St. Tropez off season, and Arles or Avignon for different things (bullfights or theater). All these places are within easy driving distance from Aix. And of course, Paris, which takes only 3 hours to get to by TGV (fast train). There are many other French cities I have enjoyed visiting, but one of the advantages of Aix is that it is located within driving distance from Barcelona, Spain (4-5 hours), Genoa or Turin, Italy (4 hours), Milan (5 hrs) etc. Different cultures, different foods, different languages just hours away. Moreover, from Marseilles you can take a ferry boat to Corsica and Sardinia, or an overnight ferry from Toulon to Rome. It is a wonderful way to travel, taking your own car with you.


WE: What is your favorite thing about living in Provence?

AS: Provence seems to have everything: good weather, good food, friendly people, a relaxed pace, and great natural and man-made beauty. It has beaches, mountains, time-forgotten villages, sophisticated towns and glitzy resorts. Truly something for everyone, but to enjoy all these gifts to the fullest I would highly recommend to those who mean to retire and live there year-round that they learn the language and connect with the local people. Perhaps rent for a year, perfect your French, familiarize yourself with the local customs and adopt them, then decide whether or not you could live there for the long term. If you decide to do so, you will find the French quite open to other cultures and happy to welcome you in their midst. They might even brag about their new "ami américain."



WE: Thanks so very much, Anne-Marie. I love this book - it gives such a sense of place - and WHAT a place!



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Note: We received a review copy of Taking Root in Provence - thank you!