Taking Root in Provence by Anne-Marie Simons ~ Interview and Giveaway !

Taking Root in Provence by Anne-Marie Simons ~ Interview and Giveaway !

Today I have a treat, not only a book review and a giveaway for one paperback copy, but an author interview – and it is all about France.  Be sure to check the other tour stops, and don’t forget to enter for your own copy of the book in paperback form.  Open Internationally, this drawing will close at 23.59 on 4 December, 2013. All times are EDT.

Book Review:

I have family scattered throughout France, and Provence is one of those places that you really do want to see: from the light that informs the artwork of VanGogh, to the Santons, the food and the uniquely Provençal culture and attitude, there are no easy descriptions or complete approach. Provence is as much a feeling as a region, and Anne-Marie Simons manages to incorporate that unique feel while presenting information in a clear and concise, and often poetic way. 

While people may be familiar with A Year In Provence by Peter Mayle, this book takes you further into the nuts and bolts of relocation: the frustrations that you may encounter when dealing with government agencies, and that peculiar attitude that is so prevalent: vie quotidienne n’est pas nécessairement formidable mais chaque expérience faut le déguster (While daily life may not always be wonderful, every experience should be savored).   And savor life they do, from choosing the meal for the day, to the changes in light and season, even to the opportunity to stop and chat in the market or government offices.   Nothing is fast, nothing is hurried and everything deserves the proper attention.

So, for Americans not used to the slower way of progressing, this book will also serve as a primer to learn to relax, to not expect it yesterday yet remain hopeful for tomorrow.  With insertions of recipes, some easily converted using ingredients available …but you can also take advantage of several ‘from France’ websites that will allow you to ship in many ingredients.

With her unique style that combines information and wit with some lovely imagery, Anne-Marie Simons has brought Provence to readers, and undoubtedly encouraged many more visitors.   A lovely aid when planning your next trip or move, Taking Root in Provence is full of useful information and vignettes that will excite wanderlust in even the most sedentary being.

Taking Root in Provence by Anne-Marie Simons ~ Interview and Giveaway !

Title: Taking Root in Provence
Author: Anne-Marie Simons
Genre: Non Fiction, Travelogue
Published by: Distinction Press
Source: Publisher
Pages: 212
Rated: five-stars
Get Your Copy: Amazon Audible
See this Title on Goodreads

They agreed on one thing before retiring-they would travel, sniff around at other countries and other lifestyles, and discover along the way which place came closest to "having it all." There they would drop anchor and go with the flow. The going has been good, so much so that these former Washingtonians have decided to make France their permanent home. They chose the city over the countryside and took on the challenges and pleasures of Aix-en-Provence, where they have been doing as the locals do for more than a decade now.

The daily markets, strikes, gypsies, curious villagers, ancient traditions, truffle cheaters, pagan and religious celebrations, secret swimming spots in the middle of Marseilles-it's all there to be suffered and enjoyed. Not to mention an interest in food that borders on the obsessive. Add good weather, a pinch of hedonism, a dose of culture, and it all adds up to that elusive prize: quality of life.
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.

A copy of this title was provided via Publisher for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.


Giveaway:   Open Internationally: enter here to win your own paperback copy of the book Taking Root in Provence by Anne-Marie Simons.  Sponsored by Publisher and France Book Tours, the drawing ends at 23.59 on 4 December (EST). 



Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Let’s just get started~
Most people will be familiar with Peter Mayle’s title A Year in Provence. Did that have any influence, positive or negative, in your looking to Provence as a site to relocate to?

I greatly enjoyed Peter Mayle’s book “A Year in Provence” which I read when I was still living in Washington, but it had no bearing on my decision to move to Provence. My husband and I had agreed to move to Europe after retirement, and Provence turned out to be closest to the conditions we had set. We quickly chose France over Spain and Italy, and then compared Toulouse, Montpellier, Nice and Aix-en-Provence. Aix won.
Once we had settled in here, I started writing “bulletins” to my friends, describing our new life here with an emphasis on the differences with our American life. These bulletins became quite popular and gave me the idea of bundling them into a book.

Being an expat can be an interesting subject for people you meet. Are you ever asked about your experiences while living in another country – for example if the news stories are correct, or impressions given are true or more exaggerated?

No, I am not questioned about the different lifestyles I have experienced elsewhere but in discussions with French friends the subject of politics often comes up, especially in the context of the constant cut-backs that the European Union requires. In some areas, the contrast with America could not be greater. The French are used to long vacations (a minimum of 5 weeks/year) and very generous social benefits (nearly-free education and healthcare, job protection, early retirement etc.) which they have come to consider as their due. This system is very expensive and unsustainable, so cutbacks have become necessary but are fought every step of the way. When as a “former American” I sometimes say that a bit less vacation or a small reduction in some benefit is not the end of the world, the reaction is often “We don’t want to become another America”. In fact, the general feeling here is “America is a great place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there.” France has a socialist government and the French cannot imagine a life that is not protected from the cradle to the grave, as their parents’ and grandparents’ lives have been. That said, they certainly do not hate Americans or other foreigners; they just don’t want to live like them and are convinced that the French lifestyle is superior. It is also noteworthy that the French have a great sense of solidarity and that they do not begrudge the poor or sharing with them (in fact, there is a “solidarity tax” in France). Being rich in France is not admired as it might be in the US, and rich people usually do not display their wealth. When the inevitable comparisons are made with America, where socialism is often confused with communism, the French are invariably pro-socialist and anti-capitalist as a philosophy even though they love American films and many of their television programs are of American origin. When it comes to American “oddities” such as TV preachers or the Tea Party, I have given up discussing these and classify them as extremism and beyond me (who can explain the Tea Party anyway?).

You are in the center of the Santons area, I’ve collected them for a while – do you have a collection or a particular favorite?

I do not collect Santons, but of all the figurines I prefer the windswept shepherd with his long coat and staff leaning into the wind.

What is your favorite season, the one that you can’t help noticing the beauty and remark upon it?

As for my favorite season, can I have two? I love the spring for the particular colors in the fields and the slow re-awakening of nature. In Provence we have lots of bright-yellow fields of rape often bordered or interspersed with red poppies. The mistral can blow in any season and gives us the spotless blue skies I have never seen anywhere else. These bright colors are a beautiful photo opportunity and still stop me in my tracks.
I also love the fall, especially for the soft light, the grape harvest, the huge variety of mushrooms piled high in market stalls, the olive picking activity with attendant festivals, the first truffles, etc. Many of these “firsts” come with folkloric feasts with tambourine bands, dancers in Provençal costume, local food and lots of wine. Always joyful occasions where young and old and native and foreign mix happily.

Food is a large part of French life, and Provence has so many wonderful traditions that all focus on the fresh and bold flavors. What are your favorite local dishes ?

My favorite local dishes are the slowly cooked ones, such as Daube de Boeuf or Soupe au Pistou. They are not difficult to prepare but both require lots of time. I believe you should be able to get the ingredients anywhere. For Daube you need the toughest part of the cow (cheeks or shanks) which after marinating overnight and then cooking for hours in red wine becomes so tender that you can cut it with a fork. For Soupe au Pistou you need red and white fresh beans in the pod as well as fresh green beans, plus a number of other ingredients that are commonly available. That, plus hours of cooking, provides a delicious soup that is a meal in itself. Epaule d’Agneau Confite is another favorite of mine: slowly cooked lamb shoulder that is very flavorful and tender enough to cut with a fork. Lamb is better than beef here, and these dishes are very Provençal. Their recipes are in my book (compliments of my husband).

Moving from a very fast paced and seemingly never closed business attitude of the US – what were the most difficult adjustments to make ?

A big adjustment in the beginning was the odd working hours of the French shops. Here in the south, shops generally close at least two hours for lunch and during the hot summer months this may go up to four hours (noon-4PM). When they reopen at 4 PM they may stay open until 7 or 8 PM. These long breaks serve for lunch and a bit of a siesta. Many banks also close at lunch time, as do real estate offices. When we were looking for an apartment in Aix, the first realtor we went to around noon asked if we could come back at 3 PM because he was closing for lunch! Of course, once you know this you simply do as the locals do. No big deal.

Is there a favorite dish or item that you think would easily be recreated outside of Provence, and can you share a recipe?

Favorite dish? See #5 above. You may add Brandade de Morue to that (cod fish spread) which I love as an “apéro” to accompany a drink before dinner. It’s easy to make (see book for recipe) and I believe salted dry cod is available everywhere.

Is there anything that, despite loving where you are, you still miss or long for?

One thing I miss (still) is a certain efficiency. In America everything is possible, here everything is complicated (how’s that for generalizing). There are more government regulations than you can shake a stick at, even if few of them affect you directly. The numerous strikes were a nuisance at first, but you quickly get used to them. Things like forced shop closings on Sunday are no more than a minor irritation to me, especially since nobody is forced to work on Sunday but those who want to are not allowed. Sunday rest is sacred “family time” even for those who don’t have families – such as students who would like to work on Sundays to earn a bit of money. Because of the current high unemployment and generally weak economy in France, this Sunday issue is again being discussed in Parliament but so far the government is maintaining its position.
One other thing I miss – but not too much – is a true “American breakfast” of bacon and eggs and maple syrup. As soon as we arrive on American soil (just a few more days now) my husband and I run for the first diner and a big American breakfast.

You have to choose a “you must see” list for visitors to Provence…what would you include?

A must-do for visitors to Provence? Read TAKING ROOT IN PROVENCE first (ha-ha). It actually depends a lot on the type of visit: cultural? rest? active holiday (cycling, hiking), eating? Provence has it all and these activities can be googled. I am assuming that those who come from far away would at least want to visit the cultural highlights such as Aix, Avignon, Arles, perhaps Marseille (people are a bit scared but there’s no need), St. Rémy de Provence and some places on the Riviera (Nice, Cannes, Antibes). Don’t forget some villages (Lourmarin, Bonnieux, Lacoste with its American ‘Savannah School of Design’) in the Luberon area, etc. Try to enjoy the differences, i.e. do not look for the best hamburger or fast American service. Slow down and go with the flow; you’ll be back in the rat race soon enough.

Provence won out over all locations, but if you were planning to relocate, where would you go next – or would you?

Where to move to? This one stumps me. I truly don’t know, having found my paradise on earth. We have found everything we were looking for, and more, right here and decided years ago that this would be our final stop. I don’t expect that anything or anyone will change that.

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions!


About Anne-Marie Simons

Anne-Marie Simons has worked as a translator, teacher, journalist, sportswriter (covering Formula 1 races), and director of corporate communications.

Her Argentine husband, Oscar, left a career in international development banking to become an expert on Provençal cooking and other local pleasures.

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