Mes chers! Have I mentioned before France is one of my favorite places in the world? The people! The fromage! The fashion! Which is why it is my pleasure to introduce my interview of the week with the beautiful and witty Sara Louise, an American who moved with her hunky French husband to a tiny village in Provence, one of the most desirable and fabulous addresses in the world. She blogs all about it HERE. Allons-y mes chers…
Charles (C): Did you ever imagine you would end up in France, or was this one of Destiny’s little games she plays?
Sara Lousie (SL): Absolutely not! And honestly, a year before I moved here, if you had told me that I would fall in love with a Frenchman and move to a tiny village in Provence I probably would have laughed so hard I’d snort my martini out through my nose and fall off my bar stool. That said, when I was a little girl, I was obsessed with France (to the point of pretending to be French… beret anyone?) so maybe my little girl wishes just came true.
C: I understand that Provence, where you live, is a popular place for people on holiday and British people dream of retiring there. For the uninitiated what is it like?
SL: Provence is a pretty magical place, especially in the summertime when sleepy villages like mine wake up from their winter slumbers, and populations swell with tourists—my village’s winter population is about 250, it can reach 1000 during the summer… imagine if the population of your town quadrupled practically overnight. It’s pretty spectacular. Provence is quite large and areas can be very different from one another other. For example… the Côte d’Azur is impossibly glamorous—think Cannes, St. Tropez, and Monaco… and yes I know that Monaco is another country but it’s only a hop skip and a jump from Cannes. It’s full of yachts, Russian gazillionaires, beaches and the crystal Mediterranean. While where I live, the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and Vaucluse, is full of hilltop medieval villages perched high in the Luberon mountains and draped in history. This is the area that Peter Mayle wrote about in A Year in Provence, where the air is sweet with lavender, the Marquis de Sade resided for a spell, and also, where Popes lived for a time. Lots of history, lots of sights, and lots of sunshine… that’s what tourists are in for.
(Interview continues below picture of Provence lavender)
C: As much attention as haute couture and the Paris runways get, the times I’ve been to France I was impressed that many French people can simply throw something on and look smart. What are some things young women around you are wearing?
SL: I find this question to be quite funny because all of us, non-French people, grow up with this notion that all French people are incredibly chic. Well I’m here to tell you, it’s simply not true! Paris might be chic, but rural Provence is certainly not. Put it this way, I am definitely the reigning fashionista of my village and on about a one to ten chic meter, I’d give myself a seven (maybe an eight in my former city life). I can’t even wear my heels here without stares, and the day I showed up at a party in leather leggings… SCANDAL! But the one chic Parisian trend that you can see here is definitely black. You can always count on a French girl to wear lots and lots of black,
C: How noir! And slightly New York-y. By the way, there has been quite a lot of buzz about the French Women Don’t Get Fat book. How much truth is there in this?
SL: I have a saying… “French women don’t get fat, but women who move here do”—and you would to if you were surrounded by baguettes, cheese, and wine cheaper than water. Basically it comes down to this… snacking. French women don’t snack. They eat a very small breakfast, have their main meal for lunch—because they can with their long two hour lunch breaks—and a small meal for dinner. That’s it. And this starts at a young age. I have an American friend that lives in Montpellier, she has a nine-year old daughter. The daughter had a French friend over after school one day. My friend asked the girls if they would like something to eat. The little French girl looked at the clock to see what time it was, and because it was not a breakfast, lunch or dinner time, she turned down the snack. The little American girl didn’t turn down the snack, and I probably wouldn’t have either, because I listen to my stomach not to the clock. And that is why French women don’t get fat. Mystery solved.
C: So basically if I lived in France, I’d become a blubbery sea cow. Alors! Anyway, on a different subject, what are a couple of city breaks you recommend?
SL: My top suggestion… Avignon. Avignon is marvelous and often overlooked. There’s the Palais des Papes (Popes’ Palace), and the bridge the Pont d’Avignon—from the song ‘Sur le Pont d’Avignon.’ And down the road are the vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and also Pont du Gard—both the Palais des Papes and Pont du Gard are UNESCO world heritage sites. During July there’s a theatre festival and the whole city buzzes. Now if you’re looking for a bit more glitz, you can’t go wrong with Monaco, the principality of glamour and sad princesses. It’s worth the trip alone just to sip Champagne outside the casino in Monte Carlo and people watch. That’s my happy place.
(Interview continues below picture of Avignon!)
C: Speaking of Monaco, Europe has some micro-states such as San Marino and Andorra. Have you been to any of them? What goes on there?
SL: I wish I had an answer but I’ve never been to a micro-state even though San Marino and Andorra sound very appealing. When I moved to France, I was convinced that I would be everywhere—TGVing all over the place and off exploring every other weekend, but let me tell you something… the TGV is expensive. But I’ll get to a micro-state eventually, and then I’ll get back to you.
C: What are some aspects of American culture that French people respond to? Is there something surprising?
SL: Being from Texas gets me a response pretty much wherever I go, and France is no exception. They all want to know if I like George Bush and joke about J.R. (still after all these years!) and ask if everyone has a horse and a ranch. And the answer is yes, every single one of us has a horse and lives on a ranch.
But besides that, the biggest surprise is McDonald’s. Remember about twenty years back, there was this whole brouhaha about McDonald’s and American fast food ruining French culture? Well I was convinced that people here hated McDonald’s. And they don’t! They love it! They call it McDo and they can’t get enough! And every McDo is jammers come lunch time—maybe that whole French Women Don’t Get Fat thing is going to change…
C: The times I went to Paris, and I met someone I thought would give me a problem, I lied and said I was Canadian (Je suis Canadien!). This worked well enough. Are there any times you want to lie and say you are Canadian?
SL: Back when I lived in Dublin I would pull this trick quite a bit, usually when I was in a taxi to avoid the George Bush conversation. Luckily I haven’t had to resort to this since moving to France. Everyone is pretty cool about it for the most part and are usually more curious than anything.
C: Roquefort or Camembert?
SL: Now you’re talking my language… cheese! Down the road from me is a village called Banon, and there is a goats cheese made there that’s named for the town… it’s the creamiest, freshest tasting cheese you’ll ever have. I’m also a big fan of Auvergne cheeses—where my husband is from. St Nectaire is unbelievable, and Bleu d’Auvergne makes my heart sing. Give me a large glass of red and a hunk of Bleu d’Auvergne and I’m one happy lady.
C: Imagine you are a Parisian wine seller in 1792. Marie Antoinette has just been imprisoned in Le Marais. Do you say, “Let her be!” or “Off to the guillotine!”
SL: I’d say let her be in hopes that she and I would become BFFs, and she’d let me raid her wardrobe!
C: Tell me a French song you like.
SL: It’s gotta be Serge Gainsbourg’s ‘Bonnie and Clyde.’ I’ve got a bit of a crush on Monsieur Gainsbourg, but let’s keep that a wee secret.
C: I totally have a crush on him, too. See Serge below, and check out Sara Louise’s fabulous blog, Sara in Le Petit Village HERE!
Images via Sara Louise.