Why I Love Provence: A Complicated Answer

“There is but one Paris and however hard living may be here—and if it became worse and harder even—the French air clears up the brain and does good. A world of good.” ― Vincent van Gogh

It’s amazing what a huge difference a little sunshine can make. I’ve been in France for exactly one month today, and I think I’ve seen the sun in Paris for maybe a total of 30 hours. Today, as I sit on a patio in the warm sun, birds chirping ever so civilly (this is France, after all) and the wind gently blowing my $24 Old Navy sundress, it’s like I’ve completely forgotten about the cold and the gray that’s (still relentlessly) happening back in Paris. In less than 24 hours, my rhythm has completely changed to match what’s happening around me, in this place I’ve now visited only twice but somehow feel like I’ve known forever. Like about 100 zillion people before me, I have fallen crazy in love with Provence. Unoriginal, but true.

There are the obvious things to love. It’s sunny and warm and the scenery is absolutely stunning everywhere you turn. The air smells like olive trees and ocean. There’s delicious rosé and herbes de provence and a whole different world of delicious food than Paris has to offer. The people are ridiculously nice and the pace is slow, sexy somehow.

Then there are the not-so-obvious things that somehow burrow their way into your brain and your heart and create a feeling, a vibe. Like the strange music: a French jazz version of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious.” Nat King Cole blasting as we wound our way up and over Les Baux de Provence at sunset. “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by the Beach Boys. Every song I hear adds to my own personal soundtrack for Provence and the pace here, and strangely, the soundtrack reminds me of being a kid.

Which brings me to something else. Hang with me for a second (or a paragraph or two) if you can.

If you know me or if you’ve clicked around at all on this blog, you know a little about why I came to France. I won’t tell the story again; suffice it to say that we’ve all lost somebody really important (or we all will). It’s hard for everyone, and we all react differently. For me, losing my mom – my last parent – created another loss beyond the obvious one of losing one of the most precious and important people in my life; I don’t know how else to explain it except to say it felt (and still feels) like I was homeless, like I had no history left, like home was gone forever.

So for some reason, this idea of home was in my head all last year. I wanted to understand what it was. A place? A person? A group of people? A feeling you have in a certain place or is it a feeling you always carry with you?  A physical address? All of the above? I became obsessed with what happens to other people like me after they lose someone – single people with no partner and no kids. How did they cope? I started thinking I needed to understand what my definition of home was, what it meant. Somehow, me leaving everything familiar, the city I loved, my family (blood and urban), the country I call home … somehow leaving all that seemed like the only way to figure out what home really is. Which sounds like pretty much the worst idea in the world for a person who feels homeless. I’m still not able to articulate why it makes sense, why it’s a good idea, but I know it is.  Maybe I need to prove to myself that I can create home over and over, again and again – both the place and the feeling – from the absolute beginning: no job, no friends, no money, no nothing.  Or maybe I’m just crazy. (And now you understand my blog name.)

So that’s why I really came to France: to figure out home.  I don’t think I’ve told anybody that until right now.

Cut back to Provence, where I’m staying with a family who speaks no English, but somehow we understand each other and, I think (I hope) we also like each other. I’m sort of blown away by how effortlessly and kindly they’ve woven me into their family, and a lot of that is centered around meals. They actually sit a table together, which, strangely, almost made me cry the first time it happened. The last time I sat at a table with any version of parents and my brothers all together was probably around 1997. Until this past Sunday, the last time someone ran to a garden to pick a fruit or vegetable especially for me, just because I liked it, was probably 1995. The last time a parental figure patted me on the head and wished me the English equivalent to “bonne nuit” while there was still yet another parental figure and a sibling figure left behind in the room with me (such familial excess! I’m so envious of it) was probably around the same time.  It did a lot of things to my heart: mainly it woke it up, it made it feel grateful, and yeah, it even broke it a little too because it reminded me of what I used to have.

This family, my friends from here, the way of life here in the south, that random KC and the Sunshine Band song redone in French with steel drums, the glorious sun (how I’ve missed you)…these are all contributing to my Provençal spell, I think. The random potion of things that work their way into your heart over time and somehow add up to making you feel connected to a place. Which is to say, it feels like there’s a lot of other stuff going on while I’m sitting in the sun, sipping my rosé, hiking the calanques, eating my Grand Marnier crêpe, and standing atop ruins that overlook a valley. I feel like while I’m here, I’m somehow slowly chipping away at this puzzle of home.