What motivates and inspires someone to leave where they live where everything is safe and familiar and move to another country? Somewhere with a completely different language, culture and way of doing things? What happens if you need medical attention or a plumber, or if your car breaks down, or if you get stopped by the local police, especially when you scarcely speak the language? Why would anyone do this unless they had to? Even if the place is Provence, which although utterly beguiling, still doesn’t induce it’s very many visitors to actually move there!
Author Keith Van Sickle does a marvelous job of attempting to explain why. His first book, succinctly articulates the key to survival in the title; ‘One Sip at a Time’! Yet while Keith and his wife Val may well have drawn courage sampling the splendid offerings of the local vintners, they have also made valiant efforts to really embrace this other place they call home.
And there is much to understand, the customs, the food, the language, a feat in itself, as Keith explains: ‘there are a mind blowing 26 (yes, 26) tenses of French verbs!’
Refusing to be daunted by all those very many declensions, Keith and Val have opened their hearts and minds to the entire way of life in Provence and what they cherish most of all, the people. Perhaps it’s of little surprise that the title of Keith’s second book is the question they’ve so often asked themselves: ‘Are We French Yet?’ You’ll have to read it to decide. Click here to buy
Both of Keith’s books are fun, easy reads, full of charming, witty accounts of the many exploits, discoveries and occasional mystifying challenges he and Val have encountered in Provence. Many of which I can totally relate to.
There’s the issue of kissing when you greet people: ‘If you gave three kisses when it should be two, would people think you were rather pushy and forward? If you only gave two kisses instead of three, would you be considered standoffish?’
And the Pharmacies; much tinier than in the US and with different rules where you can’t just help yourself to over-the-counter medications: ‘Instead, you have to wait in line to see a pharmacist, and then describe your problem so that… everyone in line can hear what you’re saying.’ And if you don’t speak great French the Pharmacist will announce for the entire shop to hear: ‘“Speak up! You say you have a HORRIBLE LOOKING FUNGUS on your WHAT?” ‘
Then there’s the all-important thing our ‘children’ tease about, the wearing of scarves, not by me but my husband, an obligatory accessory whether male or female when living in Provence or as it turns out much to the ‘children’s’ amusement when you return to California! For as my husband (modeling below) and Keith know ‘the French wear scarves year-round. AND they know how to tie them.’
Keith does a great job of articulating why he and Val love Provence. How it makes them feel, its’ alluring pace, its’ natural beauty, its’ people, its’ way of life, its’ fascinating history whose timeless traditions still reach out to touch life today. A myriad of tiny details as abundant as a basket filled with fresh sunflowers picked from the local fields, ones which have also smiled upon us and totally resonate.
We actually have much in common. We both live near San Francisco, we both enjoy food and good wine, we are both curious explorers interested in people. We might originate from different continents but we share a deep-seated passion for Provence which inspired us both to write, not just our blogs which connected us but to write a book. I’m still embarking upon the arduous conventional publication path for my World War II novel set in Provence telling the true story of the Poles who first cracked the Enigma code. With two successful publications to his name Keith is way ahead of me and I’ve enjoyed both of them
I’m in awe of Keith and Val’s impressive efforts to master the French language, somehow succeeding in declining all those tenses and getting their tongues to roll those r’s correctly. It’s inspiring to learn how it’s helped them build close friendships in St Remy-de-Provence, the delightful Provencal town I also love, where they spend the majority of their time.
I’m also impressed how by determinedly reading French literature and studying French newspapers and TV Keith and Val have developed a good grasp on what it is that makes French people French.
I would suggest that the answer to Keith’s latest book’s title ‘Are we French yet?’ is ‘mais oui, bien sûr!’
You don’t have to be a Francophile to enjoy Keith’s books; they’re endearing because they’re about living. As Keith explains, just like us, he and Val are constantly asked: ‘why do you want to spend so much of the year in Provence, what do you do when you are there, what new things have you visited?’
Whilst there is an abundance of things to still discover, that is not why either of us go there. We’re not tourists seeking to check off the next list of ‘must see’ sights, we go there to live: ‘we’re just 2 people living in Provence and the business of living fills our days…..’
And that business of living is not only real but magical. And for us, just like for Keith and Val. ‘Magical is the right word. Magic seems to happen to us in France.’