Twenty-one tales of life, love and laughter in the land of sun and vines.
What is Matthieu doing up an olive tree? Why won’t Joséphine ever eat pizza again? Who went four by fourth? And who rescued two hapless Americans at Armageddon Falls?
Travel to the Languedoc, feel the scorch of the sun on your shoulders, smell the dust and the lavender and the ripening grapes and follow the adventures of the Saturday Club and the regulars at l’Estaminet.
In this collection of stories, Patricia Feinberg Stoner revisits the territory of her memoir, ‘At Home in the Pays d’Oc’ with a whole host of new and familiar characters.
As an expat in France myself I was really looking forward to reading this book, which turns out to be a total gem. I love discovering other people’s versions of France. With this book it’s via a fictional route, but I think it’s safe to assume it’s based, however loosely, on the author’s experiences.
You don’t have to be an expat to love every minute of this charming collection of vignettes set in and around the Languedoc village of St Rémy des Cévennes.
The antics of members of the Saturday Morning Club, who meet at the Café de l’Ane (the Donkey Café, which I suspect is a tongue in cheek name!) keep us entertained. This assortment of characters, some local but most blow-ins from various distances, form a good-natured assembly with their shared love of their life in France as the gelling point. We meet most of them in more detail in various amusing exploits. The author is particularly good at portraying relationships – the way Henry plays the part in the Club of the old-fashioned English gentleman who’ll never quite fit in, but with his French wife he’s actually more immersed than others. The patient ‘yes dears’ from tolerant wives, the teasing by one partner of another, and so on. It’s beautifully done and really brings the book to life.
The descriptions are wonderfully detailed. I can picture every scene clearly and feel the heat of the summer days, hear the sounds of the busy market, and smell the truffle that Useless (who isn’t at all) finds.
This is a light and enjoyable read, something you can devour in one go, like a warm croissant, or take leisurely nibbles from, like baguette that accompanies a salad-based lunch. Either way, it’s thoroughly delightful.
Patricia Feinberg Stoner is a former journalist, advertising copywriter and publicist. For four years she and her husband were accidental expatriates in the Languedoc, southern France. During that time she wrote a series of magazine articles which eventually became her first book about the Languedoc: ‘At Home in the Pays d’Oc.’
?Now back in the UK, she lives with her husband in the pretty West Sussex village of Rustington, where Michael Flanders encountered a gnu and the mobility scooter is king.
She spends much of her time writing short stories and comic verses. Her first book, ‘Paw Prints in the Butter’, is a collection of comic poems for cat lovers, and is sold in aid of a local animal charity. In 2017 she published her second book of comic verse: ‘The Little Book of Rude Limericks’.
?In the autumn of 2018 Patricia returns to the locale of ‘At Home in the Pays d’Oc’ with a new collection of stories: ‘Tales from the Pays d’Oc’.
Oh, but I love this book about expat life in Provence! It’s beautifully written, thoroughly entertaining and sums up the expat experience superbly. The writing sparkles with enjoyment and humour, although the author’s not above giving gentle digs where they’re due. After all, the French do have their little, incomprehensible ways when it comes to, well, quite a lot of things!
Through a series of sips – vignettes of the author’s part-time expat lifestyle in France – we discover American Keith Van Sickle’s adopted corner of Europe and how he gets on in it. There’s never a dull moment. We share the thrills and frustrations as Keith and Val grapple with French living, attempt to communicate and, zut alors, try to actually get things done. And we mustn’t forget their dog too.
From the jolly, lively and excellent cover to the last page, this book keeps you riveted and provides plenty of chuckles. I do hope there’ll be some sequels as this is an author I want to keep on reading.
So that you can see what I mean, here’s a guest post from Keith
My wife Val and I have had plenty of mishaps living in France, like the time I tried to donate blood. After filling out a long and complex form, I had to have a private interview with a doctor. He didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak much French. After a few minutes of struggling to interview me, he slammed my file shut and announced that I would not be allowed to donate blood due to “insufficient command of the French language.”
And then there were the vocabulary mix-ups. Many words are the same in French and English, like nation and danger. If we don’t know a word in French, sometimes we just fake it by using the English word with a French accent.
It works most of the time but you have to be careful because some words exist in both languages and have entirely different meanings. These are the infamous faux amis, or “false friends.” Ask Val about the time she shocked people by talking about preservatives in food. Oops, preservative means “condom.”
We love France and spend part of every year there. It started when we wanted to live abroad but couldn’t find expat assignments. So we invented our own. We quit our jobs, became consultants and moved to France to follow our dream.
Oh, and we didn’t speak French.
The French have a reputation for being hard to get to know, especially for those who don’t speak their language, so we worried about how we would be received. And it was tough at first, trying to learn the language and meet people.
But despite our various misadventures, we slowly settled in. We mastered the local rules for greeting people (two kisses in certain towns and three in others.) We experienced the ridiculous security procedures surrounding the purchase of a simple $20 beard trimmer. We learned the language well enough that Val blushed when a famous chef called her “young and delicious like the fava beans of springtime.”
And we made friends! That really helped us feel comfortable in our new home. It can take a while, but once a French person welcomes you into their life, you are friends forever.
Now Val and I split our time between Provence and California. Thomas Jefferson is supposed to have said, “Every man has two countries – his own and France.” Maybe he was on to something.
I’ve written about our life in France in my book One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence, available from Amazon.
Can a two-career couple really pick up stakes and move to Provence?
Keith and Val had a dream – to live in Provence, the land of brilliant sunlight, charming hilltop villages and the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean. But there were two problems: they weren’t French speakers and they had full-time jobs. So they came up with a plan…
Follow their adventures (and misadventures) as they quit their jobs, become consultants and split their time between two countries. Laugh along as they build a life in Provence, slowly mastering a new language and making friends with the locals over long meals and just a bit too much wine.
If you’ve ever dreamed of changing gears and learning what joie de vivre is really all about, you won’t want to miss this delightful book.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Keith Van Sickle
is a technology industry veteran
and lifelong traveler
who got his first taste of overseas life
while studying in England during college.
But it was the expat assignment to Switzerland
that made him really fall in love with Europe.
After returning to California, he and his wife Val dreamed of living abroad again
but were unable to find another expat gig.
So they decided to invent their own.
Now they split their time between Silicon Valley and St-Rémy-de-Provence,
delving ever deeper into what makes France so endlessly fascinating.
Another #SampleSunday, another extract from my forthcoming ‘Total Immersion: Ten Years in France’. We’re in March 2009, and we get to meet our first home-born baby llama and Chris has a very close encounter with a fox.
We’d moved Gabby, the mother llama, into a stable so she’d be warm and cosy when delivery time came and we checked on her frequently. We coated the stable floor with hay, and counted the days. We were starting to give up. She seemed intent on exploding rather than giving birth, just to spite us.
It was a fine, sunny morning during the kids’ winter holiday fortnight so we decided to go for a walk. We did one of our local strolls, the Chambon shuffle we call it (ch = sh in French, so it’s a nice alliterative name). Coming back along the green lane between fields, we spotted a fox in the hedgerow, but it didn’t run away. We peered close and saw that it had a metal snare around its stomach, getting tighter and tighter every time the animal moved. It was probably stupid of us, but we couldn’t leave it like that. Chris had gloves on and tried to free the fox but it bit him, not surprisingly really, and we were forced to abandon the rescue mission for the time being. When we got back, Chris went to put Germolene on his bite and then find thick gloves and wire cutters for a second attempt. I went to look in on Gabby. And there, in a hideous, spindly heap, was a llama cria. Gabby had chosen the darkest, dirtiest corner of the stable to deliver in, studiously avoiding the birth-friendly hay carpet we’d put down. The baby was cold and grubby. Caiti and I got busy with towels drying the little female down while the boys went off to deal with the fox.
Both missions proved successful. Caiti and I soon transformed the baby into a clean, dry, fluffy cria. She was mainly white with some pretty brown splotches on her face and back. At the time Comet Lulin was visible, and we thought that Lulin was the perfect name for a little llama. Again with the alliteration. Benj and Chris came back, fortunately with no more bites, thanks to the thick gloves. But we still had the one bite to worry about. And worry a lot about, as France was then still officially a rabid country.
We hopped in the car to go to the doctor’s. We explained what had happened, and he asked us if we had the fox’s head. I stared at him blankly. No, he can’t have said that. I must have misunderstood something there. I asked him to repeat the question at a non-Francophone-friendly speed, and the same words came out. Chris and I shot other a ‘what the heck’ look. I warily replied that we didn’t have the head. We’d left it on the fox as it clearly had need of it. There didn’t seem a lot of point in freeing a fox from a snare only to immediately decapitate it, not the thought of doing so would ever have occurred to us.
The doctor sighed and told us, in a long-suffering tone, that if you get bitten by a fox, or any other possibly rabid animal, you’re meant to kill it and bring its head with you for testing. As with so many things in France, you’re meant to instinctively know this. Well, we didn’t, and we hadn’t got a vulpine head with us, so what next? The doctor quickly cheered up and said that Chris would need to go to Guéret hospital for rabies-neutralising shots. These would start at the rate of several a week, then one a week, then one a fortnight and so on at increasingly long intervals for at least the next six months. He might have said years, I was too shocked to listen properly. This really was a blow. We’d been expecting Chris would need a few injections, but not that many or for so long.
The doctor phoned the nearest Department of Information about Rabies and we watched as the smile dropped from his face. Our hearts were in our boots. He must have underestimated the treatment process. But it turned out that Boussac was a rabies-free zone. There hadn’t been any cases reported here for some officially sanctioned period of time, so we didn’t need the injections after all. The doctor was clearly very disappointed about this. I think he’d been quite looking forward to having a case of rabies to tell all his medical chums about. Or maybe, odd as this may sound, he liked seeing English people suffer. All that needed doing was to give Chris some antibiotics. Our anti-tetanus shots were up to date, so no more jabs were necessary. Talk about relief. The incident has, however, left Chris with an intense dislike of foxes. He also vowed he would never try and free another animal from a snare, a vow he steadfastly kept until Christmas when we came across our next case of a snared animal, a deer this time, which, of course, we set free.
Snaring is legal in France, under certain conditions, and also trapping. Our local friendly farm supply shop, run by incredibly nice people, has a whole rack of gruesome looking devices for these very purposes and obviously they don’t give it a second thought. It’s still a way of life for some country dwellers. We haven’t come across any trapped animals for a long while now, it has to be said. However, I don’t suppose the practice has died out, just that whoever’s setting the snares is keeping them off our usual stamping grounds. The snarer has possibly worked out that the proximity of our farm to the cut-through snares they’d laid was more than coincidental. Because they were quite close to us, the only inhabitants in a sizeable chunk of very many square kilometres. Mine were the only local chickens, or in fact livestock of any kind, that a fox might have helped itself to, so I can’t see the need for anyone to have set a snare in that location. OK, deer eat crops which must be annoying if you’re a farmer, but this snare was on a bit of fencing (erected by the gas board) bordered by scrub land. Unnecessary and unpleasant.
What a great way to start July! It’s my turn to host Cris Hammond who is on a virtual book tour with his extremely enjoyable From Here to Paris.
All expats are interesting people, since it takes a certain sort of person to up sticks and not just move, but move to another country, but some are definitely more interesting than others. For many, expatdom often happens as a result of unemployment, and this is Cris’s case. As he succinctly puts it in the blurb, “your life can fall apart just enough to allow you to put it back together again in a whole new way”. And what a way!
Cris, a cartoonist and then a boat photographer, buys a barge, Phaedra, and explores the French canal system. Phaedra needed a good bit of attention before the trip, and Cris had to grapple with plenty of other new challenges, such as French, France and dealing with locks. And that’s just for starters.
Cris and his wife Linda rise to the challenges they face as expats afloat. There are plenty of entertaining anecdotes as we follow Phaedra’s dignified progress along the French waterways, enjoying the scenery and sharing Cris’s ups and downs on the way. It’s a book of self-discovery as well sightseeing and, as a fellow expat in France, it paints a realistic picture of the country as seen through foreign eyes.
I asked Cris some questions about his book, barging and Paris.
What inspired you to write From Here to Paris?
It never occurred to me that what we were doing was “book worthy” at first. But I did know that lots of our friends thought that we were setting out to do something verging on the crazy, and they were always eager to hear the latest news, catastrophic or euphoric. I’d regularly send short stories back to a growing number of people who seemed to always be fascinated and asking for more. That kind of interest and support made me feel good, regardless of whatever immediate challenges we were facing. As time went on, the stories began to pile up and someone said, “Hey, why don’t you turn this into a book?” That was another thing I’d never done before, so, since we were into trying new adventures, I gave it a shot.
Please describe it in 100 words (ok, 113!)
From Here to Paris is the story of how we climbed out of our well-worn corporate trench, took a look around, and decided it was time to shake things up. It’s also the hilarious tale of selling the burdensome house, returning the leased cars, shredding the credit cards, and abandoning the mind-numbing commute in favor of a joyful struggle toward a fresh, more fulfilling life. One we imagined as being lived in jeans, and filled with leisurely afternoons aboard our Dutch barge, Phaedra, floating along glass-still canals through medieval villages and rolling vineyards of Burgundy toward our ultimate goal, to live on our barge in the shadow of Notre Dame, in Paris.
What’s the appeal of barging?
For me there are several things that recommend a barge over a house or an apartment. The first thing is that we’re always on the water. Living on the water can be a challenge at times, but it’s also almost always lovely, interesting, and relaxing. Another unique appeal is that the barge moves. We aren’t always cruising when we’re in France, but when the urge to go out to somewhere new hits, we can untie the lines and be gone. Phaedra is also extremely comfortable in a very compact space. From her stained glass windows that fill one wall, to her wonderfully carved woodwork that decorates her from bow to stern, living aboard her is like living in a varnished, glowing jewel box. To be honest though, I enjoy sitting in the cockpit in the evening, watching the sun go down with a glass of wine every bit as much as I love driving here through the canals and rivers of France. It’s all good.
What are your three favorite things about Paris?
The first thing is the feeling that comes over me of youth and joy when I’m on the streets of Paris. It’s hard to explain, but I feel like a kid again. Also, as I mention in the book, being an artist, I feel, when I walk through Paris, that I’m in a place that epitomizes an artistic approach to life. I love the museums, but I also love the way that Paris is a city that is made for walking. And I think this leads me to the third thing, the cafés. I can’t get enough of the people watching.
From Here to Paris has a great cover. Did you design it yourself?
Yes, I did.
Do you have any strange or quirky writing habits?
I don’t think so, unless you think having to wear a scuba diving wetsuit whenever I write is quirky. (I don’t wear the flippers though.) Other than that, I find myself writing a lot of dialogue and sometimes it’s as if I’m just taking dictation from the voices I’m hearing in my head. I used to write a syndicated daily comic strip. I’d write non-stop for two weeks, then draw for two weeks, in order to get a month’s worth of strips out. During the writing time, I was pretty much a zombie, lost into the world of my characters. I’d walk right past people I knew, mumbling to myself, without even seeing them. I don’t know though if, in the world of writers, that is all that unusual.
Tell us briefly about what book’s coming next.
Well, I’m continuing to write my short stories and adventures for the folks back home. I’m getting that feeling again from my readers that there’s another book in that growing collection.
What one snippet of advice would you give to aspiring self-published authors?
Get an editor that knows your voice and what you are trying say. Take their suggested edits as just that, suggestions. A good editor is invaluable, because we all have something to learn. But you’re a unique person with your own voice and your own story. Have faith in it.
What one snippet of advice would you give to anyone planning to visit France?
Give yourself enough time to enjoy your time past the jet lag malaise. See Paris but don’t try to see it all in one trip. You’ll be back. Also, try to get out of Paris and see other parts of the country. I’m convinced that France is one of the most beautiful countries on earth. It’s worth getting lost in the countryside for a week or two. You’ll be back.
Thanks to Cris for the great interview and photos.
Cris Hammond is a nationally known artist, cartoonist, and entrepreneur. His comic strip, Speed Walker, Private Eye, was seen daily in over 150 newspapers across the country, from The Miami Herald to The Seattle Sun Times, The San Diego Union, and The Minneapolis Star Tribune. His paintings of ships and the sea have appeared in galleries in Sausalito, San Francisco, Tiburon, and Carmel, California. He led special effects teams to Academy Awards for Special Effects in motion pictures including Star Trek IV, Innerspace, and The Abyss, among others. In 1994, facing penury, he left his artistic pursuits, bought a briefcase and a couple ties, and went out and got a real corporate job. Eight years and four more neckties later, he walked into his office one morning and was ambushed by the waiting Exit Interview Team, which informed him that he was, as of that moment, “out on his ear.”
After a suitable period of bi-polar careening between panic and reflection, he realized that he was too young to retire and too old to go looking for another corporate job. So, he sold the house, bought a barge in France and started painting again.
Now he and his wife, Linda, spend half the year in California living and working in their tiny art studio near San Francisco, and the other half doing the same thing on the barge in France. Piloting their 1925 Dutch barge Phaedra, they’ve meandered through more than 1200 kilometers of canals and rivers and negotiated more than 850 locks in their travels from the Rhone wine region, through Burgundy to Chablis and down the Seine into Paris.
Ramblings in Ireland by Kerry Dwyer is really two books in one. One the one hand we have a humorous, incisive look at expat life as seen by this witty, fascinating author, but which only hints at all the experiences she has clearly had. On the other we have an enjoyable travelogue that depicts Ireland with all its outward charm and friendliness. This precisely reflects how Ramblings is used as the title to depict Dwyer’s thoughts and observations about various matters and also the physical unhurried walks that Dwyer takes on holiday. France-based, the author and her husband take their first child-free holiday for a long time and end up in Ireland when other holiday plans go awry. However, they’re as happy to be there as anywhere more exotic and the trip introduces them to a wonderful country and allows the author the chance to tap her rich imagination and share her point of view about many and various things with us.
Kerry Dwyer has a wonderful eye for detail and uses it to depict very clear mental images for the reader of everything she experiences. We can see the full Irish breakfasts on the plates in all their glory, picture husband and wife teetering on a fogbound, narrow ledge and get a good idea of what everybody they meet looks like. We get a clear feel for the friendly atmosphere they encounter everywhere. We also learn what makes this author tick – her likes and dislikes, her optimism, her enthusiasm, her love for Jinx and her husband. Just occasionally the reproduced conversations go on a little too long, but that’s a minor and easily forgivable fault given the general excellence of this unusual, quirky gem of a book.
Cairo: The Mother of the World by Herbert L Smith is an account of the author’s time in that city. But if was he there for three years or a lifetime, he can’t be sure. Certainly he gains a lifetime of experiences during his stay there. Like most expats he is enchanted but also frustrated by his adopted home. With fresh, observant eyes he notices every little thing around him.
The book is beautifully written. It’s so conversational and detailed that you think you’re there too, even when Smith is talking about larger issues, not just his personal experiences. We touch on history, politics, religion and societal structure and come away with a far greater understanding of this often perplexing and misunderstood part of the world.
It’s a fascinating read. My one complaint is that there isn’t more of it!
Herbert Smiths shares his inspiration with us: “When someone asks me about my ‘muse,’ my writing inspiration, I can only tell them that my love of Cairo, all of Egypt in fact, is all I need to set my descriptive and poetic responses going. Sometimes, people who have visited or lived in Egypt question my reasoning. They found the place to be less than ideal – far, far less, and can’t understand my reasons for loving the city and the country. I confess that I don’t understand fully, but am happily oblivious to many of the problems that confound everyone who visits, as well as a large portion of the population that lives in the country. I am not unaware or insensible to these difficulties, it’s just they aren’t sufficient to cause for me to flee from the place and never go back. Quite the opposite, I am magnetically drawn to Egypt and to Cairo, especially.
Although Cairo isn’t the oldest city in the world, it is very old, and has risen from the past without sacrificing its oldest self. The city goes on living in a kind of renewed incarnation with each succeeding era. Cairo is both impossible and improbable, but it is as strong today as in the past, incorporating the very newest into the already existing mega-metropolis, and there is always a sense of the past clinging to the stones, wherever one goes in the city.
Some of the newest suburbs sit on ancient grounds, where temples and palaces and long vanished houses once stood, and where apartment blocks filled with families and hope for the future are fixed to the land today. The oldest parts hold streets and buildings that were much the same long ago, even as much as an entire millennium in the past. The oldest mosques and churches still witness to their grandest days, and the oldest houses are filled with families, some directly descended from the original builders who lived there more than five or six centuries in the past. This is indeed an old city, and although many things have changed, the spirit of Cairo, the collective memory of its ancient history, is palpable in the Cairo of today.”
Welcome to Books Are Cool, the book related sister site to Blog in France. So yes, I’m taking part twice in my own blog hop! It wasn’t intentional. I needed to try out the linky tool when I was setting the blog hop up, since it’s my first go at organising one. So I signed this site up for it, intending to delete it later. Which I forgot to do!
Anyway, here is a list of non-fiction books about expat life which I have really enjoyed reading, and which I’m sure you will too.
1. A Summer in Gascony by Martin Calder
2. Perking the Pansies by Jack Scott Bodrun
3. French Fried by Chris Dolley
4. One Year in Wonderland by Christopher Combe
5. Big Backpack, Little World by Donna Morang
6. C’est La Folie by Michael Wright
7. Expat Women: Confessions by Andrea Martins
8. The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz
9. Two Lipsticks and a Lover by Helen Frith Powell
10. A Year in Provence, Toujours Provence and Encore Provence by Peter Mayle
11. Older Man, Younger Man by Joseph Dispenza (taking part in this blog hop – see the table below). Not explicitly an expat life book, but it’s the moving personal account by an expat of a certain difficult period in his life.
11. Coming very soon to Kindle – Heads Above Water by me – Stephanie Dagg!
And a couple of very enjoyable fictional expat stories.
1. Vantastic France by Steve Bichard (taking part in this blog hop – see the list below)
2. Sunshine Soup by Jo Parfitt
And the expat blog hop freebie? A copy of my children’s ebook Oh Grandad! from Smashwords. Comment below and I’ll send you the code to obtain a copy for free in your preferred format. (There are lots of free books for grabs too on my Smashwords page here.)
Please visit the other blogs in the blog hop, not forgetting Blog in France. More freebies up for grabs!