Author Patricia Sands Has a Fatal Attraction to Provence
One of my summer highlights is the chance to catch up with author Patricia Sands during her annual visit to Provence. Sands is a remarkable person. She is a wife, mother, grandmother, writer, photographer and a possiblitarian. Yes, for Patricia Sands, it is possible to achieve anything in life if you want it badly enough and are willing to put in the hard work. She is living proof of the work effort; somehow, she juggles her family commitments and an intense writing schedule. Her next book (a novella) is due out in November, but after she co-leads a “Memories Tour of Provence” this fall.
Recently, I had the pleasure of spending a day with Patricia Sands in one of her favourite places on the Côte d’Azur. As we explored lovely Antibes, I quizzed her about her fatal attraction to Provence.
How would you describe the lifestyle in Provence to someone who has not visited?
I would say the lifestyle here is a relaxed, appreciative, joie de vivre that celebrates the area’s history and traditions. It’s possible to lose oneself in an alternate reality in Provence, as our senses are touched in every way.
When you think of Provence, what are the images that pop into your head?
Provence, to me, includes the Côte d’Azur, so my words and images go from the shimmering azure waves of the Mediterranean to narrow cobblestone streets, perched villages, fields of flowers and products that change with the seasons, vineyards, olive groves, snow-capped Alps.
To some degree, Provence lives on its clichés in photos – scenes of lavender, sunflower fields, and boules players. Is this your Provence?
Should I be embarrassed to admit yes? To a large degree, all of those scenes are part of what I love about Provence. I don’t think they should be called clichés. They are part of the natural fabric of life there and just a few reasons people find Provence so appealing. Of course, people are living “normal” lives here, going to work, raising families, and worrying about the same things we all do. However, they get to do that in beautiful surroundings, following traditions that are centuries old, shopping in markets with fresh local products, exploring ancient villages, hiking, and biking through breathtaking scenery.
What does the Mediterranean climate mean to you?
Warm sunshine, blue skies often cleared by strong winds, refreshing sea breezes, restorative dips in the sea. Even on chilly days, it is possible to sit at outdoor cafés or explore markets. Hot summer days on the coast mean going to the beach for a coffee, a meal, an apéro, for a quick break or the whole day. As an avid photographer, I find that light’s clarity due to the weather patterns is unique.
What is your favourite season in Provence, and why?
Any time from May to the end of October is fine with me. I know the crowds are to be reckoned with in July and August, but I still find it possible to leave them behind and find quiet places to explore.
What is your favourite activity in Provence?
Walking … and at the same time absorbing my surroundings, taking photos. It doesn’t matter whether I am meandering cobbled streets of villages, exploring the old town of cities, hiking the sentiers (trails) along the coast, or the hilly countryside.
When you leave Provence, what is the thing you miss the most and wish you could take with you?
I always wish that I didn’t have to leave and immediately begin making plans to return the following year. I’m fortunate to spend a couple of months in the south of France each time I visit. The memories and photos that I take feed my Provence appetite until I return.
When you hear the term “Provence-style,” what is your first thought?
Colour! My mind’s eye immediately pictures Nice’s beautiful colours, the brilliant blues of the Mediterranean, fading paint on shutters and crumbling plaster in ancient villages, flowers blooming everywhere, markets bursting with colour.
The Provence that many imagine today is relatively “new” thanks to the likes of Peter Mayle and others. What is “Authentic Provence” to you?
Yes, Peter Maybe is certainly the one who brought a romanticized fantasy of life in Provence to the forefront. His depictions were accurate in many ways as he attempted to capture “authentic Provence.” To me, this term speaks to the traditions and ways of life that have been followed by generations of families who live here. I think that most people who visit Provence hope this way of life continues to be preserved. It’s why they come.
Food in Provence
Life in Provence seems to revolve around food. How would you describe the food in the region to someone who has not visited?
On the coast, seafood reigns supreme. I prefer simple meals to fancy and find you can eat reasonably unless you choose a Michelin-starred restaurant. In the countryside, daube de boeuf and delicious lamb entrees are popular. Markets offer fresh vegetables and fruits, olives, jambon, and … of course … cheese. Oh, the cheese! Boulangeries offer classic baguettes, croissants, pain au chocolat, and patisseries abound. It’s easy to eat well and inexpensively in Provence.
What are your favourite things to eat in Provence?
Moules et frites
Salade de chèvre chaude
Melon et Jambon
Croissants (here is a recipe) and pain aux raisins
Is there a food or ingredient that you wish you could find outside of Provence?
I have yet to find melons that match the rich, sweet taste of those from Cavaillon. Read more about that variety of fruit here.
How would you describe Provence’s markets as compared, say, to your local farmer’s market?
We have some wonderful farmer’s markets in Canada, but none match the atmosphere of those in France – it cannot be replicated.
Living in Provence
How would you rate your French Language skills?
My French is between bilingual (almost) and struggling but learning depending on the circumstances. I take French lessons once a week and read and understand well as long as the speaker slows down. Usually, I can make myself understood in French.
How important do you feel it is to have a decent level of French comprehension and speaking skills in Provence?
For the most part, one can get by with basic skills. However, as a courtesy and to truly experience life in Provence, I feel everyone should strive to speak the language. The most critical aspect of communication in France, in my opinion, is to remember your manners and be courteous at all times.
What resources might you recommend to those considering a short-term stay in Provence?
The Internet has a wealth of reputable websites with all the information you need. I would start by reading articles on Perfectly Provence, The Provence Post, Your Private Provence and other similar sites.
Can you describe the house-swap process for readers? Any tips for ensuring it works well for both parties?
The first step is to join a reputable website, and I recommend Homelink.org. The best way to judge reliability is longevity. As one of the websites states, “Home exchange is a bit like dating, where a house swap service plays the equivalent role to a dating agency. It helps you to meet, but the rest is up to you.”
Living in a home in a different part of the world, whether it is a foreign land or a different area of your own country, provides a more complete cultural experience than staying in a hotel. You are instantly part of a community, and neighbours or friends of your exchange family will have been asked to introduce themselves to you to see if you need assistance with anything. It’s an amicable and personal process.
When you arrive at your home exchange destination, you will find a detailed booklet put together by the homeowner. In this, you will find every bit of information you might need to know, from a list of important phone numbers to information about appliances, doctors, dentists, shopping, entertainment, and attractions.
For families with children, the benefits are even greater as there are homes with toys and yards. Car exchanges are sometimes included, and specifics such as non-smoking homes or pet-free or child-free can be requested. On the other side of that, you can also find pet owners looking to swap. There’s something for everyone!
How do you feel that living in Provence, if even for a brief time, helps stir your creative writing juices?
Having been spending time in Provence for the past twenty years, this feels like home to us. I’ve been hopelessly in love with every aspect of life here and feel stories coming alive wherever I go.
Can you give us some hints about your next book?
I’ve begun a new novel involving the Love in Provence characters but have set it aside for now. I’m working on a Christmas-themed novella about Katherine and Philippe’s first Christmas in the restored villa. I hope to publish it in November.