William Adams Shares Discovering Provence Part-Time
A summertime sabbatical from Colby College in 2013 led William D. Adams and his wife Lauren Sterling to Provence. After exploring the Aix region during that break, they decided to spend more time in Provence. The couple now split their time between Portland, Maine and their home in Puyloubier north of Aix-en-Provence. Pandemic lockdowns, political, and other forces inspired Adams to write Bro Adams’s blog. Part-time in Provence and closer to the source, he is working on a book about French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty and painter Paul Cézanne.
After graduating from the University of Santa Cruz as a Doctor in Philosophy, Adams began work at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. He served as President of Colby College in Maine from 2000-2014. Between 2014-2017 Adams chaired the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH). After that, he was named a Senior Fellow at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in New York, continuing his national advocacy on behalf of the humanities.
Inspiration in Provence
William Adams is one of our regular contributors. We invite you to read about his excursions around the region from the seaside to local markets to the streets of old Aix-en-Provence in pursuit of appreciating the forces that influenced Cèzanne and Merleau-Ponty. In addition, we recently interviewed “Bro” and share some of that conversation below.
How would you describe the difference in culture between the two places?
We roughly split our time evenly between Portland, Maine, and Puyloubier. Spring and fall in France, winter and summer in Maine. Portland and Puyloubier couldn’t be more different–geographically, climatically, culturally. We value the differences and the lives we lead in each place.
Your background is in Philosophy, Humanities and Education. Do you feel that your experience leads you to explore Provence “beyond the ordinary”?
My book project causes me to pay careful attention to the meanings and nuances of place. I find that I look much more carefully and thoughtfully at my surroundings in France than I look at my surroundings in Maine. There are exceptions, of course, but I am generally more sensitive to my sensations, as Cezanne would say, while in France.
Can you tell us a bit about your Bro Adams blog?
I started posting articles on Medium when the pandemic arrived. The months of confinement and altered routines also coincided with the start of the presidential election season in the United States. Soon I was posting articles on all kinds of subjects–politics, cycling, places in France, memories. There’s no plan, just an interest in writing and sharing my writing with others.
Can you share some detail on your book about Maurice Merleau-Ponty and the painter Paul Cézanne?
My book works at the intersection of the life and writing career of the philosopher Merleau-Ponty, the life and career of the painter Paul Cézanne, the places in France where they lived and worked, and my encounters with both men across a span of several decades. The book is part memoir, part intellectual history, and part description of the place. Cézanne and Merleau-Ponty were not contemporaries, but Merleau-Ponty came to see Cézanne as a fellow traveller of sorts in the world of perception, which was his central philosophical concern. Merleau-Ponty spent the last summer of his life in the village of Le Tholonet, not far from Puyloubier, writing his most important work on painting, “Eye and Mind.” Paul Cézanne was clearly in his thoughts that summer.
Do you have a timeline for the book?
I hope to finish the book before I die, but I am not making promises. More seriously, it will be at least another year or two before I have a completed manuscript. Nevertheless, the short pieces on L’Estaque, Gardanne, and Aix will all end up in the book.