Nicholas

Seeking Provence is the story of an expatriate who, after half a lifetime spent travelling the world, settles down in one of France’s most celebrated regions. But he knows beforehand that the Provence he wants to live in is not the Provence of the travel books and glossy lifestyle magazines.

“What is a year in Provence compared with 3,000 years in Provence?” Nicholas Woodsworth asks himself. Through his Provençal wife he knows already that this is not a perennially sunny place of lavender, goats cheese and pastis-sipping peasants. He is convinced an older existence, sometime obscure and often mystifying, still lies deeply anchored here. Now he embarks on a journey to find out what really lies behind the images.

Calanques

In a quiet Vaucluse valley he becomes a blood-spattered assistant to his wife’s cousin, a backwoods poultry-breeder. Borrowing an apartment overlooking the sea in Marseille, he explores the narrow  alleys of the immigrant quarters of the Old Port. At the northern limits of the Mediterranean world he meets long-isolated communities living in the rugged hills of the Cevennes. He wanders deep into the marshes of the Camargue, joins painters on the slopes of Paul Cézanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire,  and accompanies Benedictine monks on a retreat in a remote monastery in Haute Provence. Not even the culinary secrets of his mother-in-law, an exceptional Provençal cook, go uninvestigated.

But wherever his curiosity takes him, Nicholas Woodsworth comes to the same conclusion: it is through a life of the senses that true Mediterraneans continue to find their balance and vitality. From a direct contact with the immediate world, from the intimate attachment of individuals to the simple things around them comes a capacity for connection. And from it, too, comes a sense of belonging that in most places in the western world is fast unravelling. “Here is a quality,” Woodsworth concludes, “which these days we all seem to be in urgent need of.” This is a book which all lovers of the Mediterranean will value.

From Seeking Provence:

“One evening Jany and I went to the Place de Lenche for seafood risotto. As we ordered dinner I asked Giovanni, the talkative Italian proprietor of the Pomo d’Oro, what he thought of owning a piece of one of the most ancient talking-places on the continent. After all, I said, the great 4th-century BC Marseille mariner, Pythias himself, had probably sat on this very spot drinking wine and holding forth on his return from Ultima Thule, ancient Iceland.
     A tray of beer balanced in one hand, Giovanni examined me sideways as if I were mildly touched in the head. Then he looked around the square for a moment, glancing at the simple bars and restaurants, the sun-faded awnings of the shops, the comings and goings of less-than-elegantly-dressed locals. He was not impressed.
‘You call this ancient?’ he asked with a sweep of his free hand. ‘I’ll tell you what’s ancient: Rome, where I’m from – that’s ancient.’
     He turned, looking left and right, then arched his eyebrows in rhetorical question. ‘Where are the old temples, the statues, the great monuments? They’re all gone! There’s nothing here! In Rome they’re everywhere – we piss on monuments. You think the Marseillais know about the past, or care? Ultima Thule, you say? Va cagare! Don’t bother asking them who Pythias was. You want to know what kind of history counts on the Place de Lenche? The time between ordering and eating. It’s now, everyone wants to eat now!’ ”