Recently, while working in the collection, I came across a book that I haven’t seen for awhile: New French country: a style and source book by Linda Dannenberg (2004). When I came to the story about a tiny walk-up apartment in Avignon with a bedroom overlooking the Palais des Papes, I almost wept.
The ancient city of Avignon is a world heritage site with the famous bridge of nursery-rhyme song; the ruins today extend only part way across the Rhone River. The papal palace was built in the 14th century, when the city was the seat of the papacy.
In 2007, I travelled there and stayed in a hotel about a five-minute walk from the Palais – that is, it was five-minute walk once you knew the way. Narrow streets are a tangled maze that radiate out from a central plaza, the Place de l’Horloge. When you go the wrong way – which I frequently did – you literally hit the wall. The old city is surrounded by stone fortifications that made the popes feel secure and now are very handy for the disoriented tourist.
Among the many charms of my trip was finding that the homes and villages in rural France really do look like the pictures in the books and Kodak moments are everywhere you turn.
From Avignon I travelled to a rural writer’s retreat in La Roque-Alric, at the summer home of Canadian author Marianne Ackerman, who is based in Montreal. Her latest novel, Piers Desire (2010), is set in Avignon where she and her husband lived and worked for many years. Piers, the central character, is a sexually repressed, middle-aged Canadian author living with a feisty but elegant landlady and her nubile niece. The plot romps around unresolved family issues, a jealous and scary boyfriend, seething desires and unexpected couplings.
Ackerman's retreat included leisurely evening meals with rambling discussions about story writing, a workshop on food writing and an afternoon’s outing through wine country. We visited the village of cookbook writer Patricia Wells whose memoir includes one of my favourite recipes for eggplant (p. 212).
I’m not alone in my infatuation with all things French. In our catalogue, a search with subject keywords “France decoration” yields about 100 titles. (To say nothing about food, wine, architecture, gardens, etc.) French style has many flavours besides country, so expect future excursions.
Next blog: More books on French country style from the collection.