Archive for the ‘Book’ Category

Peter Mayle certainly started something back in 1989 when he published ‘A Year in Provence’.  What a best-seller that turned out to be; and it launched a whole genre of ‘newcomer-to-Provence-buys-old-house/olive-grove’ books that document the inevitable cultural differences that we all bump up against. Is there anything more to be said?

Well Keith Van Sickle certainly thought so.

He and wife Val wanted to leave the US to live in Provence, but there were two problems: they weren’t French speakers and they had full-time jobs.  So, taking advantage of new technology, they left their jobs, became consultants and split their time between the two countries.

‘One Sip at a Time’ charts their progress mastering the new language and making friends with the locals.  Of course long meals are the order of the day so the ‘one sip’ in the title relates to our delightful Provencal wine, but also to the short chapters of the book, each with its own central observation.

I did enjoy this approach as he comments on:

  • the right and wrong ways for men to kiss each other
  • the French addiction to Nutella
  • when to pronounce the final ‘s’ as in Carpentras, but why the ‘x’ is pronounced in Coudox and not in Velaux when they are next door to each other
  • being the subject of waiters’ scorn for liking milk in coffee
  • the preponderance of tail-gaters in France…..and so on.

The couple had three extended stays in the area – Molleges, Le Thor and Ventabren, near Aix – and did their best to fit into each community, making good friends along the way.

It’s an easy and light-hearted read: both M. Aixcentric and I enjoyed it.

It would make a welcome pressie for new arrivals to the area.   I’m sure ‘Book In Bar’ could order it for you or…https://www.amazon.co.uk/One-Sip-Time-Learning-Provence/dp/0998312002 have it in paperback or Kindle.


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Paris is a much-loved and well-known city, well documented too, but increasingly visitors are seeking out new quartiers to explore, whether through neighbourhood guided tours or staying in Airbnb accommodation.

Writer Susan Cahill has tapped into this vibe with her guide to Paris following in the footsteps of famous Parisians.

She includes medieval lovers Héloïse and Abelard, King Henri IV, scientist Madame Curie,  chanteuse Edith Piaf, and the writer Colette. We are told the life-stories of twenty-two famous Parisians and then taken to the quartiers where they lived and worked. Every tour begins with a Metro stop and ends with a list of “Nearbys”―points of interest along the way, including cafes, gardens, squares, museums, bookstores, churches, and, of course, patisseries.

To follow artist Alberto Giacometti for instance, the visitor must go to the district of Pernety in the 14th arondissement to find his studio.  It was a rural area back then but now artists have colonised the old stables.  Susan Cahill describes the area: ‘It’s scenic and charming like a movie set of a secret Paris though it feels – it is – lived in’.  The chapter tells us lots about the artist and his years living there. Bordering Montparnasse, he visited all the artistic haunts – La Coupole, Le Select and Le Dome – often walking miles at night with Samuel Beckett.   After the walk through the neighbourhood, the author directs us to Place Flora Tristan to join the locals at this terrace-café.

It’s a great idea for a book with loads of ideas for exploring Paris – lots of photos too.

For some reason, it is currently only available to order through http://www.amazon.com which means a dispatch here in France from the US.  Here’s the link:https://www.amazon.com/Streets-Paris-Following-Footsteps-Throughout/dp/1250074320



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Van Gogh’s Ear

Yesterday I met up with local author Bernadette Murphy whose book ‘Van Gogh’s Ear – The True Story’ has been such a success.  It was chosen by BBC Radio 4 as their book of the week and was also the subject of a BBC2 TV documentary.

It’s a fascinating and gripping story of detective work as Bernadette travelled extensively and exhumed endless archive material to find out exactly what happened that night in December 1888.

When I visit, it always strikes me how little must have changed in Arles.  The back streets are still as quiet and dusty as they must have been in Vincent’s time, although his Yellow House was destroyed in 1944.  The tourist offices in both Arles and Saint-Remy have done a good job of placing boards with his paintings in key places – now is a good time

The old hospital in Arles is now a mediatheque – but the garden is as he painted it, and described in a letter. A lovely space.

to visit before these places get too crowded.  Plus the Fondation Van Gogh is showing ‘Calm and Exaltation. Van Gogh in the Buhrle Collection’ with 8 of his paintings, until 17th September.


Bernadette’s book is on sale in Aix’s Book In Bar, and from this week is available in paperback.


More details of the book below:

On a dark night in Provence in December 1888 Vincent van Gogh cut off his ear. It is an act that has come to define him. Yet for more than a century biographers and historians seeking definitive facts about what happened that night have been left with more questions than answers.

In Van Gogh’s Ear Bernadette Murphy sets out to discover exactly what happened that night in Arles. Why would an artist at the height of his powers commit such a brutal act? Who was the mysterious ‘Rachel’ to whom he presented his macabre gift? Was it just his lobe, or did Van Gogh really cut off his entire ear? Her investigation takes us from major museums to the dusty contents of forgotten archives, vividly reconstructing the world in which Van Gogh moved – the madams and prostitutes, café patrons and police inspectors, his beloved brother Theo and his fellow artist and house-guest Paul Gauguin. With exclusive revelations and new research about the ear and about ‘Rachel’, Bernadette Murphy proposes a bold new hypothesis about what was occurring in Van Gogh’s heart and mind as he made a mysterious delivery to her doorstep that fateful night.

Van Gogh’s Ear is a compelling detective story and a journey of discovery. It is also a portrait of a painter creating his most iconic and revolutionary work, pushing himself ever closer to greatness even as he edged towards madness – and one fateful sweep of the blade that would resonate through the ages.



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Having just recommended a visit to the tourist office to pick up the guide on gardens, here are another two potentially useful books. (more…)

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Aix’s English language bookshop, Book-in-Bar, has announced its next events.

The title for the monthly reading group is ‘Our Souls at Night’ by Kent Haruf.

Thursday 18th May, 17:30.

This is followed by the meeting for Poetry Corner led by Irish poet Sheighle Birdthistle.

Friday 19th May, 17:30.

Then there is a reading/signing by Joseph Boyden, the Canadian novelist and short-story writer.

Thursday, June 22nd.

Book In Bar is on rue Joseph Cabassol, off the cours Mirabeau, just opposite the Caumont Centre d’Art.


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The 19th Fete de la Librarie takes place tomorrow and here in Aix, Book In Bar is laying on a special programme (more…)

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‘Le Manege Magique’ is at the top of the cours Mirabeau, and that can only mean one thing: the annual bande-dessinée festival is starting. 

It’s the 14th to be held and each year it seems to expand.  This year there are 10 exhibitions running in various galleries around town until 28th May.  The event kicks off this weekend with a conference based at the Cité du Livre – 50 authors will be there presenting their work to the numerous fans who attend every year.  It’s a wide and detailed programme so have a look here:http://www.bd-aix.com/.

Expect to see lots of superheroes on posters around town.


And if you have children to amuse, take them for an unforgettable ride on a prehistoric animal, fire-breathing dragon or antique aircraft…all  part of the Manege Magique.


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