Posts Tagged ‘‘Taking Root in Provence’ Anne-Marie Simons’

If Aixcentric has been a little quiet lately it is because I have been busy reading two books which should interest lovers of Aix: ‘Taking Root in Provence’ by Anne-Marie Simons and ‘Cézanne A Life’ a hefty new biography by Alex Danchev.

Anne-Marie Simons moved to Aix 13 years ago after taking early retirement from her work in Washington as a translator, teacher, sportswriter (covering Formula 1) and director of corporate communications.  Like so many ex-pats she fell in love with Provence and has worked hard to integrate herself – and her Argentinian husband – by making French friends, perfecting her French and learning as much as possible about this wonderful region of France.  Now she shares it with us in her book ‘Taking Root in Provence’ which, thankfully, is not about doing up an old house and patronising local builders, but is a collection of essays about topics as varied as the Gypsy Pilgrimage, the Avignon Festival, the Carmargue, Summer Festivities and – topically – Christmas in Provence.  I enjoyed this book and learned about some aspects of life here that I hadn’t experienced: villages, fêtes and events I haven’t been to for instance. My favourite was the chapter ‘Surprising Marseille’ which is a beautifully-tuned overview of the positive side of this very visual city.  This strikes me as being a good book to recommend to incoming visitors, to give them context for their visit, or a nice stocking-filler for lovers of Provence.  It’s available from the bookstores in town or from Amazon.

In parallel, I’ve been absorbed in this new biography of Cézanne which has had great reviews in the UK where it has just been published. You may well think that there’s not much left to write about the life of Aix’s most famous artist but this book is unusual in its approach. The author, Alex Danchev, is Professor of International Relations at Nottingham University and he is the author of several biographies as well as writing on world-wide war and conflict. So he brings a very wide-ranging mind to his subject which he examines with the help of other artists’ experiences, and through contemporary writing, drawing especially on the work of Zola. In addition he has had access to diaries and letters to help him fathom the sometimes difficult behaviour of his subject. Cézanne, he argues, created his own persona – the rough Provençal in Paris, and then proceeded to act it out; ‘Performing Cézanne became one of his best turns’.  He describes in great detail his artistic methodology, relying on strong sensations to infuse his painting.

The author examines the paintings in fine detail –  fortunately the book has colour plates so you can follow his thought-processes. Knowing Aix well also adds a fascinating dimension as the reader follows the action around the town and gets insights into 19th century life. 

The Epilogue is devoted to various people’s ‘Cézanne epiphanies’: Rilke, Courtauld, Klee, even Woody Allen…. ‘ he is the teacher par excellence’….’he is the teacher of mankind in the here and now’.  Here I came slightly adrift. The plaudits come from all manner of artists and writers, some comments rather difficult to understand and made me feel I was missing something.  Maybe I’ll reread this last chapter!  I’d welcome any comments from anyone who has read this biography.

And finally back to today.  Anne-Marie Simons has a very good blog – http://provencetoday.blogspot.fr/ It’s a good commentary on social and political happenings in France.  The current post brings us background info on the Fillo-Copé stand-off and the latest on Rachida Dati and her merry men.  Well worth bookmarking.

A bientot!


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