It’s not the weather, which is currently better in the UK than in the south of France. Nor is it the stereotype of the food and wine – however much one embraces one’s local wines in France, it’s good to be able to drink from regions beyond the Rhône valley and the Duché d’Uzès. And nor is it the fact that Jill is still in France – she will be here next week.
It is … je ne sais quoi. And I really don’t.
I could put together a Peter Mayle-style concoction of anecdotes which would give you some small insight into what makes France in general and the south in particular so agréable à vivre but none of them would explain it to my satisfaction or yours. Mayle’s books, like those of his hundreds of imitators, are based on the sense of difference, on being an outsider looking in with a different set of values.
What is charming or amusing or quirky to an Englishman abroad is none of these things to the French. For them, this is their way of life. And I rather think that I have become French in this respect. Like them, I take it – whatever it is – for granted.
In our second or third summer in Uzès, I walked into our favourite bar à vin on market day and took a seat not in the sun, but in the shade. “Ah Max” said Bruno, the waiter, “you are no longer a tourist”.
Perhaps that was the turning point, the moment when I realised that the sun would probably be shining tomorrow and tomorrow; that Uzès had existed for hundreds of years in pretty much the same way; that the market may be bigger than it was in Racine’s day, but is fundamentally unchanged. He would recognise the produce on display and probably also the faces of the producteurs. He would know the groups gathering in particular cafés to râler against taxes and Parisiens, eking out a single café verre d’eau for an hour or so. And he would feel at home with the flâneurs strolling and lounging in the Place with no fixed purpose or objective.
What he wouldn’t recognise, of course, is people like me, and what Sylvette in the Bar du Marché calls la petite colonie Anglaise. Because despite Bruno’s compliment, and despite our determination to embrace the culture, we remain outsiders.
The French created la vie Française. And only they can live it to the full and properly appreciate it. I am just grateful that it exists and that, du temps en temps, I can share a little of it.
Today from the everysmith vault: With the release of the remastered recordings from Dead’s Spring 1990 tour, I’ve been listening to my own Aud tapes of those great shows. I don’t need the official set. Thanks, but no thanks, I’m very happy with what I’ve got.