It all started with Marcel Pagnol

Manon des sources

I can trace my obsession with Provence back to high school, when my teacher assigned the class Manon des sources by Marcel Pagnol. The storyline was pretty radical, especially for a Catholic high school syllabus, when English novels were scrutinized and cast aside if found even slightly inappropriate for “young minds.” Manon des sources, on the other hand, is emotionally and sexually charged. For goodness sake, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was tempered for our virgin ears, and yet Marcel Pagnol’s material went miraculously uncensored.

At some point, we were required to make presentations on Pagnol, and I have a distinct memory of photocopying colour pictures from a travel book to decorate my Bristol board: pictures of village fountains and lavender fields, bottles of olive oil and bicycles leaning against rustic cottages. Rarely was I this invested in French literature, but I ventured to the library and found some lovely books on the region, and researched way more than necessary.

Because most of us were Anglophones, the teacher allowed us to watch the accompanying films to enhance our understanding of the novel – which some of us struggled with, myself included. This turned my fascination into irrevocable obsession. The landscape was truly magnificent, and I stared at the screen, struck speechless by the lush gardens and clear waters. I could practically smell the handmade bread and the fresh herbs.

Of course, this didn’t help my progress in French verbs, which were in a sorry state at the time, but that didn’t stop me from completing my assigned reading to the best of my ability. Sure, I had to look up every second word in the dictionary, and I didn’t get remarkable grades on my tests, but I was committed. Once the semester was over, I continued my Provencial research, found some charming and informative books in English, and swallowed them whole. In the back of my 16 year old mind, I wondered how much a plane ticket would cost.

Over the years, my interests have morphed and matured, but Provence (and France in general) remains at the top of my bucket list. The airfare, which can fetch upwards of $1400 Canadian, is simply out of the budget this year – not to mention the accommodations and other costs – so I will have to get creative.

Welcome to the launch of May in France! Even when the weather was pathetic and cold outside my Ottawa window, I had great fun recreating the cosmopolitan Paris, lovely Provence or Normandy in my living room with a book that transports. Peter Mayle, Simone de Beauvoir, and Guy de Maupassant will make appearances. Several bottles of wine and wedges of cheese were tested. I even invested in a fantastic cookbook (My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz) and slowly experimented with each chapter: appetizers, first courses, main courses, sides and desserts. Join me for a month of imaginary (literary) travel and delicious food this spring.

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2 thoughts on “It all started with Marcel Pagnol

  1. What a good idea, to focus your reviews on one country for the month. I also studied Pagnol at our (Catholic) school but we did La Château de ma Mere.
    If you’re including books with a French setting in this theme, can I recommend Claire King’s The Night Rainbow – she’s English but lives in France so might qualify ;) more info here:

    http://annegoodwin.weebly.com/claire-king.html

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