Several years ago, I developed a serious case of envy for the life of author Vicki Archer. In My French Life, Archer recounts the story of her family’s move from Australia when they purchased a 17th century mas, or farmhouse, in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. The mas was in pretty rough shape, and the book detailed the work that was done to restore the house and olive groves that surrounded it. As Archer wrote, “What happens when raw instinct and unusual circumstance take the place of the well thought-out and the certain? Our lives changed with one simple decision; everything I had taken for granted and knew throughout my adult life had been transformed. My future and the future of my family became foreign. Our database of knowledge and inherent familiarity was no longer of any use.”
Archer chronicles her coup de foudre with the mas and France in a coffee table size book illustrated by Paris-based photographer Carla Coulson. Together, they showcase French art, architecture, food, and people, including a trek through Place Vendôme decorated for Christmas. I photocopied the “My French Address Book” section and carried it on my own treks through France, as a 224-page book was a little bulky. She also has a section entitled “My French Inspiration” in which she lists the movies, music, and books that served as her guide to all things francophone. After reading My French Life, I wanted so badly to pull up stakes and move to France, too.
A couple of weeks ago, I discovered that Archer had published another lush large-format book, French Essence: Ambience, Beauty, and Style in Provence in which she recounts her on-going life in Provence. In the first book, Archer was an outsider in France, but here she’s fully at home. Also photographed by Coulson, the book has lovely pictures of garden, interiors, and village life. In the chapter entitled “Ambiance,” Archer says, “It is not about creating perfection, it is about creating sentiment.” The soft lighting in the photos really captures that ambiance and the beauty of the south of France.
But this isn’t just a pretty book. It’s an account of turning a wreck into a working olive farm. Although she recounts the search for a copy of a treasured book, her life is far from just shopping and ladies who lunch. I liked Archer’s account of wild boars attacking her garden and her great love for her olive trees. She writes, “I section my branches and use both hands to remove the olives in sweeping gestures. It reminds me of detangling and brushing my daughters’ long hair before school.” Archer compares the olive nets to a bride juggling her veil for the first waltz. Lovely image, that.
Joseph Marie de Maistre said, “L’essence de toute intelligence est de connaitre et d’aimer” (lessahnse deh toot ahn-tell-ee-zjehnse eh deh kon-eh-truh ay demay), which means “The essence of all intelligence is to know and to love.” If you know you love the essence of all things French, you can also follow Vicki Archer’s blog and her Pinterest boards.