Provence. Provence-Alpes-Maritimes is my home, and it has also become my work. I never fail to remind myself how fortunate I am. When I first came here to this southern coast of France I was looking for a ‘house by the sea’. I had circumnavigated the world several times over, both as an actress and traveller, looking for this mythical house I dreamed of. Of course, I found many and some were to die for, frequently outside my price range, requiring too much work for a totally impractical woman or, for one reason or another, they were just not ‘it’, not 'the one'. I could not have said why.
Until I fell in love with a Frenchman (while filming in Australia!) and together we found an abandoned, way-too-expensive property set back from the Bay of Cannes. The Olive Farm series of books was born.
The jungle of land and ruined jumble of stones that constituted The Olive Farm (my title for this hillside property) was never to become the chill-out holiday place I had envisaged. The Olive Farm has become my destiny. It is a very unexpected shift that has taken place. I came here as a youngish actress with lots of energy and I find myself now someone who is invited to universities and schools and various other organisations to talk about olive trees, the history of the olive tree, the plight of the honeybee, the dangers of pesticides. How did this come about, I continually ask myself.
Provence, its nature, its colours, its perfumes has inspired me. Its beauty is a daily revelation to me. And I have humbly stepped to the back of the long line of artists who have been bewitched by this sunlit, fecund sea- and mountain-scape. And it never ends. Every day, there is something new. The Scarce Swallowtail butterfly, for example. A visitor to our grounds since before we came on the scene, this exquisite cream and black pollinator plays a role in my new book, The Forgotten Summer.
When I begin the writing of a new story, while I am still discovering my story, my subject, I walk the lanes, browse art books, visit galleries, go for walks on the beach. I look for images, inspiration, and frequently from the masters who have known this territory before and better than me.
So, because I am deep, deep in editorial notes on my new book The Forgotten Summer to be published in February 2016, let me please just share a few images with you so that you too can enjoy the source of my inspiration.
Do you know the works of the Provencal artist Paul Camille Guigou (1834 - 1871)? I found this one La Lavandière at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. I hope you can see the tiny portion of Roman bridge or aqueduct in the background. Apologies that the jpeg is so small, I couldn't find a larger print.
A writer whose work I return to constantly is Jean Giono. I confess that I had never heard of him when I first came to live here. I saw streets named after him and I assumed he was a politician and then I came upon The Man Who Planted Trees. If you have never read his work, please do. The tales appear simple and yet they are steeped in nature, magic and wisdom. Henry Miller said of him: 'In Giono's work what every sensitive, full-blooded individual ought to be able to recognise at once is "the song of the world"'. And that says it all really. That is the gift Provence has given me: the song of the world.
I wake every morning to its cadences, its colours, its rhythms, its magnificence, and I know that I am alive and profoundly fortunate. I hope that The Forgotten Summer will bring a tiny sliver of all this to the page, but it won't if I don't get back to the editorial notes!
One last image to set us up for the day. Henri Matisse (1869 - 1954) was fascinated by the endless blue of the Mediterranean sea. Here is his view from a window onto the famous Promenade des Anglais in Nice.
The Bay of Nice 1918
It makes me want to jump in the car, drive twenty minutes along the coast and find that balcony or, even better, stop my work and go for a swim in that warm, sunlit sea.
Oh, just two more from Matisse …
Interior with a Violin (1917-1918)
painted at the Beau Rivage Hotel, Nice. I can feel the harsh beat of light beyond the shutters.
Painter in the Olive Grove 1922
Back to my own olive groves and my own more humble contributions these eulogies to Provence