My Year in Provence

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This is a hard post to write. I have such a flood of emotions looking back, reflecting on what I have learned, how I have grown, and what I have loved. You can not recap a year’s experience without ending it with what is next? To be honest, I don’t know. Sure, I thought I would come to spend a year in Provence and answer all the questions for myself about my life, about who I am and what I want. I can certainly answer now some of these things but other aspects have grown even more confusing. I loved things I never thought I could love like living in the country. I learned things about myself I never knew. For example, I am an introvert which finally explains why I hate talking on the phone, why people who are upset or angry give me anxiety attacks, why I feel so exhausted after social events, and most importantly, why I work so much better alone. So where does that take me next when I come back to the United States? 

It was shocking when I first arrived. Nothing seemed to be possible, from getting boxes delivered to buying food on a Sunday… or any time after 7pm. I missed all the things about New York I took for granted. 24/7 Uber service for instance. There is ONE Uber guy and he lives and hour from my little town. I am ecstatic when my train pulls into Avignon and he’s on the clock. I missed laundry service. The last time I took a linen shirt to be pressed they estimated a turn around time of two weeks… lol. So I got used to wrinkles. I missed Seamless, something which I never even think about now. The pleasure I derive in cooking is to the point of therapy. The access to organic, AFFORDABLE, locally farmed ingredients here puts the US to a great shame. I will never forget my first trip to the farmer’s market. Alone with only a handful of French words, I was terrified. I paid for everything with 20’s because I didn’t understand the amounts, and I was used to New York City farmer’s market prices, until I discovered how incredibly inexpensive everything was. Then I walked into the wine shop and my jaw really hit the ground. When it is not market day in my town or one of the surround villages, I have four bio (organic) grocers I can walk to. I know their names, what is happening in their life, who is having a baby and who is in the hospital. I am, for once, part of a community and I feel physically part of the earth here. 

I learned to live a life with less noise. My days in Provence are filled mostly with cooking, cleaning, and making photographs and those are the days when I am most happy. I found freedom. Above everything I learned, I discovered true freedom. Freedom exists beyond the ability to choose where you live or what you believe. I found freedom in my art and expression. I found freedom from money. Of course, we all need money to survive but they don’t worship it here in France and it’s amazing how much your stress levels dissolve when that’s not the goal to life. I’m really into being free from plastics and logos and that has brought down the noise in my life in the best way. I loved the freedom from a culture that tells woman how we are supposed to look. I loved being free from what society tells me I should be doing like having children and a corporate job so I have health insurance. I loved the freedom from ‘stuff’. I never had to walk outside my door and be reminded of all the ‘stuff’ I don’t have that I supposedly need to in order to be valuable. The value comes from within – in my mind, in my soul and if I can create something of meaning. I wish I had more time to work on these ideas. Time, I have come to find out, is the most valuable thing we have. 

To quote the French philosopher Albert Camus who lived in Lourmarin not far from me, “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” 

Of course, these are just some of the many thoughts and experiences I have garnered in my year here. I slowed down on sharing (blogging) to take the time to be present and experience. I imagine when I return to the US I will begin editing and posting so many of the stories I have filled up 5 hard drives with. There is so much to sift through and my heart has been on a roller coaster. This week has been especially though as I try to figure out where I belong in the world and what value I have for an American culture. 

I created a self portrait to mark the year anniversary as part of my #ProvenceSelfPortraitSeries inspired by Jan van Eyck’s “The Arnolfini Portrait“. This is a great short video on the piece from one of my favorite YouTube art channels. I loved that this was a “painting of everyday life” as much of my personal work here in Provence has been a celebration of the day to day things. What is in bloom, what is in season, what bug crawls into the window, how the light is today.

Beyond that, I wanted to explain some of the personal symbolism I added into this photographic rendition that pertains to my own experience at this year mark. First, there is meaning in the absences. The absence of furniture is symbolic of feeling unsettled, homeless. I brought in chairs, tables, daybeds and pushed them back out. I feel at home in Provence in my soul, yet I do not have a home. I left the shadow of the table with a bowl of pears cast along the left edge to show there is life that happens in this space. I planned to bring in a newly born kitten from town as I love all the cats that roam my village and have earned their trust but then I felt the absence of the pet represented my life more. As many of you know who follow me on Instagram stories, I DREAM of having pets. Both women wear green gowns by Loup Charmant (left & right) in green, green being a symbol of hope. My hope that this path I am on will lead me to where I belong. The hope that I can do something with this work I have created in Provence. The woman on the right holds her gown close to her chest, representing holding everything dear to me I have learned in Provence. The only real valuable thing I can take with me when I go. Her slippers are on because it is time for her to leave. She looks back, sorrowfully to the woman on the left, sometimes I feel my heart being ripped out when I think about having to leave this place. Originally, I had taken a photographic plate with tear stained cheeks but felt the expression was enough on its own. The woman on the left is turned to be ‘looking back’, reflecting on her time in Provence. Her slippers are off and she is barefoot to represent feeling at home here. She gestures with her hand in the way of a ‘blessing’, feelings blessed from this time in France. Though they are married together, in the sense as one, their hands rest together open, vulnerable of being torn apart. The inscription on the wall is my signature and dated for my one year. Hanging above them in an antique mirror which I borrowed from a shop in town, hides a third self portrait. The real me, the photographer. I stand in my men’s linen suit with my camera on the tripod. You can see a discarded green dress on the table, my phone in the bottom left which I use to create these self portraits as a remote control to my camera. I am standing in the kitchen which is pretty much where I always am while at home either working or cooking. You can see the large French doors that over look my garden and her ripened fig tree. 

I will be here a bit longer. I have some more personal work I need to do before I go and a few professional jobs on the table. So there is some time to ponder what happens next…