XXXV. Provence

postcards from france

Bridget’s host family has one of those beautiful provençal country houses that you see on the covers of Peter Mayle books. From Agnès’ apartment, it's a 45-minute uphill walk to get to it, which is one of the reasons I love to visit. On the way I pass Cézanne’s old painting studio, and once I crest the final hill, I am rewarded with a view of the Mont Sainte-Victoire over the olive groves. It’s not something I see every day.

Élodie, Bridget’s host mother, is stick-thin, blond, and tan. She knows that Agnès and I don't get along, so she frequently invites me over to their house for Sunday lunches. She smokes constantly, comme un pompier. Like a firefighter. My memories of Élodie are of sweet smoke wafting out of the kitchen, her whisking away at something that she probably won’t each much of, an apron tied tightly around her small waist.

Every time I arrive at their house, out of breath and slightly sweaty but beaming, Élodie and Isabelle, her equally blond and beautiful daughter, seem just as baffled as the last time I walked through the front door. You walked all the way here? Uphill? We can come pick you up!

No, thank you, I say, feeling like I’m repeating my lines in a scene. I’d rather walk. I like being outside. They shake their heads and laugh at how American I am.

Before lunch starts, Isabelle sneaks away to smoke cigarettes out of Élodie’s sight. She is only 15 years old and thin like her mother, but obsessed with losing kilos. The Sainte-Victoire winks at her where she is hiding behind the chimney, but she pays it no attention. Flicking ash onto the rosemary bushes growing around her, Isabelle checks her phone, stubs out her cigarette, and heads back inside to push food around her plate.