Julie Mautner, an American writer in love with Provence
Julie Mautner is an American journalist living most of the year in St. Remy de Provence.
Since she came to France and began freelancing in 1999, she has published hundreds of articles-mostly on food, wine and travel-in magazines such as Travel & Leisure, Conde Nast Traveller UK, Food & Wine, House Beautiful, Elle, Elle Decor UK, Epicurious.com, Bon Appetit, Food Arts and others. Julie also publishes the successful blog ProvencePost.com and has her first book coming out this year. We asked her to share the experience of finding her fabulous new life in the South of France...
I was living in New York City and working as a magazine editor when I decided to take a photography class in Provence. It was a two-week class and it was the best vacation of my life. After returning to New York, I couldn’t stop thinking about the South of France. And so I returned...again and again. Each time I got myself back to Provence, I loved it even more.
Finally, the pull was just too strong to ignore. I looked at my bank account and realized that I could take six months off work, surviving on my savings if I was very very careful. I wanted to read, travel, bike, garden and sleep. I wanted to do all the things we never get to do when we have stressful, full-time jobs in the city. I wanted to see and smell and experience as much beauty as possible.
So I quit my job in New York, sublet my apartment and ran away from home….to Provence. Thanks to 15 years of experience working on food magazines (in Chicago and New York), I had a very solid network of food- and travel-industry contacts and before I knew it, I was getting freelance writing assignments. So I began writing articles for major magazines and websites in the U.S. and the U.K. That’s when I realized that I might never have to go back to New York...to a 9-to-5 job...to ‘real life.’
As a food and travel writer, I can’t think of many places to live and work that would be more magical than this one.
In late 2008, I decided to start my blog called ProvencePost.com. I assumed my readers would be English speakers living in the South of France...expats like me, mostly. But I was surprised and delighted to find that the Provence Post has an appeal far beyond the lovely Alpilles Mountains, the gorgeous rocky hills that cut through the Bouches-du-Rhône region where I live. Every day people from all over the world visit my blog...last month 77 different countries were represented. There are obviously a lot of folks out there who feel the way I do about Provence!
I moved to Provence in 1999, speaking not a word of French. I can’t imagine what I was thinking! (I remember someone telling me that everyone in France learned English in school…so I wouldn’t really have a problem with language. And because I wanted this to work out, I chose to believe them.) But I think the real reason I found the courage to do it was because I never really “moved” to France…I just came here for a while…and then stayed.
So was it easy? Ha! I had to find a house to rent and then I had to furnish it. (I found out the hard way that “unfurnished” in France is quite different from unfurnished in the U.S.! My kitchen came equipped with a four-burner stovetop and a sink. That was it: no fridge, no oven, no microwave, no upper cabinets…not even a drawer. Rien!
I had to set up a bank account, learn to pay bills and figure out all the other things one needs to do when starting a new life. I didn’t know how French gas pumps or laundromats or answering machines worked; I couldn’t figure out how to write a check or answer my cell phone or drive stick. I crashed my rental car, got another and crashed that one too. I decided I should probably buy a used car--but how on earth was I going to do that without speaking any French? Is 60,000 kilometers a lot? What’s clim?
And where, I kept wondering, were all those French people who had learned to speak English in school?
Day in and day out, I just bumbled along. More times than I care to admit, I left a shop without something I needed because I didn’t know how to ask for it--and was too timid to try. My neighbors would smile and wave at me on the street and rather than walk over to chat, I’d wave back and scurry away, embarrassed that I’d been in France almost a year and still couldn’t say much more than “ Tres bien, merci! Et vous?”
And just about every time I opened my mouth, I tu-ed when I was supposed to vous— and vice versa. It’s a wonder I made any French friends at all.
At times the stupidity of what I was trying to do—without speaking the language—reduced me to fits of laughter; at other times, inconsolable tears. But somehow each problem got sorted out, which made the next problem that much easier. There were terrible days and fabulous days, but every day—and I mean every day—was an adventure. Many days still are.
Had I taken the time to learn about the people, history, culture and language of France before buying that one-way plane ticket, I probably never would have come here at all. Yes, you should follow your dreams--but following your impulses can be wonderful too.
Moving to Provence was the smartest stupid thing I’ve ever done.
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