When freelancing in Provence, the notion of ‘toiling in the fields’ takes on surprising new meanings, especially when your nearest WiFi connection is from your neighbour’s wheat field.
You haven’t really experienced the demands of the digital age until you find yourself hunched over WordPress in rural darkness, batting moths from your face. Or sending an email in the middle of a downpour that’s turned the ‘fields’ into rivers of slop. Equally interesting is watching a helicopter from the local air force base drop in the adjacent field, whipping the grains in front of you ever so gently.
Still, it’s not surprising how artists got such a lot done in the south of France. When the sun’s scorching everything, simply pop a cork and read dizzily until nightfall. When the clouds tumble in, thunder belches and the lights go out, maybe play some jazz and work on your adjectives. But don’t forget the candles and corkscrew (you can forget about screwtops this end of the earth).
Provence is good for something else too – running. Ask me five months ago what I thought of jogging, and I’d probably laugh spittle over your face. But somehow, in this terracotta wedge of France, putting on ugly shoes and sweating in front of pedestrians feels appropriate. It even feels good. There’s no better way to prepare for a day of work (or leisure) than flailing past fields of wilting sunflowers and pumpkins. Anxieties of the city get ground up and forgotten, like dog turds on the pavement (another French speciality).
When the sun’s scorching everything, simply pop a cork and read dizzily until nightfall.
Enough about running. Let’s talk about writing in Provence, which comes pretty nicely once the jogging part is out of the way. There are, however, a few obstacles you may encounter to successfully freelancing in this otherwise ideal working environment. These are:
1. The big one – WiFi. As may be deduced from the previous paragraphs, it really pays to ensure you have a healthy supply of the stuff before arrival. Not too much – it can cramp the relaxing provincial vibe they have going here – but just enough to ensure that, when the rain hits, you don’t start eyeing up clingfilm and cardboard as viable materials for the construction of a ‘laptop tent’.
2. French stationary. With big brands like Clairefontaine and Rhodia obtained for chips over here, who knew this would be an issue? Turns out it is, but only if you don’t appreciate writing on grid paper. Because that’s what a standard notebook looks like here. Lots of lines. More lines than you’ll ever know what to do with. For example, while drafting this article I covered an impressive sixteen columns per line, on top of an additional four rows per line. Does that make sense? Because writing it certainly didn’t.
3. Boissons. Think you can hold your beer? Try drinking a few rounds in France, where beer is typically six to twelve percent. Stuck in the middle of the most delicious vineyards known to humanity, wine flows as abundantly in Provence as the eau from their grotesque water fountains. In the supermarkets, located somewhere between the cheese and cheval (horse), you can nab an excellent Côte du Rhone for €4 (around AUD$5.60). If you want to get any work done at all, it pays to be aware of these things.
4. The Mistral. This iconic northerly wind can rage for days, whisking up dust and vegetables and witches on bicycles throughout the region. I would write more on the subject, except it’s just been raining and I don’t fancy mud on my shoes for the sake of research.
5. C’est la Sieste! Small towns – especially if they hail from Provence – are dubbed ‘sleepy’ for good reason. From 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. everyone is literally snoring, leaving everything except the restaurants and souvenir shops shut. The beauty of it is you’ll have a store supposedly eschewing the sieste – and then find it closed at 2 p.m.
6. Driving in Provence. Want to be taken out by a truck, a deranged French provincial driver, clip a Roman building or drop into a ditch? Then sure, drive around Provence. Go for it. See what happens.
Once you master these minor setbacks, you can begin including Provence in your next grant applications. Because this place will probably change things about you that need changing.
Pros of working in Provence:
- Essentially a writer’s retreat, with the added advantage of Roman ruins, baguettes, wine and cheese.
- Unpolluted air.
- Country lanes offer abundant exercise at unbeatable prices.
- Vineyards can be a great source of snacks, provided you’re stealthy enough to pick a bunch of grapes without being noticed by the neighbour’s snarling farmdogs.
- If you’re lucky enough to stay in a converted farmhouse with an overgrown vegetable garden, you needn’t waste time walking to the shops.
Cons of working in Provence:
- WiFi is nowhere near as ubiquitous as in Paris.
- Distinct lack of Scottish chipperies.
- Hunting season.
- French stationary (only a negative if you’re not fond of grids).
- Driving in Provence is like driving in Toy Land – except with the added complications of life-sized vehicles and maniac European drivers.
- The marked increase in air force bases, jets, helicopters and army trucks can be slightly distracting and/or unnerving.
Megan Anderson is Going Down Swinging’s online editor.