I have a secret to tell.... I have been renting an olive farm in Provence since 2001 when I first read Carol Drinkwater's memoir The Olive Farm .... well, in my dreams, I have!! I know that there is a myriad of travel memoirs out there, all wanting to impart their story of how a crumbling old house was restored to grandeur, usually peppered with a few anecdotes about quirky locals - just to add extra ambiance, n'est-ce pas... however, this series is very special to me as the author really is passionate about her environment and on a larger scale "our" environment which is quite frankly under threat.
"Return to the Olive Farm" opens as Carol returns from a 16 month expedition around the Med in search of the origins of the ancient and mystical Olive tree. She had written two books about her Olive quest and her travels and it is now a delight to return to Appassionata, the Provencal farm she shares with her husband Michel and to renew acquaintance with Quashia, her gardener, who doesn't quite see eye to eye with his boss when it comes to farming methods. I love the passion which Carol obviously has for olive farming and her lust for life and for discovering the natural world.
The main focus this time is on the possibility of having a truly organic olive grove and the many obstacles towards achieving such an admirable objective, given that France doesn't have a particularly strong record in championing the organic way. It is definitely so much easier and less heartbreaking to take the mass pesticide/bumper crop route and you find yourself really rooting for Carol to succeed without all the usual chemical parphenalia. I am in awe of how she keeps on going despite constant setbacks but then that could be the stubborn Irish streak, I guess - speaking as a fellow Irish woman! There's also a wonderfully vivid backdrop of supporting characters such as Madame, the fearsome Asbestos inspector, Michael Latz, the first Organic Mayor in France, Marley, Michel's grandson, not forgetting the honey bees.
So what else makes this stand out from the rest of the heap? I think a lot of its attraction for me stems from the honesty of the writing, the attention to detail, the intensity of the writer's relationship with the land, the willingness to take risks, the constant interest in what other local farmers do, the lack of fear when entering traditionally male-dominated arenas, the ability to deal with recalcitrant, inebriated builders with good humour and grace!! Above all you feel like you're observing a very intimate moment in someone else's life as they fall back in love with a place they'd left behind.
So, I would advise you, allez vite and get caught up with this series if you haven't already done so and if you've already shared in life at Appassionata, then allez vite aussi, snuggle up and get reacquainted!