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AN INTOXICATING VISIT TO A STORIED LAND
on 16 July 2001
While the allure of a foreign land is a subject often plumbed by such attractive sojourners as Peter Mayle (A Year In Provence) and Frances Mayes (Under The Tuscan Sun), British writer/actress Carol Drinkwater offers refreshingly original musings on her love affair with southern France. She is particularly drawn to a tumble-down villa built in 1904; it is called Appassionata " a musical term meaning with passion." "I am in the south of France, gazing at the not-so-distant Mediterranean, falling in love with an abandoned olive farm," Ms. Drinkwater writes. "The property, once stylish and now little better than a ruin, is for sale with ten acres of land." Love, as has been said, is blind. In this case, an unabashed Francophile didn't see the lack of running water, save on a rainy day through holes in the roof, or moldering walls or the legions of insects who inhabit the long abandoned villa. She didn't envision the ponderously slow French property laws, the perplexities of nurturing olive trees, the idiosyncracies of the local residents, the vagaries of nature, or the amount of money needed to make her dream home habitable. Warmed by the Mediterranean sun she simply thought, "To restore this old olive farm, with views overlooking the sea. To create roots, and with this man......it may be illogical, but it feels right." She invests all of her resources, including her only insurance policy, in what her friends and parents deem to be a scheme of madness, and stakes her future with Michel, a man who proposed the day after they met. So begins her joust with French law, her battles with fire and torrential rains, and her initiation into the complexities of olive farming: "A perfectly pruned olive tree is one through which a swallow can fly without its wings brushing the branches." In the process, she ingratiates herself with two teenage stepdaughters, adopts a number of stray dogs, and makes fast friends among the fascinating local citizenry. At times, she and Michel find themselves find themselves countries apart in efforts to raise funds for their television projects, their only hope of keeping Appassionata in their possession. Nonetheless, for Ms. Drinkwater all is a fantasy come true, as it will be for many readers who yearn to experience the magic of southern France. Part teacher and part torchbearer for all things Provencal, the author includes many snippets of history in her memoir as well as detailed descriptions of the processing of olive oil. She's also a gifted wordsmith aptly capturing with a phrase the scenes, tastes, and fragrances of the land she has grown to love. Armchair travelers will revel in this intoxicating visit to an ultra chic yet eternal corner of our world.