Howard Burton is a man who decides to move with his family to the south of France expecting something quite different from what he got. It inspires him to write letters to his family about his thoughts on life in the southern French countryside. It’s not Provence. It’s not all aperitifs at sunset. And it’s not what he thought it was going to be.
In this memoir, Howard Burton describes his early experiences of moving with his family to a medieval hilltop village called Le Pouget in Languedoc after years of running Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada. The Languedoc region is sometimes referred to as the “real South of France”— thanks to its largely unspoilt, breathtakingly-beautiful countryside, traditional wine-making villages and slower pace of life.
The book details what it is really like to move to France and try to build up a new life in a culture that Howard and his family thought they were familiar with until they encountered countless surprises, some positive and some negative… In addition, Howard opines on the unique political and educational system in France.
Howard doesn’t mollycoddle the reader and he doesn’t hide the fact that often, the life he has found in France isn’t the life he imagined or desired. It’s an honest and open account of what life is really like in the middle of nowhere from his perspective, a city slicker and academic – he has a PhD in theoretical physics and an MA in philosophy.
It’s a largely light-hearted read and he pokes fun at himself, realising that you get out what you put in and coming to understand that he needs to put more in. Through his letters in which he shows a clear love of words, Howard describes his life, worrying about sending his children to a village school where he fears they won’t be educated properly. He detests the next door neighbour’s straying cockerels and dealing with banks, France telecom and other administrative hurdles. And he doesn’t take to the locals. It’s a warts and all view of life in rural France. It isn’t for everyone and I couldn’t help feeling Howard and family would probably have loved city life a lot more.
He veers between ‘becoming less and less tolerant of the charms of rural living’ to, over time, coming round to accepting and even enjoying French provincial life. Although the book is not a guidebook, Howard talks about some of the glorious sites, the wine, history, and many charms of the area. And, over the course of the letters, he eventually accepts that in fact he does indeed love much about France which he declares is ‘saturated with beauty’.
It’s an engaging read, witty, well written and presents one man’s unique view of life in rustic France…
Available from Amazon and all good books stores.