Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week, to celebrate the launch of her first memoir Seven Letters from Paris: A Memoir, I am talking to author Samantha Vérant about what France means to her.
Samantha Vérant is a travel addict, a self-professed oenophile, and a determined, if occasionally unconventional, French chef. She lives in southwestern France, where she's able to explore all of her passions, and where she's married to a sexy French rocket scientist she met in 1989, but ignored for twenty years.
Firstly, I think France is a special place and it is famed for many things including its cheese, wine, and diverse holiday locations plus, dare I say it strikes and dog poo littered streets. What do you think makes France so very unique and ‘French’?
Samantha: I think France is unique because of the fact that I’m able to drive somewhere exciting within two hours (sometimes less) and the landscape dramatically changes right before my eyes. One minute, I’ll see medieval castles on the route of les Cathares, and the next moment, I could be skiing down the Pyrénées Mountains, scuba diving in the Mediterranean Sea, surfing in Biarritz, or tasting wine in St. Émilion. Plus, in all these fabulously beautiful locations you are literally walking in history -- sometimes circumnavigating those pesky “landmines” on the cobbled streets. Thankfully, my husband, Jean-Luc, is a history buff and makes for an excellent tour guide. Viva La France!
2) What is your first memory of a trip to France?
Samantha: In 1989, my family lived in London, and my best friend, Tracey, and I wanted to travel Europe while we had the chance over the summer break. Paris was our first stop. The first two days, we crammed in everything we could-- boat rides on the Seine, shopping at the markets, visiting the Eiffel Tower, and dashing through most of the museums. But the biggest highlight of the trip was meeting Jean-Luc at Dame Tartine, a restaurant in le Beaubourg by Le Centre Pompidou. Like the cliché goes, my eyes connected with his from across the room. And bam! Love at first sight. I’ll never forget the spark or our first conversation.
3) When you first arrived in France what was the best thing about being immersed in French life and the scariest thing?
Samantha: The best part about becoming immersed in French life was all the new meal options, which, thanks to Jean-Luc, I learned to prepare. I guess I’m a bit of a foodie. (Note to self: don’t prepare French food in American-sized portions. The first year living in France, I gained a lot of weight. Gasp! Over 25 pounds/12 kilos. I’ve since lost most of the weight. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little extra padding).
As for the scariest thing, it was a toss-up between talking in French– in a loud enough voice so that people could actually hear me (I call this my mouse voice phase)– and driving a stick shift (manual gearbox). Now, after five years of living here, I drive and yell at the same time...without the fear of rolling backwards or weirdly rolling my Rs. French, of course, is a beautiful language, but not if you sound like a cat coughing up fur balls.
4) Do you have any embarrassing language mishaps you are happy to share?
Samantha: Where do I begin? There have been so many and, unfortunately, they always carry a sexual innuendo. The worst, which is mentioned in the book, took place my first Christmas in France. I’d just met Jean-Luc’s sisters and they asked me if we wanted to have children. In the best French I could muster up, I said, “After the marriage. We’re waiting for July.” Apparently, I mispronounced July like the verb jouir, which definitely isn’t a month. So his whole family thought I’d said, “After the marriage. We’re waiting for the orgasm.”
Ahhh, Americans! We are such an amusing species.
5) I have to ask you about French women, what do you think makes them different to us and gives them that je ne sais quoi?
Samantha: I think it all comes down to confidence, which French women wear very well! They also take great pride in their appearance, which is probably why there are over fifteen hair salons and six salons de beauté in my town of 13,000. That’s a lot of beauty.
6) Imagine you are sitting outside a French café at 10.00am on a sunny morning watching the world go by, what do you order from the waiter?
Samantha: I’d order une noisette, an espresso with a dash of milk. And then I’d have another one.
7) France has many different cheeses, a silly question, but which French cheese are you? Maybe, a hard and mature Tome, a soft, fresh and lively goat cheese, the creamy and rich Camembert or the salty and serious Roquefort?
Samantha: I’m a soft, creamy Cabécou, a goat cheese from the Dordogne region in France, about two hours north of my home. Before I’m wrapped up in chestnut leaves to age, I’m dipped in plum brandy and sprinkled with black pepper. Delicious. And I could say, “Coucou! I’m Cabécou!” Must be the brandy talking.
8) Is there anything French you won’t eat?
Samantha: There were quite a few food catastrophes in the beginning of my relationship with Jean-Luc, namely a meal called pot au feu de la mer– unrecognizable fish with their heads still on, glassy eyes staring at me from a steaming bowl of cabbage. I will never, ever order this again. But my tastes have changed a little bit. I hate to say it: I now adore civet de sanglier, wild boar, as long as the sauce isn’t chunky and grey.
9) Can you describe your perfect French apero for us: the drink, the nibbles, the location and the company?
Samantha: Drinks: Champagne or made to order mojitos using fresh mint from my garden
Nibbles: In addition to all the usual suspects, such as olives, potato chips for the kids, peanuts, a platter of crudités with a lemon-infused dipping sauce, I also serve hand-sized tartes, usually tomato and asparagus, and something in a verrine, like a homemade soup (maybe a gazapacho made with tomatoes from my garden) or a melon, dried ham, and feta cheese salad. One time, I served homemade sushi.
Location: My backyard in the summer. It’s beautiful! We have two lilac bushes, a magnolia tree, a cherry tree, wisteria, lavender, and lots of roses.
The company: You! You’re invited! Come on over to Toulouse. I love entertaining.
FVD: How could I resist that mouthwateringly delicious array of nibbles? I’m on my way.
10) France has some beautiful cities and there are a few that constantly battle to be my favourite, what is your favourite French city and why?
Samantha: We recently ventured off to Biarritz for a surf weekend. One afternoon (after being completely knackered out from all the waves in the morning), we headed to St. Jean de Luz, about a half hour south of Biarritz, and close to the Spanish border. It’s simply charming, filled with lovely shops, friendly people, and cute cafés and restaurants. The moules à la plancha (mussels cooked on a flat grill) were heaven in my mouth. Plus, St. Jean de Luz is located right on the Atlantic Ocean. It really is the perfect little beach town. Seriously, forget about St. Tropez!
Finally, do you have any current projects you would like to tell my readers about?
Samantha: Sure! Why not! I do have plans for memoir book two. In fact, I’ve already written 35k of it. It picks up where SEVEN LETTERS FROM PARIS leaves off. I jump into a new life in France...but I forget to pack a parachute and I land pretty hard. But as I settle into my new life and Jean-Luc’s children and I become closer, and as the relationship with Jean-Luc and I intensifies, no matter how terrifying things appear, I remind myself I have love on my side. And with love on my side I can do anything (including renovating a kitchen and building a bedroom-- the true test of any relationship!) Memoir book two will be another love story, but the focus will be on family. Of course, there will also be some romance. Maybe I’ll finally get back to Paris with Jean-Luc? Or go on a honeymoon? Neither of these things have happened...yet. I’m working on it.
Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about France and you.
Samantha: Thank you for having me! It’s been a blast!
Seven Letters from Paris: A Memoir is published by Sourcebooks and is available in paperback and ebook format. You can read my review of it here, it really is a lovely, romantic story. You can follow Samantha on Twitter, Facebook and on her blog.
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