Bonjour! Today, we have a very special guest post for Amour et Florand as Laura Florand herself shares some thoughts about her writing.
Yay, Laura! *claps enthusiastically*
Exploring the streets of the towns around Grasse leads here, in Cagnes (Haut de Cagnes), France. This street, with its thick vine, will become the inspiration for the street on which Colette Delatour’s house is found, in the Vie en Roses series.
I think anyone who reads my work can tell that I am deeply compelled by the powerful sensuality of setting. The sound of bees buzzing densely around you as you crouch amid lavender, the way the sprigs of it gently scratch their scent against your skin. The silk of petals as you press your thumb into a rose to harvest it, and the prick of a thorn if you’re careless. The scent of sun against stone and jasmine, and the subtle chatter of dried leaves over cobblestones in the streets of some old Provençal town, as if the wind is gossiping about you as you climb toward some chapel or castle set on the heights.
These are the settings of the Vie en Roses series, a setting that defiantly eludes capture. All words fail here. How do you describe the harvest of a valley full of roses? Rose petals are actually softer than silk, their scent sweeter and fresher than sweetness, and in any case, all words like “silk”, “sweet” have been worn weak with overuse. So what is a writer to do? This is the challenge and joy of writing about such vivid worlds: that eternal, Sisyphian effort to do justice to their vividness on the printed page.
The books in La Vie en Roses focus around a family in Grasse in the south of France, a family whose role in the fragrance industry of that region dates back to the Renaissance. In the Amour et Chocolat series, on the other hand, I have been fascinated by another profession obsessed with the senses: the top chocolatiers and pastry chefs of Paris. These amazing, incredibly hard-working, passionate, perfectionist chefs who devote their whole being to creating that most perfect, magical dessert or chocolate that will melt in someone else’s mouth, give someone else pleasure.
Laura with chocolatier Michael Chaudun
Maybe I am so fascinated by them because they do so well something I, with words, would like to do: capture the power of the senses. One small, perfect chocolate is, in itself, the quintessence of sensuality. And here, too, the setting helps compel me: that rich setting of chocolate, pastry, intense work, and, of course, one step outside the laboratoire, the streets of Paris. If you cannot walk down the Seine at night and be utterly enraptured by the fact that you are alive to experience this, then you are immune to all magic.
People often ask me why I write about France. Sometimes I say, tongue in cheek, that the culture appropriated me. As a student planning her dissertation in Francophone literature, with a focus on French Polynesia, I came to Paris with some reticence, as a graduate assistant with my university’s study abroad program. I initially was underwhelmed by Paris — compared to warm and energetic Madrid, in which I had spent the semester before, or Tahiti, where I had spent a year on a Fulbright Grant. In Paris that first year, it rained all the time and the very bad bet of an ex-boyfriend I had left behind found my number and kept calling me at three in the morning, and it was all just very miserable.
But Paris caught me. France caught me. I met my husband there. He took me out inline skating on the Seine night after night and taught me to fall in love with his city, in all its fascination and frustration. And his huge, effervescent family wrapped us up in their embrace, welcoming and fun but very much taking over my whole life as I had known it, until there came a point that so little of my original self was left in me that I would struggle to recapture the English language by sitting down to write, forcing my way through the awkward syntax French kept imposing on my thoughts, until I could express myself again in my native language.
Patriarch Joseph Mul with in his fields of roses, near Grasse, France. Joseph Mul grows the roses and jasmine used in Chanel’s perfumes, including the famous N. 5.
So writing became a way of possessing my own experience, if you will — of everything that was so powerful and magical and, yes, difficult about that experience. I had always written — I’ve been writing every day since I was nine years old, determined to “be a writer”—but once when I was a teenager, my grandfather told me to “go live my life first and then write about it”. And I guess I had finally done that.
I still teach, and one thing I try to give my students is the same thing I try go give my readers: the world is a huge, rich place, and I hope you’ll go after it with everything in you. Sink into experiences. (And no, these don’t have to be expensive experiences, although I do love travel and believe strongly in its value and in the value of learning at least one other language. But you can take a walk in your nearest woods and sink into experiences, just by remembering to touch the bark on the trees sometimes. You can eat a clementine and sink into the experience, just by squeezing the peel to release the oils.)
Enrobeuse at Jacques Genin
I once in a while receive emails from a rare reader who is angry — really, virulently angry — that I might write about something outside small town America. I grew up in a small town myself, and small towns can be as rich in experience as anywhere else (Sarah Addison Allen, for example, vividly evokes small towns at an all-five-senses level). But that someone should think you should close off all other options makes me really, really sad.
But what makes me really happy is when I hear from readers who have, after reading these books, decided to take that trip to France they’ve been dreaming of, or try that basil-infused gourmet chocolate, or just take whatever action expands your life and experience.
You encourage me to expand my life and experience. To brave anticipated rejection from one of the world’s best chocolatiers and maneuver myself into his laboratoire, to chat with people in the streets of Grasse as I hunt down access to rose growers and perfumers, to explore new places and tastes and textures, new sources of story.
So thank you, all of you, for that. For keeping me reminded not to shrink-wrap my own life, but to keep all that space open to stretch out my arms, take deep breaths of lavender, go taste some chocolate… and I hope write about it in a way that encourages you to do so, too.
Thanks so much for reading. And thank you, Chachic, for doing me the wonderful honor of this week, and to all of you who have participated in it. I am very, very honored and thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
A fountain entirely surrounded by jasmine becomes the setting for a kiss, in The Chocolate Rose. While the village of Sainte-Mère is a deliberately fictional invention which blurs elements of several small towns in this area, in real life, this fountain is in Mougins, France.
Merci, Laura! This is a beautiful. It has been my pleasure to organize Amour et Florand to celebrate your work. I really think your writing captures the power of the senses and yes, it also encourages readers to sink into experiences. Just look at how many readers had to run and buy chocolates while reading your books. 🙂