An American in Provence: look at this wonderful journey, art, life and photography


For Francophiles, itinerant travelers and armchair travelers, as well as anyone fantasizing about escaping their home to reach new horizons for a longer stay, An American in Provence: Art, Life and Photography by Jamie Beck is a tempting portal. It’s Beck’s first book, published this month by Simon Element/Simon & Schuster, a 304-page hardcover full of intoxicating images and inviting words. A feast for the eyes and the mind. (And an idea for a Christmas present.)

An accomplished photographer, Beck grew up in Texas and ran a successful commercial studio in New York City for many years, creating advertising and editing for brands such as Cartier, Chanel, Disney, Donna Karan, Google, Nike, Oscar de la Renta, and Volvo. . Her extraordinary photos also appeared in fashionable magazines: Fashion and Harper’s Bazaar. On top of her can, Beck’s award-winning life swirled with the glamor of big city energy, culture, celebrities and chic events. But an inner whisper to slow her fast pace became more and more urgent. For her work she traveled a lot, far and often. On a crucial assignment, she looked to Provence – a region of southeastern France, bordering Italy and the Mediterranean, then stretching north through the Rhone River to Avignon. Covered with fields of lavender and wheat, olive groves, pine forests, vineyards and mountains, Provence had excited her. The Land of Light “was burned into my imagination,” she writes. “I was never able to shake it out of my head…I was enchanted, constantly drawn to remember” his magical spell. Then another assignment drew her back to Provence. “If my first trip was like falling in love at first sight, then the second visit was like meeting the parents and belonging. I can still remember pulling over the rental car on my way to dinner at Le Mas Tourteron in a field of tall grass, waving in the golden setting light and feeling safe for the first time in my life.”

Later, in 2016, Beck had a terrifying experience on board at 30,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean, while flying from Sweden back to New York. The plane shook with a jolt. Then another. The seat belt buckle chimed. One moment she was “floating through the air, the course of my life on cruise control,” Beck writes. A third horrifying drop followed. Fearing a crash, she closed her eyes as the screams of other passengers rose. “Most people at this point in their story say they were thinking about their families, loved ones, the choices they made to end up here, their childhood. Not me,” she continues. “I was thinking of France. I heard nothing but my voice say in perfect clarity, ‘Great. Now I’ll never know what it’s like to live in France.’ The words shocked me as much as the turbulence.” She promised herself that when the plane landed, she would move to France. “In the time my heart beat twice, that moment of clarity changed the course of my life. It shocked Beck to reposition her personal GPS and to direct her path forward.

She made the leap, a month later — after going through a complicated visa application process that, she notes, is “not for the faint of heart” — she moved alone to a sleepy village in the Provençal countryside, intending to spend just a year. stay. “I thought it would just be something to check off the bucket list,” she writes. When Beck arrived, she barely spoke French. She didn’t quite understand how to count euro coins. Her tiny apartment, rented out unseen, had unreliable internet and no devices common in America.

During those early months, at the end of summer and early autumn, she mostly withdrew, grateful for the sublime silence in the middle of nature and the opportunity to delve into a personal oeuvre. Her supportive husband and business partner, Kevin Burg, who describes Beck as her best friend, stayed in New York and gave Beck the space to cocoon, think, breathe and create whatever she wanted without judgment. The following spring he joined her in Provence. She writes about their reunion: “We laughed a lot…. The company was again fun and interesting and loving. When things started to bloom in the landscape outside that first spring, we blossomed into each other again.”

Beck’s sabbatical shifted her goals and focus to photography and leaned into a deep turn. Eventually, she expanded her circle of activities, nurturing contacts with people in her French community and sharing her stories and images on social media (Facebook and Instagram), accumulating hundreds of thousands of followers. Beck’s initial search for a quiet hideout turned into a glorious five-year adventure – more soul-soothing and artistically stimulating than she expected. It also led to the birth of her French-born daughter Eloise in 2019.

Elegantly designed (full with an attached forest green ribbon to use as a bookmark), An American in France describes Beck’s transformative journey. Her humor and honesty are captivating throughout. Cleverly, she also gives readers practical and constructive travel tips, which enriches the takeaway. She offers a glossary of common French words, as well as guides to wine tasting and serving, shopping at farmers markets, foraging, cooking, picnicking, and sightseeing. There is enlightening information about the many paperwork steps of the French bureaucracy and France’s generous universal health care system (after all, Beck had a child there).

“I fell in love with Provence and with the insane beauty of Mother Nature that surrounds us and thrives within us,” Beck writes in the book’s foreword. “This place… would show me so much, including what it means to find a life you want to repeat. I look forward to the view in the summer when the lavender blooms next to the sunflowers. I long to taste the sweetness of grapes during the autumn harvest and to sit by the fire in the winter, patiently waiting for the day to come when the world will explode into spring flowers. What started as a year in France has not come to an end, but rather has become a rhythmic life cycle for this American in Provence.”

It would be appropriate to put this book alongside other notable first-person travel stories, such as Elizabeth Gilbert’s wildly popular memoir: eat pray love. Beck’s achievement goes even further, unfolding lush, painterly photographs that not only capture the physical impact of the gifts of Provence, but also capture their essence.

Beck’s essays – on defining happiness and beauty, understanding marriage and parenthood, determining the power of leaving and staying, embracing travel and discovering passion – are poignant. About her Provençal awakening and how it set her free, she writes, “I stopped doing everything I’d been told all my life I had to do as a woman.”

There are excellent farm-to-table recipes from French chefs and home cooks whom Beck befriended, such as Bresse chicken with morels and cream, French onion soup, grilled lamb with wild thyme, duck confit with crispy herb potatoes, truffle flatbread, roasted sea bream, raw artichoke salad, lemon meringue pie, violet sorbet, chestnut cake and mulled wine.

“Making friends in the countryside is pretty easy,” Beck writes. “You discover who is around you, and you introduce yourself a bit. The next step is sharing a meal – all friendships are forged over food. There were some new Parisian chefs in town, Lise Kvan and Éric Monteleon, a young couple looking for a restaurant of their own. [here in the Luberon Valley]…. We met for lunch, and just like that, the same way you fold sugar into meringue, we folded into each other’s lives.” She explains that the main culinary mission in France is high-quality ingredients: “The ingredients here are so good… that you need to do very little to make an unforgettable meal…. The beauty of this soup [above] is that it can be served cold, at room temperature, or hot, and you can make it a day ahead for dinner. Serve with a nice crusty bread to wipe the bottom of the bowl with.”

Beck showcases her photography expertise through how-to tutorials, including: selecting equipment, posing yourself, styling objects for a still life, using natural light, framing a subject, and even shooting nudity. Beck’s sensual self-portraits are especially compelling.

Provence is awash with colors in abundance, in a kaleidoscope of shapes, patterns and textures. “Endless combinations have enticed artists here for centuries,” writes Beck. “Cézanne, Van Gogh, Picasso, Matisse, Renoir, Gaugin – the diversity of colors is a limitless source of inspiration.” Her photos of luscious flowers – visually vibrant with artfully placed insects – are exquisite.

Beck and Burg and their Eloise remain in France – traveling back to the United States to see loved ones and for work assignments. “I really believe,” says Beck, “you don’t have to live in Provence or want to mimic the lifestyle to take advantage of the lessons I learned while living here.” Even in your own environment, regardless of your means, pausing a little to absorb the best and the beautiful is healthy, she suggests. “Maybe you walk instead of [driving] the car, or you go to the local market instead of the supermarket, or you make an effort to share a meal with your friends and family once a week… watch and appreciate.”