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It’s by far the most frequently-asked question a writer gets. Dr. Seuss famously told people, “I get all my ideas in Switzerland near the Forka Pass. There is a little town called Gletch, and two thousand feet up above Gletch there is a smaller hamlet called Über Gletch. I go there on the fourth of August every summer to get my cuckoo clock fixed. While the cuckoo is in the hospital, I wander around and talk to the people in the streets. They are very strange people, and I get my ideas from them.”
So is it any wonder I went on a quest to Europe?
Once again, we relied on advice from locals. In Aix-en-Provence, we bought matching pinky rings (I know. I know!) and a cool necklace made with tagua nut beads. The jeweler urged us to go to Cassis. He was an incredibly sincere person and a fine artist, with his atelier right there in h is tiny shop. Since I’m a big believer in following one’s instincts–off we went.
There were some fine and inspiring surprises there. A torrential downpour, complete with lightning strikes and waves crashing against the phare.
An old-school hotel perfectly situated at the harbor, where you could stand at the balcony and watch the fishing fleet going out. A friendly shop keeper who offered us her parking space, because in the old town, parking is virtually impossible. And bouillabaisse, which is both art and religion here.
France’s newest national park–The Calanques (“creeks” but they’re not creeks; more like towering cliffs like the ones in South Africa or Sydney, Australia) is criss-crossed by hiking trails so long and twisty and tough that you just have to jump into the crystal blue water. And by the way, the water quality is officially rated, and the water here is rated “excellent.” Clean and clear.
And chilly. But whatever. And while there, I watched a very attractive older couple holding hands to wade into the water on one of the tiny, rockbound beaches.
“It’s cold,” the woman protested, sucking everything in.
“We’ve driven a thousand kilometers to get here,” said her husband. “We’ve got to do it.”
And a moment later, they were swimming and laughing like children instead of seventy-year-old pensioners.
And a moment after that. I had an idea.
See? Easy. You just have to travel to a remote part of the world you’ve never heard of, et voila!
We went to Lourmarin and Cassis, both suggested by locals in Aix. This is when you open your mind and let the book start talking to you. It’s always a good idea to talk to locals. Fortunately, my very good French from way back is still pretty good French after a few verres de vin. Even if you don’t speak the language, there is always a way to talk. Just try not to be self-conscious about it.
We stayed at a mas (more on that later) near Laguiole, home of the world’s finest knives, and a nice lady at the farm told us to check out Belcastel. We spotted a sign pointing to it, drove the twisty road, et voila! Look where we ended up. You barely need an imagination to think of the stories breathing from the past here.
My adorable daughter suggested Aix as our home base. We found a splendid apartment in the old town and moved right in. So here’s Aix–a funky university town housed in an ancient and venerable city. Markets, music, food, energy…I had my hair done (lisse et raide) in a salon that called itself the “best fucking cut shop” (painted on the window, sorry) and bought a cool necklace made from a nut. Trust me, it’s cool. And I thought about my book. The characters from the past who are pointing the way for the characters in the now.
Here’s Aix at sunrise:
When you’re traveling, embrace your jet lag. When you wake up, grab your notebook and start writing.