Monday, 19 September 2011

Book Review: Cherries from Chauvet's Orchard

This book tells the story of Postcard from Provence from the perspective of the artist's wife and partner.  It's a definite "must read" for all followers of Postcard from Provence  and aspiring daily painters.

Ruth Phillips writes extremely well - which I already knew from her blog Meanwhile. I thought I might know most of the stories from having read her blog for the last five years, however I was very wrong!

My signed special limited edition (no. 114) of  Ruth's new book Cherries from Chauvet's Orchard arrived in early June and came complete with a key to the house featured in the book which a group of us rented for three weeks in June 2011.

It was posted to me by Julian Merrow-Smith of Postcard from Provence fame.  Which is how I ended up with two keys to enter their world as the book also provides an excellent introduction to all the places around and about Bedoin in the Vaucluse area of Provence.

The chapter titles are idyllic and made me want to start reading straight away - but in the end I didn't start to read it until I was staying in their home in Provence - while Ruth played cello at the Garsington Festival and Julian got to grips with his new role of Dad of seven month old Louis!

This was an early review which I read which only served to wet my appetite.  Having read the book now I can only echo its comments.
“In Cherries from Chauvet’s Orchard, cellist Ruth Phillips makes music with words, capturing on  the page what her painter husband, JulianMerrow-Smith, does on canvas—a way of life that is achingly romantic yet not romanticized, that is earthbound yet exquisite, and one where sweat is rewarded with transcendence. As the couple struggles to build their home out of a farm ruin beneath the shadow of Mt. Ventoux and to make a living and life together, Julian must harness his muse. In a modern-day twist in this ancient place of luscious colors and cuisine, it is the worldwide web that changes their life. This is a true story of talent, ingenuity, and success against the odds, of pathos,  passion, and humor. You won’t put it down.”

--Dean King, author of Skeletons on the Zahara and Unbound
The book also uses quotations from friends, family, artists and collectors as introductions to the chapters.  My friend, fellow painter Sarah Wimperis (The Red Shoes) is one of those people.  This is the introduction to Cloud Shadows on page 160
Julian confims that painting is like running, or the violin, or the requires practice all the time. I am so sick of the people who think it pours out like a leaky tap, like it is easy or god given
Sarah Wimperis
When you start reading a book more slowly and rationing out the pages so that you won't get to the end too quickly you know you're reading a very good book which you want to savour!  After I had been reading for a while I decided to only allow myself a maximum of two chapters each night!

It starts at a point before I began to know a bit about their lives.  It tells us the stories of how Julian and Ruth came to meet and marry, of their life in Crillon Le Brave before they made the move to their 'new' house in Couguiuex and how the whole daily painting story (saga?) happened, took off and then delivered very real benefits in terms of improvements to their life style, domestic amenities and Julian's studio.  I used to stand there with the hose in the evening - watering Ruth's potager - and thinking about how the very long story of how the water actually got to put in an appearance.

What is particularly luscious for all serious foodies (that'll be me!) is the role that food plays in the book - and that's when we learn much more about how Julian's involvement with food goes well beyond what he liked to paint in his still life paintings.  Ruth's writing about food can make me salivate! I also made very sure that the potatoes got a very good watering!

It's also very illuminating and sometimes downright entertaining about what it's like living with an artist in search of his daily muse!

The latter part of the book concerns their quest to be parents and how Louis entered their lives.

This book is a definite "must read" for all followers of Postcard from Provence.  

The general consensus from all those reading along with me in Provence was that it was also a very good read, very accurate about the place and the area and we all enjoyed it enormously - and not just because we were having a go at "living the life" of a painter in Provence (see 4 Go Painting in Provence!).  I bought another copy while I was there and took it home for my mother to read!

This book was first reviewed on Four Go Painting in Provence - Ruth provides the inspiration.....
This particular edition is raising funds for the orphanage in Bamako where Julian and Ruth's adopted son Louis started his life.

Note: ‘Cherries from Chauvet’s Orchard’ is now available as a mass-market paperback for $16.95

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