In a lovingly restored and tastefully and gorgeously decorated monastery in Provence,
a region which seems to have been kissed by God, I lost myself in the beauty of the language,
the culture, and the nature for two weeks (July 23-Aug. 5, 2012).
One perfect weather day followed another - sunny and warm enough for a swim in the pool or lake,
but not humid, cool in the shade and in the evenings.
Here one can almost see and taste the sun in the locally grown ripe tomatoes.
The meals are prepared and appreciated with wine and conversations in a manner such
as I had never experienced anywhere but the most intimate family gatherings.
The kitchen staff seems to work miracles day after day.
With the understanding and encouragement of the experienced teachers, the challenge of immersion
was not only manageable but enjoyable. The flexibility and breaks in the schedule allowed me now and then
to retreat into a chapel where my beginner flute playing was transformed into a
festival of echoing notes. One can enjoy an afternoon at the pool or simply sit
in a quiet corner anywhere in the surrounding which looks like a piece of paradise in its natural beauty.
The activities included hiking, canoeing, sailing, study of herbs growing around the monastery
of which there are many, visits of l'Occitane cosmetics factory, day or night outings into local towns,
presentations on truffles and local wines, hands-on cooking class, and a visit and fascinating talk
by a well known author.
Each activity was preceded by a preparation session which equipped the participants
with vocabulary and background information to help them get the most out of the experience.
I was able to take advantage of a few from
the offerings while also taking additional classes in some of the afternoons. I believe I got to know
the region much better than would have been possible as a tourist.
The age, the language proficiency level, the background of the participants were varied and diverse.
The positive atmosphere, the common goal, perhaps the diversity itself, combined with the
hospitality of the hosts, Annemarie and Dhruv, and the teachers and the staff all contributed
to the spirit of fun, respect, and cooperation.
I am definitely more comfortable speaking the language after the program,
although obviously 2 weeks of immersion cannot and will not
transform somebody with a halting French into a fluent speaker. I feel, however, that I have taken
a very solid first step in the right direction on a fascinating journey.
It has been, without any doubt, the very best vacation I have had, and I hope to return in the near future.