Diner in Provence? What a novel idea

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Diner in Provence? What a novel idea

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I was in my early 30s when I first went to Provence more than 30 years ago. The southern region of France on the Mediterranean Sea, with the Alps to the east and the Rhone River to the west, is famous for its moderate climate and beautiful scenery. As I drove from Orange to Avignon to Arles to Aix-en-Provence to Cannes to Nice, I thought Provence had been blessed by God.

Provence was the first Roman colony beyond the Alps after the Roman Empire conquered Gallia, modern-day France, and the name originates from “Provincia Romana.” You can still find Roman arenas, theaters, aqueducts and forums. Wherever I took out my camera, I could capture the most beautiful picture.

Author Hwang Seok-yeong recently declared that he would go to Provence to open a home-style restaurant if there is no change in the status quo as a result of the presidential election. He would spend his last years in Provence if the two opposition candidates do not merge and fail to change the administration. He does not mean “Provence Village” in Paju, Gyeonggi.

Invoking journalistic privilege, I inquired about his plan.

“I was half-joking to stress how desperate I am,” he explained. “I am already 70, and 10 years would fly by. I will soon be 80, but I want my later years to be fun.”

Does he mean his life wouldn’t be as fun if the power change does not happen?

“I have been through so much as a young man. During the Yusin, I had three government officers following me. One was from the Korea Central Intelligence Agency, one was from the Security Command and one was from Police Intelligence. I have terrible memories of being followed and under constant surveillance. His daughter may not be as horrible, but I don’t want to be reminded of those nightmarish memories,” he said.

Hwang has visited Provence a number of times, including a monthlong sojourn in Arles. “The sun was bright, food was delicious and I didn’t have to care about other people. It was the perfect place for an old foreigner to spend a comfortable life.”

Vincent van Gogh, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso and Somerset Maugham, among others, were inspired by Provence. The tradition continues today. However, I haven’t heard of a writer who settled down in Provence and became a restaurateur. I was worried about his wife, as well. “By a home-style restaurant, you mean a Korean restaurant?”

“Well, I mean a diner. I was trying to sound more proper. Does that make news?” he asked. Well, it is my fatal weakness that I often take a joke seriously.

* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok

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