An outsider attempts to win over his new neighbors with his gardening skills in this pratfall-filled tale of expatriatism.
Sadler (An Englishman in Paris, 2003) is English. Those around him are country French, and they are not impressed. He has just moved into a farm in the Loire valley owned by friends. While the cottage is passable, the garden is an Amazonia of six-foot-high lettuces. But Sadler has eyes on winning the village garden contest to prove his worthiness among the august peasantry. And his heart is purely taken with the French countryside: “a less stressful, more ancestral, old-style, slow-cooking, gently unfolding France that I have always found attractive: la France profonde.” He is being sincere, but this is as serious as this author gets. Sadler is far happier savoring the food and wine, or serving as a foil to the natives—he knows when taking a poke in the eye is worth it to get two slaps on the back. Here is how he interprets a formal conversation with a farmer neighbor: “Elle est bien basse.” (Translation: “Too bad for you, fatface.”) “Pour être basse elle est basse.” (Translation: “Please, Aimé, don’t be a shit.”) Sadler is a genial and peculiar sort who relishes his authorial role as an old goat. Strange anecdotes pile up, highlighting his ability to come at a topic directly and from left field at the same time. He kicks an ostrich in the butt (no harm done) and wins a case of fine Chinon wine. He attends a ribald Communion lunch. He starts a perverse search for an ugly village in this region of blowsy charm. He decides to triumph in the garden contest by growing sexy vegetables like John Malkovich (don’t ask).
The English take on the French: formidably droll with a touch of the wacko.