In retracing his first tentative trip to France 40 years ago, Monty Don reminisces about how, as a poor student, he ‚Äúnibbled his way from one end of the market to the other.‚ÄĚ¬† ¬†Today, with the benefit of age, he recognises that the gulf between the two nations still exists.
The intellectual and theoretical French attitude to gardening is still at odds with the British hands on approach.¬† Yet despite his exasperation at some of their foibles, Don‚Äôs fondness for the French and their language, shines through.
His interest and attention to detail is reflected in the countless footnotes bursting with interesting facts (from the life cycle of a silk worm to how soil blocks are made by way of a discourse on the origin of the word for ‚Äėcigarette‚Äô).
Don dips knowledgeably in and out of French history, art and food with a passionate enthusiasm and a teasing sense of the absurd. ¬†He wants us to enjoy it all as much as he does and in portraying both sides of this ‚Äúcomplicated, awkward, beautiful country‚ÄĚ, he fans the flame of that perennial love/hate relationship between ‚Äėles rosbifs‚Äô and ‚Äėthe frogs‚Äô.
Whether he is traipsing the parterres of Versailles or the desolate banlieues of Aubervilliers, Monty Don connects passionately with the locals.
As a half French – half Brit myself and with the wrong foot, so to speak, in each camp, I am often on the defensive when the ‚Äúother half‚ÄĚ is criticized. ¬†In Monty Don I sense that rare Englishman who seeks to understand the French better.¬† He realises the importance of a ‚ÄúBonjour M‚Äôsieur/ Madame‚ÄĚ on entering a shop.¬† So many tourists don‚Äôt bother resulting in a brusque, shoulder shrugging response, that is then dismissed arrogantly as ‚Äútypically French bolshiness.‚ÄĚ¬†¬† It is just good manners.
It would have been great to have some better photographs.