Alison Kerr, Transatlantic Adventures: Artist colony & reconnecting with France – Part 3/4

I thought that the transatlantic experiences of my long-time online friend, Alison Kerr, would be of interest to the readers of My French Life Magazine… and she agreed to be interviewed.

What’s my connection with Alison Kerr

I met Alison Kerr around the mid-2000s, in what we used to call the ‘blogosphere.’ I was keeping a blog at the time, and following a few bloggers, including Neil Kramer, a New Yorker who was then living in Los Angeles, whose writing I found both gripping and hilarious. Alison would often comment on Neil’s blog, and I soon realized that she was an American expat living in France and that she was originally from Pittsburgh, where I had lived for 10 years. She had also gone to college not far from Clarion University of Pennsylvania, where I was teaching. I decided to follow her blog. She was (and still is) an incredibly creative woman and a fantastic writer.

A few years later, Alison returned to the U.S., where she settled in Lexington, KY. She would travel back to France regularly and, on one of her trips in June 2010, we managed to finally meet in person and have dinner in Paris with another fellow blogger, an American woman living in France. I met Alison in person again in March 2016 when, while visiting her family in Western Pennsylvania, she swung by Clarion and had lunch with me.

Soon, we all moved on to Facebook and gave up blogging. I have kept up with Alison ever since – even after she left Facebook for Instagram.

A few months ago, Alison embarked on a journey back to France, where she plans on staying for at least six months, managing a property that friends of hers, a Franco-American couple, own in the Cognac region. Alison is also a writer who is finishing her first novel and is very interested in all kinds of creative endeavors.

This is part 2 of our conversation:

Part 1
First trip to France

Part 2
French citizenship, to USA & back to France

Part 3 – this one
Artist colony & reconnecting with France

Part 4
Favorite Places and Advice

On launching an artist colony & reconnecting with France in 2023

Q – You are now back in France, and immersed in a very cool project involving the creation of an artists’ retreat. Can you explain where you are, and what this project entails?

A – I’m in the Charente (the department, not the river!), in a rural area in the middle of vineyards. The property was part of a maison de cognac back in the day, and two of the habitable buildings here used to be lodging for grape harvesters.

My friends are artists—he paints, she dances—themselves, and they want to create a place for artist retreats and residencies. In fact, they’re considering me the first writer-in-residence, as I’ve finished the first draft of my first novel, and I plan to get it into publishable shape while I’m here.

This year is a kind of exploratory year, where friends who are also artists will come to stay and do their thing so that we can see what works and what doesn’t, and what kind of improvements need to be made. I believe this fall my friends plan to host some spirits journalists, as well. I may or may not be here; we decided on an initial six-month stint here for me.

I’ll also be working on creating content for the website for the property—which is now online. There is also a very nice You Tube video of my friends’ property and their project:

Q – To what extent are you finding France different from, and similar to what you remember from your previous life there? How is your adjustment to this new life in France going so far?

A – I’ve been surprised at how technology has made life easier, and I am not sure if I haven’t been paying attention or what.

When I was still living here and blogging, I had a blog category I called ‘Welcome to France’, emphasis on the WTF, on which I used to rant about all the inconveniences and annoying things about this country (note, I’d been in France for a decade before starting that blog, so you’d think I’d have been accustomed to everything, but I still found stuff to complain about).

For example, I remember trying to buy TGV tickets from the States—even just five years ago—and the SNCF site always rejected my credit card. And my French bank required a security device (which I never received) for online payments, so I couldn’t use that card. I ended up using Rail Europe to buy tickets. Then before my trip last summer, I discovered the SNCF Connect app, which hooks up to Apple Pay. Now it’s super easy to buy train tickets.

Same thing with Doctolib… I was unable to get a 6-month supply of medication before leaving the States, so I looked for a doctor in the area via Doctolib, found one I thought I would like, was able to make a telehealth appointment with her, and she prescribed me what I needed. It’s my responsibility to get the script to the pharmacy, but I can do that from within the Doctolib app. Unfortunately, my numéro de Sécu is currently inactive, so I am paying out of pocket and will submit the bills to my American health insurance. Once I’ve been here for three months (or if I get a contrat de travail), I can get a new Carte Vitale.

Things that haven’t changed

Something that hasn’t changed: Shops and La Poste closing at lunchtime. What’s funny is that I mind it less now than I did 20 years ago, because I have less of a capitalistic mindset these days. Also, because I live a few kilometers from the nearest town with any amenities, I have to plan my car trips, in order to save on fuel and maximize efficiency, so I don’t mind having to plan when I’m going to the pharmacy or post office.

I arrived here about a month ago, and I feel really good about things. It’s a bit like riding a bike!

I did start a Substack newsletter as a way to share my thoughts about how France has changed (and perhaps how I have changed), and if it is cool, I will plug that here:

If you’d like to ask Alison questions or make comments please do so in the comments section below.

Your subscription (free or paid) will be gratefully received, and will help me continue to build ‘le Bulletin’ - the weekly newsletter of Magazine to be even more rich.
Merci Mille Fois

About the Contributor

Elisabeth Sauvage-Callaghan

I am a native of France, and a retired French university professor living in the USA. I return to France every year and love discovering new places I have not yet visited. I am interested in issues of bilingualism and expatriate identity. I enjoy good food, great books, and all kinds of music.

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