French immersion 

Whistler's Paul Shore went from tech geek to memoirist thanks to an idyllic year in the south of France

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - Uncorked Paul Shore with his daughter at the launch of his new memoir at Armchair Books last week.
  • PHOTO submitted
  • Uncorked Paul Shore with his daughter at the launch of his new memoir at Armchair Books last week.

Paul Shore peered down from 6,000 metres at the sandy beaches and shimmering waters of the Cote D'Azur with one regret.

"I flew out of Nice one night after being there on business and I realized I hadn't really taken in the place. And as I looked down from the airplane I thought, I've got to get more out of this," he said.

Whistler's Shore couldn't have known then the profound effect the area would end up having on him. A year after his fateful trip, Shore, then a single thirty-something, was sent back to southeastern France for his job with a software startup. This go-around, he was determined to immerse himself in the distinct food, history and culture of one of France's most irresistible regions.

"It wasn't really premeditated at all. The trip was for work, but I think I made the most of that year," Shore said.

His newly released travel memoir, Uncorked: My Year in Provence studying pétanque, discovering Chagall, drinking pastis, and mangling French, is a classic fish-out-of-water tale, the tech geek turned romantic who wound up — through much effort — ingratiating himself to the mercurial locals.

"It was a challenge," Shore, now 50, recalled of his year abroad. "Most people speak about the French being a bit closed, and it was definitely hard to break in at first."

Bored and lonely, Shore would spend his evenings exploring Saint-Paul-de-Vence, where he eventually settled, taking in the cafés and restaurants that dotted the tiny, bucolic village.

Food, it turned out, proved an ideal window into the local culture. (You forgot this was a food column for a second there, didn't you?)

"I was realizing how little I knew. I figured I liked cheese, but I had no idea," Shore laughed. "You think you're getting French, and then you eat at a nice restaurant and you're clueless all over again."

But it wasn't until Shore took up the game of pétanque — similar to bocce, "except if you say that to a Frenchman, they'll run you out of the place" — that he began to genuinely connect with his adopted home.

"In my first few weeks, I would sit and watch these older men play in front of the café," he said. "Then I asked one of my neighbours, who eventually became a friend, if he would teach me and he just exhaled in my face. He said: 'You're not French.'"

Shore was insistent, assuring his neighbour he was in Saint Paul to stay, and that if he didn't teach him the intricacies of the game, he'd find someone who would. His friend eventually relented, but not without a caveat.

"He taught me in the dark because he couldn't bear the shame of being seen teaching a foreigner. Once I proved I could get good, and I wasn't going to bring shame on him ... then he let me play our first game against others," Shore said. "After that, he was like, 'I guess we can play in the daytime.'"

It was through sharing this anecdote that Shore first thought he might have the makings of a book, but little came of it until two years ago, when he was laid up from hip surgery "watching endless games of playoff hockey" and his wife gave him the final push he needed.

"She was like, 'now's the time, write, get going. You're stuck, you're immobile,'" he remembered. "That's really when the writing started in earnest. I didn't really have a big vision at first. I thought I'd at least write it out for my family so we'd have it forever. But then as it went along, I showed the manuscript to some people, and they told me I should publish it."

Released March 20 through Sea to Sky Books, Shore's memoir has seemed to strike a chord with the nomads of Whistler, and he's enjoying his newfound status as an unlikely author.

"Some people are like, 'get outta town, I didn't know you could write. I view you as a tech guy.' And I love that. I love that positive surprise people are giving me," Shore said.

"These books hit a nerve in people — a reminder that we can all do this. I'm just some tech geek who stumbled into this. It's not like I had a grand plan.

"If you're willing to take some chances, it can be done, and these books tend to remind people of that. Just say yes."

Uncorked is on sale now at Armchair Books.

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