9/27/2007

Provence


Inspired by those Peter Mayle books I love so much, A Year in Provence, I took a little trip to the south of France ,to just soak it all up in all its glory.

Impressions of an impressionistic place

First, the climate is very similar to Texas. It was hot- 100 degrees each day I was there, in late June . Fortunately, my hotel had a/c.....and lots of German and Japanese tourists staying here. I was the only American anywhere.The land looks like that part of New Mexico around Santa Fe, or Monterry Ca ( where I just was , earlier in the summer - fresh in my mind) . Sort of arid and rolling and scruffy trees and bushes. Rusty red dirt,sage green trees , golden fields of wheat, pink and orange buildings, bright blue sky. It is like a technicolor impressionistic painting.

In Paris, they speak of "the golden hour", around 5pm, when all the white buildings in the City of Light turn golden pink in the dusk. Here in the south of France, the colors are brighter , and everything gets washed with purple and orange as the sun goes down. I took the TGV ( high speed train, I can say it just like the French do , "tay JHAY vay ") to Avignon. Toured Avignon, did all the sites - medieval papal palace, art museums ( 2 : medieval and modern - some very nice Botticellis , lots of Italian renaissance work, brought here during the "Babylonian captivity"), rode the tourist train ( B & B would have been embarrassed for me ) up the hill to the scenic overlook , toured the medieval bridge, the city walls, the cafes, the shops, the theatre festival. (I can understand fairly well what is being said, just can't speak back well.) Have eaten local Provencal cooking and vow to buy a cook book of it, somewhere. Maybe in English when I get back.

Went to the Pont du Gard and walked all along the top of the ancient Roman aqueduct. It was breath-taking; I almost cried with joy. One of my "100 places to see before you die " (Great book; my treat to myself this past xmas. I'm working my way down the list .....may skip some countries; have developed my own personal list.) Also took a tour to see the lavender fields, managed to catch them at their peak season -only 4 weeks a year. The smell is so glorious, you can breathe it in it for miles. Woodsy , flowery , dry and spicy . The lavender are this vibrant, glowing purple color, stretching for miles....it was like the bluebonnets in Texas when they bloom, only it was lavender. Stronger . When you walk out into the middle of a lavender field, it feels like you are in the middle of an electromagnetic force field ; there is this buzzing, faintly , all around you . It fills you and surrounds you. At first, I was looking for power lines , then realized, it was bees -millions and millions of bees, all buzzing in and around the lavender. They don't bother you, too busy gathering honey, but the beating of their millions of pairs of wings generates a palpable flow of energy you can feel. Also saw Senanque, a lovely little monastery, Gordes, a cute little hilltop village, Rousillon, where ochre is mined, and Arles, famous for Roman ruins and where Van Gogh painted . Shopped for Provencal tablecloths, pottery, lavender soap, honey , local liquors.

Everywhere I went in Provence, I met lots of Japanese tourists ,who somehow looked to me to be their interpreter, as they understood nothing of French, could not read signs, find the travel office, the menu, anything -but could speak a bit of English, and I translated for them as best I could - the question in my mind, is,why did they approach me , to begin with ? Is it something of the kindly patient teacher in my face ? Can they tell from my aura that I spent years teaching ESL at the junko in Houston ? I always think I look rather cross.... and they were as crazy about the lavender fields as I was. Who knows why ? Maybe it's like the Cherry Blossom festival at home.

Met the occasional middle age woman, also travelling alone - once she was British, or Australian, once , South African ....struck up conversations, glad to have someone to speak English with. Lots of fun, sharing shopping and eating tips. All of us journeyed alone , leaving husbands and children at home....kids too young to try the food, husbands all universally wanting their tv's and comfy chairs and lacking in the adventurous spirit. All of us, failed romantics somehow, wanting to see and smell and taste the glory of Provence.

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