Skip to content

the guinea pig speaks

Recently it seems that Spree’s Grateful Guinea Pig has gone silent on us.  So for those of you who’ve noticed his absence and missed this endearing little rodent, I thought I’d share a recent page from his travelog –

a letter sent home to family from the Guinea Pig in Provence… 

I’ll keep my own remarks to a minimum, but certain things he says bear correction explanation. (You’ll see them in red.)


Dear Family –

Time marches on and we find ourselves at the end of September. As previously reported, we’ve migrated to the north and east of the lovely St. Remy. We’re finishing up three days here in the Vaucluse/Cotes du Rhone region of Provence.

As you know, the faire Spree is partial to markets. Here in France they refer to them as marché. The uppity folks here insist on making up their own words for everything, anoyyyyying! (I assume you’re not to be fooled…Guinea loves the French!) You might recall we went to Arles to visit their marché, and though we liked Arles very much,  the marché wasn’t quite so inviting; we did manage to break multiple vehicular (!!!) and social morés in the process though so the day was not a total bust. (Among other things, SGGP got to practice his cursing, which, when the mood strikes, he so enjoys.)

On our way to Vaison la Romaine, we consulted the Oracle of Rick Steve’s to see what marchés we might intrude upon along the way. Carpentras drew the short stick. Aided by our trusted disembodied friend, Charlotte, the GPS lady, we navigated to the middle of Carpentras – a large village or small city. We stumbled right into the marché but were late for the party which means that you can stay but your vehicle is unwelcome. I could tell that Sister Marie Antoinette had her mouth soap at the ready, but she went unprovoked on this day. Mind you, there were plenty of sighs, nose noises, Guinea grunts and gee willikers to be heard but the Sister’s personal Maginot line ( look it up ) was not transgressed. Mobile vespers were avoided this day. (It’s probably obvious to all and unnecessary to mention…the Guinea Pig grew up Catholic.)

We drove round and round looking for a small flat wth a view for our vehicle but none was to be found. Ultimately we landed in the parking lot of a supermarché, how ironic.  So we packed up all our gear and took to the friendly and inviting aisles of the street market.

Now, my idea of a marché was that there would be row upon row of locally grown, plump, luscious and colorful produce and flowers. The growers would lovingly dress the displays of bounty and invite all to engage with them. There was some of that to be sure, but there were also stacks of shoes on display, jeans, trinkets, bric-a-brac, and small appliances.  I was underwhelmed but Spree was fascinated and so eager to take everything in through her eyes, her open heart, her nose and mostly her ginormous camera lens.

I was a ways ahead of her, gliding along with my compact Sony digicam, starting to notice some sneers, snarls and snootieness.  (I have to insert, this was by no means the norm!) This was business to these marché merchants – if you ain’t buyin, buzz off. The lovely Spree was giddy, smiling and enthralled at being one with the indigenous peoples and desperately wanting to share their story (and the entire experience), through her pictures and words.

I strolled past a stall that had little bundles of dried lavender in sachets, some clusters of lavender flowers tied with string, and  plump, ripe purple and green figs in cartons. I raised my camera just as a woman glared at me from behind the stall and finger-waved, saying, “no photo!” Doing my best Dale Carnegie impression I put my hand on my chest and said pardonnez  moi, bowed slightly and retreated.

Unaware of the dangers,  Spree sauntered innocently and smilingly behind and raised her Canon howitzer and snapped one quick shot of the (irrresistible) figs. Apparently this was all it took for the Miss Congeniality of Carpentras to go all postal on the unsuspecting Spree. The woman reached down below the table, rummaging urgently through a knapsack to pull out and point directly at Spree, a … Wait for it……………….CAMERA! She waved it violently back and forth,  threatening the innocent Spree, Madonna of Shannon, with unholy imaging. Spree’s eyes were like saucers! The woman aimed her point-and-shoot, only centimeters from Spree’s face, and snapped the trigger several times. It was clear the Taliban had finally made it to France. (Guinea, that’s a little harsh!) Spree was shaken, (that’s no overstatement) her humanity had been insulted and her Canon had been nullified, NON!

So much for the romance of marché.

. . .

Luckily we reversed that event today with a visit to L’Isle sur la Sorgue’s Marché de Dimanche. This village is in the Luberon area of Provence, east of St Remy and Avignon. It’s a more rural, hilly and even mountainous area. L’Isle sur la Sorgue has several canals and streams running right through the center of town, making it feel a bit like a small-scale Venice.

This marché was everything we imagined.

It had street after street lined with produce, olives, breads, cookies and pastries, cheeses, mushrooms, fruits, flowers, fish and other seafood, meats, sausages and charcuterie, music (live), handmade crafts,  antiques and OMG, the people. They love their marché and they bring their dogs. (Watch your step there, Guinea!) The sun was out, the music was great, the people were friendly and welcoming, the smells were incredible!

We spent hours tooling around, sampling, ogleing, (buying!) interacting and a lot of people watching, a favorite French pastime.  We were relieved that Dale Carnegie lives on and we had some very warm human moments. (More than we could count!)

In the afternoon we drove deeper into the Luberon and visited a hilltop town called Bonnieux. It’s a very small village carved into a hillside with narrow streets and no parking to speak of.

We went to the top of the hill and visited the original church that has a commanding view of the surrounding area. The Church isn’t active or open for visitors – it’s in disrepair. That said, it still speaks, and the bell still tolls.

We wanted to visit the community cemetery that adjoined the church grounds atop the hill. On the way over it started to sprinkle. We walked by a garage where a man was busy pulling his car out of the garage to make room for what was clearly his pride and joy, a vintage blue Citroen. We acknowledged each other with smiles, and having learned our Dale Carnegie lesson, we asked if we could please take a photo of his car.  He smiled approvingly and generously invited us to do so.

We notice everywhere we’ve been, even in the smallest towns,  monuments to the residents who died as soldiers, victims or political prisoners or deportees during WWI and especially WWII. We noticed too how the cemetery plots were laid out by family –  (generations of family members buried side by side) – and virtually all were strewn with remembrances, photos, flowers, little gifts and honorings to loved ones passed on. We were struck (in many ways) by how strong the family and community bonds are in these villages. Moving for us both.

On the way down from the hilltop, we stopped to have another look and heard cow bell sounds coming from below. I saw a couple of men in orange hunting vests walking with their dogs into the woods far below us. It was the dogs who wore the cow bells. The men were off to shoot birds. (Guinea was visibly relieved that none of his relatives lived in these hills.) We were very soon met by the Mayor of Bonnieux, a graying black lab standing proudly atop a wall overlooking the woods below. After a while we heard a couple of blasts from shotguns and dogs barking in the distance. The Mayor called back (long wolf howls) to the dogs in the field.  They were sharing community in a way that’s been done for centuries.

So that’s it for now kids. We will spend the morning with our good friend Charlotte (the ever-lovely, British-accented GPS companion) and motor to Avignon for a night before saying goodbye to Charlotte and catching a train to Lyon. Hopefully we won’t lose our credit card to the toll booth troll like we did on the way up…but that’s another story.

Will send over a few pics …

Love to all, we miss you!






love, Spree’s Grateful Guinea Pig

p.s. – In honor of Miss Congeniality of Carpentras, for her great camera skills and her lovely figs, tomorrow’s offering will be a delicious (rather gorgeous) figgy thing. (I think you’re going to love this one! And if you’re at all open to doing things in a somewhat unconventional way, you might even make room for it on your Thanksgiving table.)  

p.p.s. most of my market shots will be saved for another day.

love, spree

39 Comments Post a comment
  1. How have I not seen this before?! What a cute, interesting idea 😀

    November 13, 2012
  2. Claudia #

    WOW. Trip that dreams are made of. Your writing and pictures make me feel like I am there with you. I love you and I love the gifts God gave you!

    November 13, 2012
    • Thanks so much Claudia! You would have loved this place! And we love you too!

      November 13, 2012
  3. The Guinea Pig made us laugh so hard the first time around and to read it again with the (gorgeous!) photos — such a treat! Merci for mass amounts of creativity and good humor all the way around! By the way, that photo of the man with the gorgeous dishtowels is just so kind. What a sweet counterpoint to the some of the others who were tres snotty!

    November 13, 2012
    • Yes, the man with the dishtowels, adorable, right? 🙂 Personally I think the Guinea should have his OWN blog, but was happy he agreed to step up to the podium at least this once. (I do love his voice!) And for the record, I want to be sure to say…out of the hundreds of encounters, we only met 2 bad apples…everyone, everywhere else, warm and generous!

      November 13, 2012
  4. Yay!! I couldn’t wait to open this when I saw that our favorite Guinea Pig was present! Did you/he write such letters all through your journey? I’m hoping so and that this is always done, because the two of you should be publishing a Travel Book for the rest of us. Your photos.. his words, your recipes, well, I guess you’re already doing so on your blog:) GGP!! Dave and I also traveled to Provence, visited Bonnieux, L’Isle sur la Sorgue.. and drove all around there.. but alas no markets or nasty women! Just lots of fine food, narrow streets and photo ops everywhere! We stayed at Les Bories & Spa, just up the Route de Senanque from Gordes. I’ve decided I’m going to live there one day once our kids have moved out. Dave doesn’t know this yet, so shhhh, but that’s my plan:D Alas.. did you not learn a few french swear words.. ahh, but best not to sink to that level. Poor dear spree.. her eyes must have indeed been saucers!! Looking forward to more of your adventures!! xx Smidge

    November 13, 2012
    • Smidge, you made me smile – I’d like probably nothing more than to collaborate with GP on such a project – but like you say, we kind of are. Yes he’d generally be the one doing the writing in the evenings and I’d be pouring over and processing photos. I love that he’d do that – he’s quite good with the pen I think! We never made it Gordes – next trip that’s on our list. Need still to scout out our next home! (GGP doesn’t know it either but he’ll get used to the idea 😉 ) (As for cursing in French – Guinea’s proven to have quite the aptitude for the language.) xx

      November 14, 2012
  5. I so enjoyed the post…brought back lots of memories from last year’s trip. Why is there always one grump to spoil an otherwise lovely time. The warm smile of the man with the dishtowels could erase any bad feelings though.

    November 13, 2012
    • Happy to help bring back the good memories Karen! We encountered nearly nothing but warmth on this trip so the “dent” was very quickly filled. 🙂

      November 14, 2012
  6. Spree you’ve just taken me right back to Paradise *(with a capital P of course) with this post! I can bet Guinea Pig was quite delighted to get to a *real market where the produce comes as plentifully as the smiles from vendors! Still hard to believe we were both there within a hair of each other 🙂 Can’t wait to see the rest of your photos! XO Amazing, thank you!

    November 13, 2012
    • Thank YOU Shira. Had we only collaborated a little ahead of time! Wouldn’t it have been lovely (beyond lovely!) to meet for lunch in L’Isle sur la Sorgue…or Paris! xx

      November 14, 2012
      • Yes that would have been amazing, agreed! There is always next time 🙂 Right?! XO!

        November 14, 2012
        • Right-o!! Let’s get busy on that! Time’s a’wastin’! 😉 xox

          November 14, 2012
  7. Don #

    Miss Congeniality of Carpentras could benefit from reading a little Carnegie. Specifically, “you can measure the size of a person by what makes him or her angry” comes to mind. Though she was immersed in an environment filled with many beautiful and awe inspiring sights, I doubt she ‘saw’ them as such, too bad. Another applicable Carnegie quote comes to mind, “The person who gets the farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare. The sure-thing boat never gets far from shore.”
    The beauty captured in your photos could make anyone feel proud to be even a small part of that, if only they took a moment to consider this. After all, “Everybody in the world is seeking happiness – and there is one sure way to find it. That is by controlling your thoughts. Happiness doesn’t depend on outward conditions. It depends on inner conditions.”
    ― Dale Carnegie

    November 13, 2012
    • Thanks Don. I like the quote of Carnegie’s – “you can measure the size of a person by what makes him or her angry” . That’s a good one to remember. I’m not sure I’d conclude that this woman couldn’t appreciate the beauty around her (though it’s hard to see the beauty when you’re angry.) I think she was fed up with cameras – her stall was pretty so I’m sure she sees a lot of them. I guess I just happened along at the wrong time…the proverbial straw you know. I appreciate your comments, thank you!

      November 14, 2012
  8. delightful ! The Guinea Pig is a cutie!
    I’m loving these travel pieces Spree, you nee dto go away more often !

    November 13, 2012
    • I’ll let him know you think so! (And I’ll be sure to stress that last part!) 😉

      November 14, 2012
  9. As shocking — and appalling — as that woman’s behavior must have been, it sounds like you didn’t let it rin an otherwise delightful day. I must say, with The Guinea Pig’s literary talents and your photographic skills, Spree, you should consider collaborating on some sort of tour book. I’d be first in line to purchase one. Thanks for taking us along.

    November 13, 2012
    • You know how to make a girl’s day John! Thank you so (so) much!! Makes me real happy to know you’re enjoying the trip!
      (And no, she didn’t ruin our day…I felt sorry, and sorry for her…but there’s far too much to appreciate to allow such things to linger.)

      November 14, 2012
  10. We spent a lovely month in l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue in ’07. Thanks for reminding me of the wonderful market and its friendly vendors. Did you try the cod fritters? Yikes, sorry about Carpentras. Glad we skipped that market.

    November 13, 2012
    • Oh, how lucky you, Michelle!! Next time we go back, we’ll be sure to stay longer. Loved it there!
      (And the Carpentras market was a big one, and quite good…this was one woman having a bad day. But Isle sur la Sorgue’s market was, in our opinion, the best by far! And HOW did I miss the cod fritters?!)

      November 14, 2012
  11. Mari Anna #

    Wonderful post accompanied by stunning photos!

    November 13, 2012
  12. You’re in a beautiful part of France, but one that can be very untourist friendly, even though they depend on it for their livelihood. They say that the French are rude but never impolite. Taking pictures in markets is treated as “rude”. When I take clients to markets, to take pictures on our Camerahols courses, I ask permission of the stall holders before taking pictures. The word “liberte” is important here and sort of means “personal space” but more so. When you’re in Avignon, check out a beautiful old hotel called Le Prieure.

    November 14, 2012
    • Roger we’re home now, but so loved our time in this part of France! I so understand your comments. I felt sorry that I’d “trespassed”. (We try always to be respectable.) That being said, I just want to share that with a smile and an “inquiry” with our eyes, we never experienced anything akin to rudeness or hostility on our travels in France. We found the people so warm, so generous.

      November 14, 2012
  13. Thanks for taking us on the trip with you and lots of great photos and experiences. Actually, taking photos in the wet markets is not liked in many countries and especially here in Hong Kong, not just in Europe. I have found a special secret for letting them say yes to taking pictures in any country is that I aim is to buy some of whatever they are selling and they will let you have at it with your picture taking and are proud to let you do so. Take care, BAM

    November 14, 2012
    • Bam – I appreciate your comment! (And I appreciate too the sensitivities of shop/stand owners to a camera! Absolutely!) We carried shopping bags and did buy, and certainly that does afford an opportunity to ask for permission. (And I don’t direct this remark at you, but just want to say for the record, I never ever aim my camera in someone’s face! I totally understand what you’re saying and have full sympathy and agreement. Thanks again!

      November 15, 2012
      • Spree I am sorry that the wet market owners were not receptive to your photography. I sympathize with you as I had similar experiences when I first moved to Asia. Now after many visits, I am on a first name basis with the little ladies in the wet market. I think that all experiences whether all positive or not shape our understanding of others and make our lives richer. It was their loss as they missed out on the awesome opportunity of having many readers enjoy and learn about their shops. Have a super weekend! BAM

        November 15, 2012
        • Thank you very much for that Bam! I so agree that all our experiences have the ability to shape our understanding – you said it well!! Thank you, and a great weekend to you too.

          November 15, 2012
  14. carolyn #

    I would like to order your books and all your photographs. Please tell me how.

    You two are a dazzling team! That guinea pig could entertain his bantering, irreverent way out of a brown paper bag ! (I DID happen to look up the Maginot Line.)

    …and, I knew I loved food shots, but had no idea I loved cemetery shots ’til I saw yours! These are truly exquisite. Are they appropriate for a bedroom? (that’s funny…i started to type dedroom)…

    I’m on the edge of my seat awaiting the irresistible fig shot from Carpentras… Tomorrow?

    November 14, 2012
    • I’ve paid my homage to Miss Congeniality aka the Fig Lady, but you won’t be seeing a photo of her figs. I’ve gone as far as I’ll go with her. 🙂 I’ve put you on the book pre-order list. (Let me know which photos you want!) 😉 xx

      November 15, 2012
  15. carolyn #

    ps…more market shots soon, please!! and thank you!

    November 14, 2012
  16. Patsy Ruth Bressler #

    I’ve noticed his absence, missed it, too. G.P., you’re my favorite travelogue writer.

    Love, MIL

    November 15, 2012
    • I’ve passed that comment along to him Mama…I know he’ll be pleased to hear!

      November 15, 2012
  17. Guinea needs a book deal. Enough said.

    November 19, 2012
  18. Kelly Loggan #

    I am finally getting around to some really “juicy” emails like this one! I was emmersed from the start! And, yes, the Guinea needs a blog! I loved his writing and the two of you together??? Now that is something! I love taking these “blog” journeys to place I likely won’t get to so I really love you for sharing them! Hugs to you and the Guinea and a warm and Happy Thanksgiving!

    November 22, 2012
  19. How I enjoyed reading this, brought back some memories. I hoooted with laughter imagining the scene with Madame Fig, pity we don’t get to see that photo!! I expect she’s got a photo wall of those folks who dare to cross the line!
    Happens in places like that occasionally usually the more touristy places, you did right getting off the beaten track later. Great read GP. Great pics too :)x

    December 3, 2012

I love to read your words...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: