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.
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.