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Posts tagged ‘Provence’

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. Read more

a trip in ruins

One short kilometer from the town of Saint-Remy where we were staying, on our way to visit a famous Roman ruin, we passed this.

Guinea Pig did a swift and highly illegal maneuver with our rental car and came to a skidding gravel-spraying stop. We climbed out to explore. As it turns out, what we’d come across was the Mausoleum to the Julii – erected around 40 B.C.E. – one of the best-preserved mausoleums of the Roman world. We’d heard about the ancient ruins of Glanum and figured we must have arrived. We expected there to be more to the fabled site than this, but we didn’t see it, so we took our time examining closely what we could see. It was still early morning, hardly a soul up or out.

My camera was still pressed to my cheek when Guinea (whose attention span can be a bit short at times – more truthfully, mine a bit long) wandered across the street, wag-jerked his head, lifted his paw and waved. He’d found something.

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the dream…Saint-Remy de Provence

The Guinea Pig and I took a fast train south, from Paris to Provence. It was our first time in southern France and we  weren’t sure that we’d made the right choice on where to land…that is, until we arrived. Then we knew.  Saint-Rémy was just our speed.

Situated in the heart of the Alpilles,  Saint-Rémy is built on one of the oldest archeological sites in all of Europe. (The next travel post – I’ll share some amazing ruins virtually “next door” – inhabited by the Romans between the 6th century BCE and 3rd century AD.) The current town of St. Rémy is encircled by remnants of its original 14th century walls. Some of the buildings’ facades date to the Renaissance.

This town was the birthplace of the famous astrologer and physician Nostradamus.

(More recently, Van Gogh spent years here…but more about that in a moment.)

Nostradamus

Saint-Rémy is filled with Renaissance facades, residences, convents and chapels. Its winding streets are cobbled and water drains down the center.

The sun shines hard here and the mistral winds blow fiercely when they do.

Pick a color, and then pastel it…or silk it…these are the colors Saint-Rémy wears.

Windows bear shutters

and frequently wear flowers.

~ ~ ~

Because the Guinea and I tend to eat our three squares no matter where we are, we’ve developed a nose for the aromas of good food rising from the stove and wafting out the windows. We found some of our favorite here…

‘Twas so good in fact, we found it twice…

~ ~ ~

We experienced a couple highlights during our stay in Saint-Rémy, apart from the food. One, the Roman ruins of Glanum I’ll share next time;

the other, so moving, was the Cloître Saint-Paul, and with it, the Asylum where Vincent Van Gogh was confined for a time. (1889-90)

Some of his most famous paintings were done during his stay here. (Among the many,  Starry Night and Self-Portrait.) When you walk the beautiful hushed grounds here, you’ll see where he set his easel and pulled out his brushes to paint. And you’ll see the magic that was Vincent’s mind.

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